Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day 9: The Bittersweet End, Grand Valley to Obstruction Point

From the perspective of Lucas Thompson

The last day of any extended hiking trip is bittersweet. The strong desire for a nice hot shower to clean off nine days of dirt and sweat held in juxtaposition to the subtle refusal of having to say goodbye to close friends you made during an adventure. But this day was more bittersweet for me than the rest of the group I feel. For I was unable to spend the last day in wilderness with my friends. Myself and Kramer had the all important task of retrieving the vehicles from Deer Park.

This was my view at Moose Lake before hitting the trail at 4:40am. It was dark. It was peaceful. I had a breakfast of a single landjaeger and a couple handfuls of granola to start my day before Kramer and I started our 4.2 mile hike to Obstruction Point. Without the tent or cooking gear my pack was incredibly light, almost felt like I didn't have a pack on at all. That, coupled with the fact that we were on a time schedule propelled us up the first leg of our morning trek. Leaving at 4:40 and reaching Obstruction Point at 6:10, making that the fastest hike of the trip, even with the occasional picture and map break.

Above the marine layer, spreading up the Elwha Valley and into the Lillian Valley. Mt. Olympus is illuminated in the distance by the sunrise.

This morning hike is one of the reasons day nine was so bittersweet for me. The sun was rising just as we got above treeline and onto the ridge, giving us beautiful views of the park, probably my favorite of the entire trip. The orange morning sun hitting the peaks of the mountains, with the clouds forming a sea in the valleys below and Mt. Olympus off in the distance bathed in the light of a glorious new day. It was simply the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen. But I was sad, because the rest of the group wasn't there to have this experience with me, after sharing every experience from the past eight days. I don't know, it made me a little sad despite the glorious view.

We reached the Obstruction Point parking lot not too soon after sunrise and offloaded our packs into Lynda Mapes car, for we had another 7.5 miles to run before our morning was over. Departing the parking lot at 6:23am, Kramer and I ran for an hour and forty-eight minutes to Deer Park. For my first run in almost three weeks, it felt surprisingly good to run. I'm going to say it partly had to do with not wearing a 50 pound pack, but also with the landscape and view I was running through. Just like there's something different about hiking in the mountains, there's something different about running in them. Everything was feeling good despite running up a steep trail, which was essentially a goat track at times. But while the run was amazing, I do have a few regrets from it. One, I kept outpacing Kramer, getting lost in my head and forgetting to make sure he wasn't too far away; and two, not having a GoPro to record my run.

About 10 minutes out from Deer Park I stopped and waited for Kramer and took in what would be my last view of Grand Valley. I didn't have my camera due to the run, but I'm kinda glad I didn't at that moment. I was just enjoying the vista when I heard something scampering on a snag. After a few moments a Douglas Squirrel popped its head around the snag and looked me dead in the eye. We held our positions, just looking at one another, him making sure I wasn't a threat, for maybe a minute. Satisfied I wasn't going to eat him, the squirrel continued up the tree to a broken branch overlooking the same vista I was enjoying. And he sat there, looking out over the vista with me. I was wondering what he was thinking for a moment, then I stopped. Because this was the moment I felt most in touch with nature. Enjoying a beautiful vista with one of the inhabitants of the park, who may not be human, but I believe can achieve the same level of enjoyment from nature that a human can. Around this time, Kramer arrived, so we continued on our way, as did the squirrel.

The drive down to Port Angeles and then back up to Obstruction Point weren't too interesting, besides the fact that I heard NPR and music for the first time in 9 days. Now when we started this endeavor, Tim was expecting us back at Obstruction around 12:30 at the earliest and 1:30 at the very latest. However, we got back to the Obstruction Point parking lot around 11:30, and as such, we had time to kill. After retrieving our packs from Lynda's car, Kramer and I decide it's a good idea to meet the rest of the group before they make it to the cars. So we head back up the same ridge line we had descended 5 hours earlier. In theory, this was a good idea.

In practice however, this idea failed miserably. I decided to go off trail a little bit to a small hillock that would give me a view of the group coming down the trail. As 12:30 rolled by and still no sign of them, Kramer and I decided to lay down on the rocky hillock we had found. Now the rocks were warm, and it was a little sunny out. Naturally, we fell asleep. But before that happened a cloud started to roll over the hillside which didn't help matters any, something I mentioned to Kramer. He figured it was okay to stay where we were since we should be able to hear them coming. We didn't.

I was probably asleep off to the right somewhere. The group pauses on a unique flat ridge covered with alpine tundra (a remnant of ice age habitat), and replete with freeze-thaw polygon formations visible under the vegetation.

That was the visibility when we fell asleep

When we woke up twenty minutes later we decided to make our way down to the cars again, in case the group slipped by us. Which they did. Surprisingly, nobody was really upset with us. Except Lynda and Steve since we had their car keys and wanted to leave. Oh well, can't please everyone.

Obstruction Point Parking Lot from the trail. The parking lot marks the end of the road, the place where a CCC road crew decided that it was impossible to safely build a road any further--the road that would have connected all the way to Deer Park, and completely changed the nature of the Olympic wilderness.

But once we got down there, we had a feast. After pasta, beans, rice, cheese and tortillas for nine days we were ready for something different. So it was sandwich time. Turkey, ham, roast beef, a little bit of cheese, watermelon, gatorade and chips. The variety was nice. Then started our trek home, with a brief stop at the ranger station to drop off the bear canisters.

Being back in civilization was strange. Especially after spending more than a week discussing wilderness while we were ensconced within it. Before the trip and this class I saw wilderness as something where humans weren't present. But the idea of wilderness is a creation of man. How can man be apart from wilderness when he is an animal that came from the Earth? But this concept isn't one that is shared by many people. One, they don't have the opportunity and the privilege to go on a week long hiking class where you discuss this concept on a nightly basis, and two, they simply don't get out into nature enough. When nature and wilderness are held at arms length, you don't appreciate it for what it is, and how it came to be the way it is.

Piled in the back of Kramer's truck waiting for the ferry to load

Civilization bound

We held our last little discussion on the car deck of the Seattle bound ferry. We talked once again about the Denny party, and how Seattle used to be just like where we had just come from, if less mountainous. It's simply incredible how quickly this city has come to be. In 150 years Seattle went from "wilderness" to a bustling metropolis, and will only continue to grow for the foreseeable future. How will this region change in the next fifteen years?

The Seattle skyline is hardly recognizable any more to anyone who grew up here, or even spent the last 5 or 10 years here.

This trip was truly an experience, one I wish everyone is able to have. I went in with 11 relative strangers, and came out with 11 great friends. I went in stressed about life and work, and came out refreshed and ready to throw myself back into it. I went in with a love of mountains that grew from afar, and came out with a love of the mountains that can only be gained from close, and personal experience.


Favorite Memories:
The last day had some of my favorite memories, even if it wasn't with the group as a whole. Reaching the ridge before Obstruction Point around 6 am and seeing Mt. Olympus bathed in the morning sunrise with the clouds down in the valley below was one of the most beautiful sights I've had the pleasure to witness. Day 7 also had a lot of good memories for me, losing our minds on top of Cameron Pass and then chasing a deer down to save Madeline's winter walkers were great for morale, and helped me deal with the fact that the trip was almost over.
Hanging out on top of Sentinel Peak was also one of the highlights for the trip. There's something about being on top of a mountain in the middle of a national park that speaks to me. I probably could've stayed up there all day.
Another memory that just came to my mind was our first night at Dose Meadows (I believe). It was after discussion and we were heading to bed. After I got settled in, Jacob and I had a deep conversation about our place in the universe as a whole. It was a nice experience because it was unstructured and spontaneous. Along those lines was the discussion some of our group had at the top of Grand Peak because it fell under the same lines. There's something about spontaneous discussions and the power they have and how they must have shaped human history.
Biggest Challenges:
The first couple of days were a little rough, adjusting to the heavy weight of the packs. Thankfully that didn't last for very long and only had a brief resurgence on day 7 after we did the day hike without our packs. Also forgetting to grab some natural tp once we got to Cedar Lake and into the sub-alpine zone wasn't terribly fun. Maybe since it's been a week since we got back from the wilderness, but I don't really remember any great challenges I faced, either during the trip or in adjusting back to being home.
How has the wilderness experience changed you?
I've come to enjoy silence and stillness a lot more. When I was back at work on Monday I couldn't help but notice how loud everything was. The rattling of the fan, the low rumble of traffic outside, the unceasing presence of terrible, terrible music. It all seemed so foreign to me. It was only the first day, but I already missed the wilderness and the group of people I had experienced it with. I also think of the "leave no trace" rule every time I see litter on the ground, and it makes me sad to see something so beautiful as our planet covered in trash.
But earlier today I saw one of my parents cats sitting in the driveway waiting for squirrels or birds to make a mistake so it could hunt them, and I went out there and sat with her. I sat in my driveway with my cat for half an hour listening to and observing birds and squirrels. And I was content. Even though my driveway isn't wilderness, it is full of the wildness provided by wild animals.
Biggest take-home messages:
I think people should spend more time in solitude in nature. It doesn't have to be wilderness, it could be like me earlier today in my driveway. I felt a little recharged after that session. A connection with nature is hardwired in our soul, something that has been ignored but shouldn't. There's also something about being out of contact with the larger world that spoke to me. Tragedies happened when we were gone, but there was a blissful ignorance in not knowing about it for a time and I think being disconnected from the globalized world is important.

Below are photos that I couldn't work in, mostly due to my lack of presence to comment on them.
The main thing I couldn't talk about was the morning discussion with the park ranger, which is not the best that I left it out as this blog post is supposed to talk about the discussions which happened in depth. Luckily, Tim has left a little blurb about it.

Ranger Sydney Snyder talks about how she got into the Park Service, and gender issues in the park. Bottom line: Olympic National Park is a great place for women to work. She also encourages us to re-imagine the Wilderness Act (which turned 50 years old last year) for its next 50 years. One topic that came up: If wilderness serves a role in conservation, how might we re-imagine the spaces between wilderness reserves to encourage migration (which will surely need to happen as climate changes) between reserves? Of course, many conservationists are already working on this, but is there a way to word our laws, such that we might re-establish the "wild" in spaces that humans currently inhabit and will continue to inhabit? (As the law stands now, wilderness is a place in which man is only a visitor--there are few such places available currently, and there will be fewer in the future, yet we will have to find a way to maintain healthy habitats even in places that humans inhabit ).

Owl clover

Olympic gentian

Prairie smoke

A butterfly chilled by the fog on the ridge, too cold to fly.

Fellfield vegetation.

Rock polygons on the broad ridge before the Obstuction Point parking lot.

A final look into the vast forests of the Lillian valley, near where it joins the Elwha.