This wasn’t my first backpacking misadventure. After a few of them, I should know better than to trust my husband, Danny. The first time we backpacked with our daughter, Courtney, the easy four-mile trip became eight, and I carried over thirty pounds. This year’s Siepel Hut backpacking trip wouldn’t require a tent or stove. We would stay in a comfortable hut for the night. It’s part of the 10th Mountain Division. A four-mile hike with a much smaller backpack would be easy peasy, right? Ha!
We started up the steep trail at noon. It’s amazing how I had to stop to catch my breath right away. As we hiked, my body got used to the altitude and thinner air. Did I mention that I had just tested negative on Monday after having COVID for two weeks? Yeah, so I was still dealing with some after-effects, I’m sure.
Cue the tiny violins.
We enjoyed the fields of wildflowers, where butterflies danced from flower to flower. It was much nicer than the boggy marsh where mosquitoes whined.
We continued for an hour and made good time over the next. When we got to the sign, we thought we were getting close. One more half-hour to go.
This was our first wrong turn.
We climbed up a trecherous hill toward New York Lake and watched for a sign with an intersecting trail. Twice, we climbed and hiked back down. Then I remembered a trodden animal trail before the marshy swale. Aha! We lost at least a half-hour, but once we started on the foot-trodden grass, we wound our way upward and found a cairn — pile of rocks — that marked the trail.
Courtney expressed our frustration.
Back on course, we circled toward the mountainous ridge and stopped to eat a very late lunch. Courtney checked her GPS. With our unfortunate missteps, the hike would be closer to eight miles. Nooooooo! Not again! I threw shade at Danny while he happily devoured a sandwich. I had to admit that the weather was perfect and the landscape lush and full of creatures — pika, mink, quail and a ptarmigan, to name a few.
Courtney confirmed that the hike would take us on a rise in elevation of over two thousand feet, as Danny had said. Something to look forward to as the air grew thinner and the sun slid downward.
The random placement of cairns became difficult to find on the steep terrain. At times, it would have been easier to crawl.
After trekking up to the jagged ridge, we lost the trail again. I made the executive decision to wend our way below it to the grassy slope of a whale’s tail in the distance. The hut had to be on the other side. I crossed my fingers.
We came from that peak behind us.
We kept our vertical and wove through thickets of fir and rocky outcroppings. We had been hiking for almost six hours. My jaw hung while breathing in and out — nostrils no longer up to the task.
As we scrabbled through another field of granite, something bit my inner thigh. It felt electrical. It was a charlie horse of the weirdest kind. It dropped me, so I stretched and forced it to stop.
Courtney suggested eating a Cliff bar. The salt and sugar were just what I needed. I finished the last of the water in my two Nalgenes and made a mental note:
Next time, I’ll pack Pedialyte sticks. They are great for electrolyte replacement and dehydration. I took one a day while I was feverish with COVID.
We hiked and hiked and hiked. Would it ever end? My muscles were long past exhausted. Their screams had died down to whimpers. My backpack, although large enough for what I needed, wasn’t made for hiking and bruised my shoulders. I longed for the hut in the woods to stretch my legs out on a cot and rest, but we were above treeline and still needed to find a cairn to mark the trail down into the sylvan vale — looked it up last week, forested valley.
AT LAST! Courtney spotted the cairn at the top of the World. A big one, at that.
This is where I sang, “On the other side of the Mountain.” It was a tuneless attempt given my mouthbreathing status.
The downward descent proved tricky on the loose rock.
But after several switchbacks, we finally made it to the road. But where was the hut?
I was so over it.
It was after 7:00. We hiked up and down the road but couldn’t find a sign. Luckily, Courtney pinned the Siepel Hut in Google Maps before she left. We bushwacked from the road down through the woods in pursuit of the red dot.
When the thick evergreen forest opened to a field, look what I spotted!
The bull moose turned all the way around. I swear, he grumbled. We took some quick pictures and bolted. Moose like to keep their distance, and they can be menacing.
Danny and I followed Courtney until the pitched roof of the Siepel Hut appeared. I was never happier. With all of our extra hiking, it ended up being nearly ten miles. This picture was taken the next morning.
It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever taken. BUT, next time, we plan to drive to the Siepel Hut, drop off our gear, and take a day hike — a nice three to four miler. We realized most hikers started from the hut and hiked upward in the opposite direction. That’s why the cairns were so inaccurate and random.
We took a shortcut back to the car the next day. It was only a five-mile hike! Sheesh.
Misadventures always make the best stories. Next year, I’m taking charge. Then we’ll really be in trouble. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m directionally challenged.
Are you adventurous? Do you like to stick to the crowds or explore the road less traveled?
Here are a few more misadventures in backpacking!