A version of this story appeared in the winter 2020 issue of Uncommon Path.
We had just made it to our camp above Crater Lake when large, wet snowflakes started falling from the sky. My 8-year-old twin sister and I were on our very first backpacking trip, 3 miles from the trailhead, and we didn’t have long to gape at the impossibly blue, impossibly deep waters of the lake before our dad put us to work setting up camp.
We fished our foam pads out of our brand-new packs—stiff and unworn, straight from our outfitting trip to REI. Unfurling our bulky sleeping bags, we dove into the tent, embracing the safety that comes when huddled in down feathers amid a muffled landscape. But it wasn’t long before hot cocoa, steaming from new enamel cups, and a campfire persuaded us back out into the snow globe.
After that first trip, my sister and I spent the next few years trailing our dad through the woods and meadows of the Pacific Northwest with our bright-red, boxy packs. Mine hugged me tight the first time I glimpsed an ancient, moss-draped spruce in the Hoh Rain Forest and the countless times my dad reduced my sister and me to giggles by popping around tree trunks on our treks. When we got too big, we passed them on to younger cousins for secondhand memories before they, too, outgrew the straps. Then our packs were lost to time.
That is, until this summer, when my uncle discovered them deep in his attic. Tears of surprise welled up in my eyes as I held one of the worn packs in my hands, wanting to keep it close so it would never get lost again. It was the perfect size for my own 5-year-old daughter. Our first stop? The impossibly blue, impossibly deep Crater Lake, of course.
—Nicole Smith, REI staff member, as told to Aer Parris