Obstacles offer enchantment - a long-distance hiker explores the Dosewallips - now closed off to all but the most fit
From sea level to summit, the Olympic Peninsula offers a full spectrum of wilderness. Though trails get washed out and services are limited to none, a little determination can afford a full service adventure.
Brinnon’s Dosewallips River trail is the key to the Olympics’ Enchanted Valley, and a recent Saturday was perfect for a hike from the Dosewallips washout.
The rushing sound of the slate-blue Dosewallips River guided me up Dosewallips Road in Brinnon. It ends under a canopy of red alder and black cottonwood trees about six miles short of the trailhead. At a washout the size of a football field, 20 cars flank the Forest Service road that leads to Olympic National Park.
Where the road drops off, a path snakes up and down the river bank through the erosion of the washout. Despite the extra hike, the path is well worn. I prefer a path less traveled and brought my bike instead. The path connects to the road and continues gradually uphill. The ride's not too steep in low gear – even with a 50-pound pack.
Four miles up I enter Olympic National Park. Avoiding rocks on the roadway and minor washouts, the river views easily distract me. The road rises 200 feet above the river canyon at times. A couple of miles more and I coast into the campground and the trailhead.
The Dosewallips trail to the Enchanted Valley is about 15 miles long from the campground. Since the road is washed out, it's 21 miles each way. I lock my bike at the ranger station, allot myself 30 hours to hike the trail and hit cruising speed.
Lichen, mosses and ferns are fed within the shady forest, but the countless tributaries that feed the river wash out the trail in many places. Mile after mile, the bridges across the Dosewallips get worse, until they disappear altogether. Fording opportunities are plentiful – and challenging, as the streams and rivers are filled with slippery rocks, bushes and logs.
Little orange flags hang in the trees to signify where the trail continues from the washouts and trees across the trail. Climbing over a tree is difficult, but walking on trees across the river is the most challenging of all.
A chain-sawed arrow in the bark of a downed tree confirms the river crossing, and I walk across the branchless tree like a tightrope. The tree connects to a log jam that I climb across toward another log connecting to the trail on the opposite shore.
I arrive at Honeymoon Meadows campground below Mount Anderson and rest for a few minutes. After six miles of biking and nine miles of hiking, I'm at my final approach to Anderson Pass. The next footbridge is out.
Fording the river is a simple task with a pair of Chacos or Teva sandals. At this point the water is only two miles from its source at Anderson Glacier. I do my best not to slip in the ice-cold water
The climb to the pass is gradual, with just a few switchbacks. Looking northeast from the top I can see the impressive Dosewallips River valley, and looking southwest I can see the tremendous Quinault River valley. It's all downhill from here – five miles into the Enchanted Valley.
From the peaks and glaciers, the waterfalls adorn the valley. Each step reveals a new view – a different peak, a different waterfall. The trees tower above the switchback trail and open to rocky stream beds.
Deeper into the valley, elk forage on the riverbank and rest on the sandy floodplain. I'm exhausted and it's nearly dark. I sleep under a tree near bear tracks and hope my food doesn't attract animals.
I wake to a musky smell hanging in the damp air, like morning on a farm.
A herd of about 25 elk hustle from their beds as I walk to the river. The frozen water refreshes my face.
The sun has risen to the peaks and is slowly illuminating the mountain sides toward the river. I have to go. Monday morning deadlines persist, and I start out of the valley toward home.
I must have strained a hip flexor on the trail because I can barely lift my right leg for each step toward the pass. I move slowly and rest at every photo opportunity.
I arrive at the pass late morning and notice a marmot on a rock, which disappears almost as soon as a see it. Little chirps echo from frogs in a glacial pool. I can see down through the Dosewallips River valley again. I set a pace, stop only for snacks and water, and continue my trek out of the forest. It's a beautiful day.
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