Any other year, a trip to Icicle Creek near Leavenworth, WA in early June would be our second or third visit of the season. But with everything going on this year, the Forest Service delayed opening of the road - generally used to access campgrounds and trailheads until after Memorial Day weekend. In fact, even as we visited, all of the developed campgrounds and several of the trailhead parking lots were still closed to encourage social distancing and prevent the spread of the virus.
Still, as we drove up Icicle Creek Road, we found ourselves happy to be able to get out. We had our fingers crossed - hoping that the site where we usually camp would be open and available, its status of "developed" or "undeveloped" in a grey area as far as we were concerned.
The first site we checked - closer to the river and where we'd previously done some safety maintenance, with a nice beach right next to camp - was occupied. More than a bit surprised given that it was a Monday afternoon, a quick look at the site (as we turned around) provided a bit of relief - at this particular time, it wasn't an ideal spot to camp - large puddles of water filled much of the camp area, and the entire beach was submerged under a river bursting at its banks.
Even with the first site occupied, we were reasonably sure that we'd have our second - and what has become our primary over the years - site all to ourselves. Especially early in the season, access to this site is limited to those willing to cross a relatively deep water body - but one that we've had enough experience with to know that what lies beyond is worth it!
Into camp - and by the looks of it, as the first visitors of the season - I hadn't even turned the engine off before @mini.turbodb flung open her door and bolted out into the forest!
After months of seclusion at home, it was time to explore, and great to be out!
@mrs.turbodb and I pulled a few things out of the 4Runner and then set off in search of the small one. We knew we'd find her down by the river, and sure enough that's just where she was - just sitting there on a log, as happy as could be.
As she heard the click of the camera, she turned, a huge smile on her face. "I'm so glad we could come here, it's so nice to go camping!" Funny how it's often such a struggle to get her into the truck to go - the couple-hour ride, so horrible - and yet once we're out, @mini.turbodb has the time of her life.
The river - as we'd noted at the first camp site - was bursting. Perhaps the highest we've ever seen it, none of the gravel bars that we often spend hours reading on while skipping rocks and playing in the shallow water, were above the water line. Interestingly, this also resulted in a much quieter experience - turbulence and rapids now completely submerged under the flow.
Eager to explore some of her favorite places, @mini.turbodb informed us that we needed to go check out the waterfall. "Want to run with me?" she asked?
You go right ahead, we'll catch up.Pretty much every parent, ever.
There was much running on this trip - likely a combination of the freedom and desire to take advantage of every minute possible.
We arrived at the waterfall to find it nearly non-existent. There was - to be sure - an indication that some anomaly existed in this part of the river, but a fall of water, there was not.
No matter, this was still a spot to soak in the sweet spring air and listen to the crashing water.
We explored several areas around camp over the next hour or so - some of them together, and some of them solo excursions by @mini.turbodb while we got camp and the tent setup on the 4Runner. This situation really does work well - adults upstairs in the tent, and the kiddo downstairs on the storage area sleeping platform (shameless plug - also available for 5th gen (2010+) 4Runners here).
With a few more hours of daylight, @mrs.turbodb suggested that we go for a bit of a walk - back along Icicle Road - to a bridge affording a splendtacular-but-usually-too-crowded view of the creek. Her hope was - today - that things would be different with generally fewer people around - a side effect of our weekday visit and the lack of open campgrounds.
Along the way, more play for smalls.
The bridge wasn't all that far away, and even with several distractions on the way, we arrived in less than half an hour, with zero complaints about distance from @mini.turbodb. That - looking back on it - was a missed opportunity, we should have capitalized on that situation and continued our hike!
Just as we'd hoped, the usually-crawling-with-people rapids and swimming hole were devoid of other humans, and after watching the water rush by for a few minutes from atop the bridge, @mini.turbodb scooted herself down near the water and perched herself on yet another overlook.
Water really is one of @mini's favorite things - it's one of the reasons I think we keep coming back to this spot - and no matter the time of year, she's always playing in or around the creek, still young enough to enjoy getting wet and dirty, not at all worried what her clothes might look like when she's done.
Fashioning a clay-but-mostly-sand-donut-bowl-thingy.
More playing ensued and after we got shoes and socks back on the small one, we headed back to camp. Early evening, @mrs.turbodb and I broke out our TODO(link)Kindle's and read for an hour or so while @mini perfected her bowl and got it ready for "firing" on the edge of the camp fire ring.
Eventually of course, we realized that if we didn't eat dinner, it'd be bedtime before we'd filled our stomachs; plus, we needed a camp fire! So, while @mrs.turbodb whipped up the little food we'd brought on the trip - homegrown lettuces, pre-grilled chicken, and some tomatoes and cumber - into a fresh-and-delicious, chicken salad, @mini.turbodb and I got the camp fire started.
After gathering dry pine needles, lichen, cones, branches, and a few rounds from a downed tree, we built up our base and flicked a single match into it. Within seconds, the fire was roaring and @mini let me know that she was in charge of the fire this time.
Fine. By. Me.
And thus began one of the most enjoyable camp fires I've ever experienced. See, in the past, @mini has definitely enjoyed fires, but she's never really been old enough to feel safe - or for us to feel safe - with her getting close enough to tend, or play with, the fire. I mean sure, she'll roast a marshmallow or throw in a stick from a distance, but on this trip she was just enough older, and had had just enough more experience, to feel like she could really do it. So we just got to sit back and watch - it was great!
Look at me fire fun, "melting" lichen.
The only downside to the fire was that we'd completely forgotten - despite a reminder from the small one - to bring any marshmallows, but that fact was happily replaced with an hour of collecting various things from around camp to burn. And then, it was time for sleep.
Well, not really sleep, but for reading in our respective levels of the 4Runner for an hour or so before nodding off to the babbling of the river and whispering of breeze through the trees.
- - - - -
The first one up and dressed, it was 8:30am when I climbed down the ladder to find smalls still sound asleep in the lower level. We'd all slept "just OK" through the night, a state that commonly leads to sleeping in a little later in the morning, the body finally happy to fall asleep.
How I found her the next morning.
Soon enough we were all up and dressed; breakfast was made. Bowls of Cheerios in hand, we headed to a favorite spot along the river to eat and watch the water rush by. The beginning of another nice day!
We spent the morning much as we'd spent the previous afternoon - exploring around camp, playing in mud, reading, and enjoying ourselves in this special place as the sun warmed the chilly morning air.
As lunch time rolled around, we decided it was time to start heading home. For a moment we considered trying to wait until we reached a reasonably-good-Mexican restaurant, but ultimately our stomachs won out and we stopped not far from camp to eat the PB&J that we'd brought along for the occasion.
Then, a bit reluctantly, we retreated out of the mountains and back towards home. It had been - as always seems to be the case - a fabulous trip. This one was even - perhaps - a little better than others given our lack of getting out with @mini over the preceding months.
And that's great, because you know that when we suggest going camping again next time, she's sure to tell us how horrible the drive will be - but in the back of her mind, she'll be excited to get out there and explore!