Kristy has been staring out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the Olympics for as long as she’s been here. On clear mornings when I’m riding to work, I get glimpses of Hurricane Ridge and the vast expanse that is the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve driven through a couple of times in the last year and knew that it was absolutely spectacular and that there was some good hiking to be had over yonder, so with summer leave plans set, we set our sights on some trails in Olympic National Park for a week of backpacking.
Birthdays are great, and this year, I got Kristy a Silva compass and maps to the North Coast Trail (next year’s adventure?) and Olympic National Park. We both did a lot of reading about all the various trails and opportunities available – Hoh Valley, Sol Duc River, Enchanted Valley, Pacific Coast, and after some research and discussion, we decided that the last two were where we wanted to spend most of our time.
The trip plan ended up being fairly simple – three or four nights in the backcountry up Enchanted Valley, a night or two in some front-country camping, then an out-and-back down the coast to close off our journey.
I have to say, backpacking is probably my favourite mode of camping. I can be ready for adventure in just a couple of hours with everything I need to last me for days. For this trip, we had a couple of extra pieces of gear that both aided us and added some wrinkles to planning. This was also our first foray into backpacking in the United States, which brought along its own set of challenges. I should add the disclaimer that anything you read here is just our experience and shouldn’t be construed as official advice for crossing international boundaries.
Kristy and I are both systems people and list-based folks. If it doesn’t go on a list, we tend to not remember or do it. We did the bulk of our planning through a shared Google spreadsheet, each of us having our own personal sheet for what we were bringing, plus common equipment, and our meal plan. This allowed us to keep tabs on what we were each responsible for, and checking things off the list as they were completed.
In the “extra gear” department, we picked up a MEC Silicone Scout Tarp, a Sea-to-Sky Clothesline, a BearVault BV500, a Sea-to-Sky packable sink, and at last, some bear spray.
I have to say, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) isn’t exactly the most helpful organization I’ve ever come across. Their website is detailed in some aspects and vague in others. For instance, we couldn’t find out a clear answer as to whether or not it was okay to bring bear spray across the border (in the end, we decided against it). Or to what degree we were allowed to bring food (barring obvious things like fresh fruit, meat, nuts). Their 1-800 number went pretty much nowhere as for answers to the questions I had, and it seemed like there was no way to get to a live agent through their phone menu.
We bought a pile of dehydrated meals – Chicken and Rice, Teriyaki Chicken, Chicken with veg, etc, and then went back and re-read the CBP website about importation of food, especially as it related to meat. Of course, this reading was done the night before we left. As I went to try and return the meals to MEC, the lovely salesperson let me know that she could take the returns, but that the food was essentially going in the trash. We kept them – they have a 30-year shelf life, so if nothing else, they’ll end up in an emergency kit, or consumed on a future hike). We had to scramble to find some vegetarian and vegan options locally to fill out our menu.
The BearVault was the biggest investment for this trip, not only in terms of size and price, but also weight. At 1.2kg (2 lbs 9 oz) empty, that was a lot of weight to be adding to my pack. Park rules for Enchanted Valley and the beach trail were that bear canisters were required. There was talk of canisters being available at the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles, but we didn’t want to take the chance on the canister being too small or not working with our gear, so we opted to just buy the BV and be done. Besides, there aren’t going to be any food caches on the North Coast trail when we go there next year.
The vault is huge. It’s rated at food for one person for seven days, and I’d buy that. We got four days of food for both of us in there, although it was tight. The vault makes it a little challenging to maximize space – when we did the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, the bag we had our food in could be packed around all the other gear in my pack, whereas the vault is just that, a vault. After watching some videos and playing around with my pack, I found that the best method to carry the vault was in the main compartment of my bag, opposite the front-access zipper.
We booked our ferry trip late in the game, so the only time available to cross was the 6:10am ferry, which meant a 5:10am arrival at the terminal downtown. In the end, this worked well for us as we had a bunch of shopping and prep-work on the US side to take care of prior to heading to the trailhead.
The plan was simple:
- 24 Aug – pack/prep
- 25 Aug – Victoria to Graves Creek Trailhead to Pony Creek
- 26-27 Aug – Enchanted Valley (possibly an extra night)
- 28-29 Aug – Kalaloch Campground (front-country beach camping, resupply/repack)
- 30 Aug – Third Beach to Strawberry Point
- 31 Aug – Strawberry Point to Third Beach, then return to Port Angeles to see Hurricane Ridge, then back to Victoria
The night before departure, we did one last cross-check of all our equipment, sealed up our bags, set our alarms, and got one last night’s rest in a bed before a week of adventures. The following posts are taken from my field notes, edited and augmented with the benefit of being able to look back on the experience. We absolutely loved this trip, and I hope you get some enjoyment out of reading about our experience.
If you, gentle reader, have any questions about our hike, feel free to use the comments section or send me an email.