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The wilderness named for the Gods

September 18, 2010

Olympic National Park. Doesn’t it sound grand? It’s at the northwest corner of Washington, flanked by the Pacific coast to the West and Canada to the North. A rich biodiversity created by the uniqueness of three ecosystems existing side-by-side – coast, mountains and the rainforest. One can dip their toes in the beaches along the Pacific in the morning, hike along Hurricane Ridge near Mt Olympus in the afternoon and breathe in the oxygen-laden moist air while walking through the “Hall of Mosses” in the Hoh Rainforest in the evening. Isn’t that amazing!? We were really looking forward to exploring this park!

Olympic is truly a wilderness. The only roads that run through it is US-101 and a few local roads, but these do not really get anywhere close to the heart of the park. It’s a backcountry hiker’s paradise. Heading from the South, we entered at Lake Quinault area and stopped at the Visitor Center to talk to the rangers. One true thing about all national parks is that the rangers are indispensable. Their wealth of information, friendly attitude and boundless enthusiasm for nature and it’s conservation is inspiring. Always make time to go on ranger-led hikes/walks or attend talks by rangers or see the orientation movies at the Visitor Center, this has helped us at least in truly appreciating the sights around us that much more.

Day 1 – After a brief stop at Lake Quinault, we headed to Kalaloch Campground to setup camp. This campground is right next to the delightful Kalaloch Lodge and has a restaurant and grocery/convenience store as well. We were lucky in securing a just-opened-up-campsite at Kalaloch. Usually these campsites are booked far in advance online and fill up very fast. [Click here to go to the NPS website for campgrounds at Olympic]

The Kalaloch restaurant is built on a cliff right next to the beach and has a full ocean view. After an amazing lunch (the food inside the parks always tastes so yummy! Maybe it’s because we live on gorp and fruits all the time, and any “real” food after that would taste like heaven) we headed to the beach to laze around and bumped into a ranger who was enthusiastically showing sea creature specimens from starfish to clams to crabs. Who knew that a starfish is capable of pushing out it’s stomach through it’s mouth onto a snail or oyster and feed on it by secreting digestive juices directly onto the hapless creature! We learned a ton of fascinating believe-it-or-not facts about all the animals that inhabit tidepools (pools of ocean water left behind during low tide).

Having a few hours of time left before dusk, we drove the 40mins from Kalaloch to Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is like nothing we’ve ever seen! After a soothing drive through rows and rows of trees which progressively got greener and mossier and eerier, we got to the Visitor Center at Hoh. There are several easy trails, we did the famed “Hall of Mosses”. The rainforest is surreal, no doubt about it.  I’m not sure I would like to be caught inside it at night. And if you haven’t guessed already, the movie Twilight was entirely shot here. The rainforest has all the elements needed for the movie, just throw in some vampires, werewolves and love-struck teenagers!

Olympic / Hoh gets 145 inches of rain per year. Do you know how much Seattle gets? Only 35 inches per year! And we complain of Seattle being rainy all the time. What would Hoh be? Underwater all the time? It does feel like we’re underwater though. The trees are heavily laden with moss and soft to the touch and bursting with moisture. The air inside the rainforest is rich and so damp and moist, our lungs felt rich and heavy (in a good way) after a few deep breaths. After a refreshing hike and spending a few hours inside Hoh, we headed back to our camp to watch the sunset from the beach.

It was a cloudy sunset, but still breathtaking. The dead driftwood added an eerie and surreal tone to the scene. Warmed by the campfire, cozy in our sleeping bags,  we drifted off to sleep while listening to the soothing ocean waves that lapped at the beach.

Day 2 – When camping, the body adjusts itself to the schedule of the rising and setting sun. Up at dawn, sleepy at dusk. That’s what early man was used to until fire came along and brought warmth and light. We were up even before sunrise, the sky was a light blue and there was a cool nip in the air. Dressed warmly, we went for a walk along the beach, the scenery was made more beautiful by the reflections of the sky on the sand.

After breaking camp, we headed to more beaches along the Pacific! Each one was more gorgeous than the previous. Beach # 4 near Kalaloch was pretty, then Ruby Beach with it’s beautiful rounded pebbles all along the coast.

Finally we had to say goodbye to the Pacific because we were heading East into the heart of the Olympic. Where waterfalls, green redwood forests and clear water lakes beckoned us.

Along the way we stopped at Salmon Cascades Falls, where salmon used to swim upriver to spawn, but alas – they are seen no more in the rivers because we have overfished the seas and eaten them all! It’s a sad story. The river was flowing along, but no salmon were seen even though this is Fall season and the time for them to spawn. We hiked a mile or so to go to the beautiful Sol Duc waterfalls, which is actually three waterfalls next to each other! There’s a bridge built across the waterfall, you can walk across the bridge for different views of the falls, it’s pretty spectacular. We spent a lot of time at Sol Duc, just listening to the sound of water gushing down.

After reaching Lake Crescent, we found a spectacular campsite right next to the lake! The view from our campsite was the most amazing we’ve ever seen. Mountains in the distance, misty, dewy and foggy, it promised to be a warm night too! Hot spicy noodles, a campfire, twinkling stars above and the sounds of nothing other than rustling leaves and chirping crickets. That is pure bliss.

Day 3 – Having seen photos of Hurricane Ridge (spectacular!) we definitely wanted to head there early to do some hikes. But the weather gods had decided that they would generously provide some of those 145 inches of rain to Olympic right during our stay, so it rained non-stop all morning and all afternoon. We still made it to Hurricane Ridge, the rain added a fresh perspective (true optimist that I am)! We drove along the entire 17-mile scenic drive and listened to some fascinating ranger talks (while warm and dry) on cougars and why it’s unlikely they’ll ever attack or want to eat a human. Well, that’s always good to know. And all too soon, we had to say good bye to Olympic. A lot of small port towns went by in a flash. With a “Hasta La Vista” to Olympic, we were off on our way to a new city we had never been to before – Portland!

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