I'm laying claim to it right now, declaring this the year of the hammock. This is a simple concept, but maybe not such a simple task to conquer. Any of my time spent overnight in the elements will be spent stretched out in a hammock, at least whenever possible. The benefits are pretty clear to me already; comfort, light weight, quick to set up, second use as a hanging seat. But, there are lots of possible problems and obstacles in the way including weather, and terrain. Here is a good video of one setback on the first overnight of the year.
[video_lightbox_youtube video_id="hLDOz7VVRKk&rel=0" width="640" height="480" auto_thumb="1"] But I won't be deterred so easily. Like any other time we fail at something, we pick ourselves up an try again. Perseverance is necessary when you take on a task with as many obstacles as this. The Lewis river hike brought out this fact. An incredibly scenic hike on the southeast side of Mount St helens, the Lewis river offers several iconic northwest waterfalls, as well as some enormous old growth forests. Anthony Buglio, Ben Lyons and myself made the 2.5 hour trip out to the Lower Lewis River Falls, where the trail begins. Many people may question why anyone would go backpacking during some of the coldest and definitely most wet months of the year. That is exactly why we went backpacking. The three of us decided we needed a night out braving the elements and attempting to blindly ignore the cold, wet climate. It was a Worst Day of the Year kind of hike.
Its was a chilly and damp start as we headed up river away from the lower falls and campground. The trail was clear of snow and ice for the first portion, but what it lacked in winter elements it made up by ways of washouts and fallen widow makers (large, heavy limbs). Before we reached the middle falls we were detoured out towards a fire road and around back to the trail. We didn't catch site of it, but the signs along the trail mentioned a large mudslide that wiped out the trail. The hike around added about a mile, but brought us past some side falls and dense forests of massive Doug Firs. We found our way back to our original path just in time to catch a glimpse of middle falls.
Soon after enjoying a break at the bottom of middle falls we started back up the switchbacks heading further up the river. This was the area we began to see sites of winter. Areas of the trail had patches of snow or piles of fist size chunks of ice. The overcast never cleared up that day but our spirits remained high as we continued up the trail in search of a good spot for camp. Soon we came to a couple areas where the trees thinned out and the ground leveled close to the river. Old growth stands that survived the last timber boom up in this area stand as monuments of the strength of nature if left to flourish on its own.
A couple inspections later and we found our home base for the night. No time for the weary though as we dropped off our bags and finished the hike up to the Upper Lewis River falls, which remained visible from our camp site, through the bare limbs of the brush on the river bed.
The volume of water cascading over the rocky edge of the falls everyday is staggering. This makes for some amazing scenery, but as we learned later that night it also creates a big obstacle for our campsite not far down stream. With the temperatures getting down into the high 20s, low 30s we knew a fire would be an essential element to make tis trip a comfortable one. Ben brought some fire starters with this very idea in mind. It was hard to determine why exactly our failed attempts at creating fire were happening until the following day when breaking down the camp. The weather was clear the night before, yet anything out in the elements collected a layer of moisture we didn't have the day before. Apparently the power of the waterfall created a thin mist of water that constantly blanketed everything down river.
We persevered though, waking up the next day to pockets of sunlight breaking through the clouds. We made one last exploration up to the top of the falls and down to the base of it before packing up and heading home. The area around the Upper falls is a just reward for the short 4 miles each way, giving way to several sites of the Lewis River, waterfalls of varying sizes, and trees large enough to transport you to the land of the lost. During the more comfortable summer months this trail is known to be busy with day hikers and backpackers alike, but our trip only a few weeks into the new year meant we had more room for enjoyment outside the normal encroachment of human society. It was well worth the cold, damp night. And to be honest, I feel I had a comfortable sleep during the night, laying dry, suspended above the wet, cold ground. Chalk up the first trip of the year, the year of the hammock. I imagine its only going to get better.