In August 2017, we backpacked seven days into the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. Here’s the story of how we took our 4 year old up five thousand feet to see glaciers, bears, and alpine meadows.
This trip succeeded largely because of advanced planning. I’ll write a future post with the details. I’d also like to thank my parents for carrying half the load and doing camp chores while we were attending to Isaac.
Our initial pack weights were
- Tyson 39 lbs
- John 39 lbs
- Trudy 32 lbs
- Emilie 38 lbs
- Isaac 3 lbs
To reduce weight, we each carried one liter of water. We refilled often using our new Sawyer nanotube filter.
See the park service page for maps, especially the “Wilderness Map”.
Sunday: The Start
In 2001, the Anderson Glacier overlook was 11.5 miles from the trailhead. In 2002, it was 17 miles away. By 2017, it was 18 miles. The glacier is retreating, but the bigger problem is the forest service is abandoning sections of the road when it washes out. We weren’t sure if 5.5 miles or 6.5 miles of the road was washed out, but either way, it would be a lot for Isaac. The local trails club has built a bike-suitable trail around the 2002 washout. We decided to rent bikes and a trailer from Bainbridge Bike Barn, hoping a hybrid bike would be sufficient for the terrain.
We walked our bikes across the first, small wash out. On the other side, the road was broad and flat. The forest service had abandoned this last mile of road only a year or so ago, increasing the road distance from 5.5 miles to 6.5 miles. As advertised, we found a switchback trail up and around the original major washout. Maybe some mountain bicyclist can pedal up and back down, but we pushed our bikes up, and cautiously walked them back down. We mounted and continued on the older section of road.
It was narrower than the newly abandoned road, but still smooth. Trail maintainers had cut and cleared all the downed trees. We were doing well until near the old Elkhorn campsite. Then the road started climbing. My parents were first to give up, but soon all of us were pushing our bikes up the hill. We had worried about washouts, of which we found 9. But the real problem turned out to be the steep grade. At least we would benefit from the bikes on the way out.
We reached the old Dosewallips campground at lunchtime. The shower building was boarded up and growing moss. Trees grew into the road and covered old signs. Picnic tables were green mossy lumps. The tables near the river still showed signs of use, and there was a new pit toilet in that area. The ranger station was boarded up, though the tent pole proudly flew an American flag. The ranger was staying in a tent next door. After eating lunch, we locked our bikes against an out of the way tree — though not so far out of the way as to appear abandoned. Hopefully the bicycles and helmets would still be there in six days. Then we started up the Dosewallips River trail on foot.
The farther we hiked that day and the next, the more of Anderson Glacier we could explore on the third day. I remember miles of giant evergreen trees. I remember a heavy pack and putting one foot in front of another. We passed Dose Forks campsite mid afternoon. Up we went on the steep southern slope. A giant tree had fallen across one ravine, almost a bridge. Then we came to the high bridge over the west fork of the Dosewallips (rebuilt 1997). It crossed a hundred feet above the water; the valley walls like cliffs.
Off to the north, we saw the first hint of mountains. And right in front of us we saw a ptarmigan. Then we were back in the woods. I can’t say I remember much of the next mile and a half. We found a nice campsite with a good pit toilet at Big Timber, made dinner, and collapsed.
We had covered 12 miles and two thousand feet of elevation. The bicycles must have helped.
GPS Track: Road Washout to Big Timber
Monday: Towards Anderson Pass
Monday we shouldered our packs for another day of travel. If we attained Honeymoon Meadows today, we could hike to the terminal moraine the next day. If we reached Camp Siberia today, then tomorrow we could hike onto Anderson Glacier.
The morning hike continued through old growth evergreens. Mid morning, we crossed the first avalanche tracks with views up to Diamond Mountain. The Diamond Meadows campsite itself was unremarkable. Also, the ranger said she closed the pit toilet because it’s floor was dangerously rotted. After Diamond Meadows, the clearings became more frequent. I recognized high bush blueberries, though the berries weren’t tasty. Other berries — thimble berry and salal — I looked up when we returned to civilization. We stopped for lunch not far past Diamond Meadows at the West Fork crossing.
We were unsure if there would be a bridge or if we would have to ford the river. We found the trail rerouted to a natural log jam. The trail crew had chopped the tops of two giant trunks flat and bolted a crude railing onto the longer span. My parents spent much of lunch debating how the trail crew had gotten away with such bridges. Out east, the forest service has forbidden log bridges because they aren’t OSHA compliant.
We tarried on the sunny cobble bar beside West Fork. Isaac wanted to explore the island in the middle. Halfway across the stream, he realized the glacial water was freezing his feet. He bawled the whole way back to land. For the rest of the trip, he refused to touch flowing water.
Up and up we hiked. Every turn brought us new views as rewards for our effort: from the steep side hill, past waterfalls, and up through a notch. To our right, a flattened forest indicated that five years prior a giant avalanche from East Peak jumped the ridge between us and pushed the forest into West Fork. Up above the notch, we hiked into the sparse woods of Honeymoon Meadows.
We ate second lunch at Honeymoon Meadows campsite at 2:30PM. Only 1.3 miles to Camp Siberia. We refilled our water bladders then groaned when we shouldered our packs. Honeymoon meadow was past peak blooms, but it was still pretty. For a half mile, the trail ambled along the U-shaped valley floor, then it turned and zigzagged up between cliffs on the side wall.
One zigzag and Isaac wanted to rest. Two zigzags and Isaac wouldn’t budge. Even Mom and I were stamping our feet impatiently. We wanted our packs off. If we could just get Isaac to climb the last 300 vertical feet, we’d be there.
I’m afraid we resorted to ordering Isaac to march.
GPS Track: Big Timber to Camp Siberia
7 miles. 2,000′ elevation. Not bad for a 4 year old.
Camp Siberia sits at the edge of the woods before Anderson Pass. There’s space for 4 tents near the trail. Lower, a bedraggled shelter perches beside a dry wash that plummets down to the headwaters of the West Fork Dosewallips River. We found water by following a trail across the dry wash, through bushes, and across a meadow. There a frigid stream is home to countless frogs.
The pit toilet sits uphill from camp in the crook of another zigzag in the trail. The good news is the floor to the pit toilet was solid. The bad news is a tree had fallen on the outhouse and knocked the walls down. We propped the walls up, attempting to block the view from the trail. The bear wire sagged a little, but was functional. The bear wire sign, however, looked likely to fall over under the weight of my Dad’s hat draped over it. The park service posts campsite conditions, including bear wire status on their trail conditions page.
The first night a doe and a fawn came looking for handouts. We scared the fawn off easily, but the doe was more persistent. I chased her through the bushes, but she was certain I was bluffing. My Dad hollered and startled her away for a few minutes. Then Tyson threw sticks at her and finally drove her off. We didn’t see them again the next few nights.
On our very last night at camp, two guys tented beyond the shelter. Otherwise we had the place to ourselves.
Tuesday: Anderson Glacier
Anderson Glacier! Tyson was itching to go see his first glacier. First we had to organize our gear — daypack vs bear bag vs staying in the tent. Tyson and Isaac explored the boulder field past the stream while my parents and I dealt with logistics. The boulder field was so much fun, they didn’t return until twenty minutes after we were ready to go.
Up we went. The trail continued zigzagging up to Anderson Pass. We reached the pass. The Enchanted Valley trail heading down the other side as steeply as we had come up. We turned right onto the Anderson Glacier trail.
This trail climbs the terminal moraine. At four thousand five hundred feet, we were in the transition zone between the forest and the alpine meadows. Here, the vegetation was forty percent tree clumps and sixty percent blueberry bushes and wildflowers. These were low bush blueberries — ripe and tasty.
We weren’t the only ones sampling the blueberries. We emerged from one clump of trees and spotted a black bear 100 feet away munching. It spotted us too. It munched a few more berries then sidled off into the woods. My Dad, who is always sweep, arrived too late to see the bear. From one switchback up, Mom and I spotted the bear’s shadow in the woods below us, but Dad couldn’t see it.
Back and forth we switch backed up the hill. I think the hill was too steep to grow trees. Each switchback we climbed brought us better views — west to the fog in the Enchanted Valley; east back down the Dosewallips River valley; south across Anderson Pass to cliffs and hanging glaciers on Mount LaCrosse; and at the very top, north to a wide valley left by the retreating Anderson Glacier.
The trail ends at the top of the moraine, however, Olympic Park policies allow off trail travel as long as it is low impact. They suggest spreading out and avoiding established tracks.
Where the terminal moraine had been lush with lupine and Indian paintbrush, the glacial valley was mostly rock. There was some moss, and a few flowers gnawing at the rocks. A lot of the rocks were shiny orange and red. I’ve heard iron rocks used to be prevalent all over the world before people started picking them up to make things.
We hiked across to Anderson Glacier. I don’t know if it’s still a glacier or a snowfield. Isaac and Tyson made a little snowman. Then we started hiking up. When it got steep, we put on our microspikes and Tyson and Isaac roped up like mountaineers. When do you stop when there is a mile of snow above you?
We declared the end when it leveled off behind a rock. Time to but-sled back down! We donned our rain pants to keep us dry and make us slippery. Isaac didn’t slide well on his own, so Tyson pulled him down the hill with the rope. I followed after in their track. My Dad practiced self arresting with his poles. Isaac slid as fast as Tyson would take him, giggling all the way down.
That was our fun for the day. The snowman melted before we returned. We didn’t see the bear again. We were all hungry at the end of the day. Isaac sat down to forage for bluberries above Anderson Pass. He ate until he had energy to hike back to camp for real dinner.
GPS Track: Camp Siberia to Anderson Glacier
To be continued
Now that we had achieved our primary goal of Anderson Glacier, we had 4 more days to enjoy. Read about the rest of the trip here.