35 Years of Crossing Streams and Fording Rivers

Cover Image

Jeff Acorn and I have hiked in the Olympics most summers for the last 35 years. Our first trip was up the Elwha in 1984. That trip included two fords of the Elwha, one at Remann’s Cabin and the other at Chateau Camp. A ranger later told us that we were the first hikers to cross the Elwha at Remann’s Cabin that year. Over the years, I always had a camera along, but it wasn’t until later that I started making a point of taking photos of Jeff while we were crossing streams or fording rivers. Given the relatively heavy rainfall in the Olympics, there are a lot of streams. Not all streams have bridges and many trails are not passable until the water level drops to allow safe crossings.

The ecology changes around streams with old growth Doug fir and Hemlock being replaced by dense thickets of slide alder. The pace of hiking often slows when you are crossing a stream or river, making it a good opportunity for a photograph. Frequently, a crossing means a chance to take a break and re-fill water bottles. Typically, there is a nice cooling breeze even on hot days. That said, in many places, there is some risk involved … getting wet, along with your gear, or worse. We often joked that sooner or later I would get a photo of Jeff slipping and falling. But that wasn’t my motivation.

This is a collection of those images.

Trip: April, 1993 — Lower Elwha and Lillian River

April 1993, Elwha River
April 1993, Elwha River

This image is from a side trip we took to explore the valley floor of the Elwha River in April of 1993. It was our spring break from driving school bus and we really lucked out with a stretch of good weather.

We hiked up the Elwha valley and did a day hike up the Lillian River.  The Lillian River trail sees few hikers and just runs up the valley a few miles, ending along the river.

Trip: August, 1993 — The Skyline and North Fork Quinault Trails

We hiked the Skyline trail, which runs along the ridge between the North Fork Quinault and the Queets valleys. It was a long grueling ridge hike: not many opportunities for water, not much shade and the hottest weather of the summer. It was a huge relief when we finally dropped down to where the trail crossed Seattle Creek: a relief from the hot dry weather, a chance to get water and an indication that the day’s hike was almost over.

August 1993, Seattle Creek
August 1993, Seattle Creek

The end of the 20 mile Skyline trail is where it joins the North Fork Quinault trail at mile 16. From that point, we hiked up and camped at Low Divide for a couple nights while doing a day trip up to Martin’s Park. We then returned to our car by way of the North Fork Quinault Trail.

August 1993, An un-named tributary stream to the North Fork Quinault below Low Divide

In the photo below, you will notice that Jeff is using an ice axe for balance with the rope that was provided by the park service. We used ice axes a bunch in the earlier days. 

Trip: August 1994 — North Fork Quinault, Elwha Basin, Hayden Pass and the North Fork Dosewallips.

August 1994, Fording the North Fork Quinault

We hiked up the North Fork Quinault, across Low Divide, down to the Elwha trail at Chicago Camp, then hiked up to Elwha Basin and up to the Elwha Snowfinger as far as conditions allowed … it was cloudy and the snow was in very bad condition with melting out of 20 foot deep gaps. We hiked back down the Elwha, up Hayden Pass and out the North Fork of the Dosewallips. We made a lot of stream crossings, but the only photo I took was of the ford of the North Fork Quinault.

Trip: July 2001 — North Fork Skokomish to the Upper Duckabush via First Divide

We hiked up the North Fork Skokomish and across First Divide. We camped at Home Sweet Home shelter, then dropped down to Duckabush Camp. The descent from Home Sweet Home to the valley bottom was a good half day hike. Instead of starting to the upper Duckabush, we did a day hike down the Duckabush trail to the LaCrosse Pass trail junction. This involved fording the Duckabush river just east of camp.

August 2001, Fording the Duckabush below Camp Duckabush

In the photo above, note Jeff’s use of a wooden hiking pole. While below, he is using trekking poles. Circa 2019, Jeff carries trekking poles but prefers to use wooden poles for routine hiking.

Trip: August 2003 — Sol Duc Park Trail and West Fork Dosewallips Trail

In August 2003, we hiked up to Sol Duc Park on the High Divide trail and got rained on pretty heavily. When we woke in the morning, it was raining hard enough that we decided to stay put. During the day, while waiting out the constant rain, I carved a small boat and floated it in the puddle that formed on the floor of our tent. We decided to head back out and go over to the “dry side” of the Olympics and hike up the West Fork of the Dosewallips.

We set up camp at Honeymoon Meadows and did a couple of day hikes. The first was up to Anderson Pass, where the trail continues down the East Fork Quinault into the Enchanted Valley. Along the way to Anderson Pass, there was a very marshy area with a foot log bridge.

August 2003, Marshy Area, Upper West Fork Dosewallips

The next day we did a day hike up to LaCrosse Pass. That trip involved crossing the West Fork Dosewallips on a single stringer log bridge that was equipped with a steel cable for balance.

August 2003, Single Stringer bridge over the West Fork Dosewallips

Besides the great view from the Pass, the trip was notable for the abundant huckleberries that significantly slowed the pace of our return trip to camp.

We also had an interesting encounter with a park ranger one evening. He stopped by and commented on our Buddhist prayer flags we typically have up in our camp. We replied that they didn’t seem to have much effect on the flies (which were particularly bad). His response was that was because they were domestic flies. We thought this was notable as one of the only examples we knew of where a ranger made a joke. (such as it was)

Trip: July 2004 — North Fork Quinault via Low Divide to Elwha Basin

The goal was to get up the Elwha Snowfinger and access Rodwell-Dixon Pass, the south end of the Bailey Range and Queets Basin. The first day we camped along the North Fork, then hiked up to Low Divide on day 2, crossing the North Fork Quinault.

July 2004, Fording the North Fork Quinault

There are a number of small streams draining the side of Seattle Peak and some of the other peaks in the area to the south of the Low Divide. The photo below shows one of the many crossings that were typical of our hikes. The stream is small enough that no bridge is provided. Stepping from rock to rock and occasionally splashing through the water.

July 2004, Un-named Tributary to the North Fork Quinault

It was around this time that I was started to pay particular attention to stream crossings and made more of a concerted effort to capture as many as possible on camera.

We had a rest day planned at Low Divide to allow a day hike up to Martin’s Park. We had spent a day up there in 2001 after the Skyline trail and wanted to revisit the area.

July 2004, Tributary to the Elwha, Martin’s Park

The notable occurrence on that hike was having a bear follow us for a mile or two. It was a fairly small bear, but it still made us nervous. It wasn’t typical bear behavior. We chalked it up to it being a bear that was used to hanging out near low divide and scavenging food from careless campers. We took particular care to hang our food well and keep our camp clean. As far as we know, the bear didn’t visit our camp.

This photo shows the Elwha River in the basin near our campsite.

July, 2004. Elwha River in Elwha Basin

We were unsuccessful in getting up the Snowfinger. I slipped on wet rocks just before we would have got to the snow area. A number of abrasions, but nothing requiring medical attention. However, it left me shaken and wanting to call an end to the day. A slow return to camp was made with mixed feelings and great disappointment. We had great weather for the whole trip and had an enjoyable hike out.

We took many trips over the years with a goal of hiking into or through the Bailey Range. The Bailey Range runs north and south through the central Olympics dividing the Elwha River drainage from the Hoh River drainage. There isn’t a maintained trail, but there is an established route of sorts. We were turned back a couple times by bad  weather and in 1992 by not being able to locate the access route via the Ludden Peak – Long Ridge trails.

July 2004, Un-named Tributary to the North Fork Quinault

It took several days to hike out … spending one night again at Low Divide. This last photo shows the last small side channel of the North Fork Quinault that we had to cross just before getting back to the trailhead.

July 2004, North Fork Quinault side channel

Trip: August 2005 — East Fork Quinault to Enchanted Valley and Anderson Pass

August 2005, East Fork Quinault in The Enchanted Valley

We set up camp in the valley and did several day hikes, one day climbing up to Anderson Pass and also hiking up the trail towards O’Neill Pass until we got to the point where we had hiked to from the other direction … coming down from O’Neill Pass from Hart Lake on our hike in 2001.

Trip: August 2006 — High Divide and Seven Lakes Basin

We both agree that our 2006 hike around the High Divide and Seven Lakes was one of the best of our hikes.

August 2006, Sol Duc River

We started by hiking up the Sol Duc River Trail and doing the climb up from Sol Duc Park to Heart Lake, where we set up camp for two nights. We took a day hike over to Cat Basin and out the Cat Peak way trail to the overlook of the Cat Walk. It is at that point that the Bailey Range Traverse begins.

August 2006, Tributary Steam to Bridge Creek Below Heart Lake

The next day we hiked across the High Divide and down to set up camp in Seven Lakes Basin. We spent a day hiking down from Bogachiel Pass to Hoh Lake, which we had visited by hiking up from the Hoh River trail in 1997.

We did a lot of hiking that trip, but spent most of the time up on ridges, where stream  crossings are non-existent. One of the high points was coming face to face with a family of mountain goats on the trail.

Trip: September 2013 — North Fork Skokomish Trail to First Divide

We were able to take an autumn hike in 2013, which was pretty late in the season for us. We just had a few days, but had great weather and not many other hikers on the trail.

September 2013, Donahue Creek

Trip: August 2014 — Duckabush River Trail to the Upper Duckabush and Hart Lake

The Duckabush River Trail is not traveled as frequently as many other of the Olympic  Valley trails. For one thing, it is a long flat hike of about 20 miles to get to where you start to climb up into the high country. We were going to revisit the Hart Lake area of the Upper Duckabush. We had first visited the area in 2001 and found it to be one of the most idyllic areas that we had visited in the park. Its remoteness has provided some protection from the crowds found in such areas as Low Divide, the Enchanted Valley and the High Divide.

We found the Duckabush Trail to be one of the most tiring trails of any of our hikes. There were dozens of huge old growth trees across the trail requiring scrambling over or hiking around. We were delighted to finally ford the Duckabush and be at camp.

August 2014, Duckabush River below Camp Duckabush

The following day we set out to do the climb up to the high country and the Marmot Lake, Hart Lake and LaCrosse Basin area. The first few minutes after leaving camp found us crossing Home Sweet Home Creek, which had more water in it than we had remembered from our earlier hike.

August 2014, Home Sweet Home Creek

The image to the below is one of the many streams draining the snowfields of Mt Steele.

August 2014, Un-named Tributary Stream of the Duckabush, Draining off of Mt Steele

It also turned out to be a much more difficult trip to the high country than we remembered. Being tired from our hike up the valley was part of it, and the hot weather was another part.The passage of 13 years probably played a role too.

August 2004, Duckabush River

The photo above shows our crossing of the Duckabush just at the bottom of the steepest part of the climb up to the Marmot Lake area. On the way in we crossed on a small log that someone had placed between two rocks in one particularly narrow spot on the river. It was pretty tippy and we were glad to have our hiking poles. On the return, we decided to wade the river instead of using the tippy log. From that direction, the log just seemed much less stable.

August 2014, Duckabush River

The photo above doesn’t really give a good impression of the depth of water or the steepness of the terrain downstream of our crossing. It was one of the more challenging crossing we have done. And the water was cold.

Our plan was to make our camp at Camp Duckabush before heading out the valley on our return to the car.We were just about back to camp when I was in the lead and crossed Home Sweet Home Creek, when I heard some splashing noise.

August, 2014. Home Sweet Home Creek

Turning, I got my camera and quickly took a photo. Jeff was just recovering from a slip on wet rocks. All these years and I missed getting a shot of the action.

Trip: July 2016 — North Fork Skokomish Trail to Camp Pleasant

2016 began a number of years in a row where we hiked in to Camp Pleasant at Mile 6 of the North Fork Skokomish Trail for the 4th of July.

July 2016, Slate Creek near Staircase Campground

It was always a good camp for us … and we found it a peaceful alternative to listening to the holiday firework displays.

Trip: July 2017 — North Fork Skokomish Trail to Camp Pleasant

It was interesting to us, that even when the holiday fell so that there was a 3 day weekend, the back country was typically not as crowded as we would have expected. The fairly early season backpack also provided an opportunity for a conditioning hike on a fairly flat trail with moderate distance.

July 2017, Donahue Creek.

These two images (above and below) of Donahue Creek are shot from different perspectives and it isn’t obvious that it is the same stream. An interesting note on how a small change in location can change an image.

July 2017, Donahue Creek.

The other stream in this area is Madeline Creek. On the trip in, we spent some time watching a trail crew just finishing  construction of new bridge at that point. On the way out, we were among the first to use it.

Trip: July 2018 — North Fork Skokomish Trail to Camp Pleasant

The following year we were pleasantly surprised to see that after the trail crew had finished the Madeline Creek bridge, they had installed a single stringer bridge over Donahue Creek.

July 2018, Donahue Creek

This photo was on the way out and Jeff was acting as though he was losing his balance. Just an act, though.

Trip: August 2019 — Upper Dungeness Trail To Boulder Shelter

A late season hike up the Upper Dungeness River Trail to Boulder Shelter offered a wonderful river valley hike and a moderate climb to a sub-alpine area. Being the ‘dry side’ of the Olympics, there were fewer side streams and the larger stream and river crossings had bridges.

August 2019, Royal Creek.

The Royal Creek crossing provided us with pleasant memories of our hike to Royal Basin in 2002.

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