The weekend forecast looked good finally. Time to pack up and go play in the snow. Plans were made to leave the truck at Staircase and start walking there. My wife would pick me up 3 days later at the Duckabush trailhead and take me back to my truck. By the time I got to Staircase on Friday morning, the forecast had deteriorated somewhat, but I decided to push on. What’s a little rain anyway.
When I left the trailhead at Staircase late morning Friday there was only one other car in the parking lot, a good sign for a solitary individual like me. And wherever they had gone, it was not where I went. I managed to not see any sign of people, other than boot prints in the mud, until camp on the second night. There were quite a few people the last day, especially once I left the ONP, but the first couple of days were pretty isolated.
The trail is pretty gentle for the first 10 miles to 9 Stream, where I spent the first night. From there it begins to climb pretty steadily, gaining about 2700 feet over the next 3.3 miles up to first divide and then losing most of that in the 2 mile descent to the Duckabush. From that point the trail mostly follows the Duck until the trailhead about 17 miles later. There are a few climbs along the way, notably up to Big Hump, but by and large it is an easy trail.
Or should I say it should be an easy trail. In reality it was a nightmare. I am by nature a counter, and I ended up counting all the trees across the trail. I counted everything bigger than about 3-4 inches in diameter that required me to step or climb over, duck under or go around; and there was plenty of all three. The trail was cleared from Staircase to Spike Camp, but from there to 9 Stream there were 87 trees across the trail, including two whose root balls had taken out the trail. There were another 17 trees between 9 Steam and continuous snow around 3500 feet, and 12 from the time the Duckabush side cleared at 3900 down to the Upper Duckabush camp.
From Upper Duckabush to 10 Mile Camp I counted 102 trees down, plus a massive blowdown that was so thick with branches I could not get a count. By the time I got to 10 Mile I was pretty whopped from the snow and scrambling over miles of down trees and stopped for the night. It got worst. In the 4 miles, to the park boundary, there were 150 down trees. 368 down trees between Spike Camp and the park boundary on the Duck. Only 1 tree for the next 6.7 miles, all the branches removed from the trail, good tread and few swampy spots. Stepping across the park boundary into the Brothers Wilderness was like stepping into another world. It makes it very clear how much the trail crews do to make life easier for the rest of us. Two thumbs up for the WTA and other organizations for their terrific work on the trails.
First Divide was, obviously, still under quite a bit of snow. I could not tell if anyone had been by that way recently, although the Staircase ranger seemed to think I was the first; hard as that is to believe. There were footprints wandering around but I finally realized coming down into Home Sweet Home that at least many of them were elk. Backcountry Navigator on my Droid Bionic made it possible to stay at least close to the trail on the way up. Heading down I just followed the elk prints into the upper Home Sweet Home meadow and then the GPS to get down to clear trail.
The snow was mostly soft and I did a little postholing, but not bad so long as I steered clear of protruding branches or obvious soft spots. I did wear microspikes through most of the snow and I am sure they helped a bit. And the ice axe was very handy following the elk into Home Sweet Home, nearly straight down the slope.
The weather was decent, although not great. I saw a few brief moments of sun, had half an hour of rain up in the snow on Saturday, and it was generally cool and damp. The snow appears to be melting rapidly now and with sun and warm predicted, a lot more of it should be melted out soon.
Hit the treadhead Sunday just after noon, waited for a couple hours for my ride to Staircase and then home. A trip full of memories.
One of my favorite bridges in the park is this one over Madeline Creek on the Skokomish trail. Just a big old log with one side flattened and a railing put up to help with balance. The creek rushes past about 20 feet below. Quite an exciting walk across if you have any fear of heights.
I saw elk every day out, for the first time ever. Four different sightings of small herds, from 4 to 10 cows. This is the only one that posed for me long enough to get a picture. Most of them disappeared pretty quickly. Also saw a couple of deer and lots of bear poop.
Still quite a few Trillium, especially around 9 Stream. Probably my favorite flower in the park.
There were also quite a few Fairy Slippers around the higher elevations.
The North Fork Skokomish running past my camp at 9 Stream, along with my own private beach access.
Home away from home. First time I have had my Cuben Fiber tarp from HammockGear deployed over my hammock in the wild. A really nice, 5.2 ounce, tarp.
Mt Hopper from the Skokomish trail.
Lots of water features along the way. This is a small stream that flows into the Skokomish up beyond 9 Stream. Nameless on the map, but maybe 10 or 11 Stream :).
The hill behind the missing shelter at Home Sweet Home as seen from 1st Divide.
Looking back up to First Divide from the bottom of the descent in the Home Sweet Home meadow. Quite an interesting and slow descent in soft snow.
Looking across part of the Home Sweet Home meadow.
One of the countless streams that flows across the Duckabush trail. In addition to fording the Duckabush itself at the Upper Duckabush Camp, I had to splash across 5 or 6 of these small streams. Between the snow and all the fords, my feet stayed pretty wet the second day out.
The Duckabush flows across from right to left with Crazy Creek crashing down from above. I caught a glimpse of this through the trees and wandered over to get a picture.
Every once in awhile you see an inverted tree like the one near the center of this picture. The top falls out of a tree and lands straight enough, and hard enough, to impale itself into the ground, upside down. That would have been a bit spooky if you happened to be walking along when it happened in front of you.
A cluster of little mushrooms. I have no idea what kind they are, but have always liked these little colonies of fungus.
Starflowers, and numerous other even smaller flowers were pretty abundant.
A clump of Maidenhair fern, one of my favorite ferns.
Quite a bit of Bunchberry was blooming throughout the trip.
Another peak at a waterfall into the Duckabush seen through the trees from the trail. Too tired and the undergrowth too tangled to try and get a closer picture.
This log has been here long enough that it has actually become the trail. It perfectly overlays the trail for its entire length and you balance along the top as you head down the trail.
Quite a few Rhododendrons in bloom along the Duck.
Don’t know what this flower is, but I have always enjoyed it. Can’t find it in either of my books.
The Duckabush during one of it’s milder moments.
You can see 5 trees across the trail here, with the 5th just barely visible beyond the double. They were usually spread out a bit farther, but this was not real uncommon. Each of these were high enough that I would swing one leg over and sit down to swing the other over. Not to bad occasionally, but over and over and over again.
Jumbles like this required a detour. I fought through a few of them early on, but finally gave up and looked for a way around these clumps of bushy trees.
One of the few snakes I have managed to see in the park. This guy was sunning himself in one of those rare sunny moments.
A big cluster of Queen’s Cup on the ascent up Big Hump. Lot’s of these around, but this was the nicest patch I saw.
Up near the top of Big Hump on the up stream side. This is a left over from the 2011 fire.
A viewpoint from just below the top of Big Hump. I remember my dad taking us up here when I was a kid. It has a nice view of the lower valley, but the low clouds obscured the hill tops Sunday.
Looking back up at Big Hump’s hump.
The lower Duckabush valley.
I passed a couple of places like this with a dripping waterfall over a rock face covered with moss, ferns and small flowers. This one is midway down from Big Hump, heading downstream.