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A Hiking Adventure in Olympic National Park

August 23, 1987|MARK ASPINWALL | Aspinwall is an Alexandria, Va., free-lance writer. and

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, Wash. — When National Park Service ranger Marc Fournier talks about this park, he can't hide his enthusiasm.

"It's a great place to be; and it always gets better," says the 23-year-old Fournier, who was reared in Berlin, N.H., as he looks out over Honeymoon Meadows. A small solar panel used to recharge his Park Service radio battery is the only anomaly among the sprinkling of wildflowers.

The Olympic Mountains, a jagged group of peaks 35 miles west of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula, is a few hours' drive and a world away from the city.

Yet, they can be seen easily from downtown, and Chief Sealth, for whom the city was named, may have had this lovely land in mind when he wrote to former President Franklin Pierce in 1854:

"There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of an insect's wings. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the Red Man."

His words symbolize the contrast between the bustling seaport city and the glaciers, rain forests and steep meadows of the park, which is now more populated by hikers than by Native Americans. A hiking adventure here can last from several hours to several days, but the best way to see the park is to walk deep within it and camp out.

Where to Begin

A good place to begin is the Dosewallips (pronounced DOE-see-wallips) River Ranger Station, 14 miles from Route 101 on the east side of the Olympic Peninsula.

At the ranger station you'll be expected to fill out a back country use permit detailing your points of entry and exit, campsites and primary method of travel (you may see llamas and other pack animals along the way).

You'll also be swamped with warnings about the dangers of fires, the quality of the river water, hypothermia and other problems. With a little forethought, however, these pitfalls can be easily avoided.

Though the streams are crystal clear, cool and inviting, they may contain giardia, an organism carried in the feces of some mammals that affects the digestive system.

The official National Park Service policy is that all stream and lake water must be heated or treated before drinking. The recommended method is boiling for one minute, which means that you will have to carry enough stove fuel.

The National Park Service has established a stoves-only zone (no open camp fires) above certain altitudes in the park. When I was there, no open fires were permitted anywhere because of the dry conditions.

About two miles after you leave the ranger station, you'll be faced with the most difficult choice of the trip.

To the left is the West Fork of the Dosewallips River; the trail leads up to Honeymoon Meadows and the Anderson Glacier beneath Mt. Anderson. To the right is the Dosewallips River Trail, winding past Mt. Constance, Mt. Mystery and Mt. Deception to Hayden Pass, some 13 or so miles.

Excellent Camping Spots

I went left for no particular reason. There are two excellent camping spots between the ranger station and Honeymoon Meadows--Big Timber and Diamond Meadows--and countless others tucked in between stands of huge conifers. Wherever you camp, you're bound to hear the river nearby, beckoning the hot and trail-weary body to take a cool dip.

The walk to Honeymoon Meadows passes through giant fir and spruce trees, quiet meadows with purple lupine and salmonberries, and occasionally across the thundering West Forks Dosewallips River. Other hikers pass with friendly smiles and a quiet hello, and then the wilderness belongs to you again.

Honeymoon Meadows is about nine miles from the ranger station, and roughly 3,000 feet above it. This is a logical campsite before the trek up to Anderson Glacier.

If you're lucky, you will meet Marc Fournier somewhere along the trail. His days are taken up by repairing trail erosion and patrolling climbing routes through the glaciers. And he spends a lot of time talking to visitors. He tries to talk to every camper at Honeymoon Meadows, maintaining visitor contact and National Park Service visibility.

After a night in the meadow, Anderson Glacier is an easy walk about an hour-and-a-half up a steep (1,400 feet) winding trail. You need only bring a knapsack. Be sure to have plenty of water from this point on, especially if it's sunny and hot. You are in the sun much of the time, and it will dehydrate you very quickly.

The trail ends atop a gigantic moraine at the base of Anderson Glacier, a quarter-mile from the bottom of the ice and with a spectacular view of Mt. Anderson (7,321 feet) above the glacier. Mt. LaCrosse, directly behind, rises sharply to 6,417 feet from steep scree slopes and pitched meadows.

The glacier itself rises 1,200 feet in just over a mile toward the near-vertical summit cone of Mt. Anderson. Where rocks have rolled onto the glacier, the sun has warmed them and they have burned deep pockets into the snow cover. The sunlight makes dappled patterns across the pocked snow; an ice-cooled breeze refreshes the visitor.

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