June 11, 2006

The Hidden Rainforest

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I led a nice group of Mountaineers up the Bogachiel River for a three day backpack trip. This river flows west out of the north side of the Olympic Mountains. It joins up with the Calawah River just west of the town of Forks and then with the Sol Duc River to form the Quillayute River, which flows into the Pacific a few miles later. It is the least well-known of the rain forest rivers on the peninsula and it is a gem.

The trail follows the river valley for over twenty miles to a pass high in the Olympics. We followed it for fifteen miles of its length. At first, it is a turnpike, wandering through river flats so green you can’t imagine anything any greener. Once you’re into the National Park, you start seeing some big trees, spruces mostly here. The first six miles take you to an interesting trail over Indian Pass to the Calawah River and extensive camping. And lots of big trees – Sitka spruce, red cedar, Douglas fir, cottonwood, and western hemlock – some of them six feet or more in diameter. There are fewer big, mossy maples in this valley than the Hoh valley, so this looks like a more conventional forest, but big. There are a few photos from the trip here.

After the first few miles, the trail starts living up to the description we heard in the Information Center in Forks: rough. This was late May, so there were many creek crossings, few bridges, and quite a bit of muddy trail. There were also many, many trees and limbs down on and across the trail. It wasn’t raining, but it was still damp and the creeks were running, so none of us completed the ten miles to Flapjack Camp with dry feet.

The next day, under damper skies, we followed the trail further, as it roughened into a very narrow track, which occasionally disappeared under small herbs and moss. Four miles from our camp, we reached a shelter and the very fine bridge over the North Fork of the Bogachiel. During this day trip, the river changed from a broad, dynamic flow, sluicing back and forth across a huge gravel bed, to a rushing river, confined to a narrow valley – a canyon in places – and running on a solid rock bed.

On the trail, above Flapjack camp, we spooked a group of a half-dozen of elk. Sometimes, they silently disappear in the woods, but this time they just crashed away. We also saw four (or maybe the same pair, twice) eagles cruising the river. On the way back out, I saw a pileated woodpecker and several dippers. The river terrain around our camp had a lot of evidence of past beaver habitation, but nothing was new. Also near our camp, I saw fresh bear tracks in some clay along the river and coyote tracks in the sand.

This is a wild place.

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