Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2000 Backpacking Washington's Olympic National Park

Washington's entire Olympic Peninsula features 2,132,324 acres of public federal lands, 632,324 operated as Olympic National Forest, and 1.5 million as Olympic National Park. The Olympic National Forest began as a 1.5 million acre Forest Reserve in 1897. It became a national park in 1938 under Franklin D. Roosevelt and the coastal wilderness was added in 1953. The Olympic National Park is a Biosphere Reserve and also a World Heritage Park, and 95% is officially designated as wilderness. Mount Olympus rises 7965 feet above the sea which is mere miles away

Olympic National Park is one of the last remaining temperate rain forests in the world. The Hoh Rain Forest gets 14 feet of rain annually, more than anywhere else in the continental U. S., and Mount Olympus gets more than 200 inches of precipitation each year.  Its Sitka spruce trees and western Hemlock trees can reach 300 feet in height and 23 feet in circumference. Douglas fir, bigleaf maple, vine maple, red alder, and black cottonwood are also found throughout the forest. Nearly every bit of space is taken up with a living plant, some of which even live on other plants (like mosses, lichens, and ferns.)

The park contains over 1200 varieties of plants, over 300 species of birds, and over 70 species of mammals. At least eight kinds of plants and 18 kinds of animals are found only in the Olympic Peninsula and nowhere else in the world. The park has the largest intact stand of coniferous forest in the contiguous United States and the largest wild herd (6500) of Roosevelt elk (named for Teddy Roosevelt.) Black bears are present but no grizzlies. Blacktail deer, Olympic marmots and squirrels, bald eagles, and mountain goats also populate the park.

Fifty-seven miles of coastline and numerous offshore islands combine with heavily forested, rugged mountain slopes, alpine meadows, and 60 glacier capped mountains. There are 58l miles of trails which traverse virgin forests and along stream banks, crossing ridgelines and mountain passes. Hundreds of miles of additional trails are on adjoining Olympic National Forest lands.
The Olympic Mountains are spectacular as evidenced in this photo taken from Hurricane Ridge. Like Mount Denali, not all visitors get to see the peaks due to the abundant fog which often obscures the mountaintops. Mount Olympus (7965 feet above sea level) is at the right in this photo.

Nearly every inch of trees and limbs display verdant mosses, giving an eerie Alfred Hitchcock look to the towering giants, and even downed trees (known as nurse logs) are prolific with verdant growth of lichens, mosses, licorice ferns, shrubs, and saplings. The next three photos demonstrate this lush growth on every surface, whether horizontal, vertical, or slanted.

Even old structures are susceptible to the lush understory growth.

A backpacking permit was required and in 2000 a fee was charged - $5 plus $2 per person per night, with maximum caps set for larger groups. No license is required for fishing within the park, but steelhead trout and salmon punch cards are required in season. This is our second night's campsite.

The Hoh River Trail runs 17.5 miles from the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center to Glacier Meadows and is rated easy to Olympus Meadows and moderately strenuous beyond. The elevation gain for the entire length is 4200 feet, but 3000+ feet of that gain occurs in the final 5 miles. The extent of green in the photo below attests to the 180 inches of precipitation that falls in the rainforest area of the park which ranges from sea level to 750' elevation.

As you get higher in elevation, the river gets a braided appearance just like in Denali National Park. The upper Hoh River is running low here in this July photo. June, July, and August are the "dry" season in the Hoh Rain Forest with "only" 5 inches of rain each month, as opposed to as much as 25 inches during each of the wettest months. As a result, huge gravel/sand bars abound and provide areas to camp and also respite from the evening deluge of mosquitoes. We also saw deer out on the gravel bars, and the abundance of driftwood there allows wonderful locations for an evening campfire.

As you gain elevation, you get occasional views of the majestic landscape you are surrounded by.

Below are two of the other major lakes in the national park, Quinault Lake and Crescent Lake.


Hiking Olympic National Park by Erik Molvar; Falcon Publishing, Inc.; Helena, MT; 1999; 248 pages.

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