I had a three-day weekend for the 4th of July and I knew Greg wasn’t going to be around, so my sister and I planned on a weekend backpacking expedition. We weren’t sure where we would go because of the late snowmelt, but we had a short list of low elevation hikes. The Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park sounded beautiful. We checked the weather forecast on Thursday and it looked decent enough, so we went for it.
We drove up to the trailhead Friday evening after I got off work. (One of many awesome things about the long days this time of year is that we had daylight nearly the entire way!) Despite hitting some traffic getting out of Portland, we got to the trailhead in exactly four hours. We set up camp at the Graves Creek Campground in the dark and rested up for our long haul the next day.
The trailhead was just up the road, and when we drove up, there were more than 30 cars there. This I was not expecting. I knew it was a popular trail, but I hadn’t realized that many people would take Friday off instead of Monday, so despite our relatively early start we didn’t get a jump on the crowds after all.
The first two miles is along a long-abandoned road, and then you descend down, down down for half a mile to Pony Bridge. This is significant because you have to hike up, up, up that hill on your way out! Pony Bridge crosses the river in a cool canyon.
As we were hiking in, I realized it was exactly two months ago that I had surgery. Hiking amongst those big trees, surrounded by the towering mountains, I sent up prayer of gratitude that I’m recovered and feel better and am able to be out there backpacking!
There were a number of stream crossings, but the bigger streams had log bridges. This is Fire Creek.
Our hiking book said we would reach O’Neil Creek Camp just after crossing a dry creek. We crossed a dry creek but never saw the camp, so we figured we just missed it. An hour later we crossed another dry creek and Deborah turned around and said “Guess where we are?” Here we had thought we were further along the trail than we actually were!
It had taken us four hours to get to that halfway point and we pushed on, prepared for another four hours before reaching the valley. Fortunately, this is a very easy trail and it passes through some gorgeous forest. This area has never been logged, so there are some HUGE trees.
And we passed through all these really pretty meadows that were “lightly forested” (as I called it). They were completely charming and lovely!
The picture below was taken near Pyrites Creek, where there are places to camp and a bear wire. There are these huge tall bigleaf maples and these wide green meadows and the river rushing by…oh man it was so pretty. Next time I’m going to camp here AND at Enchanted Valley.
In addition to big standing trees, we saw big fallen trees too.
We were expecting bears and finally saw one in a meadow far from the trail (so far away that even with my 105mm zoom it was just a black dot in the middle of the photo). It paid us no mind.
We reached the river crossing and knew we were very very close! We were surprised to see a log bridge here. Doug Lorain’s Backpacking Washington book, the back cover of which claims that all trips were fully updated in 2007, mentions a hikers-only suspension bridge at this spot. We asked the ranger about it later and found out that the bridge was damaged in the winter of 1999.
And then we arrived at Enchanted Valley, exactly eight hours after leaving the trailhead (probably seven hours of hiking and an hour of rest breaks). What a sight for sore eyes!
I have heard this valley called the “Valley of 1,000 Waterfalls” and the “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls”. I think even 1,000 is a bit of a stretch, but there is a definitely a lot of water flowing down from the melting snow above. It is really beautiful! We didn’t know it then, but that would be the only time we would see the mountain tops all weekend.
We were pretty disheartened to see how crowded it was back there. We were mentally prepared for holiday weekend crowds, but not like this. Our only other backpacking experience in Olympic NP was Royal Lake, where there are quotas and designated campsites and everyone’s not camping on top of each other. There are not designated sites at Enchanted Valley, just designated areas where the ground is flat and everyone has to pitch their tent within 20 feet of each other. After wandering around for 20 minutes growing more and more discouraged, we finally selected a site in the trees where half a dozen other groups were set up.
There are only two bear wires in the valley, and one of them was near our camp. Unfortunately, the cable that goes through the pulley was busted. The high horizontal wire was still there. We had rope, but to suspend our food on a rope from the wire meant getting the rope OVER the wire first. This turned out be a big FAIL for us. We tied one end of the rope around a rock and threw. The rock made it over the wire and the proceed to loop back around. We couldn’t for the life of us get it unstuck. One of our campsite neighbors had been more successful in their attempts and offered to let us share their rope. So we cut our losses and cut the rope. Our rock-rope combo dangled on that damn wire all weekend, getting more and more tangled with the rope our neighbors used. [Insert head slap here.]
We saw a deer near the privy later that evening. The deer here are clearly used to humans standing around and gawking at them.
There is a beautiful creek that circles around the edge of the valley. You have to cross it just before reaching the chalet. We walked over to check it out after dinner. This was the first field test of my new backpacking tripod (my regular one is FAR too heavy to carry on backpacking trips). If any of you are thinking of getting a Tamrac TR406 ZipShot tripod, save yourself the trouble. It is advertised as being able to hold three pounds. My camera and lens together weigh two pounds and the ball head could not support it. It kept sliding forward or sideways. So the search for a lightweight backpacking tripod continues. Anyway, here is the creek, shot with a log serving as my tripod!
A note about mosquitoes: they had been bad at the campground the night before and although we had no trouble with them as we hiked, they swarmed us whenever we stopped. Fortunately, we encountered virtually no skeeters at Enchanted Valley.
Sunday morning we did a day hike, heading up towards Anderson Pass as far as we could go until we hit snow. The ranger told one of our hiking neighbors that he had hiked up there the previous week and had hit a wall of snow about a mile before the pass. Our hiking neighbor, Ian, joined us for the trek.
About 15 minutes beyond Enchanted Valley is another little valley where people were camped. It looked a lot less crowded here, and was just as scenic. I’ll have to remember that for next time.
The trail starts climbing up and up. The steep walls of the mountains here are prone to avalanches in winter. Check out the pile of downed trees at the base of this mountain.
We crossed White Creek, where there’s a debris-choked waterfall just upstream of the bridge. We also noticed another falls further upstream, way up the hillside. I wonder if anyone has ever bushwhacked up there.
We left summer behind and entered spring. Then soon enough we were hiking through winter. Nothing growing yet, snow everywhere. Here’s Ian checking out a snow cave on one of the creeks we had to cross.
And then we saw a distant mama bear and her cub. They were out on a snowfield and from one of the trail switchbacks we could see them through the trees. Thank goodness Deborah had binoculars. We were able to get a pretty good look at them. The bear cub was like a kitten, playing with a branch and frolicking in the snow. Very cute. This is the best I could do with my camera:
The trail actually crossed that snowfield further up the hill, and that is where we decided to turn around. We rested there for awhile, watching a distant herd of elk on the slopes across the valley. There was a large group of Seattle Mountaineers watching the elk too. They decided to keep pushing on and see how far they could get. I don’t know if the whole group made it to the pass, but we chatted briefly with one of them the next day on the hike out and he said he made it to the pass, despite the snow.
On the way back, we took a side trail to see the world’s biggest mountain hemlock. According to a brochure we picked up in Quinault later, this is the largest mountain hemlock in the world, over six feet in diameter and 152 feet tall.
We saw more elk, this time a lot closer! They were munching away on the hill above us.
There were a lot less people around Sunday night, since all those people that hiked in on Friday had hiked out on Sunday. Campfires are allowed in Enchanted Valley, so that night we made use of the nearby fire ring and Deborah made an excellent fire around which we ate our dinners. Nothing like a warm fire and a warm meal after hiking all day!
With a long hike and a long drive ahead of us on Monday, we got up at 6:15 a.m. What with filtering water, making breakfast, and packing up, we actually didn’t hit the trail until 7:45, but that’s still not bad. We saw our fourth and final bear of the trip when we were filtering water. It was actually pretty close, maybe 75 feet away? It saw us before we saw it, and by the time we spotted it, it was ambling away up into the trees.
On the hike out we noticed something we hadn’t seen on our way in. Someone had carved a happy face into the end of this log. Cute!
It took us about 6.5 hours to hike out. We were tired and very footsore, but we had a really great time. And even though the clouds persisted all weekend long, we didn’t get rained on even a tiny bit, which is pretty decent for a rain forest that gets 14 feet of rain per year. What a gorgeous hike! I can’t recommend it highly enough.