Math was never a weak subject for me, but it seems that I might have flunked it when I was adding up the years since my first trip carrying the red and black patrol pack (See Confessions of a reformed couch potato: Part 1). I said 15 years. Maybe it seems like 15 years, but it was really only 12. That meander into Blue Creek was in 1998.
Perhaps I just didn’t want to admit that I was a couch potato for that long. It was in the summer of 1980 — that’s 18 years before! — that I was last that far up Blue Creek. We got far enough to actually climb Sawtooth on that trip; my first time on top of that pile of rocks. My pack on that trip was a . . . um . . . “liberated” Forest Service canvas pack tied to an old-fashioned Army-issue pack board, the kind with which mortar men and machine gunners once carried their hundred pounds of weapon and ammunition.
It isn’t a bad way to carry a big load. The pack board is a shallow “D” formed of 3/8-inch plywood with a heavy canvas backing that rests against and conforms fairly comfortably to the back. Between the canvas backing and the plywood frame is a space of about 3 inches, which keeps the load from directly pounding on the spine. The worst features are 2-inch-wide web straps with no padding, which can actually be fixed, if you think about it before you are 3 miles out with 50 pounds on your back. If you don’t think about it before-hand, you will surely be thinking about it then.
It would also be relatively easy to attach a workable hip strap to this set-up, but, again, a little foresight was in order, and I had none on that long-ago trek. Nor did I have a clue about appropriate back-packing food or what to cook it in. I won’t tell you about the cast iron, but I can tell you that we ate a lot of Spam and potatoes on that trip.
“We” were my girlfriend, her son and his cousin, and a border collie named Buff who was driven mad by a variety of Picas. Still today, when I see either of those young men, they remind me of their continued dislike of Spam. It’s like I ruined it for them.
On that trip, we camped in and made our climb to Sawtooth from the infamous “East Fork Meadow,” a place that has proven again and again to be a walk through hell to get into, and another walk through hell to get out of, seemingly no matter how you get in and out. Suffice it to say there are cliffs, talus slopes, tag alder, devil’s club and big patches of hawthorn involved in traveling to and from this place. The payoff is the little bit of heaven on earth that the place is once you get there.
“Our” wilderness, the Scotchman Peaks, is not necessarily easy to get around in. For me, that’s part of the joy of going there. Navigating to someplace like the meadow and surviving the trip is worth the trouble. Just being there for whatever amount of time one can steal from our busy world is worth the travail. It can even make Spam taste good. Well, almost.
What I do know is that those young men have both had a lot of adventures since that 1980 trip into Blue Creek, and so have I. But, any time we see each other, the subject of Spam comes up, and underlying that is the memory of the adventure we had climbing Sawtooth Mountain — and getting in and out of the East Fork Meadow.
— Sandy Compton