Olympic Road Trips

I have been lacking inspiration to write this year. On quite a few occasions, I will read someone else’s words and feel compelled to produce something as beautifully written as theirs, but when I rack my brain for a topic, I come back empty. This search makes me wonder if I am getting too comfortable and lazy staying where I am without taking on challenging things, or maybe I am lacking motivation to do them. Today’s post is my small step to continue writing and I hope that resuming writing will get myself out of the rut and snowball to something bigger beyond these words.

I have made it a goal to go backpacking in Olympic National Park every summer. The first year I hiked through Hoh rainforest along Hoh River to marvel at Blue Glacier on Mt Olympus. I was new to long-mileage multiple-day backpacking trip. I was too tired to take out my phone to capture all the moments and to truly take it all in the significance of the glacier and the surrounding nature – river, alpine meadows, and rainforest.

Blue Glacier of Mt Olympus

The second year I completed the high divide and seven lakes basin loop. It was one of the most coveted backpacking trips in the park with fewer backcountry permits available. Thus, I started my research in early spring to plan the itinerary for campsites and scored the permits on the first day they became available. Unfortunately we had rainy and cold weather on the second day in, when we were supposed to get all the views of lakes and mountains. With the rain not forecasted to let up the following day, I ended the trip one day early, planning to return to this trail on a nicer day.

Perfect weather on first day at Deer Lake camp
All socked in and misty on the second day at Heart Lake camp

This year, for my third trip, I went to the coast and camped at Third Beach. I have always wanted to explore the area but felt intimidated learning how to read a tide chart (certain sections of the beach are not safe to pass during high tides). It turned out to be a lot easier to learn. Southern coast has a bit more challenging terrains, which requires going up and down steep slopes using rope to navigate the impassable areas, making the trail more adventurous. Despite experiencing typical PNW weather – rain, cloud, and occasional sun, I loved the chill vibes by the beach – going to sleep listening to the sound of waves and waking up to check out sea creatures during low tides.

Sea stacks by the beach
The sky cleared up a bit during sunset
Low tide in the morning

Having made four trips to the Olympic peninsula (three backpacking trips and one day trip), I started asking myself what is it of this area that draws me to drive at least three hours one way to pay pilgrimage every summer, compared to other national parks and areas of equal fame. What’s more, some other areas I backpacked to did not require paid backpacking permits nor the amount of work I had put in get the permits. Especially for me who is all about being efficient (minimizing effort and maximizing return, aka ‘views’), all three backpacking trips are mediocre for efficiency, compared to other trails that do not require paid permits nor long drive to trailhead.

I have this romanticized feeling towards going on a trip to Olympic National Park, which can be broken down into three reasons:

One, the expansive biodiversity of the park means there are a variety of things to explore, which is a big draw to someone like me who likes to try out different things. The park has snowcapped mountains, glacier, alpine lakes and meadows, miles of beaches and coastlines, river, valley, rainforest, etc. This also means I will get to see different animals, seagulls, black bears, deer, marmots, elks, etc. This is something you cannot get from neither Mt Rainier National Park nor North Cascades National Park, the other two national parks in Washington. Looking back at my three trips, each one has a different theme of nature to explore. Maybe next year I will check out Enchanted Valley to keep up! 😛

Second, the feeling of wilderness and the beautiful long drive gives you a preview of what the area has to offer. I am always excited about the drive to the peninsula, because I will have plenty of opportunities to admire the beauty of this area closer, which I always stare at from afar in Seattle. Sure, drive to any mountains gives you the feel of leaving the hustle and bustle behind and having more solitude. However, rarely do you get to see both mountains and oceans on the same trip, without going to the islands up north. Going on this drive always reminds me how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful state.

Third, due to the long drive and my pickiness of who goes with me on these trips (see my above comment on being efficient), I always love the time we spend on the road together. Both the journey and the destination matter, right? 🙂 Usually along the long drive, there were quaint towns, such as Sequim, Forks, and Port Angeles, that we stopped at for a bite or coffee. We took turns managing the playlist, sharing favorite songs or podcasts. We sampled the box of Trader Joe’s snacks I brought along. We dreamt up backpacking plans for next summer. Most importantly, we caught each other up on life and always had intellectually stimulating conversations. I always learned something new about myself after each road trip and felt reinvigorated towards what’s to come.

This is my attempted love poem to Mt Olympic National Park and the peninsula it sits on. If you have not considered exploring Olympic National Park before, I hope you would feel more inclined to give it a try and experience the same magic that I do.

P.S. Though it is not a super descriptive trip report, I got inspired to write this thanks to Climber Kyle’s blog. He writes about trail running, skiing, and mountaineering trips in PNW. Though I am far less skilled to complete any of these trips, I am always touched by his words and gorgeous pictures and get to live vicariously through his trips. Thus, if my words failed you, check out his, which covers quite a bit of Olympic peninsula. See this and this as examples.

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