PNT Day 28: Running Up That Hill

Today’s miles: 22.9

Total miles: 395.4

I’m up just before 6am and need my headlamp to get dressed and pack up, because the tree cover is so thick down here by the river. My day begins gently, with a short climb out of the river valley and then some flat and gradual descent through the forest. But I’m nervous about today’s itinerary, a long day with a big sustained climb at the very end. I’m worried I’ll be exhausted by that point, so I’ve planned out my meals and snacks to ensure I’m well-fueled at all times.

Morning in the river valley.

At the Whiskey Bend trailhead I find that the privy and trash cans are all locked. Disappointing. I begin a long section on roads, fortunately mostly blocked to automobile traffic. On this gravel road, I see two hikers strolling along way ahead of me, and eventually catch up to them. They’re friendly and chatty guys, older than me and out for a week or so in the park. But when they ask what I do, the phrase “gender and women’s studies” results in a prolonged silence. People’s responses to my job fairly reliably indicate whether we can be good conversational partners beyond the basic trail topics of food, weather, etc. Soon after this uncomfortable silence, I wish them a good hike and resume my faster pace.

I stop for second breakfast on the side of the road, near a ranger station. There’s weak cell service here, just barely enough for me to send a few texts to Cyn. When a few bees find me, it’s time to start walking again. I’m on paved road now, a gradual uphill. This morning I’ve been listening to a podcast series called Timber Wars, by Oregon Public Broadcasting, which delves into the history of old growth forest logging and conservation. In the first episode, one of the activists working a few decades ago to preserve old growth forests recalls the rapidity with which these forests were being destroyed. I look around at the trees towering all around me and suddenly feel a wave of emotion. I feel I could just fall to my knees and weep, but instead I keep hiking (and file this feeling away to discuss with my analyst).

Giant slugs remain my constant companions on the PNT. I love when the tree needles stick to their butts like this.

There’s a small stream flowing on the side of the road and I stop to filter some. I desperately need to pee, and since I’ve seen absolutely no one on this road for the past half hour, I just walk well away from the water source and crouch in the ditch. I’ve barely finished buttoning my pants when four cyclists zip around the corner. Whoops.

Along this road is a short turnoff to the site of the former Glines Canyon Dam, which dammed the Elwha River from 1925 to 2014. Advocacy by the Klallam tribe and conservationists pushed forward one of the largest dam deconstruction projects in the U.S. here, to restore the flow of the Elwha and therefore the surrounding ecosystem, including salmon migration. I stop to look down at the place the dam once was and observe the ways the river is beginning to return. It took three years to completely remove this dam, and will take more years still for the Elwha and its relations to become fully robust in this area again.

Looking out over the Elwha’s return.

Back on the road, I tackle most of a long, thankfully shaded uphill, with a snack break at what used to be a scenic overlook for cars (it’s my understanding that this road is closed to automobile traffic because the return of the Elwha damaged the roadway). A few miles later I reach the turnoff to Boulder Creek camp and Olympic hot springs. I follow a wide dirt road to them, but skip the springs because I have my mind on the upcoming climb. Instead, I eat a Snickers bar to fuel up, and get started.

The first part of my climb to Appleton Pass is through the forest with lots of rocks and roots to navigate. I kind of enjoy it, because the obstacles distract my mind from the work of climbing. I pass Upper and Lower Boulder Creek falls in turn, but don’t linger. Just as the trail opens up along the mountainside for a bit, I run into another PNT hiker, named Type 2. (His name references “type 2 fun”: something that’s not fun while you’re doing it, but is fun to talk about and remember later. A good deal of long-distance hiking is type 2 fun…) He’s faster than me but keeps stopping to pick berries, so we leapfrog several times on the way to the top. I’m surprised to find that I actually feel great on this climb, and am keeping a pace of more than two miles per hour.

Early portion of the climb to Appleton Pass.

I know there’s not much water up top at camp, so about a mile from the pass I filter a few liters from a stream. The added weight plus the steep switchbacks at the end slow me down a little. The trail is wildly overgrown for a while, which doesn’t help. But the views after that are spectacular. On a later stream crossing, I slip on a slick rock and fall, but only get a little muddy. I’m already drenched in sweat anyway.

Incredible views as I near the top.

I reach the top of Appleton Pass before 6pm. Almost 23 miles and a cumulative elevation gain of over 6500 feet today, whew. I’m amazed to find that I feel great at the end of it. I choose a beautiful campsite under a few trees with views of the mountains, and lay my sweaty clothes out to dry across big tree branches in the waning sun. When I return to my tent, a large deer with antlers is wandering nearby. I speak gently and give it space until it moves away, then climb into my tent. I can hear the deer walking through my campsite for a while as the last bits of daylight fade.

Deer at my campsite.

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