I'm writing this as I sit on the front porch of my childhood home in Vermont, savoring a cup of hot tea with milk and honey and trying to fight the urge to nap instead of write. In front of me, across the gravel road, is a sunny, green cow pasture dotted with blooming wildflowers. The cows just went in for milking and we (my dad, Noah, and I) just got back from a quick mountain bike ride on the single track crisscossing the woods in back of our house. Life is good. Coming back home is always good. A respite from the go, go, go of city life in Seattle.
But this post isn't about Vermont, it's about our recent trip into the Olympic National Park to the Enchanted Valley. There is something so deeply satisfying about heading off into the woods with everything you need (hopefully...) strapped to your back. This was actually my first backpacking trip ever and I'm kind of embarrassed to say that. I've done plenty of hiking and car camping, but for some reason have never actually gone on an overnight backpacking trip. What was I thinking! Backpacking is awesome and now I'm hooked.
The trail that we chose for my first hike was a pretty easy one. Mostly flat, well-traveled, and easily done in 4 days. We had heard that the Enchanted Valley was, well, enchanting, and definitely a highlight of the Olympic Peninsula, so we decided to give it a try for Noah's birthday weekend. My plan was to make some trail bars for the hike, but two days before we were supposed to leave I got a nasty 24 hour bug and spent the next few days recovering. Needless to say, the trail bars didn't happen, but the following recipe for trail cookies will be on the snack list for next time.
I'm not going to narrate every step of our trip because that would make this a long and boring post, but here are the the highlights that we will remember:
- The gravel road. At the beginning and end of our trip we had to hike along a two mile stretch of gravel road to Grave's Creek Campground where the trailhead to the Enchanted Valley started. Winter storms had washed out a section of the road, making impassable by car. It was fine at the beginning, we had fresh legs. But on the last day those two miles were torture. We were exhausted from the 15 miles we had just hiked out from the valley and my footwear wasn't the best so my feet were on fire with blisters. Noah and I didn't talk for those two miles. The rest of the trip was great, though!
- Our first night was spent at Pyrites campsite after hiking in for about 13 miles. We were definitely glad that we stopped here instead of continuing on to the Valley because those last four miles on the second day were the prettiest and we wanted to see it in the morning light
- The forest! We weren't strangers to the Olympic Peninsula or National Park, but every time we go we're reminded of how beautiful it is. The old growth trees - firs, cedars, and hemlocks - are draped with lichen and the forest is intersperested with light-filled meadows and crystal clear streams. Berries are everywhere - blackberries, thimbleberries, huckleberries, blueberries... Enchanting indeed. The only drawback was that we didn't see any black bears. Almost every other hiker we talked to did :(
- The blowdowns. Holy moly the blowdowns! At one point in the hike we came to the river and it looked like a massive giant had stormed through the valley. Huge trees were blown down in every direction over and in the river and the trail turned into an obstacle course. Thankfully, we weren't the first ones hiking in since the winter storms, so a nice path through and over the trees had already been established
- When we made it to the Valley and chalet on the second day, we opted to camp down by the river rather than up in the main campsite by the tree line. Our campsite was well equipped with a clothes line (noah carved some clothespins), a table made out of sun bleached wood from the riverbed and a tree stump for a base, and a some log benches next to the fire. It was a perfect setup and the privacy was great
- That first night in the Valley, right after collecting firewood, we were hit by a heavy downpour. We were just able to string up the tent footprint over the log benches as a tarp roof before the worst of the rain hit. We stayed mostly dry :) Thankfully we had started a fire before going to get firewood, so we had hot coals to work with when the rain came
- Showering under waterfalls = best showers ever. It was a bit of a trek to get to the thinly cascading waterfall on the other side of the Valley, but so worth the effort after a day of hiking and sweating profusely
- On our way out on the last day, we hiked most of the trail with a ranger who entertained us with stories of his time with the Park Service and Navy. When we were passing through the blowdown section, his radio chatter started going and we heard that someone in the trail crew working with chainsaws had been 'tagged'. We couldn't figure out what had happened until we rounded a bend and saw a section of the path blocked off. Apparently one of them had disturbed a hornet's nest and was stung multiple times. Yikes!
It was a short trip, but definitely a good one. I can't wait to set out and explore more trails and forests by foot with everything that we need strapped to our back. Including these trail cookies (recipe below)
// Trail Cookies // Makes 12 cookies
These cookies are everything a trail cookie should be: salty, sweet, not crumbly, covered in chocolate, and easily eaten by hand. Unfortunately these ones didn't make it on our hike to the Enchanted Valley because I came down with a nasty 24-hour bug two days before we left, but they will definitely be in our packs for the next trip. Or maybe before that...
1 3/4 cups spelt flour
2/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup peanuts
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350°. In medium bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well
2. In large bowl, stir together the ground flax seed and water and let sit five minutes. Add the remaining wet ingredients to the flax seeds and mix until well combined. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until a dough has formed
3. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup of dough onto the parchment paper about 1 inch apart (they won't spread much while baking). Flatten cookies into a round, disk shape. Bake cookies for 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack