This was a solo 8 day backpack in Washington's Olympic National Park following the Quinault River to the Enchanted Valley then over Anderson Pass. From Anderson Pass I continued a short distance down the West Fork of the Dosewallips River to the La Crosse Pass Trail.
I arrived at the Graves Creek trail head at mid-afternoon on a Tuesday and started the trek up the Enchanted Valley Trail which follows the Quinault River and gains a leisurely 1550 ft over a distance of 13.5 miles. This section of trail has beautiful views of the Quinault River with its deep icy blue pools and white rapids flowing through a brilliant green rain forest.
My pack was way too heavy with the required bear proof food canister, 8 days of food and contingency items such as a full suit of rain gear. I only made it about 3 miles before making camp at about 6:00 pm on this first day. By then it was obvious that this would not actually be a solo trip - this is a popular national park and I would meet many people in the next 7 days. That first night I invited a man and his nine year old son to share my campsite when they passed by looking for a place to camp just as it was starting to get dark. Although I tend to prefer solo treks I will have to admit that throughout most of this trip I enjoyed my encounters with other hikers who were friendly, shared a love for this National Park and were experienced back packers. Four years later I still stay in touch with 3 people I met on the trail. However on the last day of this trip I would get involved in the drama surrounding a young woman who got stranded at night high on a cliff ledge above the Enchanted Valley camp ground. That experience renewed by preference for less populated hiking destinations.
The next day I made much better progress arriving at the camp ground in the Enchanted Valley in mid-afternoon after a 10.5 mile hike. The weather was nearly perfect - blue skies with wispy white clouds drifting above the mountain peaks. It would continue that way for the entire week which is rare for an area having the highest annual rainfall in Washington State. Enchanted Valley lives up to its name. The camp ground is in a large meadow along the banks of the Quinault River. The north side of the valley is a vertical cliff wall rising at least 2000 ft without a break and eventually topping out over 4000 ft above the valley floor. Numerous waterfalls cascade from ledge to ledge. Snow capped Mount Anderson and West Peak loom above the head of the valley with the Eel Glacier visible between the peaks.
I had planned to stay two nights in the Enchanted Valley while exploring the surrounding area but by noon of the next day I got the wanderlust to pack up and continue on to Anderson Pass. It was a slow climb up to Anderson Pass with a heavy pack in the warm afternoon sun. I set up camp at the pass and the next day went on a day hike to Anderson Glacier and explored a high mountain bench with icy blue pools of snow melt water and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. I highly recommend this side trip to anyone passing through this area. I only encountered two other people on this mostly off trail excursion who were doing a volunteer survey of marmot dens for the forest service. Returning to camp that afternoon I decided to pack up and head east down the trail along the West Fork of the Dosewallips River. It was late in the day and I only made it a few miles before setting up camp at the intersection with the La Crosse Pass Trail.
I had just set up camp when two women came up the trail and proceeded to set up camp about 100 yds away. We struck up a conversation and I learned that Mary and Connie were long time friends who meet each summer for two weeks of backpacking. I tried to tactfully elicit their ages but their only reply was that at 64 I was just a youngster compared to them. They were also on an 8 day trek and their packs looked much smaller and lighter than mine.
They were planning a day hike up to La Crosse Pass the next day which was also my plan so we decided to make it a group hike.
We set off the next day following the La Crosse Pass trail through lush hillside meadows with awesome views of the snow capped Olympic Mtns. We had to cross several snowfields on steep side hills as we neared the pass. The ladies were enjoyable company and shared their knowledge for packing light. It basically boiled down to not duplicating items that could be used by both, using purifying drops rather than a heavy water filter, and packing food that did not require a stove. I observed that their food didn't seem sufficient for the calories burned on a backpacking trip. Their reply was that this trip was also a weight loss program for all the excess calories consumed throughout the preceding year. It was an enjoyable day and we remain in contact 4 years later. Last year I helped them plan an 8 day backpacking trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon.
The next day I packed up and returned to the Enchanted Valley where I planned to camp one night before heading back to the trail head. My new friends also had the same plan but they decided to sleep in and arrive later in the day. I set up camp near the river and went on a stroll around the meadow. Three back packers who were just arriving from down river caught my eye - two young men (late 20s) and an attractive young women who was dressed more for a visit to the mall than a backpacking trek in mosquito infested Olympic Nat Park. Trailing about 100 yds behind them came another attractive young woman similarly dressed. She complained to me about being out of water but when I offered her some of mine she said no, she could get some from the three ahead of her. Something didn't seem quite right with this picture but who was I to ponder such things? Continuing my stroll I met a young man, Kris, who was near the end of a solo 7 day backpack. He practically lives in Olympic Nat Park during the summer and was a wealth of information about places to hike. I later ran into Mary and Connie who I invited to have coffee with me the next morning before setting off for the hike to the trail head. Being without a stove for the last week they jumped at the chance.
After completing my socializing and dinner I hit the sack early that night and being exhausted after 6 days of hiking I slept soundly. I woke up a few times first to the sounds of shouts of bear!, bear! coming from the general direction of where a troop of boy scouts were camped. Later I woke up to some unintelligible distant screaming which in my half awake condition I attributed to the boy scouts.
The next morning I was up at 6:30 am and getting ready to make some coffee to share with my lady friends when the two guys camped next to me told me about the source of those unintelligible screams in the night. A young woman had become distraught over an argument with her fiance and had left their camp sometime just before or after dark, waded across the river, climbed up the cliff to a ledge by the large waterfall and was unable to get back down possibly because of an injury. She was only wearing flip-flops, shorts and a light weight shirt and had been on the cliff all night. I grabbed my binoculars and scanned the cliff in the direction indicated by my neighbors. Kris, the young man I had met the night before, was standing about 40 feet below the woman who was standing on a ledge talking to him. He appeared to be trying to talk her down but with no success. About that time her fiance, his brother and his brother’s wife came by my camp. This threesome were the ones I had seen the day before coming up the trail ahead of the young women who was now up on the cliff. Her fiance had attempted to reach her several times during the night but turned back because of the danger in climbing the cliff in the dark. Kris was now waving at us indicating he wanted some help but the fiance claimed to be too exhausted to attempt the climb and the brother and his wife didn't appear to care. So I grabbed my water bottle, a cord I used for hanging food from trees and my Spot emergency locator, forded the river and started up the cliff. I was in too much of a hurry and kept getting cliffed out resulting in taking some stupid risks beyond my skill level but eventually reached Kris' location.
The young woman cliff dweller appeared to be OK and was quite talkative - perhaps enjoying the attention of Kris, the handsome young back packer. However she was afraid to attempt the climb down to our location. When Kris tried to climb up to her to lead her down he discovered the rocks on the face of the cliff were loose and not safe to use for hand and foot holds. At that point we decided to do what we could to keep her comfortable until an experienced rock climber came up to help (that would be her fiance) or help came from the park service rescue people. Two men had left camp at 1:00 am for the 14 mile hike out to get help. We estimated that the soonest a rescue helicopter would arrive would be that afternoon. We threw a rope to her so she could pull up water and some food Kris had in his pack.
About a half hour later the fiance showed up with her hiking boots which we sent up to her with the rope. The argument the two had been having the night before immediately started again. Kris and I had to do some talking to get him to attempt the climb. He was quite skilled at climbing and after a couple of attempts he was able to climb up to her. The three of us had each brought light weight ropes with us but each one was not strong enough to hold a person, so we put all three together. Her fiance tied one end around the base of a small bush that was firmly rooted on the cliff ledge. With the ropes in place her fiance was able to lower her down with some help from Kris. She was very happy to be down from her perch and there were hugs all around for her rescuers as we cooled off in the water fall. Unfortunately I had to interrupt the joyous moment with the news that there was no way I could climb back down the route I had come up and we would have to find a safer way down.
We scouted out a safer route climbing down through a clump of vine maples which we could hang on to when descending the more vertical sections. I helped the young lady down the rest of the way since at that point the previous night’s argument with her fiance had started up again. (I think the engagement was off). After seeing that she safely reached their camp I returned to my camp and began packing for the hike out. Kris was doing the same. That was when the park rescue helicopter showed up. It flew back and forth along the cliff face for about 5 minutes searching for the stranded woman and then landed on the valley floor near my campsite. After assessing the situation and talking to the young woman, they decided it would be best to fly her out to a hospital in Port Angeles to be checked more thoroughly for injuries and I suspect also to remove her from the emotional situation which had lead her to such an irrational act. I had a thankfully uneventful hike out to the trail head staying one more night on the trail. Kris hiked out with me part of the way and he and I have remained in contact over the years.
There’s one big question that remains unanswered in this drama – how did the young woman climb to such an impossible height on the cliff that night? She offered no clues and did not seem to recall how she had done it. I also wondered how she had survived the night without suffering hypothermia. She told me she was soaked from going through the waterfall and the wet clothes made her cold so she took them off and laid down on the rock face of the cliff. My guess is that the cliff face remained warm all night after being in the sun all day and kept her warm. She had her clothes on by the time I arrived. Kris who arrived shortly after dawn remains silent to this day about her state of dress (or undress) when he arrived.