My husband and I typically go car camping over Memorial Day weekend. It’s the kickoff to the backpacking season, but due to snow levels, it’s never really a great weekend for backpacking where we like to go. Water tends to run high, and in the early season, no trail work has been done. So we car camp and day hike. Now, for many years, we would go to the Queens River Transfer Camp, but last year we switched things up because we were tired of feeling fearful when other folks at the campsite got drunk and got their guns out for some shootin’ (sometimes in that order, sometimes not). But we still went car camping, even though we went all the way to Oregon for it.

This year, campgrounds are closed and travel out of state is discouraged. So we decided on a modification to our tradition. Instead of car camping, we were going to backpack out a short distance and spend the weekend camped out in the wilderness near the Queens River. Advantages – no one to share camping space with, total isolation except for the wild animals. Disadvantages – no pit toilet, no car camping chairs.

We drove out on Saturday morning, not too early, but before noon. I ended up packing on Friday night, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for me. I might be spending more time at home, but I’m spending a lot of that time working, so it’s not like I can do that much more for my recreational activities than I could when I was still working out of the office.

On Saturday morning, I went to CrossFit early and then we picked up from breakfast from a local bakery/cafe and headed out towards Idaho City. We planned to minimize our interactions by only getting gas at Idaho City – usually, we go into the convenience store to use the restroom and maybe buy a few snacks, but not this time.

When we turned off the paved road, we were alert to the condition of the dirt road since it had rained the night before and muddy sections could prove impassable for our car. Luckily, there were only a few muddy spots and we got through those just fine.

At the Queens River Transfer Camp, a group was camped even though, technically, the campsite was closed. And Ambrose got proof of the campsite’s closed status when he visited the pit toilet before we headed out. He was going to use it, but the experience of walking inside eliminated his immediate need. I did not witness the interior of the pit toilet, because Ambrose told me someone had made a mess with their waste all over it. Thanks, I’ll go poop in the woods.

Ambrose putting on his pack at the car.

Transfer camp occupied in spite of the closure order.

Ambrose took a shot of me at my request – I thought my bear canister would show up better.

The Queens River was running high.

Once we got into the wilderness, it was clear that this was the early season. Lots of water flowing in intermittent streams across the trail, and sooooooo many downed trees. Even if we had been interested in hiking fast, it wouldn’t have been easy to do so. Though we took the Queens River side of the trail, we could see that the Little Queens River route was blocked off by fallen trees right at the start. I don’t imagine it was any cleaner than the Queens route that we took.

What a feeling it is to enter the wilderness. . . 

The Little Queens River trail, blocked off by an act of nature.

Yeah, that’s the trail. 

There were a lot of downed trees.

Our goal was to get past the first named creek, and then strike north off trail to find a spot to camp with reasonable access to water, preferably near some burned trees since that’s a type of spot morel mushrooms are known to like. Our biggest morel haul so far was last years 2 dozen in the Frank Church, but most often we have been those odd unlucky folk who manage to find single morels.

Clouds in the sky and snow on the mountaintops.

More downed trees.

But there were stretches of the trail that weren’t blocked by treefall.

I found some flowers, of course.

That was to change on this trip – but not yet.

We had to cross a couple of streams not on the map before we reached King Creek (the first named creek we would cross). We proceeded along the trail until we hit a meadow and then struck north. I made sure to step carefully off the trail to avoid turning my ankles, and that meant going even slower than we had been going on the trail.

Ambrose avoids stepping directly into a seep.

More treefall!

We thought this was King Creek, but the GPS said no. This isn’t even an intermittent stream on the map.

Ambrose brought his camera too.

King Creek; we crossed on some logs a bit downstream.

After a bit of back and forth wandering, finding the creek again and then backtracking to find a good spot, we ended up in a small grassy area mostly surrounded by live trees standing, bordered on one side by a little aspen grove. At his insistence, Ambrose set up the tent. I supervised.

It gets worse when the treefalls gang up.

Cutting off the trail, into the unknown.

I spotted these wild strawberry blossoms where we stopped for lunch, but they were everywhere out there.

And then we were just able to hang out and relax. One point of the trip was acclimatization; we were around 5600 feet, so we could get used to the higher elevation; we were sleeping out in a tent, getting used to regulating our temperatures without the advantages of walls and HVAC. So we didn’t need to do anything other than just be there.

Well, until dinner time anyway.

I got to cook since Ambrose put the tent up. He insisted that we would be eating both a dessert and a dinner, so I got the dessert (chocolate cheesecake) all ready and then cooked the dinner, which was a hearty dish we started eating last year, Cuban coconut black beans and rice. But his assumption was made based on a full day of backpacking, and we had not done that.

Oh, look at that!

Yup, that’s our curse. One, single, solitary morel.

Ambrose examines his pitch.

In fact, Ambrose could hardly finish his part of the dinner (I even helped him a bit). So instead of eating the dessert after the dinner, I put it in the bear canister all sealed up for the next day. The first night was supposed to be our coldest of the trip, so I had no concern about it keeping overnight.

In an overzealous move, I packed up all of my food into the bear canister for the night. I should have reserved some candy for night snacking; instead, I ended up having to beg some candy from Ambrose so I could get back to sleep after waking up cold.

As it got dark, we were still awake and listening to the night sounds. We could hear owls hooting, and that was pretty neat. But even cooler was when the wolves started howling. They never got very close to us (that we could tell), but we could hear the howls moving around us, a ghostly chorus of the wilderness.

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