At the end of August, we spent a week (not nearly enough time) exploring the Olympic Peninsula. Upon entering the otherworldly rainforest, my imagination was immediately captivated. It seems that every fairy tale that has ever been told could have taken place here. The lush rainforest is at once alluring, and at times foreboding. In the midst of our hike to Enchanted Valley, I imagined Snow White singing to the birds in the meadow. Moments later, coming upon a wooded forest once again, the trees seemed ominous, as if the big bad wolf was lurking just behind the next grove. Many times I expected to come upon some cottage made of sweets, or to see a fairy nestled amongst the intricate moss.
Our plan heading into the Olympic Peninsula was to spend one quick night before backpacking at a free National Forest Campground called Campbell Tree Grove. However, when we arrived at our chosen site, we fell fast in love with the surrounding rainforest and couldn’t leave. We ended up staying two nights in this healing place: a much needed recovery after a week at the eclipse festival and in the city (Portland).
After this relaxing stay, we headed to Quinault Ranger station to receive permits for backcountry camping. Permits successfully acquired, we began our journey to Enchanted Valley. The hike meandered along the beautiful Quinault River, alternating between open meadows and groves of old-growth rain forest. The lushness of this landscape is such that I was constantly stopping to admire the moss-covered trees and hills, the mushrooms, and the numerous banana slugs.
On the first night, we hiked a few miles in to Pony Bridge: a beautiful campsite high above the river. River access required climbing down a 12 foot drop-off which, despite having good foot and handholds, was an intimidating free climb. The descent was well worth the effort though, as it not only allowed us to collect cold, clean water but also to explore the canyon below the bridge with its weeping, mossy walls.
The following day, we hiked to Enchanted Valley, a popular campsite and location of a historic chalet built in 1931. Campers set up tents all around the eerie building.
We camped here for two nights, spending our second day hiking toward Anderson Pass, though we succumbed to apathy and didn’t make it all the way to the pass. Notwithstanding, we enjoyed the mountain views and the forests. Dead and decaying trees create nutrients for the growth of new trees. Live trees too have new trees growing from them, supporting life.
On day four, a miserably sweaty Saturday, we headed back toward the trailhead, passing quite possibly 100 people on the way. Enchanted Valley would be busy on this evening, and we were happy to be on our way out. We stopped at a dispersed site beside the river. This was my favorite site of the whole trip: the river was deep here and banked by a soft beach which was veiled from the trail by a huge boulder. We stripped down and jumped in immediately upon arriving, cooling our bodies instantly. We slept soundly that night to the white noise of the river.
Upon hiking out, we headed to Port Angeles for resupplies. Here, we shared a dairy queen and crashed at the Wal-mart parking lot. On our way to Ozette the next day, we stopped at Sol Duc Falls. Though the falls were impressive, I particularly enjoyed the rustic shelter we came upon right before reaching the falls. It was built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). I appreciated the way the materials blended in with the surrounding rainforest.
That night, we camped at Ozette campground, which is near to where we would be starting our coastal hike the next day. Ozette Lake was beautiful and much warmer than the mountain lakes and streams we had grown accustomed to. Reminding us of a Minnesota Lake, swimming in it made us feel at home.
Next morning, the time had come at last to start our much-anticipated coastal hike. We tread cautiously upon many a derelict boardwalk, passing through lush rainforests to reach Sand Point.
Despite the gloom of the day, we worked up a sweat on the three-mile hike, and when we reached the beach, I immediately encouraged Stephanie to change into bathing suits with me—eager to jump into the ocean and ride the waves. We ran out to the water and, much to my dismay, it was awfully cold. Alas, we would have to wait for a warmer time and place for this experience. Instead, we explored the tide pools along Sand Point. The strange seaweeds of the ethereal ocean squelched and slipped under our feet as we rock-hopped as far out to sea as we could. The signs of abundant aquatic life within and beside the ocean are fascinating.
In the morning, we woke up to higher tides which covered the pools we had explored yesterday. We rambled slowly across the beach toward our second night’s campsite: Cape Alava. As we were hiking during high tide, it was necessary to take a couple of detours up forested slopes high above the looming waters. One such location was very steep, and a rope was provided to help us make the climb.
After setting up camp at Cape Alava, we took a walk toward some of the nearby distinguishingly tall rocks clouded in fog. The distant bark of sea lions accompanied our stroll. On a rocky section of beach, I noticed what looked like a large brown rock. As I got closer, however, I realized that it was in fact a sea lion! We watched it from afar, not wanting to disturb it. We walked further down the gorgeous beach, Stephanie collecting sea glass along the way.
Mysterious fog seems to be a characteristic of the Olympic Peninsula’s beaches. After hiking out from Cape Alava and driving south along the shore, we stopped to explore Ruby Beach. Like every other beach I’ve been to on this coast, it was scattered with strikingly tall rocks surrounded by fog which comes and goes quickly: a peculiarly beautiful spectacle.
At Ruby Beach, there are also a number of man-built driftwood structures which we explored. We then walked out toward a large island near shore, which created a stunning tidal phenomenon. The tide around us reached about fifty feet beyond the island, toward shore; however, the island acted as a barrier to the tide. We could stand right next to the island and see the tide on either side of it, heading back to shore far beyond us, and yet not touching us. The most visually impressive part of this was that at the edge of the island, we could walk right up to the giant waves which normally, so far away from shore, are only experienced at close range by surfers.
Our last stop on the Olympic Peninsula was to Kalaloch Campground to check out the famed “Tree of Life”, a wonderful addition to the fairytale impression of our trip to the Olympic.
Fairytales aside, the diverse yet interconnected organisms within the forests, mountains, and shores of the Olympic do seem fantastical. John Muir’s observation comes to mind: “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Take, for example, the salmon. Born in freshwater, the salmon eventually migrate to the sea. They live in the ocean for 1-7 years, and then return to freshwater to spawn. After spawning, both males and females die, their bodies shoring and providing nutrients for the trees along the banks. Furthermore, animals such as raptors, bears, and wolves, eat the salmon and spread bits of their remains throughout the forest, thus enhancing trees even miles away! Fantasy worlds are just that: fantasy, but the Olympic Peninsula is the closest real-life place to Never-never land that I’ve ever experienced.