A Canadian, a Jew, an Asian guy, and an American go hiking into the woods for a camping trip. It’s either the start of a bad joke or a new reality tv show. We had a token black guy and a Mexican, but they bailed at the last minute.

A bunch of interns from Microsoft decided to go on a camping trip this weekend. So, we rented gear from REI (the American equivalent of MEC) and headed out early Saturday morning to the Boulder River trail in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. The plan was to hike in Saturday morning, arrive around lunch, set up camp, build a fire, and enjoy a weekend in nature and away from work.

The hike in was fun. It took us 3.5 hours to cover the 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of trail from where we parked to our campsite. Jeff started to fade about half way, so we started transferring gear from his pack to ours. It wasn’t until we got to the campsite that I found out that even after taking some stuff off, his pack still weighed 20 lbs more than everyone else’s. Turns out we packed way to much gear. Some of the dumber items included a cast iron pan, 3 beers (of which I only drank one and no one else wanted any), and about 10 litres more water than we needed (we even used bottled water to cook and do dishes in – next time I advocate boiling water from the river or bringing a filter and leaving the bottled water at home).

The trail to the campsite went through an old-growth forest and is breathtaking. We passed two waterfalls on the way and a ton of giant trees that we could barely see the tops of. The trail was pretty treacherous at times, especially with heavy packs on our backs. Everything was wet and slick and some of the log bridges we had to cross nearly caused someone to topple over the edge several times. About halfway up the trail we started seeing patches of snow on the ground.

By the time we got to the campsite, we were exhausted and glad to have our packs off our backs. I immediately set out trying to find kindling to start a fire. Everything was so wet there, it was a struggle to find dry wood. All the trees, both dead and alive, were covered in layers of wet moss.

I found the driest wood I could and built a small teepee with some scraps of paper I had in my pockets. I lit the paper and some of the kindling started to burn, but nothing wanted to really light and our fire soon sputtered out. Jeff offered to pour some gasoline on the fire, to get it started, but I insisted that was cheating and proceeded to use up all my matches and every bit of paper I could commandere trying in vain to start a fire. All four of us were huffing and puffing and cursing and praying to the fire gods in a vain attempt to get our fire started. But the wood was just too wet. We even used some gas and that didn’t help either.

Exhausted and frustrated with our lack of fire, we set up camp and ate lunch. On the hike up I had worked up a sweat and had peeled down to a long sleeve shirt, but without a fire started it got cold really quick and I was soon back in my my jacket.

I spent the afternoon exploring the river bank and collecting more dry wood in the hope that I would eventually get a fire going. Around dinner time two other groups showed up at the campsite. We talked to one of them and they promised if they got a fire going they would share. But that night no one got a fire going. Luckily we had a gas stove to do our cooking on and we had an amazing stir-fry for dinner (oh yeah, we hauled a wok up too – at least it was aluminum). We tried several more times to get our fire going, but eventually gave up and settled for a night of playing cards in the tent instead of roasting smores on a camp fire. I taught everyone how to play Euchre which no one had heard of – they were convinced it was a Canadian game, which I don’t think it is.

We managed to stay up until 9:00 before crashing. I crawled into my sleeping bag and changed into a pair of track pants, a t-shirt, and a long sleeve shirt – thinking that would be warm enough for the night. I woke up around 3:00 am – both my legs were cramping up and my body was shivering uncontrollably. I realized I was way too cold and put on another pair of pants, a sweater, a toque, and a pair of mitts. I managed to sleep a bit better after that. I noticed the next morning everyone else was sleeping in their jackets. It must have been dropped below zero that night.

The next morning we had pancakes for breakfast. Gotta love camping pancakes. Although it’s not the same cooked over a gas stove. While the pancakes were cooking we tried one more attempt to get our fire started with all the wood I had been gathering the day before, with a little bit of gas sprinkled on top. To our surprise, after the gas had burnt off there were still some twigs burning on their own. We started blowing on the fire and feeding it more twigs. We had fire! We never did get a very good blaze going, but it was a semi-self sustained fire. We had to tend to it pretty closely, but it was a mental victory. Most of the wood just hissed and steamed and gave off more smoke than heat, but I was happy. We roated marshmellows to celebrate.

Around noon we packed up and headed back to civilization. With our packs drastically lighter and the weight better distributed amoungst us, we managed to cover the trail in 2 hours and 15 minutes including 2 short breaks.

All in all, it was a fun weekend. The fresh air, beautiful scenery, and a lack of electronics (if you ignored the digital cameras, cellphones, and GPS devices) was very refreshing. It may have been a little cold and wet, but I enjoyed myself. Nothing like getting stinky in the woods for two days to prepare you for another week in the office.