Caddy Ridge, WA

Friday, November 28, 1997

I have discovered the ultimate meaning of life: it is to stay warm and dry. Actually, staying dry is a lost cause, but it serves to occupy time while one fights for the larger goal of staying warm.

Now, under ordinary circumstances, this is not such a big deal. One simply goes inside, or grabs the nearest towel. But these are all byproducts of modern society. When out in the woods, one is in closer contact with the elements, and learns what’s really important.

But perhaps I should back up to the beginning. This trip was supposed to have several purposes. For one, it was my annual solo camping trip. For another, I had planned to take all the papers from my divorce, and ceremoniously burn them on a mountain top to symbolically let go of their weight and burden on my life.

I left Seattle Wednesday night, with the intention of parking near the trail head and starting up Thursday morning – Thanksgiving day. However, at some point I crossed the snow-line, and driving became a little difficult. I went into the trunk to pull out my chains, only to discover that they were not there. OK, Plan B: keep going until there’s a place wide enough to turn around.

Unfortunately, that was another mile down the road, and by that time I had become firmly entrenched in the snow, necessitating attempts to extricate myself in the rain. After about 30 minutes, I remembered that I had all the food and clothing I needed for a 3 day camping trip, so I simply spent my first night here in the car. If anyone came along and I was blocking their way, then they could give me a hand getting out of there.

By morning, the rain had changed to snow, and I was desperately missing the days when I drove a 4-runner instead of my Nissan Sentra. Just as I feared, things didn’t look any better in the daylight than they had at night. I pushed and shoved as best I could, but I was most definitely stuck. I did, however, have my ice-axe with me in the trunk. It has an adz about two inches wide, and that would have to be my shovel. Not the most ideal of tools, but it was better than using my hands. Also, since it was Thanksgiving day, I knew that if I didn’t do something on my own, I could end up being there a while.

The fact that my front tires had next to zero tread did not help. I made a mental note: get new tires. So as I was busy digging trenches to drive through, and lining them with sticks, I could not help but remember that I’d been in this predicament before. Except that last time it was in the middle of summer in the Utah Salt flats in a rental car. Eventually, I managed to get myself turned around and pointed South down the mountain again. I went just below the snow line, parked, and figured I’d just walk that part back up to the trail head.

So as I got my pack all loaded up and started walking back up the hill, the weight of that 16 pound mass of papers hit me right away. I began to see what a good analogy that sack was to my former marriage. First off, it was heavy and did not contribute much to the journey. It provided a slight amount of warmth because the day-pack it was in covered my front side, but ultimately it just made me work harder. My spouse had never shared my enthusiasm for the outdoors, nor even gone on a trip with me. So this sack saw more of the woods and my dedication to ideals than the mariage ever did. And of course, there would be the fact that by letting go of the emotional baggage symbolized in that sack by burning it, I would be 16 pounds physically lighter too.

My backpack was already 50 pounds, so the extra 16 brought my weight to baggage ratio well beyond the customary 20%. Tightening the analogy, it had a definite impact on my speed, as my progress up the mountain was dismal.

When the snow got deeper, weight became more of a problem since I kept sinking in the snow to my knees, and it was hard to see over the front pack. So I came to a stream crossing, and decided that there was no merit in letting that sack drag me down any further. I found a suitable rock, and planned to burn them on the spot to lighten my load. Except that all that paper takes a good while to burn. I was struck by the amount of attention it took to keep feeding that fire, and how much energy was given off in its destruction. Amazing. After about an hour, I’d only gone through about ¾ of it, and realized that I was loosing daylight. So I threw the remaining 4 pounds in my backpack, and kept going up the mountain.

My goal was to go the 3.2 miles to West Caddy Ridge, then about another mile down the other side to camp at a gap. However, I still kept falling in the snow up to about my knees, and progress was slow and arduous. As 4:00, then 4:30 rolled around, as best I could tell, I was still about 2 hours from the ridge at this pace. It was beginning to get dark, and had been raining the entire time. I decided that this was as good a place to pitch my tent as any.

But that’s when I realized that I didn’t have my tent with me. I must have left it on the back seat of my car when I pulled my sleeping bag out the night before. This was not a pretty sight. I was wet, it was getting dark, the snow was soft and mushy, and I had no tent. Better think fast, because it’s going to be one long night.

So I found a grove of pine trees, which are known to cover large holes in the snow around their base. I deliberately plunged in, making an indentation all the way up to my waste. Then, climbing out, I did it again, and again, until I had stomped out an area big enough for my bivy sack. The hole I had made was now protected from the wind on one side by my snow wall, and on the others by the trees. The down-side was that being under the trees meant a near constant dripping of water, even if the rain should let up.

So I inflated my therma-rest mattress, threw it and my sleeping bag inside of my bivy sack, and stared at the contraption dumb-founded. That’s it? That’s going to be my home for the evening? Sure its small and light weight, but it was supposed to be a heat supplement for my summer solo tent, not my sole provider of shelter and warmth. I thought of the many days I’d spent outside in the elements with a tent no more than 6’x4’ wide, and realized that comparably, those were days of sheer luxury. It’s amazing what reality can do for one’s sense of perspective.

I thought about starting my stove for dinner, but became acutely aware of how cold I had become now that my level of physical exertion had dropped. I gathered everything so that I could reach it from the opening in my bivy-sac, stripped off my wet cloths and climbed in. The bivy sack is just barely bigger than my sleeping bag, with two short poles by the head to keep the nylon off my face and make it easier to breath Basically, it’s the ultimate in a full-body condom – thick enough to keep the elements out, but thin enough to feel the rain above and snow below.

After a short while inside my goose-down bag, my shivering stopped, and I could turn my attention back to food. Cooking was definitely out – too much effort, and I’d have to get out of my bag. So I rummaged around inside my food sack, and pulled in whatever looked good. Umm, yes! Honey roasted cashew nuts – light weight, covered in sugar and salt, and loaded with fat. Just what I needed right now. I ate them one at a time in rapid succession, trying not to spill any inside my sleeping bag. Oh, they were so good!

More rummaging revealed some dried apricots. I snarfed down six of those, followed by a pop-tart chaser, washed it all down with some Gukenade, then it was time for bed. But not until after "Now I lay me down to sleep…" You know, that one never seemed quite so poignant as it did this time. It was about 6pm, dark, cold, raining, and I was inside of a pile of nylon and goose feathers, hoping I wouldn’t freeze before sunrise the next morning. I had the distinct feeling it would be a long night.

I woke up again around midnight, munched on a bagel and cheese, then went back to bed. At 2am, I had to go to the bathroom, and did not want to leave the comfort of my cocoon. Even though it didn’t take long, in the time it took me to go 5 feet from my sack and relieve myself, I had gone from toasty warm to freezing cold, to shaking violently.

Around 7am, I woke again, knowing I had survived the night. Except that it was now pouring rain, and I could not muster the motivation to get out of my bag, put on cold, wet rain gear, stuff everything into my pack and head back to the car. Never mind my planned 17 mile route – if it took me almost all day to go this far, perhaps this was a trip better done in the spring.

Fortunately, if my mind lacked the motivation to get out of my sleeping bag, my bladder did not. So I carefully thought out what to do and in what order to maximize my efficiency in getting into warm cloths and packing up. By rapidly stuffing everything I could into my compression sack, I was able to cinch it all together and into my pack in almost no time.

With gravity on my side, the trip back down the mountain should have been easier than the way up. However, most of my steps sent me plunging through the snow up to my waist. Oh how I longed for the trip up where I only fell in to my knees! But eventually, I did make it back to the road, and continued my hike down to where I was parked.

My plan was to just open my trunk, throw everything in the back, and head home. So imagine my surprise when I opened my trunk to find everything in there soaking wet. I don’t know how water got in there, but it did. At that point, I didn’t care, so I just splashed my pack into the middle of it, closed the trunk, and headed for the drivers seat. Again, more water. I opened the door and was promptly greeted by a brief but distinct waterfall as it washed the mud off from the tops of my boots. The window had only been opened about 1 millimeter, but that was all it took. Somehow, my seat was dry, but the floor well was a veritable swimming pool.

I tried to ignore it, but the splashing at my feet was just too distracting. So I went back into the trunk and got my cooking pot, and began to bail the water out of my car. I can honestly say that there was more water in my car than has ever been inside my Kayak, and something was definitely awry.

But at least I was headed home, and I was warm.

And that last 4 pound of paper? I can safely say that it’s just garbage now.


Copyright (C), 1998, by Ashley Guberman

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