Days 12-15: Backpacking in a Rainforest (Olympic National Park)

My friend Mandy had planned a four-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park, Washington. The plan was to hike about 14 miles to the Enchanted Valley and hike back out. Mandy’s friend, Lori, was flying to Bend, Oregon and then on July 5th, they would drive to the forest and start hiking.

Mandy told me she’d pick me up in Hood River, which is about three hours north of Bend. This worked out perfectly because I could leave my car and valuables at my friend Tracey’s house while I was backpacking.

During the last five minutes of the thirty-minute drive to Tracey’s house that morning, a warning light flashed on my dashboard warning me about low tire pressure. “You’ve got to be kidding me”, I thought. Tracey’s husband, Farron, checked all four of my tires while I unloaded my backpacking gear from my car. He found out my front drivers-side tire was low. Farron said he had an inflator and he’d check it periodically while I was away to see if it was a bigger problem.

Just after he checked the tire, Mandy and Lori pulled in the driveway in Mandy’s new Subura Crosstrek. They made quick bathroom breaks, Tracey headed to the airport to pick up her sister and nephews, and I grabbed my gear and squeezed it into Mandy’s car. I sat in the backseat next to my backpack and it was surprisingly very comfortable and roomy.

We left around 9:30am. The drive was about five to six hours from Hood River but the time flew by.

We all talked and got to know each other better. Mandy is in her mid-30s, white with short blonde hair (with part of it shaved), and is thin. She always has a huge, energic smile on her face that shows her love of life. For work, she’s an X-Ray Technician at a hospital in Bend.

In her 20s, Mandy was a professional skater. She told us about life on the road while competing. You want to talk about pay inequality? Look at female sports. At one point, Mandy was the number-one-ranked woman’s skateboarder in the US. The top prize she ever received was $3,000. Meanwhile, the top prize for the exact same event for the male was $25,000. I couldn’t believe it when she told us. I know people’s argument for women’s sports is “but people don’t watch them.” But that is not true. Men’s sports do get more viewership, but that is because of marketing. I remember when Apolo Ohno was in the winter Olympics. There was a huge story and background. The program talked about his training and whole life story. I felt like I knew the guy and was so excited to root for him during the Olympics. If these organizations did the same story backgrounds and marketing for women as they do for men, the viewership would be there.

Mandy’s life as a professional skater seemed hard. They often had to stay at people’s houses or in vans. But sometimes kids would come up to her after recognizing her on the street and be so excited to meet her. As she told us stories of her former life, I thought, “How cool is she? How cool is it that I know her?”

Lori is in her 50s, Japanese, fit, has a daughter who is in college, and has the kindest heart you’ll ever know. After I told them about my divorce and marriage of 10 years, Lori told us about her divorce several years ago. I know there are always two sides to a story, but it seems Lori got the short end of that stick. Lori is very smart and used to be an architect. During the recession, she transitioned to work for the Girl Scouts. I was a brownie for one year growing up, but never got to be a girl scout.

Mandy and Lori met a decade ago when Mandy was teaching Lori’s daughter how to skateboard as part of the Girl Scout’s program. I think it’s awesome they became friends and have been friends for a decade. Mandy only got into backpacking about two years ago – once she could afford the equipment. Lori has gone on a few backpacking trips with Mandy and different friends. They were also preparing a trip later in the summer in the Sierra mountains so this trip would be good training for them.

We pulled up to the ranger station in Olympic National Park around 2:30pm. We got in line behind a couple who was also getting a permit. While one of us waited in line, the others took turns using the restroom and buying a little coin in the little gift shop we were standing in (great for opening our bear cans). We had been in line for about 10 minutes while the couple in front of us had no cares in the world asking the ranger every possible question known to man. The ranger was also in no hurry as he volunteered unnecessary details.

While Mandy was in line, I walked over to the information board and read an entire flyer about berries. I walked back over to Mandy and said, “Dude, I read an entire flyer about berries and you haven’t even moved an inch.” We laughed at the absurdity of the couple in front of us.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, it was our turn to talk to the ranger. It cost $8 per person per night to backpack overnight. We each paid for three nights, answered a few of the ranger’s questions, and headed out.

The drive on the gravel road up to the trailhead took about 30 minutes and was already so beautiful, I knew this was going to be a great trail.

Once Mandy parked the car on the side of the road near the trailhead (there were a lot of cars there) we sorted through our stuff to make sure we had everything. Mandy recorded asking us where we were going and both Lori and I said “I don’t know. Wherever you’re going.” We laughed because Mandy had done all of the research and we couldn’t remember the name of the trail we were about to hike.

We started the hike at 4:00pm and figured we’d hike as far as we could before dark so we’d have less to hike the following day. It would also give us more time to spend in the Enchanted Valley. I’m usually the only person starting a hike this late in the day and the fact that they had no problem starting a hike this late me feel right at home.

The trail started off sort of wide. Two people could fit across and it was mostly uphill. It was so green, lush, and dense, that we kept stopping for pictures. The first campsite was three miles in so we knew we’d have to go at least that far. By “campsite”, I mean a very small flat area that has already been used for setting up a tent.

At mile three, we arrived at the campsite, which overlooked a raging blue-green river. The campsite was at least 20-30 feet above the river on a ledge. There was a firepit that had been made and a nice log to sit on. We stopped here for a snack break. It was a beautiful campsite but there wasn’t a way down to get water at the river and we wanted to hike more than three miles, so we kept going.

The trail became narrow and only one person could fit across. There were ferns everywhere, it was very humid, and pretty hot. I almost stepped on a giant banana slug and called the girls over to look. We were all amazed at this fat, slimy slug slowly making its way down the trail.

We continued to climb and about an hour after leaving the campsite, Lori and Mandy stopped to look at something in the ferns. Right after, Lori noticed she had lost her glasses. She had them on a strap that goes around the head, but they had been hanging from her shirt instead because the humidity kept making them slide off her face. She can’t see very well without them and they were new. Because of insurance, she wouldn’t be able to get new glasses until October. She figured they fell off somewhere on the trail so she and Mandy started backtracking. I searched the area around where we had stopped but didn’t see anything. I walked back down the trail and asked two women who were setting up their tent if they had seen any glasses. They hadn’t.

Mandy and Lori backtracked a lot and after about 20 minutes, didn’t find the glasses. We decided to continue forward and we’d look again in the spot they had stopped earlier. I said a prayer in my head, “God, please let us find her glasses in the next three minutes. She needs these glasses.” We got back towards the place they had stopped and I looked down in the ferns and moved some branches with my trekking pole and found the glasses! Within two minutes. We all rejoiced that Lori could see again! It’s funny because I had looked all over there before and didn’t see anything.

Around 9:00pm and after hiking six miles, we found a campsite that would do just fine. According to the map, we should have arrived at a campsite that had a porta potty but as most maps go, the mileage was incorrect. It was starting to get dark and we were exhausted so we started to set up camp.

There wasn’t enough space for both of our tents where the fire pit was so I set my tent up about 15 feet away. It was a little scary being further away from them because there are bears in the area. Mandy gave me her whistle and said to blow it if I heard any bears and she’s come save me with the gun she brought.

Mandy started a fire, which was nice. We all cooked dinner on our stoves in the dark using headlamps. It was a fun time and we shared this amazing berry crumble dehydrated dessert that Mandy brought. I had never really brought desserts on backpacking trips before and man, it’s totally worth it! That tasted so good after a day of hiking.

When you’re in bear country, you are required to carry a bear canister. A bear canister is a locked container that a bear cannot open. You have to put all food items and items that have a scent locked inside and put it about 50 feet away from your tent. Lori grabbed her bear can so we could all walk up the hill towards the trail to place the canisters. But when she grabbed it, there was a giant banana slug making its way from the side to the top of her can! She screamed because those things are nasty. She got it off her canister with a stick but it left a slicky residue. From this point on, we were always paranoid when grabbing our bear canisters. And poor Lori. She kept dreaming that night that a banana slug would crawl into her backpack or shoe.

It was hot that night so I slept in my shorts and shirt instead of my thermals. The next morning, we made our breakfast (oatmeal and coffee), filled up water, and packed up our stuff. It took awhile so we didn’t leave camp until around 11:00am. After about a mile, we found the trail that led to the campsite with a porta potty. We hiked down a pretty steep trail for about 15 minutes and got to the porta potty, which was wooden and hidden by ferns and trees. It was so small, that I couldn’t sit down because my legs are too long and my knees hit the door. It was also full of flies and mosquitos. We just wanted a place to take a number two but that thing was incredibly disgusting.

We hiked back up the trail and continued on. It started to rain so we put our rain covers on our backpacks. It was still pretty warm so Lori and I didn’t put our jackets on. It only rained briefly and then would sprinkle here and there.

As we hiked along, we described the forest as “Jurassic” because everything was gigantic! The ferns were as tall as Mandy and Lori, the trees towered above us, and the insects were huge! It seriously looked like we were in the movie Jurassic Park. It also looked like the movie Fern Gully and since there were so many ferns, we kept referring to it as Jurassic Park and Fern Gully (complete with theme music).

The trail was mostly uphill and we were getting tired. We knew we were close to the Enchanted Valley but the map was incorrect on the mileage. It would be a nine-mile day for sure. About 30 minutes before we got to the valley, it started raining pretty hard. We continued to hike along and then came across a log bridge that only had a railing on the north side of it, was slanted to the south and was suspended very high over a raging river. I am very afraid of heights when I don’t feel stable. When I worked at Target, I wouldn’t go up more than two steps on a ladder because I’d start to shake, sweat, and freak out. I’m 6’1” so thankfully, I can usually reach most things. I did not want to cross this bridge but it was raining, I was tired and cold, and the campsite was only about half a mile away. Mandy crossed first and I followed behind her. I grabbed the side railing tightly and my glove soaked up all the rain on the ledge. I made it because I knew I had no choice but to cross.

We arrived in the valley around 4:00pm and the rain turned into a sprinkle. Clouds hovered over the mountains, it was cold, and the view made it all worth it.

After looking around for a good campsite, we chose one near the river that also had a few trees covering it. Thankfully, Mandy and Lori brought two tarps and set them up to give us a break from the rain. Shortly after we got to camp and set up the tarps, it stopped raining. There was a log to sit on and a firepit. We put on our pants and jackets, and sat on the log to rest and eat some quick snacks.

We sat on the wet log and admired the view of the steep mountain in front of us with clouds covering the top and swirling around. There were also pockets of snow in the crevasses across the river on the mountain. Shortly after eating our snacks, it started raining again so we got under the tarps. There was nowhere to sit over there so we sat on our bear canisters.

Mand and Lori set up their tent (mine was already set up) and then we all made dinner. It was fun to sit under the tarp with rain coming down, in the cold. It felt like a true adventure. For dessert, we shared a crème Brule dehydrated meal that I brought. It was also delicious and I cannot recommend bringing desserts on backpacking trip enough.

We headed to bed once it started getting dark around 10:00 pm. I ventured to the porta potty about a quarter mile away, which proved to be a mistake. The tall grass on the sides of the trail got my pants all wet and the porta potty was super small and just terrible.

Mandy and Lori’s tent was under the tarp but my tent was getting directly rained on. My tent is a very small two-person tent. I can only sit up if I’m directly in the center of it. I figured as long as I didn’t touch the sides, it should keep the rain out. It did very well in the rain, but in the morning, it was still raining and every once in a while, a drop of water would fall directly on my face and wake me up. Other times, mist sprayed my face. I was very confused as to where this water was coming from. It was also cold that night, probably in the 40s, so I used my thermals.

Finally, around 9:00 am, it stopped raining and we got out of our tents. I realized the water hitting my face was from the condensation that had built up in my tent. When rain on the outside would get too heavy, or a big drop would fall, it would knock the condensation on the inside of my tent to drop a droplet of water on me or spray a mist.

Mandy really wanted to fish so she grabbed her pole and attempted to get some fish in the river while Lori and I ate breakfast. Mandy caught a very tiny fish so she put it back. We’re not sure there were actually any fish in there that were any bigger.

The sun came out and we took advantage of being able to lay our tents and clothes out so they could dry off. It only took about an hour to dry things off so we could pack it all up. We packed up and headed out just before noon. The day was clearer, giving us even better views of the valley.

We came to that high bridge again and I started to freak out. I didn’t think I could cross now that I knew it was coming. Mandy crossed and waited for me on the other side but I struggled to get myself to do it. Lori and Mandy told me not to look at the fast-flowing river below and instead just look straight across to the other side. I tried that but twice I looked down to make sure my feet were actually on the log and I wouldn’t slip off. Those brief glances down made me dizzy because I couldn’t not see the river. The movement of it made my head spin and I started sweating. I was in the middle and realized I had to finish so I took a deep breath and keep walking, trying my best not to look down. I made it and then Lori crossed it too. That is one of the scariest bridges I’ve ever crossed.

We continued to hike back to the trailhead, in the direction we came. The day was beautiful. It was warm with a cool breeze. We had funny conversations, crossed other small streams, passed huge fallen trees, ate all sorts of berries growing along the trail, and even saw bears! We had heard what we thought was a bear making a grunting noise above the trail and stood around to see if we could see the bear but we couldn’t see it. However, about 20 minutes later when we were in a valley area, we saw a small black bear foraging in the forest about 200 feet from us. Shortly after, we saw another one. He looked up at us, and then went back to foraging. See, black bears are scavengers. They’ll go for easy food, but generally are afraid of humans.

A couple hours later, we saw a strange looking bird that looked like he had a huge hole in his neck. He was making that extremely loud grunting sound, which made us realize it was not a bear that first time, it was this bird. It was a Blue Grouse and that was his mating call. We ended up seeing and hearing a few more. I mimicked their call and got pretty good at it and they seemed to think I was also a Blue Grouse. Later, we saw a female and she did not have the huge hole in her neck and I think I serenaded her pretty well with my call.

We set up camp very close to where we camped the first night, but this time we were close to each other, and had more seclusion from the trail. Mandy and Lori fished for a bit but didn’t catch anything.

I went to scope up water in the river into my water filter bag and the rocks were so slippery, that my foot slide into the river and I dropped to my knee. It hurt so bad because the bone on my left knee hit directly onto a tock. I put a band-aid on it because it was slightly bleeding. It was mostly just swelling up and was really painful. The next day hiking out, I could feel that knee hurting with each step.

I gathered some firewood but it was too wet and Lori and I couldn’t get a fire started. Mandy saved the day and got it to light and it burned for a little while (although she had to keep grabbing more small twigs).

We ate dinner, shared another dessert – seriously best thing during backpacking. We checked our bear canisters for slugs and got eaten by mosquitoes. Especially Lori. In the morning, she found bites all over her. It looked painful.

We headed back to the trailhead, which was six miles away. As we got closer, we saw more people hiking in for a small day hike. It was warm and humid again.

We arrived back at the trailhead around 1:00pm after hiking a total of 30 miles in four days. There was a large group of people in the parking lot preparing for their hike. Over ten rented beer canisters were spread out on a tarp with little piles of food. They had huge bags of pasta and I couldn’t imagine lugging that around.

We stopped at the ranger station to use the restrooms on our way out and then we hit the road. It would be a long drive back (about five to six hours to Hood River and nine hours to Bend). I didn’t realize how tired I was – I fell asleep in the backseat almost immediately. After about an hour, Lori was trying to find a place to eat on Yelp, but there was nothing around. Just farms. Mandy was really craving sushi because Bend doesn’t have any good sushi there. We decided we’d stop in Portland and get sushi there. We didn’t arrive until around 5:30pm but it was delicious sushi. Yes, we went to a nice sit-down restaurant after not showering for four days and being full of dirt and sweat. Don’t judge.

We arrived back to Hood River around 8:30pm so I could get my car. Mandy and Lori headed off to Bend and I talked with Tracey for a bit about the trip. She also let me know that she and her husband put air in my tire twice but it kept deflating so I’d need to get it checked it out (but it would get me to Portland, an hour away). She also said they couldn’t get my passenger side window to roll up. Great. I was having problems with that window before I left Los Angeles but the dealership supposedly fixed it. After juggling with the buttons several times, I got it to roll up but I’d have to get it checked out.

I headed to a suburb of Portland because I couldn’t check into the hostel until the following day. I drove through the gorge as the sun was setting and it was picture perfect and my heart felt full.

I had wanted to go backpacking in Washington but didn’t feel comfortable going alone. I was so glad I went with Mandy and Lori. We had great conversations, laughed a ton, and the scenery was unreal. I am grateful that God put them in my life and everything worked out perfectly. They were able to pick me up and drop me off on their way from Bend. I was able to leave my car at Tracey’s house so my valuables were protected. Tracey and her husband were able to help with my tire situation. Mandy planned the whole trip so all I had to do was go along. This was exactly what I needed. I had been mostly alone during my travels and spending four days with these wonderful women made me feel whole.

Click here to watch a 5 minute video of the trip!

 

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