I had been hoping to do a backpacking trip in the Olympics this weekend, but the weather just would not cooperate. After consulting the maps and trail guides we decided our best two options were Dosewallips on the east side or Obstruction Point a little further north. Then we learned the road to Dosewallips was washed out and Obstruction Point was under six feet of snow and not accessible by about three and a half miles. After a little more looking to find another option in the Olympics we turned to our recent excursion to Mt. Rainier and decided on the option of camping up at Longmire and doing day hikes from there. Disappointing in that we have recently outfitted ourselves better for backpacking, but under the circumstances we were happy to wait for better weather.
Of course, the day before we planned to leave two unforeseen events conspired against us. The first was a minor disaster that meant spending most of the day with the landlord, a plumber, and a repair company. That's a whole other post, but the end result is that I got no packing or prep done at all. The second thing was the weather forecast dramatically changed from a 10% chance of rain to 40%-60% over the three days. We have enough experience with this area to know that means we have 100% chance of getting wet. My wife is a pretty good sport, but camping, hiking, AND being wet is a combination that would likely equal her final outing of the season and maybe even a hard sell next season. We bit the bullet and decided to book a room. The National Park Inn at Longmire was full, so we found a cabin just outside the park entrance. Now the backpacking trip had turned into a cabin vacation with hiking excursions…
On Sunday we arrived at the Gateway Inn around 3pm. After getting checked in to cabin #1, sorting out our gear, and a meal from Gateway's restaurant, we entered the park and drove up to Longmire. We decided we had just enough daylight to make the Rampart Ridge Loop. It was a more difficult uphill climb than we anticipated, gaining about 1300 feet in just over a mile. By the time we arrived at the viewpoint overlooking the Longmire complex we questioned whether we should press on or turn back. We had already spent about half the daylight we had and were only about a third of the way. Since the hard part was behind us, we decided to press on.
By the time we got to the cabin, showered, and dressed, it was almost 9:30pm and the Gateway's restaurant was closed. We decided to drive toward Ashford and see what was available. After driving about 6 miles we came on a country store that was open until 11pm. We picked up a couple things and headed back to the cabin for the night.
While having lunch one of the servers, Doug from Wyoming, stopped by our table and suggested we head over to the Ohanapecosh area and check out the Grove of the Patriachs and the Silver Falls Trails. Excellent! We had a new plan. After lunch we got in the car and headed east down the mountain.
I voted for taking the Silver Falls Trail first and no one vetoed. The trail is a gradual decent to Silver Falls, only about 0.3 miles from the trailhead. We watched the falls for a while and snapped some pictures before continuing on the loop. The loop goes about a mile and a half along the east side of the Ohanapecosh River to Ohanapecosh Campground and then back up the west side of the river. I was not aware the the campground is a full-on, eight-loop, car-camping and RV set up until we arrived, but the restrooms were a welcome surprise.
We returned to the cabin and I made a suggestion for the following day: how about my wife and son drop me off at Longmire and I make the hike up to Paradise while they explore the tourist attractions. I would meet them at Paradise and we could have lunch before heading home. My wife's feet were sore from her new shoes and my son was thrilled with the idea.
My first setback was only a tenth of a mile up the trail when I second-guessed myself and thought I had possibly chosen the wrong trail. I went back to the ranger station at Longmire and verified that I had the correct trail, I merely needed to walk a little further to the junction for Narada Falls and Paradise. That cost me some time.
Let me take a minute to review the ten essentials for any hike, no matter how short you intend it to be:
- Sun protection
- Extra food & water
- Extra layers
- First aid kit
- Whistle and/or signaling device
- Fire starter
Back to my hike…
After finding my wife and son in the lobby of the Paradise Inn, I dropped off my pack in the car, we had lunch while we shared our experiences of the previous few hours, I changed my clothes, and we headed for home. On the way out we saw several hoary marmots near the side of the road.
I made note of three major differences between Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains on this trip. The first one I talked about: there are a lot more people at Mt. Rainier. Also, the trails where we were seem to be a lot less isolated. In the Olympics you can literally walk for days without coming up on anything more than a rustic ranger outpost or a small, primitive camping area with a pit toilet, maybe bear wire. On Mt. Rainier (at least in the areas we saw), unless you head toward the summit it seems rare to go a mile or two without coming across some car-accessible attraction. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I tend to prefer a more secluded experience. Last, the terrain at Mt. Rainier seems to be more extreme. The Olympic National Park has more than it's share of steep hikes and scenic vistas, but it also has many trails that are more mild with relatively little elevation change. My family has enjoyed backpacking and hiking these less extreme areas. We were hard pressed to find trails that weren't strenuous for my wife and son on Mt. Rainier.
For myself, I still want to hike the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that circles the mountain. Maybe next year...