Adventure Log: Big Creek Loop (and on turning 70)

April 4, 2022
7.9 miles
1050 feet elevation change

I’ve been giving thought to how I want to celebrate this calendar year of a decade birthday, and the completion of ten years since I returned to the PNW. I have a big plan for the summer, to be revealed later. And I got another idea Saturday on my first real hike of the season.

I didn’t spend any time stalling like I usually do on taking a season-premier hike; but while there have been plenty of sunny days, they weren’t predicted to be so, and I’m spontaneity challenged. But Saturday showed sun, with a week of rain in the coming forecast (a forecast that changes daily). I don’t usually (ever) hike on Saturday, but it’s barely April. How crowded could the trail be?

I choose the Olympic National Forest, as I often do for early snow-free hiking. It’s a new-to-me trail, and one of my year-of-70 plans is ten new trails. I’ve been on more than 100 adventures since I returned to the PNW, it’s getting harder to find new hikes that my almost 70-year-old body can do, but this is number one. With the forecast for possible rain where I’m going until 11:00, I don’t bust out the door in the dark. Still, I’m headed toward Olympia and Highway 101 with latte in hand by 7:30 and I’m off up the trail under blue sky before nine.

There are already eight cars in the lot outside the Big Creek Campground gate. So much for the deserted trail I envisioned. A my-age couple get out of the car I followed up the road, she leaning heavily on trekking poles, walking laboriously, clearly living courageously with a debilitating muscular disease. A gait belt is around her waist and he has a tight grip on the back of it. I watch in wonder at their tenacity in being out here. They are back to the car and driving away before I have my boots on. I wonder if they were just using the bathroom or if they decided they couldn’t do this today. In yoga, the teacher often says, do what your body can do today. At this age, especially, it becomes more important—or more inevitable—to pay attention every day, rejoicing in strength and respecting limitations. I give thanks for my strong, healthy (if out of condition) body today, knowing it could be different another day.

I’m reading a memoir by a She Writes Press author, Bless the Birds: Living with Love in the Time of Dying, by Susan J. Tweit. It’s a beautifully woven then and now story of the author and her husband, written after he died of brain cancer. It is a story of living a best life rather than succumbing to death before its time. (I recommend it.) I’m trying to live my best life, one day at a time.

The Olympic Peninsula really took a hit this winter. There are many downed trees and a mangle of green branches everywhere. Trees felled before their time. Or maybe it was their time. In what must have been a monumental early effort by work crews, the trail is clear.

I had to Google this sign: Reserve tree, do not cut. “Leaving dead trees standing is a practice called ‘morticulture.’ Doing so creates a more diverse landscape, leaves nutrients on site, and provides habitat for species that nest in tree cavities.”

I think of birthdays and living and goals as I walk. Along with my ten new trails, I wonder if I could do seventy miles. Although I began a hike journal some time ago, I have not kept it up. Although I began once to record my mileage when I wrote an Adventure Log on this blog site, I have not kept it up either. I have no idea if seventy miles is a stretch or if I do it every year.

Big Creek is not the only creek that runs through this forest. There are at least three others, along with many bridges. Water, bridges, forest, wildflowers, meadows, and vistas are my top favorite trail features. The trillium are just beginning here (and a patch of yellow violets at the end). . .

. . . but it’s got the water, bridges, and trees going on, along with more benches than I have ever seen on a trail. I don’t take advantage of them, but this makes it an accessible trail for many bodies.

Mt. Washington ahead

The loop trail has a doable 850 feet elevation change in 4.3 miles, with an optional addition of a purely upshit mile to a viewpoint. Then beyond that another mile and a half to the Mt. Ellinor connector trail, a “challenging, steep trail” to the top of the mountain.

I decide to go the additional mile to the viewpoint to add the vista fix. It’s all up and I stop to rest many times. I end up not going quite far enough. The view of Lake Cushman, partly hidden by trees, is not the viewpoint, I learn from another hiker on my retreat. There were clues it wasn’t, but the big giveaway I didn’t think of was there was no bench. Ah well, next time. My unseasoned legs are tired anyway.

In spite of the cars in the lot, it’s not until I reach the not-the-viewpoint that I see another human, other than an older-than-I man doing some clean up. They must have been close behind me, though, and I begin to meet them as I head back down to pick up the loop.

I pass the other end of a trail I passed earlier that goes by the Three Creek Confluence. Both ends appear to head steeply down (meaning steeply back up) and I pass on both. But when I come upon another access on the other side of Big Creek, it looks neither steep nor far. I head for it. Of course there is a bench at the confluence, and I eat lunch while the creeks loudly come together to proceed on down the mountain as one.

This is my new favorite early season hike. I’m already thinking of camping again at Staircase, a little farther up the road from Big Creek—where I camped last June in the epic heatwave—and home to the Mt. Ellinor trailhead. Could I do that if I get myself into shape? 3300 feet elevation change, then back down, which is often harder. Hmm.

A favorite stop after hiking on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula is ice cream in Hoodsport! Lemon Lavender has my name on it.

I head for home, knowing there is ibuprofen in my future, and thinking about my second* biggest adventure for this year of seventy: the surprise. (I’m very excited about it.)

[Bless the Birds] is an invitation to choose to live in the light of what we love rather than the darkness of what we fear. — Susan J. Tweit

*Of course my biggest year-of-seventy adventure is publishing my memoir, coming in October from She Writes Press. You can read more about it on my new website. (And if you subscribe to my e-letter, you can read the first two chapters immediately!) www.gretchenstaebler.com

14 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Big Creek Loop (and on turning 70)

  1. That looks like a wonderful hike. I’m building a list based on your list! I’m always so impressed by these posts. Thanks for always taking the time to make such a great story of your adventures. I’ve been lazy about writing and you are such good inspiration. Can’t wait to see what you have in store for your milestone birthday. Strong, fierce and (almost) published! (I have that book waiting too!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a really nice hike. And the ice cream didn’t suck. 😀 Your energy has been kind of otherwise engaged. You will get back to writing, and it will be as amazing as it ever was. As for my big surprise, let’s hope it happens!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this wonderful “tour” of the Big Creek Trail, and a look at the Olympic National Forest. Special thanks for the lovely plug for my new memoir, Bless the Birds! I look forward to reading yours come October!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just what I needed to read this morning as I ice my back after whateverIdidyesterday might have been a little too much. Thanks for the guided tour and the encouragement. I’ll do what my body can do, I just wish it could do more. Can’t wait to hear about what 70 brings!

    Liked by 1 person

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