Mission accomplished! What mission, you ask? Well, by not visiting anywhere with grizzly bears, we successfully avoided grizzlies! A job well done. Additionally, 9 parks, 8,200 road miles, and several new friends later, we have wrapped up our trip and are back in Chicago. We had the time of our lives out West, with the highlight of our journey coming last – Olympic National Park. Be forewarned, fair reader, for this post is our most epic (in terms of words, images, wildlife, and hijinks) yet. We thought about making this post a two-parter, but decided to go out in a (hopefully not interminably) long blaze of glory. We hope you enjoy it, and we apologize in advance if you get caught looking at pretty pictures while at work. This one might be best reserved for home viewing.
Before heading to Olympic, we made a stop in Seattle. We did some laundry and visited the mecca of Costcos in Kirkland, WA. Then we spent the night in the city itself, where we hit the bars and made some friends. Cindy, Justin apologizes for not letting you take a game of Skee-Ball.
From there, we made our way to the peninsula where Olympic resides. This is a park that contains vastly different landscapes, ranging from beaches to rainforests to mountains. We put together a full week in Olympic, starting with the beach and ending in the rainforest. Why not the mountains? It’s cold up there, friend. Also, heavy snowpack and a still-present avalanche risk convinced us to stick to lower-lying territory, although we did make a foggy drive to the top of the park to see the Hurricane Ridge range, so at least we can claim to have seen said mountains. After the drive we headed to a car campground called Mora, where we were close enough to the beach to try our hands at some coastal sunset shots.
After a night at Mora, we hiked south past Third Beach to a spot called Toleak Point. Immediately we were greeted by an incredibly picturesque view of the ocean. Not only that but there were bald eagles soaring overhead and, after we took pictures of the tidepools at low tide, we very nearly stumbled over a young harbor seal on the beach. We snapped some shots and then left it alone as it made its way into the ocean, hopefully to safety.
We decided to take it easy on our second day to enjoy the beach as it’s supposed to be enjoyed – by doing absolutely nothing that could be considered constructive in any way. We got up at 5 am for sunrise, grabbed some more tidepool pictures, and took nice long naps at our oceanfront campsite. The rest of the day we sat around eating, reading, and stoking a bonfire that smelled incredibly good thanks to our driftwood fuel. This was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing days in recent history that either of us can think of. It also gave us ample time to read our books, which we apparently chose from our freshman year reading lists: Pride and Prejudice for Nathan and Jane Eyre for Justin. Since beginning his book, Nathan now insists on making all expressions of exclamation or surprise in the form of: “Oh, Mr. Darcy, I do declare!”. He also now measures time in fortnights, making things slightly difficult on Justin.
Day three, we were supposed to hike out according to our backcountry permit… but we just couldn’t leave the beach behind. Thanks to some rationing of food (and us consistently packing enough for the offensive line of a D1 football team), we were able to spend one more night at Toleak Point. Around 1 pm we went for a dayhike down to Mosquito Creek (not the strongest name choice, in our joint opinion). Well, along the way, we encountered several bald eagles circling overhead so we stopped for pictures. As Justin mindlessly fired away, Nathan decided to push on a little farther. Unfortunately, Justin never found Nathan down that trail so he decided to head back to camp thinking he’d see Nathan in not too long. 6:30 came with still no word from Nathan, so Justin put together a search party (a party of one but then again that’s the normal attendance at Justin’s parties) to try to locate his compatriot. Fortunately we ran into each other after not too long and nobody had to sleep sans tent that night. We did our usual sunset photography and campfire and fell asleep a bit teary-eyed knowing we’d have to leave our ocean-view estate behind.
By the next morning we really were low on food, so it was time to go. After a meal of grits (gruel is probably more accurate – not our finest work), we headed back to the car and made our way around the peninsula to our next destination in the rainforest. We loaded our packs up and headed in, hoping the rainforest could come close to our experience at the beach. The trail follows the raging Quinault River, which has a beautiful aqua tint due to the glacial till that gets washed down from the surrounding snowy mountains.
Day two in the rainforest, we made our way farther up the trail. We passed through a recent avalanche and a dicey water crossing towards the Enchanted Valley, a name we hoped meant we’d be seeing fairies and wizards. Instead we got black bears and elk, which was cool by us. It was too dark and rainy to get any great animal or mountain pictures that day but we had high hopes that things would turn around the next morning. We also met some cool folks along the way, which is always a nice plus (hello Gregg and Ro if you’re reading this!).
Our third day in the rainforest, we set out early to look for black bears. Justin went on two separate hikes without much luck… but as soon as he got back to the tent there was a black bear wandering by. Very funny, bear. We were able to grab some pictures of the bear before he crossed the river into the forest and out of our hearts forever. The best part of this encounter is that we can show actual pictures instead of an artist’s representation. Oh yeah, and, this being a valley and all, there were some not-too-shabby mountains around too.
On the way back we saw another black bear. As Justin daringly wandered close enough to give his new bruin pal a high-five, Nathan stayed back to photograph their friendly encounter. Then the moment of truth was upon us: we had to do the dreaded creek crossing in reverse. This traverse had haunted Justin’s dreams, as he is blessed with the balance of a house of cards in a hurricane. Fortunately, both of us made it over just fine. Once we got back to our last campsite, Nathan decided it was time for a swim… in a river fed with glacial runoff water, not a hot spring or at the local YMCA. Justin gladly watched and photographed the madness (although afterwards Nathan took on an air of superiority since it had only been 8 days since he last “bathed” but for Justin it had been a disgusting 9). In the course of scrambling down to the swimming hole, Justin once again became mired in mud. Astute readers will recognize the similarity of the below picture to one from our very first night of camping in Moab, UT (our Arches post). Everything came full circle with Justin once again stuck shin deep, this time on our very last night outdoors. We spent some more time in the evening scrambling up and down steep hillsides, across downed trees, and around thorny bushes all for the sake of some pictures (which we think were worth it).
Our last morning was bittersweet, to say the least. We felt blessed to walk out of the park safe and sound and end our trip amidst such incredible natural beauty. We were also glad to begin our journey home to see our loved ones and resume the more normal aspects of our lives. This is a trip that we will never forget and will always be thankful for.
One of our favorite ways to pass the time on the trail has been thinking of stories and quips to share on this blog. Hopefully you have enjoyed our anecdotes and, if not, then at least some pretty-good-for-amateur pictures. We hope to publish one or two more posts of some of our favorite photos that we didn’t include in the blog thus far; we’re not sure exactly when they’ll go up but look for them within a fortnight. Thanks for following along with us!
Nathan and Justin