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February 6, 1997

Duckabush River Trail offers lovely, secluded low-level winter hiking

By KAREN SYKES
SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER

I often find myself hiking in the Olympics this time of year because there are so many low-elevation hikes to choose from and the trails are not crowded. It's a long drive but not too high a price to pay for the gift of a winter hike.

The Duckabush River hike has all these qualities -- it begins at a low elevation (the first five miles of trail are usually snow-free), it is lonesome and it is lovely.

Last January my husband, John Clubine, his Boy Scout Troop 70 and I camped at Five Mile Camp and there was no snow at all.

One of the boys, Willie, who was new to hiking, didn't have the terminology down yet. About halfway up Big Hump, the high point of the trail, he asked, "Are there many more halfbacks on this trail?"

What he meant, of course, was switchbacks. And there were more switchbacks, but I don't think you'll see many halfbacks on the trail (unless they are in training and carrying heavy packs).

The Duckabush River Trail is a long trail that eventually climbs to O'Neil Pass on the Grand Divide, but save the high country for summer, as the subalpine meadows are now deep in snow and avalanche danger is high.

Experienced backpackers may groan at the thought of toiling up Little Hump and Big Hump, which were formed during the Ice Age by the Duckabush Glacier. The first few miles of trail are in second-growth forest, a result of logging in the early 1900s. Beyond Big Hump the trail enters virgin forest and descends to the river at Five Mile Camp -- one of the prettiest campsites I've camped in.

The trail can occasionally be hiked as far as Ten Mile Camp in late winter -- another riverside camp at 1,500 feet.

The Duckabush River is fed by stagnant glaciers on Mount Duckabush, but the river is clear and swift, punctuated with rapids, cascades and large boulders and it is noisy. If you camp by the river, you won't know it's raining until you step out of the tent.

Getting there
Take Highway 101 to the Duckabush River Road, 3.5 miles south of Brinnon on Hood Canal. Drive the Duckabush River Road (Forest Road 2510) six miles to the trailhead (elevation 400 feet).

Trail detail
The first part of the trail is the continuation of the road, which is no longer maintained as a road. After climbing over Little Hump at 1.2 miles, the trail descends to the river and second-growth forest. The trail becomes scenic as it ascends the rocky buttress of Big Hump (1,700 feet). This is where the switchbacks begin and where you might run into a halfback.

Beyond Big Hump the trail gently descends to the river at Five Mile Camp (1,200 feet), a good place to end a winter hike. Families with small children may be content to hike the first mile or so to find a scenic spot beside the river.

In summer, backpack all the way to O'Neil Pass (22.2 miles, elevation 4,950 feet). There are several good campsites along the way, and experienced backpackers can look at the map and plan variations, as Duckabush Trail intersects other trails.

Trail data
It is 10.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1,300 feet to Five Mile Camp. Big Hump is also a good place to stop for lunch as there are views, and if it's a sunny day it's warmer than Five Mile Camp, which is usually in the shade. Refer to Robert L. Wood's "Olympic Mountains Trail Guide" (Mountaineers, $14.95) for further information.


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