Stehekin, Mosqutios and Bears OH MY
There are a few places in the US where you really feel detached from the rest of the world. Stehekin (Sta-HE-kin) is one of them. Accessible only by boat or plane makes Stehekin Washington one of the most remote places in the lower 48. Stehekin is a small community that has less than 100 residents year round and it sits at the very top of Lake Chelan. The only way they get mail or groceries is by sending them on the ferry once a day.
With the boys in good hands, Ranger and i decided to pack up some gear and catch a boat into the wilderness.
We arrived in Stehekin with two sleeping bags, a small camp stove, a rain fly, and a few “just add water and you’ll have a delicious meal” packages. And no plan. Luck was on our side for once and we snagged a Ranger who wrote us up a backcountry permit and pointed us in the right direction.
We headed out on Rainbow Trail. First trail rule: Don’t ever judge a trail by its name.
With 40lbs strapped to our backs we headed up…and up…and up. A steady incline with one Switchback after another. We had 7 miles ahead of us and by the time we reached the 2.1 mile mark i swear we were carrying 100lbs on our back, climbing a complete vertical cliff, and should have been on top of Mount Kilimanjaro by then.
We pushed on.
If you’ve ever had any luck you know that it eventually runs out. Or in our case: Dry. We took a quick break and reached for our 2nd water bottle only to realize it didn’t make the trip. It had disappeared. As we were trying to recall where we would’ve lost it the mosquitoes must have smelled fresh flesh because they were onto us. No biggie, bug spray to the rescue! Except the spray i grabbed was empty.
No problem though.
So, again, we pushed on.
A few more switchbacks and long hills we were tired and beat so we stopped to take our packs off for a few minutes, catch our breath and soak in the view.
The familiar buzzing of mosquitoes got closer once again. The cool rain that had started falling began to wash away the nausea from lack of water.
Reaching for our map to check our next move we realized our map had now also disappeared. Ranger firmly believes that there was a trail thief among us because we were now down 1 water bottle, 1 camera lens cover, 1 can of bug spray and 1 map. I, on the other hand, know exactly what happened to those items!
But we pushed on.
The pain from the incline was burning every muscle. The nausea kept building as we had no water to wash it down with. Luck had now turned into a cruel joke by placing our trail a steep and rocky 200 feet above a roaring creek
Backpacking was no longer this romanticized activity. It was real, it was hard, and it was dehydrating.
Mile after mile we climbed. The trail over grown with ferns and wildflower was beautiful, yet daunting to maneuver. I was to the point where i was sucking giant droplets of rain off of the leaves around us just to wet my lips. I wanted to just lay down, and pretend i was no longer on this never-ending trail. Then it happened, we crested over a ledge and started descending. What a glorious feeling to hear the rushing water getting closer and closer.
Reaching the creek we decided to hang out for a while and rest while we treated the water and let our burning muscles rest some.
With a renewed spirit, fresh water, we threw on our packs and we continued on.
With no idea how far we had left to hike before reaching camp we were walking blind. And uphill again. With every turn i just prayed to see a campsite we could turn in for the night at.
Then finally after a treacherous climb uphill we saw it. Our spot for the night.
I was beat. Dehydrated. exhausted. And apparently had been kissed on the forehead by a flower along the trail.
After hanging up our tarp, eating our rehydrated Chili-Mac, hoisting all our belongings high up into a tree, and a making few mad dashes into the woods to dig a hole (don’t ask, there is nothing glamorous about backpacking). We slipped into our sleeping bags with daylight still burning and drifted to sleep.
6am we woke up with the sound of rain tapping on our tarp. We were still dry and the only thing disturbed in our campsite were a few deer prints. Needless to say, I was relieved. We packed up, rehydrated some eggs, heated up some tea, and went on our way.
Stoked that today was going to be downhill as we backpacked out the way we came our walk turned into a jog as we flew down the hills.
No more than half a mile from our campsite we were abruptly stopped. There it was. The thing i’d been dreading to see. There laying in front of us, directly on the trail was a giant bear pie filled with half digested berries.
I begged Ranger to see if it was still warm but he refused and i wasn’t going to stand around and argue.
So we continued on.
An early morning rain washed away the heat and made the leaves of the undergrowth glisten. Moving through the meadows of fireweed and ferns we soon realized that the once welcomed shower was now drenching our clothes with each pass through the brush.
Winding through the brush, soaked to the bone, we were still in great spirits.
Then we saw it again…another large pile of half digested berries, on the trail, in Bear scat. This time a very strong distinct smell swarmed the area. I can only describe it as a dirty, wet, smell that i imagine a bear would smell like if i ever were close enough to one.
I did what any city raised girl would do. Ran away screaming.
I’m only joking of course, i have more sense then that! I grabbed the nearest, biggest stick i could find and began hitting every rock as we B-lined it out of there.
Winding down and around we finally were dumped out onto a paved road in the middle of nowhere. We had hiked around 14 miles and the last leg of the trip was half a mile down the road where a shuttle bus would pick us up at the best little bakery in Washington and take us back to the landing docks to catch the boat home.
As we sat and waited we grabbed a couple lattes and the worlds best strudel and laughed about what a crazy journey the last day and a half had been.
I felt sorry for our fellow bus riders who had to sit next to two people who’d been out in the woods for a day. Although i did give them fair warning.
The whole trip i told myself i would never do that again. Backpacking was just going to have to be Ranger and his boys thing that THEY do.
But i’ve caught myself planning and dreaming of anther backcountry trip. So it must not have been that bad. I guess it’s kind of like giving birth in a way. We easily forget the pain we endured along the way because the moments when you stand upon a summit, overlooking this lush majestic earth encompasses you and those feelings draw you back again and again.
Next time though, i’m carrying the map and bringing an extra water bottle.