A Five Pass Jaunt

I love being retired; I can go hiking just about anytime I want, especially during the week when the crowds are mostly working. I am prepping for my final leg of the PCT in August so felt like a challenging multi-day trip through the Olympics was called for. I went in at Staircase on Monday and up the north fork of the Skokomish, over First Divide and down to Upper Duckabush Camp for the night. Tuesday was up early and headed up the Duckabush to O’Neil Pass and then along the O’Neil trail to the Quinault, over Anderson Pass to near Honeymoon Meadows for the night. Repeated the early start on Wednesday and up over La Crosse Pass, down to the Duckabush, back over First Divide and to 9 Stream for the night. Then Thursday was an easy day back to the truck. Multiday? Check! Challenging? Check! Scenic? Double check. Probably has to rate in my top five trips in the Olympics. The flowers were gorgeous, other than on the Skokomish and Quinault there were no people, and the weather was great.

I could not find a recent report on snow conditions before leaving, but the webcams on Hurricane Ridge showed no snow so I took that as a promising sign. I debated about taking microspikes and an ice axe. I ended up taking the spikes and leaving the axe behind. First Divide was bare with a few small patches of snow on either side, but they were melting fast. In the 3 days between trips over the pass the snow had noticeably melted. O’Neil Pass had patchy snow starting at Marmot Lake and continuing for the first 4-5 miles past the pass. I spiked up for the last half a mile or so, mostly because I had them. Anderson Pass had a bowl of snow at the summit and a couple of tiny patches either side of the pass. I met a guy around the junction of the O’Neil Trail and the Quinault Trail who told me he had attempted La Crosse the day before and had been turned back because of snow. So I was apprehensive going up the next day but was able to easily make it over. There was patchy snow starting a mile from the pass and three large snow fields in the last quarter mile, and the microspikes were helpful. Just took my time ad kicked in good steps and was soon at the top. The south side of the pass was virtually snow free with only a couple of small patches.

The trail all the way around was in generally good condition. I counted 73 down trees (yes I counted them all) but only a handful were challenging to get around. In a few places the brush was hiding the trail, in a few other places the grass growing in the trail make it hard to see the trail, in a couple of places the trail had slid down a couple of feet, and in a lot of places the trail was muddy or wet. My feet were seldom dry. I had to ford the Duckabush at the Upper Duck Camp and also ford just above Home Sweet Home. Every other crossing, including the Upper Duckabush, had logs or rocks that allowed for semi dry crossings.

The meadows through the first 4-5 miles of the O’Neil trail were the most spectacular; they were just a riot of color. The meadows heading up to La Crosse were also pretty special; the Avalanche Lilies looked like snow in places they were so thick. Flowers were just about everywhere, but those were my two favorites. Passed one bear about 30 yards off, grazing in a meadow. He posed for his picture and then went back to eating as I left. I had a juvenile grouse practicing to be a hoodlum; it waited beside the trail in the grass until just after I passed and then exploded out; took awhile for my heart to settle down. Not much wildlife otherwise; a couple of deer, my first sighting of a blue grouse, and an assortment of squirrels and chipmunks.

I am physically tired after the trip, but enjoyed it thoroughly. Couldn’t have timed the trip better for flower viewing. A highly recommended trip.

The starting point for the trip was the trailhead at Staircase

 

This log over Madeline Creek has been there for years, spanning a deep gorge. But the single handrail has been replaced in the last few months with a pair of rails. Helpful to those with a fear of heights.

 

This old log over the trail just up from Camp Pleasant on the Skokomish has been there for as long as I can remember. It has turned in a nursery in the sky.

 

I usually see single Columbia Lilies, or maybe two or three together. Here was a bank descending to a creek with dozens of them in full bloom.

 

There were quite a few Queen’s Cup Lilies scattered around, although they were usually overwhelmed by the other flowers in the area.

 

Especially along the Skokomish, the Cow Parship was thick in places. Not a real showy flower, but it is one of the largest flowing plants and I think it is kind of cool. I have enjoyed watching mice climb up them and eat the seeds.

 

I can’t find this flower in either of my books, but it was among the most common of the yellow flowers and was found throughout the trip.

 

It is unfortunate that the camera on my phone seems to mute the colors. The Columbine were very striking, very red, almost orange. There were lots of them blooming many places along the trail, along with a few large clumps.

 

A closeup of a Columbine, not as red as some of them but still beautiful.

 

Some kind of Daisy or Aster. I didn’t notice a lot of them, but they were pretty.

 

Avalanche Lilies are so simple, yet so beautiful. They were everywhere. As I was climbing I sometimes used them as a guide to know how long the snow had been gone. If the blossoms were fading I knew that the snow had been gone for awhile.

 

The tarn at the top of First Divide was still nearly frozen over on Monday when I went over the first time.

 

Looking toward Mt Hopper from atop First Divide

 

I usually only see a few Shooting Stars scattered around, but they were in plentiful supply on this trip. Just about anywhere that was wet there were clusters of these delicate purple flowers. And there was a lot of wet areas.

 

Looking down onto Home Sweet Home from near the top of First Divide. It was occupied on both trips over the pass.

 

Marmot Lake was mostly snow clear although there were some significant patches left. I don’t know how many campsites are thawed out but I do know that a couple had spent the previous night there. I followed their footsteps through the snow around O’Neil Pass and met them later in the day at Anderson Pass.

 

Mt Duckabush as seen from above Marmot Lake.

 

The final approach to O’Neil Pass. It was not really as bad as it first appeared. I wore my Microspikes, mostly because I had them, not because I really needed them. The snow was soft by the time I got there and it was easy to kick in steps. Plus I was following someone else part of the time.

 

Looking back over the Duckabush Valley from atop O’Neil Pass.

 

Some of the dry areas near the top of the O’Neil trail were covered in Phlox.

 

The O’Neil trail had several places that had a dazzling array of color. It is unfortunate that I can’t capture it well with my phone.

 

Looking down the east fork of the Quinault River. While it does not show up in the picture, there was a lake visible at the far end of the valley that I assumed was Quinault.

 

A lot of the alpine meadows had heather blooming and adding color to the slopes.

 

Just another in a series of large columbine plants.

 

I don’t remember if I have ever seen magenta Paintbrush before.

 

Yet another garden along the O’Neil trail.

 

One last garden on the O’Neil trail. Can you tell I loved the flower array along this trail?

 

The White Creek Meadow near the junction of the O’Neil and Enchanted Valley trails.

 

A waterfall on a creek that cascades into White Creek.

 

I think there was more Bunchberry on the Elwha trail a couple of weeks ago, but it was still common on this trip.

 

The pretty gardens were not limited to the O’Neil trail. This one was on the descent from Anderson Pass to Honeymoon Meadows.

 

Just around the corner from the previous meadow was this bruin stopping to smell the flowers (or eat them). He was about 30 years off the trail and did not seem too concerned about me.

 

If you like Avalanche Lilies then the Dose side of the La Crosse trail is the place to be. In places there were some many lilies it looked like snow up ahead. There were a few other flowers on the north side of the pass, but the Avalanche Lilies vastly outnumbered the competition.

 

This is the final snow field on the way up to the La Crosse Pass.

 

Looking back toward the Dosewallips from atop La Crosse Pass.

 

The only time I saw seed heads for Pasqueflowers was at the top of the trail leading from La Crosse Pass down to the Duckabush. These have a kind of seussian look.

 

The Pasqueflowers themselves were pretty common along the trail. Should be a lot of Dr. Seuss characters inhabiting the Olympics soon.

 

Remember the picture of the tarn at the top of First Divide? This is it 3 days later. The high country is melting out fast.

 

The spiral swirl on this old dead tree appealed to me for some reason.

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