Barefoot Jake

Melting Queets Glacier Hike in Smoke

It is no secret that most of the glaciers in the world are melting. The Olympic Mountains are no exception.  In a single generation, one can observe that a good portion of them have simply disappeared from the landscape.

If you have been following the news this year, you would know there is a record setting drought on the peninsula.   A light winter and high temperatures, have left the mountains bare of snow during the spring cycle, and to compound the problem, there has been record low rainfall. Now the summer feels like a desert.

I have a small list of places left that I'd like to visit on the peninsula.  Most of them are remote, have steep terrain and a lack of maintained trails.  Additionally, my goal is to photograph truly wild and remote wilderness places, so I carry a lot of extra weight in camera gear.

We decided to go for this adventure, with only a few days of planning.   We had the fair weather window for off-trail travel, so it was 'all systems go'.  The heat and wildfire smoke would be the most challenging aspects for our trip.  Being from the pacific northwest, we are not used to functioning under the dry conditions.

The Queets has long been on top of the list of what it means to be in wilderness.  Back in spring, a wildfire started roughly mid-valley.  We would need to deal with the smoke from that fire, during this trip.

With heavy packs and energy to burn, we set off upriver in the Quinault drainage.

Warning:  Land navigation, map and compass reading skills are required.  Previously a trekker could use the Elwha Snow Finger, which is described in the Olympic Mountain Climbers Guide.  This is no longer possible because of the lack of permanent snowfields.  One must through, up and around the hazards.  The melted landscape also leaves the hiker exposed to rock fall; which could be fatal. 

Quinault river under drought

Gossamer Gear Pilgrim Roll Top Backpack

Lets take a look at the Pilgrim Roll Top Backpack. This newest addition from Gossamer Gear caters to the minimalist hiker. The new pack includes a frameless design, fixed hipbelt and roll top closure. Sizing hits the sweet spot for a weekend ultralight backpacking trip in the summer months. I really like the sleek design of a roll top closer, and the fixed hipbelt gives the whole pack a stable and secure feel while its riding on your back.

Pilgrim Roll Top Backpack
Hiking with the Gossamer Gear Pilgrim, with overnight camping, fishing and camera gear

Olympic Mountains Drought and Fire Danger

This year has been a very dry season in the Olympic Mountains.  A light winter has left the higher elevations free from snow most of the cold months.  We had big storms, but the warmer temperatures allowed for it to fall as heavy rain.

Record low snowpack already has the drying rivers, looking like the end of summer; not the beginning.  This may lead to irregular fish migrations, up and down the river valleys.   I hope we get periods of rainfall to lesson the drought. On top of this the Olympic Peninsula has received record low rainfall levels for May/June since recorded history started over a 100 years ago.

All of this has left the forest very dry.  The Queets Paradise Fire in the interior of the Park, is testament of how dry it is in the backcountry, authorities refer to it as a "500 year fire".   There has since been a campfire burn back thought all Olympic National Park and most of Washington State. Please be considerate and go stove-less in the mountains this summer.

Upper Queets
Dried up creek bed in the Queets - This area is now burnt from wildfire

Dodging Mountain Goats in Olympic

We had a 4 day window for a backpacking trip into the Olympic Mountains.  The weather was dry and most the snow has melted.  Why not get an early season hike in the books?

Lets hangout with wildlife!  This trip we would be camping with the Olympic Marmots, deer and mountain goats that live in this area.  We viewed numerous baby animals, since it is now late spring on the peninsula.

This was training hike, for longer period trips we have planned in the coming weeks.  Mountains have a funny way of getting you in-shape.  We would also use this adventure to test some new camera equipment in the backcountry.

The Gorilla backpack fully loaded!