Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Trip Report: Backpacking The North Fork of the Skokomish River. June 19-21, 2011
Sunday, June 19th. The forecast called for a 30% chance of rain until 4pm, so we didn't hurry as we got some coffee, loaded our packs into the car, and stopped for food on our way to the Olympic National Park. Our driving destination was Staricase, an area on the southeast corner of the park. The first year we moved to Washington we did most of our camping at Staircase and Big Creek nearby in the National Forest. (My hike up Mt. Ellinor started from Big Creek.) From there we would don our packs and hike four miles up the North Fork of the Skokomish River Trail to Spike Camp.
The weather was a bit overcast with highs in the low 60's. This was our first backpacking trip of the year and we were all out of shape after a long winter. My son was not thrilled about the four-mile hike with a pack on his back. I wish we could have worked up to it and done a few warm-up hikes, but the weather has been awful and we've been so busy. The first day is always the hardest.
When we arrived at Spike Camp we still had plenty of daylight, so we took our time setting up. Before I had the tent up our son had rebounded from his misery and was bouncing off the trees. We set up the tent, sleeping bags, filtered water, built a fire, had some food and drink, and were almost ready to call it a day before the sun went down. I was able to start the fire without a match using tinder from the area, a small bit of tissue, some magnesium, and a flint.
I had traded my hiking boots for my new Vibram Five-Finger barefoot shoes as soon as we arrived and they were a welcome change. In fact, the only downside to the barefoot shoes I noted on this trip is that they are not warm on a chilly night. The Tevas aren't warm, either, but it possible to put on a pair of wool socks with the Tevas. Not so much with the barefoot shoes. Still, I think the barefoot shoes will continue to be a part of my warm weather backpacking gear.
Monday, June 20th. That night, for whatever reason, we all woke up during the night and had a difficult time getting back to sleep. As a result, it was 10am before we got up the next day. After some coffee and a bit of food, we took down camp, packed up, and headed up the trail just before noon. It was mostly cloudy with a high in the low 60's. We filtered some water on our way out since the nearest water source is a little way up the trail. Our plan for today was flexible -- we would hike up to the next camp which is Big Log and at that point decide if we wanted to stay there or continue on to Camp Pleasant.
We got to the spur for Big Log and the sign said Camp Pleasant was only 1.4 miles further. We agreed to press on.
There were three major creek/river crossings along the way: Madeline Creek, Donahue Creek, and the Skokomish River itself. The Donahue crossing was no problem as there was a log bridge over the water. There was a good-sized, well-built bridge high over the Skokomish River. The Madeline crossing, however, was a different story. There were still signs up indicating a river ford, but it was clear that flooding had seriously altered the terrain at some point. The current river crossing is a large log with a single rail on the downstream side about 20 feet over a pretty respectable water flow. My wife isn't a fan of high ledges. I, on the other hand, will jump off a bridge tied to a bungee cord. I found the crossing a little nerve-wracking; I can only image how my wife felt. It was the highlight of the trip for our son, of course.
We enjoyed the campfire well after the sun set and then retired to our sleeping bags. We had not seen another person all day. With the sound of the river just outside, we all slept soundly through the night.
sun hat. Since this trip was an out-and-back, it was nice to know what to expect. Once we were over the huge tree near Camp Pleasant, we knew the hardest part was over.
As we approached the dreaded crossing of Madeline Creek, my son spotted a deer on the trail ahead. This deer was being followed by a fawn that still had it's spots. The two darted up the hill and into the trees. Just beyond was the bridge and on the other side was another hiker with his eyes on the hill behind us. "Did you see the deer?", he said, holding up his hands to indicate the size of the little one.
We took a break on the other side of Madeline Creek and then continued on. We took another break at Spike Camp. We were making better time than expected. Some point beyond Spike Camp four hikers appeared ahead of us. The hikers turned out to be fly fishers who were just looking for a better spot to wet their hooks. They continued to disappear and reappear ahead of us as our pace varied. A wild rabbit came out onto the trail and ran away from the fishermen -- right at us! The little guy got surprisingly close before it finally noticed us and ducked back into the brush. We also spotted some other critter that I thought at first to be a chipmunk darting back and forth across the trail, oblivious to the fishermen and us. It turned out to not be a chipmunk and we're still not sure what it was, but there was a bird nearby squawking loudly at the critter. We suspect the bird may have been protecting it's eggs and the critter was looking for a meal.
Over the course of the trip I kept notes of things we forgot or needed to acquire/change/upgrade. Being our first trip of the year, the list was disturbingly long and the subsequent trip to REI expensive. On our way back from the Olympic National Park I added one last thing to the list: don't forget a change of clothes to leave in the car for the drive home.