Camping in a Heat Wave on the Skokomish

One hundred and nine degrees. That was the forecast for Monday when I left to go camping on Sunday. Here. In the Pacific Northwest. What’s more, atypically, it wasn’t going to cool off much overnight. I am fortunate to have air conditioning, a lucky side product of the heat pump I had installed a few years back. But generally, on hot days after having the windows open at night, it doesn’t kick in until afternoon. Saturday night I didn’t open my windows. I felt like I was back in the Southeast.

I knew it was insane to go camping in this. I was headed to an Olympic National Park campground, but the forecast was just as hot there. I’ve made no camping reservations this summer—past bad luck with rain—and when opportunity and no rain forecast bump against each other, I go. And so I pack up the car with gear early Saturday morning before it gets beastly hot, then go back inside to get food and clothes ready.

I’ve chosen a campground that doesn’t take reservations—47 first-come/first-served sites. I drive into the Staircase campground on the Skokomish River at 7:45 Sunday morning. (It’s where I went for an early season hike. Here‘s that post.) The sign at the entrance 16 miles back at the Hoodsport turn-off from Hwy 101 said the campground was full over the weekend. Site #1 is already vacated, and except for being next to the day-trippers parking lot, it’s pretty sweet. I drive the loop, nothing else on the river shore is open yet. Parking my car at the first site, I walk up and check the registration board. As I assumed, half the occupants will be gone by 11:00. Including #2, which is bigger than #1 and farther from the parking lot. After walking the loop and checking out the riverside sites that will be available, and see none nearly as good, I register for #2 then settle in with my book to wait for it to be available.

The Skokomish River

I had to put on my jacket when I got out of the car. Maybe this won’t be so bad, at least at night. We go on faith. I offered my air-conditioned house to a friend and to my sister in my absence, and it feels good to know it will bring relief the next couple days.

Karma did not lead the way into this adventure. As I was packing the car I discovered I had only a single partial canister of propane for my stove. Hours later I went to the local sporting and canning goods headquarters—where I already knew there were no canning lids, nor were there anywhere (what is this, World War II?)—to pick up a couple more. There are none. They haven’t been able to get them for six months. Panic. I called the downtown hardware store and confirmed the tale. I even called Walmart, where I don’t shop. My daughter tells me they looked without success in three Seattle stores for them for their weekend campout.

Now what? I’m afraid it will be too hot to build a fire, but I can pioneer-woman it if I have to. A few months ago, I found an unopened backpacking stove in the personal thrift shop that is my family home. It has a gas canister in it and Sunbirds has those. I added it to my camping box. I figured I could also precook all my meals and eat them cold, saving my limited fuel for coffee.

I texted my sister to express dismay and she said our friend Sue thought she had a canister. But they were in Tacoma celebrating Rebecca’s birthday and I had to figure this out before evening. I asked my neighbor who is feeding my cat while I’m away if maybe they had any. They brought me four partial ones! After I went to bed, Rebecca texted me that she would leave Sue’s two canisters out for me to pick up on my way out of town. All was well.

So, it’s not sweltering, I have a campsite, and I have propane. Later I will discover I forgot only one thing: the lovely pad thai sauce I made for one of my meals, rendering everything else I brought for it useless.

Number 2 is open at 9:00 and by 9:30 my tent and my new hammock are up. It’s the best site in the campground and I’m deliriously happy, already wishing I’d planned for five nights rather than four. I easily could have been back to clean the Airbnb Friday morning between guests, but there is no cell service to let those who will worry know and to extend cat care.

By 10:00 it is hot. By noon it is almost unbearable. I move my chair down the path to my tiny personal beach by the frigid river to catch the occasional breeze that blows across it. When I notice my hammock is in the shade, I take a nap. I’m under tall fir trees and the sun in my campsite moves every few minutes. Usually I follow the sun spots, now I follow the shade. I feel slightly sick by evening and go to bed even earlier than usual with the two battery fans I haven’t used since I left North Carolina.

Walking to the bathroom I note that a few people are wearing masks. Either they are vaccinated and still cautious or they are not vaccinated and are responsible. I have no curiosity and no judgment; I’m fine with either. I form an opinion of people who are not vaccinated not for medical reasons or out of legitimate fear (i.e. not conspiracy theorists): I think the “personal freedom” folk are stupid, but we all have the right to be so. If they believe being told to get a poke in the arm to protect themselves and others against a deadly virus violates their rights, that is fine with me. But wear a mask. To not wear a mask endangers others who are not vaccinated for whatever reason, and—most importantly—children who cannot yet be protected. No one has the right or personal freedom to endanger others. It’s not okay to be both anti-vax and anti-mask.

Monday morning, after a blessedly cool night, I rise at first light and walk down the road to another river spot and sit on a stump to watch the lopsided moon set. The campground is silent, the river is not. It rushes on, never stopping. A bird of prey flaps by, breakfast hanging from its talons. Typically, I can’t find it in my viewfinder to take a photo. Everything moves so quickly—the water, birds, life. It’s so easy to pass through the world and miss the good stuff. It’s why I love camping: it forces me to stop, to sit, to think, to consider. At least the moon moves slowly, and unlike the bird and the water, it returns every night, changed but present.

As I write that musing in a small “John Muir Notebook” I got at another national park, I turn the page to one of his quotes:

I spend my days walking the trails along the river from the campground, reading, writing, napping.

What you notice when you walk a loop trail in the opposite direction from the first time. I sat with her for several minutes, contemplating the complexity of nature.

On Wednesday, a day predicted to be back to normal temperatures, I drive the 16 miles out to the highway, 35 miles north to Quilcene, and 17 miles back into the national forest to the Mt. Townsend trailhead. But that’s another blog post.

Back at the campsite, exhausted after my hike, I remember that four nights of camping is my sweet spot. It’s how long I can stand being dirty. It’s how long a screw-top bottle of wine lasts. It’s how long I can deal with washing dishes on a picnic table bench. It’s how long I can use a public bathroom. And three nights is how long the two gallon milk jugs of ice keeps my cooler cold and how long two books last. Maybe three is my sweet spot, leaving when I’m not quite ready rather than just beyond when I’m ready.

I have two more opportunities to camp this summer. I’ll be watching the weather, and the fire danger.

9 thoughts on “Camping in a Heat Wave on the Skokomish

  1. Ahhh, you are truly the intrepid one ! I took a peek at the forecast where you were heading and wondered how you would manage. The answer: like a boss ! I’m so impressed. I am hoping that maybe this year will be my first for car camping but I’m still hesitant. Thanks for the courage. You are great inspiration ! And more than that, thanks for sharing these adventures. Looks stunning even in the heat. Those moon shots ! And the common merganser mama with her babies ! And that campsite ! Cheers to naps on hammocks and shade on hot days and a never-ending sense of adventure ♡

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My hesitation ? The reservation process and the fact that I have only ever put my tent up in the suite at Three of Earth Farm ! Haha … I think I need to just do it once and then I’ll be fine. It’s just getting to that first time.


  2. Oh my gosh, such fortitude! Such trust of your knowledge of wild places! So many people I know sat hunkered in their un-airconditioned homes next to a fan. And out you go camp! Well done, brave woman. We spent a fair amount of time sitting in Puget Sound with our incredulous puppy. And thanks for the tip about hard-to-get fuel canisters! Better keep my eyes open for our late in the season camping trip! All the best, Ann


    Liked by 1 person

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