Coming of Age on the Elwha

A Father’s Journey

By John Philbeck

Summer 2009

A trip up the Elwha

A trip up the Elwha

It is required of all fathers to indoctrinate their innocent children into the wonderful world of wilderness packing, fishing and camping. This rite of passage for emerging generations results in ill advised, poorly planned and outrageously idealistic excursions by the male parent.

My trip up the Elwha with our daughter in 2009 was the obvious exception to this certainty!

It was a beautiful July morning when our two heros set forth in the intrepid 1989 Carmy wagon. The trip had been meticulously planned and developed over almost the entire last week. Packs were rented from the local outfitter in Seattle. Meals had been carefully considered and assembled with the stove and utensils. The tent had been found in the back corner of the shed and sleeping bags, gear, clothes and pads had been assembled in perfect order.

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Cameron Creek and Grand Valley Backpacking Adventure

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 30 miles – Time out: 3 days

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Highest Elevation: 6,773 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

July 30th 2013

This backpacking adventure will take you into the interior of Olympic National Park. Starting at Slab Creek and ending at Deer Park is a 30 mile adventure that will take you over two mountain passes. It’s not easy and our family ran into some unexpected obstacles. It’s not easy getting three college kids with busy summers together for a three-day wilderness outing, but after much planning, convincing, cajoling, rescheduling and compromising, the morning of our annual family outdoor adventure arrived. We drove to the Slab Camp Trailhead and at 8am slid on our backpacks. My wife Trisha lifted her pack gingerly; she had managed to remain active even with a decade-old back injury. My son Garrett, winced as he slid into his hiking boots; he had a broken toe. Nonetheless, Garrett and Trisha, along with my nephew Nate, set the pace. Bringing up the rear, my daughter Becca and I chatted about past adventures, but I was too anxious to talk much about this year’s hike; the most difficult backpacking journey I had ever planned for my family.

We hiked though rhododendrons that must have looked beautiful when they bloomed earlier in the summer. We brushed aside Horsetail fronds that were overhanging the trail. Olympic National Park botanist Joshua Chenoweth told me that it was, “Probably field horsetail (Equisetum arvense). It is not a flowering plant but a spore-producing plant in the fern family… A very ancient plant.” For a hundred million years Equisetum, ruled the understory of ancient Paleozoic forests. Unchanged, horsetail today is known as a living fossil.

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Grand Ridge with the Klahhane Club

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Roundtrip Distance: 14.8 mile roundtrip – Time out: 6 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Elevation Gain: 1,364 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

July 3, 2013

I enjoyed the day hike along Grand Ridge because much of it was above tree-line. The National Park Service lists this trail as the highest in the Olympic National Park. The trailhead starts at Deer Park Campground at 5,200 feet and climbs to over 6,500 feet. It is a remarkable trail.

The spectacular road to the trailhead on Blue Mountain was planned by the US Forest Service and constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. A CCC construction camp was located at Deer Park. The Port Angeles Evening News reported on March 21st 1934 that the road, “…is almost entirely cut out of mountain rock in the upper five miles.” And that it’s, “…one of the best forest roads possessed by the United States Forest Service.”

We parked at the lower parking lot in the Deer Park campground. The first mile of trail slopes downhill and is broad and smooth because it’s an abandoned road. This was a highway that was to be continued along Grand Ridge to Obstruction Point; just one of many roads envisioned by the Forest Service in the 1930’s using its Civilian Conservation Corp labor pool.

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Anderson Pass 2013

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 35 miles – Time out: Three days

Degree of Difficulty: 3 – Elevation: 4,464 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

June 2, 2013

I loved hiking over Anderson Pass in Olympic National Park. This three day journey has it all; lush lowland forests, subalpine terrain and a snow choked pass if you are crazy enough to hike it early in the spring. I appreciated the wilderness and the solitude, more so since early park planners had wanted to build a highway over Anderson Pass. My Anderson Pass adventure began far down in the Dosewallips River valley where until 2002 you could drive your automobile up the road to the Dosewallips Campground. That year a storm washed away a big hunk of highway 5.5 miles below the campground. A passionate debate whether to repair the Dosewallips Road followed. This debate over the Dosewallips Road was part of the bigger battle that was fought in Olympic National Park for half a century: should roads be cut through the park that would give tourists greater access, like over Anderson Pass, or should we leave the wilderness alone?

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The Enchanted Valley

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Roundtrip Distance: 27 miles – Time out: Three days

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Elevation Gain: 1472 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

April 24th 2013

My friend Donovan had been touting the Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park to me for a couple of years. Donovan is a former park ranger and we serve together on the board of the Washington’s National Parks Fund. Finally we agreed on a date, which luckily, was during an unusually warm and sunny spell of early spring weather. I found the Enchanted Valley a combination of improbable beauty and interesting history. My favorite type of adventure!

The trailhead began at Graves Creek about 15 miles northeast of Lake Quinault. For the first couple of miles we backpacked along an abandoned roadbed. The trail was wide and firm. At the top of the hill, a brush-filled parking lot and a rotting picnic table hinted that this was the end of the old road. A half mile of downhill brought us to Pony Bridge and the East Fork of the Quinault River. After we crossed the bridge, we stopped in the sunshine next to a deep blue pool. Fir scented breezes blew gently up the valley. I worked my shoulder out of my straps, sat down and rested against my pack on the soft moss.

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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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Anderson Glacier Bike and Hike

Story by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Photos by Bret Wirta and Joel Thomas

Distance: 34 mile round-trip – Time out: Three Days

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

September 12th 2012.

Anderson Glacier is a magnificent but isolated area of Olympic National Park. I’ve always wanted to backpack to Anderson Glacier, but the 34 mile round-trip translated to an extra two overnights on the trail for me, so for the sake of time I always chose a different backpacking adventure. That all changed when a park ranger told me that you can get to Anderson glacier in one day by bicycling along the washed-out Dosewallips River road to the ranger station and then hike to glaciers from there. It seemed too good to be true.

My longtime friend and fellow explorer Joel managed to get a few days off too. We chose a perfect time. It was one of those blue-sky days in mid-September where you can’t decide if it’s still late summer or early fall. It was mid-morning when we strapped on our backpacks and mounted our bicycles at the Dosewallips trailhead. The trailhead was simply where a washout had ended the road. Past the berm and a road closed sign was nothing but a long bend in the Dosewallips River against a high gravel bank. Thee-hundred feet of road had disappeared. To get past the wash-out, the National Forest Service routed a steep, winding path up over the hill and down the other side where it joined the paved road again. From there the slope of the old paved road followed the gentle rise in the river valley. We bicycled up the valley and crossed the border into Olympic National Park with ease.

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Constance Pass Backpacking Adventure

Story and photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 22 mile round-trip – Time out: 3 Days

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Elevation : 5,850 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

August 1-3 2012.

Constance Pass Video

Constance Pass is a magnificent place deep in the Olympics, a perfect family backpacking adventure. My wife Trisha, college-aged children, Becca and Garrett and I planned a three-day journey. We decided we’d pitch our tents at Boulder camp both nights. We spent most of the first day hiking up the Big Quilcene trail to Marmot Pass. After admiring the view for a bit, we turned south leaving the Quilcene watershed and descended into the headwaters of the Dungeness River. The trail down to Boulder camp was easy and dry, the heat and the sweet smell of prolific purple lupines hanging in the unusually still air. Across the valley stood the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Deception and the Grey Wolf Ridge. Our kids hiked on ahead of us.

Our kids both left for college at the end of summer. I miss them. I miss them around the house even if they are just hanging with friends or watching bad TV. But the family times I enjoy most are when we are backpacking. On the trail, without distracting cell phones or other nefarious electronics, we experience the wilderness together.

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Backpacking the Dungeness

June 1, 2012

Heather Grev

Upper Dungeness to Boulder

Upper Dungeness to Boulder

Brian and I used the Memorial Day weekend to take a wee little backpacking adventure. I know usually when we go on outings like this, I just post pictures, but I’m going to try an be better about documenting the fun.

This time of year, it’s really hard for us to find suitable trails. Most the great stuff is still under snow. We also have to avoid the National Park areas, because we want to bring our big ole mutts along and that’s a big no-no in the National Parks. Add to all of that the personal mission for both of us to keep on discovering new places to go hiking and avoid repeating trails…

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Barefooting the Ozette

Barefoot Jake

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Barefooting the Ozette

Barefooting the Ozette

I was born to be Outside. So when a friend wanted to plan an Adventure to the Coast and looked at the Weather Forecast. I got really excited and day dreamed for days about a much needed relaxing time on the Beach. I will admit I don’t much like the Coast in the Summer for the high numbers of Backpackers. I also have never stayed 2 nights in one Camp since the 90’s. The chance to play in a Photographers Playground.

I for sure couldn’t pass up the chance. Seems like every square inch there is some form of Life happening.

Trail in is over 90% Board Walk made up of new, old and really old planks that have been in place for probably longer than I have been born. Figured this would be a perfect opportunity to to break in my Luna ATS Huaraches further.

Felt great to let the feet air out, perfect Sole Pattern and the Thickness still gave me ground feel. The lacing system is a great idea, but i feel that they can be tweaked just a bit to make an Epic Backpacking Tool.

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