Cape Flattery Trail

Although the Hoh Valley was the destination of last week’s trip to the Olympic Peninsula, my favorite part of the trip wasn’t planned at all. As we went by the Neah Bay cutoff on our way to the Hoh, I said, “We have to go there on our way home” because it’s one of the few automobile-accessible places I haven’t been in Western Washington.

With the cooperation of some surprisingly good weather our trip there and the hike on the Cape Flattery trail was nothing short of fabulous. Here’s a shot taken just before the end of the trail:

Looking South

The view rivals anything the Oregon Coast has to offer, a statement I don’t make lightly since the Oregon Coast is one of my favorite places in the world.

At the end of the walk you get an awesome view of the Cape Flattery lighthouse,

Cape Flattery Lighthouse

the farthest NW piece of the United States.

As if that wasn’t enough, I spotted a flock of Black Oystercatchers, one of the few “local” birds I’ve never managed to get a picture of:

Black Oystercatcher

And, on top of everything else, I got a chance to indulge in a favorite pastime, staring at waves breaking on the cliffs.

Waves Breaking Over Rocks

At my age, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect day.

Rialto Beach

The day after we visited the Hoh River, Leslie suggested we should visit Rialto Beach, and, though I was ambivalent because I wanted to visit Neah Bay, the farthest NW point in the United States, that’s how we started our day.

I’m certainly glad we did because two of my favorite shots came from this side-trip. Here’s one of them, a shot of the Indian village of La Push,

Village of La Push

reduced to about 1/6th of its real size to fit your computer screen because it’s actually six different shots joined together.

I loved the driftwood on this beach. The combination of old-growth forests and powerful waves created magnificent sculptures:

Driftwood

I’m not sure if this is really a Winter Wren,

Wren

but I like to imagine it is since I’d been on the lookout for one since seeing one in the display at the Hoh Ranger Station.

This picture,

Headlands

like the one at the top of this entry, is really much, much wider than this, but I prefer a small section of it to the full shot reduced to the above dimensions. I was upset that the fog was so thick while I was there, but it turns out this is my favorite shot of the trip.

I also realized as we walked the beach that this is probably the first beach I ever hiked with my former wife and kids some 30 years ago. Seeing the powerful waves helped me to understand why Dawn refused to wade around the point with a pack on.

Death and Renewal

Considering how alive a rainforest is, it’s probably not surprising there's a lot of dying going on. Not even trees live forever, so some of these ancient trees are dying, as revealed by the fungi growing on their trunks.

Mushroom

Fungi are a common sight in any old-growth forest here in the Pacific Northwest, though I’d never seen many of the varieties I saw on this visit. When we weren’t looking up amazed at moss and ferns growing on the trees, we were pointing out strange varieties of fungi growing on the ground, like this,

Mushroom

Mushroom

or this.

Mushroom

My first reaction was merely to admire the beauty of these fungi. At home, I tried to identify them by searching through several of my books and online. I never could identify them, but while online I did discover that fungi

... play a critical role in nearly every ecosystem. They are key in recycling dead vegetation and making the nutrients available for the next generation of plant life. They provide a source of evolutionary pressure as plant pathogens, and help keep rampant monoculture plant populations in check.

I probably already knew that, but it served as a reminder that in a healthy ecosystem past and present are intrinsically linked, a concept perhaps best symbolized by the nursing logs:

Nurse Log

We Are Family

If I’d had the courage to attempt Enchanted Valley by myself, I’m sure I would have enjoyed the flowers, the scenery, and the wildlife, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much I did doing it with “family:” daughter Dawn, son-in-law Rich, Santi (Gavin and Lael’s Spanish big brother), Gavin, and Lael:

Group Shot w/o Me

I’ve taken many hikes with grandkids and loved every one of them, but there’s something very special about going with grandkids to the same National Park that you took your first hike with your own kids.

It’s comforting to know you’re not the only one that needs a break when you’re trudging uphill carrying a 40+ pack.

A Group Break

It’s reassuring to know that it’s not just old age that’s wearing you down.

There’s also something special about working together to fulfill the most basic needs —like having enough water.

Pumping Drinking Water

Of course, it’s only later, when you’re safely home, that you realize how much we take for granted.

It’s also nice to have someone to give you a high-five when you’ve overcome an obstacle,

Santi High Fives Dawn

and I’m not sure I would have made it across this bridge if I’d been alone because I really hate high, narrow bridges, particularly when I’m dead tired from carrying a pack six miles before I got to it.

And you can’t overlook perhaps the most important reason to go backpacking, to take the time to just sit back and do nothing at all except look at waterfalls cascading down high cliffs.

Lael on Moss Throne

This hike was also special in that we got to know several hikers because the valley was crowded with the upper parts of the park inaccessible because of unusual amounts of snow. I didn’t really take pictures of them because I tend to avoid taking pictures of people without first asking their permission.

However, Santi wanted his picture taken with “Kris the Mountainman” who was especially generous to us and shared campfires with us two of the four nights we were out.

Kris and Santi

He’s a park volunteer and hoping to get on as a Park Ranger. I’m sure everyone in our group thought he would make a great one. He certainly knew the area well and was helpful to all of us.

Wildlife, Too

I don’t think that I could justify the Enchanted Valley hike just on the basis of the wildlife we observed, but I did enjoy the wildlife and saw one bird I’d never seen before. Perhaps the most surprising discovery was the high number of Robins and Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

we saw there. I have a hard time imagining a Robin outside a backyard.

I missed a beautiful shot of a Red-Breasted Sapsucker that Dawn spotted at close range, but I did manage to get a shot of this female Blue Grouse that Santi spotted,

female Blue Grouse

the first time I’ve ever managed to get a shot of one, and perhaps the first time I’ve ever seen one.

The most common butterfly was the elusive Tiger Swallowtail, but this small white and black moth/butterfly is one I’ve never seen before (and can’t find in my Insects of the Pacific Northwest):

Black and White Butterfly/Moth

We never did see the much-sought-after black bear, but we did see two small herds of elk. This shot of the mother and baby (with older brother following closely behind?) was undoubtably my favorite wildlife shot of the trip.

Elk

Enchanted Valley

Originally, Dawn had reserved sites higher in the mountain for our five-day hike, but Park Rangers recommended we not try it since there was still six feet of snow in places. Still, Enchanted Valley is part of Olympic National Park, so mountains are definitely an important part of the hiking experience.

This chalet, now used as a ranger station and emergency shelter, guards the entrance to the valley

Chalet

with clouded cliffs and waterfalls serving as a backdrop.

Even though we didn’t see a bit of rain in our five days there, at times it seemed like we were living in the clouds,

 Cliffs in Clouds

which certainly explains why everything is so green.

Though lined with forests, it’s obvious that the Quinault River is still a major player here,

Riverbed

fed by unseen mountains and melting snow fields even now.

Waterfall

We day hiked another 6 miles up the valley, knowing our way was ultimately blocked by distant, snow-covered mountains fading into the clouds.

Distant Olympic Mountains

Although we were going to try to walk to a damaged footbridge, Pahtah (that’s me) decided after running into one too many washouts that he had better save some energy for the two days it would take to walk out.

Olympic Flowers

The beautiful flowers found on the trail to Enchanted Valley helped to alleviate the fatigue that invariably accompanies carrying a 40 pound pack uphill for 13 miles.

These beautiful Mountain Daisies

Mountain Daisy

were found from the lowest elevation to the highest.

Huge bushes full of Tilling’s Monkeyflower

Tiling's Monkeyflower

crowded river gravel at our first Campground and at several places where we stopped beside the river to rest.

Several varieties of wild roses

Wild Rose

were also found at our campground and along the trail.

I loved this striking white flower that we saw several times in dark shade, making it difficult to get as sharp of image as I’d like to get.

White Flower

Though I found several similar flowers in Mountain Flowers of the Cascades and Olympics, I couldn’t really pin it down exactly.

Luckily, I got several chances to capture this picture of a Columbine,

 Columbine

another favorite that I haven’t seen much since I moved away from the Columbia Gorge area.