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Esmerelda Basin Overnight
posted by John : July 3-4, 2009

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Growing up

If you haven't already, go read the the trip report for Fortune Peak. Just a week ago Daryl and I hiked up through the Esmerelda Basin to make sure it was a worthy location for Camp LillyJack. We found that (a) the Esmerelda Basin is a grand place with lots of potential, (b) one of those potentials was Fortune Peak, and (c) another of the potentials is a wicked sunburn if you're not smart enough to put on sunscreen. (I won't say who, but it wasn't Daryl and Tokul didn't go with us.)

So now that you're all caught up with what we saw you're ready to read about Lilly and Jack (Daryl's four year old son) and their first backpacking trip. (Why only their first? The rule (around my house) is that you have to be at least four years old to do an overnight backpacking trip.)

Daryl and Jack arrived at our house at the early hour of 8am. Not too early, unless you were a moron (aka me) and had been up late the night before after climbing Bryant Peak and making final arrangements for this trip. Still, I got six hours of sleep and that's more than on most nights.

Clara was sad to see us go without her, but I think she understood. I guess that's another reason for the minimum age of four years. It means older siblings can grapple with the concept that they don't get to do everything. (We'll see how well Lilly takes it when Clara gets to go later in the season.)

It's still a two hour drive to the trailhead, but the kids did well. We found the parking lot overflowing down the road and I instantly started worrying that we wouldn't be able to get the campsite we had scouted last week. Although we had all sorts of backup plans we really wanted that site as it was perfectly situated near the river and with plenty of room for our tents.

My "gift" of personalized maps for the kids paled in comparison to Daryl's little whistles. Each got to blow theirs just a little before we got on the trail. After that it was supposed to be just for emergencies. (You know how this is going to turn out, right?)

The kids each had their little packs (Lilly was carrying water, snacks, her bear ("Hospital Bear" to be specific), a tiny US flag (it was July 3, after all), and a packet of glow sticks. I had everything else and soon after we were on the trail I was carrying Lilly's pack, too. (What? She didn't have to carry her own pack? Well... it seemed the wrong time to impose order on little Miss Chaos and spoil her enthusiasm.)

The trail was much the same as a week before, though a little warmer (it was two hours later in the day) and a lot slower (cut them some slack, they're four). Both kids loved looking down into the river and up at the mountains. Lilly was especially interested in flowers and Daryl enjoyed pointing out horse dung.

At each little creek crossing I helped Lilly get across and stay dry. The previous week we'd seen a couple turn back with a young kid in tears and I really didn't want to have to fight that reaction if she slipped and went down hard.

I won't say we made good time, but we had a good time. Lilly was her normal meandering self so Daryl and Jack would get ahead and Lilly would notice forcing us to trot a few feet, stop, look at new rocks, spint for a bit, then relax in the shade. She'd pull the water tube off my pack (forcing me to lean over backward... it's a wonder I never crushed her) and then we were off again.

When we arrived at the campsites Daryl dropped his pack at the first decent one just in case. I continued on, passed a dayhiker studying his map, and found "our" spot on the other side of the river unoccupied. I guess it shouldn't really have been a surprise. Most people who were going to beat us to the site were unlikely to want to camp only two miles into the trip.

Even though it was only two miles and about 1,200 feet of gain we were hot and sweaty. We'd been hiking for about two and a half hours and the first order of business was lunch. While the kids ate Daryl and I started unpacking. Boots came off and we slipped into Keens and Tevas. The tent was unfurled, but not the fly. It was looking like we wouldn't need it at all.

Lilly finished up her sandwich and helped me stake out the ground sheet and assemble the poles to our ten year old tent (yes, the one Amy and I got as a wedding present). Jack and Daryl worked on their fancy new tent purchased just a few days ago.

Once we had the basics of camp set up we explored around a bit. We found a couple of snow patches toughing it out in the 80F heat, but still hard as rock. Lilly and Jack splashed around in the stream for a little while and we expored upstream a bit looking for a supposed mine, but never did find it.

We tried for naps and everybody slept except for Lilly. (Of course that meant I slept poorly, but I think I did snooze a bit.) When Lilly was officially done being trapped in the tent we went out in the hopes we could stay quiet enough not to wake Jack and Daryl.

We played a bit more in the river and started working on a boat that we could float downstream. I had grand plans when I started, but they pretty much disintegrated in favor of a simple design that didn't flip over or sink. SUCCESS!

The others woke (signalled by a whistle blast from Jack) and of course they made a boat, too. In the grand tradition of competition we decided to race the boats. The raceway turned out to have a slow channel and a fast channel so it was pretty easy to see who was going to win each race, but the kids didn't pick up on it and I resisted the urge to take advantage of them through some shrewd wagering. In the end they tied in the competition for the "Pissed In Cup," and old beer can we found on our mining expedition. (Yeah, yeah. They probably meant the "Piston Cup" as in Cars, but I'm writing this so there.)

We made dinner over the fire and my stove resulting in hot dogs, macaroni and cheese (Mountain House, only the best of course), and spaghetti (Richmoore, leftover from Papa's Y2K survival kit and pretty horrid). We finished up with s'mores and Jiffypop and absolutely full after eating way too much.

We kept the fire going until it was dark (with me being terribly paranoid and chasing after anything even resembling a hot ash) and then I tried to get Lilly to go down. However, it was not to be. Jack wasn't going to sleep so she wasn't even remotely inclined to try. I'd already cleaned her up so I did the only reasonable thing and made her put pants, fleece, socks, and shoes on over her pajamas before being allowed to come out and play.

The day's excitement soon took its toll and both kids (not to mention me and Daryl) went to bed not too much later. We both left the flies off the tent so a light breeze occasionally blew through. (The only problem all day was really that it didn't get dark early enough to see stars and the kids were up way too late.)

Lilly isn't exactly the best sleeper so we were up a couple of times and finally fully awake at 6am. I forced her to stay down until 7am at which point it was a lost cause. The whistles came back out and it was like we had a flock of birds serenading us.

After a mishmash of breakfast (bagels, peanutbutter, freeze dried eggs, etc) we started cleaning up camp preparing to head home. When the sun came up enough to light the meadow above the camp I dragged Lilly and Jack to see it since it was full of Shooting Stars (a flower) and a great view of Hawkins Mountain. They were generally unimpressed, but on the way back down we found the mine (I think) that we'd been looking for earlier. It was all of 100 yards from camp.

We raced the boats a few last times, packed up the Pissed In Cup and a variety of other treasures, and headed home.

If the trail was full of people on Friday as we were heading in you can bet it was even more packed Saturday as we headed out. We got lots of congratulations for the kids and a few kudos to us for dragging them into the woods. Promises of ice cream kept them marching as did various snacks and the occasional threat (of no ice cream). It took us just about the same amount of time to get out as it did to get in. (Lilly did wear her pack for the downhill trip out. Hurray!)

We piled into the roasting car (it was about noon) and headed for home or at least for the ice cream store. They must make a killing on a holiday weekend with good weather. They were already sold out of ice and while we were there three or four people came looking for a way to chill their beer.

Jack was out before we got to Highway 97, but Lilly stayed awake and we stopped in Cle Elum for lunch before the short hop over Snoqualmie Pass. When we arrived at home we found that Amy had the other kids already in Issaquah preparing for an evening of fireworks so we saw Daryl and a sleeping Jack off before getting cleaned up.

Our totals were about 5.6 miles and 1,200 feet of gain over the two days. Lilly's favorite part of the trip was "sleeping in the tent." Surely, she meant to say, "Spending quality time with my Daddy in a truly wonderful place," but maybe that's just my feelings coloring perception.

Regardless, we'll definitely be heading back into the wilderness the next time we get a chance. However, from the look of the calendar that might not be until some time next summer.

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