Surviving the Quinault Rain Forest

Welcome to Quinault

The Quinault Rain Forest is located inside the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. Getting on to the Olympic Peninsula one must drive on historic Highway 101. This is all part of the journey to experience wilderness.

The area is known as the “Valley of the Rain Forest Giants”, because of all the record setting trees that are located in the vicinity. Looking up at these massive trees, makes a hiker seem very small!

There are two river valleys (East and North forks) that come together and form a main river. This upper section of river flows into a natural glacier carved lake (Lake Quinault), before continuing to the Pacific Ocean. Can’t think of one particularly inch the area, that is not completely beautiful.

Anderson Glacier
Mount Anderson is one of the Quinault river's headwaters

The forest in the Quinault averages an astonishing 12 feet of rain annually. Going out in the wet season, would test our mind, body and spirits.

Join 4 hikers as they walk into wilderness. Here are some thoughts and feelings put into words, from our hike up the Quinault river.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article contain ads in the form of affiliate links.

The weather broke for a bit, after a 12 hour rain event the night before

Share Hiking Gear to Save Weight

When planning for an Olympic adventure at home, one often brings extra of individual traditional hiker gear items in order to survive in the backcountry. This may be needed in some scenarios. However, a lot of things can be shared when hiking as a group (i.e. camp stove, trowel, tent, etc.)

This is often like prying the 10 Commandments out of Moses's hands. People have trouble just leaving things back at the trailhead, until around 10 miles in on the trip, when their Jetboil {affiliate link} ends up getting hung in a tree and retrieved at a later time!

Walking upriver in-between weather systems

Hunkering Down in Bad Weather

The rain has to stop some time... Most trips have been planned months in advance and some require great lengths in travel to actually arrive at the trailhead. All that can be quickly forgotten in the midst of terrible weather.

48 hours of rain erased our positive attitudes (peaking at 4.73" in 24 hours) and outlook on the entire trip. Visions of warms beds rapidly took over our conversations and shoved typical trail talk out the door. But then something happened, we adapted, the rain was just “the way it was", and we began to focus our conversation back on things that made us laugh and eventually, our goals came back into the picture.

While on the trail, rank is everything (shelter, water, warmth, and food), but somewhere in that pecking order ATTITUDE is knocking. While constantly ranking the importance of each and every decision, attitude stares into the face of each one.

Poor morale and bad attitude are like a vicious cancer on the trail. In fact, it's hard to even follow your ranks when the cancerous blood sucking negative attitude kicks in.Ever tried to start/build a fire while you're pissed and down? Suddenly your chances are minimized.

Meanwhile, all of nature is surrounding you, simply showing you a side of it, most people don't get to see- all the while sharpening your problem solving skills as you navigate each and every crossing. Our trip unveiled waterfalls and streams nonexistent to the perfect forecast hiker. Need help? Learn how to hike in the rain!

A warm cup of coffee was so much more appreciated. Shelter and friendship were more enjoyed. We learn so much from a mountain that should and needs to be implemented into our everyday lives.

If a negative attitude is cancerous on a trail, then what is it at work or in our own households? If bad weather shows us sides of nature we might never see in the perfect days, what do daily struggles reveal to us?

Next time I camp, I will welcome whatever weather is thrown at us, we will hunker down and see all the good that comes out/from/during it. Because without the storm, we can't appreciate…………..the warm cup of coffee!

Hiking in rain
Hiking during a 24 hour rain event (Used with permission from Boyd McGehee)

No Bridge? Build your Own!

There are several types of creek crossings, and they become more serious the more the rain. But almost as serious as a creek crossing are DRY socks. Hikers become artist looking for the perfect cross to retain dry socks. Unless you walk around barefoot or in socks and sandals...

But what about that cross that appears to be virtually impossible. No rocks to step on? No fallen trees? Improvise. Find several rocks and build your own crossing. It may take time, but building a rock crossing can be quite effective.

Creek ford
Creek fords turn into impassible rivers (Used with permission from Boyd McGehee)

Large Number Risk Assessment (Camping with Groups)

So what is the perfect size group for a 7 day hike? That number depends on experience and fitness as well as health/prior injuries. Our group had four hikers. And as far as the Quinault was concerned, Jake was the only experienced. Just know that each crossing, each bridge, and each climb have greater odds for disaster as the number in the group grows- no matter the experience or fitness- it's the law of large numbers.

It only takes one bad step to end your trip. Getting hurt starts a whole different kind of adventure to get out of the woods. Having a group does lower the chances of having to have Search and Rescue (SAR) to come and save you, but it still is not fun. Staying safe is always on the mind!

Having a group can also have an impact on the mind. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the group's morale. The same thing goes for positivity. One positive person, can uplift the mood in times of high stress (heavy rain, winds, etc).

Upper Quinault
Weather broke, creeks tamed and we hike furthur upriver to our basecamp

Fire in the Rain Forest will Boost Morales and Egos

Building a fire is an accomplishment (see Tom Hanks Castaway). Building a fire in a rainforest or with Auger wood is even more of an accomplishment. It’s rewarding with its warmth. It allows for congregating and fellowship, and the better/longer the fire the better/longer the congregating.

There is something to be said for the way a hot fire takes the chill right out of your bones. One could easily pass up a million in cash, in that moment of early stages of hyperthermia. Instantly the shivers are gone and one can now focus on things that matter - like FOOD!

A fire gives us a chance to “unwind” before bed. One can sit outside in the dark with no warmth for so long. Ever notice how when a camp fire dies out, people head to bed, and when it is goes the stories…

Solution? Barefoot Jake suggests you use Esbit Cubes {affiliate link} to help build fire in the rain forest. Then add that to some dry cedar fallen snag that you find in the forest and you are good-to-go.

The Rain Forest is a good place to test my rain gear

That Candy Bar will Get You High

We made one last pit stop in town, before leaving to the trailhead. The group utilized the local mercantile. To buy what you ask? As many candy bars that we could fit into our pockets. You see, sugar give you energy for hiking in the mountains with heavy backpacks.

Combine that with extra calories needed to keep your body warm 24 hours a day, in hypothermic conditions. We needed to make sure that our bodies would not be hating life a few days into this trip. Should someone start a food stand in the backcountry? I’m sure they would make a killing.

The Olympic Mountains are Bipolar

The weather changes very rapidly in the Olympic Mountains. It can be sunny one moment, snowing the next and then follows with periods of rainbows. A hiker must be prepared for anything before embarking on a backpacking trip. This goes for any time of year!

This year the month of October was the wettest ever recorded. That makes for soggy boots and damp sleeping bags, no matter which way you slice it. We opted to leave most of the down outdoor gear at home and brought along fleece and wool clothing; that way it wouldn't wet out in these conditions.

Anderson Pass
Weather changes rapidly in the Olympic Mountains

Communication with Home from the Backcountry

The group decided to bring a satellite phone to call home to loved ones (being out for 8 days). However, it turned out to be a worthless brick to bring along. The rainforest was just too dense to reach space. The phone ended up adding extra stress and frustrations to the group, because it didn’t work. Try carrier pigeons next time?

Solution? The Delorme inReach messaging device {affiliate link} works wonders in the Olympic Mountains. Giving a hiker the ability to send and receive text messages, well as SOS in the time of life and death situation.

Water Filters in the Rain Forest?

There are so many water filters out there from which to choose. The marketing that these companies do on these is incredible. So where do you begin when choosing a water filter?

First, how many are in your group and who is taking what? The importance of discussing group gear prior to departure is paramount. It helps cut back on weight and increases the focus on necessity.

I would say that the size of the filter as well as the weight are of most importance. With that being said, functionality should be considered as well. If you choose a filter that pumps, does it have a direct connection to what it is pumping into? How much does it pump at one time? How often are you near water? If you are often close to water, a water pump is probably not the route to go.

A Sawyer plastic bottle attachment seems to be the most convenient for easy access to water. Platypus bags are nice {affiliate link}, but do not have the ability to squeeze or pour filtered water into any other device. The only way to obtain water from an inline filter, is to suck from the hose.

As far as the MSR filters {affiliate link}, they're great. But they are bulky and somewhat heavy (especially upon first use when they become wet) and require pumping time. But they do have the ability to pump directly into msr specific bladders and can be used for other members of the group for their bottles. As nice as it looks, pumping water through a hose into a container or bag is annoying. That flexible plastic hose/tube is going to occasionally fall out.

Meanwhile, the Sawyer guy has already gotten his/her need and moved on with their hike…..and you're still pumping….burning calories.

In summary, with water nearby go with sawyer or platypus, scoop and go. Perhaps a life straw water bottle if you just want to spend a little more money. The most universal for long hikes with water no where near, a larger pump filter would be a good choice, but in the Olympics...water is always near!

First snow
Fresh dusting of snow blankets the fading autumn colors, as the Olympic Mountains transition into winter

We then walked for two day back to society.

Article and photography by Boyd McGehee and Barefoot Jake