by Chef Corso
DAY 1 – Lake Quinalt/North Fork Trailhead – Low Divide
Part of a thru-hike is logistics.
How are you going to get dropped off and picked up?
For this hike, big shouts to the Schrock family and the Sebuchi family for shuttling Chef Corso to the trailhead.
We camped at Willaby Campground on Lake Quinalt to be ready to start day 1.
Day 1’s are always a little slow. Getting to where you need to go, getting your permit if needed. Final packing and finally taking that first step on your trek.
This solo was no different. Finally started walking at 945am.
My mindset was good. Looking at the trail marker and seeing 40+ miles ahead of me is pretty daunting, but I knew that I would get there in due time.
The pack was heavy and awkward the first few miles but I quickly found my stride. Immediately I was hit with lush greens, blanketed forest floors and dripping moss.
Within the first few miles, I was able to forage for 4-5 varieties of NW berries. (know before you eat!)
-Blackberries, Huckleberries, Blueberries, Salmonberries and Thimbleberries. I eventually found another variety in one small spot, the Blackcap. Extremely special to find all of these.
The trail is well defined and changes every half mile or so. Different ferns, different bushes, but all lush and pointing you in the right direction. Amazing micro-ecosystems around every turn. It has many flat stretches as well as light rolling hills that hugs a river most of the way. Hall of mosses to ferns to berries to trillium to bridges to easy river crossings.
Many times I found myself saying, “wow, look at that!” Also, many creek or river crossings greet you every few miles. Cheers to the park service for keeping this trail well kept and clear!
Lunch time by the Quinalt River
ON THE MENU: Greek Couscous
Couple lbs – 8 ingredients – 10 min
Yes I packed in fresh tomatoes and a cucumber. Held up well and totally worth it.
I doubted myself a few times even though the trail is well marked and traveled. It always felt like I should be there by now. There was 1 official river fording in the day. Know before you go because sandals made this a breeze and a nice chilly dip for the feet.
I didn’t see many folks. 2 small groups. 1 ranger.
The last part of the day was light rolling hills with a little elevation gain.
Then a couple 1,000 feet up for the last 4 miles with some switchbacks ending int he home stretch to Low Divide camp.
It opened up into a welcome valley and meadow bordered by Mt Seattle and a waterfall. Shared my campsite with a nice couple at Low Divide camp. This was a welcome site after hiking mostly in forest cover for the day. Set up camp as the sun was sitting after a long and solid day one. Sometimes you have to cook in the dark, but dark shiitake noodles taste pretty amazing no matter the amount of light.
DINNER: ON THE MENU: Shitake sesame ramen w snap peas and bock choy and tofu
So good. Turned out to be a big portion w/ tofu, vegetables and noodles. Enough for two people.
Amazing first day. Tired body is very tired.
Let’s see what day two will bring.
Day 2 - Low Divide - Hayes River 10ish Miles
9am start – 3 mile fallen scramble
Slept solid and popped up pretty quick with the nice morning light. Coffee in the morning and breakfast got me rolling.
BREAKFAST : ON THE MENU: Portuguese Sausage, Eggs and Croutons
Only 10 miles on the books today and feels pretty manageable.
The first few hours were a delightful breeze. In and out of alpine lake and views like this of Lake Mary within the first 10 minutes of the day. Then it descends quickly through some soft underbrush and I was cruisin.
Met a group of 3 folks headed in the same direction. Little did I know those were the last people I would see for 36 hours.
Then the scraggy tree fall happened. The rangers weren’t kidding.
First, I thought this part was going to be a lot longer.
But through this section, I lost the trail…
I like to dub these “Scared miles” where you aren’t quite sure where you’re going, you get turned around a bit and you start second guessing yourself. I think scared miles are around 3x the normal miles as they just stress you out! I pulled out the map and compass and tried to dial in where I was and where I needed to be. I knew I wasn’t far off from the trail with a campsite check point. I focused on a river convergence as my point and headed toward a river…not really sure which river it was. Made it to the river, forded but still couldn’t quite find where I needed to be. I followed the river toward the potential T, and ducked back into the forest. At this point, it had been around 30 min and I was getting a little worried. Not that I would die, I was by a river and had plenty of water, but more that I would be doing the river, bush, tree dance for a while. I was also worried that I would break something as a trudged through the brush and be stuck with few people walking by for help.
Luckily, by campy dead reckoning and compass navigation worked and I found a fallen log with a yellow ribbon tied on it over the river. Quick easy walk to the campsite checkpoint. Crisis averted. But I was not sure for about an hour. Not the most fun. But onward!
This hike is 80% forest. Which is different that most that I’ve been on. Flat patches, rolling patches, a few small creek crossings. Some areas clear with grasses or ferns. Some thick with shoulder high salmon berry bushes. Truly amazing to watch the forest change slightly with differing light and flora.
LUNCH: ON THE MENU: MEAT + CHEESE + BREAD
I threw in a fresh tomato which held up and a few condiment packets. Little flavor bursts like these go a long way to a happy belly.
Most of the afternoon was hugging the Elwha River with slight climbs up then back down. A lot of rollers and light ups and downs. Great cruising hiking. Then some fun with a tiny lens on my camera.
I made it to the fantastic Hayes River Camp at around 5pm. I set up camp, made a fire, dried my socks and for the first time I could rest and breath it in. With the river rushing by, the fire crackling and me the only one 25 miles in, right in the middle of the park; I finally felt like I was out there.
With the few more hours of time, I relaxed, listened to the river and slowly organized things for dinner. I think this is a really important thing to note. Not all days have be full of miles, miles, miles. Some lighter days are great to really enjoy the trip and keep from only being on your feet, quickly eating and setting up camp and doing it all over again.
DINNER: ON THE MENU: Bacon Cheddar Polenta w Eggs
Later on in the night, I felt a little lonely, a little isolated. When you have something nice, you want to share it and I was all alone in the middle of no where. Overall, not a terrible feeling but it was interesting for me to register. Crashed and onward to Day 3.