In the Footsteps of Manganese Miners: Exploring the Crescent Mine

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 3 miles – Time out: 4 hours

Degree of Difficulty: 1 – Elevation Gain: none

Pet Friendly: yes

August 14th 2013

Exploring the Crescent Mine 2013

I have a confession: I’m lured by stories of vanished gold, hidden gems, old maps, and especially all manner of lost mines – so I was very excited when my friend Lynn Johnson asked me to take a walk along the Olympic Discovery Trail and visit the abandoned Crescent Mine. Andy Stevenson joined us. Not only is Andy a past president of the Olympic Discovery Trail, but he knows his geology. Andy holds a degree in mine exploration from Stanford and has explored for copper, gold, and uranium. He still mines recreationally now and then on a couple of gold claims his grandfather left him. When I asked Andy how he became a miner he said, “Learnt it at my grandpappy’s knee,” Turns out Andy’s grandfather was also a Stanford trained engineer and successful miner.

Lynn, Andy and I drove to the west end of Lake Crescent and parked our cars at the turn-off on the north side of SR-101 at the intersection of the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road. We walked down to the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) to start our journey.

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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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Historic Canoe trip on Lake Mills

Story and Photo by Andy Sallee, Sequim, WA

Andy's brother Mike Sallee beside canoe on Lake Mills

Andy’s brother Mike Sallee beside canoe on Lake Mills

Andy Sallee sent in this wonderful story about his canoe trip from years ago. Andy says, "I'll miss Lake Mills when it’s gone and look forward to sharing stories about it with my grandchildren." Thanks for preserving a slice of history, Andy. - The Incidental Explorer

Summer 1997. Our Adventure started on a beautiful morning at Lake Mills, which is located on the North side of the Olympic Mountain range in Washington State. My brother, Mike and I had paddled a old canoe on this lake years earlier as teenagers and decided it was time to go back twenty years later to the lake we had remembered so fondly and take a day trip in my new Hilderbrand canoe. As far as I know there were only about ten of these canoes manufactured. My canoe is a fiberglass composite with cedar strip gunnels and seats. It is 17 feet long, and weighs 56 lbs. It is a yellow vessel for good visibility on the water. It is the coolest canoe anyone could ever have. I have paddled many miles in this boat on lakes, bays, and rivers. It is easy for me to say it has been my most cherished material possession.

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In the Footsteps of Admirals and Promoters:
Fishing for the Beardslee Trout

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

"The hardest fighting fish, the gamiest fish, in all the world is the Lake Crescent Beardslee." – E. B. Webster.

June 1st 2013

It was opening day of trout season on Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. I dressed quietly in the grayness of the early morning, slipped on my fishing vest and crept down the creaky stairs and through the dark lobby in my stocking feet. I laced up my boots on the front porch of Lake Crescent Lodge. I was hoping I’d catch a rare Beardslee Trout, I just didn’t want to catch the very last one.

I walked half a mile through a forest path to the boat landing at the Storm King Ranger’s Station. There my fishing guide Sean from Waters West, and my friend Robert were waiting for me. We pushed off from the dock onto the big, deep lake. Robert was sitting in the bow, I was sitting in the stern and Sean was rowing at the gunnels. It was calm in the early morning. The cool air was thick and moist. There were only a few cabins and houses on the far shore. Most of the shoreline was mountains covered in big firs that rose straight up from the edge of the water and where wisps of clouds floated among their peaks. High above was a flat-gray sky, but blue-green Lake Crescent refused to reflect the slate color, such was the lake’s powerful beauty.

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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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Storm King Trail

Story by Patrick Wu

Photos by Patrick Wu and Bret Wirta

Roundtrip distance: 4 miles – Time out: ~3 hours

Elevation gain: 2000 ft – Degree of difficulty: 2

June 1st 2013

Lake Crescent Lodge

Lake Crescent Lodge

For those wanting to get some beautiful views of the Olympics without having to commit too much time to any one hike, Storm King Trail near Lake Crescent is a great option; short enough to complete in a morning or an afternoon, and steep and physically demanding enough to make you feel like you really earned it once you’ve reached the overlook. At the overlook you’ll find incredible views of the lake and valley below. Your total time on the trail could easily vary by an hour either way depending on the traveling speed of your party, as the large majority of the two mile one-way trip consists of steep switchbacks, and some may want to spend more time relaxing at the summit than others. In any case, I would certainly recommend this short hike to the overlook of Mount Storm King to anyone seeking a classic view of Lake Crescent who doesn’t mind sweating a little bit on his or her way up!

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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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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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