Monday, April 27, 2009

Third Beach Revisited...

...this time with my son!

April 25th was slated to be my son's first "official" backpacking trip. He had accompanied me on many other day hikes and we've even camped-out in our tent at my parent's property several times. He was definately overdue.

The trail would differ from my last excursion here weeks ago in two very noticable ways:

1. This trip was to be much shorter in mileage, &
2. This occasion would prove to be a fair bit drier and warmer than the last.

The long drive up and around the Olympic Peninsula to the rugged coast of Washington State went rather quickly with my son chatting with me one minute, playing his Gameboy the next. Before long we were strapping on the packs and he was taking his first steps down a road less traveled, one where you slow down and take notice of the little things, the natural things.

The birds welcomed us into one of the most beautiful forests I've had the pleasure to visit. The path is quite wide for a high percentage of this leg of the trail and we walked side by side as he figured out the straps and other adjustments on his pack. We stopped for several short breaks and I was proud of how he handled his load and scouted the trail ahead of him. As I said earlier, this stretch of trail is fairly short and nearing the end, your dropped steadily and rapidly down a gully until you break out onto a small creek that pushes out onto the beach and into the awaiting Pacific.

Squinting, we both scrambled over huge logs that have been tossed to the back of the beach by past storms, and plopped onto the sand. While the main trail continues south down the beach and disappears as it scrambles up a rope ladder back into the forest, we chose north, as our priority was to find a worthy campsite. After about the third decent spot, we finally found where we would call home for the next day. A little flat spot above high tide that was protected from the wind by a partially downed tree. Setting up camp was a breeze and in short order we were barefoot and strolling down the beach. Simon found a nice walking stick and got busy drawing in the sand. I smoked my pipe while watching him explore the beach, the surf, and the logs that divided the forest from the sand.

Being there all day enabled us to walk down both stretches of beach several times, and by mid afternoon, we were pooped! Simon decided to escape to the tent and laid around just relaxing and enjoying the sound of the pounding surf and seagulls and the occasional far away "V" of migratory geese heading north for the summer. Me, I found a comfortable log to recline on and stared at the seastacks and waves.

Dinner was next on our "to-do" list and we were prepared with some noodle soup and other fun snacks. Now, all the planning in the world will not save you from at least one forgotten item. This trip it was to be the utensils. After washing our hands we dug in...all-in-all, not the worst thing I've forgotten and we were full before long, which is, in fact, the point.

Another walk as dusk approached and we chose to lounge in our sleeping bags with the tent door open to watch the sunset over the beach until darkness and sleepiness overtook us both.

When nature calls in the middle of the night, getting out of your warm sleeping bag is not your favorite activity, but it does come with it's rewards...The stars! When you get away from the permanent light pollution that a city or town gives off, you can really start to see how vast space actually is. The stars were so bright the beach was lit up quite plainly and it provided a wonderful moment in time. But enough of that, it's cold out here and I hear my sleeping bag calling.

Mornings at the beach are pretty consistant. Things happen as they always do. Eagles glide low, racoons make tracks in the sand, and deer come out of the forest to get a good whif of the surf. Another walk before breakfast, with Simon continuing his sand art and me with my head down looking for interesting rocks. Breaking camp was also a snap and before we realized it, we were packed and heading toward the trail that would bring us back home. I think we both hesitated a bit, realizing that we had just spent two days together not just as father and son, but friends and hiking-buddies. I'm sure there will be more adventures to come.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bogachiel River Hike, 4-5 Apr '09

One week from my last adventure, I find myself once again in my buddies car making the long trek towards the western flanks for the Olympic mountains. This time would prove less comfy as I was relegated to the back seat with a backpack and other assorted paraphenalia being tossed back and forth as we navigate the winding road that hugs the shore of Lake Cresent. This weekend would see three of us making our way into the much overlooked rainforest that is nestled in a valley just north of the famous Hoh Rainforest.

Stopping in Forks for some last minute shopping (one of my friends forgot their boots, but I'm not telling which one), I notice that every single business in Forks has a sign out name-dropping Twilight (the book & movie) which was the town the story takes place in. Twilight merchandise was everywhere. It was very odd, but it is a small town, and in this economy it seems like a real boost for this community.

One new pair of boots later and we were back on the road for the remaining few miles to our destination, a gate across a dirt road and a decent sized parking area for the many fishermen that frequent this river. With a small flurry of rechecking supplies and tightening laces, we take the first steps down the trail.

I say down, because this trail plunges immediately down a handful of switchbacks to the valley floor. It reminded me of that kid show "Land of the Lost" where they raft down a waterfall into prehistoric times, or perhaps Luke Skywalker crash-landing into the swamps of Dagobah.The trail flattens out nicely and you really have no further big uphills until much later in the hike. This kind of trail usually lends itself to turning on the afterburners and churning out some heavy mileage in short order, but this trail really forces you to slow down. It's so vast and immense, yet you find yourself stopping to kneel down for a better look at the little things. Certainly the trees are immense, there is no arguement about this. But what really starts to slowly creep into your consciousness is the increadible diversity of plant and animal life present in this damp, mossy forest. Everything that lives there, from the dozens of species of moss clinging to almost everything that doesn't move, to the animal life quietly moving about their business, is part of something bigger. Something that can only happen in certain sacred sites around the world. Something so special that were you to remove just one tiny element, the delicate balance would be altered and you would lose what makes this place so perfect.

Water is everywhere! Of course, you'd expect that from a rainforest, but it doesn't truly sink in until you see how lush everything is. You really can't walk anywhere without hearing the trickle of water coming from somewhere or another. Sometimes crossing the trail, sometimes carving a little underground cave under a tree root, but always the peaceful sounds of life-sustaining water.

Along the trail, our party of three faded in and out, sometimes walking and talking together, sometimes spaced out far enough for all to enjoy their own little piece of trail in solitude, sometimes stopped, packs off and reclining enjoying a pipe or off the path photographing some hidden treasure. It is a wonder we ever made it to camp. But in time, we finally hooked back up with the river that we planned to camp at and started hunting a decent campsite. I chose the high ground at the very edge of the forest, and pitched my tent right under a huge Sitka Spruce overlooking the wide expanse of sandbars and waterways carved out by many winter storms. My companions moved down river a few hundred yards and pitched camp on a sandbar and were starting a campfire as I finished getting my sleeping bag ready and putting the finishing touches on what was to be home for the night.

Finishing up with dinner, it was high time for a pipe. I loaded my Dr. Grabow Omega with some GH Rum Flake gifted to me by a friend in New Jersey. What a treat that was! A perfect compliment to walking the sandbars, exploring all the different routes the river took finding the path of least resistance.

Although the evidence was all around us, we never spotted any elk on this trip. Quite possibly we were too many and too noisy for any encounters of that kind. We did see some hawks, Bald Eagles, and other various small wildlife. Tracks were everywhere, and we had a good time trying to name the ones we could figure out.

At dusk, we spent a bit of time around the campfire and chatting and enjoying each others company. Growing tired, I said my goodnights and headed up river to my quiet forest-edge camp. Peeling of my boots and socks and climbing into my sleeping bag sure felt good! I was glad I spent the time to make house earlier, as everything was right where I needed it that night. An extra pair of socks for when it got colder, my headlamp for the numerous trips outside the tent to water the plantlife, my watch (actually my cellphone), for figuring out what time it was, and things of that nature. All-in-all, a great nights sleep that didn't get too cold until morning. When dawn struck, there was a heavy coating of frost over everything, telling me that it had dipped into the 20's during the night.

Morning saw a casual breakfast, followed by another nice walk around the riverbanks, then a casual, non-hurried packing up of gear. Nobody really wanted to leave just yet, so we stood around and soaked up as much beauty as we could. In a wonderland of this magnitude, you really need to turn on all your senses to get the full experience. Sight, sound, feel, taste & smell all played an integral role in etching the experience in our minds. I was personally trying to create as many special memories as I could. You never know if you'll come back someday, so you need to ensure you've had your fill before leaving.

The trail on the way back was as special as the first time, with the added bonus of knowing the areas you wanted to revisit for that one last picture or that lunch break. Again, our party split up each to their own pace and whim in mind. When we finally made it to the switchbacking uphill that flagged the end our hike, we slowly, trugged up to the awaiting vehicle. Exchanging our backpacks for the responsibilities we left behind, we began the long drive back to our seperate lives...

...I wonder where we will head next?