Alpine AF

“Man, this is alpine AF,” mused Michelle as we stepped into our incredible campsite that Kyle had found, with views of Mount Stewart, larger than life, on our doorstep. Goats frolicked all around us, their little hooves rat-a-tat-tatting on the granite. The air was piney fresh and a light breeze ruffled our sweaty hair.

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Nelson, Michelle, Kyle and I had started hiking from a crowded Lake Ingalls parking lot a couple of hours earlier. Cars were parked down the road. We squeezed onto an empty hillside just as a light sprinkle was pattering the windshield. We had driven through a downpour in the mountains to get there, I was keeping my fingers crossed that the rain was headed in the other direction. We shouldered our packs and after a couple of attempted poops we started up the trail. I was excited to repeat this hike, it was mellow and straight forward and the views were amazing.

As we hiked the sky cleared and the menacing clouds to the west traveled further away from us. The oppressive smoke that had been suffocating Seattle and no doubt other parts of the state  seemed to have been scrubbed clean from the air and things smelled fresh. The sky was actually blue for the first time in a long time.

After hiking higher and higher and leaving most of the trees behind we reached the pass and were greeted by Mount Stewart and Ingalls Peak. Directly below us down a short trail was the camping area and we descended into the trees again to hunt for a spot. It took us a while to find something satisfactory and legal but eventually we did and it was worth it – probably the best spot in existence, tucked away on a little island of trees, with its very own perfect rock outcropping for sitting and dinner eating. We called it Snagland and we loved it very much.

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After camp was all set up we headed to Lake Ingalls. The lake hadn’t been visible from the pass and in order to get there we descended further down a little valley, crossing a babbling brook and remarking at many amazing wildflowers. Down there the trail cuts into the alpine meadow like a sandy little stream bed, directing our feet like a flow of water. Then the trail climbed up steeply, threading through large boulders and getting lost in the constant erosion of snow melt. We chose durable surfaces and headed up until finally we reached another small pass and to our surprise the lake was right below us, only a couple of feet away.

There were plenty of people stretched out on the grass shores directly below the pass so we clambored our way around to the right, climbing over rocks until we found a pleasant little cove for swimming. A rock outcropping dipped directly into deep clear water, perfect for lake jumping, and tiny trout darted between the dark blue and clear aquamarine of the lakes edges. We all started by dipping a toe in, except Kyle who launched himself off the top of the jumping rock.

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The water was ice cold, cutting straight into your bone marrow and making everything ache in a way that was medicinal and healing and good. We all shrieked and gasped and oped and closed our mouths like fish gulping for oxygen until finally our bodies had numbed and we couldn’t feel anything anymore. Once we had adjusted none of us ever wanted to leave the water. Nothing was ever going to be that refreshing ever again so we held onto the cold and the silky smooth water molecules as long as we could. The wind felt warm on our skin when we finally stepped back onto the shore and we were all content to air dry. Afterwards I felt cleaner than ever before, my skin tingling. After checking our watches we agreed it was time to head back to camp and enjoy dinner.

Back in camp we were all set to do just that – with water heating to a boil for Nelson and Michelle’s dehydrated meals and our mac and cheese waiting patiently. We were all giddy with delight, skin clean, cozied up in hats and downs, a little crisp breeze nipping at our noses and the incredible hulking Mount Stewart turning pink right in front of us. Then, suddenly we heard a distant buzzing, moving closer and closer, like a giant swarm of bees! Michelle, who is terrified of bees snapped her head around in our direction, eyes huge in terror and we all swiveled our heads this way and that, trying to suss out the sound maker until suddenly, zipping around a bank of trees came a drone.

Our reaction to it was almost instinctual. After a momentary pause in which we all stared at it in disbelief we let out a group cry of disgust. And then, I am proud to say, we all proceeded to defile its view. While I resorted to a cool middle finger, Michelle gave it a bare cheeks show and Kyle, ever the gentleman, whipped his pants down and swung his genitalia around at in like a lasso. The drone buzzed on, unfazed by our antics. Although they were fun, we settled down when we realized they weren’t having quite the impact we had hoped for. The drone hovered, oppressively.

I have never seen a drone in the wild before and I have to say, it was terribly off putting. It felt so creepy and weird, like big brother was watching us, like we were in the Hunger Games, like robots had taken over the Earth. Plus it felt illegal because it was. Drones are not allowed in wilderness areas. We decided to give the drone owners (we assumed the guys in the campsite above us who we couldn’t see and who may not have known we were there) a couple of minutes to leave us alone before saying something. But after twenty or so minutes of the drone continuing to invade our privacy and solitude and space I stomped out of camp to confront them.

Before I got up to where they were perched I tried to take a deep breath and put on a friendly face. No need to be riled up, just going to share some information with some guys, just going to educate the public on something they may not know about! I crested the top of the rocks next to their campsite. The guy manning the drone controls looked at me coldly out of the corner of his eye.

“Uh hi! I just wanted to come up and let you know we were camped down below, kind of right below where you are flying your drone. Uh, we weren’t sure if you knew there was anyone down there, we are pretty well hidden.”

The guy grunted, “Yeah, I didn’t know you were down there.”

“Oh okay, cool! Well I just thought I would let you know. Also, not sure if you knew that drones are illegal in wilderness areas. I mean, I just wanted to make sure you knew because you could get a big fine if there is a wilderness ranger out here, just so you know.”

Then he took his eyes off the controls for the first time, looked me up and down, and said, “Thanks mom.”

I was a little shocked and after a mumbled sorry I fled the campsite. Nelson was just approaching as I came scampering down the rock to provide backup but I informed him none needed. The drone buzzed a little while longer and I stooped down and scooped up a rock, feeling the roughness of it on my fingertips, wondering how good my aim was. I dropped it. I was already afraid we might be murdered in our tents, no need to add property damage to the list of offenses I had committed against our neighbors. We traipsed back into camp to share the drone flyers reactions with Michelle and Kyle.

And then, not five minutes later, we got our sweet revenge. We sat, enjoying our dinner in newfound silence when who should walk into our camp? A wilderness ranger. I nearly choked on my mac and cheese but managed to get out, “Oh my gosh, I am so happy to see you!” The wilderness ranger looked shocked and admitted, “Almost no one is ever happy to see me.” I didn’t hesitate, “There are two guys in the camp above us flying a drone.” The wilderness ranger then shared with us that he too had heard the drone and was looking for the perpetrators. We had no qualms about pointing him in the right direction. We all kept our fingers crossed that he slapped them with a fatty fine.

It is one thing to not know the rules. It is another thing to be a dick about it when someone tries to help you learn the rules the easy way. I was thankful that the drone flyers would be learning the rules the hard way. Our done experience has definitely made me rethink whether we should ever own a drone. I am a LNT nut and I firmly believe part of LNT is treading lightly on the land. That includes decreasing your impact whenever you can, not just on nature, but on the animals who live there and the other humans who are enjoying it. I don’t know that I could ever feel comfortable flying a drone in the woods, on a mountain, in the desert, by the ocean, unless I was 100% positive that there was no one else around or that they wouldn’t care. I would love to hear people’s thoughts on the subject. All  know is that the drone made me feel icky, and I never want to cause someone to suddenly feel icky when they are surrounded by so much splendor.

After the drone incident was over we had a lovely night. We played boggle and watched Mount Stewart try on different colors. Goats stalked us every time we went off to pee and then rushed into lick the rocks. Finally it was getting dark and cold and we retreated to our tents for a cool nights rest. I snuggled down into our quilt and sighed a deep sigh of comfort and happiness. In the middle of the night it rained for a bit, cooling things off even further, and in the morning we woke up to misty clouds rolling through the valley.

Our hike out was the most refreshing experience ever. It felt like fall was in the air and rainbows were appearing on every mountain top. The cool breeze put a pep in my step and made my heart beat a little faster, while the sun warmed by face. We waved goodbye to the little Lake Ingalls valley and to Snagland and to Mount Stewart and set out for home.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

22 thoughts on “Alpine AF

  1. Loved this post & glad to have found your blog. Looks to have been a fabulous place to camp! Interesting about the drone in fact I felt so mad for you! I totally agree they shouldn’t be anywhere near these areas or in fact where people are unless they are in agreement for it being there. Hope it didn’t spoil your experience too much 😊

  2. I love instant Karma! So happy to hear a wilderness ranger was on scene. While I can understand the usefulness of a drone in such cases as search and rescue, wildfires, and other such instances where it would be safer to send in an unmanned craft, I have a harder time seeing the recreational side. Get out there and explore for yourself if you want to see something. If you can hike in somewhere, set up camp, and then proceed to fly a drone out into the wilderness, you are missing the point of being out there. I go out into the wilderness to get away from technology. To get away from the constant hustle and bustle and noise of civilization. I get very annoyed when someone brings the noise with them and disrupts the peace and solitude for others. There are very few places left where technology and civilization haven’t crept in and I think it is disrespectful of people to inflict their hobby on others.
    Glad you were able to enjoy the rest of your time out there. The photos are beautiful!

    1. Thanks Katee! I totally agree with you – the drone was totally disrupting. Of course we do take a lot of pictures and document our trips, so I am still working through the ways in which that is similar or different from drones and making sure that our use of a camera is respectful of other people’s experiences. Always good to have a reminder to check yourself and I am happy to do so!! Glad you are enjoying the blog.

  3. Your drone story made my blood boil! There was no need for them to be so rude to you. I don’t think I would have been able to resist throwing that rock…hopefully the Ranger got them.

  4. That picture of the goats is amazing as well as the majesty of the mountains and lakes. Funny, but I must have been reading too fast and missed the part of the drone being a real drone thus visualizing your antics displayed to a swarm of bees and was hoping you weren’t attacked and stung in those obscure and private places πŸ™„ Agree with you completely that when I am in nature that is all I want to experience not man made hype, which I’m sure has its usefulness, just not when I’m looking at the creators creation in all its gloryπŸ˜‡.

  5. I also own a drone and like Simon above, it is registered with the FAA and has the registration written on the drone. I also try to keep people’s privacy and comfort in mind when flying it. It can be challenging, though. Some folks are just plain uncomfortable with drones as a rule, even when flown appropriately and legally. Some people might find dipping some skinny in alpine lakes offensive and off-putting. If we are to have a rational set of rules about flying drones (or any kind of behavior, for that matter), we can’t just ban the behavior everywhere, and we can’t just leave it up to “if it offends someone, you can’t do it” either. We need both the actors and those “offended” people to be more adult like in their dealings. If it were me that was flying the drone over your camp, and you came up and mentioned it, I would have stopped immediately. The guy you encountered was a jerk and he’s making the whole rational discussion about flying drones more difficult.

    If you look at the restrictions, you’ll find that almost all municipalities have banned the use of drones without a special use permit. The rules are still taking shape, and may have changed since I looked last. In WA State Parks, for instance, they are legal with a special use permit, which must be obtained for each instance of their use, up to 2 weeks in advance of your planned flight. There are times when I may have flown it illegally (it can be very difficult to find out if they are legal in some places, and it is also difficult to even know who has jurisdiction). I use discretion and good judgement when I fly in unknown jurisdictions.

    Also, you were wise to drop the rock. According to the FAA, it is a crime to “shoot down a drone”, but it is unclear whether that includes throwing rocks and the like. Given the rationale that drones falling out of the sky can pose safety risks, I would expect rocks, nets, bolos, etc would also be illegal. I have included a link to an article about it.

    http://www.popsci.com/it-is-federal-crime-to-shoot-down-drone-says-faa

    Amazing trip report and photos, as usual. Keep it up!

    1. Awesome information! Thanks for sharing!! I think it is good to talk about and think about all of this, as I assume drones will only become more prevalent.

  6. I love technology, and I embrace all it as a tool to improve life. Drones in the wilderness can be very effective in search and rescue, fire prevention, tracking wild life, etc. Having proved that your drone was being run by dick heads changed things. If I ran across individuals that were intentionally harming the forest with let’s say fireworks, I would have to become actively engaged to a degree that makes me very uneasy. A lesser nuasance like flying drones, still qualifies for action. I would accept it as a provided lesson in how to take down drones. Bolos with fishing wire, small net cannons? Very important to know the most effective method. Simply call it your hobby interfering with theirs. Happens all the time, no malice intended.

  7. Full disclosure, I own a drone. It’s also registered with the FAA and I have my registration # stickered on all 4 sides. That being said, I wholeheartedly agree with you about drones in the wilderness and I will not fly my drone in those areas (along with National Parks and certain State Parks). I try to be respectful when and where I fly and take others enjoyment / personal space very much in to consideration.

  8. Once again a great post! Lovely story, mesmerizing photography.
    I really enjoy your blog and is very inspiring to see all the beautiful areas you visit with great forests, nice alpine lakes, high peaks.

    Thanks for sharing and already looking forward to the next post

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