Olympic National Park

Kristen and I went on a hike this weekend in the Olympic mountains. The original plan was to try to go to the summit of Mt. Olympus, which is about 7900 feet, but the avalanche risk was too high. So instead, we followed most of the same route, and went towards "Hoh lake".

Friday night we took the ferry over Puget sound to the Olympic peninsula, drove into a town called Sequim (pronounced Squim) and stayed at a hotel. Saturday morning we finished the drive and started on the trail about 10:30a. The trail goes all along the Hoh river, through an incredibly dense temperate rain forest. We were fortunate enough to have really great weather and fantastic views all around. Our campsite was just over 10 miles into the trail.

The second day (Sunday), we left our camp set up where it was, and hiked with lighter packs for about 5 miles up hill towards the mountain lake. However, we hit snow-pack, and that slowed us down. This was low-angle snow, so avalanche risk was not an issue (greater than 30 and less than 60 is the risk zone). I had brought my mountaineering boots (the ones that accept crampons) thinking we’d climb Olympus. Since we changed that plan back at the car, and these boots are VERY heavy and hard to walk in off of snow, I left them behind and just took my running shoes. (Mountaineering boots are almost like ski-boots, except the ankle moves a little more). Anyway, running shoes were not the best for the snow. We had some plastic bags, and I put them between my socks and shoes, and we kept going.

We had to stop when we got just below a huge water fall and a difficult creek crossing. We were about 1/2 mile from the lake, and probably ‘could’ have made it, but it was getting latter in the day, and falling in would have compromised our margin of safety far too much. So we turned around at about the 5-mile mark on this hike and went back to camp.

We got back to camp just as it was starting to rain. We threw up a tarp so we would have something to cook under, since it’s not a good idea to cook in a tent when there are bears around. We even saw one of the foot prints on our hike, and the print was well bigger than my outstretched hand.

At camp, we cooked dinner on the camp stove, and I put my shoes next to the it as I cooked. I could hear Dad’s voice in my head as I looked at these rag-tag, mud-laden, seam-busted, leather-ripped running shoes, and he was saying "You know, this would be a great time for one of those unfortunate sneaker fires I keep warning you about…" But they dried out reasonably well, and we had a nice dinner of bean stew.

Monday, we woke up to a torrential downpour, broken periodically with bits of hail. Motivation to get out of the warm tent to cook and pack was difficult, except that we still had the 10 miles to hike just to get back to the car. I got out and fetched our food from the ‘bear wires’ about 30 yards away and started making hot water for oatmeal and coco, while Kristen started packing up the stuff inside the tent. After breakfast, we took everything out of the tent and put it under the tarp so that I could collapse the wet tent and stuff it into my backpack (yuck). 

I was thinking for a moment what my folks would do in that place. 
a) find a hotel
b) call a cab
c) they would never go that far into a rain forest in the first place.
OK, so it’s option C, but they would also miss out on the shear beauty and splendor of one of God’s many finer creations.

All over the place, there were trees covered in with an incredibly dense canopy of moss. Nearly every surface you could see in all directions was covered with something in various shades of green. Here and there, trees had fallen to the ground and were being rapidly consumed and re-used as other plants and animals re-used all available resources to perpetuate their own cycle of life. There were trees on the ground that were many times wider than I am tall.

So we packed everything we came with back into our packs, and began our return trip to the car. With all the rain from the night before, the trail had become a near continuous mud-pit. On the bright side, it meant that the walk back looked completely different, and was less like back-tracking. At one point, we came to another stream crossing, and Kristen laughed and said "Look at this stream… we’ve walked through mud deeper than that!" so we just kept going.

At one point on our hike we even heard a distant tree fall in the forest. I can’t answer whether a tree that falls when nobody is around makes a noise or not, but if people ARE around, I can testify that it most definitely makes a noise akin to thunder.

As we walked, the weather was continually changing from momentary periods of bright sunshine, to downpours, to hail, and back to sunshine again, all within 10 minutes, and repeating over and over again. There was one spot along the river where we could see across the river to the steep mountains on the other side. They were covered with an incredibly deep shade of green and had clouds scattered about rising out from the ground, climbing up the slope back to the sky like the Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Eventually, we made it back to the car, plenty tired, and plenty dirty. We had hiked about 30 miles over the weekend. We shed the outer, dirt-laden layer from our bodies, threw all the gear into the back of the car, washed up a bit in the rest rooms at the ranger station, and headed out on the road, destined for the first place we found that made pizza.

Copyright 2001, Ashley Guberman

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