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Old 09-05-2017, 11:16 PM   #1
malexander's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2017
Location: Guilderland, NY
Posts: 42
Olympic National Park - Skyline Loop


Last year I went out to the Pacific Northwest to hike the Skyline trail loop through Olympic National Park with a friend that lived out that way. Weather forced us to change our plans so this year we decided to give it another try.

I flew into Portland and met up with my friend who was already there and had just finished the Hood to Coast race the day before. We worked our way up to the park and spent a night at a nice waterfront campground a 45 minute drive from the trail head. The next morning we indulged in an exceedingly hearty breakfast at the local diner, grabbed our back country permits and some last minute intel from the local Ranger. The plan was for a relatively leisurely 6 days and 5 nights to cover the loop and side trips covering 55-60 miles and around 14000ft+ of elevation gain.

The unavoidable late start, 90 degree heat and my friend's race recovery had us starting on a relatively flat trail the first day. We spent 12 miles walking through the rain forest checking out the enormous trees, the scenic river and an ecosystem the was entirely foreign to me. Our effort felt much much greater than the mileage we covered - this became a common theme for the week. We forded a knee deep river into camp and had our pick of the sites.

Morning came on day 2 and we pushed another 4 miles further out of the rain forest and into the interior to Low Divide. The elevation was only 3500ft here but the camp was in an alpine meadow. We set up camp then lightened our packs for a side trip up to a couple tarns perched at around 4500ft. The hike up was tough with the unrelenting sun but was well worth it. We walked through alpine meadows and glacial debris while at the same time seeing countless signs of black bear activity. Signs of high bear activity were seen on the rest of the hike. We never ended up seeing any black bears during the trip probably due to the noise we made - but I am fairly confident we flushed some out that were in our vicinity on more than one occasion (a couple other solo hikers we talked with had encounters on the loop). We swam and bathed in a chilly tarn before making our way back to camp. That evening we watched a deer foraging a few yards from our tent for several minutes.

Day three brought the beginning of the tough days with plenty of elevation and views! We choose to take an extra day during this stretch so we could appropriately enjoy it. Not too long after we started to climb, the trail was nearly continuously lined with blueberries and/or huckleberries for the next 25 miles until we returned to the rain forest! Despite our greatest attempts, we managed to leave plenty for the bears. Parts of these trails were sketchy to me as a mistake on a super narrow and steep section of trail could lead to possible serious injury. We reached our night 3 camp of Lake Beauty fairly early and made use of the Lake to clean up and wash our clothes. Our string of good luck ended as clouds, then fog, then light rain prevented our clothes from completely drying. We spent some of the evening chatting with a Swiss Gentleman who was in on an extended holiday.

Day 4 brought the promise of clearing skies. We took our time in the morning allowing the sun to burn off as many clouds as possible before continuing our ridge hike. This day we hiked what the Ranger had very specifically called a 'route' and not a 'trail'. For the most part it was easy to follow although we relied on GPS to confirm our suspicions for a lengthy open rock section which was marked with questionable cairns. For most of the day, clouds casually assaulted the west side of the ridge while we traversed the relatively clear east side. Luckily the clouds cleared up before we crossed over. The day was completed with a steep 1000ft vertical drop followed by completely filling all our water supplies before gaining another 1200 ft. At the top we found snowfields which would have been a way easier source of water. We camped on the top of Kimta Mt squeezing into a bivy site complete with enough cell service to check in with friends and family - as well as a killer view of Mt Olympus! We were treated to a stellar sunset that night. After moonset around 2am we woke to star gaze and were rewarded with bright views of the milky way. Waking early the next morning, we watched the sun rise and cast a shadow of Kimta Peak on the Queets River valley below. This camp site was possibly the highlight of the trip!

We took our time breaking camp on day 5 then made tracks. The day was spent meandering the ridge one bump after another through alpine meadows. We took lunch at a beautiful campsite along the way before pushing on to our intended camp for the night. While scouting the campsites, I am fairly certain I flushed out a black bear from the blueberries. I was not ballsy enough to push through some brush to get a closer look but the breaking branches seemed more substantial than most animals could muster. Picking wild blueberries from our tent was quite literally possible from our site. 'Pig out' night was spent lightening our packs and flasks of everything delicious we still had in our bear cans.

On our last day (day 6) we pushed out early to reach civilization. The morning's 2500 decent was fairly uneventful as we ducked back into the rain forest and crossed paths with several groups on their way in for the holiday weekend.
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Old 09-06-2017, 10:02 AM   #2
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Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: Rochester, NY
Posts: 241
Gorgeous pictures! Sounds like it was an awesome trip. It is a dream of mine to do some backpacking out on the west coast. Until then, I'll keep experiencing it vicariously through other's pictures and videos online. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 09-06-2017, 11:06 AM   #3
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Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Johnstown NY
Posts: 1,267
Wow. Nice report, beautiful photos!! Thanks for sharing. Kudos to your friend for hiking 12 miles after the Hood to Coast race.

These photos are a welcome respite from the fire photos that I've seen from other parts of the west, especially in GNP where Sperry Chalet burnt down & much of the backcountry has been closed.


Once a year, go some where you've never been before.
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Old 09-06-2017, 08:47 PM   #4
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Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: West coast of New England
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Very nice trip and even better report! Thanks!

I very much miss that part of the world.
Oscar Wilde:Work is the curse of the drinking class
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