Across the Olympics via Quinault and Dosewallips

As a part of my preparation to tackle a 500 mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail through the High Sierra in California, I decided to take a few days and hike across the Olympics. The original plan was to be dropped off at the North Fork of the Quinault, cross Low Divide, down the Elwha to Hayes River, over Haden Pass, down the Dosewallips, over Constance Pass and out the Upper Dungeness, a 5 day, 75 mile trip. Unfortunately the ford on the NF Quinault at 16 Mile was more than I was willing to handle, so I ended up backtracking and went up the East Fork instead, over Anderson Pass and out the West Fork of the Dosewallips.

After a long drive and late start, the goal for the first day is to get at least as far as 16 Mile, although Low Divide would have been better. The trail up to Elip Creek is fairly mellow, and then start to gently climb up to the ford at 16 Mile. There are lots of trees down, but the trail itself is in good shape. There are also a number of creek crossings without bridges and I ended up fording one of them, mostly because I no longer trust my balance on wet rocks.

The Quinault drainage is the only one where I have ever noticed Shamrocks, and in places they are quite profuse.

The Quinault also has some rather large trees. Note the size of this cedar compared to my trekking poles.

This was my second bear of the first day, and last of the trip. He kept a pretty close eye on me as the trail curved around his position. I assume he had a berry patch staked out and didn’t want to leave it.

The bigger creeks on the North Fork were of two varieties. The ones with a broad valley generally required a ford or rock hop. The ones passing through a narrow canyon had a bridge over them. This steel bridge was the most robust of the half dozen bridges between the trailhead and 16 Mile.

Trapper Shelter, about 8 miles up, is right on the trail, just past a fairly large blowdown. It was in better shape that I have seen it in the past, and could easily serve as a emergency shelter with 5 shelves/bunks and a nearby privy.

The 12 Mile Shelter is not in quite as good a shape. All I could find of it is the roof, and had to look carefully to even find it. I remember sheltering in it once during a rainstorm, but that will never happen again.

The primary advantage of a hammock is comfort. But it also makes finding a spot to spend the night, at least below treeline, much easier. Without fording the Quinault, there were no nearby tent sites. But there were lots of trees, and it was just a matter of finding a couple of them the right distance apart with little undergrowth between them.

This is the ford at 16 Mile. On the far side are the campsites. Also on the far side is a stick stuck into the gravel near the water’s edge, along with a similar one laying down on the near side; it appears to be someone’s attempt to mark the best location for a ford. I dropped my pack here, put on my 5 Fingers, and went wading. Long before I was anywhere near across the water was up past my legs and heading toward my waist. I tried several other places up and downstream, but was unable to find a place where I was comfortable with trying to cross with a pack. I opted to spend the night at the crossing and see how much it went down during the night. Unfortunately it only went down a few inches, and knowing the Elwha ford at Camp Chicago was usually about the same, I decided to turn back and tackle the journey through the Enchanted Valley instead.

There were quite a few flowers in bloom along the North Fork, including this clump of Ground Dogwood / Bunchberry.

While the North Fork does not have as many impressive waterfalls as the Enchanted Valley, there are some jewels if you are watching closely enough.

I was dreading the long road walk from the North Fork to the East Fork trailhead. But there was an off duty ranger at the trailhead who offered to take me to Graves Creek, or at least to the washout. That saved 8 miles of road walking.  Notice that the Dosewallips Trailhead is listed as 34.3 miles away. Atop Anderson Pass is a sign that says the Dosewallips Washout is 16 miles away. So the trailhead listed here is actually the washout. It appears to be permanent enough that the signage is being changed to reflect it.

The East Fork flowing under the Pony Bridge. I opted to spend my second night here, getting me within an easy day’s journey from the Anderson Pass area.

I have only been up the East Fork a couple of times, once 30 years ago, and again just a few years ago, but coming down it from the Dose. I knew there was a washout and bushwhack somewhere past O’Neil Creek, but it still caught me off guard. I came to a detour and dutifully followed it, but mistakenly thought that it was the O’Neil Creek that I was walking along, following flags and cairns. So when I came to this log across the creek, I crossed it and then followed to creek back to the trail. It was strange that the detour trail was so obscure on the far side, but I stupidly thought little of it for a while. Eventually though I got out a map and realized that it was actually the Quinault and not O’Neil Creek, so I backtracked to this log, looked across the river and saw another flag beyond where I had crossed. So I sheepishly crossed back across the river and carefully followed the flags, eventually crossing the river twice more before getting back onto the trail. Not what I was expecting, and proof that it really is important to pay attention.

The East Fork Quinault meandering along.

This stretch of the trail wanders through what looks like a park. Oh wait; it is a park.

This old giant fell long ago, but is still pretty majestic. This rootball, from left to right (or right to left) is about 25 feet across. It fell across the trail, which has been rerouted around it. There is even a little spur trail visible in the picture that allow one to get far enough away from the tree to take its picture.

Same tree as above but from the side. Even in death, this old tree is giving life to a new generation of trees as a nurse log.

Sword ferns are pretty common in the Olympics, but seldom do I run into a bed as large as this one. The picture does not begin to do justice to the number and size of these ferns. It’s like a nursery.

This is a most unusual bridge across the East Fork, just below the Chalet. It is a large rectangular metal beam, with the tread and handrail bolted on. I cannot recall another bridge in the park built like this; although I’m not sure why it’s not more common. At least where there is a nearby ford for horses.

The Enchanted Valley Chalet, or Ranger Station. This was moved back from the river last year (or maybe 2 years ago). Still not all that far away though.

The north wall of the Enchanted Valley is sheer with quite a few waterfalls cascading down and into the Quinault.

 

The world’s largest recorded Western Hemlock is just a mile or so upstream from the Chalet, down a little signed side trail.

This creek, nearly 3 miles up from the Chalet, has a log with a handrail to simplify crossing it. Unfortunately the log has rolled over and the handrail is now beneath the log. The waterfall just above the log throws a light veil of mist all over the area, including the log. Fording had no appeal here, and there was no way I would trust my balance over a wet log. So it was down on my bottom and scootch across. I hung just around the corner from this crossing, in view of a second, bigger, waterfall just below the log.

One of the largest Columbine plants I have seen in the park.

Day 4 started out with a pretty heavy and low overcast. But as I approached Anderson Pass, the clouds started to lift and the sun would periodically shine over the East Fork Quinault valley.

Couldn’t tell if this is the headwater of the East Fork or not. But it is at least an early contributor to the river.

As I was setting up camp on night three, a trio of day hikers came by, heading back to their camp at Enchanted Valley. They reported that they had been turned back by steep icy snow just below the pass. So of course that played through my mind all night and into the next morning. I had been turned back once already; was a second time in the cards? I had to laugh in relief when I got to it. A single snow chute, about 20-30 feet across that I had to cross twice. Easy peasy.

Still some snow in Anderson Pass and a bit on the descent to the Dosewallips, but nothing that was too challenging.

There were lots of avalanche lilies on both sides of the pass.

The shelter at Camp Siberia looks to be in good condition, except for the floor. And the two big bundles of wood in front of the shelter gives evidence that the floor will soon be replaced.

Looking across the lower meadows at Honeymoon Meadows toward Anderson Pass. The upper meadows still had a lot of snow, but nothing just a little further down.

The ford of the West Fork at Honeymoon got just up to my knees. The reported form just above Diamond Meadows turned out to be a pair of big logs, part of a larger logjam. However, just below Honeymoon Meadows, where the river used to run next to the trail, there are a couple of places where the river and the trail are now one.

I don’t remember seeing any Rhodies in the Quinault valleys, but they were in full bloom in the lower West Fork and merged Dosewallips.

I always like crossing the high bridge over the West Fork. And this one doesn’t shake like an earlier one did 30 years ago.

The rapids/waterfall just below the Dosewallips Ranger Station was in full roar. From here it’s just another 4.5 miles down what 16 years ago was the access road to the campground, but now more and more is just another trail. Met Sue at the bottom, hopped in the car and headed home.

7 thoughts on “Across the Olympics via Quinault and Dosewallips”

  1. Hi,

    Nicely written article and great job! Did you use micro spikes to cross the ice field in anderson pass? I have hiked to enchanted valley and couldn’t cross the water stream in between Anderson Pass and Enchanted valley. I’m thinking going again in end of March. Thank you

    Reply
    • There was not all that much snow that I recall. I did not use any kind of traction devices for the trip and had no problem with any of the snow. I did meet a couple coming back down who had been turned around by the snow. So I guess it depends on your comfort level. If I am thinking of the same stream you are, there was a log with a rail across a small notch on a steep slope with the stream at the bottom. But the log had turned and the rail was pointing down. The log was wet and slippery, so I just sat down and scooted my way across.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply. I guess that should work with the crossing. Do you know any blog or someone who did this in the Spring/late fall ? Now my concern is carrying my backpack in steep snow since I’m planning to do in end of March so probably there is lot of snow. (I have done snowsheoeing with my big backpack but it wasn’t this steep)

        Reply
        • I don’t know off-hand of any other reports on this trip at that time of year. But you might try the nwhikers.com. They will have some reports coming out of the Olympics. I have crossed Anderson when the snow started at Honeymoon Meadows. Apart from navigation challenges, the only difficult part I found was the first half mile or so on the west side of the pass. And a lot of that was due to not being on the trail. I am sure I was in microspikes for that trip, but not show shoes. And, FWIW, I am a senior and not overly spry or agile.

          Reply
  2. Hi Ed, I am a big fan of hiking in the Quinault area and enjoyed reading your story on the E Fork today. I went to the Chalet this past June and even recognized the fallen giant you pictured. The bridge at Pyrites Creek hangs incomplete in the air now and you have to balance on a couple small alders to cross. It rained as is normal and the valley was socked in low, but the waterfalls were cascading down, about 8 of them. The Chalet was all locked up but I loved seeing it again after 43 years. Sure is a long walk! I vowed to replace my heavy old REI cruiser pack, leaky parka, heavy tent, and get some walking sticks before I ever set out again!
    Take Care

    Reply
    • It is indeed a beautiful place. And dropping significant weight has transformed my backpacking. I could never go back to the heavyweight days.

      Reply

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