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.


Karolina said...

Best owl photo ever? How about your owl photos on the Jordan Trail? They were pretty amazing, too!

Ryan said...

Gotta admit.... I forgot about those. But these photos impressed me a lot more because the owls were *not* well-lit here and I was using my cheap little point-n-shoot camera that didn't have a 300mm zoom lens on it. The Jordanian owl photos were awesome, but they were relatively easy to take. This one took some real skill!