First Family Trip: Olympic National Park

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The Olympic National Forest is a pretty unbeatable old growth wilderness, just four hours from the Lower Mainland

I recently had a baby, and my partner took a 12-week paternity leave from his teaching job so we could hang out as a family for a while. It has been an amazing time, and it passed a little too quickly. Before he went back to work, we decided to celebrate with our very first “camping” trip as a family. We packed up the car and headed south, over the border into Washington state and to the Olympic Peninsula. We have done camping trips to the area before – see last year’s Easter Camping excursion to Deception Pass State Park – but this time we figured we needed something a bit different. A roof over our heads, for one. Neither of us was quite ready to brave the elements in April with a newborn baby, so we opted for a cabin. We wanted heat, running water, a basic kitchenette, and NO access to internet, phone, wifi or a television.

I was happy to find a spring promotion for a cabin at Sol Duc Hot Springs, in Olympic National Park. I liked the sound of the simple, rustic accommodations, and the hot springs themselves. The site is located 12 miles off the main road through the park, so it  does require a commitment to hunker down for a few days. It is just over a two hour drive from Port Townsend, the beautiful city on the other end of the Washington State Ferry from Keystone.

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Port Townsend – our first stop on the Olympic Peninsula

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An unremarkable cabin in a remarkable place

Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is one of those funny old lodges-with-cabins you find in the middle of a spectacular wilderness, a legacy of the outdoor recreations of the privileged class in the early part of the last century. Perhaps the most stunning is the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite, which I would call a wilderness-ski-castle for very rich and good-looking WASP families. The Sol Duc Lodge is nowhere near as storied or as opulent as the Ahwanee, but it has the same kind of overpriced meals and rustic-themed gift shop. Between the run-down staff and the aging hippy clientele, the Sol Duc actually bares a closer resemblance to the folks at the Big Sur Lodge. The landscape is wet and cold most of the year, but the trees are huge and the wilderness trails are plentiful. It isn’t hard to imagine that the regular visitors come here year after year, and this helps keep the place, oddly, both dated and timeless. The curtains are a treasure worthy of any standard-issue portable classroom in the 1980s, the heating is dodgy, the cabins are entirely without good design or modern decor. The cabins are too close together and charmlesss to be considered luxury, and yet it’s fabulous.

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The family at Cape Flattery, Makah territory, Washington state.

It was a wonderful escape. The baby slept on one of the two queen sized beds, which took up all but a few square feet of the small cabin. We managed to take several nice long hikes, despite my fear that we would wake up a large bear along the way. Jon and I ate well, read books, soaked in the stinking hot springs, and raised a glass to our new family. On the one day that we left the cabin for a driving adventure, we went to Cape Flattery, the north-westernmost point in the lower 48, and enjoyed a spectacular view.

What was your first outdoor adventure or camping trip with kids?

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Lady Camper Profile: Morgan

This interview is the first in a series of profiles of Lady Campers. I am super excited about this series, mostly because I get to learn about other women’s camping and outdoor experiences, and be inspired, compare notes, and make sense of some of the lady-specific experiences of the outdoors. Here is an interview I conducted a few months ago now, with Morgan, an accomplished car camper, campsite reviewer and mother of a mini-lady-camper.

What is your earliest memory of camping?

My earliest memories are of camping with my dad and stepmom in BC, Washington State and Alberta, following my stepbrother around for his cycling. I would have been 7 or 8. I still remember the first time we camped outside Calgary and Rhys and I said “where are the trees? this is weird!” And then we discovered there was a swimming pool (!?!) and we were all good. I also remember going on trips with my grandparents in their RV. We camped by the Similkameen River and I thought that was the best name ever for a river. I’d say those are the earliest.

Do you remember learning any camping skills from observing or helping out? (ex. fire-making, tent-erecting, tarping, etc)

I remember helping to set up the tent trailer (folding out the sides). I also went fishing with my stepbrother and my grandfather a little bit. General camp principles, where to get the water, how to do the dishes in a bowl, getting firewood. That kind of stuff.Later I was a girl guide and I learned a few things – although I was a bit upset to learn that the scouts did waaaaay more cool survivor stuff. I would’ve switched to scouting had that been an option.

Hmmm. With family camping, do you think there was a difference in how you and your brother learned skills? Were there boy jobs and girl jobs?

Not really – my brother is 3.5 years younger so he didn’t really get jobs. I think I learned that camping is about doing work together as a team so everyone can go and have fun.
My mom doesn’t like camping so it’s hard to say what I might have learned had she come on more trips. I will say that my grandma and stepmom were more in charge of meals when camping so I did think that the cooking part was the lady part.
But my dad has always gotten me to do tough stuff like help with renos and light fires and sort nails so in camping land I did stuff like that.

Like making kindling! That is a fun job when you are old enough to do it.

Agreed. So what kinds of things did you do in Girl Guides?

I don’t want to publicly disparage Girl Guides but I found that most of the activities were domestic or … soft adventure. Whereas my brother, who was younger, was doing cool things like lighting fires, tying knots (in actual situations), etc.
I remember for one of my badges I had to plan a household schedule. And make shopping lists. Very useful. But I wanted a KNIFE. For my POCKET.
When I say very useful I don’t mean that sarcastically. I just wanted to learn other skills.

[Ed. note. – I have a future interview planned with a very progressive GG leader so I hope to get more info on how that program has evolved, FYI]

Um, next question: How did camping change for you when you stopped drinking? If it did.

It’s cool, I don’t mind sharing. When I quit drinking, one of the biggest fears for me is that sobriety would ‘ruin camping’. I didn’t know what people did when they camped beside set up, and then go on a GIANT BENDER. I think you remember when we were in the store on our Glamp [ed. note: see future post on “glamping”] and the lady started talking about wine, and where the liquor store was, etc. People tend to equate the two. But, after a dry run (heh, get it?) I found camping, like most parts of my life, is so much more rewarding when I’m not drinking. I can enjoy getting up early, my tent doesn’t reek, I don’t fall down hills and pass out on the outside of the tent …
I can go for hikes and swim and sing and eat good food. And bring my kid! And not worry about “not getting time to get pissed.” Hangovers in the woods aren’t that great, so all around it’s better.

Excellent. Can you describe your first camping trip with your child?

Yes! I was invited to do a spring weekend camp with some friends. We brought Fraser, she was right around her first birthday. She wasn’t walking, so it was easy peasy. We brought a playpen, and grubby clothes. The only hitch was sharing a sleeping bag. That was cold and uncomfortable.

[Ed. note – Morgan is referring to Easter Camping 2011 at Golden Ears – more on that later!]

What were the unexpected challenges of camping with a child?

Challenges: hm. Just the sleeping bag part. Fraser was co-sleeping, so I had her in my sleeping bag with me. And it didn’t really zip up, and I couldn’t move around. So I would recommend a separate bag for little ones and/or a large/double bag (the kind you zip together). Oh, and she woke up earlier than usual. But that was okay.

… and unexpected joys?

Joys: watching her play in the dirt, with rocks. Having all the grown-up campers cuddle her and wear her and sit by the fire with her. (She is very snuggly).
Pretty sure that’s where she developed her love of little rocks! And hiking with her in her carrier. That was nice.

ok! two last questions: Please describe your camping style!

My camping style is “tote city”. I love putting everything into totes. I prefer car camping because the trunk of the car is such a great place to organize (totes) and keep things dry. I also am pretty cool with minimal research, I prefer having access to a lake and spending very little time in the car. So that means I tend to camp in the Lower Mainland/Vancouver Coast and Mountains region.

… Any favourite spots?

Well, Golden Ears was great. Cultus Lake is actually okay, depending on what site you get (it’s kind of a crapshoot with partiers some years). I really really enjoy Beaumont Marine BUT we haven’t tried it with Fraser yet. And we probably won’t until she can hike at that level.

Ok last question: what is your can’t-leave-home-without-it piece of camping gear?

My claw stove. It’s technically called a trail stove. It’s a claw that screws onto a small tank. The open claw becomes the burner – so I call it a ‘claw stove’.
But this is on my wish list of all camping wish lists!
So now you know how to pay me back for this interview.

Ok! awesome. Thanks. [Ed. note: I never paid Morgan back for this interview.]