Friday, July 19, 2013

Our Olympic Adventure, Part I: The River Is Your Mother

Their names are Joe and Joy Baisch, and together they own and operate the Elk Meadows Bed and Breakfast in Brinnon, Washington. Like many B&B hosts I have met over the years, both Joy and Joe are gregarious and eager to please, offering advice, sharing wisdom, doing all they can to make their guests' stay as comfortable and rewarding as they can.
Amy and I stayed at Elk Meadows at the beginning and end of our latest outdoor adventure, a three-night backpacking trip into the Olympic National Park. Elk Meadows is located on Dosewallips Road, which follows the Dosewallips River up into the Olympic National Forest, ending abruptly five and a half miles from the head of the Dosewallips Trail due to a ten-year-old washout. The graveled hillside in the picture above used to be the road.
The night before our adventure, we spread our trail map on the dining room table at Elk Meadows. Joe looked it over, speculating with us about what we might accomplish, how far we might hike before making base camp, how far we could expect to get without packs on the following day. Our goal was a place called the Enchanted Valley that we heard about two years ago during a spin workout at 24 Hour Fitness. Joe was ambivalent about whether we could get over Anderson Pass to the Valley--he'd warned a party just a week earlier that they'd probably need ropes to get down from the pass to the valley--but he told us that if we just made it to the pass, we would not be disappointed. He kept telling us that, working his way back down the trail with his finger: "Just get this far, and you will not be disappointed." He took another look at the map, traced the river's path along the trail. "The river is your mother," he said cryptically.
The next morning, Joe drove us up to the washout, bowed to each of us in a whimsical but sincere blessing, and sent us on our way. Amy had 35 pounds on her back; I had 45. Planning on establishing a base camp, we'd gone with the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink packing list, including a solar shower, light shoes for lounging at our campsite, books for after-hike entertainment, and a bear canister to protect our pantry. We quickly discovered that, while hiking conditions were far better than we'd experienced during our dry run up Eagle Creek on the hottest day of the summer, the added weight of a multi-day trek almost made up for the cooler weather. We stopped less times than we should have, kept our packs on during some of those stops, and in general, practiced few of the endurance exercise best practices I've learned from marathoning, and it wasn't long before the weight on our backs became oppressive.
After five and a half miles of climbing, most of it on the wide trail that had once been a Forest Service Road, we reached the Dosewallips Trailhead. There we met a hiker on his way out, a look of discouragement on his face. He'd had high hopes of covering many miles, but plantar fasciitis (a condition with which I'm well acquainted) had turned him back. He did tell us to check out a particular well-hidden campsite at Dose Forks. "Tip of the week," he called it.
I had been thinking we'd push on to at least the second camp on the trail,a place called Big Timber at 10.5 miles. By the time we reached Dose Forks, 7 miles into our hike, my shoulders were on fire. It was 1 p.m. We followed the "tip of the week" directions, and found this site:
As you can see, it's shady without being dark, with easy access to the river; and as you can't see, it's a private site--though readily visible from the trail, as we discovered the next day:

It was short of my goal, and barely past noon, but I could tell Amy had had enough, and with my shoulders and back feeling the way they were, I didn't want to push either of us. The trump card was the beauty of the location, one of the loveliest I've seen. We pitched the tent, unloaded our gear, and relaxed for the rest of the day.
Monday was a day-hike up the Dosewallips trail, aiming for Anderson Pass. We made good time getting to Big Timber, which, while attractive, was no match for the site we'd made our home. It took us much longer to reach the next camp, Diamond Meadow, and again, it didn't compare to Dose Forks. Finally, at 7.7 miles, we reached Honeymoon Meadow. For the last mile, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the source of the Dosewallips, waterfalls pouring down from the glaciers of Mount Anderson:

We ate lunch, then continued on the trail, but only for a few hundred feet, for now we encountered this:
We were expected to ford this waterway which, Joy told us upon our return, is called Icicle Creek. The pass was 1.5 miles farther. We looked at the rushing water, considered the state of our feet (already sore, certainly not relishing the 7.7 mile return hike), and called it. We would not be hiking up to the pass, gazing in awe upon the glacier that was constantly giving birth to our Mother the Dosewallips, having a July snowball fight, looking down from the pass on the Enchanted Valley. Honeymoon Meadow was enough. As they say at Passover, "Dayenu."

And really, this was a wholly appropriate place to call an endpoint to our day hike. Apart from acknowledging our physical limitations, this was a breathtakingly beautiful place, and with a name like Honeymoon, a fitting climax to this next stage in our Mountain Marriage. We sat for awhile, thinking about how our Mother the river had put a barrier in our way, and I was reminded of this:

It was June, 1960. My parents had just been married in San Jose, and had driven up to Lake Tahoe, to a cabin they had rented for a week. There my father set up his camera, set the timer, and sat down beside my mother, unaware until the film was developed that his body was almost completely blocking hers. He is not quite 34 in this picture; she is 25. They have chosen a frugal, but lovely, honeymoon, a primitive place far from the cheap romance of hotels and tourist traps. It's just the two of them there at the lake. I was born nine months later, by the way.

But for Icicle Creek, we might have pushed ahead, climbing up a steep set of switchbacks to the glacier, not pausing to consider the beautiful rightness of this moment, of being at the source of our Mother the river, at the foot of a mountain named Anderson, in a meadow called Honeymoon, declaring once again our feelings for each other under the title of Mountain Marriage. "I was an old man," I told Amy, "worn out, defeated, used up. And then I met you, and ever since, it's like I'm in my 20s again, having all the adventures I should have had then. You make me young."

Thank you, Mother.

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