My last journey through the backcountry in the US, was with one of my best friends. And even though he often complains about the treks we take, I know deep down he really enjoys the wild adventures we share. In fact, all of my Olympic adventures have been with Bennett, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It may also be the reason the Olympics is one of my favorite places. From Chanterelle hunting, to drunken overnighters, and multi-day hikes along secluded beaches, this place is home to some really great memories for me!
After traveling to Port Angeles for reservations, our permit and a bear cannister, we hit the trail head later than expected. Sunlight was quickly fading from the beneath a canopy of old-growth forest and we knew we would be making camp after dark. The hike started with subtle ascent as we headed for Lower Bridge Creek (our first campsite). Along the path, I found several spots where small tart blueberries were waiting to be eaten… Yummm! We arrived in the dark, with the last mile being a steep rocky set of switchbacks. After a few nips of vodka we bunkered down for a night under a beautiful starry sky.
The next morning we woke and were greeted by some of the best trail guests hikers can have--a doe and its fawn. It wasn’t long before the fawn romped off followed closely by its mother, but the visit that left us filled with excitement for the day to come.
Heart Lake made for perfect first stopping point. We had a quick snack and took in some scenery before the morning sun broke the crest of the ridgeline above. From there, we pressed on to the High Divide trail which offered scenic views in every direction.
To the North was 7 Lakes Basin (which is odd given there are more than 7 Lakes, and one named Lake 8). To the south where amazing views of Mount Olympus, Blue Glacier, and the Hoh Rainforest (correctly named as it was filled with clouds below the ridgeline.
We ate lunch just after Bogachiel Peak, and about halfway to our site for the night, Deer Lake. The hike up was exhausting, and the trail was turning into quite the rocky mess. This nearly broke my feet as I limped into camp with several blisters on my left foot. However, I did take solace in the Huckleberries and blueberries scattered along trail into Deer Lake.
Once at camp, and as we settled in for dinner, we were again greeted by two berry drunk guests. One came so close Bennett may have pissed himself a bit--stepping back in fear. This startled the young stag, causing him to move to a more reasonable distance. However, both promptly returned to their feast in a wandering fashion.
We woke the next morning and got started early on the last leg of the hike. The steep decent and rocky trail continued to tenderize my feet, but I limped along until we arrived at Sol Duc Falls. Here the trail becomes less jagged rocks and more soft cool dirt.
Despite finishing my hike with bruised feet and some stingy raw blisters, I would do it over all over again for the views, visitors, and moments shared with my friend. Thanks for the awesome send off Bennett!
Mount Margaret Backcountry has the best views of Mt. St. Helens and the surrounding volcanoes I’ve seen! At times, Helens is so close I felt as if I could touch it. Being the closest mountain in range of the blast from the volcano, presented very real reminders of just how destructive the blast was--shown by the jagged stumps of giant pines, the barren hillsides, and the floating barges left drifting in the surrounding lakes.
My journey started at Norway Pass, halfway between Randle and Cougar, WA. The warm August weather was a near perfect temperature for the 6-miles of mountains I had to climb that day.
What I didn’t come prepared for was all the delicious offerings Mount Margaret backcountry had to offer. At half a mile in, I started noticing small bushes with little maroon colored buds… hesitating I continued on until I saw a person with a bucket just off the trail picking away. I soon broke down, and started to sample the goods. Salmonberries, Huckleberries, and Strawberries… I was in heaven! I immediately lost track of time and went into a frenzy of smashing them into my mouth by the handfuls. The blueberries and raspberries were less prevalent, and I ended up devouring the evidence in my berry drunk state!
After eating almost every berry in sight over a couple miles, I started thinking about the potential repercussions of eating too many on a hike. I didn’t want the shits on this journey, so I stopped the rampage and made for Margaret Camp. Without trees, and sitting on the ridgeline leaves little protection mother nature--that night had a few gusty blows that chilled me to bed a bit early.
The next morning came with surprises. I ran out of cooking fuel, and knew that the next few days were going to consist of cold oatmeal and ramen. I was also running low on water, and wanted to do some more hiking and exploration. The hike to Johnston Observatory provided the perfect solution, but at 14-miles and 1700 feet of elevation change one way, I knew it was going to be a long day. In the end it was totally worth it. The views, feasts, and my time spent at the observatory quickly became the highlight of the trip.
When Helens erupted it sent 300 mph wind racing towards Mount Margaret, breaking old growth trees like twigs in less than a minute! Nature can be scary, destructive, breathtaking, and a perfect example of how we should live life. Our lives can change in an instant. Like leaving a job, and adopting a new lifestyle. Change creates room for new growth as we adapt with each new experience. And rising from the ashes can only make us stronger in ways we never thought possible.
Arriving back at camp, I soon became aware of an elk across a short draw from me, when it started bugling. I watched it for some time, pacing in the same area before eventually wandering over the crest, and out of view. Dinner-time serenades are always great!
The next day was by far the easiest with only a 3-4 miles from Dome Camp to Bear Camp. I had plenty of water, cold food and berries galore. What more could a boy want! I got to Bear Camp early, found a small grove of trees to set my hammock up, got high, and did some leisure tapping on my computer until early evening. It is in these moments, making the wild my home, that I externalize my experiences. There is freedom in having less: No commute, no job, and no other responsibilities than to simply survive and be alive in such a beautiful place.
I awoke early the next morning to one of the best sunrises in recent memory. Though, a few of you may remember sharing another one this summer that was pretty fucking amazing too!
My hike out the next morning was finished in style with one more feast of berries--followed by a beautiful ride through the woods on my moto. While I was happy to get on my way to a hot shower and some awesome hospitality from some of my best of friends, I certainly would have stayed a few extra day to eat all the berries I missed the first time!
I started this hike with big dreams of hiking both Broken Top and South Sister. Sadly, I didn’t make it to South Sister, due to poor planning--lesson learned. Though a bit short, this hike was one of personal growth, adversity, and pure excitement!
Starting at Crater Ditch Creek Trailhead I made my way along a manmade ditch flowing from the lake at the bottom of the ancient volcanic crater. The trails gentle slope and beautiful open fields provide plenty of views of Broken Top, Three Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor. The early morning air was cool, even for August. A few miles in, the trails wiggles its way north as you round the ridges on the southwest face.
After crossing several small creeks formed by natural springs fueled by Broken Top’s run off, you arrive at the crystal waters of Green Lakes that lies between Broken Top and South Sister. There sits 20 or so campsites spread out over two loops around the lakes. To be sure I had a place to sleep, I quickly set up my hammock and began making my way to the summit.
This is where shit got real. The trail out of Green Lakes quickly turns into a steep rising b-line for a saddle to the north west of the ancient volcano. Soon after patches of snow started to dot the sides of the trail! Weee!
By the time I reached the top of the saddle to the left of the peak, I was really feeling the burden of my pack. It was here that the site of the peak and remaining trail seemed to loom and doom over me--instilling a fear of heights I thought I had conquered long ago. The broken slabby and loose rocks on the ridge didn’t inspire much confidence either. It was as if I was in Mordor viewing the vanishing trail dotted with only few small twisted trees amongst the otherwise barren, rocky, and hellish landscape. There I decided to jettison my pack for some snacks, water, and light pack.
From the saddle the trail quickly turns into several scrambling paths following the spine of the ridge to the peak. The fear of falling to one side or another never really subsided as plenty of the paths came to abrupt ends--causing me to backtrack in search of an alternate routes. Despite my fear, and constant struggle to find the correct path, I continued to ascend the steep slope of the sleeping beast.
Just before the summit I found this small reminder why we should never underestimate mother nature. It is crazy how something so small and seemingly delicate can survive in such an inhospitable environment.
I was the first to the top, and got to rest in solitude as I ate my snacks and took in the incredible views of Three Sisters had to offer! Look at those sexy ladies!
The trip back to safe ground was better than expected once I realized I could just jam my feet into the loose rubble to create easy footing. However,the way down still came with a knot in my stomach, as I now had to face the far off landscape below.
Once planted firmly on safe ground, I decided to spend the rest of my day basking in triumph and getting high while soaking in the lake. It was then that I realized the importance of my decision to set my hammock up to reserve my site. The lakeside trails were crawling with people looking for a site.
The next morning I hiked back to my moto. It was there I realized my mistake by not taking the direct trail to South Sister. I was pretty heart-broken when I reviewed trailhead map. It was there I decided to give up my dream--instead heading back to Bend for beers and a lazy day in the park. This did wonders for my soul, and put my mistake into perspective. While I didn’t end up achieving my goal of hiking South Sister, I still had an amazing and tough hike on a volcano… nuff said!
Key Trail Tips:
Trinity Alps is a backcountry gem. It’s lush, green, wild, full of scenic views, and will give you one more reason to love California!
Hiking in August made for a warm afternoon hike on the first day--lucky for me there is plenty of shade provided by various pine and fir trees. While the snaking glass-like river to the west came in and out of view.
The first notable change from the trees is the meadow at mile 9 where I was lucky enough to see a few deer doing very deerie things! The sun was setting early behind the great granite walls to both the east and west, so I set my hammock up in a dense crop of trees next to the trail--leaving me invisible to those outside. I was exhausted from the hundreds of miles on the moto and the moderate hike that followed, and decided to eat quickly and call it a night.
Sometime in the dark of the night, I was scared witless by something entering the tiny grove of pines where I slept. It started with slow branch-cracking steps, sniffing, and finally snorting that sounded merely feet away. My mind screamed black bear! There is nothing like the rush of adrenaline at 3am as you struggle with your natural instinct of fight or flight. I decided to stay very still other than the twisting of my head in an attempt to see the intruder. This caused an ever so soft “Swee” against my sleeping mat… The thunder of foliage being trompled by its hasty escape was still hopped up on my bodies natural drug for some time, making it hard to return to sleep.
The hike the following morning was mostly shaded by the granite walls--making for a cool ascent to Emerald Lake. Best sight of the morning came when I happened upon two nude women on the lake’s shore. They were facing west on the eastern shore of Emerald lake with the morning light peering over their shoulders. Two beautiful silhouettes with a granite mountain backdrop… Yipee! Not wanting to ruin their moment, I decided to continue on to Sapphire Lake.
Sapphire Lake is two more miles (14 total), but completely worth the early start, as I was the first to arrive. Nothing like a naked swim to wash the trail off you! And the lake’s temperature was perfect for a morning swim followed by an peaceful air dry on the beach… That was until a wasp stung my toe, turning me into a raging, naked ape on the shore as I tried to smash the little bastard! After that, my hopes and dreams of continuing on to Mirror Lake faded, as I watched my toe and hoped my foot wouldn’t turn into a stump!
Once I started to pink-en from the sun, I decided to abandon my scenic stadium for shade, meaning my time here was through, and finding a camp with some shade at Emerald Lake was my next priority.
I camped on Emerald Lake’s north shore, just off the trail to Sapphire. There I put up my hammock for the night, relaxed for a bit, then headed to the lake to watch the sparkling granite vista fade from the sun’s warm glow.
The next morning, I awoke early to be the first one to the shore where the beauties basked the day before. There I too got naked and enjoyed another swim/bath in the cool lake water before my descent into the meadow and the long stretch of western hillside the trail follows.
My last night was spent ~3 miles from the trailhead next to the river, where I took one last dip to clean the dust off and settled in for the evening.
My time in Trinity Alps was invigorating, exciting, scary at times, and full of breathtaking views. What’s more, it was a perfect place to escape from societal congestion and let my mind wander, ponder and put life’s problems into perspective. As my first real solo backpacking adventure, it checked all the boxes and gave me a taste of how therapeutic solo hiking can be.