Saturday, August 16, 2008
Trip over the Olympic Mountains
Sundown Lake at sun up
Headwater of the South Fork of the Skokomish River at 4,000 feet
Graves Creek Trail, Upper South Fork Skokomish Trail and Sundown Lake Way Trail.
Our goal was to hike across the Mountains from Quinault to Skokomish with my husband providing transportation. This way I would finally get to see Sundown Lake, Sundown Pass and all of the Upper South Fork Skokomish Trail.
Our Route across the Mountains
Monday Day 1:
My husband drove us to Quinault and dropped us off at the spot where the road to Graves Creek Trial is washed out. We hiked 5 miles along the road to the Graves Creek Car campground where we spend our first night. My pack weighed 34 pounds and my daugher's pack weighed 24 pounds. As soon as we started walking my daughter started complaining so I took 8 pounds of food out of her pack and put it in mine. With that weight out of her pack she was bounding ahead and catching small animals but with the extra weight in my pack I was miserable and was carrying more then my doctor said I should carry. I have had major reconstructive surgery on both of my ankles. My daughter was not in the least bit concerned about me so when she was not looking I slipped 4 pounds back into her pack and dumped out her water bottle to save her some weight. She never noticed the difference and I was able to enjoy my hike a bit more. The walk down the road was pleasant enough with views of the Quinault River and the forest.
When we got to Graves Creek campground we picked out a nice little campsite right on the river. Then I started to pitch the tarp tent and discovered that my tent tarp’s back pole was missing. The front pole was left behind on purpose because the front is made to take a trekking pole but I forgot that the tarp has a back pole too and left that behind thinking it was one of the front poles. I was able to improvise a way to keep the tent up using another trekking pole so we could stay dry and bug free, I decided that we could get though the trip with out the back pole.
My Tarp Tent is a "rainshadow 2" ultra light and it keeps us dry with no condensation but some of the seams have ripped out (on the floor and on one of the side loops) and the front rain flap is too small and the front poles might poke through it someday if not for a silicone patch that Henry Shires put on it at the PCT kick off last year. Other versions of my Tarp Tent are better made; I think I got a lemon. For the price paid the seams should not rip out in less then 20 nights. Other people rave about their tarp tents and I think most of them are fine but mine is not.
Graves Creek campground is a car campground but with the road washed out only backpackers can use it this year. Three of the campsites were occupied. We found lobster mushrooms next to the bathrooms and we added them to our dinner. Dinner was Idahoan 4 cheese potatoes with tuna, veggies and fresh mushrooms. I learned the hard way that Idahoan 4 cheese potatoes do have MSG in them. I should have read the label more carefully. When we ate them again on our 3rd day I got a mild MSG headache that lasted all night but was gone by morning. Another nice backpacking food that I can’t eat. Oh well I’ll just use plain instant mashed potatoes and add cheese to them.
The highlight of Graves Creek Campground was a bear on the other side of the river from our campsite. I did not see the bear but my 11 year old did and she yelled “MOMMY LOOK A BEAR!” So of course the bear ran away. She did the same thing later in the trip when she saw an elk and scared it away before I could see it too. I think now she knows not to scream when she sees an animal. I was glad there were bear proof containers in the campground for us to put our food in overnight.
We hiked about 5.1 miles on this day.
As would be normal for this trip I got up before my daughter did and brewed up my morning tea. Since we were at a car campground we had guilt free campfire the night before. All I had to do to heat the water for my morning tea was stoke up the fire and add a few twigs to it. Unfortunately I managed to burn my hand on the fire grate and woke up with a nice blister on this morning. We took or time leaving the campground and did not get started on our hike until 11 am. All of our days were going to be low mileage so we could afford to be leisurely and take the time to enjoy each of our campsites. We started up the Graves creek trail and it goes up steeply as it diverges from the Quinault trail. My daughter asked if the next 4 miles were going to be like this, she was worried. The trail leveled out a bit and then began a steady climb to success creek camp.
A mile or so into our hike we came across a huge steep walled gully. I had to lower both of our packs down the gully with a rope and then carry them across the gully and up the other side to the trail. Then I had to return and help my daughter down the gully. My daughter refused to turn around and go down climb backwards, she became hysterical and started crying and making a real scene but I managed to get her down and across. Once she was across she asked to take a break. I’m not sure why she was tired but I sure was tired after that ordeal. I was worried that we might have to turn around and go back across that gully if the trail got any worse. We did find 3 more gullies to cross and one of them was almost as bad as the first one. As I was toting both our packs across the second gully it started raining. I was not feeling too happy at this point. I had a sense of impending doom and was wishing I was at home but I talked myself out of it.
Our campsite at success creek was down in a dark hole next to the river. I would not have wanted to spend the night there alone; it is just the type of campsite that gives me the creeps. It was nice little site during the day though. The bugs were really bad and I was feeling creeped out so we started a cheery little fire to drive off the bugs.
I used the counter balance method to hang our bags but I could not get the bags high enough to keep a bear out of them if a bear did come a long so I kept a little pile of rocks near my head as slept. I was prepared to defend our food if need be.
We hiked 4 miles this day.
Day three Wednesday
On this day we left our campsite at 11am and set out for Sundown Lake. This day would be our highest in terms of elevation gain but one of our lowest in terms of miles. My daughter spotted a grouse in the woods and that was a real thrill for her. My daughter claimed to be unhappy backpacking but she was really excited about all the new things she was discovering and all the mushrooms we were finding. Each night she had plenty of energy to play in the campgrounds while I just collapsed after pitching the tarp and cooking dinner.
When we reached the marked intersection with the Wynoochie trail my daughter picked up the signed and hugged it while talking about civilization. We arrived at Sundown Lake around 4pm and we had the lake all to ourselves.
The bugs at the lake were just horrible and campfires were not allowed there so we really suffered. Three different kinds of bugs were biting us. My daughter made a game out of catching horse flies and then feeding them to the trout in the lake. The lake is full of little trout and those trout are now full of horseflies.
There was a snow bank above the lake to the East and a nice meadow above that. I figured the meadow was a good place to look for bears and I was right. Just before sundown I spotted a bear up in the meadow. I did not hang my food this night instead I put it on the ground ten feet from my head and I kept a big pile of rocks next to my head. No animals came to try and take our food in the night and the next morning we just kicked back and enjoyed the lake.
We hiked 3.8 miles or more this day
Day 4 Thursday: We did not hike this day, instead we rested up at the lake. I was so glad that I did not have to hike when I woke up on this morning after three days in a row of backpacking I was getting stiff and sore. We rested as much as we could with so many biting insects out to get us. We saw two bears up in the meadow and witnessed a minor skirmish between the bears as they battled for their territory.
Toward the evening a man named Eric came to camp at the lake. Eric is on a quest to hike every trail in Olympic National Park. He hung our food with his that night and I slept quite a bit better knowing all the food was in his campsite. In the morning I made quite a mess of getting my food down from the tree.
Friday Day 5:
Our plan for this day was to go up to Sundown Pass and then drop down into the Skokomish water shed and camp out and a pretty little spot 2 miles from the Upper trail head. I enjoyed finally getting to see Sundown Pass, it is just a little notch but I was happy to be there. I was also happy that most of the rest of the hike would be down hill. From Sundown pass I could see Mount Olympus and the head waters of the South Fork Skokomish River. So now I have seen both ends of the South Fork Skokomish and all that is left of the Entire South Fork Skokomish trail.
On the hike down we could not really stop and rest anywhere because the bugs were so bad. We tried to stop at camp riley for a little while and we lit a small Smokey fire there and utilized mosquito coils that someone had left behind but the bugs were still intolerable. It was then that we decided to go ahead and hike all the way down to the trail head and see if we could hitch a ride home. Luck was with us as we ran into a man name John who was headed out on a day hike. He offered to give us a ride home if we were still around when he finished up his hike. He was going to do Sundown Pass as a day hike.
We spend about 3 hours hanging out and eating dinner at the campsite we had been planning to stay at for the night. Once again the bugs were just awful. In spite of the heat I put on my full raingear to keep them from biting but they still managed to bite my ankles. At 5:30 we got up and hiked down the trail head making it out at about 7pm. There we waited for John and he arrived just as it was getting dark.
We piled into John’s pick up truck and headed down the road in the dark. We were surprised to see a woman walking down the road in the dark. We stopped to see if she was ok and she said that her husband had dumped her there 5 hours ago and she wanted a ride down to the Skokomish Reservation. She got into the back of the truck with all our backpacks and hunkered down low, just then a set of truck headlights came towards us and she yelled ”Go! Go! Go!” because she thought it might be her husband. Well this frightened us a bit, what would her husband do if he discovered us speeding off with his wife in the back of the truck? Luckily the truck passed us and did not turn around. A bit later we asked her if that was her husband and she said no it was not her husband but it might have been the tribal police. This was not exactly reassuring news, we did not ask her why the police might be looking for her. There was actually quite a bit of activity out there in the dark on this night! Mostly bored Sheltonions I'm thinking.
We surprised my husband by arriving home a day early and saving him from having to come out and get us at 9am. We hiked 8 miles on this last day. Unfortunately my husband did not do a lick of housework while we were gone. The house stuck from 5 days of dirty dishes in the sinks and a pair of poopy underwear on the living room floor. In about two hours my daughter and I had the house cleaned. No apologies or thank you came from my husband though, just a bunch of yelling about how it was too hot for him to clean up after himself.
I’m not sure how many miles this trip was. According to my map we went 20 miles but according to my GPS track log we went over 20 miles on the trails alone and not counting the 5 mile road hike. 25 miles might be right because it includes our little way trips to walk around the lake or look for mushrooms or go to the bathroom or what ever. All those little way trips do add up!
I’m calling it 20 with about 4000 feet in elevation gain. Yes I packed too much food; we had six pounds of food left over! I lost three pounds and probably gained some muscle. If only I could go backpacking every week I would lose all my extra weight.
This hike was good for my mental health, by day 3 I was feeling pretty normal. I don’t know how long it will last now that I am at home though. Perhaps I will go on a day hike this week or at least do something that gets me out in the woods and away from the night mare of constant housework.
The Graves Creek trial is a primitive trail and does not get much maintenance and the Upper South Fork Skokomish trail is in dire need of maintenance. The WTA was supposed to go up there and do some work and I saw they had cut out the largest logs but left the small ones behind. The bridge is still out the gullies are still steep. I hope the WTA can come out and do some more work on the Upper Skokomish Trial this year. This was a pretty rugged hike!
There is only one foot bridge left on the South Fork of the Skokomish River now and it is started to rot. I expect that bridge will be gone soon.
100 miles on my new shoes now. The shoes look great after this hike but my beat up old body does not! The next time I go backpacking in August I'm going to bring along and use a lot more deet even though it does not repel all the nasty biting bugs.
My home made kitten stove worked like a charm. I think I'm done messing around with Heineken can pots and stoves because they are too slow. In the winter especially I need a stove that boils water before I get cold. I used an Evernew brand titanium pot with aluminum foil and a ground reflector and a wind screen made of a disposable aluminum baking sheet. For fuel I used denatured alcohol and I lit it with a sparker but I also carried butane lighter.
Bean threads turned out to be a great tasty quick cooking substitute for spaghetti noodles.
Most of my photos for this trip are posted at My Flickr Account
Elevation profile based on map data, the actual mileage was higher.
Tarp Tent minus Back pole
Hiker named Eric who's goal is to hike every trail in Olympic National Park
Bear cooling off in the Snow above Sundown Lake
Same bear leaving after it saw us
Lobster and Chicken of the woods at Graves Creek Car Camp
Chicken of the Woods
Snow Bank False Morel or Gyromitra
Reshi siamese twin conks
Eager beaver hiker at the trail head
Deer flies about to be fed to the trout
Small Trout in Sundown Lake
Small Trout in Sundown Lake about to take a deerfly
Red legged frog?
Ice Cave at Sundown Lake
Head waters of South Fork Skokomish
Small trout in Sundown Lake
On Sundown Pass finally
Same Salamder eggs from my last hike up here
The date on this seems to be 1894!
Headwater of the South Fork Skokomish
Slime mold pretending to be a bannana slug
South Fork of the Skokomish River at 4,000 feet
Dragon fly at Graves Creek Car Camp
Tadpoles in the Graves Creek headwaters
Sundown Lake in the afternoon
Snow bank false morel (poison)
Sub-alpine meadow trail
(can you hear the horse and deer flies buzzing?)
I've uploaded 85 pictures from this hike to my account here