"Bruises and blisters and bears, oh my!"
Jul 14 '00
Time needed for visit:
Absolutely spectacular, uncrowded
Very steep, demanding backcountry
The weather was awful, my knee hurt like mad, both feet sported infected blisters, and now a bear wanted to eat my dinner. I was having a really rotten afternoon!
I'd been resting in an old wooden shelter called "bear camp" for two days. I'd just walked through 40 miles of the roughest, steepest hiking trail imaginable, and I was hurt. This was no day for a bear visit.
My partner and I had just come from the Hart Lakes Basin, which is just about the most gorgeous place in the Lower 48. A 12-mile, U-shaped trail separated this basin from the headwaters of the Quinault River, our day's destination. Being lazy, we didn't really feel like walking that 12 miles. According to the map, a mile-long traverse across a sharp ridge would eliminate this huge loop of trail. We went for it.
Scrambling the ridge above Lake LaCross, we caught the unmistakable odor of a large herd of elk although we never spotted the herd. Above us, a pair of foraging black bears spooked into the alpine timber. Being in the middle of a gorgeous mountain meadow in August is about as idyllic as life gets for a hiking nut. Our day was looking pretty fantastic.
Then we saw the other side of the traverse. Our route crossed a steep pitch of loose shale, followed by a long snowfield that terminated in a low cliff. Beyond was a rather wide creek of fresh snowmelt. We shed the packs and took turns scrambling down the rotten shale, passing the packs along with ropes. We cleared the shale without incident and picked our way carefully down the snowfield. The cliff is where my knee got hurt. I'd stepped on an old log, which suddenly broke. I dropped several feet and landed with my knees locked. I'd have been fine except for the 70-pound pack I carried. My knee couldn't take the shock and it quickly began swelling. Second mistake, we waded the stream. So much for dry boots.
We reached the trail not long after crossing that freezing stream. My knee was obviously in bad shape and I had a choice: walk out to the nearest ranger station and quit, or continue. My partner's car wasn't parked at the nearest ranger station. It was 15 miles on the other side of Anderson Pass, which loomed above us. I opted to climb the pass and see how I felt when we reached his car.
I awoke the next morning in real pain. My knee had swollen badly and all I had was an Ace bandage and a few Motrin. I figured it would loosen up on the trail so I wrapped the injured joint, swallowed a few pills with my breakfast, and shouldered that heavy pack. We began the slow, painful ascent to the pass.
Anderson Pass doesn't look like much. It simply provides a way to cross between the Quinault and the Dosewallips river valleys. It's windy, brushy, and exposed. The nearby scramble to Mt. Anderson and Lake Valhalla is another matter. Glaciated Mt. Anderson rises directly out of the lake, which bumps right against the Anderson glacier. The area is all water, ice, and broken rock--seeming as if God, in the act of creation, had simply stepped out for a quick errand. We expected Him back at any moment. Sore knee and all, that side-trip was one of the best short hikes I've ever done.
We fairly cruised down the Dosewallips. I carried a walking stick, which helped immeasurably to ease the pain in my knee. I barely noticed the hot spots along the soles of my feet until we reached the car. I had another decision: hike the remaining 45 miles to Hurricane Ridge by myself, or quit and get the knee looked at. I'd planned this trip for six months! I was gonna do it. I saw my partner off at his car, turned around, and began hiking back up the Dosewallips trail.
The Dosewallips, or "Dosy", has two forks. We'd come down the fork from Anderson Pass, and I was going up the other fork, toward Lost Pass. It was midday and I wanted to cover another eight miles of trail before dark, so I pushed myself.
That's when I began noticing those aching feet. What were once hot spots were now definitely blisters. Wet boots will do that. After only four miles the walk was getting pretty painful and my aching feet were aggravating the knee injury. I happened upon a large, new campground in the timber and stopped for the day. Nothing feels so wonderful as getting those heavy boots off of aching feet! I hobbled around camp in an old pair of docksiders, trying to not irritate the badly blistered soles of my feet.
A night's sleep will do a lot to a body. My knee stiffened, puss filled my blisters, and my hips and back ached from the previous day's pounding descent from Anderson Pass. Problem was, I hate camping in the timber. It's depressing. Another four miles up the trail was Bear Camp, an old shelter in a small meadow. If you have to nurse your wounds, a place like Bear Camp beats the heck out of a tent in the woods! I packed up, slipped into those agonizing boots, and hobbled my way to Bear Camp. Along the way I managed to shoot some of the prettiest forest photos that I own. One of them, a small waterfall, I've since commissioned into an oil painting that hangs in my living room.
Bear Camp was fortunately unoccupied. It's a wooden, three-sided shelter with a wood floor and four large wooden bunks. Eight people can camp here comfortably and I had it to myself. Nearby flowed the headwaters of the Dosewallips River, now little more than a creek in an willow thicket. The shelter sits on the edge of a small meadow, at the edge of the big timber. A few miles beyond is Dose Meadows, a large alpine opening and the junction of several trails.
Unpacked, bag and thermarest opened up on a bunk, I sat down on the floor and began working on my feet. First, drain the fluid. I know you're not supposed to but it feels better that way. Next, clean out the infections and swab everything in alcohol. Third, scream in pain. Alcohol hurts! Bandages and moleskins follow, then clean socks and loose shoes. Why didn't I put on the moleskin BEFORE getting the blisters? Because I'm male and therefore stupid. It's my right of gender.
The next day went a little better. My feet were in horrible shape but the pain in my knee was easing. Clouds and light rain passed through the valley. The weather was depressing but at least it was cool in the shelter. I'd photographed a family of blacktailed deer and hung out, drinking tea and reading some small novel or other. It was later afternoon and time for dinner--curried rice and vegetables. The food was simmering on the stove and I sat leaning against the side of the shelter, eyes closed.
Then I heard the twig snap. There, not 40 yards from the shelter, was a large black bear. Nose up, it was sniffing along the scent trail from my camp. I remember thinking this was not really a good thing. With two lame feet I couldn't run. I had nothing to climb and no weapon to defend myself with. And that bear wasn't stopping. Retreat was impossible, which greatly simplified my options. I "attacked". Grabbing my heavy walnut walking stick and a tin cup, I limped aggressively toward the bear, yelling and banging that tin cup on the brass knob of my walking stick. It worked! With a surprised "whoof!" that bear stopped dead. It gave me one wild look, then turned and fled into the willows. I heard him crashing away from the crazy human for the longest time. Funny thing, I had the hardest time sleeping that night.
Morning found me unmolested. My food, hanging by rope from a tree, was also intact. Even better, my blistered feet were healing. They even hurt less. I decided to trade the lonely comfort of Bear Camp for the more popular Dose Meadows. I packed up my things, eased my feet into clean socks and dry boots, and made my slow way up the trail. I had 40 miles in front of me, crossing some of the wildest parts of Olympic National Park. It was turning into a pretty good vacation.
Best time to go: Aug-Sep