Human, Nature: Indian Heaven Wilderness

Ryan and I started Stem for many reasons, but one that's central is our shared love for nature. This passion informs how we think about making furniture and the entire shopping process. It also deepens our focus on pushing the entire industry towards a more eco-friendly future in terms of utilizing sustainable materials, reducing toxins and contributing money to planting trees.

As kids (we're brothers), we were fortunate to grow up in Northern California going on camping trips from an early age. Sure, we loved playing Zelda as much as the next kid, but we also found our own adventures in the outdoors. Decades later, going backpacking together is still one of our favorite things. As soon as you hit the trail, you can feel the layers of stress start to peel away. As the miles of walking and the hours of sitting far away from modern life transpire, immersion in nature and the change of attention has a meditative effect. For me, backpacking offers the experience of being in my most comfortable state. And for us as brothers and business partners, it offers a way for us to reconnect with nature and each other.

We realized we hadn't been on a backpacking trip together in far too long, so we wanted to sneak one in before winter to explore the wilderness in the Pacific Northwest. A little time to clear our heads and get away from our inboxes was just what the doctor ordered. I flew up to Portland, and after some quick research we locked in on an area that was relatively close and extremely beautful: Indian Heaven Wilderness, located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.


Day 1

We hit the road in the morning, and because it's located in southwestern Washington which was only two hours away, we got to the trailhead by 10am. That kind of access is incredible! We're used to going up to the Sierra Nevadas which are world class, but also around 6 hours to get to by car from LA or SF.


We chose a trail that wasn't too long and gave us access to a lake that we read was gorgeous. In a lot of wilderness areas permits are needed, but in Oregon and Washington it's a nice balance of well marked trails that aren't overly organized or regulated. We like some structure in the woods, sure. But not too much structure as to diminish our hunter gatherer instincts lingering within.


The trail was pretty flat, and at only around 5,000 feet in elevation, it didn't offer any additional difficulty from altitude. A nice change of pace compared to some of the high altitude passes in California we were used to. Oxygen...underrated?


We were incredibly lucky with the timing. We heard this area could be covered with ravenous mosquitoes, but the temperature had dropped about a week before and they were nowhere to be found. Plus, fall had just taken hold and the colors were insane! It honestly didn't even look real in person.


There were plenty of little signs of life beyond the larger bushes and trees, including this mushroom that looks like it was created for a Pixar film.


We then got to a portion of the trail that went right through where a massive fire hit last year. It was striking to see the contrast of the part hit by the fire against the untouched grounds.


Seeing this type of devastation up close was surreal. It was just totally blackened and bare for acres, with small bits of life coming back into view.


The bark was frozen in time, still bearing the burns. Crazy to think these trees had been growing for so many years and then in one fire they were stripped down. A good reminder of how fragile ecosystems can be with extreme external pressures.


This lake was gorgeous! The evening was very peaceful since we were the only ones staying the night (let's keep this trail our little secret), and the colors looked like a painting made by Bob Ross on acid.


We were able to get the prime camping spot right up against the lake, with perfect sections for our tents and a little fire pit ready to go. 


A couple of beers cooled by the original refrigerator is always a good idea.


We scavenged enough dry wood to get a solid fire for the evening. Good for warmth, entertainment, and dinner.


Just as our hunger came to the forefront we realized that the gas for the stove we brought was empty, so the chorizo was in jeopardy. Luckily those hunter gatherer instincts I mentioned earlier kicked in and we were able to use some McGyver skills to create a makeshift process with precariously wedged sticks over the fire. After some debate as to whether the chorizo was fully cooked, our hunger overrode any trepidation and we enjoyed our well earned feast. Disaster averted. We went to bed full, relaxed and grateful.


Day 2

We had a good night's sleep and a leisurely morning. After packing up and enjoying granola and coffee, we hit the trail. The hike back offered more crazy colors to enjoy. I would love to see a gecko work its way through this and try to keep up with the changes.



A pic of the two of us, as captured by setting my phone on a tree branch.



Other than the car ride back, we made it through the whole backpacking expedition without talking business which was a condition we agreed upon. That's no small achievement. This little boat off a bridge seemed like a nice way to travel. Maybe next time.


Before getting back to Portland, we hit up McMenamin's for some lunch. It's a cool old building with a lot of character (and probably some interesting stories) that was converted into a hotel with multiple restaurants, a barbershop and some bars. Unique place that's close to the city but still feels like an escape.


It was a rather short trip in terms of the actual trail and duration, but it's always amazing how much time slows down once you're out there. It's such a pure existence, and even though it's temporary, it seems to rejuvenate our souls. Seeing the beauty right next to the burnt remains and realizing how quickly those years of growth can be stripped away was cause for reflection on owning a business that uses trees and natural elements for its products. As the book Sapiens points out, humans have been affecting the environment since the early agricultural days many thousands of years ago. Resources are precious, whether it's to enjoy during a weekend getaway or as part of our industrialized cuture. This trip reinforced our commitment to sustainability, donating a portion of our profits to planting trees, and to try and encourage all of us to think a little more about humanity's complicated relationship with nature.