This entry was from the 2011 Celebrate Elwha! Writers Contest.
I think it’s a wonderful narrative and it makes me want to head
right up the Dosewallips! – The Incidental Explorer.
Story and photos by Mary Ann Kae
If you crave solitude on a day hike, it’s not difficult to find in the Olympics if you can work the geography, weather and calendar to your advantage. Head out on an off-season, mid-week day with the forecast threatening showers, and pick a destination in the Olympic rain shadow, where it’s likely to be driest. This strategy worked well on a recent pre-Memorial Day excursion to Quilcene.
The plan was to introduce my friend Yeshe to the Dosewallips River valley and see the transformations wrought by the 2002 flood which had washed out the road about three miles from the park boundary and the lightning fire in 2009 that obliterated the Lake Constance trail.
It’s hard to believe more than ten years had passed since my last visit. The Hood Canal side of the Olympics had been my nearest wilderness playground when I lived on Bainbridge Island; pilgrimages involving penitential levels of exertion to the mountain redoubt of Lake Constance were an annual event. I’ve always found high lakes compelling; the difficulty in reaching one only enhancing its allure. Author and angler John Monnett could have easily been describing Lake Constance in “Cutthroat and Campfire Tales” when he wrote
…the long grinding hike required to get there has something to do with the mystery. You have a lot of time to think on the trail – to anticipate. Usually, you can’t even see the lake you are hiking to until you are right on top of it. The last quarter mile is inevitably the steepest, requiring a scramble up a rocky slope to the shoreline. And then you see it, the sun reflected on the ripples, mystical and serene, almost tranquilizing.
We were in no shape this spring to tackle the Constance trail whatever its current condition but I was curious to see the fire damage and explore low-elevation details previously overlooked when zooming down the forestry road to the trailhead.
The east side of Puget Sound was mired in afternoon gloom as our ferry left Edmonds but promising cloud breaks on the western horizon suggested the Olympic rain shadow might allow for a dry hike the next day. On the cusp of the summer holiday season, Quilcene was even quieter than I expected. We spent a restful night at the Mount Walker Inn and woke early to raccoons scurrying across the still-dry courtyard. After fortifying ourselves with protein, sugar and caffeine at The Logger’s Landing next door, we headed down Highway 101 toward Brinnon. From there it’s a 10 mile drive up the Dosewallips River Road to its current terminus. A well-constructed foot trail with a few switchbacks climbs through a forested hillside above the new bend in the river.
Reaching the other side of the washout, the forest’s progress in reclaiming the road soon becomes apparent: alders encroach; blowdowns crisscross our path, moss advances from the road’s edge. A sense of solitude and relative remoteness descends as we’re enveloped by layered shades of glowing greenery, birdsong and the rushing of the mighty Dosewallips running clear in spring flood.
The spring bloom was on: wild rhododendrons, columbine, Solomon’s seal, Indian paintbrush. We paused often to admire weird fungi, a sky-blue robin’s egg, mossy rock outcroppings, and as we gained elevation, to peer over the road’s edge to the Dosewallips roaring below in its canyon.
The first evidence of fire damage appeared near the park boundary and within a quarter mile the scenery was transformed: green canopy gave way to grey, skeletal starkness. Yet through the scarred stands, green was emerging; the slow process of forest regeneration had begun. Ancient moss and lichen still clung to some boulders and trees, inexplicable survivors of the flames that had roared past.
We arrived at the Lake Constance trailhead in a light drizzle. The trail sign had been re-set and the route marked with new tags. We picked our way up the slippery staircase to a house-sized boulder whose overhang provided a dry spot for a lunch break.
Over the years I’d visited Lake Constance at least a dozen times. On one trip I’d deliberately planned not to ascend to the lake, remaining instead on the lower trail to explore and photograph the cascades of Constance Creek and its ancient field of giant boulders entwined with tree roots. Surveying the scene, I wistfully reflected that the forest as I’d known it was gone for my lifetime.
Considerable controversy surrounds the issue of whether and how to repair the road to restore access to the upper Dosewallips. Both sides present compelling arguments.
As one who doesn’t relish the prospect of the mileage added to future Lake Constance trips, I can sympathize with those who want the National Park Service and the Forest Service to remedy this situation in consideration of their mandate of access for all.
On the other hand, the park has gained a fantastic trail with exceptional potential for biking, horseback riding and easy hiking for the young, old and “vertically challenged”. I believe it’s possible to come up with more creative solutions to the road issue than have been proposed which might better suit both the environment and this time of shrunken federal budgets.
As we snacked on the truck tailgate that evening and reflected on the rejuvenating effects of just a single day in silence and solitude, I recalled that Gordon Hempton identified an area in Olympic National Park as one of only three places left in Washington State where one could still experience natural silence – that is, the absence of human-created noise – for extended periods:
An esoteric value in some ways, for the framers of public land policy. But one which most of us who are drawn to wild places intuitively understand.
© 2012 by Mary Ann Kae
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