On a day when the weather forecast for all of western Washington predicted rain, one place looked dry-ish: the east side of the Olympic Peninsula. This area is a series of three rivers, one after the next, draining the alpine heights into Hood Canal. Coming from Olympia, you reach the bottom of the fishhook-shaped Hood Canal just past Shelton, about a 30-minute drive. Cross the Skokomish River — famous for the pictures of its salmon finning across nearby roads during its regular floods — crawl through the SCUBA-friendly town of Hoodsport, and start winding north along the canal’s west side.
The road hugs the water, affording glimpses of eagles scanning for their next meal from tall firs, seal heads bobbing among the whitecaps, and rivers fanning out as their fresh water meets the saltwater canal. From south to north, you’ll pass the Hamma Hamma (I hear the oyster bar at its mouth is worth a stop), the Duckabush, and the Dosewallips (doh – see – WAHL -ips). Each has an access road in varying stages of driveability. I hadn’t been to the Duckabush in many years, and recent trip reports from the Washington Trails Association website looked promising, so off I went.
The last three miles of road to the trailhead are unpaved and potholed, but I’d been forewarned. My little Honda Civic carefully swerved among the treacherous-looking basins filled with muddy water before slipping into the last space at the trailhead among a passel (flock? herd? conference?) of Subarus, mostly adorable Crosstrek XVs with the occasional Outback sprinkled in. I sometimes think I could identify any Pacific Northwest trailhead by the predominance of Subarus. They’re practically de rigueur for outdoors types.
The trail winds deep into the Olympics, but my destination was Big Hump, an aptly named shoulder of Mount Jupiter that juts out above the Duckabush River, affording a view of the valley and a heart-pumping climb perfect for an early spring conditioning hike.
A mile of slow incline brought me to the Brothers Wilderness boundary sign. Created in 1984, the 16,000-acre wilderness is named for the Brothers, one of the Olympics’ showstopper peaks visible from Puget Sound on clear days. Scattered like gravestones among its tall firs, hemlocks, and alders are giant stumps, relics of early logging days. Each stump typically has at least one springboard notch. The trees were too big to cut by hand at ground level, so loggers would chop into the trunk five or six feet off the ground, then insert a plank to stand on. They’d climb onto the plank and chop another springboard notch above, continuing until they were high enough to fall the tree without spending unnecessary time hacking through the thick lower trunk. Most of the stumps I saw along the trail only had one springboard notch.
The river churns fast through the forest, laden with spring melt and dropping nearly 5,000 feet from its sources near Lake La Crosse and O’Neil Pass. Clouds dimmed its chalky aqua color, but its roar provided background music for most of the hike.
The trail continues on through the forest, sometimes close to the river, sometimes arcing away from it. The duff trails of Northwest forests felt soft on winter-creaky feet and knees, and the burgeoning spring heightened the clean smell of the woods.
But the forest ramble took a steep turn upward at the base of Big Hump, quickly climbing about 700 feet through short switchbacks. Halfway up, a break in the trees allowed a glimpse of a roaring falls and aptly named St. Peters Dome beyond. The view was good enough to inspire me to keep trudging uphill, figuring it’d get better on top of the hump.
It did, but to get there I first hiked through the remains of the 2011 Duckabush Fire. Each year fire-scarred trees crash into each other and to the ground during winter storms, and each year WTA crews head up and clear the trail (thank you!). This year didn’t look too bad so far. Most of the trail-blockers were pretty easy to step through and over.
Another push upward, and the view opened up. I’d reached Big Hump. The sun played peekaboo with the clouds, and I leaned against a rock and soaked in the warmth. Despite an epic rainy winter that kept me indoors more than I hoped, I felt pretty good. I’d climbed 2300 feet in about 3.6 miles, fulfilling my goal.
After a half-hour of lolling and taking Christmas-card photos for other groups of hikers, I headed back. I passed one of my favorite sights on the Olympic Peninsula, glacial erratics. These enormous boulders — some are house-sized — were left behind as the glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age. I love the idea of a house-sized rock being encased in a giant ice cube, which cracks off the end of a retreating glacier and melts out, leaving the rock perched on a steep hill or in a riverbed. Glacial erratics are everywhere in the Olympics, and my family gets tired of me singing out, “Look! Another glacial erratic!” during outings.
Goal achieved, I stopped to admire fern- and moss-covered stumps on the way downhill. We live in a green world in the maritime Northwest. All that fecundity is soothing, even if the rain that facilitates it is sometimes tiresome.
One last creek crossing and I was done. Water, water everywhere — but not a drop of rain all day. I love spring.