Dateline: September 8-12, 2018
Takhlakh Lake Campground, Gifford Pinchot National Forest
I have a thing for this remote campground on Takhlakh Lake guarded by Mt. Adams: I love it. Apparently it has a thing for me too: it hates me. Or maybe it’s just playing hard to get.
I don’t remember how I discovered the small picturesque lake the summer after my return to the Pacific NW. I camped there for four nights that second July and wanted never to leave. I watched the osprey and eagles fish each day as dawn cracked open, the sun rising over the trees at one end of the lake, setting the snow-topped mountain to glowing at the other end. At night the silver moon sailed over the mountain, reflecting in the calm lake. (See the photo journal here.) I returned for a day visit in October that year for autumn color (see it here).
I’ve tried to return to camp every summer since. I was rained out of my reserved week the next year—the only week it rained that summer—smoked out by a nearby wildfire the summer after that, and then the road washed out with no federal funds for repair until this year.
I made my reservation as soon as it was possible. I picked the wrong week. It hasn’t rained all summer. It rained all week this week, at least at 4500 feet elevation. I hate camping in the rain, but I went anyway. I didn’t count on the cold; 49º cold when I arrived Monday at 2:30 after cleaning the Airbnb for guests I won’t meet.
It starts raining just as I spread the tent out in the window of time the hourly report said it would not rain. Covering it with a tarp during the shower, I still get it up in 20 minutes, throw in my gear and spend the next shower setting up my home for four days.
I rig a tarp over the table so I can at least cover the stove and make coffee in the morning. Priorities. I can’t stand up under it, but whatever. I feel successful, if unprepared. I should find some poles for next time. Or not camp in the rain.
“Why didn’t you just cancel?” you ask. I’m no longer escaping mother care; I have plenty of solitude at home; with my half-price-camping senior access card, it’s not much money to lose. I wanted to watch the osprey, sleep in a tent, hear the murmurs of other campers at night, sit by a fire, be without phone and internet.
I eat at 5 and get in bed at 6:15 the first night—it’s raining and I’m so cold. I don’t even brush my teeth. No one is out murmuring, no one has a fire.
I wake at 6:30 the next morning and unzip the window above my head. There’s a pink streak above the lake. Without giving myself time to reconsider, I roll out of bed and pull my pants on over my leggings, add a second jacket over my other jacket, camisole, and two shirts; pull on a knit cap and gloves over my fingerless mitts; and wrap a scarf around my neck. These will be the only articles of clothing that are removed and added all week.
Grabbing my camera, I walk the few steps to the lake as the pink disappears and the fog rolls in, then moves out to briefly reveal the bottom of the mountain. Such a tease. It rains off and on the rest of the day.
The next two days, I’m at the lake shore at dawn when the sun comes up before the clouds roll in. An osprey flies over once each morning, but doesn’t stay to fish. No humans are out either.
I walk the trail around the lake each morning while the sun ducks in and out, and slip back into the tent when it rains to work on a project, read, and nap. I’m there most of the time. I build a fire the second night, but it rains shortly after I finally get it going and I cook hot dogs on the stove and eat in the tent.
The second morning makes the whole mostly miserable trip worth it. I meet my neighbors. I am not a social camper, but Pat is. We meet at the lake shore. He introduces me to his wife, Anastasia, and we bond in joint misery. They live in Portland, recently retired teachers. Pat is from Durham; I returned to the PNW from neighboring Raleigh. He lived for a time in Danville, VA; near Blacksburg where I have lived. His father died two years ago—a day short of 100, making him the same age as my mother—a few miles from where my son lives in North Carolina. A daughter’s name is Helen; my middle name. Anastasia is an artist; I am a writer. I love hearing her talk about her passion and I share mine.
Wednesday I drive to the cafe in Trout Lake (the not-a-lake I visited a couple months ago when a planned hike was thwarted by a washed out road, read it here) to get warm. On the return I turn down the road to Ollalie Lake just before the campground. I had a hike to it that didn’t happen on the summer schedule. It’s permanently removed from my list now that I know it can be driven to from another direction. I have a policy not to hike anywhere other people drive to.
I share a campfire with my new friends Wednesday night, the night before we all have decided we will head home, earlier than planned. I’ve never shared a campfire with strangers, but then they aren’t anymore. The rain holds off and it’s delightful to share our lives, the warmth of the fire, and wine. They promise to schedule a stay at my Airbnb, and I’m happy to think we will meet again. Thank you for asking me if I knew the name of that duck, Pat! Even though you had to ask three times before I realized you were talking to me.
Thursday morning, the sun rises and the mountain is revealed. After the sunrise, I build a second fire to get warm, then let it go out in favor of breakfast in my chair by the lake. The wildlife and anglers are out in the sun. My new friends join me until the clouds roll in and we hustle off to pack up, in the rain.
I drive home, skipping my hoped for hike to the lava flow, and spread everything out to dry for the hour and a half of sun before it starts raining. It’s all in the room over the carport two days later, still waiting for me to brush off the dirt and put it away for next year.
I’m plotting a day trip to the lake when the colors change. I’ll watch for a sunny day.