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Hoh Rain Forest

Day 1 of 3

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Sunday, September 12th
Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center to Hoh River Camp
12.6 miles
1040 vertical feet (ascent)
430 vertical feet (descent)

We parked the car, made final preparations, and started off our hike at about 10:20am.

Because of the plane trip and repacking, I wasn't able to do the thorough analysis of my pack that I usually do before a backpacking trip. Significant changes from previous trips included my 1-pound heavier (but warmer) sleeping bag, and a bear-resistant food container weighing in at almost 3 pounds. Because of the bear canister, I couldn't fit everything inside of my pack like I usually do. The tent had to go outside, underneath my pack. I would guess my packed weighed in at about 50 pounds. Jean's probably weighed in between 30 and 35 pounds.

And we're off!

The first few yards of the trail are part of a paved nature trail. Then we stopped at the wilderness information board to take a picture, and we were off. Two things become immediately clear. First of all, the trail is beautiful. It immediately plunges into the rain forest. It's damp. Trees are covered with beautiful moss. The only open ground is the trail itself. Various types of mushrooms are visible at nearly every turn.

The second thing that's immediately clear is that the trail is relatively crowded. It's a very popular day hike and backpacking trail. I would guess that the backpackers actually outnumbered the day hikers we saw. And there were probably at least 200 people on the entire Hoh River Trail (the 17.5 mile trail we were on), if not more. Still, the people are friendly, and the further out you go the fewer people there are.

One of the innumerable moss-covered trees

The trail follows the Hoh River for the first 13 miles. The river stays on our right side the whole time, the constant sound of the rushing water becoming background noise. The river itself is usually out of sight, but not far behind a wall of trees. Where it is visible, the river bed is covered with gravel bars and the swift, murky gray waters of the Hoh River. (we later learned the murkiness is most likely caused by something called glacial flour)

Camp sites are frequent, occurring about every mile or two. We passed three campgrounds by the time we came to a waterfall about 3 miles into the trail. I was beginning to get a bit concerned about our pace, since we still had 12 miles to go and I was worried about having to set up in the dark. So Jean went on ahead while I stopped to take some pictures of the waterfall.

The first of several cascading waterfalls

After about 10-15 minutes I started out on the trail after her. I kept a fairly good pace but couldn't tell if I was making any progress. I passed a couple coming in the opposite direction. I asked them if they'd seen a short Asian woman. They told me they had. "She was moving VERY fast." I shook my head and started going about as fast as my 50-pound pack would allow.

Along the way I blew past (and didn't even notice) a very nice creek (Tom Creek, described in Tuesday's leg), crossed over a lot of plank sections, on which I got one of my trekking poles stuck (I learned my lesson and didn't use them on the planks after that), and crossed over something called a puncheon bridge. I have no idea what puncheon means, but it was bigger than the more common foot bridges, which are logs placed over a stream, with the top leveled off and notched for easy walking.

Close-up of some of the ever-prevalent moss

About a half hour after I started, I finally caught up to Jean. We continued on for a while until we stopped in a dry creek bed to eat something. Unfortunately, I hadn't brought a lot of food for lunch. I brought the stuffing leftovers, which tasted great cold, but hadn't remembered to pack something for Jean. All the other food was in the bear canister. So I took out my poncho, put it on the ground, and then proceeded to empty out my entire pack onto the poncho (the bear canister was at the bottom). I made sure to take some food out for later use.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the lushness of the forest, we didn't see much in the way of wildlife. Birds were the most common sighting. And of course there were bugs. They left us alone as long as we were moving, but as soon as we stopped, they started to converge. This helped keep our breaks short. There were also warnings in several places where wasp and hornet nests were identified. We gingerly walked past these signs.

Nine miles into the hike we reached a ranger station. Since it was past labor day, there didn't appear to be any actual ranger staying there now. We stopped here for a rest and read the information panels. Apparently, they had a fire near here 20 or 30 years ago. It was started by lightning and wouldn't go out despite incessant rain. I can't imagine fire going on for long in the dampness of the rain forest, but I suppose it's all part of the nature of renewal. Something must die before something else can grow, usually on top of the remains of the dead.

Jean standing in one of the few clearings

By this time, we figured out we weren't going to make it to Elk Lake and the 15 mile campground. So we set our sites on the 13.5 mile campground just past the High Hoh Bridge. The ranger had said it probably wouldn't be a problem if we decided to camp somewhere earlier. Hopefully there would still be campsites there.

There are several horse camps along the trail, in addition to the backpacking camps. Of course that means horse shit along the trail. I find it odd that backpackers are required to bury their waste and pack out all trash (even used toilet paper), but horses can shit all over the trail. And they do. It's like an obstacle course in places. Jean nearly sprained an ankle one time when she spotted it mid-stride and adjusted her course to avoid it.

10.5 miles into the hike is Lewis Meadow, the largest meadow visible along the trail. Other than that, there are a few scattered small meadows. We slogged on, soon reaching a huge cedar tree which seemed to be made out of about half a dozen smaller trees.

A few of the large variety of mushrooms growing everywhere

It was getting darker now. It wasn't even 6pm yet, but the thick forest made it seem later. We passed a man camped alone by the river, then saw a few more sites past him. It was the last site beside the Hoh River, about 12.6 miles in. The last of the sites was particularly nice, set down and away from the trail, nestled in a small grove of trees. I liked the site very much and tried to convince Jean that we should just take it. She wanted to continue on to the 13.5 mile campground. We discussed it for a bit and were just about to head up the trail when two women came down the trail. They said they'd camped at Elk Lake the previous night and that it wasn't that great. They also mentioned that there were a lot of people between here and there. That settled it for us. We decided there was no guarantee there would be vacant camp sites for us further on, so we settled down here.

We quickly set up our tent and spread out my poncho on the ground for our kitchen area. I went off in search of a place to filter water. Despite the fact that we were only a few feet from a river, I couldn't find an easy way down to the water. I ended up walking 4 minutes back down the trail before I found a place to sit on some rocks and filter water. Despite the fact that it was September, the water was rushing by quickly. I knew a fall into the water would be very dangerous, so I made sure I didn't. I like the sturdiness of my water filter and the taste of the water it produces. The things I don't like about it are the weight (over a pound) and the fact that it takes 14 minutes to fill my 96 ounce Nalgene bottle with it.

Dinner consisted of rice, tuna, and a red bell pepper pesto sauce packet. Yum. After some hot chocolate we washed up and were sleeping by the river at 9:30pm. I usually can't sleep with loud noises around me at night, but the river is very soothing, and I feel asleep quickly.

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