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A damp tramp to camp

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ever since my old trail crew buddy and his business partners in Gold Bar decided to acquire an abandoned gold mine deep in the remote defiles of Eastern Snohomish County a few years ago, I’ve found myself drawn into a Promethean progression of arduous undertakings to help improve and maintain the infrastructure attendant to their claim.

I don’t do it for gold. I do it for outdoor adventure. It’s the perfect excuse to perform invigorating feats of manual labor in a restorative realm of moss-draped coastal forest that offers convenient, non-motorized access to an abundance of secluded climbing crags and infinite powder-blanketed acres of skiable backcountry terrain.

So when my buddy recently called to cajole me into a critical resupply mission, I accepted without hesitation and matriculated at his stump ranch along the South Fork of the Skykomish River for a timely rendezvous.

“Who the hell needs to be resupplied at a time like this?” I asked him as the swollen river thundered like a freight train through driving sheets of precipitation.

“Uncle Don volunteered to pull winter caretaker duties up at high camp,” my buddy said as he loaded industrial quantities of bulk chili mix into his pack. 

“In exchange for retrofitting a cabin up at the old mill site, I agreed to haul fresh food up to him every two weeks. Unfortunately—due to the untimely demise of our mule packer—I’ve fallen significantly behind on my end of the bargain.”

“How far behind?” I asked, growing increasingly apprehensive about the oversized wood crate I’d foolishly agreed to transport. 

“Well,” my buddy sighed. “Let’s just say that by now Uncle Don is probably a very hungry man.”

“What’s in the box?” I asked, struggling to balance the titanic weight on my back.

“It’s Uncle Don’s Valentine’s Day gift,” my buddy wisely cracked as we pushed onto the trail and went galloping into the ferns. I was curious to find out what sort of top-secret cargo was compressing my spine, but the ruggedness of the route we ascended drew the bulk of my attention.

Sleety rain squalls showered the old growth as we shouldered our burdensome loads over increasingly slick and snow-encrusted contours. Tempestuous meltwater roared waist-deep through innumerable creek gorges and we were compelled to forgo the customary fording locations in favor of precipitous log crossings.

I spilled into the icy effluent twice and my buddy endured the benumbing effects of three face-benumbing submersions before we finally reached Uncle Don’s place.

Fortunately, the collapsible wood stove I’d unknowingly just hauled eight miles survived unscathed. The fire we built in it thawed our extremities and helped keep the bucket of chili we cooked piping-hot.

My buddy and I soon collapsed into our sleeping bags, but Uncle Don was so hungry he kept throwing more chili into the pot. The last sound we heard that night was his lone spoon methodically stirring and scraping, trying for one last bite.

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