Not Bad at All

Hammering rain.  Pea-soup fog.  Mud.  Hail.  Gale force winds with 70 mph gusts.  Sandpaper-ish weather ready to scour away shingles, siding, and small children. 

Only those with a death wish or utter fools would be out in weather like this.  So we take the kids to the neighbors, load up the backpacks and go charging up the road for an all-day hike to mark three November birthdays: ours and the U.S. Marine Corps.  The original plan = hike the Big Flat trail in the Olympic National Park Wilderness, about 90 minutes north. 

Isn’t it amazing how great something looks on paper vs. how it turns out in real life? 

The “jumping off point” for our adventure is the town of Clearwater, a Lilliputian mountain burg hemmed by – what else? – the Clearwater River.  (They’re good with original names around here.)  We find both burg and river.  Naturally, “Clearwater” is a churning, opaque gush of “chocolate milk” water that’s half mud and half sandpaper. 

We keep driving, eyes peeled for any sign of the South Fork Campground followed by the faintest vestige of anything resembling a Big Flat trailhead.  Our trusty guidebook has never steered us wrong.  There’s a first time for everything. 

Scanning the map, guidebook, the barely-wide-enough-for-a-car, hope-we-don’t-meet-a-logging-truck road and the approaching monsoon, we drive and drive.  And drive.  And drive.  We wind up on logging roads that Paul Bunyan wouldn’t recognize.  We’re sure Canada is just around the next bend.  Can’t say the same for marked roads, trailheads, or signage – all conspicuous by their absence. 

Those with sound judgment and functional gray matter would admit defeat at this point.  So we spend another hour retracing our steps, retracing our retracing, checking the map, terrain, odometer, elevation, landmarks and retracing our retracing after retracing… All during a raging gulley washer while listening to Andrea Bocelli sing Tosca.  In Italian.

Is this fun or what?

Later, a feeble sun struggles to break through the bruised, black-and-blue sky as we turn tail and head back to the North Shore of Lake Quinault, a lake roughly 45 minutes from home.  Look left!  There’s a peacock bow of color, shimmering and iridescent in the wet, anemic sun.

Since the weather seems to be clearing, we turn onto Lake Shore Drive North and decide on a short hike to the Quinault Big Cedar, aka: a Really Big Tree.  Once again, our timing is impeccable.  The weather holds until we’re two minutes into the trail, at which point the sky lets loose a torrential downpour.  The trail is uphill, so the rain sluices downhill and into our boots like water from a flume. 

By “rain” we don’t mean the wimpy southern California stuff that’s more heavy mist than actual rainfall.  Washington rain is the Real Deal.  Think Noah.  We’re scouting supplies of gopher wood en route to the Really Big Tree, chugging over choice Okeefenokee real estate cleverly disguised as a “trail.”  But there’s a definite “plus” to today’s hike.  With nary another soul nor sole in sight, we have the entire trail to ourselves.  (On this wet, wild November day, everyone with a brain is indoors.)

By the time we squish back to the car it’s way past lunch time, so we head for the July Creek Picnic Area on the north shoulder of Lake Quinault.  If you’ve never picnicked at July Creek in November, you haven’t missed a blessed thing: chattering teeth, numb fingers, frosted breath, stacks of fog.  Enough tempest-tossed driftwood to cripple an elephant. 

Are we having fun yet?

Driving further after lunch, we decide on another trail – the Maple Glade Trail adjacent to the North Shore Ranger Station.  (Whoever said Discretion is the better part of valor?)  We circle the entire loop trail to find the glade lined by rain-swollen streams, ankle-deep mud, downed trees, enough moss to choke a herd of Sasquatchii (plural for “Sasquatch” – just made it up), and alder trees.  What’s with this “maple” stuff?

Some outfit called the “Kestner Homestead” squats along this trail.  We’ve no idea who Kestner was, but he chose a pretty spot.  Like 100 years ago.  The only stuff holding this ramshackle, dilapidated place together now is Scotch tape and spider webs.  The plethora of NPS “Nos” posted on this property includes “No overnight camping.”   

They’re kidding, right?

It’s late, late afternoon by now and the one thing we don’t want to do is get caught out on the trail after dark.  The animals have a word for hikers who do: Dinner.  We galumph past an idyllic meadow and four black-tailed deer.  What’s that print in the mud?  Cougar tracks. 

Can this hike get any better?

We hustle back to the car and have barely buckled up when the skies open.  Again.  Hail pelts the windshield.  Driving toward the south shore and our favorite local restaurant, we dodge toppled trees, storm debris, and navigate darkness so thick you can slice it.  Rain cascades out of the night in sheets.  We haul broken tree limbs and small logs off the pavement so we can pass.  Next, a herd of Roosevelt elk thunders across the road.  Talk about “deer in the headlights.”  These things are huge!  Think “SUVs with antlers.” 

“I don’t remember this place being so dark” Chris observes, “we’re not that far from civilization.”  We later learn that the storm knocked out power to 16,000 customers, including our dinner destination.  Not to worry.  The Salmon House has its own generator.  (Sometimes ignorance is bliss.)

The day includes Italian opera, howling winds, downed trees, power outages, “monsoons,” disappearing trails, “swampland,” hail, and marauding wildlife.  Also a rainbow, Chicken Cordon Bleu, NY Steak and raspberry white chocolate cheesecake by candlelight in front of a roaring fireplace with Andrea Bocelli tunes. 

Not a bad birthday.  Not bad at all.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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