The maiden hike of the Old Guys Hiking Club…

Libby Lake Hike – July, 2017

Living up to one’s reputation, and perhaps a certain amount of “self-promotion,” requires having the right gear and everything that might be needed. Knowing how to use the gear carried is also essential. So, prepping for the first hike with new companions requires more thought than hiking with folks that know one’s idiosyncrasies, foibles, failings, and predilections. Then there is the fact that no matter how many years one has been camping and backpacking, it takes more thought to select gear and to pack up when one hasn’t been out and about for a while. Not having been that – out and about – for a couple of seasons due to area wildfires and the retirement of my old backpacking partner, I was taking my time getting ready.

As I packed for this first trip, I referred often to my printout of proposed pack contents. I had spent some time last evening going over my spreadsheet of available equipment. The spreadsheet is set up so that as I select items the total weight figure changes accordingly, and the item selected appears in the print area. The object of this exercise is to assemble the lightest possible pack full of exactly what is required a particular trip – that is, a mental exercise now to lessen physical exercise on the trail tomorrow. The tried and true axiom is to simply pack what you will need and leave everything else behind. It is hard to simply adhere to this when faced with multiple selections in just about every category of gear. Because of my collection of backpacking gear, I have been accused of being a packrat and a gearhead – either label is probably applicable.

Even deciding that one will need say, a particular sleeping bag, requires checking the weather forecast to get a clue as how cold it might be at the destination. But gear selection deserves a treatise all its own and I am supposed to be sharing how our first trip together unfolded.

Anyway, along with laying awake cogitating about whether or not I had included every piece of gear I might need, rolling over to check the time about every hour – one doesn’t want to be late on the first date, so to speak, I found myself dreaming about the Canyon Creek Fire blowing up, crossing the Methow River and rampaging its way up Libby Creek Canyon – where we are headed tomorrow morning. To do so, it would have to run against prevailing winds, cross the valley floor, highway, and river. Improbable, but not impossible. We’ve seem wildfires do exactly those things in the last couple of years.

Rising at 4:30, I attended to the necessaries, set my gear outside, and settled down for a last cup of coffee. Pasayten drove up on time, and I loaded up. When we got to the Young Guy’s place, we discovered he was just out of the shower – that he had not had much sleep having been involved in a
meeting until nearly midnight – so he was a bit late getting final chores done. To help get us on the road, I offered to load his pack into the pickup. He said, “Sure, go ahead.” I think it took both Pasayten and I to get his pack over the side of the pickup bed, but I may be exaggerating a bit I am writing this two years after these events took place. I do remember wondering if he had packed the proverbial kitchen sink/

The ride to the trailhead went really well, we didn’t get lost once on the unmarked backroads due to Pasayten’s GPS unit. At the trailhead, the wildfire smoke was minimal and we could see that a bit higher up it looked even clearer. I had made the statement that if it were very smoky I was not inclined to hike in it – even with a mask. The subject of exactly what I would do if I chose not to hike along with the guys was never discussed. Could have been a long walk home, right? At which point – the realization set in that if I were walking in wildfire smoke to get home, why wasn’t I walking through wildfire smoke to get to a beautiful alpine lake with great fishing – and away we went up the trail.

Trail etiquette requires a bit of “After you, sir!” especially with new companions. No one likes to eat dust, nor have the same view the entire hike – “If you’re not the leader, the view never changes.” As with most experienced hikers, our group found its own pecking order as we each hiked at our own pace on the easy sections and came together on the steeper or rougher trail sections. It is a natural process as the leader – whoever that might be at that time – slows down to pace himself up the steep or to pick his way across a rough section. I’ve found for myself that it is usually better if I follow along especially at first as I have the tendency to start out too fast – pacing oneself becomes more important as one accumulates years and miles on the odometer.

The Libby Lake Trail is not a cruise, nor a walk in the woods. It is rocky, rough in sections and rises quite steeply at times. Overall, it rises 3,800 feet in elevation over 5.3 miles from trailhead to lake; Approximate hiking time is 4-1/2 hours – according to USFS data.

I believe we set a record for time spent on this trip by just about exactly doubling that stated “Approximate time.” I’d like to be able to justify the time it took by being able to testify that we made a side trip or two, or discovered a new species of whatever, or some other time-consuming diversion like trail repair or cutting out fallen trees. Being honest, I can’t do that. We just hiked – at least when we weren’t taking a break, having a snack, catching our collective breath, or napping. I was somewhat amazed at how quickly a short rest stop – one where most hikers wouldn’t even remove their pack – turned into a pack off, sit down breather for the Young Guy. I remember looking at Pasayten – also standing with pack on just catching his breath – and both of us septuagenarians smiling and shaking our heads as the Young Guy settled down with pack off. I could imagine he was having the same thought I was – that of, “kids!”

By the time we topped off the first climb up from the trailhead, the wildfire smoke is virtually gone – at least undiscernable. Looking back down and across the canyon below when the trees allowed, we could see the top of the smoky layer below. There is some deadfall across the trail to be gotten over, under, around or through. A few tangles required a little bit of each technique contortionally speaking – the under and through being somewhat easier for the shortest member of our trio. Negotiating these spots, and slowly ascending the really steep sections in Pasayten’s trademark 12-step style between breathers – did slow us down some, but there were other reasons we were taking longer than the USFS approximate hiking time. Added to the facts that we each were somewhat overweight and out of shape, therefore moving slower than back in the day, the Young Guy began napping at about every rest stops after lunch. Or at least that is how I remember it now two years later.

I definitely remember that moskies were an issue every time we stopped. I wondered how they found us so quickly each time, but realized we were exuding some major heat and perhaps were a bit aromatic now. I donned my moskie headnet that fits over my bucket had and drapes to me shoulders and applied Cactus Juice repellent to my exposed skin, basically just my hands as I had no desire to zip off the legs of my hiking pants. My two companions were bathing in DEET – a substance I can barely tolerate.

Did I mention the Libby Lake Trail goes up? Is steep? Rocky? Yeah, I think I got that fact across. But, truthfully there are sections of this trail that are an absolute pleasure to hike. Strolling along, I almost stepped on a family of Spruce Grouse while gazing around as one section of the trail wandered almost level through an open glade and across a bench with views of the still-somewhat-distant ridges and peaks. Raven Ridge and Hoodoo Peak, both rugged and scenic, pretty much surround the Libby Lake basin. About a mile below the lake, there is an old cabin right next to a water source. The cabin is actually in very good shape, looks totally usable though conditions would have to be pretty extreme to get me to set up housekeeping in there.

At the cabin, as I wrestled with my water purifier and the Young Guy napped. Pasayten announced that he was going to mush on up to the lake. The Young Guy opened his eyes long enough to watch Pasayten disappear up the trail, and ask me where Pasayten got that burst of energy? “ He must have found another gear,” the young fellow said as he drifted back to sleep.

I was not on any particular hurry and decided to hang around until our young companion woke up. Thought it might also be good to make sure that the Young Guy didn’t end up snoozing here all night. I wandered around with my pack off, took a bunch of photos, and then found a comfy spot to sit down to enjoy the quiet.

As I settled down, I found myself thinking about the replacement state-of-the-art h2o purifier I had brought along. The first Steripen I had got broken when I allowed a young companion to use it on a previous trip. Steripen replaced that one with no fee. The replacement unit is the one that had just not worked. I had borrowed Pasayten’s pump-filter to replenish my supply of potable water. I had no idea what was wrong with the Steripen I had – could simply be the batteries were no good, or whatever. All I knew was that I had pretty much lost confidence in the technology. (Upon our return, I sent the unit back to the maker with a note that I didn’t expect or want a replacement, but I would like to know why the unit wouldn’t work – Steripen graciously sent me a new model — again with no fee — that worked fine on several trips after this Libby Lake trip.)

What I was really cogitating about was how many years I had consumed how much water from how many different natural sources in how many different states without chemical treatment, boiling, or filtering. It was not until I began guiding professionally for a company in Washington State that I had to carry water treatment. Like so many other backpackers, for years I, and my companions, hiked along with a Sierra cup clipped to belt or pack and dipped unconcernedly into any source of water that appeared potable. Not to say a certain degree of knowledge and judgment was not required, but on well-watered trails I seldom carried water. Since I grew up drinking out of irrigation ditches, ponds, and even puddles, I thought the first water filters that appeared in my outdoor catalog as elitist gear – just another fear-inducing money-maker. Though I did think treatment would be appropo in certain undeveloped countries and maybe where using polluted water was necessary and boiling wasn’t sufficient. So, when the Young Guy stirred, sat up, and wondered if Pasayten was at the lake already, I also got up, walked over to the creek, bellied down, and slurped up some water. The actual odds of in swallowing a giardia of cryptosporidium cyst is pretty high, and I had no ill effects from my bit of rebelliousness.

With a bit of stretching, a few groans, and a grumble or two, the Young Guy and I get our packs on and start up the last 400 feet to the lake — that is 400 feet in elevation over about a mile-and-a-half of trail. I remember mentioning that it seems every trail I’ve been on lately has a steep section just before I get where I want to go.

First glimpse of Libby Lake seems to help dissipate the aches and pains, some of the weariness vanishes, and we look around for Pasayten’s tent. As remembered, the camping area of Libby Lake is pretty rocky with various-sized open spots for pitching tents. Pasayten has set up a bit away from a well-established rock campfire ring. He points out a spot on the other side of the fire pit that he feels is adequate for the YoungGuy’s tent and tells me that I’m going to have to select where I will set up my hammock.

I am in a Love/Hate relationship with camping hammocks. Love the comfort; Hate the climbing in and out of one in the wee hours. I have also realized that I like having elbow room, some nighttime essential odds and ends at hand, and don’t necessarily like being cocooned. Add to that I am a side and//or belly sleeper, do not rest well for long sleeping on my back, and my love of a hammock’s comfort is of no import.

I borrowed a son’s 16-oz. Mosquito Traveler Hammock because it has a zippered bug net canopy, and my 11-oz. Traveler Hammock doesn’t. Since the moskie situation at the campsite was as prevalent as along the trail, I was glad I had bug protection. During the first night, I learned that finding the zipper pull on the hammock’s bug canopy is not easy in those wee hours and if one doesn’t desire to climb back into the company of moskies that slipped in while attending to the business of said hours, the canopy must be zipped closed just as on a tent door. Of course finding the zipper pull to get back in is much easier than searching for it under sleeping bag and insulating pad, but swatting away the attacking makes this a one-hand operation. Why is it that zippers always seem to snag when one is under duress?

Anyway, I decided to carry in a one-pound hammock rather than a 3.8 pound tent figuring there were more trees to hang from than spots to pitch a tent. Also choosing the hammock made for a lighter pack to carry. I found two perfectly spaced trees just uphill a bit from the campfire area and a reasonable distance from either companion’s tents. I had been warned about snoring and other possible assorted night noises.

After getting my bedroom set up, I carried my kitchen and dining gear down to a spot near the campfire. I set up my kitchen on a flat rock while I watched the Young Guy sort tent poles for the 4-person dome tent he brought. While he is a big guy – relatively speaking – I thought a 4-person tent was kind of overkill and if I’d known his tent was that big, I could have furnished a lighter weight tent for him to carry. Or maybe, I could have left my 1-pound hammock and ½ tarp at home. After he told me that he had a reputation of snoring, I thanked him not offering to share. He told me that if perhaps he didn’t have the proper poles to make the tent a dome, he’d be joining me in my hammock. A disussion of approximate combined weight versus the hammock’s limit and trhe strength of the trees I had suspended it from ensued. As it turned out, he had more poles than were required, actually ending up with a spare or two from another tent. He alibied that he had not been the last person to use the tent he brought and evidently he had some components from another family tent. I had no choice but to note that perhaps such extra items had added to his load.

The Young Guy had been coaxed into this hike by the promise of a “short hike and really great fishing!” Not by me, but the coaxing had been done and worked. A comment from the coaxee that he hoped the fishing lived up to the coaxer’s claim better then the “short hike with some steep sections” description did. Pasayten did admit he had done this hike as a dayhike before. That it was a bit more strenuous with full camping gear. I told him that I had dredged my memory for items about my previous hike into Libby Lake, and although it had occurred more than 30 years previously, I knew it was quite steep and rocky. I did confess that 30 years ago, it probably didn’t seem as steep and rocky as it did to this particular senior member of our group on this particular occasion.

I also mentioned it was interesting to learn Pasayten’s Twelve-Step Hiking Method, and how easy it was to adapt it to the less-steep trail sections. Changing over to a 20-step protocol was smooth, and on the level stretches one could add as many steps as desired between breathers – right? I did mention that the 12-step sections seem to require longer pauses and more deep breathing between efforts than the 20-step sections do, and was there a formula for coordinating same?

First trips with new companions can be a lot of fun learning how to be coexist with one another – it is also helpful to learn which buttons should not be pushed, which issues should not be discussed, which foibles should be ignored, and which idiosyncracies should not be pointed out. I decided that perhaps I should save further discussions of hiking techniques until Psayaten seemed in a more jovial mood.

With camp set up, it is time to sample the fishing. Preparing for fishing on this trip, Pasayten and I had messaged back and forth about what methods we had used successfully in Libby Lake. I mentioned that while presently I mostly fished a fly and a bubble setup in high lakes, I could have used spinners or spoons 30 years previously, and didn’t really remember what I had used in Libby. Pasayten said he’d be using his tried-and-true spinner — the one that he used just about all the time, though occasionally he would change colors.

“What spinner is that,” I asked.

“A 1/4-ounce black Bangtail spinner,” Pasayten said, “Sometimes I will use a green one.”

“While I like Bangtails that really do spin, much better than Roostertails, using one spinner all teh time sounds boring to me,” I said, “I like variety. And a ¼ ounce of flies adds up to a nice variety. Trying different flies gives one something to do when the fish aren’t cooperating. Besides that I only have a couple of 1/8-ounce Bangtails – only one in black.”

“While you are messing around deciding which fly to use, I will be catching fish,” Pasayten said, “and if the fish don’t like my offering, I wiill take a nap,”.

And so we three fished and caught really nice-sized Cutthroat Trout – no record-breakers but every fish was beautiful. I caught fish with both my underweight Bangtail spinner and whatever fly I tossed out with a bubble float. Pasayten and I were releasing all the fish we caught – me because I did not have the means to cook any, and Pasayten because he only eats a couple of kinds of fish and trout is is not one of them. The Young Guy planned to keep a few to cook over the campfire – which he did and shared with me. It was a delicious smoked treat I really enjoyed, and of which Psayten tried one morsel and declared, “Yep, that’s a fish.”

Overall, the trip was a success. As with any adventure there were a few, uh, misadventures, but no serious incidents. The Young Guy manged to do a full-body immersion while sponge-bathing. I managed to entertain Pasayten on our exploratory ramble over to and beyond the outlet creek, by taking a short fast “elevator ride” to the bottom of the old wooden water gate — a rock dam and gate were built back when the cabin below was constructed. I have been told the work was done by farmers and ranchers to raise the level of the lake so that it would hold water into the dry autumn months. As I stepped across from one side to the other, either the top timber rotated a bit or my camp shoe slipped and I found myself examining the sides of the chute up close. It was actually a nice landing thanks to the thick bed of moss and I bounced right out of the chute to Pasayten’s surprise. A slight nick on one forearm perahps from flying past the bent-over nails in the chute hardly bled at all.

I did re-pitch my hammock into a bug-tent on the ground using my trekking poles after my first night hanging. Worked much better for me and was warmer without the breeze blowing underneath me through the sailcloth hammock bottom – the 48-inch-long sleeping pad worked pretty well as I am only 65 inches from head to toe, but did move around a bit during the exits and entrances in those wee hours. The new setup helped me improve my body’s flexibility every time I entered or exited my new bedroom as now the zipper was at ground level. I found that if I lay down on my groundcloth alongside the zippered entrance and rolled in, I didn’t have to really entertain my companions getting in and out.

On first trips with new companions, one usually learns things – besides who snores and who has a noisy air mattress. When the Young Guy and I arrived at the camping spot, Pasayten was reclining in a chair. Now I have always adhereed to the “find a comfortable rock” seating plan in addition to not carrying more single-use items than needed though I do carry a chunk of closed-cell foam to replace the natural padding that has somehow been lost. Does one need a chair? Even if it is ultra-lightweight and comact when packed away? Sadly, I have to confess that after taking advantage of Pasayten’s fishing time to sit in his chair, I decided that I deserve one also. I will find a way to justify the expense, and carrying the weight – maybe it’s enough that I am more than three-quarters-of-a-century old with many, many miles on my personal odometer?