The farthest reaches of a place always have a wild quality. Explorers seem to seek out places that, once reached, naturally mark the end of a journey. It’s as if explorers have trouble setting their own limits so natural barriers form a convenient stopping point. This trip is to one of these places.
Put your finger on the point most West and North on a United States map and it will be covering the Hoh River valley: the runoff basin for a series of glaciers formed on Washington’s Mount Olympus. This is where the Hoh River runs out to the Pacific Ocean and where a variety of routes, from day walks to advanced treks start for the long climb all the way up onto the glaciers.
Before this trip I had not developed a mental map of anything west of the Seattle area. It was just a strip of land between the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. So on a recent visit to Seattle we decided to push farther west, as far as the land would allow.
The first day we made it as far as Forks, the quasi-fictional town of vampires from the Twilight novels. The unique relationship of land and ocean makes Forks the wettest place in the continental US, a fitting setting for vampires and werewolves to live concealed in the perpetual grey mist.
The next morning it was just a 20 min drive through the early morning fog to the Hoh River trailhead. We happened to have picked a holiday for our hike so we were not sure if that would mean empty trails or crowds. It was the former, not even a park ranger in sight.
We started out on one of the shorter walks from the trailhead to warm up. A sign warned that we might come across elk and to be careful, they may be in a bad mood. I didn’t give it much thought thinking elk were something akin to the deer that roam through back yards around the Puget Sound. A herd of cranky deer did not seem very daunting.
The word enchanted sounds cliché but it is what instantly comes to mind. The forest here is untouched and rarely do you come across a landscape which has grown layer upon layer for millennia.
Everything seemed out of scale. We are accustomed to trees growing out of suburban yards and reaching twice as high as a house, at most. This terrain is all encompassing and taller than seems “natural”, and the effect overwhelming. Left, right, front, back, up, down, all is fuzzy green and alive.
Standing awestruck, trying to take it all in, we’re startled by a large furry body lunging precariously from behind, bounding effortlessly through the undergrowth. Then another, and another. Awe quickly turned fear as we realized we were now right in middle of a stampeding herd of those a forewarned temperamental elk.
We froze, the elk froze and we had a perfectly silent moment, each of us wondering what to do next. A few minutes later the elk decided we were ok, and quickly disappeared. By the way, an elk is MUCH larger than a deer.
After that magical introduction we continued onto one of the longer routes and spent the day wandering through this enchanted forest at one of the most remote edges of North America.
< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.