I hadn’t thought about this in a long time, but my very first experience at packing into a high mountain lake started at the campground at Dog Lake. And as I thought about it I realized the pack-in trip to Cramer and Dumbbell Lake was 50 years ago, almost to the day.
My first backpacking experience had an awkward start. One day my dad came home and said he had talked to someone who was interested in starting a Boy Scout troop. Now, I had several years as a Cub Scout under my little blue belt, but somewhere along the line our group of neighborhood kids kind of outgrew the Cub Scout deal and nobody pressed to take it to the next level.
So, when my dad came home and wanted to see if I would be interested in this new troop, I said I’d take a pass. Then he said three magic words. Backpacking. Fishing. Trip.
It seemed there was a gentleman who didn’t have any kids of his own and he wanted to get some young men interested in scouting, and was really into hiking and camping and fishing. He was looking for a couple kids to take on a trial run hike up to a couple lakes in the mountains between Highway 12 and Highway 410.
If our scouting trip was a success, then a whole group of potential scouts, along with a few dads would make the trek the following weekend.
I sort of knew the other kid who had signed up to go on the first hike, and having no other prior engagements besides pestering my little brother and sister, and whining at my mom that there was nothing to do, I signed up too.
Now remember this is 50 years ago. No way ever in today’s world would parents send their 13-year-old son on a weekend camping trip with a total stranger. But back then nobody gave it a second thought.
As it turned out maybe the other boy’s parents were a little more cautious, because when it came time to head for the hills it was just me and the so-called scoutmaster.
The plan was to hike to Cramer Lake, set up camp, catch a bunch of fish, eat a bunch of fish, hike to Dumbbell Lake, catch some more fish, eat some more fish the next day and then hike back down to Dog Lake.
Our plan worked to perfection right up until we started fishing for dinner. It seems the fish weren’t clued in on the program and besides one fat rainbow that yours truly had right up to the shoreline before it flopped off and swam back into the cold, dark depths of the lake, we hooked nothing.
Being the packer in our pre-scout scouting trip, and not the planner or the buyer of food, I had no idea what, if anything, we had to eat. And being a growing boy, who had just hiked several miles and fished a couple hours, I was ready to eat my shoe. As it turns out I almost had to.
It seems Mr. Wannabe Scoutmaster brought the kind of food “he” liked, and never gave much thought to what a kid might want to eat. I know I had to have eaten something, but what I do remember is he “cooked” extra spicy hot Nalley Chili for dinner.
I HATE spicey hot foods, so that dinner was a no-go for this kid. Again, I am sure there was other stuff to eat but I really started to dislike this guy who would make a boy pack a bunch of the food he wanted to eat.
I’ll tell you what, I fished like a madman the next day, trying like anything to get a trout or two for whatever the next meal might be. Luckily I did. In fact, I caught just enough for one meal, and Scoutmaster man had to settle for dining on something else I packed up the mountain for him.
The only other thing I remember about the trip was the mosquitoes. They were horrendous. They flew in clouds, were big enough to carry off small animals, and were as hungry as, well, as I was. Of course, my parents didn’t have the foresight to send along any bug spray, probably figuring the scout leader would surely bring some.
I’ll admit it now, that first night in camp I climbed into my sleeping bag, buried my head, and cried myself to sleep under the constant drone of the mosquitoes circling overhead. I wanted to be anywhere else than right there.
Funny thing is, I was the first to sign up for the second trip. My dad was going and so were some of my good buddies, so it turned out to be a pretty good experience. Especially knowing there was plenty of bug repellent, and lots of food that wasn’t hot chili.
Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at email@example.com