Friday, December 4, 2020

Day 80: Homesteading on the Elwha

August 28: I had a short 10 or so miles to hike today, and it was a relatively flat day of hiking slowly following the Elwha River downstream along a trail in pretty good condition--so I was in no rush to get moving in the morning. Today was going to be an easy day. It wouldn't have even been difficult for me to finish my hike before noon! But then I'd be stuck in camp all day, twiddling my thumbs and bored to tears. No, I needed to take lots of breaks, walk slowly and enjoy the scenery. =)

Elwha River

But... I still started walking by 8:00am. I really didn't want to leave that early, but the biting gnats fluttering around were annoying the heck out of me and, deep in this river canyon, the sun likely wouldn't come out for hours. I wanted time in the middle of the day in the sun to charge my solar charger and warm up a bit. Not that it was deathly cold, but it certainly wasn't warm either!

So I hit the trail at a relatively normal 8:00am. A half-mile down the trail, I reached a ranger station next to campsites and shelters for Elkhorn Camp--which made me wonder where the heck I had camped at. (My permit required that I hike at Elkhorn Camp, and I thought I had, but now I wasn't so sure! Of course, if the park service actually provided signage that said more than "campsites," I might have figured it out earlier.)

But I didn't see anyone at the campsites. Maybe there was a ranger at the ranger station--I didn't knock on the door to find out--but it surprised me that I didn't see a single person camping out here. Where were all the people?! It had now been over 24 hours since I last saw any human being, and I was in Olympic National Park! Allegedly a popular place with hard-to-get permits!

View from Mary Falls Camp, but I never did find Mary Falls. Still a nice campsite, though, even without any falls!

Continuing onward, I took a side trail to Mary Falls where my guidebook promised a view of Mary Falls from the camp on the shore of the Elwha River. I had plenty of time to walk off trail and check out the waterfall, but there was none. None that I could find, at least. How does an entire waterfall disappear? It's not like it was dry because of a drought--there was no evidence of any waterfall that I could find--dry or otherwise.

But since I was there and the sun had finally come out, I did stop for an hour to eat some snacks and enjoy the sun.

Then I continued onward, deciding to take another extended break at Lillian Camp. Once again, there was no sign of people. Not a single person was camped here, and I still hadn't seen a single person on the trail. It was really weird...the lack of people. Not that I'm complaining, mind you--it was just weird. Like walking through a Stephen King novel.

Lillian Camp was a lovely campsite in the woods, alongside Lillian Creek, but the thick tree cover allowed almost no sunlight on the forest floor. I still stopped briefly to eat some snacks, but my solar charger wasn't doing any good here so I continued onward after about 15 minutes.

Bear cables at Lillian Camp. (You aren't allowed to camp under the bear cables!)

Finally, in the afternoon, I met up with two people hiking in the opposite direction.

"Homo sapiens!" I shouted at them, surprised and delighted. "Wow! You're the first people I've seen since yesterday morning when I left camp! Where are all the people?!"

They seemed as surprised as I was about the lack of people but reported that the road to the trailhead where they started was closed to vehicular traffic which apparently discouraged a lot of people. They actually rode bicycles before locking them up at the trailhead and hiking in the rest of the way. They hadn't seen anyone on the trail either until meeting up with me.

They were planning to camp at Elkhorn Camp, and I told them that--for the time being, at least--there was absolutely nobody between here and the campsite and that they'd likely have it all to themselves. Then we continued on in our own directions.

Then early in the afternoon, I reached Michael's Ranch, where I then needed to take a side trail 0.6 miles to Humes Ranch which was where I was scheduled to camp for the night. The idea of hiking 0.6 miles off trail kind of annoyed me, but it wasn't even 2:00 in the afternoon yet and I had such a short and easy day, it's not like it was an issue. More of a "principle of the thing" than a real problem. I don't like hiking off trail!

Before heading down, though, I did go into the cabin to check it out. Another sturdy, wooden structure that, I was surprised to learn upon entering, actually had a second level to it.

Michael's cabin

After taking a few photos, I then continued onward, finally arriving at Humes Ranch at about 2:00 in the afternoon. The cabin and meadow in front of it were in brilliant sunlight, so I put out my solar charger and made myself at home on the porch of the cabin.

A sign warned that camping in or within 100 feet of the cabin was illegal, but it said nothing about hanging out in the cabin all afternoon which I had a mind to do. =)

I pulled out my Kindle and read for hours. I cooked dinner, and wrote in my journal. As the hours progressed, the daylight in the meadow started being overtaken by shadows from trees and I moved my solar charger a couple of times to keep it in the daylight.

Late in the afternoon, a hiker did arrive. The campsites were actually located down a steep slope behind the cabin, and I pointed him down in that direction when he had trouble finding them and we chatted for a few minutes.

I also told him that I was thinking about camping somewhat illegally up near Michael's cabin. Although today was a short, easy day, tomorrow would be longer and possibly more difficult and I liked the idea of getting the 0.6 miles back to the trail done today rather than tomorrow morning. I could camp near Michael's cabin (but not within 100 feet of it!), and I knew there was plenty of space for it. Technically, my permit was for Humes Ranch, but given almost the complete lack of people in the area, it didn't seem like it mattered very much. I hadn't even seen a ranger around to check my permits.

So I liked the idea of walking back up to the other cabin a little before sunset and setting up camp there. I even considered walking out further, but I didn't know what the conditions would be like or if I could find a nice place to camp. At least I knew what I had available at Michael's cabin.

So he headed down to set up camp, and I continued lingering at Hume's cabin.

Hume's Cabin, late in the afternoon as I was about to leave, after I lost all of the sunlight from earlier in the afternoon. (See all my gear on the patio where I spent 5 hours lingering?)

I finally lost the last of my sunlight behind the trees as the sun continued to sink lower and lower toward the horizon, and I figured that was a good time to go. I packed up my solar charger and the rest of my gear then hiked the 0.6 miles back to Michael's cabin, stopping briefly about halfway to pick up water from a waterfall next to the trail since there would be no water at the cabin itself.

I set up camp at the junction between the Elwha River Trail and the side trail to Hume's Ranch, cowboy camping since no rain was in the forecast. I had been there for maybe 5 minutes when two hikers arrived. It was already getting dark, and they said that their permit was for Lillian Camp but that they didn't think they could make it before dark and were now looking to camp at Hume's Ranch. I told them the campsites there were wide open--just one guy camped by himself and there was certainly plenty of room for two more. 

They seemed a little relieved about this, worried that they might be crowding an already overcrowded campsite and headed down the trail.

And that was the end of my day. I read my Kindle and watched some Netflix with my fully-charged solar charger, then drifted off to sleep.

Elkhorn shelter

Elwha River

No bear sighting today, but here was an even rarer sight: an owl! (I'd see a total of 5 bears on the PNT, but only 2 owls. So owls are more rare on the trail than bears!) And even more amazing--I actually snapped this fantastic photo with my stupid point-and-shoot camera despite the owl being deep in the shade of the trees! This is by far the best owl photo I've ever taken!

Banana slugs aren't so rare. I probably saw thousands of them along the trail. =)

Lillian Creek

I was surprised to find that Michael's cabin actually had a second level to it!

Each of the cabins had a little sign with a bit of the history of the cabin.

I'm hanging out on the patio of Hume's cabin.

Just in case you wanted to read more about the history of Hume's cabin.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Day 79: Hayden Pass Hump

August 27: I woke up and hit the trail at about 8:00. I had a thousand-plus foot climb to Hayden Pass, the views becoming more impressive the higher the trail ascended. Then it was a long, slow descent down toward the Elwha River.

The far side of Hayden Pass had trees, but a large wildfire burned through the area a few years back so impressive views were still visible through the burned out trees.

Hayden Pass is out there somewhere!

Further down the mountain, outside of the burn area, I was just surrounded by trees and with nothing particularly exciting to report.

Then my route connected with the Elwha River Trail. Most of the time, the Elwha River wasn't visible through the trees, but I did occasionally get views of it when the trail ran up alongside of it.

My campsite for the night was Elkhorn Camp, but a couple of miles just before it I was passing through some huckleberry bushes when I heard something large moving in the bushes. Probably a deer, but I stopped to get a better look when I saw a black furry movement through the brush. A bear! It was a bear!

I backed away quickly--I was maybe 10 feet away when I first noticed it. The bear was on a narrow strip of land between the trail and a cliff over the Elwha River and I didn't know if the bear realized I was even there with all the noise it was making in the bushes. I didn't want to startle it or "trap" it between me and a cliff!

So I backed away, giving the bear plenty of space to leave. But I couldn't keep going forward without approaching much closer to the bear than I felt comfortable with, so I pulled out my camera and waited and watched. "Hello, bear!" I said, trying to let him know I was in the area.

The bushes became silent for a bit, then there was movement again before the bear stepped out directly onto the trail and took a good look at me. "Hi, little buddy! How are you doing?" I took some photos.

The bear comes out of the brush and onto the trail.

He then turned his head away and moved across the trail into the brush on the other side and away from me and I switched to filming a video. I watched him for a minute or two, bushwhacking through the brush and seeming to stop occasionally to eat some berries along the route.

A couple of times, he poked his head above the brush to look back at me, making sure I wasn't doing anything particularly worrisome, then continued on his way.

And before too long, the bear was gone and I continued hiking. What a beautiful creature!

He paused on the trail to get a better look at me, but it also gave me a chance to get a better photo of him! =)

A short while later, I reached a trail junction marked with a sign that said, "Campsites." It was a little sooner than I expected--both my map and GPS showed my campsite another half-mile ahead, but Elkhorn Camp was the only campsite in this area as far as I knew so I figured that must be where I was supposed to camp and followed the side trail to a lovely campsite adjacent to the Elwha River.

I had covered 15 miles, but arrived in camp at an early 4:30 in the afternoon. It was just an easy day of hiking. Mostly downhill, the trail was in good shape and despite a couple of long breaks of over an hour, I still arrived in camp relatively early. If I wasn't constrained to my permit schedule, I'd have continued hiking further.

And after leaving camp first thing in the morning, I hadn't seen a single other person all day which surprised me. Even my guidebook warned that the Elwha River Trail was busy with people, but I--quite literally--saw more bears than people on the trail! I was in a popular national park, but where were all the people?! Not that I was complaining.... but it seemed odd. Did something happen that I didn't know about to keep people out of the park? Did a forest fire break out somewhere up ahead and that area of the park had been evacuated and I knew nothing about it? Where were all the people?!

In any case, I set up camp, but I didn't have much opportunity to enjoy the warm sun as it headed behind a tall mountain about a half hour after my arrival. Oh, well.... That's the problem with camping at the bottom of deep valleys.

And that marked the end of another day of hiking.....

I continued finding Leaf People on the trail.

View from near the top at Hayden Pass.

And this was the view over the burn area on the far side of Hayden Pass.

I saw a couple of these along the trail, noticing a delicately balanced rock. Which, I first, I thought were probably by accident. But after seeing several of them over the last few days, always located in areas where big leaves were not to be found, I suspected it might be by the same person making the Leaf People. This was their Plan B when they couldn't find suitable leaves. If it was deliberately placed like this, it's a lot more subtle than the leaves!

The Elwha River Trail does follow near the Elwha River, but most of the time I couldn't see it through the trees.

Remann's Cabin, an old historic structure preserved for posterity.

View from my campsite along the Elwha River. =)

Monday, November 30, 2020

Day 78: A dull and uneventful day....

August 26: I woke up and hit the trail a little after 8:00 in the morning. The trail began with a long, steep descent to the Dosewallips River. Or rather near the river--the trail itself stayed above the steep canyon that the river snaked down and I wouldn't actually see the river itself through the trees until near the end of the day despite spending most of the day practically a stone's throw away from it.

The steep downhill to the Dosewallips River was a bit overgrown (as seen here) and had a few blowdowns (not seen here) that I had to navigate.

The steep trail down to the river valley had several blowdowns that required scrambling to get around and sections were overgrown, but nothing super bad. More of an annoyance than a problem. But once I hit the Dosewallips River trail, the trail was in great condition.

And once I reached the valley bottom, the trail was mostly flat. Technically, it followed the river upstream, but so gradually that it was barely noticeable. For the rest of the day, the trail was essentially flat for all intents and in very good condition.

But I saw absolutely nobody on the trail. One hour passed. Then another. Then another. Finally, a little before noon, a jogger came up from behind me--the first person I had seen in nearly 24 hours. And it wasn't even a backpacker, but just someone out for a run! 

He asked if there were any good viewpoints or some sort of good point to turn around before he returned to the trailhead where he started, but nothing on my map suggested anything of interest anytime soon. Just a lot of trees in the bottom of a steep valley. He jogged on passed me.

I saw him again about a half hour later jogging back in the opposite direction.

"Any nice viewpoints up ahead?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said, a little disappointed. At least it wasn't a busy, crowded trail, even if there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. A nice walk (or for him, jog) in the woods. =)


I took a break at the Deception Creek campsite and was eating a Clif Bar when several people with a caravan of horses arrived. And given the trail tools the horses carried and the helmets that looked suspiciously like the ones given out by the Washington Trails Association (WTA), I asked if they were with the WTA.

Indeed, they were, part of a backcountry response crew to log out a bunch of blowdowns ahead. Blowdowns?! Say it isn't so!

But fortunately for me, the blowdowns weren't along the route I was following, but a side trail up one of the intersecting trails. As far as they knew, the trail ahead where I would be traveling today was in good shape.

They also took a short break at the campsite, and I chatted with a couple of the WTA people for 5 or 10 minutes, sharing our war stories. I was curious how things might have changed for the work party due to the pandemic. None of them were wearing face masks, but while walking down the trail, they tended to space out. But that would happen before the pandemic as well. I told them I was hiking the PNT, which they had heard of, but they weren't exactly sure of its route through the area.

They ended up stopping to camp wild in the woods away from the established campsites, and I continued onward alone. I was a little envious that they had permission to camp away from the established campsites. I wanted to hike and camp wherever it best suited me rather than follow the strict permit system I had.

It wasn't until fairly late in the day that I started seeing regular old backpackers like myself on the trail, and then they were everywhere!

I arrived at my campsite at Dose Meadows a little after 5:00 in the afternoon, and the camp was filled with at least a dozen people spread all over the place. I took an empty site behind some trees with a nice view of the meadow and surrounding mountains and laid out to cowboy camp. I was a little surprised that the site wasn't taken already because it was quite nice and most of the others were camped in dark corners under thick trees, but another nearby camper told me that someone had been camped where I was and hadn't left until a half hour earlier. It was available only because they left after everyone else had already arrived.

That explains it, then, and I was glad for the lucky break. =)

And that was it for the day. I had covered about 12 miles, which was a fairly easy 12 miles. A largely dull and uneventful day!

The steep downhill slope had seemingly hundreds of switchbacks!

My suspicions that a PNT hiker left the "scary leaves" on the trail grew even more when I continued to find them on the trail today. Only a PNT hiker would likely hike from the Tubal Cain trailhead to the Dosewallips River trail! There was a PNT hiker somewhere ahead of me....

I couldn't figure out what that purple thing on the leaf was. Was it even alive?! Was it a weird animal poop? (It didn't move. At all.)

Home, sweet home!

View from my campsite

Friday, November 27, 2020

Day 77: Entrance to Olympic National Park

August 25: I slept in late. Starting today, I was on a strict schedule and needed to follow my permits which meant I could only hike 12 miles today. Easy peasy! So I slept in late because... why not? =)

Once I got going, though, the trail started climbing steadily, soon poking above tree line and opening up to wonderful views. There were plenty of switchbacks to make the climb gentle and the fog from yesterday had lifted leaving beautiful blue skies all around.

An hour or two into the day's hike, I stopped for a snack break. There was a nice log to sit on at a switchback, and I munched on some Wheat Thins. Two kids came up the trail behind me. The younger boy seemed nervous around me, stopping suddenly then cutting up the switchback rather than go completely around it past where I was. I felt a little bad that the kid seemed so scared of me, but I suppose it's good that he has a healthy suspicion of strangers.

His older sister paused briefly upon seeing me but decided it was okay to round the switchback despite my presence and she caught up with her brother.

A few minutes later, their dad and another child caught up and passed. The dad didn't hesitate at all, of course, and with dad around, neither did the child. We chatted for a minute or two, but not particularly long since they wanted to catch up with the other two kids. None of them carried heavy packs since it was clear they had camped nearby and were just out for a short day hike from their base camp.

And a few minutes later, I continued hiking. I caught up with the family at a wonderful viewpoint over the Dungeness River valley where I took another break mostly to admire the views, and the dad quizzed me a lot about the PNT. He seemed really fascinated with it and said he had dreamed about hiking across the Olympic Peninsula for years.

"It's definitely doable," I told him. "I'm doing it now!"

And I happened to mention that because of needing a permit through the national park, I even knew what day I would finish the trail--13 days from now. In 13 days, I'd be done! If all went well, of course....

The one little girl's eyes seemed to pop out at this pronouncement. "We're only out here for three days!" she told me. She seemed incredulous that anyone could be out in the woods for more than three days--as if that was some sort of hard limit to being outdoors. She was adorable. =)


Eventually, I continued onward, passing each other a couple of more times along the route as we stopped for breaks along the way.

Then I took another break at Marmot Pass and went to pull out my Wheat Thins, but they were missing! How did this happen? Oh, the humanity! I realized that I must have left them behind at my first snack break when I pulled them out. They were probably sitting on that log miles back. I certainly wasn't going to backtrack to get them, but I felt bad leaving food behind that some squirrel would likely eat and the plastic bag that was now trash. I hoped when the family turned back, they'd see it and pack it out for me. They would know it was probably left by me since they had passed me while I was snacking on them, and they knew I wouldn't be coming back for it.

I had enough food in my pack that I certainly wasn't going to starve, but I was really saddened at my unexpected loss.

At Marmot Pass, I started seeing some day hikers arrive from another direction so a parking lot couldn't have been very far away, and a woman who just arrived asked if I had any duct tape she could use. One of her shoes was falling apart and she had already wrapped duct tape around it to keep it together but didn't have anymore. I dug through my pack and pulled out a small roll I carried which I handed off to her. She seemed almost surprised that I had duct tape--like she thought it was a long-shot but had nothing to lose by asking. I'm sure not every backpacker carries it, but it's hardly uncommon either!

I had expected that she'd probably start walking back to the trailhead from which she arrived--her shoe was in no condition to keep hiking!--but to my surprise, she kept climbing, following her two teenage children higher up the ridge. I hoped she wouldn't have to resort to hiking back barefooted, but it wasn't my problem anymore.

I continued onward, down a steep slope toward Boulder Shelter where I took another rest. I was taking a lot more breaks than I really needed since I only needed to cover 12 miles for the day, and it was nice taking my time.

Boulder Shelter

But I may have lulled myself into a false sense of security because what I didn't realize at the time was that the trail was about to become a heck of a lot more difficult. I hadn't really taken a close look at my topo maps to realize what was ahead.

Once I passed the Boulder Shelter, the trail soon crossed the boundary into Olympic National Park--and ascended thousands of feet toward Constance Pass. And the condition of the trail deteriorated badly. Parts were overgrown and rocky, and the nice, wide switchbacks before turned into brutal climbs with minimal switchbacks. My progress slowed considerably, and a heavy pack with a week of food didn't help.

I also saw no other hikers once I passed Boulder Shelter. The entire second half of the day I didn't see a single living soul. Now it felt like I was in a true wilderness, off the grid and completely alone.

Which was a little surprising to me. Olympic National Park is a hugely popular destination for backpackers, and immediately upon entering it, I don't see a single person the rest of the day. Where are all the crowds I always hear about?! Clearly not in this part of the park.

Late in the day, my shoulders were hurting from all the weight in my pack and the steep climb to Constance Pass wore me out, and cold, menacing clouds began blowing in. It was a relief to finally reach Constance Pass--and the views were awesome despite the menacing clouds blowing in--but I was a little disappointed when I realized that the trail would continue climbing upwards. Usually when the trail reaches a pass, you start going downhill on the other side. But not this time. No, instead of going down the other side, it started climbing the ridge to the right.

View from Constance Pass

I finally did reach the high point of the trail another mile or two later at which point the trail started descending steeply and rapidly--which was a much bigger threat to my health and well-being than climbing uphill. Downhills are where I'm much more likely to sprain an ankle and otherwise hurt myself regardless of how careful I am, and now I was tired and exhausted.

From the high point, the trail actually descended more than 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) to the valley bottom at the Dosewallips River in just a few miles. I, thankfully, didn't have to descend the entire distance today, however, since my assigned campsite was near the tree line closer to the top than the bottom--but I still had to descend over a thousand feet to Sunnybrook Camp.

Perhaps a half hour later, I reached a small meadow with a sign reading "Sunnybrook Meadows" and there were clearly some illegal campsites built nearby. Or so I thought they were illegal.... According to both my topo map and GPS, Sunnybrook Camp was still ahead of me near Sunnybrook Creek. The campsites near Sunnybrook Meadows were absolutely lovely, but I wanted to respect the rules and pushed onward to the campsite.

I reached Sunnybrook Creek. But... there weren't any campsites near it. At least none that I could find. I walked a little bit further down the trail--surely it was around here somewhere--but after about five minutes, I knew I must have missed the camp. Now I was deep in the trees on a steep downhill slope that would have been all but impossible to host a campground. The 'illegal' camps must have actually been the campsite! Why didn't they put up a sign labeling it Sunnybrook Camp?! Argh!

According to both my map and GPS, my campsite was supposed to be near Sunnybrook Creek. But I didn't find any evidence of a campsite near here. Very annoying!

I had absolutely no intention of backtracking uphill back to the campsite--even if it was far better than anything around these parts. Nope, I'd set up camp directly on the trail if I had to before I backtracked to the lovely campsites I had walked past earlier.

But it didn't come down to that. I found a small place under a tree that was flat and just big enough for me to cowboy camp. It wasn't a great campsite, though, with branches hovering just a few feet above my head. It was very tiny and claustrophobic, and dark under the thick branches just overhead. Not a pleasant campsite--and an illegal one, at that! *shaking head*

But I was done for the day and completely and totally exhausted. The last half of the way really wore me out. According to my GPS, I wound up hiking 13.3 miles for the day (a little more than a mile than I had expected having overshot my target campsite), but the total elevation gains and losses added up to a whopping 8,000 feet (2,400 meters)--maybe double what I had been expecting for the day. I made a mental note to pay more attention to elevation gains and losses in the future.

However, I was done for the day. Tired, perhaps, but without injuries. I should sleep well tonight. =)

But before I could sleep, I needed to do some sewing repairs on my pack. A tear was forming near the top of my pack and I kept putting off repairs for awhile--I hate sewing. Especially by hand. But this particular tear got significantly worse during the day and I couldn't put it off any further, so I spent the better part of an hour getting it fixed up. Hopefully the fix would hold for 2 1/2 weeks. By then, I'll be off the trail and it wouldn't matter anymore. =)

Lots of nice, wide switchbacks in the first half of the day make hiking fast and pleasurable! =)

The trail became a lot more overgrown and challenging (with fewer switchbacks) upon entering Olympic National Park. After this point, I struggled a lot more.