When the first beams of sunlight tear the sky on a spring weekend, who doesn’t want to go and enjoy the great outdoors again?! Well, last weekend, my husband and I decided we’d head for the Olympic Mountains and see what hiking opportunities are closer by where they are neither too high nor too steep.
We took Route 101 past Shelton and made a left into a beautiful rural valley where a salmon hatchery sits right at the entrance. We drove past beautiful farms. In the meadows, there were cows with the tiniest, cutest calves I have ever seen; there were alpacas, and goats, and one dog that looked like a most cuddlable sheep. The gardens started blooming, and the tiny community church’s parking lot was well filled. The road led a bit farther into the valley where it dead-ends, but another one forked off towards Brown Creek Camp. That was the one we chose and went all the way; but at its end we took a left to the Le Bar Ranger Station parking lot.
Here a steep, narrow path, the South Fork Skokomish Trail, leads up a small ridge in switchbacks. Some of them afforded us views of what was presumably the Skokomish already, winding its way through a narrow gorge. Then the path took us down again, all the way down to the river valley. Our knees were creaking, but my mind wound more around the thought that we might have to come back the same way again. It was a bit daunting, but from the beginning, my husband and I have agreed never to “bite off” more of a hike than we can do without being too winded in the end.
Soon we were rewarded by trillium by the wayside, some widely open already, others still rolled up and waiting for that one sunny day more to unfold their petals. Dark pink salmonberry blossoms accentuated the bushes, and there were clusters of white bell-shaped blossoms on others. Birdsong was in the air, and apart from a few other hikers, we usually were all by ourselves.
We had to ford creeks three times. I have to admit that I have a hard time getting over the thought of maybe getting wet and dirty (I was raised that way, and it somehow made it into my bones); even more scary is the thought of slipping on a rock and maybe breaking an ankle. What to do in the wilderness then? Our cell phones had no connection whatsoever … Long story short: I’m sitting at my desk writing this – so we made it through the fords, and I never even got as much as my feet wet. But it’s always good to have an extra-pair of socks in one’s rucksack.
After about one and a half mile, we entered an area where the forest was light, but the trees were huge and mossy. I swear, if I had known the magic word, they’d have started behaving human. We were utterly taken by the magic of these creatures (for as such we beheld them), and “The Lord of the Rings” was never nearer in reality than in this particular spot of forest on the banks of the South Fork Skokomish.
We made it through a bog, climbing tree stumps and hopping from dry patch to dry patch. If you want to do the hike with less effort, you definitely have to wait a couple of months more for all the humidity to dry off. But it sure was elating to deal with these little challenges and to look back in wonder.
After a while we decided to turn our hike into a loop, as there was a sign that hinted at a connection with one of the forest roads farther uphill. So, we headed into the woods, slowly climbing again. At one point we crossed a bridge where below we had had to jump from wobbly rock to wobbly rock. And at an especially sunny spot where a bridge crossed a gurgling creek some ten or twenty feet below, we had our lunch break. There was only birdsong by then, the humming of insects, and not a single other hiker around. Utter peacefulness.
The rest of the path took us up through high logging woods, very gently, never exhaustingly. At one point we found that we must be walking on a former logging train track, as the dam was plain visible and pretty straight and level. No wonder, we had passed a place called “Camp Govey” on our way to the hike’s starting point. Shortly after we hit the forest road, we reached a fork; the road downhill took us to the gate at Le Bar Horse Camp. It was empty at this time of the year, but Brown Creek Camp already had its tenting campers, for sure. The rest of our hike to the parking lot was all downhill and convenient.
The birdsong and the blossoms still stay with me, even though it has already been a few days now. And the bubbling brooks, the rushing river. The quiet. The loneliness. It was not exactly off the beaten path but no less enchanting. Sometimes it’s really worth taking a turn away from the main road and exploring what lies around the bend.