Our Northwest

Are we rainy day people? Not so much

Tuesday, July 15, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

hiking in rainy NorthwestEven a fair-weather camper like me will eventually get soaked on a Northwest hike.

It goes with the territory when you live in our damp corner of the country. And according to our latest PEMCO Poll, 70% of Northwest residents admit they sometimes cancel their outdoor plans if rain threatens.

Twenty percent of those people even admit they “often” change their plans. So much for our tough, rain-or-shine Northwest stereotype!

PEMCO’s poll revealed that dayhikes are the most popular outdoor activity, with 68% of local residents doing it. Camping and backpacking came in second at 54%. Running, jogging, and biking also scored in the top tier.

I have friends who hike because they enjoy feeling they’ve exerted themselves with a hard workout. I’m not one of those. I hike and backpack for the views, to enjoy sunny, scenic grandeur. I started backpacking in my mid-teens, and that’s how I recall my first few trips – all sunshine and blue skies.

Then came an August trip to Melakwa Lake at age 19. My friend Bruce and I thought it was a smart risk to go despite the weatherman predicting a 30% chance of rain. We figured at worst, a shower here and there, and most likely nothing.

That’s when I learned that a 30% chance of rain in the Puget Sound lowlands translates to a certain soaking in the Cascades.

Bruce and I spent two days confined by steady rain to our 5x7 tents. We passed the time by cooking all the food we hauled up the trail. When our food was gone and the low, gray clouds kept pouring, we packed up and bailed out.

I didn’t get wet for another three years, when again the fickle Cascades weather turned on us. This time my buddy Phil brought his large dog, which got waterlogged sitting in the rain because we didn’t want him in the tent tracking mud everywhere.

hiking in snowy conditionsThe worst weather was a late September 1992 backpack to Chikamin Lake, an off-trail trek to 6,000 feet. We had great weather until an unexpected storm front rolled in. The howling wind battered my tent relentlessly all night long, and when we peered out at dawn we found a half-inch of snow dusting the ground. We gingerly stepped down icy granite slabs and slick soil until we reached the Pacific Crest Trail, where we marched the final 14 miles to our car.

Since then, I’ve been strictly a fair-weather camper, as much as weather forecasts can allow. In fact I checked my hike journal, and I’ve backpacked 34 times since 1992 without getting wet.

hiking on snowpackUntil May 2011. That’s when we hiked up the Waptus River over increasingly deep winter snowpack only to find our campsite buried under three feet of white. We hunkered down, gorged on bratwurst cooked over the campfire, and hiked out the next morning as record rainfall pelted us – and flooded much of Kittitas County. My work pal Nate was camping nearby that weekend with his son, whose boots literally were washed away from outside their tent by the torrent.

camping on snowpackThe point being: I don’t belittle any of those 20% for canceling outdoor plans when rain threatens. Being outdoors in the great Northwest should be fun, not a test of machismo.

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