The overcast of the pacific northwest could drive some people mad. Especially if you come from another state where the norm is sunshine. After all, that is what lures most people to that sort of state. Here in the northwest, it is for that same reason that folks like to call it home. Instead of coming for the sunshine, they come for the clouds. The precipitation and all the joys and pitfalls that come with it. Learning to maximize the adventures and being prepared for fickle weather is what the lesson to be learned is in the backcountry of the PNW.
We set out as any other backpacking plan. Leave early from Olympia, WA and head southwest towards Mt. Rainer wilderness. We hit the snow by 9am. After almost getting the truck stuck in the snow, we decided to park where we sat and head out on foot. From the standard trailhead it should have been a 4 mile hike (round trip) to the summit of Mt. Beljica during the other 3 seasons – not the fluffy white season.
As we hiked higher up the mountain our snowshoes started sinking deeper into the snow. Millie and Bowie, our two dogs, were so stoked. Running up and down and frolicking in the deep snow. Bowie, my Husky/Shepherd was potholing through the snow all the way to his chest. At this rate, I knew these pups would be wearing tired soon. As for us humans, I soon had to lift my legs higher with each step. Sometimes the snow would fall onto the snowshoe and leave an extra two pound weight, which my legs would have to pull up and out of the last step. Looking up in the sky, the grey clouds were bunched together. Sometimes I could see a little pool of blue punching through the grey, and a blast of yellow sunlight would cast a well diffused light on the snow covered trees. These were the moments I was prepared for with the camera at ready on my hip to snap a few glimpses of light.
A tiresome, but not grueling two and half hours later, we reached the clearing to see the traverse across to Mt. Beljica. Two miles from here to get to the top of that damn thing. It didn’t seem so bad. When we made our way into the tree line, we soon realized the grade was straight up. Matt and I consider ourselves in shape and very able people to attempt climbing mountains. We set a consistent pace and began moving up. Under the cover of the trees, the overall morale began to slip into a darker place. There was a minimal light that made its way to us after being filtered through the clouds and then being blocked by the dense heavy limbs of the one hundred foot tall trees.
When we reached a clearing, we packed down the snow to create a terrace. We took off our packs and checked our gear. The pups immediately laid down to catch a bit of a rest. We knew that this was only a day trip, so we packed accordingly. I grabbed a few items from my most recent Isle Box. A Loki fleece headscarf, Snow Peak titanium spork, and the Omeal cheese tortellini. I also packed:
- A few Gu energy gels
- A bar
- Two liters of water
- Medical kit
- Waterproof matches
- Extra socks
I normally keep these items in my pack at all times. After viewing our gear we realized this was going to be a day trip and that was it.
So we headed back into the dense tree-line and traversed at a slightly steeper angle 30 degrees. Not so bad, the issue was light. The sunlight was starting to recede while we still were making very slow progress to the summit of the mountain. This dilemma hits a personal preference to me. When I arrive at the summit of a peak, I want plenty of time to succumb to the surroundings. Feel the weather on my face. Meditate for a moment on the effort to making the arrival. With these given circumstances, I am fully prepared to enjoy every moment while out in the wilderness. The decision was made for us to start heading back to the truck, and while on the way back we would stop and eat what food we had.
When we made it back to our terraced view we got situated. The Omeals food pack was a genius plan for any quick full day hike. The great thing about this package is that no stove is needed. Just add some water to the heating package and it boils the water and heats the food package! Genius! Omeals food packs keep the backpacks light, and it even comes with a spoon and napkin. Since the food is never dehydrated, the food is full of flavor and tasted just like it just came off the stove at your momma’s house. So good!
Taking It All In
After the quick warm meal was shared with great company, I took a few minutes to just absorb the view. The clouds floating by. The burst of sun ever so slightly through the sky. A few ridges just off in the distance could be seen only when the clouds thinned out along the horizon. It was one hell of a spectacular view – the silence of snow with the occasional bird chirping in flight, beautiful. The entire descent felt like a slide. Following out our tracks downhill we managed to make short work through the snow. The fact that we were ahead of the dogs most of the time led me to believe we all got quite the workout!
Not everyday has to be a summit day. However, it should be filled with great company, good food, and end with a sense of fulfillment.