Olympic National Park, Day 7 – 08/14/2014

Olympic National Park, Day 7 08/14/2014 Photo Album

The Elwha River originates slightly southeast of Mt. Olympus and flows southeast and then makes a large bend and eventually runs north and empties into the Strait of Juan de Fuca that connects Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean. When I searched for information on fishing in Olympic National Park, I found a comprehensive article on the Fly Fisherman web site from 2012. I read with keen interest the section that described the Elwha River as this seemed to be an option that would enable me to fish to resident trout during the summer unlike the western rivers that were primarily productive in the fall and winter when salmon and steelhead make their appearance.

The Elwha River was also once home to rich runs of salmon and steelhead until two dams were constructed in the early 1900’s. This halted the salmon runs, and the steelhead became landlocked rainbows. The article described decent fishing for 12-15 inch rainbows in the water above Lake Mills, so I was excited to give this a try, although I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get to the Elwha River given our location in Forks, WA on the western edge of Olympic National Park. This all became a moot point when we arrived at the main visitor center on Saturday August 9 and discovered that the Elwha River was closed to fishing while it was restored after the two dams were removed.

Joe was feeling somewhat better on Friday morning, but Amy wanted to get him home as soon as possible, as he was feeling weak and needed the rest and comfort of his home, so they departed on their six hour drive to Portland, OR. This left Jane, Dan and I with one more day to explore Olympic National Park before returning to Seattle and Denver on Saturday. We decided we would like to do a hike of moderate length that had a destination. We scanned the official Olympic National Park map and spotted a nice loop along the Elwha River that began at Whiskey Bend, and we decided to do it. I was not going to have the opportunity to fish the Elwha, but now I would at least be able to undertake an up close scouting trip.

We made sandwiches and packed our remaining lunch food since what we did not eat would go in the trash, and we departed for the Elwha River valley. The drive to the turn off was ten miles beyond Lake Crescent, but then we traveled another sixteen miles further south to the trailhead including a narrow single lane gravel road for the last six miles. Eventually we reached Whiskey Bend and found a nice parking spot and began our hike. We elected to hike the Elwha River Trail until we reached a footbridge that crossed the river on the way to Dodge Point. The footbridge over the Elwha River was our destination.

A Small Waterfall Above the Trail

A Small Waterfall Above the Trail

Fast Water Above the Bridge

Fast Water Above the Bridge

The bridge was my favorite spot on the hike as we peered over the railing and gazed into the clear aqua water to the north and south. All I could think about was being on the river fishing on the day that it reopened after being closed for four years. On the return loop we hiked Rica Canyon, and that took us along the river although on a high bank quite a distance from the water. At the point where we could turn right to climb back to the Elwha River Trail we chose to take a short spur to Goblins Gate. Here we stood high above a place where the river morphed into whitewater and churned through a narrow chasm for thirty yards before veering to the right and then emptying into a deep pool. The point where the river dropped into the pool was Goblins Gate.

The Roaring Elwha About to Pass Through Goblins Gate

The Roaring Elwha About to Pass Through Goblins Gate

The half mile leg from Goblins Gate back to the Elwha River Trail was pure uphill, and we did it with only a few stops. I was rather thankful for my mile high training as my breathing was fine, but my muscles felt the strain.

Dave Next to the Elwha River

Dave Next to the Elwha River

We had exhausted the adequate and worse than adequate food establishments in Forks, so we decided to drive to Port Angeles on Friday night to sample a restaurant there. Once we were in cell range, I used my phone and Yelp to identify a Thai restaurant called Sabai Thai. This was our choice, and we were all quite impressed with the quality of the food and drink in this establishment. As one would expect, the place was quite crowded, and we endured a 30 minute wait by sipping some tasty beers at the bar.

We had a long drive back to Forks, but it was another wonderful day with beautiful scenery and capped off with a tasty meal. It was a fine ending to our week in Olympic National Park.

Olympic National Park, Day 6 – 08/14/2014

Olympic National Park, Day 6 08/14/2014 Photo Album

The beauty of any seacoast goes way beyond the visual images and includes the sound of pounding surf and the smell of saltwater. The beaches of Washington certainly combine all the senses in a very natural and striking manner. Human impact is largely absent, and the rocks and logs and evergreen trees provide a unique distinction to Washington beaches compared with others I have visited.

The backpackers arrived on Wednesday evening, and after some discussion we all agreed to dedicate Thursday to visiting the Pacific beaches in Olympic National Park. We decided to begin with Rialto Beach, as it was directly west of Forks and only a fourteen mile trip and included a 1.5 mile hike to Hole in the Wall if the tides permitted.

We ate a relatively late breakfast and then gathered our essentials for the day and set off toward Rialto Beach. Once we arrived we found a place to park and made a short hike to the beach. Similar to Kalaloch Beach, numerous drift logs bordered the fringe of the sand. It was around 1PM when we arrived, and there was a fair amount of space between the waves and the eastern edge of the beach, but it appeared the tide was incoming and not outgoing.

Joe, Dan and Amy Skip Stones in the Pacific

Joe, Dan and Amy Skip Stones in the Pacific

Just as moths are attracted to light, Dan, Joe and Amy were immediately drawn to the large quantity of round flat stones on the beach, and they began to skip rocks at a rapid-fire pace. I challenged Dan to skip three incoming waves on one toss, and he gave it a strong effort, but succeeded in skipping two but never three. The difficulty in this test of skill was the long time between incoming waves. After a half hour of thrilling rock skipping we decided to attempt the three mile round trip hike to Hole in the Wall. It was clear that the tide was coming in, and I was uncertain we could make the full loop before facing the prospect of wet feet. I was wearing my sneakers, and the others were equipped with sandals and Chacos, so clearly I was in the minority on this matter.

Jane and Dan Head North

Jane and Dan Head North

We threw caution to the wind and departed with Hole in the Wall as our destination. It was a fun hike with numerous pauses to snap photos and enjoy the natural scenery. As we walked north, numerous large haystack-shaped rocks came into view, and nearly all of them featured stunted evergreens growing from the pointy peaks. In many cases fog or mist shrouded these prominent features on the horizon, and I marveled at their rugged beauty. There were also rocky outcroppings on the beach, and these contained tidal pools with an abundance of sea life. We observed numerous clams, anemones, and starfish.

Tough Environment for a Tree

Tough Environment for a Tree

Hole in the Wall was another haystack rock, but the forces of nature carved a large arch, or hole in the wall, through the rock. As this was our destination, we paused to snap numerous photos and passed through the arch, and then inspected the numerous tidal pools that populated this rocky area. In order to reach Hole in the Wall, we hiked over a narrow strand of rock, and waves were already creating a wet surface, so I was the first of our group to make a U-turn and head back to the beach. The return hike was a bit dicey, and I had to sprint across several narrow strands of sand between incoming waves to preserve my dry socks and shoes. In spite of my lack of preparedness with footwear, we enjoyed a fun hike at Rialto Beach and managed to return just as the tide approached its high water mark. Dan finally used his phone to find a tide chart and concluded that high tide was 4PM, and we ended our hike by 3PM, so we did in fact cut it close.

Portrait Style Captures the Hole

Portrait Style Captures the Hole

The next step in our plan for the day was to return to the Forks Outfitters (supermarket) and buy lunch and firewood and then continue on to Ruby Beach. Ruby Beach is located on the coast north of Kalaloch Lodge, so it was the next closest beach south of La Push and Rialto Beach. Joe meanwhile was a bit under the weather, so we took some time to get him situated, and he elected to stay behind and recover from the stress of four days of backpacking.

Jane and Amy Compare Their Beach Collections

Jane and Amy Compare Their Beach Collections

After stopping at the supermarket to buy lunch and a bundle of firewood, we continued on highway 101 to the parking lot at Ruby Beach. We climbed out of the Ford Focus rental car and carried the firewood to the beach. Ruby Beach contained many more drift logs than Rialto Beach, and previous visitors built small huts using these readily available construction materials. In addition there were many small stone towers constructed with the flat round stones that were very prevalent on the Pacific beach.

Campfire and Beers at Ruby Beach

Campfire and Beers at Ruby Beach

Once we exited from the trees and drift logs, we walked south on the beach a good ways until we escaped the other visitors who remained near the end of the path from the parking lot. We were looking for a nice spot away from the crowds that contained a fire pit and drift logs to provide shelter from the wind, and eventually we found our place. Once we staked out our location for a beach campfire, we realized we were missing a key ingredient – beer. Fortunately Jane and I had been to the Kalaloch Lodge on Wednesday, and we knew there was a mercantile there, so Dan and I returned to the car and made the seven mile drive. We purchased a six pack of Alaska amber along with a $7 pocketknife that contained a bottle opener and quickly returned to our temporary campsite at Ruby Beach.

The Fire Has a Good Start

The Fire Has a Good Start

We now had the essentials so we started a fire and popped beers and enjoyed our gorgeous surroundings. Starting the fire was actually a bit of a challenge. We were surrounded by massive quantities of wood, but we quickly discovered that driftwood and drift logs are perpetually damp as a result of repeated soaking as the tides move in and out. In addition the coast experienced quite a bit of rain on Wednesday, and Jane and I could attest to that. We finally managed to find some very thin branches that worked as kindling, and after almost losing the unstable flame several times, we managed to create a solid base of glowing embers.

The Wellers at Ruby Beach

The Wellers at Ruby Beach

We were now together as a family for the first time since Christmas, and it was a great way to end our beach day. The fire glowed, the surf crashed, and the tide moved out as we tended the fire and sipped our beers and soaked up the beauty that surrounded us. It was the highlight of the trip for Jane and me.

 

Olympic National Park, Day 5 – 08/13/2014

Olympic National Park, Day 5 08/13/2014 Photo Album

It was Wednesday and we had already spent a day in the rainforest, a day at Lake Crescent and a day in the Sol Duc River valley. We were saving the beaches to visit once the backpackers returned, and they were due to arrive Wednesday evening. So what did we decide to do on Wednesday? Why of course we chose to visit another rainforest, the Quinault Rainforest in the southwestern corner of Olympic National Park.

The difference between the Hoh Rainforest and the Qunault Rainforest was fifty miles and the weather. It was 68 miles from Forks, WA to the Quinault Ranger Station making this the longest drive to any area of the park during our one week stay. We woke up to cloudy skies and light rain on Wednesday, and these conditions would endure through our entire day in the rainforest and our return trip. The wet weather probably gave us a truer taste of rainforest conditions than the hot ninety degree day that we enjoyed on Sunday.

A Slug Near the Start of Our Hike in the Quinault Rainforest

A Slug Near the Start of Our Hike in the Quinault Rainforest

We began our Quinault visit by stopping at the ranger station beyond the eastern end of Quinault Lake. Here we began a self-guided hike on the Maple Glade Trail, but after completing less than half of the circular loop, we detoured on to the Kestner Homestead Trail. This trail continued for another mile or so and led us through an old ranch area with four or five out buildings. These were the remaining structures of a homesteading family that eventually sold out to the National Park Service. The entire hike was probably around 1.5 miles.

Dave at the Kestner Homestead

Dave at the Kestner Homestead

We left the ranger station and drove east on the gravel North Shore Road. I noticed a relatively short hike to Irely Lake on the map and also on the one page flyer that listed and and described hikes. The precipitation shifted back and forth from fog to mist to drizzle to light rain during our entire visit. After a fairly lengthy drive on a gravel road we finally reached the trailhead for Irely Lake. I knew nothing about the prospects of fishing, but I did not want to hike for 1.2 miles and find rising fish and not have fishing equipment, so I wore my frontpack and carried my fly rod and reel just in case. Three backpackers arrived while we were preparing to hike, and they were heading to Three Lakes. One of the backpackers told us that he read that fishing was good at Irely Lake, so this raised my hopes.

The trail was more uphill than down on the way out, but we eventually found a sign that pointed to a spur that went up a hill to the left to Irely Lake. As we crested the hill and walked to an overlook, we came to the realization that Irely Lake was dry! I felt quite foolish standing in a dry meadow with my fishing rod and net.

Dave Ready to Net a Rock in Dry Irely Lake

Dave Ready to Net a Rock in Dry Irely Lake

Confluence of East and North Branches of Quinault River

Confluence of East and North Branches of Quinault River

 

We quickly made the return hike and reversed course to a place where we crossed the Quinault River on a bridge and drove a short distance east on Graves Creek Road. I was interested in getting a closer look at the North Fork and East Fork of the Quinault River, and we found a small pullout on a high bank that overlooked the confluence of the two branches. The water in both forks was a deep blue hue similar to the Hoh. At this point the precipitation took the form of a dense mist, and we could see thick clouds hanging in front of the mountains in the distance. I’m sure this was the prototypical rainforest view. I could only imagine wading into the ice cold blue flows of the Quinault River and casting for fresh steelhead. The thought of fishing for powerful steelhead in these smaller rivers compared to the wide and brawling Deschutes River actually appealed to me.

Looking Up the East Branch in the Mist and Rain

Looking Up the East Branch in the Mist and Rain

We ate our lunches in the car and enjoyed the comparatively dry cozy comfort of our shelter from the rain. After finishing lunch, we made the long drive back to the turnoff to the Quinault River valley and then retreated along highway 101 until we reached the Pacific Coast at Kalaloch. From looking at the map, it appeared that Kalaloch was one of the more developed beach areas with campgrounds and a lodge. We were both feeling quite chilled from the damp weather, so we stopped at the lodge and enjoyed cups of tea and coffee. After we warmed up, we braved the soggy elements and took a brief stroll on the beach where Kalaloch Creek enters the Pacific Ocean. This piqued our interest in spending more time on the coastal beaches, and we looked forward to the arrival of Joe, Amy and Dan so we could make our plans.

Dave Rests on Drift Logs at Kalaloch Beach

Dave Rests on Drift Logs at Kalaloch Beach

After departing the beach we drove back to Forks, and as we entered the fringe of the town, we stopped and took photos at the visitor center including a photo next to the Forks, WA sign. Apparently this is a requirement of all Twilight fans. When we returned to the Forks Motel, it wasn’t long before the trio of backpackers arrived, and we grabbed a warm dinner at the Pacific Pizza restaurant. More Olympic adventures were in our future.

Jane in the Obligatory Twilight Photo

Jane in the Obligatory Twilight Photo

 

 

Olympic National Park, Day 3 – 08/11/2014

Olympic National Park, Day 3 08/11/2014 Photo Album

When I returned to the parking lot from fishing, Jane wasn’t visible, so I walked to the Bovee’s Meadow “beach” and found her sitting on a drift log. The number of swimmers, dogs, kayakers and picnickers had multiplied greatly over the previous hour so we were happy to say farewell.

I removed my waders and stashed my fishing gear, and we made the drive on highway 101 to the Lake Crescent marina at the western end of the lake. Jane was excited to rent a one person kayak; however, the marina only offered three two person kayaks and a canoe. We overestimated our stamina and paid to rent a red two person kayak for two hours. The young ginger in the store led us to the shed where we selected life jackets and adjusted them, and then Jane and I dragged the long kayak into the lake. We stabilized ourselves in the seats with low backs and grabbed our paddles and splashed out of the bay.

Jane in Front of Two Person Kayak

Jane in Front of Two Person Kayak

It was a warm day, so the occasional wayward splash from the paddles felt refreshing. We began by following the north shore for what seemed like three miles, but in reality it was probably only 1-1.5 miles. We were both concerned about straining arm and back muscles by paddling too fast and too long. Paddling was not an activity that we were accustomed to doing, so this was a legitimate and serious concern. We passed numerous private cabins and boathouses along the north shore, and I was actually surprised at how many were occupied on a weekday.

We tried to pace ourselves and rest occasionally, but our strong work ethics governed our approach, and we maintained a fairly rigorous pace. After 45 minutes of relatively aggressive paddling we decided to cross the lake and begin our return trip. During the first half of our water trip we battled intermittent headwinds, so we looked forward to a favorable tailwind on the way back. Unfortunately the wind essentially died as the hour passed, and we had to supply muscle power to cut through the lake on the homeward leg.

At 3PM some clouds blocked the sun, and I noticed a large quantity of small blue winged olives skidding across the surface of the lake. It didn’t take long before the swarm of hatching mayflies induced quite a few rings from rising trout. It was torture to be in this situation with no fly rod or flies, but I was careful to note the time of day in case I could arrange a return to Lake Crescent on a future day trip. The strong hatch lasted for nearly an hour and pods of rising fish appeared in several coves as we paddled our way back to the marina. We arrived at the beach by the marina at 4PM and decided to forego the last 30 minutes of our rental time to avoid overextending our weary muscles.

Jane at Fairholme Marina

Jane at Fairholme Marina

In lieu of kayak paddling we purchased two cans of Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout and found a picnic table in the neighboring campground where we sipped the ice cold suds and watched the swimmers in the small beach area between the marina and campground. After relaxing for a bit, we departed Lake Crescent in a mellow state and made the half hour drive back to Forks. Day three was a fun day of water activities, and we looked forward to new adventures on day four in Olympic National Park.

Barney Flats Oatmeal Stouts Ice Cold and Ready to Consume by Lake Crescent

Barney Flats Oatmeal Stouts Ice Cold and Ready to Consume by Lake Crescent

Olympic National Park, Day 2 – 08/10/2014

Olympic National Park, Day 2 08/10/2014 Photo Album

After Jane read an article in Sunset Magazine, she became increasingly intrigued with visiting Olympic National Park in the northwestern corner of Washington. In a conversation with our daughter, Amy, she discovered that Amy and her boyfriend, Joe, were independently planning a backpacking trip to Olympic National Park in August prior to Amy’s enrollment in the Pacific University physical therapy doctoral program. Our son, Dan, meanwhile had a two week window between finishing his summer internship in Minneapolis and returning to Duke for the second year of his MBA program. The planning all came together, and Jane and I found ourselves on a Frontier flight on Saturday morning August 9 to Seatac Airport in Washington.

The plan was for the five of us to meet in Tacoma for lunch. Jane and I would drive the rental car from the lunch spot to the northeast visitor center in Olympic National Park and transport Dan and his gear. Dan, Amy and Joe would then drive to the trailhead and begin their backpacking adventure while Jane and I continued to the west side of the park where we reserved a room at the Forks Motel in Forks, WA. Forks, WA I quickly learned was the setting for the Twilight series of books and movies. We would undertake daily tours of the Olympic National Park attractions on the west and central side of the park while the kids did their backpacking.

Once the threesome completed their backpacking loop, they would drive west and meet us in Forks for a couple days. Joe and Amy would then drive back to Portland, OR while Dan, Jane and I planned to return to Seatac and then fly back to Denver.

The actual visit pretty much followed the script, and Jane and I arrived in Forks, WA late on Saturday afternoon. We spent the rest of the day gathering information and food and getting situated in what would be our home base for the next week.

Huge Sitka Spruce Tree

Huge Sitka Spruce Tree

We were surprised to discover that the western part of the Olympic peninsula was in a bit of a drought with the rivers quite low and the trees and shrubs actually showing signs of changing color in early August. For our first adventure we elected to drive south to explore the Hoh Rainforest, and Sunday was no different from recent weather patterns with temperatures reaching 90 degrees. The Hoh Rainforest was a great place to spend a day in abnormally hot weather as the giant evergreens provided massive amounts of shade. Our first stop was a roadside pullout that featured a huge sitka spruce tree. We moved on to the ranger station where we did a quick .8 mile loop trail called the Hall of Moss. This was our initial exposure to a dense rainforest featuring club moss, huge trees, mushrooms and ferns.

Jane and Dave in Hoh Rainforest

Jane and Dave in Hoh Rainforest

After completing the Hall of Moss, we departed on a 5.8 mile out and back trek on the Hoh River Trail. Despite the warm temperatures, we enjoyed a great hike that gave us intermittent views of the aqua-colored Hoh River. We set a goal to reach Mt. Tom Creek before turning around, and we achieved our destination. We explored the Mt. Tom Creek campground a bit, and this provided a convenient path to the blue Hoh River where we dipped our hands in the ice cold flows. When we returned to the main trail, we found a large stump and ate our lunches.

Dave Next to the Blue Hoh River

Dave Next to the Blue Hoh River

When we returned to Forks, we decided to search out the Rivers Edge Restaurant in La Push, WA. We arrived early and elected to explore Beach One, but somehow missed the sign and ended up hiking a bit further to Beach Two. This was probably a fortuitous change in plans as Beach Two was quite nice; whereas, we later discovered that Beach One was right in town. Numerous campers had their tents set up on the fringe of the beach, and many hikers were arriving to view the summer sunset.

Tents Set Up Along the Beach

Tents Set Up Along the Beach

After our beach stroll we found the restaurant where we both ordered seafood entrees. The food was not as delicious as we expected, but it served to satisfy our appetites. We returned to Forks and made our plans for Monday in Olympic National Park. In one day we had already experienced the Pacific beach and a rainforest.

Jane's Footprint

Jane’s Footprint