In the Footsteps of Early Geologists:
Searching for Clues to how the Olympics were Formed

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 15 miles – Time out: 3 days

Degree of Difficulty: 3 – Highest Elevation: 7,000 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

It’s easy to decipher the geology of many parts of the world because the record in the rocks is accessible, but not so here on the Olympic Peninsula. Here the jumbled valleys, dense forests, and thick glaciers conspire to obscure the layers of rock below. It took a century for three different geologists to uncover clues to a unifying creation theory. This is their story along with my three-day journey up the Dungeness River watershed to locate the final bit of enigmatic evidence that almost prevented the theory from being written. – The Incidental Explorer

Map - In the Footsteps of Early Geologists by Sequim artist Per Berg

Map – In the Footsteps of Early Geologists by Sequim artist Per Berg

September 22, 2015. It was the first day of autumn, but at the Dungeness River trailhead the weather was still all summery sunshine and blue sky. In addition to the pleasant weather, I was fortunate to be backpacking with two of my favorite Olympic National Park Rangers, Bruce and Donovan. Their years of roving about the Olympic Peninsula meant this duo usually knew the answers to my questions down to the minute details, but the questions I hoped to answer on this trip were big ones: namely how were the Olympic Mountains formed and who uncovered the answers?

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In the Footsteps of Sawmills and Timber Beasts:
Searching for the Snow Creek Logging Company

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 5 miles – Time out: 6 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Highest Elevation: 800 ft.

Pet Friendly: Yes

November 5th 2014

Searching for Snow Creek Logging Company - Per Berg map

Searching for Snow Creek Logging Company – Per Berg map. Click map to enlarge

A century ago, the Snow Creek Logging Company had a large camp in the hills of Miller Peninsula southeast of Blyn, WA. The company, one of many on the Olympic Peninsula, cut millions of board feet of logs from 1917 to the 1930’s. One day in November, I decided to go and search for clues to the camp on the old dirt roads and paths between Sequim Bay and Discovery Bay. The drive between the head of the two bays, along the curve of SR-101 is ten miles, but hiking through the forest, straight across the neck of Miller Peninsula, the distance was half that. If the logging roads on my map actually existed, I hoped I could find the site of the camp and make it out of the woods before the early winter darkness.

I began my walk at 10:30am at the misty shore of Sequim Bay. There were few opportunities to earn quick and easy cash in the pioneer economy of the Pacific Northwest in the 1850’s; a farm took years to clear, and trapping, fishing or prospecting were specialized trades. But then there was logging. Logs paid cash, and on the Olympic Peninsula there were huge stands of timber right on the shoreline. The big trees only had to be cut, tumbled into the water and the cash-money pocketed. The logs were rafted to sawmills while the lumber hungry cities of the West cried for more.

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Ski and Snowshoe on Hurricane Ridge

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: various – Time out: All day

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Elevation: 5,240

Pet Friendly: No

January 26th 2013

The morning was sunny in Sequim so Trish and I set off for a day of outdoor adventure with our good friends, Joel and Lynne. We carefully drove the winding road up Mt. Angeles and parked at The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area. The ticket seller told us the Poma Lift wasn’t running because it needed a new cable. Without the Poma Lift the diamond and double diamond trails were closed too. People were skiing at the rope tow, so Joel bought us four tickets and we carried our skis to the base of the slope.

The whirring rope had slipped through my hands and burned a hole in my leather gloves before I could grasp tightly enough. Next time I’ll wear work gloves. The rope was heavy and my body was heavy and I had felt all of that in my arms and back as I was pulled up the hill. I concentrated on keeping my toes pointed straight and letting go of the rope at just the right moment at the top of the hill. This old-fashioned rope tow was not easy, but it was an unpretentious way to ascend that hill, though not as unpretentious as hiking up with your skis over your shoulder, I suppose. A rope tow is not a chairlift.

Lynne is ready to ski

Lynne is ready to ski

Skiing up the hill, while holding the rope, was a continuation of skiing down the hill. That was different than being carried up the hill on a chairlift, which is a lazy break from skiing, and nowadays, a time to check Facebook on your phone. But a chairlift is easier on your back than a rope tow, and I should have thought of my wife’s back. A rope tow is not a place for those with back problems.

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Cape Flattery

Story by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Photos by Bret Wirta

Distance: 1/2 mile – Time out: depends

Degree of Difficulty: 0 – Elevation: not much

Pet Friendly: Yes

October 29th 2012

The trail to Cape Flattery is a short walk, but it may take you a while to get back to your car depending on how much time you spend staring at the sea.
My brother Mark traveled from New Hampshire to visit last autumn. Of course it rained the entire week – hard. The deluge soaked us while hiking along Hurricane Ridge, silted up the Bogachiel River and ruined our fishing, and reduced the number of salmon trying to leap upstream at the view area at Sol Duc Falls to a lone fish thrown against the rocks by the roiling, thundering whitewater. But the one thing the rain couldn’t suppress was the awesomeness of Cape Flattery.

We drove to Cape Flattery along the northwest edge of the Olympic Peninsula on Route 112. We passed empty beaches and lonely coastline. We parked at the trailhead. It’s a short trail with many wooden steps and boardwalks sloping down to the sea. The path was wet and slippery so watch your step.

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Late Autumn Walk on the Dungeness Spit

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 3 miles – Time out: two hours

The Dungeness Spit

The Dungeness Spit

Degree of Difficulty: 1

Pet Friendly: partially

November 22nd 2011.

The Dungeness Spit is the longest natural spit in the United States. It’s a protected strip of sand, grass and driftwood that is part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. I was intent on visiting the New Dungeness Lighthouse on the tip of the Dungeness Spit, but last night a storm lashed the area and another was headed our way that afternoon. I had reservations for a land and sea tour that was to leave the John Wayne Marina and take me to the tip of the spit but the captain had to cancel the tour.

Instead of giving up I called my hiking friend, Garry Huff and he agreed to walk the five miles with me to the New Dungeness Lighthouse. Gary is a retired executive who spends many of his days climbing the peaks of the Olympics. He wrote about 43 different day climbs in Peaks in the Olympics Ranked from Easiest to Most Difficult. Someday I hope to follow Gary’s footsteps and hike all forty-three peaks too.

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Hurricane Hill Hike

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 6.2 miles (in winter) Time: 4 hours

Elevation gain: 515 feet

Bret’s Difficulty Rating: Class 1

November 1st 2011.

If you are looking for an easy hike into the high-country of the Olympics where you can impress friends or relatives with spectacular mountain scenery, this short and mostly paved trail to the summit of Hurricane Hill is a good choice; especially since almost all your elevation gain is accomplished by your automobile engine driving you up the road to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center parking lot. Hurricane Hill trail is above tree line and sits directly above the Strait of Juan de Fuca so you’re usually subject to high winds and inclement weather, except for the day I hiked there – where I experienced blue sky and absolute silence.

Hurricane Hill Hike 2011

The road from sea level at Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center climbs up over a mile. Drive with caution; in the summer the two-lane highway is very busy and almost any other time of the year it can be icy. When you arrive at the visitor’s center continue past to the Hurricane Hill trailhead. In the off season that last section of road may be closed which will add 3 miles to your roundtrip.

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Salmon Fishing on the Hoh River

By Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Distance: drifting a few miles – – Time: all day

Rating: Lots of Fun and Excitement

October 11th 2011

Hoh River Fishing 2011

The Hoh River is a magical. Not because the river runs through one of the few temperate rain forests in the United States, but instead the river is magical because this time of year so many salmon appear.

I was lucky to be fishing on the Hoh with my friend Tom. Our families have enjoyed the outdoors together over the years, from canoeing on the Missouri River to camping in the North Cascades. Tom is a fly fisherman who, like most of us busy trying to earn a living, doesn’t fish as much as he should. Pat Neal was our guide. I went steelhead fishing on the Bogachiel River with Pat this summer. Pat is a Peninsula native who’s had many careers including logger, guide and now writer. Many have enjoyed Pat’s witty books about his outdoor exploits.

We didn’t shove our drift boat into the current until ten. There were dark clouds roiling about. While the river was open and spacious, the dense forest grew right to the edge of the bank. The rows of trees closest to the river had toppled over in piles of branches and roots, like people in a crowd being pushed forward against their will. We were alone on the river, nothing but trees, water, and sky. Pat steered the boat with his oars. Tom and I sat in our seats in the bow, our poles in their holders, lines far downstream with shiny lures fluttering down deep in the cold river. It was good to be out on the river.

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Mount Zion

By John

September 05, 2011

Trailhead

Trailhead

Thirteen of us in three vehicles arrived at the trailhead at about 9:00 AM. It was a perfect day for a hike, no clouds, not too hot, no wind, and very few bugs. The trailhead is well marked with a lot of good information, like distances, elevations, and what we could expect to see. It was a little chilly at first, but after a short walk up the trail we were up to optimum hiking temperature.

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Green Mounatin Hike

by John D

NOVEMBER 22, 2010

Off we went.

Off we went.

I got up at 6:30 AM and went out to retrieve the morning paper. I noticed a few snowflakes, but there was nothing on the ground. I checked the latest weather forecast and it did not sound too bad, cold with a chance of a little snow and colder and windy in the afternoon. I read Jack’s e-mail including the part about the longstanding tradition of Goats getting out no matter the weather, but the risk/reward consideration for him was to not go. I decided to give it a go, with the final decision to be made at the Poulsbo meeting place. I left the house at 7:25 AM and noticed that it was now snowing enough to be of some concern. Emergency personnel were responding to a vehicle off the highway. Someone else in a 4 wheel drive truck was attempting to get back on the highway from the median. Hmmm. When I arrived at the meeting place I met Frank and Laura. After discussing the risk/reward considerations we decided that Tunnel Creek did not seem so attractive. Frank suggested Green Mountain. Laura said she had never been there. Green Mountain it was. We left promptly at 8:00 AM. If anyone arrived late, sorry.

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