Backpacking in the Otter Creek Wilderness Area

The boys and I have been wanting to try backpacking for the last year or two, but we have been slow in getting it done.  The main reason for that was the cost of all of the necessary equipment. We had plenty of camping gear, but none of it was small and light enough for backpacking. But this year Landry’s school teacher invited all of the boys in the class and their fathers on a three day, two night backpacking trip.  So that was the motivation I needed to spend the money and get geared up.  Sometime in a future post I’ll give you a run-down of all the equipment I purchased.

A test run

Being new to backpacking, I decided to take a short one-night backpacking trip just to test my equipment in preparation for the longer trip.  I took all three of my sons on a 1.5 mile trip into the state forest near our house and we camped for one night.  My friend and his son also went along.

Everything went well, except that our 2-3 man tent was very cramped with myself and my three boys.  But that was to be expected.  Only Landry and I were going on the longer trip, so we knew tent space wouldn’t be a problem.

Day 1

About a week after our test backpacking trip, we arrived at the parking lot for Otter Creek Wilderness Area to start our three-day, two-night adventure.   The trail started by crossing Otter creek on a suspended bridge.  Then it was a rugged hike for a short distance until we got to what appeared to be an old railroad bed running along Otter creek.  The trail was relatively flat, but muddy in places and there were a few small streams to cross that flowed into Otter Creek.  When we reached the first creek crossing, I removed my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes and wore my Crocs for the remainder of the day.  They were not the most comfortable shoes to walk in, but thankfully we had only planned to go 3.2 miles on the first day.

Our campsite was a flat, dry area on the banks of Otter Creek.  We reached it around lunchtime, so we had plenty of time to hang out and explore.

As far as scenery goes, Otter Creek was the highlight of the trip. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, except perhaps in some Montana trout fishing videos.  It was one waterfall or white-water area after another, with water crashing over huge boulders.  Some deep pools in-between looked like perfect places to hold trout. Several of our group who were under 16 (no fishing licenses needed) fished for a time, but we didn’t have any success.

Day 2

We packed up camp after breakfast and resumed our trek along Otter Creek.  The trail was a slight uphill grade and followed Otter Creek for about 6 miles.  There were several large waterfalls along the way. We forded the creek a total of four times.  One crossing was a little treacherous, and I wouldn’t have wanted the water to be any higher.

Somewhere around mile nine the trail left Otter Creek and headed up the mountain.  I was glad to finally be able to put on some dry socks and shoes and be able to keep them dry for a while.

The trail flattened out when we reached the top of the mountain, and we had an easy hike through the hemlocks to our campsite beside a spring at mile 12.

We hung-out for a couple of hours and had a good supper, and then escaped to our tents at dusk just in time to escape the rain that continued into the night.

Day 3

The rain stopped sometime during the night, and day three was another great day to hike.  It started with several miles of hiking a slight downgrade on the top of the mountain, so I assumed it would be reasonably dry in spite of the rain.  I was proven wrong when we slogged through mud again and again.  The thick rhododendron was nearly overgrowing the path and was wet from the rain.  Add in a few rocks and roots to trip over, and it made for some treacherous hiking.  It was especially difficult for the two younger boys.  For them much of the rhododendron was head level, making it difficult to watch for obstacles.  Landry fell at least five times, but thankfully didn’t have any injuries.  I was relieved when the trail opened up and then headed sharply downhill.

At around mile 16, we rejoined the trail along Otter Creek that we had started on, completing a loop.  From there we retraced our steps about four more miles to get back to the vehicle by early afternoon.

Lessons learned

Here are a few things we learned on our first multi-day backpacking trip

  • Blue jeans get really heavy when they are wet.
    For this trip I wore lightweight hiking pants that I was very happy with. Landry, on the other hand, wore blue jeans. Everything was OK until we crossed the creek a few times and he got wet up to his waist. At that point the denim got heavy and began to chaff his legs. Thankfully, we had an extra pair of pants for him. Next time, denim clothes will be left at home.
  • Paracord and carabiners are very handy for all sorts of things.
    Take some of both along when you go backpacking.
  • Take extra socks.
    An couple extra pairs of socks take up very little space and you will be glad for them if the trail is wet and muddy.
  • Bacon & Cheddar Cheez-it crackers are a very tasty trail snack

All-in-all, we had a great time.  Our equipment worked well, in spite of the fact that we were pretty frugal in the products we selected. Luke and Jared did a good job of planning the trip as well.  The hike was difficult and long enough to be an adventure, but not so much to cause many aching muscles.