“Mister Small” and I set forth for the Olympic Peninsula late one Seattle afternoon. We contrast somewhat: I am a tissue of impatience, Small a tissue of tardiness. For us to catch the various buses and ferries, I had to rush him, leading to his inadequately shoe-garbing, prompting blisters ’cause of all the running. Still, we got across the Sound, in time for the last bus to Brinnon, dined at Halfway House, and camped illegally at the State Park, heading up the Dosewallips early the next morning. Road hiking, packs heavy as they could be. Small insisted on spending a contingency day agonizing over his blisters, a dozen miles in by road-walking, just before the actual trailhead. He thought the delay was my fault for pushing him, except because he is such a tardy-ass, it was his fault. We were sort of adopted by some very nice people in an RV (this was essentially the end of the road for vehicles), who foisted some kind of shake-and-bake chicken on us. I didn’t really want to have any, but I did anyway. Small is quite gregarious and engaged with our new friends happily.
It’s a fine long hike up to Hayden Pass, by way of Bear Camp, where we camped but saw no bear, possibly due to the availability, and requirement to utilize, the provided bear boxes. Elsewhen I’ve camped at sites named Mosquito Creek and Deer Lake (how many Mosquito Creeks and Deer Lakes are there in the world?), which were more aptly named, wildlife-wise. The bears came the next day, as we arrived at Hayden Pass. The younger and more impatient member of our duo, I was way ahead of Small as we crested in the early afternoon. The pass opens out onto a broad grassy (sedgy? vetchy?) slope that was festooned with shiny black spheres of some kind. I soon realized that they were Black Bears, evidently gorging on grubs or tubers or something. Disturbed by my presence, some sort of lurched up and trundled downhill for a bit before halting for some more gorging.
Hayden Pass to the Elwha (not quite the headwaters) is a long, fairly regular downward grade, knee-smashing and kind of annoying when you’re getting tired and the sun is getting low and you probably got started too late because of the blisters. We camped in the dark, following a noteworthy encounter with a rather irritated solo camper (it was late, we were loud) but the next morning our travails were redeemed as we entered the magical realm.
The Elwha is the main river of Olympic National Park. The Olympics themselves are a broad expanse rather than a narrow ridge. The peak of Olympus, surrounded by similar not-quite-as-high peaks, is not a really dramatic viewpoint, or so I hear, and difficult to distinguish. With plenty of redundancy in the glacier coverage and snowpack and whatnot, a remarkably regular climate obtains. Temperate rain forest, though not quite the kind along the coast! The one river you’d want to undam if what you want is an awesomely restored salmon ecosystem. Which has been done.
One of the most awesome segments along the Elwha is what I call the Hobbit Forest. For some reason, perhaps fire, there is a large spread of forest with only old trees, the youngest at least forty years old. Hardly any shrubby undergrowth. The ground is covered with moss, so it looks like a colonnade of tree trunks springing up vertically from the smooth forest floor. Whatever the trees are, they are self-pruning. The colonnade-covering and flat (though sloped, to be sure: we were descending a river gorge) green floor and the local soundscape really conspired to form a memorable transport to the Hiking Epiphany Realm.