Twig Adventures

PNT Day 53: Cameron Pass & ONP

Monday, August 22nd, 2022, 0640-1830
Boulder Camp\Shelter to Upper Cameron, WEBO mm 1091.6, Section 9 Olympic Mtns
23 miles, Gain 7360′, Loss 6900′, elevation 4270′

Mileage-wise, I thought it would be a pretty easy day. I was wrong. I did know that the passes would be super steep and they did slow me down a lot. Still, it was an incredible day and worth every bit of effort. I slept great and felt very good as I started off. I’d found an ideal system for dealing with my bear can by stuffing my quilt and thermarest inside and the rest of my clothes around it in the bottom of my pack, laying horizontally (luckily I’d been able to borrow the smaller BV450). I layered my food bag in the middle and my tent on top. With only a few days of food, my pack felt very manageable.

I made it to Constance pass, first of the day, for some of the most incredible views. Hello Volcanoes! I was so excited to be able to see Rainier, St Helens and Adams! The only one missing was Mt Baker, which I’d seen just the day before. What a treat! I took so many little breaks that is was almost 9 am by the time I started down. No bother…I had all day, right?

Rainier, Adams and the top of St Helens can all be seen like little islands in the clouds, left of center

I descended 4300 feet over the next 4 miles…woowza! Every bit I went down, I cringed because I knew I’d be gaining it all back at the end of the day, and very quickly. It was a steep descent too, so I had to take it slow. Some parts were a bit overgrown and with a few blowdowns, but nothing to whine about. The trails in the eastern part of the park appeared to not be very well-traveled, but I liked how remote and quiet they were. I’d met only one lady before the pass, Quetzal at the top, and a ranger at the bottom. Katie politely asked to see my permit, then apologized for doing so. I just laughed, as I was more than happy to show her. I saw the look of concern come over her face, as I still had 15 miles and 2 passes to go to my campsite. Again I just smiled, looking confident enough for her to declare that she believed in me. Well of course, we were both wearing skirts! That’s right, she had on the cutest little brown hiking skirt to match her ranger outfit…it was great!

The next 10 miles were pretty easy, with a gentle grade up the Dosewallips river. I passed a handful of guys and had lunch near a stream. I was immersed in This American Life podcasts most of the day and the time flew by. Then I took a right onto a blue line for the Lost Pass to Grand Pass alternate. Most of the notes and blogs I’d read suggested this route for the ample alpine exposure and great views. Plus it led to the Hurricane Ridge visitors center, where it was easy to get a ride into Port Angeles. I wholeheartedly agreed that this was a great route…but only if a hiker’s ready for some serious kick-ass ups and downs. Lost Pass was a 1100 ft gain in 0.8 miles and Cameron another 1000 ft in a mile. Ouch.

Salmon berries…I love their vibrant color

I went slow and stopped frequently to enjoy the views. In the meadows in-between the 2 passes, I spied a mother black bear and her cub. I was far enough away to seemingly go unnoticed and their presence provided endless distractions from the second climb. I kept challenging myself to look back and see if I could spot them from half a mile or more away. It was only because I’d seen them closer that I could distinguish them from the rocks and trees. I love observing bears from a distance, watching them go about their business undisturbed. They ‘d been foraging in the meadow for hours.

I dropped my pack at the pass and went an extra couple hundred feet up for another view of Rainier. It was definitely worth it. Going up had mostly been through a meadow but the north facing side of the pass still held small snow fields and was all rock and gravel. The steepness almost got to me in a few spots, as I made my way down very carefully. The gravel was so slippery and there was an eroded stream that made for a pretty sketchy scramble across. I could only imagine how challenging this might be for the average backpacker that might be expecting well-manicured trail in a National Park.

An Olympic marmot
ONP is so beautiful!

Traveling down the basin in the last part of the day was such a delight. I passed pink wildflowers growing in abundance that made for one of my favorite pictures the whole trip. I had plenty of time to go down the valley another mile or so but for once was content to stop short and enjoy the alpine basin. I followed some social trails, just before the first big waterfall. I went pretty far away from the main trail and tucked in under some small conifers. I was not in a regularly used site and impossibly out of view should Wolverine or Quetzal want to find me (we’d discussed sharing a bear canister days prior). It was just too nice of a setting to pass up and I preferred a lesser-used spot because of the salt-agro deer in the area. They were known for stealing articles and eating trekking pole handles. I settled in for a nice evening watching the sunset but was quickly chased inside my tent by my persistent nemesis, the mosquito. I was too tired from climbing and gawking at mountains all day to care.

Feeling such joy today, I just thought I’d end with a note about gratitude. A hiker I’d been following on social media posted these parting thoughts upon finishing the PNT: “the Olympics were spectacular, but mountains are just mountains, after a time.” The sentiment really bothered me. I understand the fatigue and overload that comes at the end of a thru-hike, but I dislike how privileged thru-hikers sometimes come off. Being outside for months at a time, we lose sight of the fact that such time is not a given. These tough and remote mountains put up many barriers, both physically, logistically, and financially. Such comments remind me of how lucky I am. Despite some early reworking of my plans (or perhaps because of them), this hike had gone spectacularly well. I’d been blessed with great weather, skies clear of smoke, no fire closures, wonderful hiking friends, and amazing trail angels. I was so grateful and pleased to be hiking, all the way to the end. If I ever got to the stage of finding it boring and monotonous, I’d quietly just go do something else. I enjoyed most all of the AT, and in comparison, the Olympics were mind-blowing. They are not just mountains like any other mountains. They’re unique, beautiful and inspiring.

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