Mount Olympus as seen from the trail to Grand Lake
04-07SEPT I had planned for a 3-4 day hike in the rain shadow region of the Olympic National Park. The Olympics tends to be challenging hiking, with the trails often showing no regard for real humans, heading straight up the hills without mercy. The land is rugged and not for the faint-of-heart, yet offers some of the most spectacular beauty to be seen. Every corner of the the trail, every vista, every pass, every step offers an ever unfolding realm of majesty; new snow-clad peaks, new valleys, new lakes and meadows, all discovered by the sweat of one’s brow and the toil of aching muscles and limbs… but, it was all very much worth it. Sometimes it could be a challenge to get permits into the Grand Valley basin. Fortunately, it was after Labor Day, and permits were quite easy to obtain. Even though the weather was spectacularly beautiful without a cloud in the sky, the campgrounds were quite empty. On the 8 miles or so of trail from the Grand Pass junction to Three Forks Campground, and the next day back up to Deer Park, I never saw a single other person of the trail. One needs not go to Alaska for solitude!
Day zero started by me leaving from home about noon, and reaching the Port Angeles ranger station where I was able to obtain my permit to hike, and camp at Moose Lake. I decided to start at Deer Park, which I didn’t realize was somewhat of a crazy drive up a VERY narrow gravel road 8 miles to the campground. I spent the night there.
One day one, the hike went from Deer Park to Moose Lake via Obstruction Point, roughly 11.5 miles and 3500 ft of climbing. Much of the trail to Obstruction Point was on a crest overlooking Port Angeles and the Puget Sound on one side, and a broad panoply of mountains on the other. The trail to the Grand Basin also followed a ridge overlooking Mount Olympus (see above) before steeply dropping down into the basin. A short further hike put me at Moose Lake, where I set up camp. There I met a retired chemical engineer named Ray, my same age, and we spoke of our joy for the mountains. I was just getting over a week-long bout of gastroenteritis, so a bit worried about eating. I tried some Loma Linda spaghetti bolognese, which tasted absolutely awful. The meal was remedied with pecan sandy cookies and Snicker bars.
Day two went further up the Grand Valley, beyond where most people do not go, up over Grand Pass. While the lower Grand Valley is V-shaped, the upper valley has a distinct glacial appearance as a large U-shaped cirque. The valley curves to the left, not seen from below, so the top of the valley as seen from Moose Lake was much lower than where Grand Pass actually was, a climb of about 3500 feet. The trail did not seem too difficult, until I had to descend on the other side. On the maps, the trail becomes a dotted line, suggesting not quite a trail. It was not terribly challenging to follow the route down, now with mountains on all sides of me. The hard part was that the trail condition was poor and not maintained. I was unable to hike any faster descending than when ascending the north side of the pass. I encountered three people on the trail, including middle aged lady, a younger man carrying a large tripod on his pack, and an old geezer slowly working his way up the pass… all were solo, like me. Once I reached the Cameron Creek trail, I decided to make this a three (rather than 4-5) day adventure and go down Cameron Creek. Everybody suggested that the trail was okay, and quite beautiful. It was a beautiful trail, though one was now in dense forest without views. The trail here was both poorly designed as well as poorly maintained. It was about 7 miles to Three Forks campground, which took me about 4.5 hours to achieve, much slower than my usual hiking speed on manicured trail. I am not sure why this trail is so neglected. It needs to be re-routed over many segments, and desperately needs a modicum of maintenance, after which I’m sure it would become a very popular trail. For dinner, I had my own specialty, where I combine freeze dried hamburger and vegetables into Top Ramen. It tasted great. The day was roughly about 12 miles, and 4500 ft of climbing.
The last day was a return to Deer Park on a trail that went straight from Three Forks Campground to Deer Park, about 4.4 miles with about 3500 ft of elevation gain. It was a persistent climb, but the trail was in stellar shape, making it not a terrible challenge. There was no available water on the trail, and knew that Deer Park had no water, so my CamelBak was filled with 3 liters, and I went through most of it. Toward the top, the vistas again opened up in their glorious beauty. Though this has been one of my more challenging hikes, I did not feel overwhelmingly spent or exhausted on ending it. I reached Deer Park by 10:30 in the morning, almost 3 hours of climbing.
A few more notes need to be added here. Equipment-wise, I tried out a new pack, the Exos 58, most of which I loved. It was a very comfortable pack, even though I didn’t take sufficient time to fit it to me. There are a few things I didn’t like about it. First, I liked the pockets in the brain, but didn’t like that they competed with an additional optional flap. I would have liked to be able to remove the flap. The long cord on each side that was to help compress the pack seemed more troublesome than good. There were no hip pockets to place little things. Yet, it held everything nicely, including the mandatory bear canister, which one must have when camping in the Olympics. I liked the two very large side stretch pockets and large back pocket. This will probably be my go-to pack, though I might eliminate the “brain” and find a pocket to hold all my loose-ends in in the pack.
I also tried out two other things, including Dirty-girl gaiters and OP hiking gloves, both of which I loved. My feet were so comfortable in the Altas that I didn’t even bother taking them off at the completion of the hike… they just felt great, without blisters or soreness. The gaiters worked perfect at keeping out dust and rocks and sand from the shoe. I wore my pants over the gaiters, providing a secondary round of protection. The OP hiking gloves also were perfect, as my hands had no soreness while holding onto the hiking poles, didn’t become hot, yet allowed me access to my cell phone for gps purposes.
I also tried out the MSR pocket rocket mini-stove. Before this, I was very happy with my JetBoil stove, but many reviews and recommendations suggested trying this out. I did, and didn’t like it. It takes at least twice as long to boil up 0.5 liter of water, and requires a lighter to get the flame started. It offers no weight advantage. I’ll probably go back to my JetBoil Flash Lite system, and use the above stove as a back-up when I’m camping with a group.