Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why I Spent Fifty Nights Camping Last Year

Guys, I did it!
Skyscape X at Dollar Lake

I'm not a big goal setting or record keeping person. The thought of counting up miles or entering stuff into an electronic database makes me want to vomit. I am so scheduled in my every day life that I need some freedom when I go outdoors. For work, we have to record our hours in two databases and we are kept to a "billable hour" percentage.

Skyscape at Eureka Bar

I don't know how many miles I cover in a year and I could care less. But in January 2014 I decided I wanted to spend fifty nights out, in places reached by foot. It was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act after all, although I expanded this to include non-wilderness. So backcountry huts counted, and so did  hiking into a campground or place that could be reached by road, as long as I walked or kayaked there. I ended up with 50 nights on 12/30, and 4 car camping nights, for 54 nights out total, almost two months of camping!

Skyscape at the rattlesnake heaven, AKA Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness

You might not think this is hard, but if you are thinking this you either a) don't work full time, b) get paid to camp, or c) live in a place that is not snow-covered six months of the year. It took some serious planning, missing out on social engagements, and some charming to get this to happen.

Of course, it wasn't just 50 nights in a tent. It was fifty nights without the internet. Fifty nights without electricity. Fifty nights with silence. It's how I'd like to live my life someday, closer to the earth. I feel like we've all gotten so far away from the stars at night, the sound of the rivers, the alpine glow of a mountain. I'm a better person out there. And that's why I do it.

Skyscape at Ice Lake

The statistics:

Best campsite: Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA

Worst campsite: In the poison oak (we thought) off a dirt road in Washington, a dry camp, Day 1, and we were already thinking this was a day of our lives we could not get back.

Strangest moment: A local approaching our tents and yelling, "Anyone want some weed?" (Washington)

Scariest moment: Stalked (sort of) by a bear near the Blue Hole

Best moment: Finishing the Washington portion of the PCT with hiking buddy Flash. 507 miles!

Trail magic: A PBR and ice left on my car at the trailhead at Indian Crossing (I don't even drink PBR, but the thought counted). A hershey bar in a cache in the Southern Cascades. 

Quotes: "Are you a thru  hiker? Do you want candy?"
"You girls are the best looking thing I've seen all day!"
"Never trust a lake named Sheep!"
"There's just a little up and over."
"How many liters are you going to carry?"

Items found on trail: Several hats, underwear, a tent, toothpaste, sunglasses, socks

Hardest mentally: Mosquitoes near White Pass

Hardest physically: Climbing out of Hells Canyon after being ambushed by a poison ivy forest

Farthest hike: 23 miles

Shortest hike: 4.5 miles

Solo vs. Companions: About 50/50

Skyscape on the Idaho side of the Snake River
Will I do it again? No, unless it happens without trying. There were several mornings of hiking with a headlamp at four am, trying to make it to work in time. There were rainy days where I really wanted to turn around but I pressed grimly on. I could feel obsession creeping in. Let's face it, nobody wants to be around someone whose main focus is one thing (BTDT. Divorced it). So I'll keep hiking and camping, but I also will say yes to all the possibilities. If they involve a tent, or not.


  1. Congrats on accomplishing your goal! I think it's a difficult one - especially when you work full time. I have a hard enough time fitting in all the hikes and ski trips I want to do in a year, let alone camping. But....I do want to get in more backpacking trips this year, so that will be my goal (not 50 nights, but maybe, like 10......)

  2. Nice! I look forward to reading about your backpacking trips. It gives me new ideas of places to go.

  3. "No one can stand in these solitudes unmoved and not feel there is more in man than the mere breath of his body." Charles Darwin in The Voyage of the Beagle. Saw this quote in Ellen Meloy's The Anthropology of Turquoise and it seemed like a quote for you (although I and she, I'm sure, would substitute "in a woman." ) Thanks for sharing many of your days, and nights in the backcountry with us. You have truly earned the beauty and solitude you have found in the wild. P.S.. I don't remember trees around Dollar Lake...more than one?

  4. Yes, there's a few clumps of trees there, where the campsites are.

  5. I've walked with you each step of the way Mary.
    Thanks so much for allowing me to come along!
    By the way your camp spot in that little meadow in the
    Tucannon looks just like the spot where Shane and I camped over 10 years ago, and yes we saw more Rattlers then I ever care to see again.

  6. It's by the bridge, or the forks I think people call it. Yes it's a great spring hike but definitely frightening.

  7. I love, love, love this. Never even approached close to that number in the backcountry so kudos to you.

    How do you like your Skyscape? I'm considering getting one.

    1. I like the Skyscape! You definitely need to fiddle with the pitch but once you get it, you get it. It has limitations--setting it up in high winds is somewhat comical. And in hard dirt or sand you need rocks to help keep the stakes in. I pile rocks on now as a matter of course. It is great on a summer night with stars. And so lightweight. I have had to patch mine--once the poles fell in a wind when I did not have the tent staked properly and tore small holes in the netting. And once a squirrel chewed through. It is definitely my summer tent of choice.

  8. My first *lightweight* tent was the Nemo Meta2P, which was great but the condensation really started to bother me. I didn't really mind the aspect of pitching it or using rocks to hold it in place. And yes, wind does make things interesting. :)

    Thanks for the info- I think I'm going to rent one for a backpacking trip, see if I like it enough to buy it.

  9. Rent? You can rent them? Wow. That's a great option to have available.

  10. Congratulations! 50 nights out is a great gift to yourself :-) I'm so pleased I got to share the best and the worst with you. Flash

    1. Ha. You did! And the worst wasn't really all that bad.

  11. Glad you got your to 50 nights and added a few extra! It was fun to read about all of your adventures. Can't wait to see what this year has in store for you.


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