The Enchanted Valley: Olympic National Park

While my sister was here, we went on a four day backpacking trip to Olympic National Park. I have a life list to visit all the National Parks, and Olympic was a new one for me. The park happens to be in the lovely Olympic Peninsula of Washington, near the seaside town of Port Angeles and about an hour south of the (now famous) town of Forks. (And no, we didn't run into any vampires. Sorry, Twilight fans.)

Our trip took us into the Enchanted Valley (very aptly named) and though the trek was an arduous one, the views were absolutely stunning.

With 40 pound packs each, a small bear vault to hold our thin rations of food, a tent, sleeping bags, and a sense of adventure, we drove 5 hours to the Olympic Peninsula and checked in at the ranger's station before driving 45 minutes down a very pot-holey dirt road to the trailhead. Since we arrived late in the day, we only hiked in two miles before setting up camp in a thickly lush rainforest grove.

The next day we got up at 6, packed up camp and had a quick breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, which caused Courtney and I to sing Disney songs loudly all morning: "When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs every morning to help me get laaaaarge!"

We hiked another 11.5 miles that day to get to the heart of the Enchanted Valley. Though the massive trees and the rainforest itself was expressly beautiful (it seriously looks like Fern Gully), the hike was slowly, steadily uphill the whole way, to the tune of 2,000 feet of elevation change. (And you thought "valley" meant downhill, didn't you!)

We saw a good number of hikers during our travels, and we heard from the ones headed back the opposite direction that we were going to be hard pressed to find a campsite, since we were contending with two groups of 8+ people, plus several more groups of two and three. Courtney and I were averaging a slow, steady 2 miles an hour, but kicked it into high gear after lunch when we passed a few large groups and decided we were going to beat them to the punch. (This involved a lot of me shouting, "RUN, COURTNEY! RUUUUUN!" ala Forrest Gump.)

We emerged in the Enchanted Valley to beauty, mountains, and the most adorable little Chalet, built in 1920 as a hiker hostel and now used as a ranger station. (I'm just impressed they hauled all the building supplies 14 miles into the backcountry, personally)

My heart rate monitor told me I burned 2100 calories today, so I felt well deserving of the dehydrated dinner we whipped up at 4:00 pm, just in time for bed at 7:30. (Yeah, we're awesome.)

Day three we left our packs in camp and did some exploring north of the valley. We were told that bears were very abundant in this area, but though we saw lots of bear poop, we never did see any bears.

The trail north takes you to Anderson Glacier and onward to O'Neil pass for a total of 60 miles of trail back to the trailhead. We only did four miles outside the Valley since Anderson Glacier was still frozen and without ice axes and crampons we couldn't get further along the trail.

Plus, those four miles outside camp gained another 1,500 feet of elevation, so by the time we got to the washed out bridge at White Creek, I was STARVING.

Since the amount of food we brought for lunch/snacks was minimal, Courtney decided it was her duty to be food monitor. Unfortunately for her, I become like a small toddler when tired or hungry: I get irritable, cranky, and prone to lash out irrationally. (Ask Tanner. He knows this all too well.)

So when my heart rate monitor told me I had burned 600 calories before 10 am, and I started getting all stumbly and weird, I asked for trail mix.

"It's not lunch time, yet," Courtney said.
"But I'm hungry now," I said.
"Well, you'll have to wait. We only have one bag and we can't eat it all."
"I just want one or two handfuls..."
"But we won't have any left for lunch."
"I don't care, I'm HUNGRY. I want trail mix!"
"But there's not enough and --"

This is what happens when you mess with my eating habits.

Interestingly, I found that I became more in tune with my body during these few days. By checking my heart rate monitor when I got hungry or tired, I started recognizing the changes and began to understand them better. I started to know (without looking at my monitor) exactly what my heart rate was by how out of breath I was. Similarly, like clockwork, I knew exactly when I had burned 500 calories because I suddenly got disoriented, lethargic, tired and absolutely NEEDED something to eat.

You know those days where you burn 2100 calories and eat nothing but a couple handfuls of trail mix in 6 hours? Oh, you don't do that? Well, let me tell you that those handfuls of trail mix become the most amazing thing you have ever tasted. EVER.

After our "little jaunt" up a giant mountain (and the four mile hike back to camp.... whew), we packed up camp and hiked another seven miles back to O'Neil camp, where we found a picturesque site next to the river (and some other friendly hiker neighbors) and gobbled down some delightful dinner.

Now, at this point in our trip we were running pretty scant on toilet paper. For some reason, both Courtney and I thought the other person had taken the "big roll", so neither of us brought very much. By day three we were down to a few squares. Most of the campsites had privies near them, but no TP to speak of.

When I went to the privy later that evening, I passed a kid just leaving it. And he had a whole roll of toilet paper. I'm talking giant, fluffy, double-roll, triple-ply, quilted amazing kind of toilet paper. He could barely hold the thing, it was so big. I very nearly cried. And then I considered holding him down and fighting him for it, since he was a pretty skinny 10 year old and I definitely could have taken him.

But I didn't.
Instead, I plucked a couple large-leaf fronds in substitute and hoped they wouldn't give me some weird rash later in the day.
When I got back to the campsite, the first thing Courtney said to me was: "did you see that kid with the giant roll of toilet paper?!"
I said, "I know! I've never been so jealous of anything in my WHOLE LIFE!"

Take a tip from me, kids. Always bring enough toilet paper when you go backpacking. (And I recommend biodegradable wet wipes, too.) It's the little things that count the most.

We were asleep again by 8 pm, although I spent most of that night in a half-awake, half-asleep state, hearing some sort of animal bumbling around the campsite and convinced it was going to eat me. (It didn't.)

Day four we hiked out six miles, drove home five hours, and stopped to get the biggest veggie bean burgers and fries we could find. And then we went home and delighted over small conveniences like showers and toilets and toilet paper. It was awesome.