Monday, September 11, 2006

Hiking in the Olympic National Park

This past summer found Todd, Dan and I headed into the heart of the Olympic peninsula for a week long backpacking trip. Ever since Todd and I had hiked into the Enchanted Valley, we had been planning to come back with more time and get a better feel for this incredible place.

We headed out early in the morning for the NF of the Quinault. We then quickly set up the short shuttle at the SF before beginning our adventure. (We would be coming out about 15 miles away from where we started and none of us wanted to hike out on the road) The trail was easy going and familiar ground for me. I had been here with a couple friends in March of 2000, at least the first few miles. The trees in this forest are amazing.

Dan stands next to one of the bigger Douglas Firs that caught our attention.

Todd and Dan on the trail

As we started crossing some of the tributaries, it became increasingly clear that there had been a large scale flood event since the last time I had been here. Things had dramatically changed, including campsites, bridges, and trail conditions.

Dan at Elip Creek

Further up the same tributary

This is where our first camp was. The outhouse had been damaged by a tree and the bear wire had been pulled down as well. We made the outhouse work and used bear cans that we had packed in with us.

The next we got up early and headed on up the trail. We had started climbing by now and by the time we got to the Twelve Mile shelter, we were ready for a break.

Todd and Dan crossing the frigid waters of the upper NF Quinault

As we approached Low Divide, the pass that would allow us to drop down into the Elwha River, we saw this incredible waterfall.

Low Divide consisted of an open meadow and we became very aware that this is bear country. I didn't see anything, but the two hikers we met up with said they had just seen one in the area.

We camped at Low Divide and relaxed knowing that we had an easy decent into the Elwha the next day.

The morning found us headed into our second river canyon and another opportunity for bear encounters. Todd and Dan came across one, but it took off rather quickly.

One of the lakes we passed on our descent

We had dropped some significant elevation before we hit flat land. Shortly after, we came to a crossing on the Elwha.

Todd and Dan crossing high up on the Elwha River

We hiked down until we came to the confluence with Hayes River. This was also the site of a ranger station and historic cabin.

Todd sits on the porch of the ranger station at Hayes River on the Elwha

Dan and Todd relax in camp at Hayes River.

A couple of camp visitors show up

Looking downstream on the Elwha from our camp at Hayes River

The next morning presented us with our hardest day. A long, steep hike up to Hayden Pass and the entrance to our third river system. The WF Dosewallips. We got an early start and within a couple miles we had significantly gapped out. It was a long seemingly never ending climb.

A side stream on the hike to Hayden Pass

However, the pass provided us with panoramic views and a look at Mt. Olympus.

Looking into the headwaters of Hayes River

Hayden Pass

Todd makes it to the pass

Todd was only 15 minutes behind me at the pass but over thirty minutes had passed since Todd showed up and still no Dan.

Todd looking around while we wait for Dan to show up

We started to worry a little and we decided that if an hour passed from when I had reached the pass. Just as I was getting ready to head down with a light rescue pack, Dan came around the corner. We sat for another 15 minutes taking in the views before descending into our next canyon.

Dropping into the WF Dosewallips

We camped at the edge of a meadow along the headwaters of the NF Dosewallips. This was also the home of several Olympic Marmots.

A Marmot looks around before continuing to work on his home

After an incredible amount of mosquito bites waiting for a marmot to surface, I managed to get this shot

A cluster of Pinesap in camp

The next day, we headed down river, making good time to the confluence of the west and east forks of the Dosewallips.

Falls on a tributary feeding into the WF Dosewallips

We got into camp and relaxed. Though it was an easy downhill day, it was long and we were tired.

Dan and Todd clean up in the Dosewallips.

Looking upstream from the bridge over the Dosewallips

Now, backpacking has it's dangers, however, they don't usually come from other people. We had set up camp and we were all kicking back relaxing. I had moved a short distance from camp and had found a nice log to lay on in the sun. Todd and Dan were talking in camp, things were good. The next thing I know, a guy leading half a dozen pack mules rounds the corner right next to me. The lead mule doesn't like the way I look, smell, or just wants to have some fun and charges right at me up the hill. I jumped behind a tree as the crazed mule and rider tear into camp. That was close. The other mules scattered slightly, but caused no problems. The guy eventually got his mule under control and back on the trail. Just plain weird. It left Todd and Dan wondering just what I did to get that mule to come after me. I have no idea.

The crazy mule team across the bridge on the Dosewallips

Todd and Dan in camp at Dose Forks

We then headed up the Dosewallips towards Anderson Pass. This was a moderate climb, but not as bad as the next day was going to be.

Todd and Dan looking into the Dosewallips canyon

We camped at Honeymoon Meadows that night. Todd and I had hiked into this spot in 2003 by way of Enchanted Valley.

Todd enjoying the scenery at Honeymoon Meadows

The meadow had a variety of wildflowers. (Columbia Lily)

Dan passing the time, enjoying the sun

Camp scenery

Evaporation created fog sweeps over the mountain peaks as the sunlight dwindles into night

The next morning we packed up and got ready to head over Anderson Pass.

Todd and Dan crossing a high meadow

We had also decided that since we didn't check out Anderson glacier last time, we were going to be sure to see it this time. So, we ditched everything in the trees and headed on up the hill towards the glacier. It was steep, but the views were rewarding and without the packs, it wasn't too hard.

Todd on the way up to Anderson glacier

Looking ahead

Todd with what is left of Anderson glacier

We looked around for awhile before heading back down to prepare for our descent into the SF Quinault.

A large waterfall draining out of the lake at the base of Anderson glacier

As we dropped into the canyon and finally saw the SF Quinault, it was very obvious this drainage had also been ravaged by flood waters. I was, however, able to spot the small unmarked side trail to the world's largest western hemlock. I waited by the tree while Todd waited up on the main trail to catch Dan since he had never seen it. While I was waiting, I had the good fortune to have a bear wonder up next to me. I managed a couple of pictures before he headed off. The lighting was poor, but they were the best shots of a bear I was able to capture on this trip.

We had originally planned on our last camp being at the Enchanted Valley. Todd and I both really enjoyed camping at this site with the mountain view, open meadow and the waterfalls cascading in from several hundred feet above to the river in front of our campsite. Unfortunately, the flood waters that had raged through this canyon sometime after we had visited had drastically rearranged this area. In fact, the very campsite that we had stayed at had just disappeared, reclaimed by the river. The channel had moved several hundred feet and had threatened to undermine the historic chalet. We were disappointed that the place we had enjoyed was now gone.

Given the devastation and the early time of day, we opted to put a few more miles behind us and head on down the trail.

Looking back into the new Enchanted Valley.

From here on out, I didn't get any pictures as we made good time and only stopped briefly. Also, the river had just blown up during the flood event and most of the incredible scenic shots I remembered had been obliterated. It was a disappointing note to end on. We made it back to the truck the following day in no time at all as the trail provided for fast travel.

The Olympic National Park is an incredible place and a rare opportunity to leave the modern world behind. Places like this are becoming increasingly hard to find in the Pacific Northwest. The drive home only reinforces this as you pass through mile upon mile of clear cuts for as far as the eye can see. My interest in this area has only been heightened and I will return, hopefully with my boat in tow, in the near future.

You can read Dan's write up on his blog, My Greatest Adventures.

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