Backpacking in the Olympics

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Why Backpacking?

Because I was starting to breathe sighs of beauty and relief at any flower or sign of nature, in a longing way, in a desperate way.

Because when I finally got to the top of the trailhead and heard true, pure silence— at least in a way never found in the city— it was downright shocking, and healing, and peaceful. In a way hard to imagine unless experienced.

If you can get away from the city to experience beauty and peace, please don’t try to convince yourself it’s too much bother or not worth your while. It is a bother though, don’t get me wrong— it can be a big effort sometimes. That’s why I wrote this post, to maybe make your planning a bit easier.

The city is beautiful too. You can block out sound, get an air filter, enjoy all kinds of luxuries and comfort yourself there. I’m not a big fan of escaping to find joy and peace. I don’t think you need to specifically go to the Olympics or any one spot. But I do think it’s in our nature to enjoy nature. Something primal about it I recommend using to heal yourself whenever you can.

Disclaimer: I’m no expert on camping or transport or forest regulations/rules or health or safety or any of this, it’s just written from my personal experience and viewpoint. Do your research and listen to the real experts too.

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Supplies

Above are some of the supply lists I made camping in summer 2018— I went on three major trips which I’ll talk about more below. A few incomplete notes on items and lessons that really stood out:

  • Water filter: I was so surprised that that handheld water filter pictured above worked so well. We got all our water from the lakes and streams. This kind of water filter will not work in areas with human-caused waste, and probably not in all nature areas, but worked very well in the Olympics.

  • Portable solar panels with USB plug: This was monumentally helpful, at least in the summer when sun was ample. There would be cloudy days and I noticed it kind of worked there, but sun is best. For winter camping, I’m thinking on sturdy batteries or wind-up energy or other ways to get power without sun.

  • Phone: Which brings me to the use of having a phone. Even without perfect reception, even with just a smidgen of the faintest reception, it can be useful for stored maps, GPS, and emergency calls (in addition to the niceties of taking photos and videos). I did find it useful to keep it charged for these trips.

  • Bear canister: In bear country, you’ve got two options: hang your food up high or use a bear canister. Bear canisters, to my knowledge, are simply very hard/impossible for bears to open. You can store your food away from your tent in them and not worry about a bear eating it all. Hanging gets problematic because it can be hard to find a good tree for it, and honestly it gets annoying real fast to constantly be bringing it down and hanging it up. The downside of bear canisters is that they’re bulky, but you can put supplies in them to lessen the bulk. The center where we got permits also rents free bear canisters, which is great!

  • Peeing and other business in the forest: If you don’t have, err, certain bodily equipment, this gets harder for you. What I learned myself and read about post-trip was that many women carry “pee rags”— handkerchiefs they can tie to their backpack’s outside and wash & dry in the sun. This worked well for me. For stool, toilet paper is useful and if you can find another reason to bring a shovel it makes it a heck of a lot easier to bury. For winter camping, I’m looking into “pee funnels” to allow me to go while standing up & clothed, or in the tent. That’s where having the designated water bottle for pee comes in.

  • Water bottles: I made the mistake of getting big hard plastic bottles— in the future, I’m going to bring mostly bags that can nicely deflate when not in use. I found it a nice routine to fill up a bunch of bottles once a day, rather than refilling the same jug over and over, especially when it all requires a trip to the water source and filtering.

  • Safety: That thing you don’t need until you REALLY need it. I got a dinky first aid kit and one day, ended up scraping myself pretty bad 8+ miles of rough hiking away from any civilization, and no hikers nearby. As pain seared through my leg my mind raced through worst case scenarios, and I started panicking and regretting that small little safety kit. Even though I was okay, I won’t make that mistake again. Safety’s one area where it’s worth some weight— both in first aid and search-and-rescue (like a mirror, whistle, emergency calls, etc). If you can swing it, this is also one reason traveling with a hiking partner is nice.

  • How much to pad: Pads go between your sleeping bag and the tent’s thin cover of the ground. My hiking partner brought a dinky light pad, and I brought a heavy pad. I hated my life choices the hike up, he was insanely jealous while we were camping (even begged to use it!). Now that I have distance from that hard ground, I’m wondering how much I really needed it. In the winter, it’s absolutely critical. In the summer, personal preference.

  • Maps: Get a local map from the ranger station. There are some online resources, but I found those are the most reliable sources of detailed information.

  • Light: A light is so useful for obvious reasons (like needing to find something or walk somewhere at night), but I also quite enjoyed hanging a light from the top of the tent to illuminate the inside. A little simple luxury not all flashlights can serve, so maybe watch out for this utility too.

Getting There

From Seattle, there are loads of bus options that take you straight to trailheads and campsites. Look into the Dungeness Line Greyhound bus and Cllalam 123 to take you from the city to the peninsula. The Dungeness Line is useful if you want to go to Port Townsend, the 123 skips that for a shorter trip to Port Angeles. I’ve also heard good things about the ferry route to Port Angeles— take a ferry from Seattle to Victoria, then another short ferry to Port Angeles.

Port Angeles is a good hiking hub. I loved staying at the Downtown Hotel to recuperate— not too pricey, locally owned, friendly staff. They even have weekly rates sometimes with discounts! There’s also a hiking store right downtown. They’re also locally owned, and if you call ahead can even order you things— feel free to not buy some supplies till you’re there and save yourself some weight on the bus/ferry trip. There’s lots of lovely places to eat, it’s just a great place to rest between or after trips.

Port Angeles also has a lovely local taxi company. When we asked, they claimed to be able to take us to any northern Olympic Park trailhead— now, I wouldn’t hold them to it cause some are a far ride, but it’s worth asking yourself. They recommended booking ahead of time whenever possible, so that they can be sure to plan to get you even if business gets busy. The prices aren’t as cheap as a bus of course, but are very reasonable.

And lastly, there’s the Clallam bus network for traveling around the northern peninsula. Bus 14 takes you straight to Lake Crescent! Straight there! No hiking! Isn’t that amazing? On a future trip I want to take it to the coastal camping areas.

Fort Worden

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Fort Worden is like Level 1, tutorial stage of Olympic backpacking. You take the Greyhound to Port Townsend, and the local Port Townsend bus network to Fort Worden. Walk-in spots I believe can’t be reserved, but you can call ahead and ask what they expect to be open and when is best to arrive— in our case, we came on an event weekend. It was crowded and all the car spots were booked, but the walk-in spots were totally clear! Nice!

We camped by the beach area. There’s also a forest area. The beach area, admittedly, feels a bit like camping on a parking lot. But here’s the kicker— it’s right by the beach, there’s a little camp store nearby, and there are even restaurants nearby because there’s a whole hotel right by the camping. It’s living in luxury for such a reasonable price, just need to sleep on the ground by the water at night.

Lake Angeles

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Lake Angeles is absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. It comes with a price though— that hike is not easy! Oh my, not easy. It’s a steady uphill climb for miles— no flat breaks of respite, just straight uphill. I thought I was in shape, but my knees were what ended up hurting most— I just hadn’t worked out those muscles for uphill climbs. I was alright, it was still worth it. If you give yourself ample time to take breaks you’ll be okay— I made the silly mistake of leaving not too long before sunset and being in a huge rush.

It’s not as isolated as I would’ve thought, but still pretty quiet— a few campers on weekends, only 1-2 if that on weekdays, a few hikers that pass through. The lake provides ample fresh water with a filter and you can even swim in it in the late summer. It’s not warm water, but not too unpleasantly cold.

There’s also Heather Park— a camping spot close to Lake Angeles that goes up even farther. I couldn’t handle the hike at that point, and passing hikers told us the stream that is sometimes there had dried up so there were no water sources. In the spring the flowers are supposed to be stunning, and the views can’t be beat— I want to venture up there for wildflowers and see if that spring is still going enough to camp.

Lake Crescent

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Lastly, Lake Crescent. This is the one I’d go back to again and again with no hesitation. Beautiful views, kayaking, little camping store, fire pits (Lake Angeles doesn’t allow them), really easy to get to (Bus 14 goes straight there). It is crowded though, and you don’t get special privileges as a walk-in camper, you still have to find a car spot and those can be all taken. Try calling ahead to get a sense for when is best to show up.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this. In the future I want to go to: Alaska, the Olympic Coast, winter camping, the quietest spot in the US (in the rainforest south of the Olympics), maybe some places in Canada, and I’d love to find easier-to-get-to quiet nature spots. Maybe along the Eastern Olympic peninsula.

I hope this inspires you to find some peace and beauty.

<3

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