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Hoh Rain Forest

Day 2 of 3

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Monday, September 13th
Hoh River Camp to Glacier Meadows and back
9.8 miles
3430 vertical feet (ascent)
3430 vertical feet (descent)

I was up at 7am and started filtering water for the day. No animals had gone after our food, which was stored double-bagged in the bear canister. We left our tent, sleeping gear, cooking gear, and most of the food at our site and started hiking up to Glacier Meadows at about 9:30am.

It was another beautiful, clear, sunny day. Considering we were in the rainiest place in North America (140 inches of rain a year), I was a bit surprised to encounter such great weather.

The trail starts climbing immediately, and starts climbing out of the rain forest. It starts to take on an E.T.-like quality. It's peaceful, with lots of large trees and less and less moss hanging from the trees. About 15 minutes from camp we encountered a beautiful cascading waterfall. We'd find another, smaller one, later in the day.

After climbing, the trail actually descends for a couple hundred feet to the High Hoh Bridge. This sturdy bridge crosses the Hoh River, perhaps a hundred feet above the river level in a narrow canyon. It's an impressive sight. There were 4 climbers resting here on their descent. They'd climbed Mt. Olympus and were making the long trip back. They had ice axes, crampons, helmets, and rope. Despite the fact that Mt. Olympus is "only" 7965 feet high, it's glaciated and requires all that hardware to climb. It's only about 5 steep miles from Glacier Meadows. These climbers had done the round trip from Glacier Meadows in 8 hours.

View looking down from the High Hoh Bridge

On the other side of the bridge, the trail continues to climb steeply up switchbacks. We passed one person who was apparently camped at the 13.5 mile campground we were thinking of staying at. It's probably a good thing we didn't, because it wasn't clear if there was more than just the one site.

Martin Creek was rushing by at full blast, and we had to cross it. At first, it looked like the only crossing was a huge tree laying high across the water. Didn't look very safe, since the top was rounded. I told Jean she'd be fine. She looked at me like I was crazy, but she hadn't seen the foot bridge I had. It was a smaller log, flattened on top for easy walking, right next to the big log. It wasn't like walking on a sidewalk, but it was fairly easy. The only interesting thing is that it was only attached to the ground on one side. When we reached the opposite shore, it started bouncing up and down because it was just hanging there, a foot over the ground.

Footbridge over Martin Creek

As we climbed higher, the environment changed even more. By the time we reached Elk Lake, elevation 2800 feet, the hanging mosses were nowhere to be found. We stopped here for lunch next to the emergency shelter. The lake wasn't very impressive -- small, and partly covered with water lilies. And the bugs were out in force. We packed up our stuff and started climbing again. At least we wouldn't have to contend with horse shit anymore -- horses aren't allowed past Elk Lake.

Elk Lake

The trees soon give way to bright green shoulder-high bushes and shrubs. Rounding a corner, we encountered a long "waterfall". It wasn't really a waterfall, but water crashing through at a 45 degree angle. The path of the water was lined with rocks -- a 20-foot wide path blasted out of the bushes on either side. The thing most apparent about the area is that it's much cooler than the surrounding trail. The reason is that the water is near freezing -- freshly melted snow.

Now we were no longer in a rain forest, but in an alpine environment. Wildflowers dotted the trailside -- columbine, cow parsnip, various berries.

The bushes gave way to alpine trees. Mt. Olympus itself slowly came into view. When the trees finally gave way, the views were astounding. Green, snow-capped peaks lined the view to the south, Mt. Olympus topping it off. After so many miles in the rain forest, it was a completely disparate and memorable sight. We now had high hopes for the views from Glacier Meadows itself.

Mount Olympus

We continued to enjoy great views, but had to cross some rather precarious sections of the trail. Landslides had eaten into the hillsides, leaving us to walk on a thin trail on a steep, sandy slope. Good thing we didn't have to carry our full backpacks over this stretch!

View looking southwest

Now we were crossing over some snow patches. And soon we were standing next to the sign for Glacier Meadows, elevation 4300 feet. And, as Jean would say, "Glacier Meadows sucks!" There were camp sites, a ranger station, snow patches, trees, and not much else. No views whatsoever. After the views along the way, we were severely disappointed.

There are two side trails which originate from Glacier Meadows -- one going to the lower end of Blue Glacier, and the other going to the upper end. Supposedly there's a nice view of Mt. Olympus from the upper end, so we decided to try for it. The trail is well-marked with orange flags, but was covered with snow patches. Snow in general is fine, but this snow was steep, icy, and slippery. Even with our trekking poles it was slow going. Snowshoes or crampons would be a big help here, but I hadn't brought either. We went for a few yards, hoping it would get better, but it didn't. We turned around, disappointed.

We then thought we'd try to at least get a view of the lower end of the glacier. But that, too, was covered in the same hazardous snow. Sadly, we turned around and started hiking back to our camp. Shortly after leaving Glacier Meadows we ran into a couple coming up the trail. They'd been stopped on our way up, resting. They asked how Glacier Meadows was and we gave them the honest truth. I felt sorry for them, because they were actually lugging their full packs all the way up. There seems to be no reason to reach Glacier Meadows itself unless you are climbing Mt. Olympus, or at least have crampons or snowshoes to reach the Blue Glacier.

Jean crossing the landslide area

U-shaped valley obviously carved by a glacier

At least we could enjoy the views on the way back. On the way back, we stopped at the rocky river among the bushes. We decided (against my better judgment) to rinse our hair with the water. I screamed and screamed as Jean poured the freezing water over my head again and again. Five minutes later, my hair was completely dry.

Jean washing her hair in the freezing river

The problem with out-and-back hikes is that there's not much to see for half the hike -- you've seen it already. But there aren't any other trails in the area to use to create a loop hike. It was a long, fairly uneventful hike back. We did see a rabbit -- the largest mammal sighting of our backpacking trip. It scampered away as soon as I started reaching for my camera.

Some of the colorful berries along the trail

After seeing so many people the previous day, we only saw a handful today. Mostly day hikers camped elsewhere along the trail, like ourselves. After a long day of hiking, it was nice to reach camp well before sunset and not have to worry about setting up.

Look -- no more moss!

Cascading waterfall near our camp

Another view

I filtered more water for us. Dinner consisted of instant mashed potatoes and more tuna. After dinner, I filtered some more water and we had hot chocolate before heading for our sleeping bags.

Moss-covered tree towering over our camp

Our humble home

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