Friday, June 18, 2010

Back to Rachel Lake -Dayhike

All the pics here (click me)

Natalie had to grade all weekend so I was going to get back out backpacking but due to a prior commitment on Saturday I turned my plans into a day hike.

I headed out of Seattle around 9am and headed the hour and a half to the trailhead out I-90.  I have done this hike quite a few times at this point and it is one of my favorite quick getaways.  It is 4 miles in to a beautiful alpine lake.  The first 3 miles are pretty flat and then you gain 1300-1800 feet in the last mile or so.

I was not sure what the conditions were going to be this time of year so I packed several items to make it a good trip.  I carried my flyrod on one side of the pack in case the lake was snow free (link to fishing trip in 2008), and on the other side I packed my ice axe figuring that if I had enough time I might try to get back up to Alta Peak (link to this hike in 2008).

Well both the fish and snow gods were against me and I did not use either of my toys to fish or climb but it was a great 8 mile dayhike.  The lake was still snow covered and because of how low the snow started (3000ft) it took me a bit longer to get up to the lake and I did not have time to attempt Alta.  So I ended up hanging out in the sun up at the lake for about an hour taking in the silence and looking out over the lake with a cool blue ring around it where it was starting to melt.

The highlight of the trip ended up being down in the valley where the hike is generally a little boring.  All of the wildflowers were out in force.  The ground was packed with trillium and some other yellow flower (pictured above) that I feel like I should know the name of.  There were dozens of snow melt waterfalls running down the ridges and it smelled like spring.  Check out the pictures link above to see all of the flowers.

It was a great day to soak up some sun and I look forward to getting back out.  Hoping to head out on a legit backpacking trip in the next few weekends so more coming up.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Long weekend in the Enchanted Valley (Olympic National Park)

You can see all the pics here (click me)

What a great weekend!  Saturday morning I met Dan and Laura at their house with my backpack all loaded up for the weekend.  Natalie had to sit this one out so that she could finish up some grading so I was playing the part of the third wheel.  

We left Seattle at about 9am and headed out to Olympic National Park.  True to form we planned this trip the night before but as always it worked out great.  The destination was the Enchanted Valley in the south west side of the park.  Choices were limited as the snow line is still pretty low as I learned last weekend.  So this trip would top out at around 2500 feet and keep us under the snow.  

We stopped off at the ranger station to get our back country passes and chat with the ranger about the crowds/animals/trail plan/etc and found the whole experience very relaxed.  Generally I have a slight problem with camping in national parks just because there is so much red tape.  You can only camp in certain spots, you have to tell them where you are going, etc.  I understand this is because the park is so heavily used and it is necessary but it still always bothers me a bit.  We had the exact opposite experience.  The ranger told us that it would be pretty busy but not to worry about it.  He made a suggestion about where he would camp but that we could go where ever we wanted.  He even said, "ah just write down a site for the records but you don't have to stay there".  It was nice having this kind of relaxed attitude for a holiday weekend.  Anyway, he did tell us that he had been out a week or so ago and saw 14 bears, elk, and a few goats.  He told us all about what we could see and about the trail in general.  It was probably the best stop I have ever had at a ranger station.

We left the ranger station and headed up the road to the trail head.  About 20 minutes later we arrived to a packed parking lot.  There were license plates from Virginia, Utah, Oregon, California, and obviously Washington.  This was going to be good as long as it was not too busy.

The plan was to hike in either 7 or 10 miles and setup a base camp for the next two nights.  The trail was beautiful.  There were waterfalls all along the trail, the wild flowers were starting to come out, and we were hiking in a misty rain that actually felt really nice.  As we went up the valley we started to see more and more evidence of elk.  There started to be more game trails spread around.  We did not see any animals however and were soon at the campground 7 miles out.  We were feeling good and decided to push another 3 miles to the next campsite.

The forest kept getting thicker and I really felt like I was walking through a movie set.  The trees were huge!!

After another hour or so we rolled into our spot 10 miles out.  There were quite a few people out there but we never felt crowded.  On the way out we really did not see too many people on the trail.  We ended up camping on a sandbar that was set back from the Quinalt river a bit.  I believe we may have camped at the elk latrine as there was tons of evidence of them around.  There were several fresh piles of bear poop about 15 feet from our campsite as well so we made sure to pick out a good location for the bear bag that night.

We had a great time chatting away around the fire until well after dark when we decided to turn in.  We all had high hopes of seeing a bear the next day.  Little did we know....

I woke up first Sunday morning and stumbled off to pull the bear bag down out of the tree and retrieve the coffee I needed to wake me up.  I was half expecting to see the bag on the ground with the contents spread around (you never know how clever the local animals are) but was happy to find our food hanging in the tree just like we had left it the night before.  I carried everything back to camp and made a cup of coffee.  I kicked back, sipped my coffee and watched the far river bank hoping to see a black ball of fur.  I had nearly finished my coffee when I decided that I would head down to the river and see if I could find any bear prints.  Dan and Laura were still sacked out  but I figured they would be up shortly.  After a great walk, and having not seen any bear prints, I walked back over to camp to find Laura and Dan staring into the woods behind our site.  Turns out that about 30 feet from our campsite a huge black bear had decided to bed down for the night.  This was the first black bear I have seen on the west coast and it was massive.  He did not seem to care at all that we were over in camp and would periodically look over, yawn and go back to sleep for a while.  Turns out the whole morning while I was staring across the river bank hoping to see a bear all I had to do was turn around.  Eventually our bear woke up and silently slipped off into the woods.

We had a bit of a slow start Sunday, it was vacation after all, and around 11 we headed up the trail with our daypacks.  We headed 4.5 miles up into the enchanted valley and were blown away by how beautiful it was.  There were waterfalls coming off of 3000ft cliffs, crazy river crossings, and bears bears bears.  We saw 4 bears during the day with one far off on a meadow, two just off of the main trail and another one that I spooked on the way back to camp as he was walking up the trail.  We saw one elk perched up on a bank high above the trail just keeping an eye on everyone.  Neither words nor pictures can do that hike justice.  We all agreed it was our favorite hike in Washington so far.

Back in camp we ate dinner and were asleep by 9pm.  I believe it took me about 12 seconds to fall fast asleep.

The rain cranked up a notch Sunday night which made for some great sleeping weather.  We all woke up feeling rested Monday morning.  Dan and Laura had a bit of a flood issue but luckily they were both dry for the most part.  As we were drinking coffee Dan spotted a bear across the river so we went down and watched him for a while.

We broke camp and started the 10 mile hike back to the car.  The trail was extremely muddy from all of the holiday traffic and the rain overnight so it was slow going. I managed to spook another bear on the way out.  We were low enough in the valley that I had stopped looking for wildlife when I heard something big move over to my right.  Turns out I had come around a corner and was about 4 feet from a big bear.  I think he was about as surprised as I was so we had a little stare off and I told him he should move along.  After a bit he wandered off down the trail.  That got my heart going pretty fast!

The rain did not let up Monday but after about 4 hours we were back at the car.  We were all feeling the 29 miles we had put in over the last three days and were happy to change into dry clothes and take off our packs.

It was an amazing trip and my only regret was that Natalie could not make it.