Last lap, then it's home for ice cream and beer.
After leaving the Quinault River's East Fork, I did the 10-mile road walk and found a campsite just short of the North Fork Campground, which is closed, because the river took it. The last time through here things were the same as they always had been, with the river past the campground, but the river, full up after munching the campground, had permanently moved itself a quarter-mile off, which is where I found it, and washed, and ate, and then returned to the forest where I rolled into my hammock for the night.
With morning, things looked like rain, but the sky lied. It was only a high fog and not rain clouds. Still, the valley was still and full of gloom, though it remained cool the whole day because of the fog.
As with the rest of the trip, the higher I got, the more trees lay across the trail, but that was later. Earlier on I got to see many previously-familiar locations in unfamiliar configurations. Luckily, the key bridges were intact since they were all tens of feet above their streams, though Wild Rose Creek, which used to be a wide and shallow ford, was gouged, a mess of scattered and tumbled rock.
From there on it was mostly uneventful, head-down trudging and never-ending tree-hopping.
One thing that may or may not be familiar everywhere is a "bear wire". This is like the two-tree food hang, but put up by park staff, and consisting of chew-proof wire instead of cordage. Olympic National Park is chock full of bears (though I saw none this trip), and the typical backpacker is an idiot, scattering food, leaving soiled cookware sitting out, and not storing things properly.
Bear wires help, by preventing bears, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, mice, and other residents from learning how easy it is to get a free meal. Some of them, mainly bears and raccoons, eventually learn how to bring down food hung conventionally, and become "problem animals". Until they are hauled off to a zoo or killed. Too bad the guilty backpackers don't suffer the same fate.
Someone was kind enough to leave a reminder of what to do, I stopped dawdling and got back to hiking.
Not quite halfway, at Elip Creek, there is a reminder, one which says that it's too far to go back, and too far to go on – overall, too much trugding to do anyone any good, but only one option led home, so I kept going.
Here is one of those side streams, as seen from the bridge over it. Everything looks normal back here, far enough away from the Quinault to have avoided much flooding, but that is partly because little canyons like this are solid rock and have nothing for floods to tear out of them.
Up higher, one of those huge mountain toads the size of both your hands together hopped across the trail and settled in beneath some ferns. It's always amazing to see a toad this big so far up in the mountains, but the toads may well think the same about backpackers. Neither of us bothered the other, which is just as well. I think it could have taken me. I never was a match for a back full of warts.
After negotiating endless deadfalls it was time to ford the river. I can't remember how this place looked before, but don't recall a ford – there must have been a bridge here, now long gone downstream and forgotten. A group of women was camped on the gravel bar. One of them amused herself by watching me inch across while straddling the only log that spanned the river. But anything is better than wading.
Another crossing that made me glad to have an intact bridge.
Low Divide is a large meadow, and prime bear country, especially early, when bears like to graze, but the bear were elsewhere when I passed through. The air was chilly and the grasses still dripped with dew as I passed the ranger cabin, but there was no ranger this year because of funding cuts. A man and two or three boys were poking at breakfast but otherwise things were quiet.
Right over the pass there are two lakes, Margaret and Mary, both lovely, especially in morning sunlight.
One lake is larger than the other but I don't remember which, or if it matters. Unless you're camped at the pass you're not likely to visit either one, since they aren't on the way to anywhere, and are posted with signs warning visitors not to camp, bathe in, or make fires near either lake.
After Low Divide, it's a steep tramp down to the Elwha River, one of the main features of the park. Most of this river's valley is open and accessible through the winter because of its low elevation. Even though the valley runs north-south it seems to catch enough west-to-east warm and moist air to keep it green and wet all winter.
Depending on when one passes through, the moss may be green and moist or brown and dry, but either way it's a pleasant place to walk through. This year, of course, there were blowdowns infesting the upper valley, which took most of the joy out of the walk. Normally this is a place where a person can switch the old brain off, and hike mindlessly and heedlessly while looking all around at the magical forest. Not so much this year, unless you like face plants more than I do.
Eventually, far downstream, I found a place to camp well off the trail and along the river. There was a cobble beach, a place to sit, and it was far enough from my campsite that I didn't have to worry much about the scent of food drawing nighttime visitors, but I still had visitors. A group harlequin ducks settled in downstream and then slowly worked its way toward me, feeding. After coming within 25 or so feet (8 m), they spooked and flew off, but were back the next morning, and even closer, but my camera was packed away, so the ducks and I called it a draw.
Lower down the Elwha valley, mosses yield to grass.
The soil is sandy and the trail is largely flat, trending downstream in a gentle grade. Several campgrounds pop up at mostly regular intervals all along the river, but mid-week, when I was there, they were all empty and quiet. Just as well.
Taking a hard right at the end of the Elwha River trail, and slogging it uphill for roughly six miles along an abandoned road brought me to one of my favorite campsites in the park. It isn't a campground, and almost no one ever goes there, but there is water where Wolf Creek crosses the road, and a bit farther up there are enough potential hammock hangs to make a person dizzy. And it is quiet. Since the slope also faces west, nights tend to be warm as well. This is all good. Continuing the hike upward in the morning brings one to good views of the Bailey Range to the west.
And my marmot buddy was still there, waiting patiently since the last time I came through.
Higher up this road (officially called the "Wolf Creek Trail"), the views get bigger and better.
Trying to capture valley-spanning images is usually futile because of the blue haze that turns most images to mush, but every now and then it's possible to grab an image of only the blue.
Farther east, and headed north again, I passed Hurricane Ridge, and climbed onto the back of Klahhane Ridge. If the air is clear and the light is good, one has great view south to Hurricane Ridge and Mt Olympus, with a bit of road thrown in for scale.
At the junction of Lake Angeles Trail and Heather Park Trail I had to decide whether to hike out the way I'd come in, or take the longer route. Heather Park Trail has four passes to negotiate before the steady but easy downhill drop that comprises its lower half. Lake Angeles Trail is longer but has less up-and-down, so I went that way, being able to nurse my aching feet. The photo above shows part of the fun I was able to avoid. Maybe next season.
Lake Angeles Trail has its own climbs and drops though, as shown by this image. (True, its quality is crummy, but it shows the perspective.)
And once over the pass and into the Lake Angeles valley, I found that fields of flowers had displaced the snowfields I'd seen a few weeks earlier. If anything, though, the trail was harder to negotiate with loose soil and rolling stones replacing melting snow. But it was all downhill.