Solo Backpacking - No Way? Yes Way.

Hunchback Trail

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to take an impromptu solo backpacking trip. "But wait!" You say, "You shouldn't do that! You're a woman, you can't go by yourself!" To which I respond with the facts: it is safe. There are many preconceived notions about being out in nature (especially as a woman) and I want to help break those down. 

I settled on the Hunchback Trail, leaving from Zigzag Ranger Station to head straight up a ridgeline, gaining 6,000 feet in 9 miles. I discovered I could meet up with a Forest Service Road and trek all the way to Trillium Lake where some coworkers were camping, so planned on meeting up with them. 

Hitting the trail Friday at 5:30 pm, I started switchbacking up almost immediately. I ran into 3 women descending who congratulated me on backpacking solo. I ran into one other person, then was completely alone from 6:00 pm until 2:00 pm the next day. I hustled up, my bear bell the only comforting sound in the stillness of the woods. The trail got progressively steeper and shot out onto a ridgeline with commanding views into the valley below. The sky was full of menacing clouds and there was a cool breeze that chilled the sweat on my skin. 

Continuing up through windfall that required clambering over and scampering under, I briefly lost the trail and quelled the panic that rose in my throat. Dusk was settling and I needed to set up camp soon. The ground was at a slant as far as the eye could see, covered with broken branches and thorny bushes. I finally got to the junction of Green Canyon Way, 5.5 miles from the car and set up camp on the trail. It was the only relatively flat, even ground. I settled in and the realization hit that it would be a long time until I saw another person. I told myself everything would be okay-then a branch broke in the distance causing my heart to race. 

The entire evening was a tough mental battle. I kept thinking about unsolved murders and paranormal activity (thanks to the podcast, This Is Why We Drink) and mountain lions after the recent fatal attack in Washington. I forced myself to address those fears, realize they were irrational, and tried to focus on something more positive. I was in too far to back out, so I accepted my fate and kept the bear mace close. 

Saturday morning dawned cool and cloudy, with no sun to warm the air. I packed up and hit the trail, thankful the darkness of night was over. I noticed the sound of a babbling brook far off to the right, then heard a tremendous crashing through the brush. Tracing the sound, I was shocked to see a black bear hightailing it in the opposite direction! It's the first time I've seen a bear in the wild and to escalate the situation, there was no one around for miles. To cope with the fear, I rehearsed the story of Goldilocks out loud. However, upon forgetting the ending, I made my own where Goldilocks was eaten by the three bears. Nothing like a little morbid humor to keep a person going amirite?

I continued up another 3 miles to Devils Peak Lookout. It loomed out of the clouds above and stood watching over the forest. There was no one around; a logbook indicated people stayed there but left before my arrival at 10. I soldiered on, thankfully beginning a well-deserved descent. Branching off towards Kinzel Lake for a water refill, I discovered a ring of brackish mud around the lake, preventing easy shore access. I immediately regretted bypassing a spring near the lookout. It was drizzly, so I sat under a tree and swapped socks and hikers for Tevas. I hopped through the murk to a soggy bank to refill and filter water, half expecting to see Sasquatch roll in at any moment. 

Around 2 pm, I saw a Jeep parked in the distance and met a bloke by the name of Knuckles who was heading to the lookout with his pup for the weekend. It was so relieving to encounter a person that I stayed and talked for a few minutes. Both of us shared the same surprise of seeing someone else out there. He said we were only 5 miles away from Trillium which was a relief as I'd already hiked 10 miles and had painful blisters forming.

 

After 4 more miles, I was on the verge of tears as every part of my body hurt. I wanted to be done so bad and was only seeing a handful of cars parked on the sides of the road. I made up my mind that if I could, I'd hitch a ride the last mile to Trillium. Thankfully, a young guy and his dog drove by and I hollered, asking for a ride. Gratefully I hopped in, overjoyed to shed the heavy pack. He dropped me off at the campground and I managed to stumble into their site, surprising them all. They sat me down and while I took off shoes to examine blisters, beer and a shot of tequila were shoved into my hands. It was the best way to wrap up my adventure!

I spent the rest of the weekend blissfully car camping near Trillium with my coworkers/saints. They were the motivation to finish and helped me stay focused. This was by far the scariest thing I've done and I'm grateful for the experience. I learned a lot about what I'm capable of, and am happy to check another accomplishment off the bucket list.

Karly Osten1 Comment