Have Camera Will Travel
When I was forty years old I made a vow that I would go backpacking every year until I turned fifty and then I would see how I felt. It helped that I had two sons ages seven and eleven. We’re an “outdoor family” –- we love to camp and hike and travel – so Davyd and Emerson have been liberally exposed to woods, prairie and mountains.
I have personally backpacked in eleven states and seven national parks, including Yellowstone and Glacier where I worked briefly.
In 2008 I had a wonderful trip to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park with Davyd and Em. The desert southwest is one of my favorite places to backpack because the scenery is stunning and the climate is dry and you don’t need to bring a tent along. Sleeping out under the open sky is one of the sweetest of camping experiences.
Two of my backpacking excursions have been joint ventures with the Hertz-Wilsons of Eau Claire. Brendon Hertz and Davyd are schoolmates from way back and our families have since bonded closely.
John Hertz and Lynn Wilson and their sons Brendon and Justin are also an outdoors family. I’d backpacked with John and Brendon in the Cloud Peak Wilderness of Wyoming. The first of our comingled family adventures was to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior in 2002.
We’d all heard stories about Isle Royale –- about the dynamic wolf and moose populations –- about the hiking possibilities. To get to the park, however, you have to do a lot of planning. The only way to get there is by seaplane (ridiculously expensive) or boat (still expensive) and you have to reserve your campsites ahead of time. We had less than a week to invest, so we couldn’t possibly walk the entire 40 mile “spine of the island, so we strategized that we’d take the ferry to a drop-off point half way up the island, pack across from north to south, and pick the ferry up on the south shore. That would mean three nights camping and plenty of opportunities to scare up wildlife.
Things started out badly when –- on the way up to the ferry landing in –- I almost ran out of gas. And we hadn’t exactly planned out our travel time perfectly so we literally had to run from our parked cars to catch the ferry. Once onboard things got better. The day was crisp and we were impressed by the scenery. No more rushing around. Let the pace sow to a leisurely crawl.
We were dropped off at the dock at McCargoe Cove, shouldered our packs, and started tramping up the trail.
There are several things that I look for on any camping trip –- and they’re the same things I hope to get out of any backpacking trip – they are what I call “The Campout Scale”…
1. Good scenery – especially as augmented by elevated altitudes
2. Good company
3. Good food and drink
4. An aesthetic campsite that provides pristine solitude
5. Access to wildlife or natural phenomena
6. Sleeping out beneath the stars.
7. A great campfire for atmosphere
8. And one other thing that adds to the quality of the experience…And this can be anything from a front row seat to a Northern Lights show to a Black Bear ambling through the campsite.
Any detractors from these standards render the event less than perfect, though not necessarily a “bad night out”.
The only qualifications to the perfect packtrip are that the bag shouldn’t weigh more than fifty pounds and the route shouldn’t kill me. Isle Royale’s route was just right –- not flat line boring, but not Iron Man wannabe either. The problem –- in my opinion –- with Isle Royale is in fact that the trails we took did not allow opportunity for long distance views. The trails are closed in by woods, and though the woods are pretty, I’d like to enjoy the advantage of a view gained by elevation.
The highlights of the trip were threefold: The company, the food, and the Incident of the Moose in the Spruce. The Hertz-Wilsons are incomparable fun. They are gracious and witty and at any moment primed for adventure. The conversation is lively and nonstop, even on the trail. And mealtime is an event you don’t want to miss.
At the first group supper at Chickenbone Lake they proved their culinary mettle, snipping fresh basil into the tomato, garlic, and cheese vermicelli. Not your average camping meal. Nosir. Instant blueberry cheesecake for dessert. Pancakes for breakfast. There’s no roughing it when it comes to camp nutrition.
On the last of our three camping nights we settled in to the Chippewa Harbor site on the south shore of the island. After supper the adults passed on tents to bunk in the two wood and screen shelters supplied, while the boys laid out bags outside their pitched tents a bit farther down the trail. I was aroused from sleep by a sound and opening my eyes I was confronted by an image my sleepy brain could not decipher. Squinting out through the screen window that formed one entire side of the shelter I could see illuminated by starlight, a small tree about 6 yards feet from my head. The tree — no taller than me –- was quaking strangely, and I could hear small thumping sounds. What on earth was I looking at? Was there a raccoon in the top of the tree? A Pine Marten? A coyote trying to climb to the Milky Way?
It wasn’t until the moose turned to give me a profile shot that I knew what I was looking at; a cow browsing an apple tree. I slid my arm out to nudge Julie.
“Honey,” I whispered, “wake up!”
“What is it?’ she mumbled.
“Um…there’s a moose standing outside our door…”
Julie rolled over and gaped through the screen. “Oh my God!”
By now the moose had heard us, of course, and was walking leisurely between the shelters. We watched it go. “It’s heading towards where the boys are sleeping!” Julie hissed. We threw our clothes on and woke the Hertz-Wilsons. Grabbing our flashlights we headed down the trail until we came to the four boys crashed on the ground, but untrampled. After everybody was roused and alerted, we looped back up the trail searching with the flashlights and found the moose bedded down in the brush beside the trail. It watched us back, eyes glowing in the light beam. Returning to our respective bags we managed to finally return to sleep without further moose incident. Unfortunately, the moose never made air. Too dark to tape.
Here’s a list of backpacking trips I’ve enjoyed. The following year’s Porcupine Mountain trip was also with the Hertz’s and was also celebrated in “local TV history.”
1. Saguaro NM, AZ 1980 (22 years old)
2. Glacier NP, MT 1982 (Belly River) (25 years old)
3. Yellowstone NP, WY 1984 (Bechler Region, others) (27 years old)
4. Pt. Reyes NS, CA 1984
5. Bandelier NM, NM 1987 (almost 30 years old)
6. Rock Island SP, WI 2000 (43 years old)
7. Cloud Peak Wilderness, WY 2001(44 years old)
8. Rock Island SP, WI 2002 (45 years old)
9. Isle Royale NP, MI 2002
10. Porcupine Mountains SP, MI 2003 (46 years old)
11. Holy Cross Wilderness, CO 2004 (47 years old)
12. Rock Island SP, WI 2004
13. Superior Hiking Trail, MN 2005 (48 years old)
14. North Fork Mountain Trail, Monongahela NF, WV 2006 (49 years old)
15. Black Elk Wilderness, Black Hills NF, SD 2007 (50 years old)
16. Elephant Canyon, Canyonlands NP, UT 2008 (51 years old)
17. Pt. Reyes NS, CA 2009 (52 years old)
See a clip from “King of Islands” below:
Posted under Artist? Scientist? Philosopher? Camera Guy?
This post was written by sbetchkal on May 19, 2011