Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rain Forest and High Mountain Backpacking Bliss

 Occasional backpacking without children is very restorative and makes me a more whole person.  I was so excited to get to spend over a week in Olympic National Park, the most beautiful place on earth!  My intentions for the trip were grounding in the rain forest which feels like home and fills my soul with contentment; noticing myself, Celebrity, my body, the animals, trees, plants, and layers; and becoming more non-jugmental of myself and others knowing that I am more than a social worker and mom and that others are much more than their labels and what we see on the surface.  I was thinking about calling and acceptance.  My breath prayer was "God of wholeness, renew your call".
After saying goodbye to my girls and husband I drove five hours with my favorite Zimbabwean student, Celebrity, to Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park.  We enjoyed delicious car snacks and Celebrity experienced Weird Al for the first time.  Choosing the wilderness experience, we drove up the north shore road and got permits from a very strange ranger who enjoys telling visitors about the historic homestead but does not have much knowledge of the backcountry.  She issued our permits and loaned us two bear canisters and we were on our way.
We parked at the trailhead near Irely Lake and hiked with our very heavy packs, now heavier with bear canisters, just one mile through the amazing rain forest.  We loved the big trees and mushrooms.  When we arrived at Irely Lake the lake was mostly dry and we were confused about where to camp.  Not excited to share our tent with the frogs on the muddy lake shore we bush wacked above the lake with no success.  Eventually, we got back on the trail in search of a camp.  Fortunately, we found an unofficial campsite nearby.  The mosquitoes were fierce near dusk but we enjoyed our first camp meal and slept well in our cozy tent.
We woke up to the sounds of frogs and birds and prepared for the steep climb ahead.  Saturday was a physical and mental challenge.  We hiked 5.6 miles with very heavy packs and climbed a steep 3000 feet.  Distances were hard to judge due to the switchbacks and climbing. 
We made it to a large creek and continued up the other side.
We took a moment to pose near the bridge.
We were hoping to make it to an ancient very tall tree at lunchtime.  Close to lunchtime we met two women coming down the hill.  When we asked about the tree they seemed confused, "What tree?" they asked.  "We must not have seen it".  When she told us we had about 2.5 more miles to camp I thought she must be mistaken.  Finally we found what we thought to be the world's largest Alaskan Cedar tree.
Actually, the record breaking tree was just slightly further, pictured below.  So many big trees to choose from!
Near our camp we found this lovely owl house.  We heard the owl in the night but he was hiding out by day.
Arriving at camp, we were exhausted!  Our bodies were not quite ready for such a strenuous climb with so much weight.  We rested up and cooked a delicious meal.
We enjoyed some time in the fantastic Three Lakes meadow.  The camp was called Three Lakes but we only saw two.  This is a very dry year for the south Olympics.
We had a restful night and were not excited to have more climbing but Sunday was only 4 miles and a little less steep and more scenic.  We left the high meadow splendor of Three Lakes and made good time to the next camp, Three Prunes.
The trail continued to the Skyline Trail with mountain meadows, lakes, glimpses of Mt. Olympus, and views of the ridge we would be climbing.   
The gnarly old tree at Three Prunes became a good friend because we napped under its shade and enjoyed communing with the mice and other animals living in it.
We ate so many huckleberries, blueberries, and salmon berries.  Dinner was the best trail meal I have ever eaten of Salmon Pilaf with fresh huckleberries.
We base camped at Three Prunes and set out after a great night of sleep up the Skyline Trail for Kimta Peak.
At 5400 feet, this climb was mostly exposed ridge line.  We had to carry all our water as there was no water source but we still felt free without our bear cans and tent.
We continued to say, "We're to the top of something".  The views of Mt. Olympus and the nearby glacier peaks were motivating and wonderful.  We continued to climb the primitive trail.  Several times we thought we had reached Kimta Peak only to see our path continue.  We enjoyed the climb and being on top of the world.
We found a large snow patch which I rubbed my bandana in to cool off. 
Mt. Olympus and it's snow covered neighboring ridge was amazing.
We continued back to camp, hearing helicopters for the second or third time.  We learned later there was a search and rescue going on in the area and we were grateful we were not attempting the primitive trail loop.
We arrived back at our lovely campsite with the wonderful gnarly three prune tree!  One of my boots had completely separated and I attempted a fix with duct tape.  We found a small swimming hole nearby.
The next day we left Three Prunes early and somewhat sadly as we left our tree friend.  We visited the tallest Alaskan Cedar Tree again.
We entered back into the moss, slugs, frogs, and mud.  We heard thunder and hiked through about an hour of rain.  Halfway down our 11 mile descent to Irely Lake we dipped our feet in the stream and stopped for lunch.  Celebrity says she wants to learn to make trail food at her dorm next year.  After much searching we found our hidden undesignated campsite and relaxed into a rainy night.
On Wed we hiked back out to the trailhead, smelly and wet, but happy with our amazing experience in the rain forest, high meadows, and mountains of southwest Olympic National Park.
On our way down the Lake Quinault Road we visited the 1000 year old record Sitka Spruce and Cedar Tree.
We returned one of our bear canisters at the south ranger station and registered for part two of our trip at the beautiful beaches of Olympic National Park.
On our way out of the rain forest we took the best 3 min showers ever at the state park to take the layer of sweat, dirt, and slime off.  We were so thankful for the 15 min of free parking and access to quarter fed showers.  I called home to let everyone know we were doing well and Celebrity had her first Frappacino.

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