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A Rainforest Without Rain

Tuesday, 4 July 2023, Olympic Peninsula, WA

Let me begin with a mea culpa for the blatant error I published in my last blog post, Too Old For Homework. After mentioning how most people take 10-14 days to backpack the entire Wonderland Trail, I stated, "I haven't packed that much in my entire life!

Hmmm... What was I doing every day for 12 months, hiking town-to-town wearing a pack on the Litterwalk?

In my defense, I'll claim that my ongoing anxiety over this trip has fogged my normal laser-sharp mental processes. Given that, I thank heaven that yesterday's travel day went off without a hitch, because any problems may have thrown me for a loop. The only notable moment came when I found a candy store in the Detroit Airport with chocolate bars in such exotic flavors as pretzel, bacon, or potato chip.

For this trip, I scheduled my first six days very loosely, leaving an abundance of slack. Day 1 I dedicated to Hoh rainforest, a mystical land of mosses and giant trees. How would no rain for days have affected it? With a full day to fill, I lingered at breakfast before heading up the road, planning to reach Hoh by noon.

The tourist brochure in my room mentioned that a loop trip around Lake Quinault (on the way to Hoh) offered great scenery and several pullouts for waterfalls. Thus, I turned off US101 onto S. Lakeshore Dr. and headed up-lake.

A village lined the edges of the lakes, leaving little space for public access.

I kept driving east, crossing two bridges, but finding no marked (or even promising) pullouts. Eventually the pavement ended, though the county kept the gravel lane well-graded for the first four miles before becoming more pitted. I welcomed the sight of the bridge across the river, anticipating a more photogenic drive on N. Lakeshore Dr.

Then I noticed the 'Bridge Closed' sign.

Rats. Now I've got to drive back on this dusty gravel road for five miles. This time I stopped in a wide spot next to the first bridge, got out to stretch my legs, and OMG! there's the falls!

A stream of water, visible from the bridge, tumbled off a high wall of surrounding forest before disappearing behind a rock outcropping. When the couple that pulled in behind me began scrambling up a trace on the steep slope over roots and rocks, I followed them. That stopped when he climbed down, crossed the creek, and ascended the far side.

Not for me, so I snapped his pic and gingerly worked my way back down.

At the other bridge - still with no marking - I again stopped to admire the wonderful waterworks. This time I found a more reasonable trace, and climbed to a better vantage.

As I took my cascade shots, a couple on the bridge took their shot, using me as a reference point for scale.

When I descended from the falls, Jock and Barbara showed me the photo, offering to text it to me. As we chatted, their mouths dropped open when they heard I was on park 47 out of 63. "Wow," said Barbara. "You gonna write a book?"

I soon moved on, heading north on US101 and then onto N. Lakeshore Dr. to hit a portion of it. Again, private property and thick woods made it impossible to stop for photos. Since my lake detours and waterfall scrambles had eaten away the morning, I stopped at July Creek for a picnic lunch and a short stroll on a loop trail.

By the time I reached the Hoh Visitor Center - I'd forgotten to factor drive-times in my schedule - 3:00 had come. A hike to Whiskey Creek Falls piqued my interest, but that would take 5.4 miles out and back. If I could finish by 5:30, I could still get dinner in Forks and find my reserved tent cabin before dark.

That would challenge me, I knew. But it could serve as my last big practice hike before backpacking, I told myself. Thus, I downshifted into Monster Mode and started quick-stepping up the trail.

I soon caught up to three sets of backpackers heading up the trail, fully loaded.

I chatted a few minutes with the three guys in the rear, who said they planned on four days in the backcountry. After passing them and another couple, I fell in behind two women planning on a three-day packing adventure. I wished them all luck, and they bade me good fortune on my Rainier trek next week.

In Monster Mode I outpaced them all. Finally, I reached the falls a little over an hour into the hike. The scenery demanded time to appreciate it, so I dropped my daypack and engaged my camera for a quarter hour.

Once I started back, I quickly met up the with backpackers as they continued up the trail. A couple of them asked if I'd enjoying my speedy hike.

For the return I slowed my pace, intent on enjoying the rainforest. Mosses hung from the trees, though they felt dry to my touch.

The majestic trees towered over everything in the forest, staking their claim to the land. Maniacal roots peppered the trail, waiting for unsuspecting feet to fall prey.

Even with the lack of rain (July is their driest month, and they were several inches below average for the year), and the hint of arid in the air, the area still abounded in greenery.

I do remember my last visit here in an autumn month, when mists filled the air and the leaves glistened with condensation.

I missed my time goal by 15 minutes, but that mattered little. It took another 45 minutes to reach Forks, the town made famous by the Twilight series. (One store even had a signboard announcing that the vampire threat level was 'high'.)

To my mind, Forks had passed its heyday. Using my GPS unit, it took a half-hour to find a restaurant that hadn't closed, put itself up for sale, or disappeared. 'Nuf said.

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