Hiking Outdoor Life

My First Overnight Backpacking Trip – Hiking Tubal Cain Mine Trail

My mom and I finally put on our big girl panties and conquered our first overnight backpacking trip after over a year and a half of talking about it.

For Christmas in 2018, my dad surprised my mom, sister, and me with new backpacks, a tent, sleeping pad, JetBoil, and some other miscellaneous hiking/camping gear in hopes we would go on an overnight hiking trip.  He is an avid outdoorsman/hunter and has spent many days lugging around a heavy pack, eating dehydrated meals, tromping through the forest, and many nights sleeping in tents. He was excited that we had been hiking more (you can read about my first day-hike trip here) and venturing out to new places and was encouraging us to expand our day trips to overnights.  I was SO excited about my new pack (my first legit hiking pack) and the idea of doing an overnight. We decided that we would wait until summer so we at least had the weather on our side for our maiden voyage, but summer 2019 came and went.  Of course, we went on many day hikes, but for whatever reason, we had yet to go on an overnight trip.

So, fast forward to Summer 2020. It was time. My sister just had her baby in April and was not quite ready for an overnight trip, but my mom and I pulled out our calendars and marked them for July 10-11. We were going. Now we just had to figure out where we were going to hike.  We decided to go back to Tubal Cain Trail. We had hiked this trail before, hiking down to Buckhorn Lake and loved it. We knew that the elevation gain was not insane, we could hike as long as we wanted since it hooked up to other trails, and there were pretty views with many places to camp.

Our trip was just a couple of days away. I was very excited and a little bit nervous. Mom was very nervous and a little bit excited. We had created our ‘menu’ and made lists of everything we needed to bring. I went over to her house the night before and we laid out everything we were taking and edited what we would pack when it came down to it (check out my favorite gear here). We purchased our Northwest Forest Pass and set out our hiking outfits for the morning.

At 6:30 AM the next morning, we were out the door. We started our journey at the Tubal Cain Trail No. 840 at 9:20 AM snagging the last parking spot at the trailhead. The weight of our packs (me: 38 lbs – mom: 32 lbs) was a little shocking at first never having packed for an overnighter before and we had to make a few adjustments on the trail.

All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the beginning of our hike.

The first few miles of the trail have a very gradual gain in elevation which worked in our favor. Normally I like a good challenge in elevation, but with 38 pounds on my back, I was not sad about the ease of the trail.  We took a break after 3.75 miles by a stream for a snack and water break ditching our packs for a few minutes. By this point, my appreciation for all the overnight backpackers out there was humongous. We helped hoist each other’s backpacks back on, adjusted our straps, and took off for the next 2.5 miles to our camp spot.

Ditching our packs for a snack break.

We encountered other hikers happy to be out on such a beautiful day, including two women who gave us some helpful tips and made us laugh so hard. They shared some of their favorite hiking recipes, gave us samples of some of their homemade snacks, and shared all about how they go pee outside showing us their pee cloths. We confided in them that it was our first overnight trip and that our packs felt extremely heavy. I explained to them how I had packed, and they gave me pointers on how to distribute the weight more evenly and how to correctly use my load-lifter straps on my backpack.  We told them that we were going to hike towards Marmots Pass after making camp by Buckhorn Lake. In response they told us “it’s so beautiful, you’re going to sh** your pants” making us laugh so hard at their bluntness. They were the perfect dose of encouragement prescribed at the perfect moment making the last stretch to our campsite seem a lot less difficult.

We painstakingly but joyfully finished the last few miles to Buckhorn Lake with our newbie-too-heavy packs and found a gorgeous, secluded spot with a view of the lake and proceeded to make lunch.

For lunch, we used our Sawyer Mini to filter stream water from nearby and Jet Boil to make Backpackers Pantry Phad Thai and topped that off with a few Milano Raspberry Chocolate cookies (check out more of my favorite hiking meals here). After our bellies were filled up, we set up camp and packed a smaller day pack with water, snacks, and coats happy to leave our mammoth bags behind.

Mom filtering water for our lunch.

Continuing on, we enjoyed wildflowers of every color, clear blue skies, and the sun toasting our skin all the while tromping through small patches of snow along the ridgeline. We continued for 3 miles, stopping at our turnaround point to take in the 360-degree views  (sh**-your-pants-worthy…pictures don’t do it justice, but they give you an idea).

Sh** -your-pants-worthy views.

We returned to our campsite totaling just over 12 miles for the day. We were tired (in the best way) and hungry. For dinner we had Backpackers Pantry Beef Stroganoff (yum!), hot coffee, and more cookies, then snuggled into our cozy little tent at a whopping 7 PM. 

Beef Stroganoff and coffee for dinner.

Even though it was mid-July, we put on leggings, wool socks, beanies, and Smart Wool long sleeves. The weather held out on us and we had a clear, not freezing-cold night, but the sleep that we did get was just “meh”. Something we did not consider prior to setting off on our journey, is that we would need pillows or our own sleeping pads.  We had zero pillows, intending to use our down jackets as pillows, but being too cold, we ended up sleeping in our jackets. We also only had one sleeping pad to share.  We laid it horizontal across our tent so up upper bodies could have some cushion, but this left our booties and legs cold and uncomfortable with only a thin layer of tent between us and the rocky ground beneath us. Another factor that contributed to a long, nearly-sleepless night, was our cheap sleeping bags.  Gear is expensive and we did not want to commit to $100+ sleeping bags if we decided overnight hiking was not our thing, so we had our tiny $20 sleeping bags from Sierra Trading Post that clearly did not keep us warm enough.

Getting cozy to go to bed.

The morning did eventually arrive though. Daylight is a fantastic alarm clock, waking us up around 5 AM. We stayed in our sleeping bags till 7ish too cold and sore to get up.  While still in our sleeping bags, we boiled water to make hot oatmeal and coffee before packing up.  It was a glorious morning waking up to the sun hitting the lake, surrounded by mountains on all sides.

The morning sun hitting the lake.

Taking into account the helpful women’s tips from the day before, we repacked our packs which made a world of a difference (for me anyway).  Instead of carrying the tent in the bottom compartment of my pack, I packed it vertical in the middle of my pack so it was in line with my spine,  From here, I took the heaviest items, evenly lining them on both sides of the tent.  By making sure the heaviest items were closest to my body, it made my backpack feel so much lighter.

Our 6.5-mile hike to our car was fast-paced and enjoyable since it was all a gradual downhill. We passed a handful of hikers heading out for their own trips, as well as trail crew members working hard to maintain the trail (thank you!) as we finished the last few miles.

Our obligatory photo with the trail sign at the end of the hike.

All in all, we had a fantastic trip totaling just over 18 miles. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, we ate good food, saw beautiful scenery, laughed a lot, and didn’t have any major snags. There are things we would keep the same, and things we would do differently for future trips. I think it’s safe to say we are both proud of ourselves for getting through the awkward unknowns and fears of trying something so foreign to us, and we have a new appreciation for all you backpackers out there.

Trail Name: Tubal Cain Trail No. 840

Location: Olympic National Park

Date Hiked: July 10-11, 2020

Start Time: 9:20 AM, July 10

End Time: 10:45 AM, July 11

Total Hiking Time: 8 hours(ish)

Elevation Gain: 3,528 ft

Total distance: 18 miles

Weather: Blue skies & sunny