Before starting this trip we decided, without hesitation, to invest in an annual National Parks Pass. Named the “America the Beautiful Pass”, this card is worth its $80 value in park entrance fees after you visit more than around 4 or 5 parks during the year that it is active.
Since late June we have merrily waved our pass and driven for free through the pay stations of Shenandoah, The Great Smokies, Bandelier, The Great Sand Dunes, The Grand Tetons, and Craters of the Moon National Parks. Now, after touching down back in Washington State, we were dead set on visiting Olympic National Park, a place I have yearned to get to know since my last visit to the area.
The Olympics dominate Washington’s Northwest region and the preserved land area is a large one. Within its boundaries live some of the largest and oldest trees in the world, as well as some immaculate mountains and an array of unique flora and fauna. The park, which is bordered by various Indian Reservations and a smattering of tiny towns on its North and West sides, also includes the longest stretch of preserved coastline on the Pacific. Many opt to hike along these beaches, which remain untouched by development.
Of course, we wanted to see it all. After arriving back to the Baritelle’s lovely home from Canada, we shared a final meal with Lynn, John, and Andy, and went to sleep prepared to leave the following day. In the morning, we decided to stop in and visit Andy’s home before hitting the road. Check out a few photographs of his incredible abode over in Still Life!
That afternoon, we set out driving west and stopped at one of the park’s visitor centers to get a sense of how best to use our time in the Olympics. We decided to drive to the coast for the night, camp there and visit the beach, and then take a short hike on one of the beach trails before heading into the Hoh Rainforest (yes, there is a temperate rainforest in the park) and hiking in to the prominent Mount Olympus.
Here are a few photos from the Mora Camp area as well as the nearby Beach 2. Adam was thrilled by the tide pools, which were teeming with ocean life:
We made it to the rainforest trailhead at around 2pm, stopping on the way in the town where Twilight is filmed and also to do some wildlife viewing:
With ample sunlight left in the day, we started an easy nine-mile hike to a Ranger’s Station and camp area along the Hoh river. It was a good thing this first section of the hike was easy going, because the scenery demanded the majority of our attention:
At the campgrounds we cooked up our dinner, diligently hung our bear bags, and enjoyed one of our first proper campfires of the trip under a blanket of stars.
The next day we would climb to the Blue Glacier of Mount Olympus, 9 miles and 4000 vertical feet to our east.
We left the rainforest behind as we climbed, momentarily forgetting we had been in the company of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th largest species of trees and their accompanying ferns and mosses just a few hours before. The climb steepened with every mile and eventually we came upon an area of serious trail erosion, gingerly crossing into the Glacier Meadows camp using these precarious ladders:
In the Meadows we set up my trusty Half Dome (which, to its credit, has protected us from the elements in four countries and dozens of states!) and, finished with our hike, decided to take another little hike up to the glacier. Pristine beauty ensued as we climbed through fields of alpine wildflowers, glacier streams, snow meadows and finally up a rocky ridge in the center of the mountain’s domain.
If anyone were ever to doubt that the earth itself is a living being then they are overdue for a visit to the mountains. Glaciers, in particular, are so full of life that they seem to breathe as the ocean does. While Adam took photographs I nestled in amongst the rocks and listened to the mountains. The glacier, in constant movement under the heat of the summer sun, made sounds that reminded me of the tide we had watched come in over the beach the previous morning.
In the time that we sat there, watching clouds swirl around the summits of Olympus, we witnessed a cascade of melting snow fall from a bank on the face of the mountain. The sound reverberated through the canyon and under the ice, the glacier seemed to roar all the louder. We reminded ourselves that this is the source of our drinking water (as it feeds the river we had followed to reach the mountain) and gave thanks that it remains pure.
After a time, we came to terms with our lack of mountaineering gear (the summits would have to wait for another trip) and began the decent back to camp. Just across the second snowfield we saw some mountain goats approaching us on the path. On the way up we had seen one, hugging the wall of the canyon, but now a whole family was on their way up the ridge. I sat down so as to not disturb their progress and watched in awe as the largest goat I have ever seen came straight at me. Later we would learn from the ranger than their salt deprived diet drives this curiousity, as they have learned to acquire this scarce but vital resource from hikers hanging socks and other every day items.
Back in camp and hungry from climbing, we feasted on lentils and chickpeas (more about this later) and then fell into a cozy sleep as the temperatures dropped. The next day we rose and packed quickly, readying ourselves for the 18.5 mile return trip to the Subaru.
By a late “tea time” we would make it back to the parking lot, becoming suddenly aware of our stench and mussed appearance when we joined a crowd of tourists near the visitors center. Changing out of our damp hiking clothes, we found a picnic table where we drank mate and ate all of our remaining food with gusto. Andy Baritelle had suggested we check out his beach house on Washington’s southernmost peninsula, so we decided to try and catch a second wind and make the drive that night.
Oh, what a drive it turned out to be.
Up next, a very, very brief visit to Ocean Park, WA.