| August 9, 2016 |
My first backpacking trip in numbers: 1 destination. 1 campground at Boulder Creek. 1 stunning view of Mount Olympus. 2 days. 2 new adventure buddies. 3 coffee mugs. 3-1/2 liters of Camelback water. 6 backpacker meals. 65-liter Osprey Ariel backpack. 4,000 feet of elevation gain. 4,000 feet of elevation loss. 4,000 feet of elevation gain… and loss… again. A few hot springs. Infinite trips to REI in preparation. Countless invaluable lessons learned.
And… 30 miles. Yes, TWO days and THIRTY miles. Intrigued? I don’t blame you. Beware: blood, sweat, and tears ahead.
With my move to Olympia, Washington, I envisioned MANY outdoor adventures in my future. Having been fed up with the flatlands of Florida, I knew I needed some mountain therapy, and I was hopeful the Evergreen State would fulfill my desires. Though I’ve been camping a plethora of times, most of these trips were on the beach in Florida and in an area accessible by car. I’ve always dreamed of packing all I needed for camping into a pack, and journeying deep into the wilderness for a more genuine, woodsy experience.
Immediately after my move to Washington, I made a vision board to attract the people and places that would bring me closer to nature. I purchased Backpacker and Rock & Ice magazines as sources for inspiration. Within my first week, I also purchased my VERY OWN backpack for said adventures! I’ve always borrowed others’ packs, but was ready to have my own. I spent hours at REI determining the best fit for me, and ordered the Osprey Ariel 65L pack when it was on sale (SCORE!!). I just had to wait for it to come in the mail, as my size was not available in store. It was 100% worth the wait. (More on gear later!)
Luckily, I quickly met some pretty awesome people in the Evergreen State. One of my coworkers, Sarah, is also a travel Physical Therapist with an incredible thirst for adventure. She’s lived a ton of places, but she can’t seem to get enough of Washington State and has been here for about a year! We instantaneously connected and knew we’d need to venture into the wilderness together. After a weekend hike to Snow Lake that was “meh,” we decided to amp it up a bit, and joined forced with another seasoned adventurer, Simon, for my first backpacking trip!
The excitement leading up to my first experience was riveting. A mere two weeks after arriving in Olympia, Washington, I was preparing to go on my first hike into a camp ground! I’d get to put my pack to use, plus finally use my own camping gear. Luckily, I had constant information from REI employees and my fellow adventurers to get the right items in preparation.
The plan was designed without my assistance due to my lack of knowledge (sensing a pattern here? I’ve been learning a lot!). Simon picked a destination: The Olympic Hot Springs! Currently, the road leading to the springs is not open, so we opted to take a relatively creative path to the springs. One might say it was a road less traveled. Simon warned Sarah and I that the trip would be challenging, with 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss each way, and about 10 miles in each direction. Despite my lack of training and the minimal information of the exact path we had to travel, I was up for the challenge! My enthusiasm was undeniable. I was READY and trusting of my guides.
So, on a foggy and misty Saturday morning, Sarah and I headed to meet Simon at the Sol Duc Hot Springs. En route, we stopped at Hoodsport for bagels and delicious coffee… and an irresistible chocolate chip muffin treat!
We got a stunning view of Lake Crescent worthy of a quick pull-over for admiration.
Simon stopped at the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center to purchase our backcountry camping permits ($5/night/person), and we were READY for our adventure.
We packed our bags at Sol Duc trailhead’s parking lot, deciding what items we did and did not need. Simon forewarned me that I would learn what I did and did not need AFTER this trip, and would benefit most form reflecting on what items were untouched and forgotten in my pack. So, I didn’t stress the BEFORE too much. I brought my 10 essentials.
Our first vision on the trail was Sol Duc Falls, and we had no idea what lay beyond these falls. We passed casual vacationers with our large packs, and I felt a degree of pride, knowing we were going on a far more serious adventure.
The further we distanced ourselves from the falls, the more engulfed in the wilderness I felt. We traversed a few smaller creeks, and I was soon thankful for the single hiking pole Simon lent me.
Our trio found ourselves wandering in the depths of Olympic National Park’s wilderness. We went from root-covered paths bordered by thick trees to mossy-covered, FernGully-esque trails. The path dipped and rose in what felt like a wooden roller coaster’s unpredictable pattern. It seemed to have no true direction, but we pushed on, using a compass, map, and occasional trail maker as our confirmation we were headed to our destination.
Eventually, we reached Appleton Pass – our challenging climb. Before us lay a merciless long string of switchbacks (each pass seemingly longer than the last) that would bring us to a clearing from the thick forest we’ve been enveloped in. With every right foot I planted, I inhaled. Every left foot was an exhale. I controlled my breathing, and kept my eyes up. In running camp back in high school, we used to say “Eyes up, spirits up” during our hill ascents. I found myself channeling this positivity during this climb. For whatever reason, I’ve always preferred upslopes to downhills. Perhaps its the challenge itself, and the need to exhibit control over my heart rate, breathing, and footwork. Or, perhaps the methodical madness behind gaining elevation combined with a sense of accomplishment at the top makes me feel triumphant.
As we reached our first clearing, mysterious clouds covered our distant view, and the hidden slopes remained unbeknownst to us (until Day Two…).
We continued on a little more, with periodic breaks to allow for a decline in our heart rates. Finally, at the top of Appleton Pass, with an elevation of 5,100 feet, we feasted our eyes on an expansive valley. What a reward this sight was!
We paused at the top to enjoy our snacks of beef jerky, and a variety of trail bars. I felt incredibly small, looking at the valley below us, and felt gratitude for this experience with two inspiring friends. We spotted a snow heart in the valley, which made my heavily beating heart smile.
Soon, we had to head down the pass. It’s very true that what goes up must… come down. It’s just that I wasn’t ready for the down just YET.
It was at this point that I started realizing we were so deep in the wilderness, that the only way to return was to… turn around. It clicked at this point that, on our return trip, we would be repeating ALL of our first day’s trek. Was I going to be ready for that? I really wasn’t sure. I didn’t know what lay ahead on our trail. I didn’t yet know how much of my energy I’d need need to channel into maintaining mental sanity during periods of exhaustion and pure fatigue.
I just didn’t know.
But, onward we went… into the unforgiving unknown of Olympic National Park…