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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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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Heather Park Trail

Story by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Photos by Bret Wirta and Craig Romano

Distance: 10 miles – Time out: 7 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 2 – Elevation: 5,800 ft.

Pet Friendly: No

September 17th 2012.

Heather Park is a trail that gains almost 4,000 feet in elevation while giving you magnificent views of mountains, forest and sea for its entire length. Those benefits usually mean a difficult climb; unless you can drive up to top and hike the trail in reverse!

Because the Hurricane Ridge Road was constructed to give sightseers above tree-line access to Olympic National Park, hikers can drive to trailheads that are a mile high in elevation. While just negotiating the winding road from the main entrance up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center is journey enough for some, for others the road means you can enjoy hiking the ten-mile trail from the Hurricane Ridge parking lot down to the Heart O’ Hills campground far below. To take advantage of this unique situation – and not have to hike back up the mountain – you need a friend with a second car and a good guidebook. In my case, I not only had the guidebook, but because I was the high bidder at last year’s Washington’s National Park Fund auction, I had its author, Craig Romano for the day!

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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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A Novice Climbs Mt. Olympus

Story by Bret Wirta-The Incidental Explorer

Photos and video by Bret Wirta, John Gussman and Mark Grdovic

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

Degree of Difficulty:: Guide Needed!

Elevation: 7,973 ft. – Pet Friendly: No

August 10, 2012

A Novice Climbs Mt. Olympus

I’ve always felt a bit jealous of mountain climbers I met on the trail, with their rakish attitude and dangerous looking equipment dangling from their backpacks. That would soon change because I was part of a climbing team headed up glacier-covered Mt. Olympus! I was the high bidder at last spring’s Washington’s National Parks Fund fundraising auction.. Now thanks to the generous donation from Mountain Madness I was going to become a mountaineer!

Though I’ve backpacked on many wonderful trails and scrambled up my share of mountain peaks, until now I’ve never made a technical climb. A technical climb is a steep ascent on a carefully planned route using ropes, climbing boots with spikes, and other specialized gear. Besides the usual load of camping equipment, food, and clothes in my backpack, there was a new rope, harness, and heavy-duty hiking boots. Strapped to the outside of my pack in full view was my climbing helmet and titanium ice axe. My coffee cup dangled from a shiny carabineer, and poking from a thickly-lined pocket was a pair of sharp-spiked crampons. In a flurry of last minute shopping, 2nd Ascent in Ballard outfitted me right down to special lip-balm and sunglasses designed to ward of glacial glare.

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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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Marmot Pass Hike

Story and photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 11 mile round-trip – Time out: 8 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft. Pet Friendly: Yes

August 1st 2012

“Why did you choose this trail?” I asked a hiker who was lacing up his boot on the bumper of a car with California license plates. He said, “I read a guidebook. It said if for some terrible reason you’re allowed one hike in the Olympics in your lifetime, this one should be it.” I laughed and said, “That’s author Craig Romano. That’s why we’re climbing Marmot Pass too. “

It was noon when we left our car at the Upper Big Quilcene trailhead. It was good to be hiking with my family. My wife Trisha handed me my hiking poles and our teen-agers swung on their backpacks. According to Craig’s guidebook we’d see Marmots and plenty of wildflowers. It was sunny and in the mid 60’s. If our hike to Marmot Pass wasn’t as wonderful as Craig said it would be, it wouldn’t be because of the weather.

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Sol Duc Falls Loop Hike

Story by Becca Wirta

Photos and video by Bret Wirta

Distance: 6 mile round-trip – Time out: 4 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Pet Friendly: No

June 13th 2012

Sol Duc Falls Hike

Threatening clouds floated overhead as my boyfriend Patrick, my father Bret, and I embarked on our day hike in the Olympic National Park. We had chosen a manageable six mile loop starting and ending at the historic Sol Duc hot springs which lead us past beautiful Sol Duc Falls. Luckily, as we pulled up to the parking lot in front of the Sol Duc lodge the clouds broke and the sun peered through. Taking this as a positive sign, we started our trek. The three of us told stories, shared college gossip, and enjoyed our lush green surroundings. The terrain was mostly flat and the trail was well kept. We hiked through the scenic Sol Duc Camp Ground. Enormous trees shaded the campground and campsites were available by the river. My younger brother, Garrett, and I would have thoroughly enjoyed camping and playing in the river there when we were children.

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