Hoh River to Glacier Meadows with Rich

It has been a while since I have gone on an overnight hiking trip. I keep track of these things for my own amusement, and my trip to The Enchantments last September was the latest backpacking fun I’ve had. Nine months is far too long . I feel lame not having backpacked in that time, but at least I have done a good number of day hikes since then. Well, Friday, June 27 to Sunday, June 29 I was putting an end to the drought with a two-night trip to the Hoh River with my good friend Rich, who had joined us on a trip to Lena Lake a year and some odd weeks prior.

I had read a wonderful trip report that, when combined with my own procrastination, opened up the perfect opportunity to basically copy it. The round-trip distance would be roughly 36 miles, which was quite ambitious for myself and Rich. Neither of us were in the best of shape cardio-wise, but we were willing to push our limits. Luckily a good percentage of that comes down to mental fortitude, a trait I feel like we both share.

Photo Jun 27, 1 14 29 PM

Thanks to Hudson, I had a pretty good itinerary to follow, and after looking at some maps and elevation profiles I didn’t change it up too much. The first night we would hike ten and a half miles out to Lewis Meadows, where we coincidentally ended up staying at the same site Hudson and his group did. We would only gain about 500 ft. overall, though there were a few ups and downs along the way. The next day we would pack up camp and hike 4.5 miles with about 1,500 ft. elevation gain to Elk Lake, just past Martin Creek where Hudson’s group stayed. From there we would set up camp, drop most of our weight, and hike another 2+ miles with around 1,700 ft. elevation gain to Glacier Meadows, where groups base camp before summiting Mt. Olympus. The plan was to fart around a bit up there and then head back to Elk Lake for the night, and on the third day hike 15+ miles out, a tall order for the two of us, but I was confident because most of the elevation was behind us, and we were in no rush to leave so we could hike a fairly slow pace if we needed to.

Elk Lake required a reservation, so I had to snail mail or fax my party application and await a reply. Luckily it came the next day, but I find it pretty inefficient that they only accept mail or fax. At the very least they could accept email which wouldn’t take any more resources — less, actually — than a fax. And on top of that, we had to drive the long way around the peninsula to head to the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center to pick up our permit. Oh well, it’s quite a nice drive, and I got to reminisce a little when we passed the same forest service park ranger lady who pulled me over at Lake Crescent a few years ago!

We got to the trailhead around 1PM and it was lightly drizzling, which was a theme that stuck with us all weekend. There were quite a few people there, but most of them seemed to just be poking around the smaller trails near the visitor center. We immediately started on our way and were soon greeted by interesting trees and beautiful rain forest greenery.

Photo Jun 27, 2 24 45 PM

Photo Jun 27, 2 43 58 PM

Photo Jun 27, 4 23 22 PM

I had this picture in my head that the trail would run alongside the Hoh River for most of the trip but that wasn’t quite true. There were a few points it poked out to give us a good view of the river, but not too many. There were a number of creeks that we got to cross that often had a cool bridge over them. One of them we had to walk straight through and be careful not to slip on the rocks below. Luckily it wasn’t very deep and we both made it across just fine.

Within the first mile or two we crossed paths with a girl who had just spent three nights along the trail by herself. I asked her if she had seen any wildlife and she said she had seen deer and elk and black bear! We were excited, and I was keeping my eyes open like a hawk, often glancing off trail hoping to catch an elk or something. We saw quite a few deer during the trip, but no elk or black bear, bummer!

Photo Jun 27, 3 39 57 PM

Photo Jun 27, 4 39 41 PM

Photo Jun 27, 4 40 45 PM

After a while the trail opened up to beautiful open meadows with lush grass. There were a lot of spots where the grass had been bedded down by deer.

Photo Jun 27, 5 09 43 PM

Nine miles in we came to the Olympus Guard Station. I’m not quite sure what they use this for, probably just to store supplies for trail maintenance or what have you. Seeing this was great though, because it meant we didn’t have too much further to go to get to Lewis Meadows – just a couple of miles.

Photo Jun 27, 5 11 43 PM

And ta-da, Lewis Meadow! Upon arriving I thought the campsites would be in the meadow, but most of them are another quarter mile or so in. At this point we just wanted to set up camp and relax, but we had to hike in further to find a site. We got a great one right on the shore of the river. There was another couple just a ways down (but out of sight) that seemed to have a slightly better spot with easier water access, but our site was secluded and nice. We spent the evening watching a deer and her fawn forage across the river from us. While Rich took a quick nap and did some reading, I went around trying to find some dry wood to build a fire. We didn’t really need one, but it was kind of fun to get one going, and I was surprised that I got it going on the first try despite most of the wood being damp. The best place for fuel was downed branches that were still hanging in the live branches of some evergreens. They didn’t touch the wet forest floor, and the evergreens provided quite the rain cover – most of these sticks were quite dry.

Photo Jun 27, 5 48 00 PM

Most of the sites have pre-installed bear wires with pulleys to store your food at overnight, but the one at Lewis Meadow required quite the walk back out to the meadow to store the food. It was a pretty fun little jaunt in the darkness though, so I didn’t mind. Rich was ready to leave the food at camp, but I gotta teach good LNT principles right!? =) Here’s a panorama of our site:

Photo Jun 27, 6 42 23 PM

Photo Jun 28, 2 35 32 PM

It was quite misty and rainy most of our trip, but Saturday morning the clouds broke for a little bit of a mountain view down the river. It was quite beautiful, I can’t imagine what it’s like when there are no clouds! Doing hikes when it’s cloudy gives you more reason to come back later in hopes of better weather. I know my two trips to Mt. Ellinor leave me wanting for a great view next time!

Saturday we woke up at a decent time and packed up camp to head up to Elk Lake. We had it pretty easy the day before with very little elevation gain, but today was the first real test of a day! Another group that camped near us at Lewis Meadow left their camp set up and day hiked up to Glacier Meadows and back. That would have been a ~14 mile day with quite a bit of elevation, albeit less weight to carry. I think I’m glad with my decision to split up the elevation amongst two days by setting up camp at Elk Lake. My only regret is that the camp sites at Elk Lake didn’t end up being on the lake (which was beautiful) — I wish we had camped at Martin Creek just a short ways back. Fires were allowed at the creek but not at the lake as well, but oh well, we actually had Elk Lake to ourselves that night, no one else camped there. Next time I’ll know!

Photo Jun 28, 8 55 57 AM

There’s a lack of photos actually at Elk Lake, Rich took the majority of them there and I haven’t gotten ahold of any of his photos (I should). It was quite a bit more damp and dreary at the lake than at our Lewis Meadow site. We took a short snooze after setting up camp and were awoken by the group of girls that had camped near us at Lewis Meadow. They were stopping for lunch before heading up further. When we woke up we went on our way, headed for Glacier Meadows.

Photo Jun 28, 1 52 43 PM

There were a few fun crossings as we were gaining more elevation than even earlier in the morning. I was grateful to be carrying very little in my pack, and I’m sure Rich was pumped to be packless!

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Photo Jun 28, 3 45 58 PM

Just a little ways before the meadows we reached the rope (or rather, steel cable) ladder that descended down a large washout area that must have destroyed the trail. I think this happened this past winter, or at least I know the ladder was installed fairly recently. I was pretty excited because it’s something you don’t run into on most hikes, and it was quite exciting to descend down it!

Photo Jun 28, 2 58 13 PM

After scrambling down the ladder and across and back up the gulley, we were soon at Glacier Meadows, which ended up being smaller than I thought it would be. There was a group or two up there warming up and drying off in the shelters – they had just come back from some peak bagging on Mt. Olympus, including summiting it that day. They said they were there since Tuesday or Wednesday I believe – quite the long trip, I’m jealous!

We were told by a passing couple that we should really check out the glacier moraine and reach the glacier itself, but after talking with Rich he wasn’t quite up for it, and I don’t blame him, I was pretty tired myself. Oh well – these things I count as blessings because it gives me something to plan for next time I’m here, and a good reason to come back! It wouldn’t have been as amazing as it could have been anyway with all the cloud cover, we wouldn’t have even been able to see the mountain.

Photo Jun 28, 3 17 30 PM

Climbing the up the ladder was quite easier than descending (though it took more energy). On the way down it was too much of a hassle to actually use the ladder rungs, so we just grabbed the rope and kind of walked down. On the way up we could easily use the ladder itself. Hopefully this photo gives a little better scale of the distance it covered.

Photo Jun 28, 3 33 56 PM

We got back to Elk Lake and after getting water from the lake and eating dinner and some extra snacks, we didn’t have much reason to stay outside because it was raining and wet and a little chilly. We got into the tent where we spent the rest of the night. I had trouble falling asleep because it was so early, I should have brought a book like Rich did, though not a large hardcover one like he did! At least it was a Wheel of Time book!

Both of us were kind of dreading the final day, we knew we had a long walk ahead of us and it didn’t seem like the weather would clear up. It was quite the slog out, and to make matters worse the trail felt like 75% mud. We were pushing a pretty good pace as we entered that “let’s get to the car” mentality. I think the worst part about it was the dampness. No matter how “waterproof” your boots are, if it’s wet and damp or you work up a good sweat, there’s no keeping dry, and that was true for my boots. We probably should have taken a break to dry our feet out, but we didn’t. Other than sore wet feet (which you would not want if it was early into your trip), I didn’t think it was too bad and was actually quite glad I was able to do it so easily. I have never pushed the limits of the distance I could hike in a day, but 15 miles was a pretty good test until I go further some other time.

We were glad to get to the car at the end of what turned out to be a good weekend in the woods, despite the conditions. If (when) I do the trip again, I think I will plan for an extra day or two, and try to find a window of sun! I would stay at Martin Creek if possible the next time, and it looked pretty fun up at Glacier Meadows as well. I’m glad to have gotten to do another trip in the Olympics, as it’s an area I have hardly explored. I need to get down to the Enchanted Valley as well. Any other suggestions on the peninsula?