Monday, September 28, 2009

Enchanted Valley 9/25/09-9/27/09

Until I can figure out somewhere to go that's wild and ca-razy and far, far away, I will continue to get my feets ta walkin' out on the open trails.  Last weekend, I did just that.

For my last few days of freedom before school saps the life out of me, I traveled to the Enchanted Valley with my friends Daniel and Jordan.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not the amusement just north of Tacoma, nor is it the purveyor of delicious ranch dressing.  The Enchanted Valley is on the south side of Olympic National Park, just a few miles north of Lake Quinault.  It is a 13.5 mile trail that begins at 600' and rises to 2000'.  Being the end of September, we assumed there'd be few people trail and the weather would be nice.  And... we were right!

We woke early on Friday, leaving the house around 7:30.  We headed south on I-5, wrapping around the Puget Sound, going up through Aberdeen, stopping at the ranger station at Lake Quinault for permits, and then on to South Shore Road to reach the trailhead.  Imagine our surprise when, five miles from the trailhead, there was a gate across the road and signs telling us it was closed for construction.  I had heard about this closure in some trail reports from 2007, but assumed that it must be fixed by now.  Nope.  (After all, 'tis the gubmint.)  So, we started to walk it, but luckily for us, a man in a truck was heading up to the construction site and offered us a ride.  The site was only a mile from the trailhead, so we had no trouble tacking that on to our already-extensive journey.

Around 1:30, we reached the Graves Creek Bridge which signaled the true beginning of our adventure.  As we looked down into the water we saw enormous salmon, spawning.  The rust-colored beasts rolled on their sides, flapping their alabaster tails at the river bed, creating a nest in which to lay their eggs.  Aren't salmon incredible?  They hatch, swim out to sea, and somehow manage to find their way back to their birthplace in these mountain streams to procreate.  What fascinating creatures!


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The trail was unbelievably beautiful.  We passed through miles of old-growth forest, abundant with trees as tall as skyscrapers.  The lush greenery covering the ground, the streams and creeks that wove through them, and the few rays of sun that pierced the canopy create an effulgent tapestry.


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Jordan finishes the last morsel of meat off an elk he killed.

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After a few hours of hiking, we decided to break camp early. It was around 5 and we didn't want to hike another 6.5 miles to the valley, so we stopped at the O'Neil Creek campground. We found a shady site by the river and enjoyed the evening there by the fire.

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The next day, we were back on the trail by 10 to complete our trek to the valley. The forest in this portion was more open, feeling almost like the backwoods of a city park. There were white groves of birch, grassy meadows, wide gravel bars surrounding the river, and millions of spots that beckoned you to lounge at all afternoon with a book (or just your thoughts).

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Me and Dan in the roots of a fallen tree.

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We crossed this bridge which signaled our entrance to the valley. This was a bit nerve-racking for some in our group.

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I handled it like a gentleman, but not all were so fortunate.

After another quarter-mile through a moist grove of trees and streams, we reached the chalet.

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This 2.5-story chalet was built in 1931 by Tom Criswell as an inn for hikers to the valley. They provided beds and meals for a small fee. As WWII came around, the inn was closed to the public and turned into an aircraft warning outpost. It was reopened in the early '50s, having a rocky history of being open either open and thriving or closed and falling into disrepair until the mid-80s. After a restoration project, the chalet is now in working-condition as a ranger station (summer only) with a small section open year-round as an emergency shelter.

Oh, and the rest of the valley was gorgeous as well.

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We set up camp and laid about for a bit. After we felt modestly rested-up, we explored the valley a bit. We strolled through the birch groves, stumbled through dry creek beds, passed waterfalls, waded through the river, and arrived back at camp for dinner. That night, we sat around the fire, telling stories, making jokes, and drinking Jack Daniels.

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Explorer Zach strikes his pose again.

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The privies were charming.

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Jordan with a melted bottle of JD.

The following morning was an early one. We were on the trail by 9. It was a long, long day. One of the longest I've ever been on. Not only did we have the 13.5 mile hike back to the trailhead, but since it was Sunday, there was no one to give us a ride back to the car. Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., we hiked almost 19 miles back to our vehicle.

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This might just be the most beautiful hike I've ever been on. It's called the "Enchanted" Valley for a reason. Though we were disappointed to see no bears or elk or really anything in the way of wildlife, the weather was sunny and cool, the trail was clean and quiet, and the scenery was awe-inspiring. I am more than satisfied.

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