May 8, 2006

Big Hump on the Duckabush River

Saturday I got out on a hike for the first time in several months. I led a Mountaineers group of six up the Duckabush River over the top of Big Hump and part way down the other side before we turned around. It's one of my favorite trips, I think because the terrain and the woods are so varied.

We gathered the last of the group at Potlatch State Park, which makes a convenient mustering point along Hood Canal. Things were hopping there. The gate was still locked when we got there and there were cars lined up on the road waiting to get in. Within a few minutes of the gate opening, the place was teeming with fisherman. The bigger boat ramp parking lot a few hundred yards up the road was completely full. It wasn't until we passed through Hoodsport on the way back home that I saw the sign that announced the opening of shrimp season that day. It's not often that you see that much activity in Hoodsport.

It was cool and cloudy all day, but the rain hinted at in the forecast didn't appear. The clouds were low enough, however, that the ridgetops mostly didn't appear, either. Still, the charms of this trail aren't so much the views as the woods. It starts with a gradual climb up a few hundred feet to the wilderness boundary and the top of the Little Hump. From there, the trail drops down to the river's level and follows a mostly level course along the rushing river. This stretch shows a lot of evidence of logging long ago -- huge cables, road grades (for a time, the trail follows such a skid road), skid paths to the river, huge stumps. The trees have grown back enough to make a pleasant wood of well-spaced trees and lush undergrowth. The sword ferns were just unrolling their fiddleheads this weekend, revealing that wonderful, light green, the very color of spring.

After about three miles, the trail turns away from the river and begins a steep climb up the Big Hump. It's a good trail, well-graded and solid, but it does have several hundred feet to climb. About half-way, there's a nice view on a smooth rock down the river to Hood Canal, a glimpse of a waterfall across the valley, and hints of the cliffs that the river cuts through from the interior of the Olympics. Near the top, another outcrop offers views, but by this time the slope is slackening, so one's tempted to continue to the top.

Through the whole climb, there are a succession of forest types and ages. We're above the logging activity, but a fire had swept through here some time ago, leaving an interesting mix of ages. There are quite a few quite large Douglas firs, many with fire scars on their trunks. These are attended by a mix of much younger trees, apparently grown since the fire. In other places, there is a more varied mix of big and middle-sized trees, including large western hemlocks and red cedars. Near the top of the Hump, there's a thick stand of little trees, with almost no undergrowth.

We turned around about three-quarters of a mile after Big Hump, at a stream where we ate lunch. The trail continues back down to the river level and a nice campsite (though it is cold much of the year) and goes another ten or fifteen miles into the heart of the Olympics. Nothing but old growth the whole way.

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