Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022, 0615-1215
Upper Cameron basin to Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, WEBO mm 1109, Section 9 Olympic Mountains
17.6 miles, Gain 4960′, Loss 5140′, elevation 5250′
I was motivated by a town stop this day, so the miles came quickly despite more big passes. Eating mountains for breakfast…my favorite dish. I got a reasonable start but shortly stopped to talk with a camper near the trail. Wolverine had stayed next to him overnight, asking if he’d seen me. As we chatted, I noticed 2 juvenile deer standing a few feet away, looking like they expected something. I mentioned their noted thievery of anything salty and just then I saw an adult chewing on an article of clothing, off in the willows. We chased her away and she dropped the shirt… luckily it wasn’t his. She was teaching the youngsters bad habits…or maybe it’s us humans with the bad habits. In my camp, the bear canister stays outside but everything else comes inside my tent at night… sometimes even my shoes if I’m really concerned. With as much worry as there is about beers, it’s ironic that far more damage is done by deer, rodents, porcupines, slugs, birds and racoons, just to name a few.
I made good time down the overgrown trail along the creek. I couldn’t help but think about the likelihood of bears in the dense underbrush, with the roaring creek drowning out all other noises. These are the places to be careful about but there’s not much you can do but try to be observant and make noise. I dropped more elevation only to turn up towards the first pass of the day, a real killer…2260′ in 1.6 miles! Perhaps this is why it’s called Grand Pass.
I decided this day that there’s no such thing as a trail too high, long, or steep, only the wrong playlist. Properly motivated with good tunes, anything is possible. I tackled the switchbacks with gusto and shortly caught up to Quetzal. She’d camped further down the valley. According to the guy I’d talked to, Wolverine had taken off around 5 am, so I doubted I would see her. She was trying to catch the bus to Port A, so I assumed it must depart around noon (had I checked the icon for the visitors center in FarOut, I would have found the schedule there). I’d figured on getting an easy hitch but the bus gave me a hard target to shoot for.
Quickly I climbed above the trees into a steep basin that looked impassible. I love trying to predict where the trail will go in such circumstances. Many faint switchbacks led across to the left and back to the right, for sweeping views all along. I crested the ridge and immediately dropped into a basin with a cool tarn. The terrain looked volcanic and crater-like. Down I scurried through another valley, briefly pausing to consider a high ridge alternate that I’d read about and marked on my map. I had no beta or even a dashed line on the map to mark the route, so figured I shouldn’t risk it. Next time.
I noticed a significant difference in trail conditions in the Grand valley. Clearly I was back on a tourist route, as the trail was wide and defined. I even passed by a trail crew gearing up for the morning. There were also quite a few backpackers camping around the lakes and setting out on foot. I knew I’d have pretty easy conditions for the rest of the day: good trails and later an 8 mile road walk. There was just the matter of another pass and 1500′ ascent. Right before I began the climb, 2 women saw me coming and asked if I was a fast or slow hiker. I answered without even thinking: fast. They let me go ahead. I began to eat more switchbacks…I like going up them because they help me keep a rhythm. The last one led to a long traverse to the saddle. It was a perfect ramp, with a gentle slope that let me finish strong. I was practically running up it. A few day hikers were coming down and were quick to get over. Uphill has right-of-way and for good reason…I couldn’t stop or even slow down my momentum that I’d worked so hard to build. I was on a roll to get to town food!
The last few miles to Obstruction Point were a real joy. The trail bounced along the alpine ridge with wonderful views all along. I passed tons of day hikers, all enjoying the benefit of cars that brought them up to the alpine. I enjoyed my light pack and fast feet, the tools of my trade. But I’d also enjoy a car ride down, only later. First I needed to walk 7.7 miles along the dirt road to get to the visitors center. Yes I could have easily hitched from Obstruction point but it was a part of the route and I had no reason to add to my count of road walking missed. The trailhead was packed with cars but the road was pretty quiet. Only about 12 vehicles passed while I was walking. The road had some great views too, so it was a nice walk.
I began the road walk at 10:15, knowing it probably wasn’t feasible to make it to the visitors center by noon. But I was determined to try at least. I can go 4 mph on road walks, and sometimes even a little faster when my pack has no food. I did some jogging on the downhills and the miles flew by. Near the end, a Mazda came up slowly from behind and it was the 2 lady backpackers I’d met at the bottom of the last pass. They couldn’t believe that I was almost to the visitors center, having walked the whole way. They offered me a ride and we came up with a plan to meet in 1 mile, where I could take them up on the offer. Just as they drove away, I saw Wolverine ahead on the road. Perfect, we could both get a ride from the ladies.
I caught up to her and we walked the last bit to the visitors center. We’d seen each other plenty but hadn’t really hiked together since 10 days prior, so it was nice to catch up. And I made it there by 12:15! Turns out, the bus wasn’t until 1:30 pm…and we didn’t need it anyway. At the visitors center, I went straight for the snack bar, then tracked down the ladies in the Mazda. It was great getting a ride from them, as we offered them lots of advice on footwear and gear. They were a mother and daughter pair who liked to go on short backpacking trips every year together. How nice.
They drove us straight to the Safeway in town, where I was able to get many chores done. Wolverine turned and burned, wanting to try to stick to her permit schedule. But I had a feeling I’d see her again at the next (and last) town stop. I hung out at the Starbucks seating area inside the store for hours, trying to figure out what I was going to do for the night. It had gotten too late to go to the ranger station to get my permits, so I’d have to wait until the next morning. I was also trying to decide on a ticket and other travel logistics for after the hike. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by everything, as is often the case at the end of a thru-hike. I’m just never ready for them to end and I get stuck in a state of indecisiveness, almost like I’m paralyzed.
Quetzal came in to the Safeway to get her resupply and we decided to go in on a hotel room together. Rooms were expensive in the area but I hadn’t gone in on a room since Sedro-Woolley and figured I could splurge a little. I’d considered stealth camping near the ranger station but being unfamiliar with the area, and in the vicinity of a population with some addiction problems, I was leery about camping near town. It’s funny, I feel so safe when I’m truly in the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals, but very vulnerable camping outdoors in the vicinity of my own species. So the rest of the night was spent just hanging out in the room and being ineffective at making future plans. I figured out my campsites for the remainder of the hike at least, ready to go to the ranger station first thing in the morning with my plan.