I had assumed I’d be traveling solo for the bulk of my adventures this past summer, so I was pretty psyched when my friend John expressed interest in joining me on the section of the Pacific Northwest Trail that traverses Olympic National Park. After I completed the North Cascades section, John and I met up at The Happy House to prepare, then set out on our epic journey. Most seasoned hikers take about two weeks to complete the 200+ miles, but we were complete overachievers and did it in three, ensuring that lazy mornings and swimming were priorities. The miles we walked took us from Coupeville, WA to Shi Shi Beach…but with a twist. I’m not ashamed to say that we planned our trip around avoiding hiking a 6,000 foot elevation gain up Hurricane Ridge, also providing ourselves with an additional food resupply in an otherwise long section. In a nutshell, we started at the top of Hurricane Ridge and hiked westbound to Shi Shi Beach, then returned to Hurricane Ridge and hiked eastbound back to Coupeville. Hike smarter, not harder.
When we started out at Hurricane Ridge, our views were somewhat obscured by the wildfire smoke that had poured into the area from the fires burning in British Columbia. We could make out Mount Olympus to the south, but the ocean views were completely non-existent. We hiked down from Hurricane Hill into the Elwha River Valley and then up to the Seven Lakes Basin. The basin was a truly spectacular alpine area, above treeline and with many swimmable lakes. We saw several mountain goats lounging on a lingering snow patch and also a bear feasting on some just-ripe blueberries. Wildflowers were in bloom, and the smoke slowly dissipated as we hiked through the basin and down into the Bogachiel River Valley.
The Bogachiel River originates from several headwater sources in the Olympic Wilderness and flows west, joining with other rivers north of the Hoh, finally pouring into the Pacific Ocean near LaPush, WA. It is part of the Hoh Rainforest, a lush area that sees over 200” of rainfall per year. Luckily, none of that fell while we were hiking. The river boasts some amazing swimming holes, and although it was a fair bit colder than the high alpine lakes we had just left, that didn’t stop us from jumping (ok, easing) in for a refreshing dip. The rainforest is green and lush, with a thick groundcover of ferns and other bushes (many with thorns,) and massive old growth cedar and spruce trees. The way the sunlight filters through the tall canopy gives one the ethereal feeling of walking through a fairy tale.
Since I last checked in, I’ve been ticking off the miles required for my completion of the Pacific Northwest Trail. I hiked about 750 miles of it in one shot last summer, and intend to complete the remaining 450 miles this summer through a combination of backpacking and bikepacking.
In early August, I met up with my friend and trail angel extraordinaire, Rebecca, for the section of trail through North Cascades National Park. (A trail angel is someone who provides help and random acts of kindness to a hiker.) Rebecca and her husband, John, two of the most kind and generous people I have ever met, host PNT hikers in their home – The Happy House – on Whidbey Island. When I was in need of a place to recover from a leg injury last summer, they didn’t hesitate to invite me into their home for as long as required.
Rebecca and I chose to hike through the North Cascades eastbound, which is the opposite direction than most PNT thru-hikers travel. Going in reverse afforded us the opportunity meet the current thru-hikers and invite them to stay at The Happy House when they would be passing by a few weeks later. Their faces lit up when they realized that Rebecca was one half of the famed “Whidbey Duo.”
Starting at the Hannegan Pass trailhead, we battled numerous biting flies while heading to the park boundary. After the pass, we were treated to the glow of colors and shadows spread by the waning sunlight, and a marmot played hide and seek among some rocks.
Much of the trail was protected under a dense canopy of conifer boughs. When we gained elevation, the trees became shorter, then disappeared entirely, and we found overgrown trail. But that was ok, because the views of the jagged peaks and glaciers at that point were phenomenal. The trail dipped down into the forest again, eventually crossing the Chilliwack River via a cable car. Actually, fording the river on foot may have been easier, but the cable car definitely had a coolness factor that could not be ignored. Besides, our arms needed a workout.
Day three presented us with the journey over Whatcom Pass, of which the east side (our downhill) boasted a nearly vertical face supported by hand-placed and maintained cedar log and stone retaining walls and crazy tight, steep switchbacks. It was here that we ran into a trail crew who had been working their way down the entire length of the PNT within the park. We were informed that the trail had been cleared and brushed for what would be the remainder of our trip through the park. Oh, happy day!
Once again, we had great views while descending back into the forest, this time into old growth cedar. It had been pretty hot during our journey, and being back in the shady valleys near the rivers and streams was a welcome relief. Eventually we reached a trail junction near Ross Lake, a massive reservoir, and the end of our trip. There are many wilderness campsites lining Ross Lake, accessible only by boat or by foot. We wandered through one of these to the associated dock in order to hitch a boat ride. Luckily, there was a group staying at the campsite who were kind enough to give us a ride. Ross Lake boasts some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, which were unfortunately largely obscured by wildfire smoke blowing in from British Columbia. Before I knew it, we were deposited at the dam, traveled up the short trail that led us back to my car, and were driving down the road. Our 40 mile, 4 day trip was successfully complete!