Monday, August 5, 2013

Backpacking Olympic National Park

So, how about some recap from my three day backpacking trip in the Staircase part of Olympic National Park?  Okay?  Okay!

First, the usual ground rules.  Clicking on the pictures makes them bigger.  I'll give the words part of the recap in and amongst the pictures.  The words may, or may not, match the pictures.  A link to all the pictures will appear, without further fanfare, somewhere in here.  Now that's out of the way, onto the pertinent.

I've been a camper for some time.  I've even owned a pull-behind-the-vehicle camper at one point (no longer).  I've loaded my touring bike with gear and headed out.  I've loaded my vehicle with gear and have done the same.  But, I've never actually backpacked.  I guess there's a first time for everything.

Having done aforementioned camping, I had a pretty good idea on the food situation.  The picture below is what I took for food.  I made my own GORP, bagged it and packed it, I put instant oatmeal in baggies along with Poptarts, I made burrito things that included Italian dry salami, sharp cheddar cheese and a thing of string cheese, I brought freeze dried for supper, and opted to not bring coffee but brought tea bags instead.

I'm not much of a pots and pans cooker dude when I camp.  I bring my Jetboil, a plastic bowl, some plastic silverware I got at REI, a REI brand mug, and that's about it.

Breakfast is hot and cold.  I make up four packets of instant oatmeal, have two Poptarts, and a couple of cups of tea.  In the top of my pack I put a morning snack of GORP and a Clif Bar, dinner - the burrito things and berry Fig Newtons, and an afternoon snack that is the same as the morning snack.  Supper is always a freeze dried meal.

I arrived at Olympic National Park about 7:45 AM on Friday.  My intent was to be at the Ranger Station when it opened at 8:00 AM.  I was the first customer and Ranger girl Erin got me my back country permit.  For those not in the know, there's a $5 fee per group for back country multi-day travel and then $2 per person per night.  So for a whopping $9.00, I was on my way.

My pack, with a full water bladder, all my gear, and my bear keg, weighed in at a staggering 49 pounds.  I'll get into more of how I'll shed weight later.  I will say this about my dumb-ass mistake - there's no need to pack a bunch of water when you're hiking next to a river and going to a lake.

The first day was to be about eight miles.  I started out on the North Fork Skokomish river trail and followed it until I hit the turn to head to Flapjack Lakes.  Up until that time the trail had been uphill but only moderately so.  Once on the Flapjack Lakes trail, things went up fast.

I arrived about 2 PM.  I set up camp and had a look around.  Flapjack Lakes are two lakes that almost touch.  They are maybe 100 yards any direction you measure them.  I can see why it is a popular destination.

After I'd been settled in and had a look around I met Ranger Bruce.  Ranger Bruce is a back country Ranger.  He works from June 1st into October.  He's got a dream job.  He isn't just stationed at Flapjack Lakes.  He's free to establish his own plan to cover much of the southeast corner of Olympic National Park.  In other words, he's getting paid to backpack!

Ranger Bruce suggested I not follow my intended route.  He suggested I hike up to Gladys Divide, get off the trail where the trail ends (pretty nice when a Ranger says it's OK to get off the trail), follow the ridge, and then descend down cross country to Black and White Lakes.  This sounded like an excellent idea!  I had a topo map and compass with and feel very confident with my navigation skills.  However, the next morning the cloud level had descended as well making it look foggy at Flapjack and would be higher, too.

Instead I backtracked back down.  If you look at an Olympic National Park map, like the one I'd include in THIS post, you'll notice a little spur trail heading for Black and White Lake and then heading down to the main trail.  I was going to takes this - right up until the point I learned there were some 97 downed trees on that trail.

Instead I backtracked all the way down to the main trail and then headed north in search of Nine Stream camp.

I have to say, coming down is as hard on the legs - but in a different way - as going up.  It was to be a ten mile hike day for me.  By the time I got to Nine Stream, I was cooked.  I set up camp quickly and took a nap.  I got up long enough to eat supper and then crashed for all night.

Sleep does wonders.  I was up early and ready for the day.  After breakfast I filtered more water, reloaded the bladder, and was off back down the trail for the Staircase trailhead.  The day's travels was to be about ten miles.

Though there were a few uphill sections, mostly the trail followed the river downhill.  I left Nine Stream at about 9 AM and was at my truck about 1:30 PM.  I put the pack in my truck and immediately switched from hiking boots to Crocs.

I had a great three day backpacking trip.  Next time I'll reduce weight.  In the food department, I didn't need to bring Clif Bars.  Also, I could make my GORP portions slightly less.  If I know I'll have ready water sources, I'll not carry so much with me at one time.  Also, I'll probably switch out the Big Agnes Q-Core for a lighter sleeping pad.

There were bear wires to hoist food up.  Why did I bring the heavier bear keg if there were bear wires available?  MIce.  And, I wanted to check out how it would be to travel with it.  Of the model I have, the company that makes it also makes a smaller version.  I may pick it up.  I think I could get three days of food in a smaller one.  Four days or more, probably not.

Oh yeah.  Pictures.  The set is HERE.  I'd click on the slideshow option.  It's just below the picture count in the upper right-hand corner.  I had a great time!  The monsoon season shouldn't resume until some time on October.  That means more backpacking and more mountain biking.


  1. On my first solo backpack, I carried way too much too. I knew the instant I hit the trail, but since I couldn't lock my car (due to a faulty lock) and was running late, I was stuck with what I brought. Brought too much food, too many books, too many clothes, and a heavy tent.

    Like you said about traveling near water...I only carry two Nalgene bottles tops. Full bottle is 2.5 lbs, water filter only about 1. I carry a 2 liter Platypus softbottle for extra capacity if I need it. Weighs nothing. We also recently bought a couple Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pads. Only 12 ounces and really comfy! Fits in the sleeping bag compartment too. Other ways I've saved room and off pants. Only the legs ever go in the pack. REI Sahara shirt. Just roll up the sleeves if you get too hot. Wash it in a creek if it stinks, and it dries quick. Two pairs of socks max, just wash and alternate. And of course after a few times out, you realize what you actually use and how much food and fuel you consume.

    And just a note on the Bear Vaults. You don't have to hang them, just walk them away from camp and set them down. That'll save you some time.

  2. Nice report, I was at Flapjack Lakes earlier this year, we took some duplicate pictures from the same perspective. I also use a Gregory pack and I'm an avid mountain biker.
    Probably headed to Nine Steam next week. I'm using an (approved) Bare Boxer Contender Canister, much smaller and lighter. Also a Bear Vault 450. I track all my weight down to the gram (Excel) and have to add out remove items to keep my weight at a max of 35 pounds, often lighter (4 different weight tents to choose from).