Posts Tagged ‘Olympic National Park’

This last weekend I needed some me time, so I hopped in my car and drove to the Olympics, and as often happens, my tires led me to Lake Crescent.  No grueling climbs up cliff-sides for me this time, just a quiet stroll around the Barnes Creek peninsula and to Marymere falls.

I parked at Lake Crescent Lodge, which brought back fond and not-so-fond memories of the summer I spent working in housekeeping there.  Being already intimately familiar with the lodge grounds, which look to not have changed in the last eight years (Eight years?! Am I getting old already?) I set off immediately down the Moments in Time Trail, a nature path that winds through secondary forest that nevertheless has some very large trees, around a meadow that is all that’s left of a vanished homestead, and past a small science camp, which used to be called Olympic Park Institute, but which the new sign by its entrance tells me is now named Nature Bridge. The trail is pleasant and easy, and comes out at a gravelly beach that affords the panoramic view of the lake you can see above.

There are multiple spurs leading to and from the Moments in Time loop; I left the circle via the trail that passes the Storm King Ranger Station, and followed it past the old log building, under the highway, and all the way to Marymere falls, roughly 3/4 of a mile away.

The first section of the trail is wide and level. Shortly after it passes the beginning of the Storm King trail, it climbs ever so slightly, then crosses Barnes Creek and it’s tributary on two bridges.

From here, the trail climbs briefly but steeply up an incline and steps to reach Marymere Falls.



More stairs lead from here to an upper viewing area.

After visiting the falls it was back to the lodge for me, where I sat in the sunroom to watch the drizzling rain that was now falling into the lake and gave advice about the park to a nice group visiting from Seattle. My dawdling walk gave me three hours of forest time, just what I needed for my Saturday getaway.


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Climbing the Storm King trail above Lake Crescent is not for the faint of heart–or at very least not for the weak of legs.  Those hiking this trail will want to park at the Storm King ranger station near Lake Crescent Lodge and take the Marymeer Falls trail under Highway 101.  After somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 a mile, just after a gigantic douglas fir, the Storm King trail splits off to the left under a large boulder.  There is a sign marking the trail.  From this point on you can expect a grueling climb.  In the remaining mile of your hike you will gain about 2,000 feet of elevation.

Steep is just the beginning of the adjectives you may want to use for this trail, which climbs up the back side of a ridge bordering the lake, so no water views for you until you get to the top.

Arora Ridge is visible for much of the ascent

A third of the way up, the trail gets less steep–almost flat, even–as it passes across a small shelf through open forest that would make a good campsite, then the climb continues without a break up to a knife-edge ridge spine where you can finally look out over the lake and wonder how you got so high in so little trail.

the forested shelf

the end of this hiker's line

This is where I stopped my hike on February 2nd, though I am told the trail continues for another .4 miles or so until it abruptly stops on the side of the mountain without really reaching a destination.  If you came to climb to the top of a mountain on this trail, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  The view from the spine is a good one, if frustratingly cut off to the west by the forest you climbed there through, and a little dangerous as you have to stand or sit on the edge of a 400 foot cliff to enjoy it.

a lunch-worthy view

a view-worthy lunch: rice with smoked herring, apple with peanutbutter and nutella, homemade granola bars

maybe it's better not to look down

Some hikers might complain that the reward to effort ratio is too low to make this a worthwhile hike, yet I found it a pleasant one and would make the climb again.  Going on a sunny winter day, as I did, I found exactly what I was looking for: fresh air, open forest, lovely views, an achievable challenge, and solitude (I was the only person on the trail that day).  I would recommend this trail for cool-season hiking.  So much exertion on a south-facing ridge on a hot summer day would overheat me to great discomfort, and I am told the trail can be quite popular during vacation time.

Who needs benches?

a cheeky hiking companion

Made it to the top--I'm not quite used to such bright sun in February!

back at the lake, I pause to look at how high I was

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Presenting one of my favorite birds: the common raven.

As artist, author, and blogger, Ursula Vernon once said of distinguishing ravens from crows, if you wonder if it might be a raven, it’s just a big crow.  If you mistake it for a 747, it’s a raven.

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Rain has returned to the Olympic Peninsula, marking the end of camping season for this camper.  I don’t mind a little rain while I’m camping, but an entire weekend of the stuff just leads to an unhappy state of continuous dampness.

I had planned on visiting Kalaloch last weekend, but when the weather forecast anticipated rain and high temperatures in the low 60s, I decided maybe it wasn’t the ideal time for visiting the beach.  It turned out to be a good decision; when I looked at the weather radar during the weekend I saw heavy rain stretching down the coast.

The weekend was not a loss, however, because we went on a day trip instead: to Lake Crescent to hike on the Spruce Railroad Trail along the north shore to a deep alcove of the lake scooped out of a cliff known as the Devil’s Punchbowl.  When the weather is warm, people like to climb up the cliff and jump into the punchbowl, but it was too cold for such activities this day.  When the hike was over, we went to La Poel, a day use area on the south side of the lake, to cook dinner over a camp fire.  It was just like camping, just without to sleeping.

Now, camping season may be over for me, but don’t expect my blog to go silent.  There are many, many things I have to write about.  I still have to finish my map of Mora campground for one thing.  Expect to see more drawings and write-ups on the plants and animals of the peninsula, and I will be highlighting some of the trails and day-use areas of the park as well.  Let’s start with the Lake Crescent area while we’re here.  Here are some pictures from my day trip:

There are a couple of landslide areas on the Spruce Railroad Trail, but they have all been compacted into an acceptable trail

Leaves of three, let them be. Watch out for poison oak (or is this ivy?) along the trail! It's the only place I've seen it in the park.

The trail runs along a never-complete railroad bed.

Two abandoned tunnels can be found along the way. Park rules prohibit going inside, but you can walk up and take a look.

I don't approve of graffiti in national parks, but this guy stole my heart with his cuteness anyway.

Devil's Punchbowl

Dinner at La Poel (pronounced "La Pwell")

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We think of summer days as being sunny and warm (and sometimes they even are!), but when it comes to summer nights, things can get mighty chilly.  Even in the summer, nighttime temperatures in Olympic National Park can get down in the lower 40s, even below freezing.  Out by the coast, fog can blanket the land in chill damp for days at a time, and higher elevations mean you’re that much closer to the freezing void of outer space on a clear night (and the stars are that much more beautiful because of it).

No matter the reason, not being prepared for a cold night can lead to uncomfortable, fitful sleep, and potentially cranky campers the next day.  Here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way that can help ensure you have a warm and cozy night.

Use an appropriate tent—  For camping in the summer, you shouldn’t need anything more than a three season tent, but which tent you have still matters.  Try not to use on that’s bigger than you need.  Your body heat will keep your tent warmer than the outside air, and the smaller the space to heat, the warmer it will get.  Also keep in mind your tent’s construction.  The tent I use for camping has great ventilation–the top couple of feet underneath the small rain fly is netting–but that also means all my body heat goes right out the top of the tent!  Not very cozy when you’re camping in Yellowstone and it snows in June.  Such a situation is not hopeless, however: draping some towels or a windbreaker over the netting makes a huge difference, or if you’re really ambitious you can knit yourself a tent-cozy.

Wear appropriate pajamas—  Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it came from a plant, don’t wear it to bed.  Cotton and linen are very light and comfy–and horrible at retaining heat!  Synthetic fibers are good at keeping you warm, and great for keeping you dry.  Animal fiber, be it from sheep, alpaca, goats, or rabbits, is even better for warmth, but not as quick-drying (you’ll be warm, but you might also feel a little clammy.)  Also, tighter fitting pajamas keep you warmer than loose ones.  And, no matter how counter-intuitive it seems, wearing multiple layers inside your sleeping bag will actually make you colder because your body heat will be soaked up by the clothing instead of being held by the insulation on your bag; in a mummy bag, you’ll actually be the warmest if you sleep naked!  My camping pajamas are the only pieces of clothing I have bought specifically for camping: a set of wool-synthetic blend long underwear (which I also use for layering when I’m not sleeping.)

Get off the ground— Aside from being hard and often lumpy, the ground is also cold.  In the same way a down jacket insulates you from cold air, a foam or inflatable sleeping pad traps air that is heated by your body and insulates you from the cold ground.

Fill up empty space— A snug sleeping bag is a warm sleeping bag.  Mummy bags are so warm in part because they are so skinny and hug your sleeping body.  I, unfortunately, do not have a mummy bag.  What I have is a hand-me-down, well made, rectangular REI bag that used to be my father’s (which means, since he’s a good 7 inches taller than me, that it’s bigger than I need.)  Even when I zip it up all the way and cinch the top drawstring tight, there’s a lot of empty space inside, meaning a lot of air to heat.  I fix this problem by bringing my wool sweater and sometimes my next day’s clothes into my sleeping bag with me.  I don’t wear them, I use them to fill up the empty space.  Then, in the morning, or if I have to get up in the night, I have a nice preheated sweater to wear.

Preheat—  Speaking of preheating, it always helps to warm yourself up a bit before hopping into a cold sleeping bag.  Take a walk around the campground, or drink some hot chocolate (but not too much, unless you want to be forced to go look at the stars at 3am).  If you have a fire, rake out the coals–it helps put out the fire faster and also releases a lot of heat you can soak up.  I always put on my long-john pajamas under my clothes an hour or two before bed, then all I have to do is take off my outer layers and I’m still nice and warm.  Consider eating a small snack before bedtime so that your metabolism can keep you toasty.

Hopefully these tips can be useful to you in your cool weather camping adventures.  What other ways have you found to keep warm at night in the great outdoors?

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As I write this post I am relaxing in the Hurricane Coffee Company, in Sequim, drinking a delicious iced raspberry mocha and enjoying their complimentary wi-fi.  Camping-buddy Lavon is off at a family get together elsewhere in town, giving me the perfect opportunity to reflect on our just-completed camping trip to Deer Park.

I have heard Deer Park called “the most beautiful primitive campground in the state,” and I believe it.  It’s 16 sites are located 5,400 feet above Port Angeles, where sub-alpine firs give way to barren alpine meadows on Blue Mountain.  Choosing a site (if there is much choice left when you get up there) can be difficult: do you want an open site on the west side of the campground, exposed to icy winds but with incredible views into the interior of the Olympic Mountains, or would you prefer a site on the east side, bordering a lupin-filled meadow and sheltered by fir trees?  Our choice was made easy: when we arrived at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon there were four sites left, two of them walk-in, all among the trees.  We took the one with the most level tent pad, site 14.

As soon as we had set up camp, the clouds, which had been obscuring our view of the mountains around us as we drove up the gravel Deer Park Road, began rolling over the ridge we were on.  Aside from giving the place a mysterious air, they also made it frigid, the damp kind that goes through everything.  I never got warm in my sleeping bag that night.  Before bedtime, though, we drove to the very end of the road at the top of Blue Mountain–or, almost the top.  We walked the rest of the way to the summit on a loop nature trail.

There are few benefits to being unable to sleep.  One of them, though, has to be getting to see the sun rise, and to watch it rise on a perfectly clear morning over a sweep of mountains from on top of a mountain yourself is a magical event.

The weather remained clear for the rest of the day.  At nine o’clock we hit the trail that runs along the ridge-line between Deer Park and Obstruction Point. (The latter is accessed via a dirt road from Hurricane Ridge.)  The trail immediately drops 400 feet to a saddle, then climbs for 3.5 miles and 1,000 feet past an impressive variety and number of wild flowers, through high forests and meadows, to a large meadow and a barren ridge below 6,434 ft Maiden Peak, where we turned around.  It was one of the most worthwhile hikes I have ever taken.

High meadow below Maiden Peak

From this barren ridge you can look into Maiden Peak's cirque and out over the Strait of Jaun de Fuca

Lavon points to our destination, visible from the trailhead

We returned to the campground around 2:30 and spent the rest of the day relaxing.  Despite the sun, the air at that high elevation was a chilly 58 degrees in the middle of the afternoon.  I wore my wool sweater for the rest of the day, but, thanks to some tent rearranging, spent the night warm and comfortable and woke up the next morning well after sunrise.

More information on the campground, as well as tips for camping in a primitive campground are to come.  In the mean time, enjoy some wildflower pictures:

stonecrop on top of Blue Mountain

lupin in the meadow behind the campground

columbine along the trail

lupin and bear grass in the high meadow

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I just returned from a lovely stay at the North Fork campground, located, appropriately, on the North Fork of the Quinault River.  It’s a primitive campground, which means there is no potable water and just pit toilets (or in this case, a porta-potty).  Even with only nine sites, it didn’t fill up on either Friday or Saturday night.  I observed a number of cars drive in, turn around, and leave.  Maybe they were looking for access to the river, which the campground is next to, but not on, or maybe they didn’t relish the thought of living without a sink for the weekend.  Either way, I didn’t mind, as I quite enjoyed the solitude.

A more detailed description of the campground will be up soon.  In the mean time, enjoy some pictures:

North Shore road

North Shore Road is about 15 miles of gravel.

The road had recently been re-graveled, which lead to low traction and a little fish-tailing when I met a car coming the other way!

The campground is half a mile from the end, where the North Fork ranger station waits to welcome visitors.

Our campsite, from the back.










We were there at the perfect time for harvesting salmon-berries.  Their flavor varies as much as their color, but we got a few good ones.  There were also blueberries and red huckleberries to be had in small quantities.

In addition to centipedes, banana slugs, and rabbits, I also saw elk, frogs, tadpoles, snakes, ravens, and a hummingbird.

bridge to Irely Lake

On the way to Irely Lake.  The trailhead is 1/4 mile from camp.

bacon wrapped marshmallow

They say everything tastes better with bacon.  I think they’re right.


On the way home, we stopped by Kalaloch beach.  The tide was out and the wet sand was steaming in the sun.

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