The Reinvention of Backpacking
I used to love backpacking. The notion of wandering through the mountains with all you need to survive resting on your shoulders seemed to me the only way to truly experience wilderness.
In my youth, I spent many a summer romping about the Rocky Mountains with my dad. I can still recall my backpack: basically a torture rack with an aluminum frame and an unpadded belt (to give you those delightful hip blisters). I remember it being so full of gear I needed to use a tree to pull myself up because I didn’t have the strength to stand up on my own.
I also remember hiking for long hours in the cold and rain only to make camp in the twilight and try to sleep on my 1/2-inch-thick Thermarest.
Back then it was “character-building,” as my father liked to say. At the time, other words came to mind. But the thing was: no matter how hard it got, how wet I was or how sleep-deprived I became, I loved it. I love the smell of the outdoors, the views from on high and I loved knowing I had survived the hardships. Character-building indeed.
Now in my 50’s, I seem to have lost my taste for lousy sleeps, freeze-dried dinners and a heavy backpack. Not that I’ve lost interest in the wilderness—that will never leave me—it’s just that I realized I can have one without the other. And that’s where the Crater Lake & Rogue River Trail Hiker came in.
This trip whispered sweet promises into my semi-sedentary life: “Hike in the wilds of Oregon; arrive at a riverside camp where all your gear is waiting along with delicious appetizers! Have amazing dinners and fresh breakfasts but no, don’t worry about cooking or scrubbing pots…we’ll do that for you.”
So naturally, I signed up.
Our first day took us to Crater Lake National Park for a rather damp stroll along the caldera followed by an exquisite dinner and night of rest at Crater Lake Lodge. The weather at Crater Lake can be unpredictable in late May (there was snow on the ground and even a few flakes in the wind) but that’s to be expected at over 7000’ elevation. May also happens to be the best time to enjoy the wildflowers on the Rogue River Trail.
Speaking of which, after leaving the park we drove to the trailhead just outside of Galice for a quick lunch and the start of our hike. While we donned sunscreen and filled our water bottles, the rafts were packed up with all our gear for the trip downstream leaving us with the essentials: camera, water, a snack and whatever else we wanted in our daypacks.
The first day of hiking set the trend for the rest of the week. The group spread out depending on walking speed with a guide in front and me picking up the slack at the back. After an hour or so, we’d stop for water and a snack break. Along the way, we marveled at the countless wildflowers and enjoyed breathtaking overlooks of the river. The pace was always easy and with our gear stowed on the rafts, there were no heavy packs or hip blisters.
The trail itself is a rolling affair—well maintained with few exposed areas and the occasional shady side creek to cool your heels. It is not, however, without its hazards. We had to be on constant guard for poison oak as it is found along the entire length of the trail. We also came across our first of two rattlesnakes on day one—a youngster who seemed quite happy to get as far from us as possible.
Arriving in camp after a few easy hours of hiking, we were met by the crew who were setting up the kitchen and unloading everyone’s gear. The camps were set up the same as on a river trip. So while we fumbled with our tents, the crew got down to the important matter of preparing food.
And so it was for the duration of the trip: we’d start hiking around 9 a.m., break for lunch somewhere along the trail and roll into camp around 3 p.m. Most days we covered 8-11 miles with a day of rest mid-trip at Mule Creek where we spent the day playing horseshoes at the Rogue River Ranch, exploring the museum there and hanging out by the river.
If you ever felt like not hiking for a day, the rafts were there to provide alternate transport and a few guests on our trip took advantage of this option. Those who hiked experienced the varied terrain from rocky canyons to grassy fields to forests of madrone and fir trees. Those who floated, well, I am sure they had fun, too.
All in all, it was a good compromise between a week-long wilderness hike and a rafting trip and even though we ate like royalty, I actually managed to burn off a few pounds. My kind of backpacking.
This article appears in the 2016 OARS. Adventures Catalog. Request your free copy here.