This trip was full of first's:
- First Camping trip for Denali
- First overland camping trip with the new truck
- Denali's first time hearing a gunshot
- First time setting up and sleeping under a tarp shelter
- First run-in with wild animals in WA
We set off from Bellevue at 1100 or so and drove east on I90 toward Snoqualmie Pass. The forest road we were going up was just beyond Lake Keechalus. The water level was down about 10 feet from normal, exposing sand bars and islands throughout the western half of the lake that many people had set up camp on for the weekend. We passed a few cars on the first portion of the forest road, it was a well-traveled Class 4 road, someone was driving a Toyota Corolla on it and didn't seem to have any issues.
Then we came to a fork: left led to a parking lot, right went up. We took the right and that is when the Class 4 road turned into a real forest road - loose gravel, big rocks, water bars, and plenty of holes to make for a bumpy ride. It was quite fun taking the Colorado up following my buddy and his fiancé in their Tacoma. Denali was napping in the back the whole time, seemingly unfazed by the rocky commute.
Looking east from the forest road on the way up
We made it up to the ridge by around 1400 and immediately realized we were in a great spot. Views of Rainier to the south, the Enchantments to the north, and Snoqualmie and Alpental to the northwest.
Mount Rainier to the south
Enchantments to the north
Snoqualmie Ski Area (near ridge) and Alpental (far left ridge where there is snow)
Denali heard his first gunshot on the ridge as well. My buddy brought his .308 to shoot and fired one off into the embankment near our campsite. Denali, once again, was unfazed by the commotion; he was much more interested in the tasty stick he was chewing on. Denali played with the two huskies my friends have, Otis and Luna, and certainly got in a lot of running, some fetch, and a little bit of wrestling.
Ready for fetch! (Even though we don't know "fetch" yet)
Denali taking a quick break from fetch
Late afternoon started to roll around and setting up camp was in order. I had brought my tent to sleep in, but I also had a 9' X 12' tarp and a mostly empty 6' 2" truck bed that would keep me off the cold, potentially wet, ground. There was rain in the forecast, it was early October, and we knew temps would drop into the 40s, so getting wet was not an option. Denali was taken care of with his setup in the cab with blankets and a puppy bed, and I wanted to be relatively close to him so I could hear if he was whining throughout the night. I also thought staying off the ground was my best bet. So, I opted to create my shelter with what I had.
I set up the two mountain bikes on either end of the tailgate, put the dropper posts up, and threw the tarp over the bikes and back of the cab. I then used a bungie cord clipped to the eyelets of the tarp and ran that through the doors of the back of the cab to secure the tarp, establishing full protection from rain above my head. Two eyelets were fed over the antenna as well to create a more taught fit to prevent water pooling. For the middle of my shelter, I ran paracord through the tarp eyelets hanging over the sides of the bed and then under the truck on either side of the rear tires, pulling it tight to the and tying it off at one corner, then running the extra slack and tying that off at the trailer hitch. We anticipated high winds with the incoming rain and being on top of the ridge with little natural shelter, everything needed to be tied down several times. The tailgate portion was closed off with another bungie cord attached to the hitch to prevent excess flapping while also providing fairly easy access in and out. With the bike seat posts up, there was plenty of head space to sit comfortably and move around somewhat freely. Before bed, I ensured I had a run off channel built in on the downhill side to ensure there would be little pooling of water on the tarp overnight. I was impressed with myself. I didn't take many photos, but the one below should give you an idea of what I was working with.
Meanwhile, my friends had their fancy pop-up roof tent on their Tacoma. They had the Taj Mahal, I had the Tarp Mahal.
We ate dinner overlooking Lake Keechalus, watching the shades of red, purple, and pink blend into evening sky. A few paragliders had taken off of the ridge to the north of ours and we watched them glide down into the basin of the lake.
Camp setup on the ridge
Denali with the left hook on Otis
Luna staying away from the crazy doggos
Speaking of, we did have a campfire as the state fire ban had been lifted earlier that week, and we stayed up just after the sun went down and wow am I glad we did. The sky was mostly clear, the air was crisp and cool, it was the calm before the storm, and being at nearly 5000 ft elevation, the stars were out. The Milky Way was sitting over Mount Rainier and I was so stoked to have brought my camera out. I didn't have a tripod to I propped my camera up with its strap on the hood of my buddies Tacoma and guessed with the manual focus. I haven't shot at night in a really long time and hadn't attempted using my new 50mm f/1.4 lens, so this was the perfect opportunity.
The Milky Way and Mount Rainier, not bad for no tripod, a new lens, and guessing on manual focus
Overnight we had rain, heavy winds, and wild animals. The rain and wind were enough that I woke up every 2 hours or so from the tarp flapping in what was likely 20-40 mph wind gusts - could only do so much to prevent that noise. There was definitely rain, although it didn't seem too bad. I was dry except for a little bit of condensation accumulating on the inside of the tarp and on top of my sleeping bag. Denali was dry, warm, and happy as clam in the cab all night.
A few times when I woke up, I heard pawing at the ground and around the trucks. It didn't sound like a large animal like a mountain lion or a bear, but definitely dog sized and smaller. I assume we had coyotes and maybe a fox, we had heard a few yips on a neighboring ridge when we were making ourselves dinner before the sun went down and anticipated we may have visitors overnight. All of our food was in airtight containers and inside of our vehicles.
We woke up in the morning to a thick fog resting on the ridge. It was eerie and silent. You where the animals had been lurking, a few spots around the fire and where we ate had scratch marks. We weren't planning on staying long, we had plans to go mountain bike in Roslyn with a few more friends.
Looking south where Rainier should be visible
By 0700, we were packed up and on our way to the Rat Pack in Roslyn. I've ridden the Rat Pack many times, but this was my buddy's first time going. He'd heard a lot about it from co-workers, just hadn't made the trek to the east side of the Cascades to see what all the hype was about. The Rat Pack did not disappoint.
We had a beautiful blue sky and, with some recent rainfall, the normal east side moon dust was this tacky, loamy, fluffy kind of dirt. It's tough to explain, but I can tell you it was awesome to ride on. We were all stoked.
Overall, it was a highly successful weekend trip in the mountains. Much needed time away from civilization as well. Next post will be about a weekend trip to a place I've been to many times: Whitefish, Montana.