Monday, May 1, 2017

Hike of the Week : Elwha River and Geyser Valley

Saturday got off to a great start. We were on the road by 6:15 and easily made it onto the 7:10 ferry to Kingston. The morning seemed like it was going be beautiful -- we even caught a glimpse of the mountain from the boat. 

Our destination was the Elwha River Valley, an area that's seen a huge transformation since 2014 when two hydroelectric dams were removed. Two lakes have disappeared, the river has changed its course, and the delta is silting up -- but the river is returning to its natural state, and salmon are spawning again. The changing river has forced the closure of two campgrounds and damaged the roads, so we weren't quite sure what to expect.

We stopped at the Elwha Ranger Station to check if there was any late-breaking news, but all seemed quiet -- so we headed up Whiskey Bend Road to the trailhead. This road had been closed until recently, but despite being a one-lane, dirt affair ("with pullouts"), the road was in great condition -- much easier to navigate than Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road!

We got to the trailhead around 10, ate our breakfast, and hit the trail before 10:30. (Yep, if you're keeping track: it took us almost 4 hours to get there.) There were already 7 cars at the trailhead when we arrived, but by the time we started walking there were 4 more.

It amused us that we could walk all the way to Dosewallips on this trail. In theory.

We set off along the trail, pretty much alone, climbing gently through old-growth forest. We could hear the river but not see it.

About a mile along, we came to the Eagle's Nest overlook. And you know the rules, never overlook the overlook.

The trail dropped steeply, switchbacking through the trees.

While describes this overlook as "often a good place to see deer, elk and bears", we just saw this:

We actually got a better view a little way along the trail... but still no deer, elk, or bears.

Coming back up to the trail, it felt like a much shorter climb -- which I suppose means that the main trail descended partway to meet ours?

We didn't take the turnoff to Rica Canyon -- we'd be coming back that way. But I should have taken note of the sign that reads "STOCK ANIMALS NOT ADVISED". You know what that means? That means this trail is steep and narrow. Oh, there I go again with the foreshadowing.

Soon we came to a clearing and Michael's Cabin -- which, given some plumbing updates and a good cast-iron stove, would thrill me as a cabin. Clearly well maintained by the National Park Service, it looks like a living history exhibit, rather than a historic artifact.

According to, however, Michael's cabin was built in 1937 to house National Forest and then National Park employees, and was still housing trail crews up until 1947. Um, NPS, if you need a new tenant / caretaker / owner, just let me know.

We cleverly managed to take the correct (and right!) fork to stay on our trail, despite not knowing the real name of it. Had we missed the turn, we might have just kept on hiking all the way to Dosewallips Road. Not really.

All seemed right with the world. Cedar had been even brought in to reinforce this slightly wobbly bridge over a stream.

And then, this sign. 

Wait, WHAT?


Where's the next sign? Which direction is it in? And what overhead hazards? Is there a cougar nest or something? I basically pushed Wil down the path in my attempt to PROCEED QUICKLY.

Now, I assume there was probably an iffy tree, but the rangers wanted to keep the trail open. But I like the idea of a man-eating spider web or a dragon or bear sleeping in a hammock. At least from the safety of my couch, that is.

Soon after we came to a junction and discovered that the trail we wanted to take was closed. But we could still make a loop, albeit a slightly shorter one, by taking the open cutoff down to Humes Cabin. Ignore the fact that I though the E was a P and kept giggling about the name of it.

This cabin felt burlier, and reminded me of TR's Maltese Cross cabin. But I resisted the urge to plank on the porch. I also admired the interior, and played my game of "if I lived here, I'd put my bookshelves here", etc.

Wikipedia informs me that the cabin was built around 1900 by William Humes, who settled here en route to the Klondike. This cabin was occupied in the 1940s by wildlife filmmakers Herb and Lois Crisler while they filmed what became Walt Disney's "Olympic Elk" film. It has since been restored by the National Park Service... and, again, should the NPS need a new caretaker...

In front of the cabin I spotted this remarkable tree...

After poking around the cabin, we headed toward Krause Bottom.

Up until this point the trail had been in really nice condition, but the meadow was pretty wet and we hit some good old, boot-sucking mud.

At some point we reached a sign in a clearing that read "Krause Bottom: Trail Ends .01 Mile". Assuming it went to the river, we headed down the spur ... it was clear this trail doesn't get a lot of use because it was overgrown, narrow, and at the bottom of the hill we just lost it. I again had the realization of just how easy it would be to get lost in the woods. After a few more minutes of not reaching -- or even seeing -- the river, we turned around and headed back up the hill.

Always nice to get back on a gentle, if a bit muddy trail!

On we hiked along the Geyser Valley Trail. No, there aren't actual geysers here -- but an early settler described the clouds and looking like geysers... or something like that.

Eventually the trail met up with the river and we got our first good look at the Elwha.

I bet this beach is a perfect spot to picnic in the summer.

After enjoying the view for a bit, we pressed on. I was excited about the next viewpoint!

I didn't know what to expect, other than that the river went through a narrow canyon. We followed a narrow trail and reached a dead end... here:

Something about the textures of the rocks, and color of the water, and the speed at which it was rushing through the canyon made me think of Disneyland. It also made me wish there was some sort of railing at the edge...

On our way back we bumped into a hiker we'd chatted with earlier, who told us he'd attempted to follow the river back, but struggled in soft sand or no shoreline at all. I said, "I wouldn't try to follow the river through there" (pointing back at Goblin Gates).

Then we had to head back up to meet the main trail. I don't know if this picture really conveys the steepness of this trail. But let's just say this, Mr. Roughy-Toughy Hiker, on meeting us by the parking lot, said, "Wow, that uphill was killer! It must have been 500 feet elevation gain! I wasn't expecting that!"

This stretch was brutal, and I really started feeling it. Stock animals would not enjoy going up OR down this trail. I don't think I would have enjoyed the down, either.  I wasn't tired or sore... it's just that my legs felt absurdly heavy. But I kept thinking about goofy mantras and I got through it. The reward? Rejoining this lovely, gentle trail:

We returned to the car, and started down the road. We stopped at the viewpoint to see the site of the former Glines Canyon Dam.

It's interesting to see how the dam was removed -- and that they left the two ends in place to save money. And, as a bonus, provide these two overlooks, of course!

This used to be the site of a big lake -- you can see that the reforestation has just begun. It was interesting to read about the project, and how they started gathering seeds and growing plants in nurseries a decade before the dam was removed, so that they could speed up reforestation.

Looking downriver you could see why a dam was built here -- it seems the perfect spot to block the river for hydroelectric purposes. We learned later that this dam (and the Elwha Dam downriver) provided the first electricity to the area. 

Exploration done, we had planned on camping for the night and doing another hike the next day. But just as we set out to look for camping, it started to rain. Serious, hardcore, torrential rain. We dutifully drove through two campgrounds, dismissing one, but admiring the sites at Salt Creek County Park. Except the rain. 

We decided to drive up the Hurricane Ridge road, since it's now open, but the clouds had rolled in and visibility was bad even driving up. So we turned around and headed back down. We also did a quick drive-by of Heart O' the Hills campground, which seemed nice, but also still mainly closed. Whether that was seasonal or due to campground damage, we're not sure. 

So we decided to stay overnight in Port Angeles ... but then nothing felt quite right and at some point I turned to Wil and said, "I think we're trying to force this. Let's just go home."

Suddenly it made perfect sense. So we drove back, only waiting for one ferry on the way home. And catching this beautiful rainbow.

Our hike was pretty, had some great views, plenty of up and down, and let me geek out on some industrial heritage. And I got my boots SUPER MUDDY.

Elwha River and Geyser Valley

6.5 miles
1237 feet elevation gain

Saturday's Elevation Profile

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