Last year, my husband and I broke from our normal tradition and did not spend Memorial Day weekend out camping. Over the years, we have changed our locations and strategies for that Memorial Day camp, but we’d always done it. In 2023, we chose not to, because we had literally just spent the month moving into a new place, and we kind of wanted to spend time there. 

But this year, the camping is back. Rather than heading out to our traditional location out in the Queens River area, we chose a space closer to our new home and struck out on Saturday morning for Black Lake, in the Hells Canyon area. 

We drove north to Council, and then headed up into the mountains to Bear (no services). After Bear, the road was no longer paved, but it was still pretty good gravel. We almost ran into trouble, because the GPS was instructing us to drive up a road that was CLEARLY not being used. Sure, based on the map it would get us to Black Lake Road faster, but there was a tree blocking the main access. 

Ambrose went around the tree, because he could, but as the road then proceeded to get as close as possible to vertical, I convinced him to turn around. Well, to back down carefully, and then find a spot to turn around. We chose the long way, Google re-routed us, and we were able to continue on, hoping that we might actually make the lake. 

Then the snow showed up. First, just a few piles off in the woods. But, soon enough, around 6200 feet, it was across the road. And deep! 

We had already talked this one over. We were NOT going to be the first ones up that road if there was snow on it. Since there were no tracks in the deep snow, we turned around to find a dispersed site on which to pitch our tent and claim temporary dominion over. We stopped at a couple of potential spots before settling on one at about 5800 feet elevation. We had a nice flat spot to camp on, and a view of the road.

Since Ambrose had done all the driving, I put up the tent while he relaxed. This was only the second time that I’d put this tent up, but I managed it without any mishaps. Some of that is no doubt due to the tent’s design, which I found to be intuitive and nicely color-coded, but I’m also well used to how tents work by now.

I didn’t expect to see many other people out there, but I was in for a surprise. For a good portion of the afternoon on Saturday, folks on motorcycles and 4x4s would drive past us, and then come back along the road 10 to 20 minutes later. The weather was chilly, but not rainy, and Ambrose and I sat out in chairs, acclimating to the elevation and the chill, giving a way to the drivers as they went by. No one stopped to chat, and I was just fine with that.

We headed into the tent soon after dinner, which was excellent timing because the rain started soon after. The tent is a new one this year; our old car camping tent literally dissolved when we used it for the coast trip. The new one was a blue Nemo tent, a bit smaller, but also better in some ways. This tent has windows that you can look out of while the rain fly is deployed – as long as the rain isn’t falling sideways, it doesn’t come into the tent through the windows. And they can be shut, which we did for sleeping Saturday night.

One different thing about this tent is that the color affects how you see color outside the tent. From the inside, and for several seconds after getting out, a rosy tinge painted my view. A similar effect, I think, to when you stare at a square of color and then look away. The inverse color seems to linger on the new surface.

Saturday night was very cold, and neither Ambrose nor I was able to get super comfortable. Our sleep systems is also relatively new. We got rid of the big queen sized air mattress once it started leaking. Now we have two very tough pads that snap together, but the key for those is that they leave a gap. In order to mitigate the gap, I planned for Sunday night to put blankets under and over the pads.

Sunday was spent much as Saturday was. We sat in chairs, watched the road, enjoyed the weather (which was a bit warmer and sunnier), and allowed the hard work of acclimating to take place. More folks drove by, and one group lingered up there much longer than the others had. I wonder if they got stuck in the snow?

In addition to having a warmer temperature on Sunday night, we also deployed our resources more effectively. Both Ambrose and I were quite comfortable sleeping on Sunday night. The next morning was cold, as mornings tend to be. Ambrose got up first and set about making breakfast (and a green tea for me). I set about taking the tent down. We were on our way around 8:30.

Before heading home, we drove back up to the snow to see if it had melted much over the weekend. Not much was the answer, but we also got to see tracks in the snow from the folks who had attempted a crossing. It was definitely too deep for our CrossTrek to venture safely, but once it melts, I think Black Lake is going to be a place we can drive to. I’m looking forward to making it all the way there next time.

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