Nero Backpacking for the AT

John and I got a bunch of new ultralight gear (shout-out to REI for the sale) for our 2020 AT SOBO hike so we decided to test some of it out on a quick overnight trip.  We headed to Quilcene, Washington, to hike in the Olympic National Forest. The forest surrounds the outskirts of Olympic National Park so it’s a bit hard to find areas where you can hike with your pupper, but there are actually plenty of trails if you search hard enough.

Mount Townsend

Mount Townsend sits within the Olympic Range at 6,243 feet. It is one of the taller peaks within the area. The highest mountain within the range, Mount Olympus sits just above at 7,979 feet. You can access Mount Townsend from its upper and lower trailhead. We had planned on starting from the lower trailhead, but somehow ended up at the upper due to GPS complications and choosing to drive in at dark.

Low Miles and Steep Terrain

We recorded our entire hike using the All Trails app, and it reads that we walked around ten miles total with 3,383 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot. We chose to do some off-trail adventuring and even hiked part of the Silver Lake Trail when we were looking for camping at the end of our day. It was definitely hard to stake out a flat spot below treeline. We could have stayed near the summit, but we were looking for slightly warmer temps with less wind exposure.

The All Trails app states that the standard hike (from the upper TH) of Mount Townsend is 8.5 miles out and back. There are definitely a lot of switchbacks and we haven’t personally hiked anything with an elevation gain like this since we left Colorado at the beginning of October. The summit was covered in a thin blanket of snow and ice, but we did not use or need microspikes at all.

November in Washington tends to be very wet and cloudy. It was a little cold when the sun went down, but we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We had amazing views of Seattle, the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the San Juan Islands. We could see 360 degrees of the Olympic Mountain Range, and I even picked out the peninsula that Port Townsend sits on. Heck, I could see the exact location of where I work! We were literally above the clouds. Viewing the Cascade Range from north to south was indescribable. We could see from Canada to Mount Baker and all the way down to Mount St. Helens. There were so many snowcapped peaks and four super volcanoes towering into the sky. This was the first time that John and I have been able to see the ocean from the top of a mountain.


Although we were only out there for less than 24 hours, our short backpacking trip was everything I needed to feel refreshed and a little more grounded. I am anxious to get on the Appalachian Trail, and I have been having trouble staying present. Walking uphill and putting on that backpack always tends to put things back into perspective. I am going to have to push myself to keep on getting out into the backcountry as temperatures continue to drop and the snow continues to fall.

Peace, love, and happy hiking!

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