Olympic National Park Packrafting Trip – August

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Home Forums Campfire Member Trip Reports Olympic National Park Packrafting Trip – August

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    Erick Brown
    BPL Member


    I’m keeping my tradition of posting my trip reports several months late.  But, better late than never.  My two backpacking buddies and I flew into Seattle for our annual backpacking trip on Friday, August 19th.  Our plan was to do a variation of the Bailey traverse and then packraft down the Hoh River all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

    After a few flight delays and some brutal traffic outside of Seattle we made it to the Hoh River Ranger station where we picked up our permit.  The ranger there was also nice enough to let us store our packrafts in the ranger station for the first half of the trip so we didn’t have to haul our heavy and bulky packrafts over the Bailey Traverse.  Our original trip had us starting from Obstruction Point heading through Upper Cameron Pass along the Hayes River to Dodger Point.  Unfortunately there were several forest fires in the area that weren’t yet contained when we started our trip and the road to Whiskey Bend had been washed out.  We worked with the ranger to change our start point to Hurricane Ridge.  After dropping off our packrafts we headed to try to find a place to camp for the night.  Almost all of the campsites were first come first serve and since we got in pretty late we couldn’t find a spot at one of the NPS campsites, state park campsites or DNR campsites so had to get a hotel for the night in Forks.

    Saturday morning we got up extremely early and drove to Ruby Beach which is where we left our car.

    We had a shuttle driver come pick us up and hit the Wolf Creek trail at Hurricane Ridge.  The smoke from the forest fires were visible everywhere.  

    It was about 7.9 miles to Whiskey Bend and then another mile or so to Humes Ranch which is where we camped for the night.  There were several campsites in the old growth forest right off the edge of the Elwha River that made for a good camping spot for the night.

    The next morning we woke up and started the trek up to Dodger Point.  This was a pretty long stretch of trail in the forest that didn’t open up for a while.  Once it did open up (after about 14 miles) there was an excellent view of the Bailey Range.  We ended up making it into Dodger Point by early afternoon.

    Since we knew the Bailey traverse was going to be the most difficult part of our trip due to the terrain and route finding we decided to keep moving to get to the Scott-Ludden Saddle that night.  The unmaintained trail after Dodger Point is very easy to follow after the first mile or so.  We followed that trail and had some very good views of the wildfires in the Elwha River valley.

    After some narrow ledge crossings we finally got to where we couldn’t follow the trail anymore.  So, we began heading down a gulley looking for Crisler’s ladder which is a root system that leads you up to the rest of the unmarked trail.  We never ended up finding Crisler’s Ladder so instead of descending any further where we couldn’t get back up we climbed a small ledge and bush whacked through some alders where we eventually met up with the trail.  

    This ended up taking several hours so by the time we got to the Scott-Ludden Saddle we were pretty tired and ready for bed.  There was a very small pool of water in the saddle so we filled up our water, had a quick dinner and called it a night.

    After the Scott Ludden Saddle you have to make a very steep ascent up to Ludden Peak to get to the ridge trail between Ludden Peak and Mount Ferry.  The way up was very steep and took a little bit of route finding but once on top the trail was pretty easy to follow and the views were spectacular.

    The only tricky part was the last bit where you ascend to the Ferry Pulitzer Saddle because it is very steep and the route is mostly made up of scree and loose dirt.

    Once on top we stopped at a tarn for lunch & to fill up our water then continued onto Ferry Meadows.  While in Ferry Meadows there is an excellent view of Mt. Olympus.

    We followed Cream Lake Creek to the dreaded Cream Lake vortex.  The vortex definitely lived up to its name.  While it was easy to know which way to go, the terrain was brutal because there wasn’t really a trail so we were constantly getting scratched by branches and even got a few bee stings.  There is what appeared to be avalanche debris that is pretty easy to travel and follow; just very steep. This led us up above Cream Lake for some epic views.

    We ended up going past the waypoint for the trail towards 11 bull basin so it took us a while to find the route again.  By then we had lost a lot of daylight so we continued to follow the trail but had to settle for a relatively steep campsite.  It did have one of the best views I can remember staying at although it wasn’t very protected from the wind and we had balls of dirt and roots that made sleeping pretty difficult.

    The next morning we continued the hike towards 11 bull basin.  The trail is relatively easy to follow except where you cross avalanche debris. Even then as long as you stay at the same altitude and continue walking west you’ll eventually see the trail again.

    After hiking a few hours we saw the first person we had seen in the last few days.  He ended up pointing a bear out to us further down the trail so we sat and watched the bear for a while until it moved out of our way and we could continue along safely.    We made it to 11 bull basin and stopped for lunch.  11 bull basin is spectacular and has several flat spots for a campsite as well as plenty of running water.

    The trail after 11 bull basin is pretty easy to follow and relatively flat except for one extremely steep climb that I can remember.  The next spot to setup camp won’t be available until Boston Charlie Camp which is right before the Catwalk if you’re heading East to West.

    We turned the corner of Boston Charlie’s camp to head out on the Catwalk and came face to face with a mountain goat and her kids.  I couldn’t believe how close we were so we gave the goat its space and waited for it to cross before we continued along.  It was amazing how much ground the goat could cover so quickly!  The Catwalk took about 45 minutes to cross and definitely had some exposed area but wasn’t anything difficult as long as you take your time.

    After the Catwalk there are several miles along the High Divide Trail to Heart Lake which looked like it would be a great campsite.  From Heart Lake we continued along the High Divide Trail along Seven Lakes Basin where we met up with the Hoh Lake trail.  We ended up seeing 3 bears in the valleys along this part of the trail.  The hike down to Hoh Lake had some amazing views.

    The next morning we continued to follow the Hoh Lake trail down the 6-7  miles of switchbacks to the Olympus ranger station and the Hoh River trail along the Hoh River.  This was a cool piece of the hike in the Hoh rainforest with a few small stream crossings.  We called it a night at Mount Tom Creek where we had a nice campsite right along the river.


    The next morning we finished the last  piece of our hike to the Hoh Rain Forest Ranger station where we picked up our packrafts.  From there we packrafted down the river the rest of the day.  The beginning part of the river was very slow progress as we had to continue to portage around the dangerous strainers. From talking to the Ranger someone had drowned on the river only the week before so we were very cautious to get out and scout the route to make sure it was clear of strainers.  The water itself was very runnable and not too difficult to handle other than the strainers.  Once the afternoon came around the river began to wide and there were no more strainers to deal with so we ended up covering a lot more ground.  It was pretty amazing to look back from our rafts on the snow covered peaks of the Bailey Traverse that we had just come down from a few days ago.  We setup our tent along the river and called it a night.  Unfortunately we don’t have too many pictures of the river as we were busy trying to navigate the strainers and rapids.  We ended up camping just after the Minnie Peterson DNR camp.

    The  next morning we woke up bright and early with the intention of making it all the way until the Pacific.  The beginning part of the day had some of the more enjoyable rapids to raft that we had all trip.  By the end of the day we had made it to the Pacific Ocean, Ruby Beach, and all the crowds that came with it.  But the beer and burger that we had that night made it well worth it!  Overall this ended up being one of my favorite backpacking trips.  Olympic National Park is such a diverse place and is so remote and beautiful; highly recommended!

    Erick Brown
    BPL Member


    I can’t figure out how to edit my original post but clearly the beginning of this is supposed to say Pacific ocean.  Packrafting all the way to the Atlantic from Olympic would be pretty epic!

    Ben C
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kentucky

    Beautiful country that has not exactly been on my radar.  Great report.

    BPL Member


    Erick, I am totally in awe of your hike, very well done indeed. ONP may be my favorite trip ever and should be on everyone’s  bucket list.  The Hoh rainforest is not to be missed…it’s an entirely different world.

    Erick Brown
    BPL Member


    Agree with you there JCH.  One of the few places I’ve been to where you can be in the snow on the summit of a peak one day and by the ocean the next.  Including the packraft element made it that much more epic!  I’ll definitely be going back to ONP after that trip.

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    Wow!  Very adventurous.

    Atlantic Ocean?  Yeah, a long packraft.  (Too bad the software doesn’t allow you to edit first post in a thread).

    I was on Hurricane Ridge August 16, a few days before you, that forest fire was tiny then.  Up Sol Duc River the 17th.


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