I just finished the last of my first year law school finals on Thursday, and thought I would make for a quick overnight before I had to get back to work. This trip was something that I had planned on doing earlier this March, but when I drove up to the trailhead, despite the NWS forecast calling for lows of 40 at elevation, it was already snowing. It would have been an unwise choice to stay and have my car get stuck in the snow, as the Graves Creek trailhead is about 15 miles from civilization, and is without cell service.
This time around, things were looking up. The forecast called for highs of 68 and partly sunny skies, which was great for Olympic NP in May. So Thursday around 4, I loaded up my super comfy Osprey Stratos daypack (long story - all my backpack backpacks are tied up in the mail or on Ron's computer), and made my way up I-5 towards Olympic NP, through Aberdeen and Hoquiam, and best-town-name-of-the-trip-winner: Humptulips (Google it. It's real.)
(pardon the photo quality - camera was in the shop so the phone had to do.)
Indigo skies (picture doesn't do it justice)
I arrived at the South Shore ranger station around 8p, filled out my permit, and then booked it down the 15 mile pothole-ridden gravel road (and now I'm awaiting my mechanic telling me I need new struts) to Graves Creek campground, trying to beat the 8:30 sunset. Beat it I did. I pitched the Spinntwin(n) and enjoyed my free we-don't-collect-fees-in-winter campsite next to the river.
The spinntwin next to the Quinault River.
The next morning, I woke up around 9:30 (yup, 9:30 - long day the day before) to the sound of cackling stellar jays, packed up the car, and ate my Subway veggie patty sandwich (what does one buy when they made last minute trip plans, didn't bring enough food, passed the last grocery store, and needs something non-perishable?).
I drove over to the trailhead, with 3 cars already in the lot, and got things ready. Since I was using my daypack and didn't think to see if I had a way of attaching my snowshoes, I fashioned a quick makeshift solution using the existing compression straps and some tire chain tightener links, which worked pretty well.
But my dog always brings his shotgun and Powerwheels...
At 10:30a, I set off. My pace was pretty slow going, about 2 1/4 mph most of the day, as the day before had been so taxing.
The first people I ran into were two FS or NPS guys doing some trail maintenance; dicing up one of several massive blowdowns into large rectangular chunks.
Here's the ex-blowdown the FS made. It smelled like Home Depot. Thought about scalping it for cabinets.
Just after Pony Bridge, I would run into another day hiker who must have come in from one of the nearby resort areas. We talked about how he decided to turn around just up at the first creek crossing, as there was no log in. After reading several trip reports about this area, I'm amazed at how apprehensive hikers are with these crossings. My first foray into the water at Fire Creek, which was what caused his apprehension, was no deeper than 8 inches, and was moving very slow (Portlanders, imagine crossing the stream that follows the trail going up to Pittock). Wet feet are good for the soul.
The lower elevations were seeing much of the usual PNW spring foliage - wood sorrel, trillium and those funny plants that look like Batman's cape. There were robins all over the place (no pun intended), a few woodpeckers, several hummingbirds, and of course, gobs of noisy stellar jays.
I love it when trees grow on trees.
I came to a small crossing (O'Neil creek?) where I spotted my first bear. He had just finished drinking from the creek and started off back up the hill. This is the first bear I've ever seen that hasn't run like the wind when seeing someone. He took a few looks, and sauntered off. I took a quick break, crossed the stream, and made off looking for him.
A few hundred yards down the trail I came upon a bear sitting out in the field and another lying nearby. She must have been 100 yards away, so I got a few feet closer. She sat up, took a long look at me, then got on all fours. Apparently I didn't take the hint, so she started to rock her rear hips side to side, as if to say "I see people all the time, and really I'm too lazy to bluff charge you, but this usually works." It sure was funny behavior, but I took the signal and kept on going. A few miles and several blowdowns and a logjam later, I stumbled up on two more bear, startling the first as much as he startled me. Once he saw me and figured out what was going on, he stepped to the side and continued on foraging, giving the occasional furtive glance just to let me know he still was there.
Probably 20ft wide?
At mile 11.5 or so, I encountered what I was expecting from the ONP trail conditions report: an avalanche. Mind you, the trail was clear from snow up to this point, so walking up to a 15 foot wall of snow that ran from the hill into the river was quite the sight. I quickly scrambled to the top of the 20 foot wide mass and found some good foot holds to get down the other side. Seeing as it looked somewhat melted, it must have fallen several weeks earlier. The top was littered with pine needles, loose rocks, and whole tree limbs.
A mile or so later I would encounter my first snow. This continued up to the Enchanted Valley, where apparently the trail had been obliterated by the changing river. Seeing the chalet in the distance, I made my way across several stream branches up to the large boarded up building.
The bridge to Enchanted Valley - kind of freaky as the drop is about 25 feet here.
The chalet, once used for hikers, is now primarily used as a ranger station, save one room with a door marked "emergency use only," and a sign that says: "for emergencies: illness, injury and hypothermia." Seeing as I was sick of hiking, I had broken a toenail earlier this month, and my feet were feeling a bit cold, I set up my bivy inside.
I fired up the Caldera Keg and got to making dinner when another bear walked on by. He was a good 50 yards or so away, so I continued to make dinner and watch him dig in the dirt. It's a pretty sweet day when you can sit and eat dinner in the doorway of a chalet in the mountains while you watch a bear nose around.
My dinner company.
My first time trying Hawk Vittles - this one's buffalo pasta. Good stuff.
The bear stuck around for a good hour and a half, but by that time it was 7p and I was spent - bedtime. I closed the shelter door, and didn't wake up again until 4a.
At 7a, I packed up my things, made two quick packets of in-the-pouch oatmeal (I've always balked at this practice, but now find it very convenient) and some Starbucks Via.
Osprey Statos (a phenomenal day pack, by the way) with some unneeded Northern Lites.
They tend to cower in groups.
I took one last look at the mountains and made off down the trail. Today I made much better time - about 3mph, stopping only for a quick water and snack break, and to take a few pictures of the all-cow elk herds that were beside the trail.
The Batman plant. (Anyone know what these are?)
The bridge back to the trailhead.
26 hours later (the whole 24 motif is more catchy), I was back at the trailhead. As with my perennial post-backpacking tradition, I cranked up the bluegrass music and headed back down the gravel road and through rainstorms back to Portland.
A day with 6 bears, a chalet, and the mountains is a pretty good good day.
26.5 miles, 2500' gained
If it weren't for the heavy daypack and snowshoes...