Sunday, June 16, 2013

Up the Elwha to Hayden Pass

While the weather looked like it might be a bit iffy, the calendar ahead looked cluttered, so this seemed like the best chance for a while to get out and do a prep hike for the PCT next month.  I chose to go up the Elwha because 1) I hadn't been up it in a few years, & 2) it was cleared of down trees up to Hayes River.  After the trek up the Skokomish and down the Duckabush a couple of weeks ago I was ready to hike with a minimum of fallen trees.  So the plan was to hike up to Hayes River, or as far as I could get, run up to Hayden Pass the second day and then back to Hayes River, and then head out on day three.

Because of work commitments I got off to a late start and left the trailhead at 12:45, with thoughts of Hayes River pretty much non-existent, but the farther up I got the more promising that looked.  I stopped for a late lunch at Mary Falls Camp and then charged on up the trail and did manage to reach Hayes River by about 7:15 and had the place to myself.

At Mary Falls I had a young man come through who had left Hurricane Ridge that morning, dropping down to Whisky Bend and was planning on going over Hayden, Lost, Cameron and Grand Passes then up to Obstruction Point and back to his truck.  It appeared like he was planning on doing it in 2 days, which seemed pretty optimistic to me with all the snow in the high country.  He was planning on staying at Hayes River that night as well.  We talked a bit and then he charged off.  I passed him a couple of miles later pulled off to the side of the trail eating.  And then never saw him again, nor any evidence that he was in the snow around Hayden.  Hopefully he made it OK.

The first 17 miles of the Elwha are pretty mellow with only a small climb over a ridge just south of Lillian Camp.  The trail is well maintained and there is quite a variety of forest understory to see and enjoy.  The Elwha is far away for the first half of the trip, but there are plenty of other small rivers, streams, creeklets and seeps crossing the trail.  There is little in the way of mountain vistas along the trail, but it is really a pleasant journey and generally light and airy.

In contrast is the trail from Hayes River up to Hayden Pass.  This trail is 8.3 miles long with a 4000+ foot elevation gain.  Seldom is it steep, but it is pretty steady up.  And the fallen trees were back.  I hit about 35 trees from the start to the snow line at about 5300 foot.  Most of them were easy to just step over, but there were two fairly substantial windfalls bracketing a small camp a mile up the trail that took quite a bit of effort to get around.  Plus the trail was pretty heavily littered with fallen branches and I probably took an hour along the way throwing them off the trail.

Eventually the view opens up and becomes very nice, in spite of the intermittent cloud cover.  And even better were the flowers in the numerous small meadows along the way.  Lots of flowers, which made me happy.  Started into snow just past 5000 foot with fairly continuous snow about 5300.  I ploughed on through until I rounded a corner at about 5600 foot and could see the pass, but it was still a mile to a mile and a half away and across a long traverse.  Time was running out and I did not have my ice axe along so I decided it was time to turn around and work my way back on down the hill to camp.

The trip back down was nice, except for the two blowdowns.  I got back into camp in time to clean up and eat and then nestle into the hammock and watch the river flow by 20 feet away.  Very pleasant.  Very little in the way of fauna sightings apart from a millipede, a small frog, and a few small birds, plus lots of bear, cougar and marmot poop.  No sign of recent human activity either, which partially made up for the lack of actual bear sightings.

Saturday I was up early and heading back down river.  I had the place to myself until just before Lillian Camp when I ran into a couple, Blade Runner and Rummy Man I think, who were looking to replicate my trip.  Visited with them briefly and then continued along, encountering 29 more people, 2 horses and 1 deer. All in all a very good trip; about 48 miles in 3 days.  Ready for the PCT now.

This is a view from high up on the Hayden Pass trail looking west and south, nearly 180 degrees worth.

This is a sample of the trail along the lower Elwha, broad and well manicured, easy enough for the newest day hikers.

Up near Hayes River is an example of the trail going through sections with only moss  growing on the ground.  Not enough sun hits the trail for anything else to grow.

Numerous small streams cut across the trail on the way up to Hayden.  Some are easy to step across, and some spread out and become a bog.

This is an example of a bog that the trail is going through; if you look carefully you can pick out the trail going from bottom center to top center..  Pretty challenging to get through unmuddied, and not really worth the effort to stay dry.  You're gonna get wet, so why fight it.

Here the trail traverses across a small meadow with a nearby stream.  Stopped here for a late lunch on the way back down.  Just flopped in the middle of the trail and enjoyed the vista, the flowers and the stream.

Lots of small peaks across the way opened up along the trail.  Not too sure of my geography, but suspect  this is a part of the Baileys.

A view up canyon.

The low spot in the center is Hayden Pass.  This is the view from where I turned around.  The traverse does not look as long or steep as it did at decision time, but it was enough, along with the time, to turn me around.

I like finding these little millipedes.  Don't see too many, but did find two this trip.

Also found a couple of survey marks above Elkhorn Camp.  The stamp on both said they were placed in 1929, although the second looked relatively new.

Remann's Cabin.  According to the sign on the front it was built in 1929 as a fishing lodge for some Tacoma area judge.

The photo doesn't do it justice.  A little creek braids down across a moss covered rock pile just above the trail.  I would love to be able to transport this to my garden at home.

There are a few places where the forest understory is a mass of Vanilla Leaf and other small plants.  

Should you be inclined to ford the Elwha and head up to Dodger Point, this is the place where you would do it.  The river is probably 50 feet across here and several feet deep.  Not too much appeal for me.

If you look carefully, the live tree in the back seems to be eating the dead tree in front.  It disappears into the interior of the still living tree.  Pretty strange looking.

White Trillium

Lavender Trillium

Splotchy Trillium

Purple Trillium

Lots of Pinesap popping up through the moss.

Peppermint Stick

Ground Dogwood

Bear Grass

Avalanche Lily

Shooting Stars

Glacier Lily

Pasqueflower

Starflowers all over the place

A rose thicket near Elkhorn

Chillin out after a late breakfast near the river on the way out.  Such a good trip.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Skokomish to Duckabush Via First Divide

The weekend forecast looked good finally.  Time to pack up and go play in the snow.  Plans were made to leave the truck at Staircase and start walking there.  My wife would pick me up 3 days later at the Duckabush trailhead and take me back to my truck.  By the time I got to Staircase on Friday morning, the forecast had deteriorated somewhat, but I decided to push on.  What's a little rain anyway.

When I left the trailhead at Staircase late morning Friday there was only one other car in the parking lot, a good sign for a solitary individual like me.  And wherever they had gone, it was not where I went.  I managed to not see any sign of people, other than boot prints in the mud, until camp on the second night.  There were quite a few people the last day, especially once I left the ONP, but the first couple of days were pretty isolated.

The trail is pretty gentle for the first 10 miles to 9 Stream, where I spent the first night.  From there it begins to climb pretty steadily, gaining about 2700 feet over the next 3.3 miles up to first divide and then losing most of that in the 2 mile descent to the Duckabush.  From that point the trail mostly follows the Duck until the trailhead about 17 miles later.  There are a few climbs along the way, notably up to Big Hump, but by and large it is an easy trail.

Or should I say it should be an easy trail.  In reality it was a nightmare.  I am by nature a counter, and I ended up counting all the trees across the trail.  I counted everything bigger than about 3-4 inches in diameter that required me to step or climb over, duck under or go around; and there was plenty of all three. The trail was cleared from Staircase to Spike Camp, but from there to 9 Stream there were 87 trees across the trail, including two whose root balls had taken out the trail.  There were another 17 trees between 9 Steam and continuous snow around 3500 feet, and 12 from the time the Duckabush side cleared at 3900 down to the Upper Duckabush camp.

From Upper Duckabush to 10 Mile Camp I counted 102 trees down, plus a massive blowdown that was so thick with branches I could not get a count.  By the time I got to 10 Mile I was pretty whopped from the snow and scrambling over miles of down trees and stopped for the night.  It got worst.  In the 4 miles, to the park boundary, there were 150 down trees.  368 down trees between Spike Camp and the park boundary on the Duck.   Only 1 tree for the next 6.7 miles, all the branches removed from the trail, good tread and few swampy spots.  Stepping across the park boundary into the Brothers Wilderness was like stepping into another world.  It makes it very clear how much the trail crews do to make life easier for the rest of us.  Two thumbs up for the WTA and other organizations for their terrific work on the trails.

First Divide was, obviously, still under quite a bit of snow.  I could not tell if anyone had been by that way recently, although the Staircase ranger seemed to think I was the first; hard as that is to believe.  There were footprints wandering around but I finally realized coming down into Home Sweet Home that at least many of them were elk.  Backcountry Navigator on my Droid Bionic made it possible to stay at least close to the trail on the way up.  Heading down I just followed the elk prints into the upper Home Sweet Home meadow and then the GPS to get down to clear trail.

The snow was mostly soft and I did a little postholing, but not bad so long as I steered clear of protruding branches or obvious soft spots.  I did wear microspikes through most of the snow and I am sure they helped a bit.  And the ice axe was very handy following the elk into Home Sweet Home, nearly straight down the slope.

The weather was decent, although not great.  I saw a few brief moments of sun, had half an hour of rain up in the snow on Saturday, and it was generally cool and damp.  The snow appears to be melting rapidly now and with sun and warm predicted, a lot more of it should be melted out soon.

Hit the treadhead Sunday just after noon, waited for a couple hours for my ride to Staircase and then home.  A trip full of memories.

One of my favorite bridges in the park is this one over Madeline Creek  on the Skokomish trail.  Just a big old log with one side flattened and a railing put up to help with balance.  The creek rushes past about 20 feet below.  Quite an exciting walk across if you have any fear of heights.

I saw elk every day out, for the first time ever.  Four different sightings of  small herds, from 4 to 10 cows.  This is the only one that posed for me long enough to get a picture.  Most of them disappeared pretty quickly.  Also saw a couple of deer and lots of bear poop.

Still quite a few Trillium, especially around 9 Stream.  Probably my favorite flower in the park.

There were also quite a few Fairy Slippers around the higher elevations.

The North Fork Skokomish running past my camp at 9 Stream, along with my own private beach access. 

Home away from home.  First time I have had my Cuben Fiber tarp from HammockGear deployed over my hammock in the wild.  A really nice, 5.2 ounce, tarp.

Mt Hopper from the Skokomish trail.

Lots of water features along the way.  This is a small stream that flows into the Skokomish up beyond 9 Stream.  Nameless on the map, but maybe 10 or 11 Stream :).

The hill behind the missing shelter at Home Sweet Home as seen from 1st Divide.

Looking back up to First Divide from the bottom of the descent in the Home Sweet Home meadow.  Quite  an interesting and slow descent in soft snow.

Looking across part of the Home Sweet Home meadow.

One of the countless streams that flows across the Duckabush trail.  In addition to fording the Duckabush itself at the Upper Duckabush Camp, I had to splash across 5 or 6 of these small streams.  Between the snow and all the fords, my feet stayed pretty wet the second day out.

The Duckabush flows across from right to left with Crazy Creek  crashing down from above.  I caught a glimpse of this through the trees and wandered over to get a picture.

Every once in awhile you see an inverted tree like the one  near the center of this picture.  The top  falls out of a tree and lands straight enough, and hard enough, to impale itself into the ground, upside down.  That would have been a bit spooky if you happened to be walking along when it happened in front of you.

A cluster of little mushrooms.  I have no idea what kind they are, but have always liked these little colonies of fungus.

Starflowers, and numerous other even smaller flowers were pretty abundant. 

A clump of Maidenhair fern, one of my favorite ferns.

Quite a bit of Bunchberry was blooming throughout the trip.

Another peak at a waterfall into the Duckabush seen through the trees from the trail.  Too tired and the undergrowth too tangled to try and get a closer picture.

This log has been here long enough that it has actually become the trail.  It perfectly overlays the trail for its entire length and you balance along the top as you head down the trail.

Quite a few Rhododendrons in bloom along the Duck. 

Don't know what this flower is, but I have always enjoyed it.  Can't find it in either of my books.

The Duckabush during one of it's milder moments.

You can see 5 trees across the trail here, with the 5th just barely visible beyond the double.  They were usually spread out a bit farther, but this was not real uncommon.  Each of these were high enough that I would swing one leg over and sit down to swing the other over.  Not to bad occasionally, but over and over and over again.

Jumbles like this required a detour.  I fought through a few of them early on, but finally gave up and looked for a way around these clumps of bushy trees.

One of the few snakes I have managed to see in the park.  This guy was sunning himself in one of those rare sunny moments.

A big cluster of Queen's Cup on the ascent up Big Hump.  Lot's of these around, but this was the nicest patch I saw.

Up near the top of Big Hump on the up stream side.  This is a left over from the 2011 fire.

A viewpoint from just below the top of Big Hump.  I remember my dad taking us up here when I was a kid.  It has a nice view of the lower valley, but the low clouds obscured the hill tops Sunday.

Looking back up at Big Hump's hump.

The lower Duckabush valley.

I passed a couple of places like this with a dripping waterfall over a rock face covered with moss, ferns and small flowers.  This one is midway down from Big Hump, heading downstream.