Nov 172013

Appleton Pass

Small lake at Appleton Pass

Over the weekend following Halloween, Evan & I went on a 3-day backpacking adventure to Olympic Hot Springs. Elza has been keeping me busy over the summer, and this was the first backpacking trip I have been able to do this year.

Normally, the springs are accessed via a short 2-mile hike from the Elwha River Road and are a popular destination. However, due to the Elwha Dam removal project, the hot springs have been much more difficult to reach over the past 3 or so years. Currently, the only way to access the hot springs is to start in the Sol Duc Valley and hike about 13 miles over Appleton Pass. Due to the longer hike and the fact that it was November, we expected to see very few, if any, other folks at the springs. It was a unique opportunity to have the springs to ourselves and see them in a more natural state since having a greatly reduced number of visitors.

On Thursday evening after work, I met Evan on the Bainbridge ferry and we drove to Port Angeles. There we had dinner with Evan’s friends (Bridgid & Casey) and spent the night at their house.

On Friday morning, we drove to the Sol Duc trailhead and started hiking up the valley, past the iconic Sol Duc Falls, and then up the Appleton Pass Trail, gaining about 3000′ elevation. We reached Appleton Pass around 2:30pm and ate lunch. There was just a little bit of snow up at the pass on Friday, but quite a bit more dumped during the storm on Saturday.

Appleton Pass Trail

Lightly-used trail north of Appleton Pass

After lunch and exploring a little lake at the pass, we began the descent down the Boulder River drainage towards Olympic Hot Springs, losing the 3000′ that we had just gained. Along the way, we found an abundance of edible mushrooms, including Chanterelles, unusually large Hedgehogs, Hericium, and Sparassis crispa. We picked as much as we could reasonably eat in the next two days. We arrived at Boulder River camp (adjacent to the hot springs) just before it got dark. We quickly set up camp, ate a yummy dinner including wild mushrooms, and then went for a soak before turning in for the night.

On Friday night, it started raining hard. A small pool formed under our tent and we and our stuff got a little wet. Thankfully we had set up a tarp over our cooking area the night before and we had a semi-dry place to hang out and make an oatmeal breakfast on Saturday morning. We were expecting the weather to be crummy today, but we didn’t have any plans other than soaking in the hot springs, and that’s what we did for almost the whole day.

Soaking in the Springs

Soaking in the springs on a stormy day

The springs have been receiving much less visitor traffic since the road closure, and some of the smaller springs have reverted to a more natural state, with colorful algae blooms and moss covering the rocks lining the pools. We soaked in two of the better/larger/deeper pools. As we soaked in the lovely warm water, the rain poured on our heads and we watched the wind whip through the valley, making us slightly concerned about trees falling. Due to the weather, we had little incentive to leave the springs and we spent almost the whole day soaking. My fingers and toes were reduced to prunes. Around 5:00, we decided that we should return to camp and start cooking dinner.

Upon returning to camp, we discovered that the wind had its way with our rain tarp, it was all twisted up and my stove has hopelessly tangled in the ropes. After about 20 minutes carefully extracting the stove from the ropes, we began cooking another yummy wild mushroom feast.

Storm damage

Storm damage at camp

Saturday night, the rain finally began to taper off. On Sunday morning we quickly broke camp and headed out as the clouds parted and the sun came out. All-in-all, it was a highly successful trip despite stormy weather and an ambitious amount of hiking distance/elevation. The weather cooperated when we really needed it to, and we had the whole place to ourselves.