Wandering the Olympic Peninsula (Pt.1)

It was quite the feat to get going in the right direction…

wayward plans resulted in a delay or a day, although I was later to be amazed by how the timing of my journey would set me on a path that has changed my world (a titivating thought to keep you coming back perhaps).

I’d crossed the continent in just 5 days, perhaps too much haste, but waiting in Seattle to get into the mountains was becoming frustrating.  Having made an assertive decision to push on regardless of other people’s plans I felt quite free of the nonsense that I so often bow to with the result of unnecessary fuss.  After spending a night on Bainbridge Island (a super relaxed place off the coast of Seattle) and enjoyed the most incredible Italian food at Via Rosa, the path lead to Port Angeles where the National Park Offices were and to book campsites.  Turns out that a bit of forward planning would have been beneficial.  That aside, a charming, friendly, and incredibly helpful ranger at the booking desk helped us organise a fantastic, if somewhat ambitious, itinerary.  The trip was roughly 100km over a period of 4 days.

The journey started with the Sol Duc River loop.  Camping at Deer Lake and Sol Duc Park on the way through.  It was late when we started along the river.  Two return trips about a kilometre in to the car after once forgetting if I locked it, and the second as I forgot the stove gas!  Jeez… The falls, the casual walkers destination are
really very pretty.  Cascading water running down a narrow gulch, with a paddling area further up, being enjoyed by a wonderfully diverse set of ethnicities.  One super cute interaction was with a 9 year old kid who was afraid of bears (according to his father).  I offered the observation that all he has to do is keep noisy so he wouldn’t surprise a bear by ‘sneaking’ up on it, giving a suggestion that he tells stories along the way.  “What stories will you tell?” I enquired.  His response was ever so charming – “one day i was walking along in the woods, afraid of bears, when a man told me not to be afraid by telling stories to scare them away…”.  I have no doubt that child will get what he’s looking for in life.  His father looked proud.  I was impressed, and charmed.

The Sol Doc River loop is about 25km or so with a highlight being the High Ridge with it’s spectacular views of Mt Olympus (if you’re as lucky as I was to see it without it’s cloak of clouds.  The top alpine meadows were reminiscent of The Sound of Music, and was even complete with bells ringing in the distance… as it turns out the bell was attached to a rather cute Asian American with rather a lot of smiles bouncing along the trail with a bear bell jingling away.  My brief interaction had me less quick witted in that I forgot to tease about hoping to hear her burst into song much as Julie Andrews had in the musical.  Seems my quick wit/charm was intended for another moment in time.
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Passing Heart Lake (a convincing classic heart shape, and not one where you suspect the original namer of the pond was high at the time) and stopping for some water and a refreshing foot soak, it was only a mile or two to the camp site.  The camp sites are mainly by booking in the park, but the good sites fill up rather quickly.  This day of the hiking was a relatively short one and so we got there early, pitching up beside the river in the trees.  It was quite idilic as it turns out with the sounds of water running not far from the tent.  After doing some laundry, it was time for food.  I’d seriously misunderstood the notion of “2 servings” on the dried camp food sachets.  Let’s just say I was generally incredibly hungry for most of the trip.

The Sol Doc Camp was serene, and I really enjoyed just soaking up the atmosphere.  Hiking back down the trail sent us through darker and darker mixed forrest of old growth pine and deciduous trees on a narrow winding and root laden path.  Streams and rivers were crossed on fallen logs made into bridges with steps cut into them.  The sun steaming in through the gaps in the trees accented the babbling water, large moss covered tree trunks (standing and fallen), and forrest litter.  Mushrooms, bugs and beasties provided visual entertainment along the trail, as well as unintentionally silently approaching other hikers and scaring the bejeepers out of them.

As the trail down was steep, and being on quite a deadline to achieve the 25km hike and 2 hr drive to the next section of our trip, my knees were under quite a stain.  The blistering pace, 15kg pack, and general lack of hiking for some time, resulted in a rather painful torn ligament / tendon.  Something that would plague the rest of the trip to a point were at points I could think only of the next step and not the spectacular scenery I passed.

As we got back to the car I thought of some of the things I’d learned about myself and simple preparations:  I realised I’m actually much less bothered by other people’s mood if they are not someone I have any great vested interest in.  I switched off and just soaked up the beauty of my surroundings (I spare you the details of the cause of the irritation as it’s not worth the effort of recalling it).  I realised that I have to learn to communicate what I expect the other person to have prepared and bring on a hike.  I provided a bear can (which, as it turns out, was only suitable for 1 person (not 2) for 3 days food), stove, and gas, food (!), along with making sure that things like first aid kit and other small but cumulatively heavy shared items.  Although I was impressed as how lightly my hiking partner had managed, I was less impressed that some important elements were not considered.  Having previously agreed upon spending time getting the trip gear sorted out between and what was required, this wasn’t really respected and resulted in me dealing with it all, essentially at my expense.  I supposed when someone else is caught up in their own existence, I learned that I should clearly state what I am prepared to do for myself, and what I expect them to provide.  If they don’t… well, tough.  Learning the hard way for some is really the only way and, being of a somewhat compassionate disposition, this is actually hard to follow through with even if it means dealing with some of the suffering that this brings.

More on this little hiking trip soon..

PS some useful links for hiking in this National Park:
National Park Service – Olympic National Park
ProTrails Hiking
REI – for awesome gear

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