Dateline: July 26, 2017
Elevation gain: 900 feet
I wait until the last day of my camping trip at Lake Quinault to take a hike. (More about camping later.) After a last fire, leisurely breakfast (pancakes with tiny wild blackberries picked at my campsite), and breaking camp, I head to the end of Graves Creek Road beyond the end of the lake. Way beyond. Including 11 miles of gravel road beyond, following the Quinault River through moss-laden trees, sun rays turning them to gold, past glittering waterfalls.
Pony Bridge is on the way to Enchanted Valley, a backpack trip I’ve done three times; the first and last of them on through the Valley, over Anderson Pass, coming out at Dosewallips. It’s been a long time. More than 20 years since the last, with a party that included my teenage son. More than 50 years since the first time with a tribe of Girl Scouts.
It’s a beautiful little hike—five miles round trip, though my pedometer says closer to six—through the forest. I think there is no place else like the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. Really, there’s no place else like the OP; and I think that is a fact, not just my opinion.
It’s impossible to capture the enormity of the trees on a camera, though I try, then delete most of them when I get home. I continue to marvel at the sound these giants must make as they fall in a storm after standing tall for hundreds of years, eventually raising a new forest on the backs of the fallen mothers. When one tree uproots it thunders to the forest floor bringing others crashing down with it. It must be deafening. (I Googled for an audio recording, but didn’t find one.) There are many storms here, close to the ocean, as evidenced by the huge drift logs on the coast. It’s a wild place.
There aren’t many flowers here now, save for foam flower that lines the trail with clouds of delicate white. And berries. I eat plump red huckleberries as I walk.
I inch my way down into the river gorge to the bridge. It’s steep and rocky. I dread going back up. The “little” hike means short, not necessarily easy. As it turns out, the going down was more difficult than the going up, at least with trekking poles.
The river thunders through the narrow gorge walls, not at all the placid river with its wide bed along the road in. The rushing water gets to take a little vacation before it hits the sea. The water is deep blue and green under blue sky and beneath the canopy of hemlock, cedar, and fir, surrounded by the sword fern garden.
While I eat my peanut butter and apple sandwich on a log bench in a backpacker campsite, the pack of mules I noticed getting geared up near the parking area clip clops across the bridge. They are roped together (I didn’t get a good photo) and each carries what look like a pair of triangular metal saddle bags. I venture a guess that they are carrying trail repair tools or maybe something for the historic chalet in the valley. The chalet is hanging over the ever shifting river bed and is closed now, pending a hoped for second move farther from the river. It was moved 100 feet in 2014 and now is in danger again. I remember back to my first trip there when the camp group I hiked with went inside, though we slept in pairs in the meadow under our plastic lean-tos beneath the stars.
I walk up the trail and find a spur to the edge of the canyon for a look back at the bridge. I build a cairn so my mother can find it, then head back down the trail for home.
The leg pain above the back of my ankle started on the hike in. I re-laced my boots several times into different lacing patterns, tighter, looser; nothing helps. I’m really hobbling by the time I get back to the car. My new boots hurt for the first time after last week’s misadventure to Kendall Katwalk. I had to moleskin up for this hike due to a blister from that one. And now this. I Google it, of course. Perhaps the soleus muscle. It had better not interfere with next week’s hike back to Snowgrass Flat. I’m glad to reach the bridge at the parking lot and take off boots and don flip flops for the trip home.