10-day trip in the Olympic Mountains, Sept. 2002

A great hike must always combine at least two ingredients - an exceptional trail, covering breath-taking scenery and fascinating flora and fauna, and an exceptional group of people who are able to work together effectively to create and constantly reinforce a satisfying group experience. Here we see all of these ingredients and more, creating what is truly the hike of a lifetime. Thank you, Joe Jack!

        JJ is our master organizer, master naturalist and master story-teller. Months ago, he was already picking out the trails, talking to the rangers and figuring out what communal goods we would need to bring. On the trail, we constantly pester him: "What is this, Joe Jack? What is that, Joe Jack?" His knowledge is encyclopedic, and in the rare event that he doesn't know the answer, he doesn't try to pull one over on us. We learn on this trip about his father, another master naturalist and story-teller.
Ron is our Jim Carrey, full of jokes and comic facial expressions. He is always in touch with how other people are feeling and willing to goof it up to raise their spirits where needed. Quietly, in the background, he is also busy figuring out what needs to be done to support the group as a whole - tents to be hung up to dry, blister remedies to be dispensed.
Laura is our child/goddess of the earth. Although our smallest hiker, she carries a full pack, including a two-person tent. She is always ready for a good laugh and mostly talks in exaggerated accents such as a high-faluting British (for my benefit?) or corny country. She always hikes near the front and never seems to get tired or suffer from aches and pains. (Quite an inspiration for the rest of us!)
Bobby manages to combine a powerful physique and tough Texas talk with a rare gentleness of spirit. He also sports a fierce intelligence under the tough Texas exterior and is a first-rate naturalist. Constantly being razzed about being slow to get started in the morning and slow to move along the trail, he responds with unfailing good humor. He carries particularly delicious cheeses and sausages in his pack which weigh a ton but which we all get to share.
Peter - hey! that's me!

Day 1 - We start out a little later than planned and then pile into JJ's Toyota for the drive to the trailhead. We arrive at the ranger station by 12 and talk to Ranger Angie. She briefs us on the regulations, which include no open fires and packing out our used toilet paper. (Argh!) We eat our Subway sandwiches for lunch and then head for the trail which takes another hour and during which we encounter a coyote on the road. Finally, at about 2, we are ready to roll.

Laura snaps us in the parking lot.

The first leg is the Irley Creek trail, which starts out flat, then steeply rising through the rain forest. The forest is amazing. Trees are huge - especially the blowdowns - and infested with green. Some of the fallen trees are too big to clear from the trail and a passage has to be chopped through them. Everything is wet, as if it had just rained.

Rest stop

Bobby coming through the tree

Even on the flat part of the trail, my back (left sciatic nerve) hurts. I grouse that we'll never make it the 6 miles to Three Lakes before dark. Our packs, containing food and supplies for 10+ days, are crushingly heavy. Finally, after we have gained the ridge and when I am getting thoroughly tired, I slip and fall head-first into blueberry bushes, which turns out to be something of a religious experience. I start stuffing myself with berries and suddenly find my strength and good humor returning. Suddenly things don't seem so bad and we make it into camp in good time. Bobby, Ron and I set up JJ's three-man tent while JJ and Laura share her two-man tent. Bobby and I share a freeze-dried meal and then I am happy to pile into the tent to try to sleep off my aches and pains which now include blisters on both heels, despite my application of moleskin.

Blueberry heaven

First breakfast

Day 2 - We wake up with frost on the ground and JJ complaining about freezing his butt off in the tent. We breakfast on oatmeal with blueberries - an unforgettable experience which we will fortunately repeat every morning of the trip. We leave around 10:30, hoping to camp at Kimta after 9 miles of pretty steady uphill hiking. As we pass 3 Prune camp (so named because the first scouting party ran out of food there and only had enough for 3 prunes per person), we chat with 3 guys who were at college together and now hike together once a year. As they break down their camp, we ask them if they are continuing on the Skyline trail. Their response: "We're dumb, but we're not stupid" - they are off to Quinault Lodge to drink black beer and relax on expensive mattresses. Then they ask us where we are headed. We shyly acknowledge that we are stupid.

A little further on, we meet a guy from Michigan who decided to hike to Florida to see his kids, starting in the northern Olypics. The trail he was on led him to a river crossing; however, the bridge was out and he could not cross, so he took someone's advice to switch to the Skyline trail instead, using a borrowed (and not very useful) map. His many days on the trail contribute to a rather pungent odor. He ran out of food 4 days ago and has been eating berries and mushrooms ever since and admits to being powerfully hungry. We give him a Power Bar. He warns of "gnarly" patches of trail where we will have to hang on to the rocks by our fingernails, dangling over the abyss. After he leaves, JJ scornfully says that there are no such places on our trail. The weather gets worse and then it begins to rain steadily, so we decide to camp on nearby meadow. We pitch our tents in the drizzle and cook up dinner. As a special treat, JJ provides freeze-dried cheesecake for dessert, which is delicious.

Day 3 - Although the rain cleared up during the night, it starts up again after breakfast. We return to our tents, where we spend the entire rest of the day. I ache prodigiously and my blisters are throbbing, and so I do not totally regret the opportunity to have a rest. Ron offers me a new Dr Scholls product he has picked up for this purpose - a kind of little pillow you glue over the blisters. These seem to stick pretty well and my blisters scarcely bother me for the rest of the trip. Laura makes her most negative comment of the trip: "Darling, I'm afraid they're just going to have to take something off the tab for this!" Hoping that the bears do not have access to umbrellas, we don't bother to hang our food and, fortunately, our optimism turns out to be well-founded.

Day 4 - The sun reemerges! We dry out and proceed ever upward to Kimta, thinking we might even make it as far as Lake Beauty. The trail now skirts the ridge - first with broad vistas on one side, then moving over to the other. We spot large herd of elk at Kimta Creek, then a well-fed black bear grazing in the blueberry bushes. We pass through lovely Alpine meadows where there is a constant drone from the bees buzzing around the heather. When we reach Kimta, Lake Beauty still seems a long way away and we see a fantastic camp site just off the trail close to the peak with awesome views of Mt Olympus, the Queets Valley and vistas going all the way out to the Pacific, so we decide to make camp there for the night. Now my right sciatic nerve hurts. The rest sit outside and admire the crystal-clear sky, pointing out satelites trucking across the sky and ooh-ing at the shooting stars, but I am in my sleeping bag and miss the entire show.

Laura and I on snowfield

Joe Jack


Mount Olympus in the clouds

Mount Olympus in the clear

Day 5 - We summit Kimta, take pics and then head down towards Lake Beauty. Ranger Angie had warned us that this section is the roughest trail in the park, featuring altitude gained and lost of 5,000 feet to reach Lake Beauty. We quickly drop 1,000 feet, below an old burn, then all the way up again, very steep, to Promise Creek Pass. Although I am thoroughly trashed by all the up and down, I realize that my back has stopped bothering me. All right!

The group on top of Mount Kimta

Peter puffing

We now descend Promise Creek. The trail is marked with cairns, but they are rather undistinguished and it is easy to lose them. We are still hoping to make it to Lake Beauty, but are stymied by the Terrible Traverse. Here, the trail has washed out for a little way and it appears that a detour has been planned, going straight up. However, we have difficulty following the detour and JJ concludes that we'd do better to proceed on the original trail, washout or not. (This is presumably the "gnarly" section we were warned about by the aromatic fellow on day 2.) No-one really wants to attack this in our present weary state and so we camp in Promise Creek and decide to take on the traverse tomorrow.

Promise Creek camp site

Alpine garden

Day 6 - In the warm light of the morning, the Terrible Traverse doesn't look quite so bad. There are rocks to grab on to and the actual washout isn't more than a few feet long. We take deep breaths and then all make it over, with JJ's assistance, without plunging to our deaths. (However, Lake Beauty turns out to be still another 3 hours away, so we are glad we didn't try to push on last night.) After descending further into the valley, we start up another steep trail to Hee Haw pass. The views from the pass are wonderful. We continue up the ridge some more before making a steep descent to Lake Beauty. We stop just short of the lake near a small pond where we have lunch. After lunch, we get to bathe and wash some of our clothes which feels marvellous. We descend a little further to a site overlooking Lake Beauty and make camp. Two other parties of campers show up later in the day and we feel dreadfully crowded, although in truth we hardly see or hear the other parties. Although the views are great, the bugs are fierce - mostly mosquitoes and biting flies. Mirroring our growing spirit of camaraderie, we tell jokes before dinner. ("I'll take the soup!" "Maybe if I took two I could!") After dark, we get to stare at a lovely new moon, along with all of the other celestial objects.

Bobby negotiating the Terrible Traverse

Laura on the Terrible Traverse

Descending to Lake Beauty

Evening at Lake Beauty

Day 7 - Although we had originally thought we might stay over another day at Lake Beauty, we have lost a day because of the rain and so we decide to press on. We leave Lake Beauty and climb back up to the ridge, then down towards Mt Seattle. Laura rounds a corner and nearly runs into a black bear which the rest of us are able to view at a somewhat safer distance. Down, down, down to the foot of Seattle we go before changing gears abruptly and climbing a steep but orderly 700 feet up the flank of Seattle before the final descent into Low Divide, a total distince of 7 miles or so. We plan to camp at Lake Margaret but there are No Camping signs up, so we return to the ranger station and are pointed towards an official camp site. In back is this guy Bill who is hiking solo - he used to be employed at the Washington Game and Fishery Department, retired recently and is now hiking to lose some weight. He packed a little sloppily, tossing everything he could think of into the back of his truck, and when he got to the trailhead he found that he had forgotten his fuel bottle. Accordingly, he is eating his freeze-dried food cold.

He is also sharing his camp site with a family of quail. They seem almost tame and occasionally take a stroll through our site too.

Snow tunnel

Lemon drop picture

Day 8 - Today, we have a real treat - hiking without packs. We leave the tents where they are and set off for Martin's Lakes, carrying only a single pack between us. The weather is still gorgeous and the scenery spectacular. We pass a myriad of little rills carrying run-off from snow fields and glaciers on Mt Christie where we stop to have lunch on a flat rock. Then we continue upward to the lakes themselves, which are lovely. On one of them is a pair of diving ducks that seem to be having a fine old time in the water. When JJ, Ron and Laura seek to emulate the ducks by diving into the lake, they (that is, JJ, Ron and Laura) emit a great shriek and hurry to climb out again. Bobby and I wisely decide we're rather enjoy the warmth of the day than the coldth of the lake. When I approach the other lake to fill some water bottles, the water at the bank suddenly starts boiling. I look down and see that there are a bunch of large tadpoles that have spotted me coming and are trying desperately to beat a retreat into deeper water. Finally, the day starts to wane and we head on back to our camp site, filled with fond memories of a perfect day.

Nude bathers at Martins Lakes

Me at Martins Lakes

Day 9 - Up early to start the long walk out. The two rangers from Low Divide catch up to us and JJ and Bobby walk (run?) with them for a while - Bobby talks about auto superchargers and 9 millimeter weapons while JJ wants to talk about trees. We slowly descend back into the big trees. The trail is not hard, but we cover 11.5 miles with full pack and by the end of the day, I am totally trashed. At some point, it is necessary to ford the Quinault, which is only about eight inches deep. However, it is also very cold and pebbly, and Bobby does not consider this to be part of his job description. Our combined taunts finally drive him across.

Bobby retreats

Bobby advances

During the day, Ron and Laura gather mushrooms - chanterelles and boletes - which Ron promises to cook for us as a special treat. We finally stop at Halfway House, which used to be a lodge but is now just a camp site. It is however at a truly primo location on a bend in the river, with lovely pools and cascades, and has a nice sandy bottom. Bobby hungrily eyes the pools for potential fishing sites. Ron cooks the mushrooms and they are truly awesome. The boletes are magnificent by themselves but the chanterelles taste best with a little hot sauce and grated cheese. Now, if only we had a little red wine to go with them...

Three guys in the tent throw off a lot of heat and I have enough trouble sleeping that I decide to put my pad and bag outside and enjoy the cool breezes of the night. Much more comfortable, I slip into a deep sleep until about 5:30 when Ron awakens me because it has started to drizzle and I rejoin the guys in the tent.

Day 10 - When we get up, it is not raining, but is obvious that the weather is turning again, so we get on the trail by 9, hoping to beat the rain. Right off, we see a doe and fawn that have just crossed the river and are viewing us curiously. I am amazed by the recuperative powers of the body as I find that I am now able to trot energetically down the trail after being ready to collapse the day before. As we head down the last 3 hours of trail, we slowly begin to reenter the world we left 10 days earlier. The rain forest is still spectacular, but we begin to see day hikers and kids on the trail. Eventually, we start to see grandmothers and know that we are nearly out. Finally, around noon, we make it out to the car. I for one am ready to be out and looking forward to some of that black beer at the Quinault Lodge, which is where we head first, and then a nice long shower. Then back to Bremerton for that shower, followed by a sumptuous feast put on by Peggy with the help of the Big Green Egg. Good wine, too, not to mention excellent company and high spirits.

Trail's end

Flora and fauna bagged:

Monkeyflower Columbine Queen's cup Cow parsnip Larkspur Gentian Harebell Goat's beard Thistle Entwistle

Coyote Elk Black Bear 'nuther Bear

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