My Big Red Kelty

The Adventurer, Vernon Wade

Vernon was born in the Pacific Northwest and still lives in the shadow of Mt. Hood, near the small town where he grew up. Vernon has spent decades wandering the hills, hunting mushrooms, camping and riding motorcycles into the remotest nooks and crannies to be found in the region.


You guys would have loved the backpack I started Boy Scouts with. My father was so proud to hand down to me the pride and joy from his Boy Scout days, a Trapper Nelson pack. Wooden framed, with a canvas bag, web shoulder straps and leather straps with buckle closures.

When Dad was a scout, the Trapper Nelson was the pinnacle of camping technology, but I did not appreciate it. It was heavy. It wasn’t water proof. The leather straps had rotted with age and broke off on the trail. The thin web shoulder straps cut into my flesh. My “buddies” found the flat top of the pack ideal for stacking rocks on while they hiked down the trail behind me. Oh, how I loathed that pack.

On my thirteenth birthday, Dad gave me a brand new, bright red, state of the art, Kelty backpack. It had a lightweight, aluminum external frame, and waterproof, nylon bag. The bag could carry a huge load; the frame extended beneath it, leaving space to strap a sleeping bag in a matching, waterproof stuff bag. My poncho went in one side pocket and the first aid kit went in the other. There was a flat pocket on the back, just right for a mess kit. The waist belt and shoulder straps were padded! I loved that pack. Even after scouts I lived out of that pack. It was my back rest when I moved into a tipi at seventeen. It was my dresser in college. I hitchhiked all over wearing that big red pack. It was festooned with tattered airline tags and Greyhound baggage labels.

Eventually I found other, lighter packs, newer designs with internal frames, but I hung onto the Kelty. A couple of years ago, I wanted to hike down to the west fork of the Hood River and set up a lean to on the beach. I dug out the old Kelty, thinking the external frame would do a good job of carrying the heavy canvas. The ancient zippers were broken and one of the cotton web closure straps came adrift when I tried to cinch it down. I filled it with food and gear and strapped on the canvas, a blanket and my sleeping bag.

I tied it on the bike and rode out Lolo Pass to the trailhead where I humped it down to the beach. It was heavily loaded and carried the weight up high, making me feel top heavy and unstable. I scrambled down a ravine, crossed a creek on a couple of small logs and crawled up the other side to a ridge.



Working my way through the brush I used a downed tree for a bridge, balancing precariously high above the vine maples. At one point on my way down to the river, I had to climb over a log. With the weight of my pack, it was all I could do to lift a foot up to the top of it. I tried to step up, but the log was rotten and gave way. I landed in a tangle on my back, where I flailed helplessly like an upside-down turtle. After several attempts, I was able to wrench myself onto my belly but the pack slid above my head and snagged on my jacket, trapping me. The weight prevented me from lifting my head, much less regaining my feet. Eventually I flopped over to a small cedar and worked my way up the trunk. I staggered the rest of the way to the beach where I shed my pack and set up camp.






It was a good trip; the old pack served me well and held together for the hike out. It is hanging in my garage, waiting for the next outing. One of the shoulder straps has come apart, but I think it can be repaired.



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