Cabins of the Elwha River Valley

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 40 mile round-trip – Time out: 5 days

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Pet Friendly: No

Highest Elevation point: 2,000 ft.

February 13th 2013

We parked at the Whiskey Bend Trailhead at eight in the morning. It was 35 degrees, overcast, but blessedly there was no rain or snow falling. We were headed up the Elwha River Valley on a five-day, winter backpacking adventure.

Earlier in the winter, my friend Donovan, a former Olympic National Park Ranger, asked if I wanted to spend a week exploring historical sites and cabins up the Elwha River. Donovan wrote that we’d be following the Press Expedition’s route of the winter of 1889-1890. We’d try to get as far upstream as a long-gone hunting camp from the 1930’s called Crackerville. Donovan concluded, “Pretty heady stuff. But this is as far as we will go as dragons are known to inhabit the upper reaches of the Elwha during the winter.”

My calculations added up to fifty miles round-trip. Shivering, not with thoughts of dragons, but with memories of past winter camping trips, I hesitated. Don’t worry Donovan said, we’d be hiking with Bruce, a savvy Backcountry Ranger here at the Park, and as long as we kept to our schedule we’d sleep under cover in the Ranger’s cabins. Day one would be a twelve mile hike to Elkhorn Guard Station.

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Fort Flagler

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: various – Time out: various

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: Yes

February 19th 2012

Fort Flagler State Park is one of the most beautiful parks on the Olympic Peninsula. It would be a wonderful day trip if you are staying in Sequim, but I’ve been fortunate to stay overnight at Fort Flagler on most President’s Day Weekends over the last decade. That’s because my church rents one of the historic army barracks for that weekend each year. I’ve had many wonderful memories; strolling, hiking, exploring, or just sitting on the bluff enjoying the expansive view of Puget Sound.

Fort Flagler State Park

For over a hundred years, Fort Flagler along with Fort Worden and Fort Casey guarded the entrance to Puget Sound, protecting us from a naval invasion. Together the forts with their big guns were known as the “Triangle of Fire.” Today, Fort Flagler State Park with its silent gun batteries is a wonderful place to explore. Walking down narrow stairways, through dark tunnels dripping with water; it’s easy to imagine you’re in the dungeon of a medieval castle. It takes bravery and bright flashlights to explore the old fort – especially at night.

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Olympic Discovery Trail to Sequim Bay Estuary

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: Up to ten miles Time out: 4 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: yes

February 7th 2012.

Walking along the Olympic Discovery Trail from the Holiday Inn Express, Sequim to the estuary at the head of Sequim Bay was a wonderful way to spend a sunny winter afternoon.

For the most part, the Olympic Discovery Trail follows the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St Paul Railway’s railroad bed from Port Townsend 130 miles to the Pacific Coast. Though there are still many miles left to complete, much of the trail is paved and well-maintained.

I walked across the street from the hotel to the trail and turned east. The wide paved path cut across a mile of open field. I walked past streams and swampy pools where life lay dormant just waiting for the spring that was soon to come. The open fields ended as I walked into the forest and onto the huge Johnson Creek Trestle.

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Guided Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge 2012

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: one mile – Time out: 90 minutes

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Pet Friendly: No

January 8th 2012.

“It’s not called Hurricane Ridge for nothing,” Olympic National Park Ranger and Naturalist Janis Burger said. So I dressed appropriately and checked the road conditions, but there were no worries; the road was bare, the sun shining and the air brisk – perfect for the guided snowshoe walk that Ranger Janis was leading that afternoon.

Video of Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge

Ranger Janis helped us strap on our snowshoes at the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center. The snowshoes were lightweight pads of aluminum tubing, leather lacing and flexible harnesses that strapped around my hiking boots. In no time our group of twenty-five was headed across the snow. Even the family from Texas, experiencing snow for the very first time, was walking along the snowy trail with the ease of mountain-men of old.

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New Dungeness Lighthouse

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 11 miles – Time out: 6 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: No

December 6th 2011.

I was disappointed that the day I chose to walk to the New Dungeness Lighthouse in Sequim was so gray, but in the end, that day ended up being a lucky choice. This was my second try at reaching the lighthouse. Recently I took a late autumn walk along the Dungeness Spit but had to turn back because of storm tides. Above the beach, the spine of the Spit is crisscrossed with piles of drift logs. Too high a tide and you have to climb over slippery logs – dangerous business guaranteed to end your journey. This time my friend Joel and I checked the tide chart – no abnormal high tides, so we set off on the five and a half miles to the lighthouse.

New Dungeness Lighthouse 2011

We walked the length of the Dungeness Spit on beach rocks and hard packed sand. The salt air smelled clean. Seagulls cried. We saw waterfowl and a seal swimming in the distance. We met a birder searching for a snowy owl that she said lived on the spit.

It took us a couple of hours to reach The New Dungeness Lighthouse. We left behind dry sand and brown grasses when we passed through the gate. In the center of a lush lawn rose the stark white lighthouse. It loomed into the slate sky. This would be a perfect photo if today was a sunny day, I thought once again. Where was the famous Sequim Blue-Hole? I was still cursing my bad luck with the weather when Marcia Bromley bounded over and introduced herself.

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At New Dungeness Lighthouse

A Week as a Keeper at New Dungeness Lighthouse

February 3 thru 11, 2011

By Marcia Bromley

A Week as a Keeper at New Dungeness Lighthouse

A Week as a Keeper at New Dungeness Lighthouse

My Husband, David, and I have found over the years that spending a week at New Dungeness Lighthouse, the historic gem at the end of a 5 mile long sand spit sandwiched between the Olympics and the Straits of Juan deFuca, is as close to paradise as we could ask for. So on an early evening in February we loaded up the New Dungeness Light Station Association’s trucks with a week’s worth of food and clothing, and our wonderful drivers took us out for our 8th stay. Our co-keeper this trip was Dean Carter, and we anticipated a wonderful week. We were not disappointed.

There are three bedrooms in the Keeper’s Quarters, each one beautiful. This trip we chose the Baker Room, a second floor room facing east towards the tip of the spit, with a magnificent view of Mount Baker, when it’s visible! And we were lucky this week to have lots of clear skies and opportunities to see the room’s namesake.

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Railroad Bridge Park

By Bret Wirta

Railroad Bridge Park

January 11th, 2011

Distance: Just a couple of miles.

Hiking Time: An hour or so

Elevation: Around sea level

Olympic Discovery Trail Report

My daughter Becca and her friend Casey and I wanted to go skiing at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park but the road was icy and a big snow storm was forecasted for that afternoon, so instead we decided to go where you can be outdoors on the Peninsula anytime of the year, the Olympic Discovery Trail. The ODT is a non-motorized, walking and bicycling trail that, when complete, will stretch for 100 miles from Port Townsend on the east end to the Pacific Ocean at La Push on the west end. Most of the route follows the abandoned Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad right-of-way, so it’s flat and smooth with many fine views along the shoreline of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Over a third of it is completed and another third is funded and being constructed.

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Happy Lakes Ridge Trail Hike Review

By Bret Wirta

Distance: 5 miles One-Way. Elevation Gain: 3,750 Feet.

January 26th 2010.

I parked at the Happy Lakes Ridge trailhead in the early morning darkness. The trailhead is easily reached by entering the Olympic National Park at the Elwha River entrance and driving along a narrow but well-maintained road. With my flashlight, I read the sign that Happy Lake was five miles up the ridge. I was hoping that equipped with my new trekking poles (a thoughtful Christmas present from my wife) gaiters and slip-on spikes, I could hike through the snow to the lake. Today I was going to become a winter hiker!

I have never hiked in the winter before. I’ve snow-shoed plenty as a boy in New Hampshire trying to keep up with my Grandfather, a legendary trapper and I’ve cross-country skied with my wife on many beautiful trails, but during the winter my hiking boots have always sat idle. It wasn’t until I began to follow the winter-time exploits of Olympic hikers that I realized that there is a different kind of adventure on Olympic Peninsula hiking trails waiting for me up high in the mountains.

Nighttime on the trail

Nighttime on the trail

I hit the trail around six forty-five when it was still dark as night, my headlamp showing me the path. The trail was dry and well-maintained. The temperature was in the mid-thirties and the stars were twinkling through the trees. As soon as I could see the faintest outline of the trail I switched my headlamp off. I’ve always enjoyed the sensation of walking in the forest at night. It’s a feeling of being enveloped by the natural world while the brightly lit, busy world is far away. When I was a teen-ager I built a log cabin and lived in it for a year or so. Like Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond, my cabin wasn’t far from civilization, but it was deep enough in the woods for me to begin to appreciate the darkness and silence of the nighttime forest.

CLICK HERE for PDF – Happy Lake Ridge ONP Map to trailhead

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