Here goes for my first trail report, I figured Id detail my experience in Olympic National Park (Hoh River Valley, High Divide and Bailey Range, Mt.Olympus/Glacier Meadow areas) in Washington since its such a beautiful place within striking distance of us southern BCers. Its been a few years since I made the trip (August 2005) and my memory is a bit hazy on the actual distances/elevation gains.. The amount of varied terrain and abundant wildlife in the park blew my mind.
Day 1: Left Vancouver midday and followed the highway down into Washington with a scenic drive and short ferry ride onto the Olympic Peninsula; arrived on the outskirts of Port Angeles just after sundown and set up our tent while sipping Tecates.
Day 2: Checked in with the park authority where you must detail your itinerary and book camping spots along with rental of bear-proof canisters. It was interesting to see that even in/on the edge of backcountry areas we were required to reserve a spot at a specific water source and nice to know that we would be the only hikers there at a given time. It was readily apparent that the park service ran a tight ship and I was impressed with the trail maintenance and general awareness of the rangers we encountered.
Drove a few hours around the scenic northwest tip of the peninsula and southwards towards the turn-off for the beginning of the Hoh River Valley trail. I definitely recommend stopping just before the trailhead parking lot for a Rainforest Caf burger (look for the little shack with a friendly Austrian). As wed lost some time, my friend and I decided a gentle hike up the meandering riverside trail to the Olympus Guard Station camp (9 miles or so?) would be nicer than slogging all the way up to Hoh Lake on our first day of hiking. The trail itself is flanked by lush greenery and offers lots of shade and a number of skeeters. It looked like it would be easy to find a secluded camp spot along the riverbanks but I didnt feel like testing out US Park Ranger hospitality and the designated site wasnt too busy.
Day 3: Our second day plan was to hike the north side of the valley up to Hoh Lake via a series of 22 switchbacks. We hiked a bit further along the Hoh River Trail until a clearly marked junction sent us upwards. The trail reminded me a lot of North Shore mountain trails, with the exception of hundreds of beautiful white moths shimmering between the treetops high overhead. In 1978 a forest fire took out a section of the slope and the trail passes amongst hundreds of bare trunks extending above smaller evergreens. As you gain on the lake, youll pass through some picturesque little clearings full of wildflowers and trickling streams.
The hike up isnt too strenuous although under an August sun it definitely gets the juices flowing; we arrived lakeside around mid-afternoon and were greeted with a great view of the Olympus Massif peeking through the trees to the south and a bold marmot who grunted his way over to my friends boots and knocked over his water bottle before sauntering down to the lake for a drink. We decided to follow suit and found the lake shore teeming with a belt of thousands of tadpoles. Looking across the lake at a prime camping spot we noticed a fat black bear rummaging for blueberries. Spent the rest of the day swimming, reading and keeping an eye on the bear while we feasted on his berry supply. Not a person in sight Around 1am heavy snorting and munching sounds woke us and as I stuck my camera out of the tent to capture a pic of whatever it was I found myself face to face with a whole herd of elk, fortunately they were only interested in foliage and my friends dirty boxers which were munched on by several elk.
Day 4: Our plan for this day was to hike up to the High Divide (7 Lakes Basin) Trail and to trace it all the way down through Cat Basin and into the Bailey Range. Once you are up and out of the Hoh Lake Basin
, views of the Hoh Valley open up to the south and to the north you can catch glimpses of the ocean and Victoria in the distance. A short jaunt along the trail will bring you to a turn-off taking you up Mt.Bogachiel; we ditched our packs and quickly made the summit where the views were slightly improved. Further along the ridge trail the aptly named 7 Lakes Basin comes into view below the north side of the ridge. All of the lakes look extremely inviting (and fishy) but we were on a mission and tried to keep our heads straight and our eyes focused on the distant peak of Mt.Carrie, marking the beginning of the backcountry Bailey Range. Once you pass Heart Lake, you stick to the ridge line and pass over to the south side to descend into Cat Basin. I remember beginning to run low on water at this point and grudgingly filling up at a stagnant pond filled with larvae.
The trail continues down a short bit and then gradually climbs the southwestern slope of Cat Mountain where the maintained trail ends with a Beware sign. From hereon the trail is still well scuffed by boots with a few quickstepping sections with steep drop-offs before you hopefully notice a sharp turn off left up through some gnarled roots and a non-descript switchback leading eventually to the beginning of the Catwalk-a section of rotten shale ridgeline peppered with gnarled pine and flanked by some treacherous drops. In some places the Catwalk is intimidating as the weight of your pack makes it important to choose your handholds carefully, I chose to go right instead of left at one point and found myself flailing for a few tense seconds as my hand tore out some loose shale and my feet slid off a ledge. After swearing my head off and arguing with my friend about whose right or left he should have shouted for direction my heart rate sank back down and we clambered our way up towards the alpine meadows of Mt.Carrie. At the exit point of the Catwalk I was greeted with a large mountain goat who motioned with his horns that I was to step off the ridge and let him pass; I froze for a second and then barked at him until he decided bucking me off the mountain might prove to be difficult and he trotted back up the ridge. Here I found Boston Charlies Camp-a tiny stagnant pond full of bird feathers and encircled with a pack of carefree mountain goats, our home for the night.
I recommend securing any and all belongings in this area as the salt-hungry goats will nose through everything and it is only a few metres to either side of the flat to gear-swallowing voids.
Day 5: This day was planned as a day for exploring the beginning of the Bailey Range with the intent to one day come in via Sol Duc to make a run through the whole range, looping back to the Olympus Massif on the opposite side of the valley. We pushed up the steep slopes of Mt.Carrie and traced a clear boot/goat trail for awhile through beautiful fields of wildflowers and marmots. As I stopped for my morning constitutional I was surprised by a large hawk that swooped down and squawked at me from a nearby pine. The trail eventually reached a steep incline down onto a scree slope and required some careful downstepping. Looking up to the left we could clearly see Mt.Carries summit as we crossed the scree and scrambled up another easy wall which brought us into more steep alpine meadows. We explored further for awhile and sussed out what looked to be the hypothetical route along and down to Cream Lake (the next available water source). Coming back we trudged up the scree slope below the summit of Carrie and gradually wound our way up to the summit ridge. The rock along the ridge was really crumbly (basalt?) and after reaching the false summit we decided we were too chicken to make the last push across a steep grade of shale just below the summit and enjoyed the stunning views from where we were. Just over and down the northwest face of Carrie we found a big snow patch and fooled around sliding down and generally cooling our heels before making our way back to Boston Charlies.
Day 6: Said goodbye to our hoofed friends and hiked back along the way we came in a surprise rainstorm. Made Hoh Lake around 3pm and hunkered down for some cards until the rain petered out.
Day 7: Hiked down 3500ft from Hoh Lake to the Hoh River Valley, then up to Elk Lake on the south side of the valley to drop off our sweat-stained gear and set up camp before going up 5000ft to the Terminus Moraine of the Blue Glacier on Mt.Olympus. I was dizzy with exhaustion as I came into sight of the glacier and treated myself with some fine scotch and Levi Garrett leaf tobacco
Needless to say, the landscape was beautiful and I could have sat for hours listening to the glacier grumbling.
Day 8: Hiked out the Hoh River Valley (about 15miles) to the car, drove to the nearest town, picked up junk food and beer and hiked onto La Push beach to revel in the sand in surf for a night. What a beach! Some beautiful rocks jutting out of the sand and not too many people. Watch out for the gross natural toilets lining the bush above the beach, it seems that some people just havent got the hang of no trace pooping. Met some interesting local aboriginal people who joined us for a huge bonfire and shared some interesting history.
Day 9: Back home to beautiful BC in time for dinner.
I hope that wasnt too long of a report. I left out a lot, there were too many things to describe-the amount of approachable wildlife in this park is truly phenomenal, although perhaps wild isnt exactly the correct terminology. I saw: Bears, Deer, Elk, Marmot, Eagles, Hawks, Pelicans, and a myriad of other 'garden variety' flora and fauna (even a bunch of Llamas
on the trail!).