A weekend on the Olympic coast

Two weekends ago Greg and I spent a long weekend up along the coastal section of Olympic National Park. Oregon has beautiful beaches, but the Olympic coast is PRETTY. DANG. STUNNING.

On the drive up on Friday, we drove up along the north shore of Lake Quinault to check out two things. The first was a huge Western Red Cedar that we couldn’t visit when we were here in May due to a downed tree on the staircase. According to two different Quinault brochures (see one of them here), this is the largest WRC in the world (circumference: 63.5′, diameter: 19.5′, height: 174′) but on Saturday we would visit another tree with the same claim.

World’s largest (or is it?):

A pretty sweet nurse log with roots stretching a little further each year to get to that soil far below:

The forest here is so pretty:

Then we drove a little further up the road and stopped at the Kestner Homestead, which the Park Service is apparently in the process of restoring. You’re supposed to get there via a trail from the nearby ranger station, but with so few visitors around we parked at the end of the driveway for the homestead. I’m not sure the history of this place. I bet we would have found out if we had walked the trail from the ranger station. 😉

It’s a real fixer-upper:

Lots of cool old stuff laying around:

Mossy shoe:

Seen better days:

We arrived at Kalaloch Lodge right before sunset and after checking in and bundling up we hurried down to the beach for sunset. Boy was it COLD on the beach!!

The next morning we headed to La Push to visit the beaches there. On the way we stopped to visit two old trees on DNR land. The first one was a cool old corkscrew tree that had no signs whatsoever. We only knew about it because there’s a geocache there. There’s a short trail from the road and even has an old rotting boardwalk. Maybe there was a sign once.

Further up the road was a big cedar which, like the cedar we saw the day before, lays claim to the largest in the world.

We parked at the trailhead for Second Beach and walked through the forest down to the beach. It was quite cold, but dry. Not too many people around, so it was actually kind of pleasant down there. We walked south along the beach and then turned around and came back. I know it’s cliche, but I do love a good walk on the beach! 😀

The natural arch at the north end of the beach:

Sea stacks off shore:

Enjoying the beach:

We drove on over to Rialto Beach and tried to walk up to Hole-in-the-Wall. But we found ourselves unable to get across Ellen Creek:

Doesn’t look like much in the picture, but it was just deep enough and swift enough and wide enough that the only way across was to get our feet wet. So we turned back.

We stopped at Ruby Beach for sunset, but all we got was the faintest smear of pink. I went somewhere where I could put some trees in front of it to make it more interesting.

On Sunday we got up at 7:00 and since we hadn’t switched our clocks back yet it was really 6:00. Not easy to do this time of year! We made the LONG (two hours one way) drive up to Cape Flattery, the most NW point of the continental U.S. It’s on the Makah Indian Reservation, so you have to purchase a $10 annual recreation pass in Neah Bay.

A beautiful little cove:

Another beautiful little cove:

Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery Lighthouse:

After Cape Flattery we headed to the trailhead for Shi Shi Beach, which we had read was a gorgeous beach. Apparently the money from that recreation pass is not used for monitoring the trailheads. We had seen all these houses along the road advertising “securing parking here” and now we knew the story behind that.

You have to hike a two-mile trail through the forest to get to the beach. The beach is just inside the borders of Olympic National Park, but the trail is on reservation land. Until a few years ago, the entire trail was along an old road and was a huge muddy mess. Then they re-routed the first mile of trail and built bridges and boardwalks.

But the second mile is still along the old road and is one long mudpit. We are talking EPIC amounts of mud. I wish I had sound to go along with the photo below, which was taken at the first stretch of mud. Even from 50+ feet away I could hear the sucking sound of the mud as Greg slopped through the mess.

After that first mudpit we discovered that there was so much mud and it’s so persistent year-round that there are very well-established little detour trails in the forest alongside the road. Some of these detour trails were also muddy, prompting Greg to mutter at one point, “Great, the detour has a detour.” 😆

But we were well-rewarded for our efforts. Shi Shi Beach is stunningly beautiful. Not only that but we had it all to ourselves AND the sun came out when we arrived! 😀

The north end of the beach:

Looking south to Point of Arches. We didn’t hike down there this time, but we’ll be back…

Tiny Greg on a big rock:

On the way back, on one of the detour trails, I spotted these cute mushrooms growing on a tree.

After slogging back to the car through the mud, we headed back. We had wanted to visit Lake Ozette too, but there just wasn’t enough daylight left. Next time. We stopped at Ruby Beach again for sunset, but it was a bust.

After a cold dry weekend, it started raining on Monday, but we were headed home so no biggie. If you’ve never visited the coast up there I highly recommend it. It’s absolutely gorgeous!

Enchanted Valley

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.

Royal Basin and Royal Lake

My sister and I spent five days up at Olympic National Park in early August. Despite living in Portland my whole life, I have never set foot on the Olympic Peninsula. It was amazingly gorgeous up there and we will definitely be going back!

With limited time, we only spent one night backpacking. We chose Royal Basin as our destination, where beautiful Royal Lake lies surrounded by rugged mountains. Depending on which guidebook you consult, it’s either six or seven miles to the lake, and about 2,300′ elevation gain. Whew! This is a very popular place, so you have to reserve ahead of time and then pick up a permit from the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles. Plus you’re required to carry a bear canister, which you can rent for cheap from the WIC. It’s a preventative measure; they don’t have a bear problem yet and they want to keep it that way. But those canisters are pretty heavy!

The hike starts out easy, climbing ever so gradually through a beautiful and pleasant forest for the first couple miles. You start out alongside the Dungeness River, and then the trail cuts over to follow Royal Creek upstream to Royal Lake. Soon the forest thins out and every once in awhile you cross an avalanche chute or rockslide. This was the first one, where we finally got a view of our distant destination.

The trail climbs up and up and up, getting pretty steep in some parts. The warm day felt quite hot, especially in the open areas where the sun beat down. I spent all of May and June laid-up with my broken foot and lost a lot of fitness which I have not yet regained. So I was really hurting on this hike.

I don’t have many pictures from the hike in. I was too busy sweating. My sister, in better shape and a faster hiker anyway, had hiked ahead of me after lunch and I hadn’t seen her for hours. When I finally reached the lake, I saw from the little map of campsites that they were quite scattered around the southwest side of the lake. So I set off to find her, pausing often to admire the gorgeous lake.

I spent half an hour looking for her. There were plenty of people and nearly every campsite had been taken, even on that weeknight (don’t come here for solitude). But I ended up exploring nearly every single scattered campsite before finally finding her in one of the last few spots I hadn’t looked yet. Man, I was SO ready to take that pack off! She had set up the tent and was holed up inside hiding from the mosquitoes, which were quite prolific. We rested awhile and then decided to hike to the upper basin. We were tired, but we knew it would be pretty and that we would regret it if we didn’t go. At least we didn’t have to put our packs on again.

It WAS worth it. It was really pretty up there, even though it was all in shadow because the sun had dipped below the high mountains. We saw a marmot….

…and admired the awesome view.

There was a surprise waterfall flowing down into the basin. It’s not on the topo maps and seems to have no name. I climbed up the hill a little bit to photograph it while Deborah continued the last stretch to the upper reaches of the upper basin (I was too tired for that).

Deborah took some shots on my point-and-shoot. Here is a pretty little tarn…

… and a look down at the meadow that was my stopping point.

On the way back down to the lake, Deborah saw a doe and two fawns. Awwwww….!

After photographing the waterfall in the upper basin, I had hiked back down to the lake. While waiting for Deborah to return, I took pictures of the GORGEOUS lupine near the lake. There were several little meadows like this chock full of blooming lupine. It smelled fantastic!

Once we were both back at camp we set to work making dinner. It was a challenge since we wanted to keep our gloves on to protect our hands from the mosquitoes, but we couldn’t prepare the food wearing our gloves. Thank God for the headnets at least. Here we are sporting our stylish nets and our mugs full of wine (yes, my crazy awesome sister hauled a heavy bottle of wine up there!)

At dusk, a deer wandered into our camp. She was clearly used to humans.

I went down to the lake with my accompanying hoard of mosquitoes and experimented with some long shutter speed shots of the lake at dusk, not knowing what kind of results I’d get. Turned out pretty nice!

We slept pretty well that night since it didn’t get very cold at all. We were at 5,100 feet and were expecting colder temps but it was actually quite comfortable. We woke with the light at 6 a.m. and decided to go around to the east side of the lake to watch the rising sun paint the western mountains with light. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning and the mosquitoes were only out in half-force at that hour, lucky us!

Before we headed back to the trailhead, we decided to find the waterfall that we had caught glimpses of and could hear from many areas around the lake. It looked to be near the ranger tent (unstaffed during our weekday visit) so we followed the trail to the tent. The trail kept going so we kept following it and sure enough it led us to an amazing waterfall. Like the one in the upper basin, this one is not on the topo map and appears to have no name, which is a shame since it’s so huge and cool.

We hung out by the waterfall for a long time, not only because it was so pretty and the day was so warm and beautiful, but because the mosquitoes were pretty much non-existent there. Ah, the relief of escaping those little bastards!

After we packed up camp, Deborah took a little swim in the lake, brave girl. The water did look very refreshing, but I didn’t want to expose so much skin to the blood-sucking mosquitoes swarming about.

And then we headed out, sadly leaving behind the gorgeous mountain lake and the stunning scenery around it. Here’s Deborah hiking across the lower part of Royal Basin, where there are a few campsites.

The hike out was long and hard because we were tired and sore and it was quite warm. I was so tired that I tripped and fell twice, twisting both my ankles. Thank goodness for hiking poles or the fall would have been worse. But we finally made it back to the trailhead. I look a little worse for wear.

But I made it and it was totally worth the trip. What a beautiful backpacking destination! I highly recommend this hike. As I said, it’s quite popular, but since they do limit the number of campers allowed that helps. I hope to go back again someday, hopefully when the mosquitoes are not around!