Field Notes: Backpacking Gifford Pinchot NF with Outdoor Asian

Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Jay Horita is a Youth & Community Engagement Specialist for Northwest Youth Corps, supporting the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region. Here, he shares notes from a weekend backpacking experience with Outdoor Asian, a nonprofit whose goal is to encourage and study the participation of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the outdoors.

Participants pose for a group photo during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants pose for a group photo during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. From left: Jay Horita, Alvin Loong, Alice Cao, Chris Liu, Yewah Lau, Mumtz Mesania, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, Deeshi Donnelly, Cheryl Truong, and Depak Awari. Courtesy photo provided by Deepak Awari.

On Friday, August 30th 2019, eleven members of the Outdoor Asian community from the Oregon and Washington chapters drove up a pothole-ridden and rocky Forest Service road to the Glacier View Trailhead in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest.

After a hot meal of noodles, we hit the sleeping bags to prepare for the next day’s backpacking adventure. 

Participants hike a trail downhill during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants hike a trail downhill during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

This trip was the very first of its kind for Outdoor Asian in many ways: the first backpacking trip, the first multi-chapter collaboration event, the first trip occurring in wilderness areas of two public land agencies.

Trip leaders Chris Liu and I spent much time planning a positive, fun, challenging, and educational backpacking adventure for eleven Outdoor Asians. 

Participants prepared food, including some traditional asian dishes, during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants prepared food, including some traditional asian dishes, during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. From left: Chris Liu, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, and Deepak Awari. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo provided by Deepak Awari.

We deliberately chose a diverse meal plan, which ranged from instant noodles to elaborate dahl and roti from scratch (rolled out on our Nalgene bottles!), to showcase the vast diversity of Asian backpacking food options.

Our goal was to ensure the participants realized they don’t have to give up their culinary heritage on trips into the back country! Thinking back to my early years in back country adventuring, I remember trips where all I ate were dehydrated mashed potatoes and tortillas, so it was great to treat everyone to familiar foods. We even had a rare tea blend, a Yuzu Green tea, to enjoy throughout the trip. The food brought us closer together, helping make the trip feel more like a family adventure.

Participants get a lesson in reading topographical maps during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants get a lesson in reading topographical maps during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. From left: Jay Horita, Yewah Lau, Mumtaz Mesania, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, Alice Cao, Cheryl Truong, Chris Liu, and Alvin Loong. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Besides giving everyone a great backcountry experience, Chris and I also wanted to talk about a range of important topics from Leave-No-Trace principles to Wilderness First Aid. Some even had the chance to practice wilderness first aid by patching each others’ blisters and hot spots!

Participants compare trail footwear during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.
Participants compare trail footwear during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.

Our group included seasoned public land stewards, from biologists to district rangers, who shared their experiences working for the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.

Those uninitiated to public land management got a crash course on the differences between National Forest land (where we started the hike) and National Park land (where we ended it).

Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Crossing the boundary from the Glacier View Wilderness into Mt. Rainier Wilderness was a special moment!

For me, the ultimate trip highlight was arriving at the Gobblers Knob fire lookout tower, where Mt. Rainier (or Tahoma, one of many Native American names for the mountain) peaked its glacier-covered summit through the clouds.

The mountain was spectacular and humbling. The lakes and meadows we visited were calming. The stars gave us perspective. The wilderness gave us the best backdrop to share our experiences as Outdoor Asians and develop our connection to a life outdoors.

Outdoor Asian participants pose atop a rocky outcrop during an August, 2019 backpacking trip through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.
Outdoor Asian participants pose atop a rocky outcrop during an August, 2019 backpacking trip through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.

In future trips, we hope to address how all public lands (indeed all lands in the Americas) were cared for by the diverse tribes, groups, and nations of Native Americans; and still are, in many places.

Most importantly, we celebrated our shared connection to the land across all cultures. The Forest Service is, like most things, ephemeral in comparison to the mountain and its landscapes.

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