Dayhiking in Olympic National Park
In July of this summer, a friend and I went (car) camping in Olympic National Park. We only, lamentably, had one night, but we decided to make the most of it and headed out to ONP on a bright, sunny Thursday morning.
The trip started expeditiously. For my friend, expeditiously (while on vacation) means out the door by 10. Not so terribly expeditious. Rounding out the camping gear lugged from Ohio to Washington State (with the intention of going on a longer trip which was curtailed by unavoidable schedule changes), we borrowed a number of small items, including a lantern (a constant bibliophile, I love having one of these when car camping to read in the tent at night), a cooler (we took all the food. ALL THE FOOD), and (the aforementioned) food. Stowing our gear (and all the food) in the back of a giant pick-up truck, we headed up the main drag from Kitsap County to Olympic. Eventually turning off the highway, we then followed a winding back road until we reached a sign that said, “Entering Olympic National Forest. Hunting Prohibited.” The sign was riddled with bullet holes of all calibers. The irony was not lost.
The next sign was immediately behind the first one. “No paved roads. 4WD recommended.” It was right next to a big turn-around point. Just in case you hadn’t done your homework and were about to head up this road with a camper, I guess. Having done our homework (Thanks Rick Steves! Oh no, wait. Not on this trip. Thank you internet), we kicked the giant truck into 4 wheel drive and took off up the road. I mean literally UP the road. Deer Park Campground sits 5400 feet above sea level . . . which is where the road started. Following hairpin turns and twistiness, we went up, up, up, and up. The drop off on my side was pretty much straight down a cliff, but it turns out (don’t worry Mom!) my friend is a PDG (pretty darn good) driver.
After only nearly running one other car off the death-defyingly narrow road, we arrived at the campground. Campground? Well, we arrived at a sign for the campground. No real direction, no ranger, no indication as to what to do next, and this is where my internet research (as exhaustive as it had been) had lead to a dead end. Meh, whatevs.We’ll figure it out when we get there, I thought. And we did. First we conducted a quick (very quick – this campground only has 17 sites) reconnaissance, then settled on Site 9 in group B. We chose a site surrounded by pine trees, because the wind howled in the mountains and we wanted some buffer since there was a pretty high chance we were going to see some weather.
Having set up camp on a previous (failed) expedition in Ohio, in the dark, setting it up at 1:00pm on a bright, sunny day was child’s play. A tarp as the footprint, then the tent and stakes. Next unroll some self-inflating sleeping pads and the sleeping bags and voila! In less than 40 minutes, a home away from home. Unpacked and filled with sandwiches and a delightful chocolate caramel bar, we struck off to pay for our site, investigate the fire ban situation (Western WA was under a fire ban at the time of this trip), and see if the ranger was home. Paying was easy – we stuck $15 in a box in an envelope along with our site number and license plate information. Best $15 ever spent I do believe.
At the ranger station, the padlock and ashy firepit soon convinced us no one was home. However, we did read on the notice board that if we saw a mountain lion, we should make eye contact with it, act as big as possible, be loud, and don’t run away. It was really emphatic about the don’t run part. Fortunately (spoiler!) we didn’t see any mountain lions during our stay. Also on the notice board, and less terrifying, we read about the fire ban. Turns out that while houses can’t have open fires in their fire pits down where the mortals live, here, as long as you are camping in front country (i.e., a campground, not somewhere you hiked into with a backpack) you could have a fire! Turns out my friend is a bit of a Boy Scout and had stashed some wood in the back of the truck just in case. What a lovely thing to look forward to after a long afternoon of hiking!
All our questions answered (including information about mountain lion AND bear attacks), we decided to tackle the (mini) Blue Mountain Rainshadow trail. Figuring you had already spent an hour in the car driving 16 miles straight up, the rangers of yore were kind enough to build another little road extension right to the base of Blue Mountain, so the hike (straight up) is only about 1/2 of a mile. Drive, drive, drive (about 10 minutes) to said 1/2 mile trail and up we go!
Note to self: Next time hanging out at 6000 feet, bring hat and gloves.
Note to my Dad: Those Columbia jackets you got us a decade ago, still awesome. May need to replace my (lost) liner for colder weather expeditions.
Huff, puff, huff, puff, MOUNTAIN TOP!!! Our campsite is (barely) within the treeline, but Blue Mountain’s summit is NOT. From there, we had a glorious vista of the Olympics stretching out before us. We could also look down the other side of the mountain to PA and even across the bay to Victoria. Mostly though, I looked at the mountains. Some were still snowcapped, all of them were gigantic.
Bumbling down the other side of Blue Mountain, I realized that while tennis shoes would (and did) serve me just fine on this mini-hiking trip, boots are in order for anything longer than a day because my toes were getting crunched in the toebox as my feet slid forward on downhills. The pink Nikes though, man have they seen everything. The Chicago Marathon, 3 half marathons, a 14 mile trail run, and now the Olympics. I will be loathe to replace this pair (with an exactly identical pair, recently purchased for just this unavoidable eventuality).
Anyway, I digress. Down the mountain. On the lee side of the mountain and all around our campsite were trees burned to a crispy crisp. The fire (we also learned from the closed, but highly informative ranger station) happened in 1988 – that area was a long way from recovering though and we were doubly cautious with our campfire at night to be sure we didn’t slow down or restart the process with a stray spark.
Ok. That’s enough for now! A bit more about this amazing (though sadly short) trip later!
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