May 14, 2011 at 11:47 pm #1273829
I just finished the last of my first year law school finals on Thursday, and thought I would make for a quick overnight before I had to get back to work. This trip was something that I had planned on doing earlier this March, but when I drove up to the trailhead, despite the NWS forecast calling for lows of 40 at elevation, it was already snowing. It would have been an unwise choice to stay and have my car get stuck in the snow, as the Graves Creek trailhead is about 15 miles from civilization, and is without cell service.
This time around, things were looking up. The forecast called for highs of 68 and partly sunny skies, which was great for Olympic NP in May. So Thursday around 4, I loaded up my super comfy Osprey Stratos daypack (long story – all my backpack backpacks are tied up in the mail or on Ron's computer), and made my way up I-5 towards Olympic NP, through Aberdeen and Hoquiam, and best-town-name-of-the-trip-winner: Humptulips (Google it. It's real.)
I arrived at the South Shore ranger station around 8p, filled out my permit, and then booked it down the 15 mile pothole-ridden gravel road (and now I'm awaiting my mechanic telling me I need new struts) to Graves Creek campground, trying to beat the 8:30 sunset. Beat it I did. I pitched the Spinntwin(n) and enjoyed my free we-don't-collect-fees-in-winter campsite next to the river.
The next morning, I woke up around 9:30 (yup, 9:30 – long day the day before) to the sound of cackling stellar jays, packed up the car, and ate my Subway veggie patty sandwich (what does one buy when they made last minute trip plans, didn't bring enough food, passed the last grocery store, and needs something non-perishable?).
I drove over to the trailhead, with 3 cars already in the lot, and got things ready. Since I was using my daypack and didn't think to see if I had a way of attaching my snowshoes, I fashioned a quick makeshift solution using the existing compression straps and some tire chain tightener links, which worked pretty well.
At 10:30a, I set off. My pace was pretty slow going, about 2 1/4 mph most of the day, as the day before had been so taxing.
The first people I ran into were two FS or NPS guys doing some trail maintenance; dicing up one of several massive blowdowns into large rectangular chunks.
Just after Pony Bridge, I would run into another day hiker who must have come in from one of the nearby resort areas. We talked about how he decided to turn around just up at the first creek crossing, as there was no log in. After reading several trip reports about this area, I'm amazed at how apprehensive hikers are with these crossings. My first foray into the water at Fire Creek, which was what caused his apprehension, was no deeper than 8 inches, and was moving very slow (Portlanders, imagine crossing the stream that follows the trail going up to Pittock). Wet feet are good for the soul.
The lower elevations were seeing much of the usual PNW spring foliage – wood sorrel, trillium and those funny plants that look like Batman's cape. There were robins all over the place (no pun intended), a few woodpeckers, several hummingbirds, and of course, gobs of noisy stellar jays.
I came to a small crossing (O'Neil creek?) where I spotted my first bear. He had just finished drinking from the creek and started off back up the hill. This is the first bear I've ever seen that hasn't run like the wind when seeing someone. He took a few looks, and sauntered off. I took a quick break, crossed the stream, and made off looking for him.
A few hundred yards down the trail I came upon a bear sitting out in the field and another lying nearby. She must have been 100 yards away, so I got a few feet closer. She sat up, took a long look at me, then got on all fours. Apparently I didn't take the hint, so she started to rock her rear hips side to side, as if to say "I see people all the time, and really I'm too lazy to bluff charge you, but this usually works." It sure was funny behavior, but I took the signal and kept on going. A few miles and several blowdowns and a logjam later, I stumbled up on two more bear, startling the first as much as he startled me. Once he saw me and figured out what was going on, he stepped to the side and continued on foraging, giving the occasional furtive glance just to let me know he still was there.
At mile 11.5 or so, I encountered what I was expecting from the ONP trail conditions report: an avalanche. Mind you, the trail was clear from snow up to this point, so walking up to a 15 foot wall of snow that ran from the hill into the river was quite the sight. I quickly scrambled to the top of the 20 foot wide mass and found some good foot holds to get down the other side. Seeing as it looked somewhat melted, it must have fallen several weeks earlier. The top was littered with pine needles, loose rocks, and whole tree limbs.
A mile or so later I would encounter my first snow. This continued up to the Enchanted Valley, where apparently the trail had been obliterated by the changing river. Seeing the chalet in the distance, I made my way across several stream branches up to the large boarded up building.
The chalet, once used for hikers, is now primarily used as a ranger station, save one room with a door marked "emergency use only," and a sign that says: "for emergencies: illness, injury and hypothermia." Seeing as I was sick of hiking, I had broken a toenail earlier this month, and my feet were feeling a bit cold, I set up my bivy inside.
I fired up the Caldera Keg and got to making dinner when another bear walked on by. He was a good 50 yards or so away, so I continued to make dinner and watch him dig in the dirt. It's a pretty sweet day when you can sit and eat dinner in the doorway of a chalet in the mountains while you watch a bear nose around.
The bear stuck around for a good hour and a half, but by that time it was 7p and I was spent – bedtime. I closed the shelter door, and didn't wake up again until 4a.
At 7a, I packed up my things, made two quick packets of in-the-pouch oatmeal (I've always balked at this practice, but now find it very convenient) and some Starbucks Via.
I took one last look at the mountains and made off down the trail. Today I made much better time – about 3mph, stopping only for a quick water and snack break, and to take a few pictures of the all-cow elk herds that were beside the trail.
26 hours later (the whole 24 motif is more catchy), I was back at the trailhead. As with my perennial post-backpacking tradition, I cranked up the bluegrass music and headed back down the gravel road and through rainstorms back to Portland.
A day with 6 bears, a chalet, and the mountains is a pretty good good day.May 15, 2011 at 3:36 am #1736735
@knaightLocale: Western Massachusetts
Sounds like you had a blast. Thanks for the report!May 15, 2011 at 4:19 am #1736737
@funnymoLocale: Sunshine State
I appreciate all the details you've given! The chalet, bears, and the wildlife (not to mention the setting) were awesome.
Thanks for putting me there with you on the trail.
Todd (not diggin' the Florida heat and critters)May 15, 2011 at 4:42 am #1736739
@ikeLocale: Central Michigan
Great report! I can see why they call it enchanted valley. Thanks.May 15, 2011 at 8:05 am #1736768
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
I loved this 24 write up, very cool. What were your evening temperatures? It's absolutely amazing how lush the Olympics are, it's out of this world. I lived in Port Angeles, WA for a few years when I was younger, some of these photographs transported me there, which is an escape considering where I live hasn't had any precipitation for 101 consecutive days.May 15, 2011 at 9:36 am #1736801
This brought back memories of a trip we did there in August 1990. As we were hiking in, the ranger (Charlie? if memory serves) came up from behind us; he was returning from a few days off in town with all his supplies. We hiked in the rest of the way with him, camped outside the chalet and got invited in for an evening of conversation and chocolate chip cookies that he and the young ranger-in-training (Steve) baked and shared with us. We were regaled by tall tales spun by Steve, including but not limited to the majesty of sighting a flock of migrating flying duckbilled mountain beavers landing in the river outside the chalet. I often wonder what became of both those guys.May 15, 2011 at 10:08 am #1736811
@rick778Locale: NorCal - South Bay - Campbell
Enjoyed the trip report. Very well done narrative and pictures.Wished I was there!May 15, 2011 at 10:22 am #1736813
Thanks. I would guess it probably didn't get much colder than 40 degrees at 2000ft. I was lucky, and hit a warm and (relatively) sunny window – it's pouring again today.May 15, 2011 at 10:50 am #1736822
@filsingerLocale: Pacific Northwest
Scientific name: Achlys triphylla
As a Northwest native herbaceous groundcover, Vanilla Leaf is best known for the vanilla smell of its dried leaves during the winter. It is also known as Deer's Foot.
Vanilla Leaf grows all along the west coast, from northern California well up into British Columbia. Reaching to a height of 1’, it spreads out though underground rhizomes to form a dense under-story to native trees and shrubs.
Each leaf consists of 3 horizontally-oriented leaflets which have scalloped edges. Leaflets can have either finely and sharply toothed or bluntly tipped lobes.
In the months of March-June Vanilla Leaf send forth a bottlebrush-like flower featuring 8-20 long white stamens that form a showy spike positioned above the center point of the leaves. The flower spike can range from 1”-3” in length.
Vanilla Leaf prefers shaded, moist sites with high soil organic matter. Once established it is considered drought tolerant.
BillMay 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm #1737014
@rivrfoxLocale: Western Slope, Colorado
Verrry niiiice trip report [in borat voice]. :)May 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm #1737017
@rjustice7Locale: Central Texas Hill Country
That's incredible! I loved the pics and the write-up. I enjoyed that bit about your dog and his power wheels and shotgun. Oh how I would love to backpack the Pacific Northwest. I need to plan a trip up there some time soon! Such a beautiful place!May 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm #1737018
Wonderful report with great photos! Damn, I really have to move out west…..May 16, 2011 at 7:16 am #1737113
Great report… thanks for sharing! That's a beautiful area.May 16, 2011 at 7:21 am #1737114
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
great report and pics
I just can't figure why there are always bears in the Enchanted Valley and they ignore humans without being a problem
Everywhere else in Oregon and Washington, bears run away from humans and usually we don't even see them.
And when a bear loses it's fear of humans, it eventually has to be killed.May 16, 2011 at 11:20 am #1737228
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
"I just can't figure why there are always bears in the Enchanted Valley and they ignore humans without being a problem"
Jerry, it's been a national park with no hunting since 1938, plenty of time for bears to lose their fear of humans. The local NPS staff's biggest fear is that the bears will learn about backpacker food, which is why they are so insistent on our using the bear wires or carrying canisters where there are no wires.May 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm #1738338
@kylemeyerLocale: Portland, OR
Great report Chris; this is such an awesome hike.
Here are a few photos from my trip there in early June last year. I met 13 bears (3 babies), and we started calling them forest cows.May 18, 2011 at 8:55 pm #1738406
>> we started calling them forest cows.
Did you try milking them?Jun 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm #1750888
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
Don't know how I missed this TR, just catching up to it now. I haven't been in the EV itself but here it is from near O'Neill Pass, across from Anderson Glacier (in 2004):
Here is Hart Lake, on your map above, middle of the right side:
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