WEST END NEIGHBOR: It’s not just the park — it’s the people

LOOKING DOWN AT the ladder of the avalanche chute, it appeared the wood rungs hadn’t been maintained since I last faced this obstacle eight years ago.

My son’s long legs stretched over the broken rungs, but for my daughter and me, those big gaps were going to take extra caution.

Fortunately, the metal side ropes and climbing rope looked to be in good condition. I’d like not to think about anyone falling from this mountain.

According to Penny Wagner, the public information officer for Olympic National Park, “Between 25 percent and 50 percent of Wilderness Information Center staff time is spent conducting backcountry patrols and performing project work in Olympic National Wilderness.”

She added, “This gives staff the opportunity to keep abreast of current park conditions.”

However, that little nuisance of danger to life and limb was almost entirely forgotten as we immersed ourselves in the backcountry experience.

Something unique happens when the trail narrows down to a little over a foot in width and edges along rocky mountainsides.

It’s nothing new, perhaps even trite, to say the pressures and cares of this digital age fade away. But it’s true.

We saw the huckleberries turn from red to blue as we gained elevations, saw the avalanche lilies in their brief bloom and saw the fir trees that could be 20 years old that had grown to be only 7 feet tall.

We saw mountain goat herds, the kids frolicking and napping in the snow.

I wondered why the park has such a vendetta against creatures that are truly a joy to behold.

They are to the High Divide what bears are to Enchanted Valley: a common, enjoyable sight.

My husband and children brought skinny brook trout up from the dazzling waters of the Seven Lakes Basin.

Perhaps the most intriguing were the people we encountered.

It wasn’t just our family that became more relaxed, but the whole community of folks spending time in the backcountry behaved the way I imagine the epitome of human society would be.

The unhurried ranger who joined us for a cup of coffee at our campsite beside the Quinault River on the way to Enchanted Valley shared her experiences on the trail and fairly ignored it when I said I brought my dogs on the Pyramid Peak trail.

Cash and credit cards hold no value out in the wilderness so many encounters run on trade — taking each others’ pictures for example.

Just below Bogachiel Peak, we swapped photo-taking with a pair of women who were trail running.

They live here in Clallam County and parked their car at the Sol Duc Falls trailhead.

They then ran from there up into Sol Duc Park to Heart Lake and back to their car in one day.

O’Neal was another trail runner, but he was from New Jersey.

He hiked into Olympus Guard Station by the Hoh River, spent the night and fairly ran up to the lateral moraine of the Blue Glacier and back to Olympus to spend another night and hike out nine miles to the parking lot the next day.

I thought I was doing good just walking up there and these trail runners all appeared my age or older. Simply amazing.

We met Cole, who lives in Seattle and works in the SoDo district.

He was celebrating his 27th birthday with a solo trip to Olympic National Park.

A park employee had told him that there was a pretty waterfall up the Hoh River trail, but failed to assess his inexperience with the backcountry. We met him around 6 p.m. at Olympus Guard Station.

There was no way he was going to make the 9-mile return trip to his car before dark.

My son and I filtered him some fresh water, my daughter retrieved a headlamp from our packs and my husband attempted to settle him in the emergency shelter.

At around dark, we found out a park employee happened by, and on hearing of Cole’s situation, let him in to stay the night in the locked building of the station.

There Cole was able to have a sleeping bag and even build a fire in the little woodstove.

The next day, he was off to rent a kayak at Lake Crescent.

On the shore of Lake Ozette at Erickson’s Bay, we played an odd game of catch with a partially full bottle of water.

When a grandpa and granddaughter pulled up in their kayaks, we absorbed them into the game as well.

The little one was chilly as the sun fell low in the sky and the evening breeze picked up. I sent her off with my hoodie to keep warm on the return paddle.

Walking to the privy by Deer Lake, I walked by a dad, his brother and his son.

We joked about his single can of “Trail Beer” and me trying to take their creme brulee.

I thought he was joking about the fancy dessert, but when I got home I discovered you certainly can get dehydrated creme brulee.

Then there was Pete, perhaps the most determined hiker of all.

He was visiting from Minneapolis and hiking with his buddies up to the Blue Glacier, but his boots “blew out” two miles into the 30-plus mile trek.

He managed another 10 miles in flip-flops and we met him on the rocks above Glacier Meadows wearing his buddy’s wader boots and still smiling, making wisecracks.

Later that evening as I was soaking my own blisters in Martin Creek, Pete came by to clean up. My son took off his boots and had them waiting for Pete to try on when he came by.

They fit and Pete was able to hike out in more comfort than he had experienced in days.

My son wore his other pair of boots that I had given him a hard time about bringing when we were packing at home.

If I could abandon life as we know it and live anywhere, I would want to live in the Olympics with the kind and helpful people who roam wild there.


Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the SolDuc Valley.

She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or [email protected]

West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday. Her next column will be Sept. 4.

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