Hoh River Trail Backpack

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Day one 7-01-2002

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hohtrhead1.jpg - 12948 BytesI'm a single mom and this was my first big solo backpacking trip. I woke up at 5 AM and left the house at 6am. I drove straight to the Hoh rain forest with only two pit stops and arrived at the Hoh visitor center at 9:45 am. A bobcat ran across the road in front of my van just outside of Forks. I took the bobcat as a sign of good things to come.

Upon arrival at the Hoh Visitor Center I told the Ranger where I planned to stay for the next six nights and I obtained my permit. I was instructed to hang my permit on my backpack while I was hiking and on my tent while camped. I went back out to my vaHon to get my pack out and get started on my hike. But somehow I had lost the permit between my van and the visitor center. Embarrassed I had to go back in and ask for another Permit.

hohmud2.jpg - 22382 BytesFinally at 10:40 I started my hike. My pack weighed 55 pounds! (What was I thinking?) I intended to camp at stymie camp the first night. The hike starts in a moss-covered rain forest. I passed at least 7 people in the first mile; most of them were day hikers. A large group of hikers loaded up with climbing gear passed me about a mile and a half into the hike. Two miles into my hike I learned the hard way to drag my pack off the trail with me when I take a break. I left my pack on the trail side while I headed for the nearest large tree to answer the call of nature. Two day hikers a man and a woman saw my pack and started looking for me. I could hear them asking each other if someone had lost there pack. Just as I stood up I saw the man looking at me!

I stopped at the two-mile campground and had a snack under some huge old cedar trees. I was trying to take my time and enjoy my hike. It’s too easy for me to get caught up into trying to make good time instead of having a good time. About 3.5 miles into the hike I started looking for “Happy Four” campground. But it was actually 5.3 miles down the trail and not 4 miles like I had expected. The trail was quite muddy in spots and the ranger at the visitor center told me that I was expected to hike right through the middle of the mud holes in the trail. I tried to oblige but drew the line and stepping into mud holes and mud puddles that would go over the top of my boots. The trail gets a little bit rougher at about the 4-mile mark and roots and rocks start to appear on the trail. It is still a well-maintained trail at this point though.

hohconk4.JPG - 20764 BytesI reached 7.8 mile camp but I felt pretty good so I kept going. I hiked 9 miles

A huge conk or shelf mushroom on a snag
in to Olympic Guard Station (900 feet) and set up camp on the bank of the Hoh River. The guard station is an actual cabin built in the 1930’s and was manned by three or four rangers when I got there.

Tired after my longest mileage backpack ever I ate a very light supper and went to bed at about 8:00pm.

Day two 7-02-2002

I woke up at 6:45 am. To my pleasant surprise a Doe and two fawns were standing on the gravel bar ten feet from my campsite. I watched them for a while and took a few pictures before they crossed the creek and ran past my tent. There was another Doe in the campground that had one fawn. I watched her nurse and preen her baby. There were many huge trees in the Olympic Guard Station campground, the campground it’s self was set in a meadow of tall grass. 3 cedars grew together

After breakfast I started to break camp but my sleeping bag and tent looked so comfortable that instead of breaking camp I crawled back in and took a nap. That is the beauty of hiking alone.

Three Cedar Trees Grew Together Here
I broke camp at 10:00 am and left Olympic Guard Station with Elk Lake campground as my destination for the evening. But I ended up hiking 8 miles and climbing 3,000 feet to Glacier Meadows. My hips hurt and my shoulders were sore and for the first couple of miles I just could not get my pack adjusted right. I found a beautiful spot overlooking the river about a mile down the trail and stopped and had a snack there. I tried to hike slowly and stay relaxed and enjoy the forest. I stopped and snapped a few pictures of an old nurse log that was laying parallel to the trail. The nurse log had several very large trees growing out of it and had started to rot away.

Looking down from the Hi Hoh Bridge
Looking down from the "Hi Hoh" Bridge

Tree Down Accross the TrailI reached the “Hi Ho” bridge 12.5 miles down the trail, at about 2:00. The bridge was higher than I had expected. The Hoh below was crammed into a little ravine and was moving fast. Glacier creek joined the Hoh at this point and was just as looked large as the Hoh with the Hoh being crammed into the little ravine. I paused and took a few pictures at the bridge along with another hiker who appeared to be a photographer. The other hiker a man in about his 40’s informed me that he was low on food but had enough to get by after I told him that my pack was heavy with six days worth of food. I thought about giving him something but I had just realized that my breakfast cereal was not giving me the calories I needed (I was um.. having trouble digesting it) and decided I did not have any food to spare.

A huge Hemlock that was cut after it fell across the trail

The trail turned south and started climbing after the bridge. Before the bridge the trail was mostly level. As the trail left the river valley and headed up towards mount Olympus the forest changed from old growth Hemlock to old growth Douglas fir. The trail switch backed many times and passed a pretty creek several times. I found a nice cluster of little quartz crystals a mile past the bridge. I buried it and marked the spot so I could find it on the way back down. I was got very tired miles before I reached Elk Lake and I almost stopped at “Martin Creek” campground instead of hiking on. I almost passed the photographer from the HI Hoh Bridge several times on the way up to Elk Lake as he stopped to take pictures. He made me feel a little nervous when he made a comment about his glasses fogging up because he was so hot. That part seemed perfectly normal to me but when he added that he did not mean he was getting hot in a personal way I thought he was quite odd. Why add that? It had never entered my mind that he meant anything other than he was hot from hiking. I decided it would be best to stay clear of this hot and hungry man.

I lost the trail here When I reached Elk lake Campground (2,700 feet) the man from the Hi Hoh Bridge who seemed to want food arrived shortly after I did and stopped at the shelter at Elk Lake to eat lunch. He told me that his stove was broken and asked if I had a stove cleaning kit. I did not know if his stove was really broken or if he was really hungry at this point or if he was just trying to find ways to talk to me. I decided to keep going when I saw that all the campsites at Elk Lake were full except one or two that were in the mud.

I lost the trail here
A sign said it was only 2.3 miles further to Glacier Meadows, I had been thinking it was 4 miles further to Glacier Meadows. I decided to hike on even though I was tired and it was getting late and I was about to reach the snow. I left Elk Lake at 5:00 PM. I ran in to patchy snow shortly after the steep climb up from Elk Lake. I lost the trail as it passed over a snow covered avalanche chute, trees were down everywhere and the snow was hard not to step through without suddenly sinking in to your knees. Already nervous about hiking so far so late, I started to feel a little panicked when I lost the trail but I kept my cool and back tracked and found the trail again.

hohnursetree7.jpg - 22486 BytesNurse Log

The trail climbed higher and higher and was soon hugging the side of a mostly treeless mountain. The trail was real narrow at this point with a steep long drop off on one side and the mountain on the other side. In places water crossed over the narrow trail. It was a little bit scary to traverse over this with my fully loaded 55 pound pack on.

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Glacier River comes out of the snow here

At one point the trail suddenly came around a bend and was above the tree line and loud rivers could be seen and heard as they flowed down mountain sides and into an empty glacial circ. I was surprised at how loud the rivers were as they flowed into the circ above the tree line.

I reached Glacier Meadows (4,300 feet) at 6:30 tired and relieved to have made it but a little disoriented. It was hard to find a snow free campsite but I did find one and it was in view of the ranger’s yurt. I felt safer staying in campgrounds that had rangers stationed at them. Things that go bump in the night are much less scary when there are rangers near by. The campsite was almost full. I was a little surprised to find that a campground 17 miles away from the trail head was so busy.

My dark and cold campsite at Glacier Meadows
My campsite at glacier meadowsThe other campers all seemed to have very good and very expensive gear. They were wearing “Mountain Hardware” parkas and had Mountain Hardware tents. I began to wonder if I had gotten myself into a situation that I could not cope with in my Coleman tent and dressed head to toe (with the exception of my Asolo boots) in clothes bought at Wall-mart, Good Will and Value Village. The other campers mostly had sets of $50.00 (each) trekking poles made just for backpacking, I had a ski pole that I bought in a set for $5.00 at St. Vincent De Paul.

But I reminded myself that I had done my research well and if I got really cold had several layers of clothes to wear including full rain gear. My tent (Coleman Peak 1) was a $67.00 tent but it had proven it’s self to be sturdy water tight in past trips.. I had plenty of food and stove fuel as well. I also felt comforted when I remembered the expedition weight capaline bottoms I had stowed in my pack. A Good Will find that only cost me $1.99. My gear was cheaply bought but it was well thought out. Also I did have a down Parka, a hand me down from my great uncle who passed away. I would not have dreamed of hauling that heavy thing up the hill with me. No way that it would have even fit in my pack that was already crammed full thanks to my bear canister.

The photographer who was low on food and had a broken stove arrived at Glacier Meadows shortly after I did. I was really hoping that he was staying at Elk Lake and I wondered if he had followed my up there. I stopped and chatted with him, his stove was still broken and he was headed for the Ranger’s Yurt to ask for assistance with his stove and permission to have a campfire if he could not get his stove working.

I had pushed my way up the hill from Elk Lake to Glacier Meadows with Adrenaline and power bars. Filled up on power bars and out of adrenaline I set up camp and went to bed at 7:45 without cooking dinner.

Day three 7-03-2002

My legs and feet were very cold when I woke up at 6:30am so I put on an extra pair of wool socks and pulled my nylon shell pants on over my long underwear and went back to sleep. Feeling a little warmer at 7:30 I got up and made a hot cup of coffee and cooked my breakfast. I lingered over my coffee until about 9:30 and then grabbed my “ten essentials” for day hiking and headed for blue glacier leaving my tent and backpack behind. I did how ever have all of my clothes on and was just barely warm enough.

Wild Flowers at Glacier Meadows
As I passed the Rangers Yurt on the way to Blue Glacier the rangers were standing out side and so was the weird photographer who had frightened me the day before. The photographer had got his stove working after all. But he was being bawled out by the Rangers for walking on the glacier alone without roping up and without an ice axe. Upon hearing that I knew that the strange man was not a threat to me, he was just a bit of an air head and was really a threat to him self. I wondered if it was a smart idea for him to be in the mountains alone. So what if he had hundreds of dollars worth of fancy gear, he had no idea how to use it I guess.

The Glacier shows it's selfAs I headed up the steep trail to Blue Glacier I was greeted by meadows full of flowers. I found the spot where glacier creek came out of the snow and drained into a little pool. It was all very pretty. I passed two other day hikers who had just come down from the glacier and they reported that it was too foggy to see anything. But I continued up the hill shedding my extra clothes on the way. Soon I was toe kicking my way up a steep snow covered hill in just a short -sleeved shirt and thin nylon pants.

I did not know I was on the glaciers moraine until I crested it and saw the drop off on the other side. The moraine was long and narrow and very steep. Too steep to climb down. All I could see was the moraine I was standing on. Everything else was in total fog. Everything everywhere was white. I was not exactly sure where the glacier was but figured it was below me somewhere. Then I heard the sound of things falling into or off of the glacier. I could not see what was falling as everything was in total fog.

I decided to sit down and have a snack and see if the fog would clear. Good thing I had all of my clothes with me to keep me warm. Soon I was rewarded for my patience, the fog cleared and there was the glacier below me. I saw that rocks on top of the glacier were falling into the crevasses as it melted in the morning sun. It was well worth the 18 mile trek to see blue glacier. I snapped some pictures and looked at the glacier until I was satisfied. I had the entire glacier and trail all to myself.

I decided to head down the trail and go find the other trail that went to the terminus. On the way down I glissaded at least 200 feet without stopping! What a thrill that was. I could not believe how far I had slid.

The terminus trail was covered and snow and I found it nearly impossible to stay on the trail but I knew the general direction of the glacier and I think I ended up in the right spot at the end of the trail. The terminus was a very pretty shade of blue and covered with huge crevasses. From this vantage point I could see foot steps that went all the way out onto the glacier and past several crevasses. Who ever had made those foot prints also had two trekking poles. This must have been the print left by the photographer who the rangers were bawling out for walking on the glacier alone. I could not believe what he had done when I saw how close he had passed by several open crevasses. I wondered how may snow covered crevasses he had passed over with out knowing it and with no ropes or climbing partners to save him.

One the way back down the terminus trail I still found it impossible to stay on the trail and it had started to rain. At one point I lost the trail entirely so I backtracked and still could not find the trail so I pushed on a little bit and still could not find the trail. The trail was somewhere in a little ravine that was covered with snow, the kind of snow that melts out near trees and is filled with booby traps waiting to plunge you into ice cold water if you step in the wrong spot. I did not panic though, my confidence build up by remembering losing the trail the day before and how I had easily fund it after back tracking a bit. I knew that I was going to be ok. I backtracked again and about 20 feet up I found the trail head! I was very glad that I had back tracked and not just carried on down the hill and probably right past the camp ground.

I arrived back at my camp site at Glacier Meadows at 3:30 and made my self a hot cup of coffee as the rain started to pour down in earnest. I hoped that the pit I was forced to pitch my tent in for lack of better camp spots would not fill with water.

Narrow TrailI shared the campground with just one couple that night. They were a husband and wife from France who where there to climb mount Olympus. They were hoping for good weather in the morning so they could make the ascent.

The Narrow Trail Down to Elk Lake

I wished them luck before I settled down for the night in my tent. I put my extra socks on before my feet had a chance to get cold and slept in my fleece sweater. My torso was too warm but I figured that having a warm torso would keep my feet warm and I was right. I did not get too cold my second night at Glacier Meadows but I slept rather fitfully thinking about the narrow scary trail that led back down to Elk Lake and wondering if it would be slippery in the rain.

Day four 7-04-2002

On Independence Day I woke up at about 6:30 and broke camp at 7:15. Rain was predicted that day and I was in a hurry to get back down the narrow steep trail before the rain started. By 8:30 I was 2.3 miles down the hill at Elk Lake. I paused to admire Elk Lake for a few minutes. There were Elk on the distant shore line and the lake was covered with lily pads that were in full bloom. I think I saw a frog jump off a lily pad.

I found the Quartz Crystal Cluster that I had cached on the way up. I also spotted a little hemlock tree that I had replanted by the side of the trail on the way up after finding it had been uprooted. I left a crystal cluster with the little Hemlock and hoped that the little Hemlock would survive and that someday my decedents would get to enjoy seeing the tree if they ever came this way.

I found a talking creek on the way down and paused to listen to it. I don't know what language it was speaking in but it seemed to have a lot of stories to tell. I enjoyed imagining that it was telling stories in the language of the Hoh Indians who had once inhabited this beautiful valley.

I hiked on and paused again for lunch at the “Hi Hoh Bridge”. I decided to cook up the dinner I had not eaten my first night at Glacier Meadows instead of eating my usual trail mix for lunch. While I was cooking lunch the skies blackened and the sun disappeared, it was threatening to rain. I packed up every thing that I did not need to cook lunch and donned my full rain gear. I finished cooking right before the rain started. I ate my lunch while standing in the rain on the “Hi Hoh Bridge”.

hohdeer3.jpg - 57246 BytesAfter lunch I pushed on to Olympic Guard Station, it rained off on. At one point it really started to pour so I took shelter under a fallen tree that was over hanging the trail until the sun came back out. I was very tired when I arrived at Olympic Guard Station at 3:30 and I could only find one camp site left on this busy 4th of July in the Hoh Rain Forest. I did not much care for this campsite located so close to the trail but I was soon quite happy to have found it.

After I pitched my tent groups of backpackers started pouring in looking for spots. Many of them were turned away and had to camp elsewhere or pitch their tents on the gravel bar. The rain was still coming down in scattered showers as they were looking for places to camp. I climbed into my tent and started reading the Harry Potter book I had brought with me. I slept quite well on the 4th of July and I did not hear a single fire cracker all day as I was nine miles deep into the National Park where fire works were against the regulations.

Day five 7-05-2002

I woke up and saw that the sun wanted to shine but there was no way that it was going to hit my tent under the trees in the meadow. Longing for sunshine to dry out my tent and rain clothes I broke camp at 7:30 am without breakfast or my morning coffee and headed for “Happy Four” campground just three miles away. I stopped a few miles down the trail and laid out my tarp in a muddy meadow and sat and cooked breakfast, made coffee and re braided my hair. I felt very refreshed and ready to go after that. I packed up my tarp and headed down the trail only to find that I was just a quarter of a mile a way from Happy Four campground. Once again I had been confused by the fact that Happy Four Campground was 5.3 miles up the trail instead of 4 miles.

I found a gorgeous spot to pitch my tent on a sand bed just 15 feet from the river bank. I had the spot all to myself for most of the day. I really enjoyed the solitude but was also glad to see that I would have the company of other campers at night. Part of the reason for my pitching my tent so close to the river was in hopes that the noise from the river would drown out all the sounds of the things that go bump in the night.

Campsite at Happy 4I carried buckets of water up and washed the mud off my clothes and tried to bath myself as best I could. It would have been so much easier to wash the mud off my clothes directly in the river but the park service asks that you do not wash anything directly in the rivers or lakes but carry buckets of water and wash things 200 feet away from the nearest body of water. Still it felt great to be half way clean again.

Campsite at Happy 4 overlooking Hoh River

I watched as group of young men attempted to ford the Hoh River with their backpacks on. One man made it across but the others refused to try. The backpacker who made it across re crossed the river and he and his friends set up camp on the large gravel bed the same side of the river as my camp but about 200 feet closer to the woods.

I lounged around the campground reading my book and exploring the river bank for the rest of the day. I really enjoyed the full sunshine out on the exposed gravel bed after days of hiking in the shade of the rain forest. I slept very fitfully that night. Just as I would fall asleep I would hear “bears” wandering around my tent. This happened several times.

Day Six 7-06-2002

I woke up at about 6:30. I found a nice spot to sit on my sleeping pad and watch the river flow by as I ate my breakfast and tried to relax a bit before the trip home. It was another nice sunny day. At about 9:30 I remorsefully broke camp and headed out. I had a 5.3-mile hike back to the trailhead and a 4-hour drive home. I was looking forward to seeing my daughter though.

The closer I got to the trail head the more walkers I saw. First I saw backpackers who were going on very short hikes, then I saw day hikers and then finally I started to see car tourists out on strolls with their cameras. I quit saying hi to everyone I passed at about the one mile mark. People’s attitudes had changed. The people I was a passing by then were no longer my fellow backpackers and they had stopped responding as nicely when I said hi to them.

By noon I had hiked out to the trail head. What a shock it was for me to walk out into the parking lot at the Hon Visitor Center and see a lot full of cars and people walking everywhere. I had not seen or heard car in five days. I felt like I was in a daze, it was so uncomfortable for me to have to dodge cars in the parking lot with my backpack on so I could get to my car. I wanted to flee back into the woods. I still had one night’s food with me. I gave it serious thought but I knew I did not have the energy to hike far enough back up the trail to get away from the throngs of people.

I was happy to see that my van was still where I had parked it and it was undamaged. I put my pack in my van and dug my cell phone out of my duffel bag under the seat. I called and let a few relatives know I had made it out alive and I made plans to pick up my daughter on the way home.

On the drive out I felt so sad when I looked at the miles and miles and miles and acres and acres of second and third growth mono forests of Douglas fir that surrounded the Forks area. Old growth forests are very diverse. Now that I had just spend five nights in a pristine forest I knew what those forests might have looked like before they logged.

The Hoh River Trial is a beautiful hike and I had a wonderful exciting adventure there. I hope to go back someday maybe with my daughter when she is old enough.

Updated May 2005

I've read several other trips reports from backpackers doing the Hoh river trail and it seems that most of them were afraid to hike up the steep snow covered slopes to the blue glacier moraine . What a shame! Blue Glacier was the highlight of the trip for me. Yes the snow bank is steep and slippery but you don't need special gear to get up it. I toe kicked my way up and butt slid my way down.

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