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Backpacker Magazine – June 2011

National Parks: Olympic

On a climb from the Hoh River's silty riffles to high-country glacier views, pass through a moss-hung rainforest that might be the lushest place in America.

by: Michael Lanza

Royal Creek In Upper Royal Basin (Kirkendall-Spring Photographers)
Royal Creek In Upper Royal Basin (Kirkendall-Spring Photographers)
Mineral Creek Falls (Kirkendall-Spring Photographers)
Mineral Creek Falls (Kirkendall-Spring Photographers)


[BEST WEEK]

FOUR PASSES LOOP
Ride an elevation seesaw from giant trees to sweeping mountain views on this 43-mile circuit.

Some hikers want it all and have time to get it. This route tours enough old-growth and alpine passes overlooking mountains and glaciers to keep the go-long set happy. Big advantage: It can be done inside a week and promises a high likelihood of sunshine in summer (it’s in the rain shadow; our scout saw five bluebird days). You’ll hit four wildflower-strewn high passes between 5,500 and 6,500 feet—Gray Wolf, Lost, Cameron, and Grand—with above-treeline views of the multiple peaks and the heavy ice cap of Mt. Olympus. At the same time, you get up-close-and-personal encounters with soaring western hemlock, Alaska cedar, and Douglas fir, and numerous cascades and waterfalls.

The loop begins on Grand Ridge Trail, which traverses open meadows along a gently undulating ridge for 7.5 miles from Obstruction Point to Deer Park, staying mostly above 6,000 feet, with the gleaming glaciers of Olympus looming large to the south. After dropping 3,250 feet in 4.3 miles on the Three Forks Trail to Cameron Creek, spend your first night at Three Forks Camp. Next morning, descend a half mile to the Gray Wolf River, then make a gradual ascent of 4,150 feet over 9.2 miles up Gray Wolf Valley, through the meadows of Gray Wolf Basin, to 6,150-foot Gray Wolf Pass, with another expansive view of craggy peaks, including glaciated, 7,321-foot Mt. Anderson.

Another steep drop of 2,600 feet in 3.4 miles through dense forest brings you to the Dosewallips River Trail. Follow this upstream, rising gently through fir forest and wildflower meadows flanked by rocky peaks—Wellesley, Lost, Cameron, Fromme, and others—for 1.7 miles, to spend your second night at Bear Camp, beside the streamlike Dosewallips River. On your third morning, continue upstream 1.8 miles to Dose Meadows, then turn north onto the steep, 1,100-feet-in-a-mile climb to Lost Pass—which, at 5,600 feet, offers yet another mountain panorama.

The views only get better on the two-mile alpine walk—through huckleberry meadows frequented by black bears in late summer—to Cameron Pass (6,500 feet), with vistas reaching from Olympus to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You’ll then make another big descent—2,400 feet in 3.5 miles—through meadows and along Cameron Creek. You’ll see some huge Alaska cedars at the bottom, then pay for the pleasure by regaining all that lost elevation on the 2,300-foot ascent in 1.8 miles to 6,400-foot Grand Pass.

While the view from the pass itself takes in much of the Olympic Mountains, walk 10 minutes up the gentle ridge to the unnamed, 6,701-foot summit to the west for perhaps the best view on this route, down to tiny Lake Lillian and across the deep, lushly green Hoh River Valley to Olympus. Camp either at Grand Lake, 2.5 miles beyond the pass, or at Moose Lake (actually named for resident elk), a mile closer. The last day’s walk of 3.5 miles along the Grand Pass Trail back to Obstruction Point follows another airy ridge above 6,000 feet, with yet more big panoramas of the mountains, glaciers, and deep valleys.

The Way From Port Angeles, take the Olympic National Park Highway 18 miles to Obstruction Point Road and follow it eight miles to its end.




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