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.

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