Shire Moss Forest

 “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.


Trail Stories #3. “Ace” and I were three days into our circumambulation of Mt. Rainier via The Wonderland Trail. This hike punctuated my life. I had just finished several temp-work years perf testing video drivers at The Great Satan, and they had liked me enough to hire me for real. I had taken a month off before going full-time, because, well, that had been a lot of work, and switching to perf testing web browsers was going to be even more (“The Internet” was just then really taking off for consumers, mostly via Netscape). Ten days of that month were devoted to the Wonderland. The previous day, we had hiked from Mystic Lake to White River (the day after I pissed on an asshole’s bike). “Mrs. Dean” was driving in to meet us, as White River is not backcountry. On the steep descent from Sunrise, Ace made an accidentally disparaging comment about whether Mrs. Dean would be sitting in the shade waiting for us, to which, in umbrage, I insisted that I would be dumbfounded if she didn’t meet us halfway down (or, for Mrs. Dean, up). I was, of course, correct.

The next morning, Mrs. Dean accompanied us up the trail to Panhandle Gap, turning around there so she could get back to the car and Seattle at a reasonable hour. Ace and I continued on to Indian Bar. It had been cloudy and showery since yesterday, and much of our gear was dampish, but just as we finished setting up camp, the sun broke out and we spread our stuff out to let it dry as much as possible. The respite was brief, and after only half an hour we were hastening to fling stuff into our tents to get it out of a sudden squall. After the squall I hiked around to where I could get a nice view down the Ohanapecosh River, while Ace was scrambling about elsewhere, perhaps investigating the welcoming group shelter nearby. It was warm but humid, and I noticed a fog bank making its way up the valley (at that elevation, really not much more than a broad but rough steep ditch). What caught my eye was that the fog was not a massive bank, but more a finger gradually intruding upwards along the valley bottom, sort of like an inflating tubular balloon. I soon noticed that the fog finger was rotating as it penetrated upwards along the river. Not only rotating, but beginning to distend radially, so that what was once a rotating circular tube became more and more oval, quickly becoming two lobes that suddenly snapped into individual, circular, co-revolving tubes, like a DNA double helix, each orbiting the common center but rotating individually. Each sub-tube again distended and snapped in two, so that now there were four of them! You may recall that I am quite the aficionado of fractals, and here I was, observing fractal math in action. The intertwined fog helices continued to ramify, rotating and splitting ever faster, until, just before the finger reached me, the whole mass fragmented into pieces too small to be resolved as anything but a diffuse mass just as it was when I first noticed it. I was engulfed in my own fantasy. Imbued with all of my thoughts, ever. As it continued on above me, following the gulch upstream, ponderously rotating, the fragmented mass repeated its former dynamic, distending, splitting, ramifying in powers of two until the pattern again dissolved.

I really want to return to Indian Bar sometime (perhaps via Nickel Creek, where, if you follow the trail to the camping areas far enough back, you come upon piles of fragmented pentagonal andesite). It would be a great trip for a group, given the shelter, and it has absolutely the best outhouse I have ever used: roofed, but open on the sides for an awesome view. I’ve heard there’s a better one in Glacier; I will have to seek that shit out.