Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park: Mountains and Glaciers and Trees (but no bears), Oh My!

The morning air was crisp, cool, and moist with humidity. The birds were singing a cheerful song, as a woodpecker kept the beat, announcing it was time to start our day. We were a little achy when we climbed out of the tent (and I kinda wanted to strangle the woodpecker with my bare hands), but so ready to get exploring, and finally see the Enchanted Valley.

After a quick breakfast we hit the trail. The first obstacle came before we even left the campground: the bridge over Pyrites Creek had been washed out in a storm. We had to find our own way across. There were several places to get over the creek, but I managed to find the most complicated one, only to get across and see that they’d erected a temporary footbridge about 50 feet from where I’d crossed. Oops.

Behold!

We hadn’t gone much farther when Lindsey stopped me in my tracks with a, “Holy shit! Oh my god, are you seeing this?!” I was so focused on the path ahead that I was forgetting to look around. When I went back to Lindsey my jaw dropped. I don’t know how I’d missed it. It was one of the reasons I’d chosen the Enchanted Valley hike in the first place, and I’d almost walked right past it. It was what used to be the largest mountain hemlock in the entire world until it collapsed several years ago, and it was even more incredible than the pictures I’d seen. Its massive roots lie overturned next to the trail, its once towering trunk stretching out across the forest floor and disappearing down the riverbank. It was magnificent. I tried to imagine what it had looked like before its demise and wondered what finally took it down, but the size of the tree seemed to make the size of the thought too much to comprehend.

It Keeps Going and Going and Going

When we arrived at the narrow, one railing bridge over the ravine, I knew we had arrived. We entered the Enchanted Valley to find the clouds dipping below the peak of snow-capped Mt. Olympus. Everything looked a little gray, the sun only peeking out from behind the clouds sporadically and for brief periods, but it somehow didn’t seem dreary.

The Enchanted Valley

The Enchanted Valley Chalet was perched on the bank of the river, its simple facade humbled by its exquisite surroundings. The Olympic Mountains were lush and green, and waterfalls, fed by glaciers atop the peaks, tumbled down the mountainsides. It definitely isn’t called the Enchanted Valley for nothing.IMG_3488

We ate some lunch outside the Chalet and went looking for the outhouses (Priorities, people). They were rustic, to say the least, but I’ve never been so grateful for an outhouse, nor have I ever been in one with such a spectacular view. I hadn’t relished the thought of digging a hole, squatting, and burying my poo. It’s the one backpacking experience I’ve yet to have (and I’m in no hurry to change that, though I know it’s only a matter of time). I’d been holding it since we left civilization the previous morning, so this little shack, with a toilet seat over a hole, was a welcome sight. That it overlooked the valley, with its mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls, made it feel like the lap of luxury. I give it a 5 star and two thumbs up outhouse rating.

We’d met a couple of other hikers on our way into the valley. They gave us two bits of helpful information: 1. They’d just seen a bear, so watch out. That got us excited. 2. There’s a glacier with ice caves they explored down the trail and across the river. That made us positively giddy. So we went in search of a way to get across, while being watchful for bears (and trying not to step in their poop–which was everywhere).

Enchanted Valley Waterfall

I don’t know where these people were talking about, but we never figured out how to get across the river without going for a frigid swim. We were disappointed. We could see the caves, we were so close, we just couldn’t get there. We hiked a little over a mile farther down the trail, admiring the trees and the mountains as we went, before heading back towards the Valley.IMG_3510

Before going back to camp we stopped to refill our water. There was an island in the river that we had to reach in order to get to the faster flowing water, so we hopped over the little branch of river separating the island from the mainland and, as I was landing, I wanted to scream. I didn’t see it until it was too late: a perfect, pristine bear print in the sand on the river’s island. It was incredible. . . for the split second I saw it before my foot came crashing down on top of it like an inconsiderate giant. It felt like it happened in slow motion, and in my head, it did: me screaming, “Noooooooo,” in a slow-mo voice all the way down. This is my other regret of the trip (the first being when I neglected to get a picture with Ranger Blondie Buns). It was immaculate, even the holes from the claws were there, and it would’ve been such a cool picture. Alas, it now only exists in my memory.IMG_3521

In the end, the paw print and a whole lotta scat is as close as we came to any wild animals (okay, we also saw a tiny lizard, but that totally doesn’t count). Considering the extraordinary amount of bear poop we saw, I’m not sure how we didn’t see any actual bears. I’m also not sure if I’m happy or disappointed about that. Maybe a little of both.

We got back to camp, made dinner, and got our fire going as the sun began to set behind the mountains. Once it began to get dark Lindsey went to bed. We were exhausted. Our bodies were screaming, but the night was so peaceful and perfect that I couldn’t bring myself to go to sleep. There was only one other person in the entire campground and he’d gone to bed before the sun, so when Lindsey went to sleep, I was all alone in the wilderness.

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Naked in the woods selfie!

Since Lindsey was in the tent, I started changing into my pajamas fireside. I was rushing to get changed, fearful of someone seeing my nakedness, and then realized how stupid that was. The forest was so dark I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. There was no one around to see me anyway, so I slowed down and decided to sit in the woods for a while–naked. The cool breeze combined with the warmth of the fire on my skin felt incredible. To sit in the wilderness in such a natural state, listening to the crackling fire and the wind through the trees, staring up at a sky with endless stars, was unbelievably liberating. Part of me wanted to go running naked through the woods just for the hell of it. Maybe I have an unconscious desire to be a nudist hiding somewhere behind all my insecurities and programmed obedience to societal norms (and, you know, the law). Or, maybe it was just fun to sit in the woods, smoking a joint, all by myself and naked, knowing no one would see me. Either way it was an experience I’m glad I had. I was as bare and vulnerable as the trees around me, all of us submitting to Mother Nature together.

I was really glad Ranger Blondie Buns didn’t reappear at that particular moment. On the one hand, it could’ve made for an entirely different and sordid blog post (at least in my fantasy it would). On the other, it could’ve ended up with me getting a citation for public indecency (a far more likely scenario), and getting myself banned from all national parks for life. I’m grateful the night instead ended with me putting some clothes on and going to bed without incident. I was also glad for our upcoming Rest Day with only three miles of hiking. I was looking forward to a having a day to slow down, relax, and fully appreciate Olympic National Park before our hike back to civilization.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed the read! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to hear how our Ladycation backpacking in Olympic National Park ends! Stay chill and keep exploring, friends!

~Steph

10 Essentials for the Newbie Backpacker

There are a ton of websites out there with lists of all the backpacking essentials. This is a supplement, not a replacement, for those lists. These are suggestions you may not find on the other lists, and things I feel need reiterating.  Being properly equipped is the first step to a successful and stress-free outdoor adventure.

  1. Baby Wipes: There’s not always a water source near your campsite. The simple act of washing your hands becomes a distant memory, but a baby wipe will go a long way. Also, staying “fresh” while trekking through the wilderness is, shall we say, challenging. Take baby wipes with you for your more sweat prone and intimate areas. Your tent mate will thank you.
  2. Hardcore First Aid Kit: Blisters, cuts, scrapes, splinters, insect bites, poison ivy, sunburn, sprains, broken bones; anything can happen out there. Make sure you’re prepared with a bitchin’ first aid kit that covers all your bases. Bandaids, gauze, tape, an ace wrap, a splint, waterproof bandages, tweezers, antiseptic, pain medication, antihistamine; don’t skimp. You won’t need it until you do, but you’ll be really glad you have it when the unexpected happens.IMG_3564
  3. Trekking Poles: When you’re first starting out as a backpacker, you may not want to invest in too much fancy gear. Trekking poles may seem like an unnecessary accessory, or you might not want something extra to carry. Get the trekking poles. For one thing, they add stability; they can help catch you when you stumble. They also absorb some of the impact that would otherwise be absorbed by your knees and hips. Take it from a medical secretary for a group of orthopedic surgeons, you want to protect your joints. Treat them kindly or they will give up on you sooner than you think. Business is booming, I’m tellin’ ya.
  4. Mole Skin: This kind of goes with your first aid kit, but I feel it needs to be emphasized. Blisters can ruin an otherwise amazing experience. Mole skin has saved both me and my friends on a number of occasions, preventing an uncomfortable situation from becoming an unbearable one. Friction burn is another common backpacking injury, and once again, mole skin for the win.IMG_3369
  5. A Good Water Filter: This is one of those “you get what you pay for” scenarios. Don’t buy the cheapest filter you can find on Amazon and expect it to last. Believe me, having a broken water filter sucks. Invest in a good filter, and always have a Plan B: either a repair kit and/or purifying tablets.
  6. Fire Starters: Regardless of whether you’re a fire starting MacGyver, or a city girl who’s being dragged into the woods by her one outdoorsy friend, you can’t control the elements. If you’re trying to start a fire after a couple days of rain, it’s not going to be easy. Pick up some kind of fire starter to help get your fire going. You can even make you own (save your dryer lint)! sitting on an emergency blanket
  7. Emergency Blanket: You know the ones. You see them draped on the shoulders of marathon runners when they cross the finish line. In addition to their obvious purpose, they come in handy when backpacking for a totally different reason: you’re going to want something dry to sit on. Although an emergency blanket doesn’t offer any comfort, it does provide a barrier between the earth and your butt. It keeps you clean and dry, is inexpensive, small and super lightweight; it’s an easy add-on to throw in your pack.
  8. Hand Warmers: The self heating hand warmers you can buy at any drug store saved me on a cold, windy night on Mt. Rainier; where fires weren’t allowed, and the temperature dipped down into the thirties. A couple of strategically placed hand warmers can be the difference between a good night’s sleep, and a night of uncontrollable shivering and misery. Stick one in your pocket to warm your hands, one in the waistband of your pants, a couple in your socks–I’m tellin’ ya, it’ll change your life, or at least your backpacking experience.
  9. Garbage Bags: This is something that can be easy to overlook (I always forget them at the grocery store, in part because I reject the idea of spending money on literal garbage, so I subconsciously avoid the aisle, I think), but you’ll need a way to pack out your trash. There are no garbage cans in the back country. Take a few small, plastic bags to contain all your garbage, and help eliminate animal-attracting odors. Also, bear in mind that you may not want others to see your garbage (ever gone camping on your period?). Consider lining the outside of the bags with a layer of duct tape.dirty socks after backpacking all day
  10. Extra Socks and Shoes: Your hiking boots will be your primary footwear, but take a pair of water shoes or sandals to wear around the campsite, and in any bodies of water you step into. Taking off your clunky boots, and sweaty, dirty socks, after hiking all day, feels so good. You’re not going to relish the idea of putting your boots back on once your feet are enjoying the fresh air. Bring an extra pair of shoes, and allow your feet to breathe when you’re not hiking. As previously stated, your socks will be filthy. Be sure to pack extra pairs of clean, dry, moisture wicking, socks to keep your feet protected.

Backpacking can be the most incredible experience of your life as long as you’re prepared. It’s become one of the great loves of my life, and I can’t recommend giving it a try enough. Even if you’re a girly-girl, step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot. You just might surprise yourself!

Be sure to check out my other blog posts for more helpful hints, and stories from my travels. Thanks for stopping by!!

~Steph