Then & Now
Camping on the Mountain Loop Highway
November of last year marked the first time I’d gone camping since I was a kid. My parents had made me go so often that it had become something dreaded, but it was time for that to change. I wanted both myself and my children to experience the Mountain Loop Highway between Granite Falls and Darrington in new ways, beyond just driving and hiking.
So, we overpacked our car (we were technically first timers after all), then made our way up the side of White Chuck Mountain in Darrington. When I say we made our way up, I mean our car crawled its way up. It is a 12 mile, 45+ minute drive from the Mountain Loop Highway, up a narrow (sometimes bordering on the edge) and winding, not so bumpy, dirt road to the top of the mountain.
As daunting as the drive might seem, the views in the last few miles and form the top make it more than worth it. It is those views that truly made me fall in love with the mountains found in the area (sorry Whitehorse). The most notable spot is a panoramic open view of the surrounding mountains. It was like getting up close and personal with all of them, all at once. To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen anything as beautiful, quiet, and peaceful as the world from that very spot.
The views don’t stop there though. The best one to be had is along the hike to White Chuck. If you are paying attention, you may have just realized something awesome, that something being the fact that the mountain is one of the few that you can hike to without having to hike up it (unless you are interested in traversing its peaks that is). Did I mention there is more panoramic views along the hike as well?
I digress though, this article is meant to be about camping as well. Doing so at the top of a mountain, particularly one that is about a week shy of being covered in snow and inaccessible, is not for the faint of heart. It’s cold, over an hour away from civilization, surrounded by who knows what kind of wildlife, and there are not a lot of options.
There is only one decent makeshift camping spot up there, but it gets the job done, and if a group of newbies can manage to make it work, then anyone can. It being our first time, we definitely roughed it. We hadn’t yet developed our campfire cooking skills yet. Just good old fashioned hot dogs and s’mores for us.
We also hadn’t developed a comfortable sleeping option or a plan for going to the bathroom. As gross as it is, one child decided to pull a no. 2 off to the side of the tent and cover it up with leaves. Then not one, but two, of his siblings managed to step on it while foraging for kindling. They’ll never live that down, and he will forever be reminding of bathroom rules whenever we go camping.
It was an accident that sent a few of us to the hospital, led to week after week of being in bed, and month after month of recovery. It also took the life of our beloved Beast, the car that had taken us on all of the adventures that helped make 2016 one of the best years of my life.
Needless to say, our driving, hiking, and camping along the Mountain Loop Highway was done until summer came back around, and even then we weren’t quite the same, but we did bounce back.
Fast forward a year …
The summer months had been full of camping trips, about 4 or 5. We had a lot of fun, continued to build our skills, explored new places, and grew closer. We also finally let go of the Beast, allowing it be towed off to be used as parts so that we could make room for a garden. There was still something missing though, closure to be had.
As 2017 neared its end, and November crept closer and closer, it became clear that the remaining closure I was looking for was a final camping trip. One that would bring the year full circle. One that would allow us to finally let go of what was, and start looking forward to what would be.
So, the SnoCo Kid and I packed ourselves into Bigfoot, the car that is to now tasked with filling the Beast’s shoes. We then headed down the Mountain Loop Highway for what would hopefully not be the last time for the year. Along the way, we stopped to scope out potential camping spots and take photos of all of the Fall colors.
We finally settled on a spot a bit farther up than usual, located just below Barlow Pass. Our ever faithful camping companion, the South Fork Sauk River, was once again right by our side, providing beautiful views and peaceful ambient noise. Short of panoramic views atop mountains, you couldn’t ask for more.
As we began to settle in, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far we have come as outdoors … women (it is usually just myself, the SnoCo Kid and our pup Miss Everly adventuring) and campers in the last year. We had driven, hiked, and camped, more than most women dare. Together we conquered the Monte Cristo Trail, which should have been impossible with my current health. We had become expert spotters of not only deer, but owls and bears too (yeah I said bears).
As at home, cooking became an adventure in and of itself. Just because we were roughing it, didn’t mean we couldn’t do so gourmet style. If you peeked in our car and ice box, you probably would be shocked at all the food. What do we do we make with it all? There is obviously the classic s’mores, then there are bacon and cheddar pigs in a blanket, chili dogs, egg sandwiches, and our must have favorite – bacon cheeseburgers with BBQ sauce, fried onions, spinach, and buttered corn on the cob.
The piece de resistance though, has to be our fires. Views and food aside, nothing beats spending hour after hour sitting with loved ones by the camp fire with no phones or other distractions. Its the best kind of quality time there is. This time around, however, it wasn’t all that easy. After a beyond dry summer, we spent the whole trip battling with wet ground and kindling, and learning lessons for next time.
As our trip came to a close, I was thankful for the time away and to reflect. I struggled though, when it came to whether I had found the closure I was so desperately seeking. In all honesty, it was just a camping trip, no different than the 4 or 5 that came before it, although quite a bit colder. There was no defining moment that would set everything right and put things back on course, but then it came to me.
I realized I already had my defining moment, found my closure. It had come when I made the decision to go on an extended hiatus from Live the SnoCo Life, to let go of the worry and potential consequences that would follow from that decision, and to let go of all of the bad experiences and negativity that had brought me to that point of it being necessary. I didn’t need a camping trip to let go of the accident a year ago, I had already let it go, I just hadn’t let myself see that yet.