As is our tradition, my husband and I went out for a backpacking trip. We used to do car camping at the Queens River Trailhead, but after several years of having to share that site with folks who were more interested in drinking and shooting than enjoying the quiet beauty of nature, we switched over to backpacking out just a few miles into the wilderness for Memorial Day. We’ve got a good spot that is out of sight of the trail, and we have yet to see any other people come near it. 

This year, the weather conspired additionally to keep most people away. There was going to be rain, and a lot of it, though we had hope for some dry windows to allow us to set up the tent and get situated. I took a day off of work so we could drive up on Friday morning. The original plan was to eat lunch at the trailhead and then hike out, but we got there before 10 in the morning, well before it was time to eat lunch. 

And so we came upon the first forgotten piece of gear for the trip. We expect to forget some things on the first trip of the year; that’s part of why we only go out a couple miles on this trip so we can figure out what we’re forgetting. This time, it was the trailhead cook pot in which we had planned to cook this lunch and a lunch on Monday. Luckily, it was easy enough to switch over and use the backpacking pot to get our lunch cooked. And since it was just Minute Rice and chicken, we put it in a gallon baggie and packed it out to eat once we got hungry. 

I grabbed the car shovel from its place in the bin, and shoved it in with my pack. That’s my big indulgence for this trip, a shovel that’s heavy but big and makes digging a hole super easy. I still had my trowel fastened to my pack, but I planned to use the shovel. Especially with the rain, I’d rather spend less time digging. 

Once Ambrose got lunch cooked up, and I finished filling out our permit, we were ready to go. Ambrose volunteered to carry the lunch, and we hoisted our packs. As always, they seemed way heavier than they had when we weighed them at home. It’s just that our shoulders aren’t conditioned for them yet. That’s another reason to have an early season backpacking trip. 

We had managed to find a break in the weather, so while the ground was damp, we were able to hike without being rained on. There were some downed trees across the trail near the start, and Ambrose said he thought the Idaho Trails Association had just cleared the trail. I clarified that they’d done the Little Queens trail last year, not the Queens trail where we were hiking. 

As we hiked, we chatted a bit. It’s not too unusual for me to get chatty on the trail, even though it can be hard to hear and make oneself heard when walking in single file. But Ambrose pointed out to me that he was chatting and doing so with ease. I hadn’t noticed, but I knew this was new behavior. I remembered feeling bad a few times for asking him to speak and hike at the same time because he looked like the effort pained him. But now he was initiating conversation. The weight loss journey has been difficult and had its ups and downs, but the rewards are just enormous and go beyond what is seen on the scale. 

We had a relatively low snow winter, and so we weren’t expecting there to be high water levels. But it had been raining for a few days, and we encountered the highest water levels on the creeks we crossed that we had ever encountered. I remember the very first time we hiked this trail, the water was fairly high, and we ended up having to turn back because the trail was essentially lost in a bog (it’s since been rerouted to higher ground). This time, there were five flowing streams, some of them flowing along the trail, in the space that we would usually encounter just two. 

One of the creeks was running so fast and deep that we decided to do a boots off crossing rather than risk crossing on one of the wet logs that could have provided a makeshift bridge. I was eager to try out my new Xero sandals as crossing shoes anyway. I mean, not so eager that I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t absolutely have to… the water was freezing cold, and I was about to cross it essentially barefoot. 

After we finished the cold crossing, we sat down to put our boots back on and decided to eat some lunch as well. Well, Ambrose started to eat. I had to go dig a hole first. And when I got back, I thought I’d be hungry, but I wasn’t. I only ate a few bites and then we hoisted the packs and continued hiking. 

I thought we might have reached the right spot fairly soon after that, but Ambrose disagreed and when we reached the small meadow, I knew he was right. But we were close, and I was pretty sure I saw our landmarks. Sure enough that I stopped on the trail as Ambrose continued on until he turned to see what I was doing. I explained I thought we’d passed the turnoff, but again he disagreed and we kept going. 

But then we reached Kid Creek, and I was adamant that our spot was on this side of that particular creek. I convinced Ambrose to follow the creek up a bit, where we found a decent camping spot that looked like it has been used, perhaps by hunters over the winter. And then we angled back to the trail and I pointed out where I thought we should head to get to the aspens that we camp near. Ambrose reluctantly agreed to follow me, and I led us to our spot. 

We decided not to pitch where we had in the past, because it was fairly low, and might flood. Plus, there was recent elk sign and we didn’t want to be where they wanted to be. So I spent some time looking around for a good spot. I wasn’t sure I’d find one, because the last spot had been chosen out of necessity at the time. But I did find a spot that would work. It would be a bit tilted, but not so badly that we’d be sliding all over the place. And it was mostly out of reach of any nearby widowmakers. 

I was about a quarter of the way through staking the tent when Ambrose announced that he could not find his sleeping pad. I was shocked, to say the least. The sleeping pad was essential equipment and it was very much not like Ambrose to forget it. Plus, I’d seen him take it down to pack earlier in the week. I had a clear memory of it, because I noted at the time that he wasn’t pulling my pad down for me, which made sense because I wouldn’t be packing until days later. So that was our second forgotten item. 

Ambrose could not sleep out in this weather without the sleeping pad. The sleeping pad provides vital protection from the heat-sapping powers of the ground. In an emergency, we could probably have figured something out to keep him warm enough, though not necessarily comfortable. But this was not really an emergency. Not since we’d recently purchased foam pads for car camping and left them in the car. I had thought about suggesting that we bring those pads into the apartment, but decided against it. And so now, a sleeping pad for Ambrose was a mere two miles away. 

In past years, I might have volunteered to go and get the pad myself, saving him the journey. But there was never any question of that this year. Ambrose has lost enough weight to get off all of his blood pressure medications, and one of the many benefits to that is that he was absolutely ready to hike another four miles – especially since he wouldn’t need to bring his pack. 

He set off while I continued to stake the tent. Since we’d be spending a lot of time in it, I decided to find a Y shaped stick to help elevate the part of the tent over our heads. Once I had that set up, I finished tightening the stakes and put all our stuff into the tent, ready to dive inside and hide if it were to start raining. I passed the time by finishing the lunch Ambrose had kindly left me and reading once my chores were done. It was cozy inside the tent, but I got antsy about Ambrose being gone and spent some time reading while sitting on a large log. Not the best idea, since the log was a bit damp, but I survived. 

Ambrose got back right on time. He had only been back a little bit before the rain started up and we settled into the tent, making sure that all the lines were tight enough to keep the rain from flowing into the tent. Though the pitch had a very low ceiling, the rain stayed on the outside. 

It rained on and off through the afternoon and into the evening. While it was cold and wet outside, inside the tent it was warm and dry. Well, warm inside the quilts. The air in the tent was pretty cold, it’s got mesh doors after all. But I was warm enough to sleep, and that’s what mattered. 

Ambrose is ready to go.

The Queens River running high . . .

. . . in both directions.

Ambrose hiked in front at a nice pace.

I don’t often get shots of these squirrels.

That’s the trail, not a creek.

Also trail.

That’s a creek crossing I don’t want to mess with.

Luckily, we didn’t have to on that one.

The next creek was even more swollen.

We took the cold way. Also the safe way.

We’ve never seen so much water on the trail.

A decent pitch for rain. 

I was shocked to see that a tick was out in the cool weather.

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