A wise, rather famous Brit once advised his countrymen that, “brevity is the soul of wit.”
Seattle, WA–A 10-mile mountain/trail run, which a guidebook assured us would result in severe exhaustion; a 35-mile huff through the Hoh Rain Forest, which Olympic National Park Rangers would surely–and perhaps correctly–discourage; exploration of Olympic coastal areas, including an afternoon of stunning solitude on nondescript “Beach 1″; and crash-course immersion in Seattle culture. Grungy motels, soggy tents, trusty Pacific Northwest mist, and ample freeze-dried feed along the way…
“Food.” With undefined plans and a track record of spontaneity, we figured we should prepare for our Olympic adventure by amassing a significant stash of non-perishable food, which, of course, featured an array of Clif products.
After meeting up with a friend in Seattle who served as a superstar guide for the city’s best coffee and vegan food (the jury is still out on that, and I expect that to remain the case), we boarded a twilight ferry across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, from where we would continue driving west en route to the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. We spent the night in a motel in the curious town of Poulsbo, and set out early the next morning for a trail run that promised stunning views of the Olympics and beyond.
Thirty miles of winding–and mercilessly dusty– forest service roads originating in the tiny town of Quilcene on the Peninsula brought us to the trailhead for Mount Townsend, 6,280′, considered a frightfully daunting challenge with its 27 switchbacks to the summit ridge. The old-growth forest was, nonetheless, quite welcoming…
Alaska-quality landscapes and scenery abounded: deep green, virgin forests, patch upon patch of juicy berries that would please any hungry bear, and pristinely blue skies.
Pausing for a moment–and a Clif Bar–before starting the downhill jog.
Back in the parking lot for the Townsend trailhead, we experienced a ravenous hunger, and sped back towards the main roads as we devoured bagels and packets of peanut butter. En route to the Hoh Rain Forest on the western side of Olympic National Park, accessible only by circling the majority of the park on U.S. Route 101, we started driving north and then west to Port Angeles, the Peninsula’s largest town and the home of the National Park’s principal visitor center. After chatting with a few rangers (to whom we certainly didn’t divulge our plans for an August installment of our summer ultra-hiking series), we hopped back in the car to complete the drive to tiny Forks, Washington, the only town on the western edge of the Peninsula and the town that purportedly inspired the Twilight movement…whatever that means.
After declining some all-too-enticing solicitation to join a Twilight tour in downtown Forks (again, whatever that means…), we checked into a motel, and set up what would clearly classify as an illegal cooking setup for a motel room. Oops. We declared the set-up perfectly safe and viable, and thus fired up some freeze-dried mac and cheese as calorie-generous feed for our planned 35-mile, out-and-back ultra-hike in the Hoh Rain Forest to the base of stunningly glaciated Mount Olympus.
A 3:30 a.m. reveille in Forks and an hour-long drive to the south in the dark of night led us to the sleeping Hoh River Trail parking lot and trailhead.
With all-too-acidic bananas bubbling in our confused stomachs, an epic battle ensued. 4:30 a.m.: SK vs. Clif Double Shot Espresso Gel. Breakfast!
5:00 a.m.: SK vs. LARGE tree. For something of a point of reference, SK is about 6’3″. Not so tall, apparently. During our road-trip on the Olympic Peninsula, we spotted numerous signs posted by the Park Service directing travelers to “large” trees: Turn left and drive three miles to view the “large pine tree”; Large sequoia tree ahead on your right. Not a joke.
We awoke the forest with our pounding footprints and periodic crinkling of various Clif wrappers. The Hoh Rain Forest remains enshrouded by low cloud cover for much of the day.
For our final crossing of the Hoh River before the ~4,000 vertical foot ascent to Glacier Meadows and the base of Mount Olympus, we found ourselves on a wooden bridge perched high enough to to make our hearts thumpthumpthump more than a few times.
Out of the clouds and into the sky. Elk Lake around mile 15.
The glaciated crown of Mount Olympus towered and thick forest (with some certain avalanche damage) awaited us as we neared Glacier Meadows at the base of Mount Olympus, and thus, the halfway marker of our “day” hike.
I caught up to a very hungry hiking partner around mile 17 at the top of a precipitous drop, only navegable by use of a wooden/rope ladder contraption clinging to the slippery mountainside. Sam was unperturbed by the change in terrain, and instead, focused his energies on devouring a bag of beef jerky, a bagel smothered in peanut butter, and the all-too-familiar smorgasboard of Clif delights.
Tackling the “easiest” segment of the Hoh River Trail to Glacier Meadows. After crossing the pictured snowfield, we made a quick visit to Glacier Meadows to complete our 17.5-mile in-hike and to purify some water for the 17.5 miles back out. We experienced a few moments of regret that we hadn’t planned in advance to spend a night under the stars in the company of Mount Olympus, but quickly benched these misgivings. They certainly didn’t have a place in the current proceedings. It was time to retrace our footsteps for the 17.5 mile return to the trailhead past ample backpackers who did little to conceal their confusion about (and perhaps disapproval of) our tiny daypacks, flimsy-looking Salomon trail-running shoes, rabid expressions, and frantic gulps of fluid from our tired Camelbaks.
12 hours and 35 miles later, I arrived back at the trailhead without a single blister to speak of. My toenails, however, were–and are–a different story.
Battling tired and delirious uncertainty, we pitched our tents in the company of towering trees in a National Park campsite adjacent to the Hoh River Trail parking lot. As we tossed soiled hiking gear and refuse cooking material into the trunk of our car, we noticed two older women–definitely pushing 70–stoking an impressive campfire and nonchalantly perusing the newspaper across the way. We entertained different possibilities about their sleeping arrangements–not-yet-pitched tents? under the stars? back home in comfortable beds? Our questions abated when they confidently spread their sleeping bags in the front and passenger seats of the car. I got a good chuckle the next morning when I overheard their banter in the campsite bathroom: “Rosemary, oh my goodness, I locked the keys in the car.” Her exclamation was, thankfully, erroneous–as Rosemary pointed to the keys dangling out of her friend’s purse.
Tending to some sore legs and unfortunate chafing, we continued driving south on 101 to explore the Peninsula’s unspoiled coastal areas. Pictured here: Ruby Beach.
Bouldering in bright blue.
We escaped the crowds of Ruby Beach by continuing south to a coastal area labeled on the map as “Beach 1.”
After our morning exploration, we opted for some afternoon horizontal time, and were immediately lulled to sleep by the crashing of ice-cold waves, the gentle seaside breeze, and the chirping of birds.
From one summit to the next: donning our tourist hats atop the Space Needle, which, despite its painfully commercial and tacky vibes, offers remarkable views (especially on a clear day, when Rainier towers high and mighty on the horizon) and serves up some of Seattle’s best food.
With the sun reliably out from east to west, it’s time to let inspiration–or insanity–take over.