Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Olympic National Park
(or, "Ambrosia & Wanderlust for Mere Mortals")

Two friends (now married to each other) are taking five weeks this summer to drive, camp and hike up and down the West Coast, even venturing into some of Canada's national parks (Banff, etc.).

They invited me to join them at Banff, and I was about to buy a plane ticket for Alberta when Washington's best friend announced his wedding reception would be the weekend following July 4th — incidentally, about the same time my friends would be exploring Olympic National Park.

So I purchased a ticket for Washington state instead. And while I regret that I won't get to explore Banff just yet (it looks beautiful), I'll be the first to confess that this past hike was among the best I've ever taken (though for the last two hours I think we were all ready for it to be over).

We hiked for about eight hours, covering 10 miles with a 1,500-2,000 foot elevation gain and then a 6,000 foot elevation drop. The hike up certainly got my heart pumping, but the payoff was worth it.*

Beautifully clear skies, the Olympics all around us, and the ocean down below just to the west of us.

At some points we were so far above the clouds, it was difficult to tell the ocean from the sky.

Once we turned to head down the mountain, our narrow path carried us past meadows full of colorful wild flowers

And even patches of snow. For the first time in my life, I hiked through snow in the dead of summer. At some points our trail entirely disappeared under a bed of white, and we'd confer as to where we thought we needed to go.

There should've been two bald eagles in this shot — I spotted six of the them by the weekend's end, but never had my camera at the ready.

I would've expected to see enormous slugs further west in the park (closer to the Hoh Rain Forest), but we were pretty far east in the park, in a dryer climate. Suffice it to say I was pretty much in awe of these guys, which were gigantic in comparison to the Midwestern slugs I'm more accustomed to.

But don't get me wrong. Our trail was packed full of things you'd see elsewhere too. Still, there's nothing quite like stopping to add a little "extra" to the "ordinary."

The second half of our journey took us into a forest of monstrous proportions. When we wandered past some toilet paper knotted in the trees — our lone reminder of outside civilization, since we saw absolutely no one after our initial climb to the peak — I stopped to ask if we should check to see if someone was down in the ravine, possibly lost.

I didn't see anyone, but we did find out the next day that search teams were out looking for a woman who'd gotten lost during a similar hike just a couple days before. She went out for a day hike on Tuesday, but didn't reappear until Saturday, when she wandered out of the woods 20 miles off course. The cause for her state: snow had covered a portion of her trail, and she miscalculated where it picked up.

Luckily, she'd packed enough food to subsist. But her situation does allude to some precautions you should take before any serious hike:

•Don't hike alone
•Always give yourself enough time to get out of tree cover before sunset
•Bring a compass
•Pack a topological (or "green") map of the park
•Bring along GPS, if available

But this is all in addition to the other supplies (energy bars, lots of water, first aid kit, matches, knife, etc.) I bring along which — let's be honest — I go a bit overboard on.

Many of the trees were draped in Spanish moss. And the further down we climbed — and the closer we got to the river below — the more the trees were covered.

I have absolutely no idea what this transformer/transponder was doing in the middle of the forest. Any ideas?

The sound of the river below was sometimes pretty intense. And because we were constantly walking down pretty steep inclines, my knees, ankles and toes (note to self: buy better hiking shoes) were really starting to ache (substantially more than my muscles). But the sound of water was getting intense, so I thought that meant we were near the end of our hike.

Turns out we had about three miles to go. And we were actually just approaching a water fall.

But as I said before, the park wasn't just bears and giant slugs and eagles and the like. It was full of wildlife you'd see elsewhere, too. Even still, it's not everyday you spot an adolescent deer in the foreground of a vista like this.

This was actually taken after our hike — when we picked up our car and headed into town for some grub.

The next day we toured the neighboring towns, visiting lilac farms...

Charming seaside towns...

And Fort Worden, a 19th century military fort designed to ward off naval attacks in the north Pacific.

This is the bunker area, our last stop before parting with my friends.

Shelters hidden in dirt reeked of alcohol and fireworks, with July 4th bottle rockets and the like serving as an ironic reminder of the fort's original intent.

On Day 4, we were off to the wedding reception, where I found these lovelies sprouting up from a sidewalk.

This was "lucky" 7/7/7. And so only three days after Independence Day. For those of you keeping track, this July 4th was the two year anniversary of my brother's return from Afghanistan. He heads to Iraq in January, something that has all of us holding our breath. He returned from Afghanistan with debilitating migraines, a rotator cuff completely torn from his shoulder (he's had surgery to repair it, though he'll never get it back 100%), and an inexplicable case of asthma.

After the reception, we drove 10 miles north to the Canadian border, passports in tow. Unfortunately, everyone in the states seemed to be going through the same checkpoint, and our wait to get across the international boundary was just short of two hours.

We didn't have two hours to kill, unfortunately, so that meant we had to turn right back around.

But before we did, this is the one shot I got of Canada: construction of a new customs building.

Pretty ironic when you consider the current Canadian building was already in much better shape than the U.S. side. Not to mention, neither the Canadians nor the Americans like it when you tell them you spent all of your free time sitting in line and so need to turn around to make dinner plans.

The Canadians will look at you funny, make you pull over, and then send you inside their building to have a piece of paper filed before they smile and wish you a nice day.

The Americans, guns on their side, scowl, and then have you pull over so they can search through your belongings with a fine tooth comb (as a side note, we were the only white people inside the building — everyone else was Middle Eastern or Hispanic — racial profiling anyone, anyone?).

Luckily, even with the full search re-entering the U.S., the line on that side was still MUCH shorter. So we turned our car south and visited the newlyweds at their new home, of which I was sinfully envious.

Day 5 was spent back in Seattle, which I enjoy visiting almost as much as Portland and Olympia.

All three cities are extremely eco-friendly. On this particular day, there was a city-wide campaign alerting people to homelessness in the city. I was told that when this campaign was first unveiled, some hooligans destroyed the cutouts by drawing mustaches and the like onto children's faces.

Some people have absolutely no tact.

Here a "real" little girl is sizing herself up against the girl on the cardboard cutout.

"I'm bigger than her!" she exclaimed, her face sobering a bit when her mother read the sign aloud.

And then it was back to my apartment in the Midwest, where recently so much of the grass seems painfully (and metaphorically) brown.

*If interested, you'll find more vacation photos at my Flick'r account.


Stacy said...

Blessed are the toilet paper burners

And those who do not look away

I feel as though I just went on the most beautiful hike of all times and my muscles feel great, as if I haven't even hiked at all! Thanks:)

michele said...

That hike was gorgeous! though of course I wish you had been able to take your (our) friends up on their offer to meet in Banff! Great photos!

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Stacy - Anytime.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Michele - That was an additional bummer about not making it to Banff. They mentioned you might be able to join them at Banff, or at least meet up for coffee in AB. Can't imagine there's a better place for a reunion, honestly.

Pamela said...

I spent some time in the Olympics.. but mostly with friends at parks or up at Hurricane Ridge.

Growing up I could see the range west of my home close to Puget Sound.

beautiful pictures.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Pamela - Oddly enough our hike up took us around Hurricane Ridge, and then to whatever peak it meets at. We then took a side trail down.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

(Which is why we saw quite a few people on our way up, but no one on the way down).

XOXO said...

TWP-It's so weird you would have a (mis)adventure that you got off the trail. Did you remember to be the one carrying the backpack?

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

XOXO - That's one mistake I won't make twice.