Backpacking in Quehanna: Pack It In, Pack It Out!

When we left the scene, my husband and I were on our first backpack trip of the year, deep in the woods of the Quehanna Wild Area. It had started out unseasonably warm, with temps in the high 70s on Friday afternoon, but overnight, they fell to about 44 degrees.

I started the night in my tent sort of half-in, half-out of my sleeping bag, with the zipper mostly open. But in the middle of the night, I awoke and felt a chill, zipped it all up, and snuggled deep down inside. Ahh, it's nice to have the right gear. I had also brought along long underwear, though I didn't end up needing it. Always better to have the right gear and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

Morning came, and with it a full-on tweet-storm, as birds arrived - or woke up - and sang, in the trees above our heads. When I am at home, after waking up and feeding the cat, one of my first acts of the day - for better or worse - is to check my various online social media sources. This morning's tweet-storm was a happier and much more positive event than much of what I encounter online! :-)

I saw light in the sky as soon as I awoke, and I immediately crawled out of my bag and began putting my clothes on, so that I could run out to the rock and see if there was frost mist rising, or any sort of animal activity out in the Valley of the Elk.

Alas, it hadn't been cold enough to make frost mist, and the animals were apparently still snug in their beds, so I took a few photos of the morning sky, returned to my tent, and got back in my bag. It was so sunny by that point that I had to put my sunglasses on, even just to lie in my tent!

Soon my husband got up, and he started moving around, taking his tent down. He's always the last one to put his tent up in the evening and the first one to take it down the next day. Meanwhile, I lollygag in my own tent, playing house, until it's time to take it all down, dry it out in the sun, and start packing it up for the walk out.

This is the point where everything you packed in, that sort of exploded into your tent and the surrounding areas, has to go BACK in the backpack! This can be no mean feat, believe me. In fact, it takes a certain amount of magic, not unlike Mary Poppins with that fancy carpet bag that apparently contains all manner of useful things.

You saw the photo from yesterday of my campsite: the boxy, blue Kelty backpack that I bought in 1987 for $50 from L.L. Bean (that is still in perfect condition, btw), the tent, the gear, the critters. Just for fun, here's a little flashback - a link to a prior shot of this same campsite in winter, with the tent that I used before this one.

If you can believe it, in the photo above, taken by my husband just before we hiked out, all of my stuff was BACK in the backpack, or stuffed in stuff-sacks and attached to the pack with bungee cords. His pack (the Jansport Carson XL-tall), which is bigger than mine, was also packed and is included in the lower left.

In the photo, I'm standing between the exact two trees where my tent had stood. I'd finished almost all of my drinks, and so my pack weighed a few pounds less on the way out than it did on the way in. Somehow it still never really seems light, but you get used to it.

And then we made one last check around, and departed our campsite in the Quehanna Wild Area, heading for home. It was very warm and sticky by this point in time, and the hike out was a sweaty endeavor, not nearly as much fun as you might think, actually. I know that many people think of camping out as a summer activity, and it's true that that is when you will enjoy the longest daylight for it.

However, my husband and I prefer to do most of our backpacking in the spring and fall, when the temperatures are moderate, and pleasant for walking. This first backpack trip was a strange one: it felt like we'd skipped spring and landed right in the middle of summer. Weird.

There are big puddles along the path that we walk in and out on, and they had been very lively with frog activity the day before. In fact, crazy-busy: you could hear the peepers peeping, and see the surface of the water moving like a frog party-party-party had been going on.

However, on our return trip, all was quiet, the puddles looked quite a bit muddier than before, and we spotted just one languid frog. What had happened to the party-party? But then I discovered what might be the answer: raccoon tracks along the main puddle. Turns out that somebody has been visiting the all-you-can-eat mud puddle amphibian buffet!

And then we were back at the car, taking off our gear, tossing everything into the car, and heading home, with a quick stop for cheesesteaks along the way. (Never underestimate the hunger of a backpacker after a trek in the woods.) It had felt more like summer than spring, but we'd successfully done our first backpack of the year, hooray!

Since this photo shows me packed up and getting ready to walk out and head home, let's let the song to accompany this posting be about homecoming - though it's also true that heading into the woods also feels like coming home, for backpackers, at least. :-)  Here is U2, with A Sort of Homecoming.

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