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.

Then we had to cram it all into these pathetically inadequate, undersized carrying sacks!

A trip up the Elwha

A trip up the Elwha

It was resolved that clothes could be worn instead of packed and fishing gear could be carried. Great, we’re ready for anything.

We arrived at the trailhead about 11:00 am to wonderful, warm weather (rumors of this being a “rain” forest are manifest exaggerations by locals to keep out the riff-raff). Pulled out the packs and off we jogged. As I remember I was clad in Jeans, fishing pants, shorts, three t-shirts, a sweatshirt, a jacket and my faithful fishing vest. Perfect attire for assaulting the bowels of nature in eighty degree weather.

Okay, truth be told, my pack must have weighed 90 pounds. A mere feather in the back of this 57 year old mule! Nonetheless, it was shouldered and, so as to not embarrass the daughter with a mere 50 pounds to bear, I stumbled onto the trail, feigning that I was overloaded.

The first seventeen miles flew past (half – mile!) and before we knew it we were out of sight of the parking area! My vocabulary at this point was reduced to grunts of ecstasy.

A mere nine (three) hours later I was on the verge of complete physical and emotional collapse when we gracefully plunged down a steep cliff the trail forced us to follow and emerged upon the most beautiful sight I probably ever beheld, a forest glen with the Elwha just across the sweet, grassy expanse. Camp!

A trip up the Elwha

A trip up the Elwha

The pack was thrown (dropped) to the ground and disengorged. The tent set up, food hung from the branches and camp became home.

For the next two days I ate as much food as any human on this planet and laid on my pad hoping my screaming body would recover somewhat from the disgusting abuse the two mile walk in had invoked.

This level of activity did have one positive result. The afternoon of the second day a deer and her fawn were grazing across the pasture. Their concern by my presence was so significant that over the course of the next hour they gradually worked their way into camp and literally ambled within ten feet of where I was reclining. I think they perceived me as either a rock or a dead person. The latter was not far from reality.

The fish were safe in the river from my pathetic angling skills but one nine inch volunteer did grab the hook of my daughter as she was trying to untangle her line. This impetuous trout was dragged to the edge of the river when, as I was trying to assist, my daughter decided to jerk the line and snap her leader from the hook. At least I wasn’t required to actually touch the slimy little sucker!

A trip up the Elwha

A trip up the Elwha

Despite my superior abilities to recover and the significant quantities of food stock consumed, I swear my pack gained ten pounds for the trip out. This was all uphill, against the wind, across barbed wire and twice as far as our entry path.

At one point we encountered one of the Rangers, a very fit and attractive young lady. I’m fairly certain she told the entire region about the old idiot with his daughter that thought a pack the size of a Volkswagon was normal. She smiled politely as we passed and graciously didn’t comment on what was obviously going through her mind.

I can’t wait for next summer to do it all again. The Elwha will change forever and this paradise will all disappear.

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