HALFWAY TO RIDICUOLOUS
Another business trip to
After work on Friday, I met
my friend Brian at the ferry terminal for the ride over to
During happy hour, we
discussed our plans for the following day.
Thanks to recent hot, sunny weather, most areas of Olympic National Park
We actually got a relatively early start the next morning. We were just getting ready to leave Brian’s house when his friend Howard*** arrived. Brian had invited Howard along the night before, but we hadn’t really anticipated him making it. Early starts are not Howard’s specialty. He arrived in time to grab a bite to eat though, and we headed out. I immediately knew that Howard and I would get along just fine. His enthusiasm for hiking was apparent, and the Grateful Dead t-shirt he was wearing indicated that we had similar tastes in music.
We reached the town of
We hit the trail at 8:15, climbing quickly away from the parking lot into a pleasant forest highlighted by the occasional large tree. The trail generally stayed well above the river, but it did run close to the stream on occasion. At this elevation, the Big Quilcene is more of a mountain stream than a river, but it was a still a pleasant companion for at least part of our hike. After an hour of relatively easy hiking, we arrived at the Shelter Rock campsite, 2.6 miles beyond and 1100’ above our starting point. The Shelter Rock campsite is named for a large rock in the vicinity of the campground that I somehow failed to notice both times we passed it.
From there, the hike gets
serious. Over the next two miles, we climbed
2000’. Most of that seemed to happen
immediately after leaving the river for the final time. After a stiff ascent in the woods, the grade
moderated. Soon we began passing through
avalanche slopes that provided great views up the valley towards the snowy
I’d seen an impressive array of wildflowers along the trail through the woods, but in the clearings, the flowers were dazzling. Highlights included Indian Paintbrush, Wild Columbine, Lupine, Tiger Lilies, and many others I couldn’t identify. At times we’d pass through fields of flowers, with snowy peaks in the background. I didn’t make very good time through here, because I was taking so many photos. The flowers had me so distracted, I almost missed the bear.
When I caught up to Brian and Howard, they were watching a black bear browsing on the hillside high above the trail. I attempted a couple of photos, which are laughable. When zoomed in, the bear looks like, at best, a brown spot with ears. That’s ok though. The best bear sightings are the distant ones. Plus, this was the second bear I’d seen in just over a week. I’m guess I’m on a bit of a roll.
Eventually we left the bear
behind. Relatively easy hiking brought
We paused there for a break, 5.3 miles beyond and 3500’ above the trailhead. I was pleased with the progress Brian had made to this point. Brian did a lot of hiking and backpacking in his youth, but took a long sabbatical from it until moving to Seattle a couple of years ago. Since then, he’s gradually gotten back into it. Walking 3+ miles a day as part of his commute to work has certainly helped. Our hike today though was by far the most challenging hike he’d attempted in many years.
While we were resting, I mentioned that a climb of 2000’ was a good workout. 3000’ was a substantial undertaking, and 4000’ was a huge challenge. 5000’ in a day, I said, was ridiculous. We discussed the merits of continuing to the summit. Actually, discussing them probably isn’t the correct term. Continuing would require climbing another 1000’ over perhaps a mile, but there was no holding Howard back from the top. I, too, had summit fever. Despite the rigorous hike to the pass, I was overflowing with adrenaline. Brian certainly could’ve waited for us at the pass, but he wasn’t about to let us go on without him.
As we packed up to resume the climb, Brian said, “if 4000’ of climbing is a huge challenge, and 5000’ is ridiculous, then what we’re doing….”
“Is halfway to ridiculous”, I finished. Howard burst out in laughter, and off we went.
We followed the Tubal Cain Trail briefly, before arriving at an obvious
junction with a climber’s path up the ridge leading to
Howard and I eventually reached the top of the ridge. The worst of the climb was over. At that point, we had gained over 800’ in less than a ½ mile. Howard and I found a rock with a great view and waited there for Brian.
Brian arrived a few minutes later. He was pretty much worn out, but the worst was behind us. After a break, we continued up the ridge to a false summit. After a brief descent, one more final steep pitch on loose scree led us to the summit. At the top, we found several large boulders. One of them featured a cairn, so we decided that it must be the official summit. Howard made a short but difficult ascent straight up the rock. I snuck around the back side, and found an easier way up.
The summit offered the same
spectacular views of the peaks in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula that we’d
enjoyed along the summit ridge. The best
views were across the valley, to the jagged snow-covered faces of
The view in the opposite
direction was almost as good. We gazed
east, across numerous islands and waterways, including the
Brian arrived a few minutes
later, completely spent. He had a case
of wobbly legs that a lengthy late lunch break did little to cure. On the ascent, he had consumed a gallon of
water, which is all that he’d brought.
At this point, it became clear that
After a long break to
recover and enjoy our accomplishment, we began the trek back down. Brian expressed some concern about descending
the steep route to
We contoured around the false summit to regain the trail, but Brian began wandering off-course to the north. Howard and I were alarmed. Was he delirious? We eventually got his attention, and coaxed him back up to the route along the ridge. This bonus climb was rather tedious, and didn’t do any of us much good.
When he rejoined us, I discovered that he had intended to follow the ridge north to intersect with the Tubal Cain Trail. This route would’ve provided a more gradual descent, but it also would’ve added a couple of miles to a hike that was already 12 ½ miles long. Unfortunately, Howard and I didn’t really understand his intentions until we’d climbed back up the ridge.
We took the direct route
The water seemed to help Brian and Howard considerably. We made good time down to the Shelter Rock Campsite, where we paused for a final break. It was during this break that we discovered that bees have an inexplicable attraction to Marijuana smoke. Now, I won’t incriminate anyone by disclosing the source of the Marijuana smoke, but Howard spent most of our break running in circles around the camping area trying to evade the bees. Later, we found out that bees are the latest weapon in the war on drugs. Apparently, the DEA has trained bees to detect drugs and harass pot smokers. I hear that the Department of Homeland Security is looking into this new weapon, too. Bees…coming soon to an airport near you.
The last couple of miles of
seemed to go on forever. Finally we
passed under the huge fallen tree, and realized that we were almost
finished. We reached the trailhead 10
minutes later. Eventually we found the
car in the crowded parking area. From
there, we just had to endure the drive back to
***Matt’s name was changed in an effort to protect his identity.
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