Backpacking Elwha in Winter

  I was in the mood for some redemption from a previous trip that didn't go as planned.  So I asked a old hiking partner if he would like some time on his legs.  Being that he was looking for some training as well.  He agreed to join me on an adventure that would be full of weather changes, critters and seclusion.   All ingredients for an epic weekend.

elwha river
Elwha River under fresh snow

  The weather forecast called for rain the first part of the day.  Then a cold front was to move in turning over to three days of snow.  So armed with ponchos and cold weather gear.  We were departed the trailhead by late morning.  With minimal cars in the parking lot.  We knew we would have the whole valley to ourselves and we were right.   Complete solitude for hundreds of square miles.

elwha trail
Poncho hiking

  Shortly after we departed.  Heavy rains began to drop down through the trees.  Having a trusty poncho in these conditions I feel is a must.  The trail was completely saturated with Mud and Water the first 14 miles.  Reminded me of walking on a wet sponge.
  After arriving at our camp destination.  We went out for a bit of exploring.  It was impressive to see all the water moving through the area and Olympic Elk sign.

elkhorn elwha

Into the Elwha

  I slept like a baby on my new Exped UL 7 sleeping pad.  I woke up around a hour before sun up to use the bathroom to sound of raindrops.  By the time I woke up just after sunrise, I opened my eyes to baby powder like snow all over the forest.  Watching the soft stuff fall was very peaceful.

elkhorn olympic national park
Elkhorn's blessing

elkhorn olympic
Peaking to the river

elwha backpack
Photo by R. Merf

  After a hot meal in the belly.  We continued to hike upriver.  The trail would lead us deeper into the Olympic National Park.  Snow depths in all the mountain passes keep backpackers out of the surrounding trails.  This is one of the benefits of hiking in river valley's when snow is still falling.

elwha trail
Many streams to cross

elwha river
Heading up the Elwha

remanns cabin
Remanns Cabin

elwha river
Elwha river under winter

  A few miles up river we ended up coming across bobcat tracks that were a few hours old.  We ended up tracking the little guy all the way to our campsite for the night.  In fact I put down my sleeping bag over the very spot.

elwha wildlife
Few hour old Bobcat prints

  Originally we planned to hike five miles more upriver for the night.  With the current amount of fresh snow falling and knee deep old stuff, we decided that it would be best if we called it a day.  I am confident that it was the right thing to do.  I was just happy to be so far up the Elwha valley.

hayes ranger station
The deserted Hayes River RS

hayes ranger station
Photo by R. Merf

  Shortly after we started pulling shelters out of our backpacks.  The weather started to turn.  As it warmed up all the snow begun to to fall out of the trees in the form of shush-bombs.  Once the shelters were up it turned to heavy rains.   We ended my huddled up under a tarp shelter until dark.

hayes camp
Tarp refuge

tarp elwha
My view for the next 5 hours

ultralight elwha
Warming up the Cat Stove

  The next morning as the rains have tapered down I unzipped my bag; just as daylight peeked into the forest.   I saw it as the best opportunity to break camp before breakfast.  I was in need of a hot meal after a night of very heavy rains.  Nothing like the deafening sound of water pounding on the tarp to help you sleep.

  As I fired up my camp stove.  I looked up and what did i see?

elwha winter
More Big Flakes !

  After shaking out our gear best we could.  Not wanting to take home extra water weight.  We departed our upriver camp and headed back down stream.  Just as the flakes turned back to rain.  Slushfest number two started, but this time not as bad.  

elwha winter
Happy Tree

  After a few hours of rain. We were finally blessed with some sun; which made it a real nice hike out.

elwha trail
Peaceful trail

elwha trail
Natures transition

elwha trail
Spring fights off winter

elwha forest
Warm my soul

  On the way out we had another trail friend; this time the biggest Mountain Lion print I've ever seen in the Park.  As we went down the trail the tracks got more fresh. I figured taking its time marking the trail every mile or so;  Judging by the scratch marks seen.  Something like that is better than coffee.   Watching the Forest for any type of movement. 

elwha cougar
Big Mountain Lion print

  We made good time coming out.  Which is usually the case the last day when the packs are at there lightest.  So we held a good pace all afternoon.  The sun really recharged our mental battery's. 

whiskey bend
Photo by R. Merf

minimalist winter
Vibram Five Finger Seeya's are tired

Featured: Vibram Seeya; which I wore on this Elwha Valley trip.

Overview:  If you couldn't tell by now.  I have an Elwha obsession.  It holds a place in my heart.  Especially the last 15 miles of the valley.  Any time I can get in there in the winter; I feel very blessed.  Overall it was a good trip.  Practice pitching an ultralight tarp in falling snow and heavy rains.  Got lots of fresh air.   Seen some kitty and Olympic Elk prints.  Sadly all of them managed to escape our cameras.   

Disclaimer:  Train your feet to be strong and for Winter Conditions before attempting this.  Do all of these things listed above at your own risk. It takes years of properly conditioning your feet to Barefoot Backpacking in winter.