It’s incredible what crazy thoughts come to fruition when wine glows sleepily in the stomach and the fire glows happily on the hearth. It was so for us many years ago while enjoying good after dinner conversation with our friend Emmett Oliver after a day of fishing. “Why don’t we all go hiking through the Olympics” he asked. It seemed like a good idea,and it was his home territory and the fact that he would come with us made it the best idea in the world.
We got the maps out, and from our location at Lilliwaup at the Hood Canal, Washington, there were no end of good starting places. Rivers ran straight through the Olympic Mountain to the ocean, and with some bearing fascinating names like Queets, Duckabush, Hamma Hamma and Dosewallips, who could resist.
We were city folk living in California at the time, and though we were long time campers, I had never seen a backpack let alone carry one. Our plan was not to hike the entire width, but to do a manageable 15 or 20 mile hike and then come back. It would condition us for a longer future hike.
We had to take advantage of friends who had Boy Scouts in order to borrow backpacks and other necessary supplies. We borrowed a couple of backpacks, one with wooden frame from a father and the other smaller one with exposed metal pipe frame from his son. We gave them a trial run around the block, and then began loading them up for a ten day hike.
We drove back to Seattle and the Hood Canal, and found that Emmett could not go with us. So we strapped the loads which would be our homes onto our city slicker backs and set out for the Duckabush trail.
We first stopped at the General Store in Brinnon and bought candy bars and a large bag of grapes. I began to feel the weight of my pack with its metal frame cutting into my tender shoulders before we even crossed the highway into the woods, but Dr. A. ex-Boy Scout as he is, strode confidently into our new leafy green home.
Along with the discomfort in my shoulders and back, my feet began to join the painful chorus as my new unfamiliar boots began to pinch.
To take my mind off the pain, I sang loudly. It wasn’t long before my stomach began to rebel from the sweet grapes, and I begged to sit on a nearby rock. We had not made very good time toward our expected resting place for the night which was a small hut used by backpackers deeper into the woods.
We were soon overtaken by a noisy group of people coming our way, disturbing all sense of peacefulness in the forest. Coming around the bend, keeping a fast pace was a troop of small Boy Scouts and their Leader, behaving as if they were on a day walk in the park (which they were) instead of on this great hiking experience like us. They would learn the secrets that old trails and stones only tell children. I would try to learn them in the next ten days.
The first night, while listening to the forest sounds, I imagined bears and mountain lions as well as bearded unwashed tramps joining us in the campers’ hut. Though no large four-legged beasts attacked us during our hike, we always had the company of small furry critters who scampered across sleeping bags and faces each night.
The early mornings were one of my favorite times of the day, when birdsong greeted us and sunlight lay in bright puddles on the floor of the forest. The other time was at the end of the hiking day, when nursing bruises and back pain, I could drop my pack and lay on my back watching the bats take off on their evening flight for food.
Some of the largest trees on the planet cradled us to sleep each night. Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Red Cedar, and always ferns and moss. We were not to escape the frequent rain giving it the rainforest name, and on nights we did not reach a camper hut, we were sheltered by our small and cozy tube tents which had the habit of leaking, until we awoke several times with soggy sleeping bags.
Five days into the woods we had reached our goal and turned back toward civilization. We were seasoned hikers by now, though our blisters would take awhile to heal, and at the end of the trail, we were ready for the next long distance hike, this time with our own back packs.
Through the years, backpacking became a favorite kind of vacation, often with grandsons who still load up and take off into the woods.