As mentioned, I was set on making the most out of this long weekend – a rare occurrence at my job. Last week, I made up my mind that I would embark on my first solo backpacking trip!
I did a lot of research beforehand, especially on which trails were affected by wildfires. I wanted something that was roughly 10 miles, in case I got cold feet and wanted to bail on the overnight portion. I settled on the Siouxon (soo-sahn) Creek Trail, which many users on the OregonHikers.org recommended to someone looking for a one-night backpacking trip in a non-smoky area.
It was weird to pack up everything, since Colin and I have always split our backpacking possessions. But it was beneficial to learn about the weight I’d be carrying for future solo trips.
On Sunday, I left around 1 PM, because I knew I didn’t have too far to hike and wanted to limit my downtime at night. It was pouring in Portland, and I had second thoughts about voluntarily hiking and camping in the rain. The weather said less than 10% chance of precipitation for the area I was headed, but it also said the same for Portland. I didn’t want to back down, so I turned on the windshield wipers and hit the gas.
The rain didn’t let down the entire drive, until I got near the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, but even then, it was still drizzling. The roads leading to the trailhead, despite being paved, were poorly maintained. If you make your way out there, be vigilant of the potholes and cracks in the pavement. If you drive slow and carefully, they are easily avoided!
OregonHikers.org notes that this trail is not crowded, but the trailhead was bumping. At least 12 cars, lining up the road. I was half happy, because it meant I wouldn’t be alone, but half sad, because it meant I wouldn’t not be alone.
I put duct tape on my heels to prevent blisters, since the Asolo Tacomas were rubbing a little funny at Starvation Ridge last week. Spoiler alert: this trick worked like a charm! I’m not sure if I should return the boots, because they did give me blisters on my brief trot up Starvation Ridge, but they did feel perfect with the duct tape. Thanks to REI’s membership return policy, I still have a little less than a year to make up my mind.
It was still raining, so I threw on my rain jacket, hat, and backpack cover, and headed out. I wasn’t as concerned with the weather now, since the trees provided great coverage. I felt only a few drops under the protection of the forest.
Starvation Creek Trail is a lollipop loop, so the lollipop “stick” is roughly 3 miles, with the loop part covering 5 miles of trail. The first four miles contained an abundance of campsites, and they weren’t full, but had enough people to the point where I didn’t want to awkwardly join them. I thought it was funny (or maybe upsetting?) that the Gifford entrance sign specifically said “Fire ban: no campfires!” and I saw three separate groups of campers with gigantic bonfires. Granted, everything was soaked, so there was little to worry about, but still… If there’s a fire ban, there’s a damn fire ban!
The trail was fairly easy; lots of ups and downs, but also a lot of traversing. Nothing steep, and the up’s never lasted long. I did 4 miles leisurely in an hour!
You pass a handful of waterfalls throughout the whole loop, but within the first few miles, you see Siouxon Falls and Horseshoe Creek Falls – both of which boast some sick swimming holes! This would be a hiker’s haven in the summer… Just imagine swimming all day, camping all night, in the wilderness for a weekend! Ahhh.
All the populated campsites had me worried there wouldn’t be one for me, but I knew there was still a site by 14-mile falls… 4 miles deep into the trail. I approached the site and saw a couple who had set up shop, complete with a fire. I traveled a little further to find a quiet spot among an area of several campsites, circled around a fire pit and benches made from fallen trees. There was a couple behind me earlier on the hike, and I was sure they would camp in the same circle of sites as me, but surprisingly no one else arrived and I had the whole thing to myself!
Unfortunately, EVERYTHING was soaked. The ground. The benches. The table. I didn’t want to confine myself to the tent at only 3:30 PM, since I would surely be in there from sunset on. I explored the area a little bit, read the book I just picked up from the library (Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell), and jotted down some ideas in my notebook. I really wish I had brought the hammock – there were great hammock trees, and it always makes for the perfect “activity” when you want to rest, but want to stay outside. Plus, it would have been nice to have a dry spot to sit!
I mostly did this trip to prove to myself I could do it. I wanted to do everything. And I impressed myself with how capable I am on my own. I set up the tent without the slightest fumble, and I even threw up a bear bag that night… Not because there are bears, but because I just wanted to see if I could do it – surprise! I can!
I packed a Mountain House meal, because I didn’t want to deal with washing dishes this trip. It was Chicken Teriyaki with Rice, and it was probably the most disgusting thing I have even eaten. It was hard to even be near the bag, which reeked of stinky feet covered in soy sauce. And here I had to eat TWO servings of it.
Sick of the wet, I resigned to the tent around 7 PM. I read more of my book and fell asleep. Big mistake! I woke up around midnight, feeling completely well-rested and awake. The sound of animals scurrying outside of the tent did not help. I specifically brought my iPod on this trip so I could tune out any creepy sounds during the night, since I know they tend to freak me out… Even more so when I’m alone. I quickly realized I didn’t have any good sleepy time music, so I said screw it, and read my book in silence. The animals noises ceased… Maybe they weren’t fond of my headlamp? About 100 pages later, I thankfully fell back asleep.
I woke up at 8 AM and knowing I only had to hike a little over four miles to the car, I unabashedly whispered out loud, “YOU DID IT!” I completed the remainder of the loop, which passed the 60-foot Chinook Falls, Wildcat Falls, and the trail’s infamous Siouxon Ford (the river wasn’t high, so it was relatively easy), and headed home with my backpack, blister-less feet, and a crapload of pride.
This hike meant a lot to me. When faced with something that made me uncomfortable, I would find a way out of it. One day I would feel motivated and be like “Yeah, I’m gonna exercise!!” but then I would find an excuse not to – “Oh, well, I actually have a lot of laundry today, there’s always tomorrow!” I could have easily not gone on this trip; there were so many excuses presenting themselves, as if testing me… like bad weather and crowded campsites. But I did it anyway. I won against myself, and it feels really good to do something that scared me.
On the other hand, this trip made me miss Colin. It’s not that solo backpacking was bad, because it wasn’t at all. While I enjoyed putting my skills to the test and having some “me” time, I personally find camping an activity that is better shared.
With that being said, don’t worry… This won’t be my final solo backpacking venture!
– I am 100% capable of backpacking alone! And it wasn’t so bad. Choose a similarly flat, easy hike with many campsites for your first solo backpacking venture. A popular hike is also preferable, and one that isn’t too far out, in case you want to bail last minute. 🙂
– Having an iPod on hand is great for blocking out those “bumps in the night.”
– If you’re camping in a rainforest… Prepare for wetness. Bring something to sit on (even a trash bag can make a good bench cover) or be prepared to take refuge in your tent.