Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Overnight Backpack Trip to Lancelot Lake

Okay, so the weekend right after my Big Fat Trip to Wickiup Reservoir in the middle of September, my son, Jim, and I backpacked to Lancelot Lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness. This was the first time we did any backpacking together since 2003, when he, Mrs Elliott's son, Brian, and I did a weeklong backpack in the High Sierras.

I did a solo overnight trip to Lancelot Lake at the beginning of September and had such a good time, found the place every bit as pretty as places I've hiked in the Sierra Nevadas, that I wanted to show Jim.

During the days leading up to our hike date, I watched the weather forecasts pretty closely, not wanting to get stuck in a winter storm. The forecast called for an unusually warm day, possibility of thundershowers in the evening, then a cold front and rain on Sunday. The best guess was that the rain would start falling in the afternoon.

On Saturday, the forecast was the same, I didn't see any alerts or warnings -- even though things can get real ugly real fast in the mountains -- so we decided to go for it. We adapted to the conditions by adding our little lightweight one-man shelters, a spare tarp, and rain gear to our packs.
Half a foot taller than me, and all the
energy of youth. 

It's an easy walk of about four miles or so, passing through some very pretty country. In 2003, Jim was still an adolescent of 15 years, and had not yet gotten his muscles. I was able to outwalk him. My how the tables have turned. He can outwalk his old man easily now.

Due to various reasons, we didn't get to the trailhead until about noon. The weather was sunny when we started hiking, but when we reached camp on a pretty knoll above the lake, the cumulonimbus clouds started building, and the mutter of thunder could be heard in the distance.

We no sooner got the tarp rigged above the kitchen area when rain started to spatter the surface of the lake and us.

It rained off and on throughout the evening. I brought all my fishing tackle, but my attention was focused on making sure that we stayed dry and warm.

I am a very conscientious packer. To make sure that I don't forget to bring some necessity, I make checklists, I lay everything out ahead of time, I consider alternate clothing and gear ... I just don't want to be caught out without something important like food, or shelter or a stove or something.

But I totally overlooked two important things: First, a small nylon bag in which I carry useful items like my little amateur radio walkie-talkie for emergency use, eyedrops, medications, 100' of light rope, and water treatment chemicals; second, I forgot my insulated jacket. All I had for warmth was a rain jacket, essentially a Gore-Tex windbreaker.

Camp site above Lancelot Lake. 
So Jim loaned me his Primaloft vest, and since he'd brought a light sweater, he used my rain jacket as a windbreaker. We both had collapsible umbrellas for real showers, a good Primus canister stove, and plenty of (untreated but safe) lake water to make hot tea and soup.

It was a bit harder rigging the tarp over the kitchen without the extra rope. We had to get real clever and use fallen branches and spare tent stakes to lift the corners. But it all worked and we had a nice log to sit on and watch the scenery while eating our dinner and making fart jokes.

We both slept warm and dry, but the cold front moved in earlier than expected and we had to make breakfast and pack up in gusty winds and cold fall rain.

Having grown up in SoCal, this was Jim's first backpack where rain was a factor. But I learned him good when I taught him to backpack -- something he does frequently when he visits his friends in the Old Country -- and I passed on some of my old man wisdom about preparing for, and staying warm and safe in the rain. A fellow can become hypothermic in even cool temperatures if he's wet, wearing something stupid like cotton, and there is a breeze.

I've done more backpacking in the rain than I care to consider. One thing about the backcountry behind Santa Barbara, where I grew up, is that the window between the torrential spring storms and the oven of summer is very small. Preferring cool over hot, I usually planned my trips earlier, rather than later, in the year, so I have been caught out in three, four, and five day solo backpack trips in the San Rafael Wilderness and other places where it literally rained the whole time.

Anyway, the hike back down to the trailhead was uneventful except for when I stumbled on some damn rock or root or something and fell down, face forward. Smack. Like a cartoon. Oof, grumble grumble.

I thought that all I hurt was my pride, but a couple days later it was clear that I had broken a rib. I've broken ribs before, twice, (bike accident and bar fight, respectively) so I know what a broken rib feels like. Blowing your nose, sneezing, coughing -- those really hurt.

(I didn't tell Mrs Elliott about the rib. No sense in worrying her. Besides, there's not a damn thing you can do about a broken rib except take aspirin and wait for it to heal.)

On the drive back to Bend, Jim allowed that he'd like to go on another trip next season. Me, I might do two or three hikes. Easy overnighters.

This trip was suggested by Bob Woodward's wife, Ilene, who does hiking hereabouts. If anyone knows of other easy hikes to pretty places to camp overnight, please leave a comment.


  1. "Besides, there's not a damn thing you can do about a broken rib except take aspirin and wait for it to heal."

    Wow, Mr. Macho!

    True, you can't do much to treat a broken rib, but it's a good idea to get an X-ray anyway to make sure it isn't poking into a lung or a heart or something else important.

    BTW, you're too small (and now too old) to be getting into bar fights.

  2. Nah, it wasn't dislocated or depressed or anything to suggest that it was anything more than a simple fracture.

    I made up that bar fight thing. But I have broken ribs two times before.


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