Even Davy Jones was allowed to come to shore once every nine years, so today, Captain Herb and his Admiral Laura decided to head for the Olympic National Park and enjoy a long hike on one of the few remaining crisp clear autumn days. To begin our journey, we drove out of the Bremerton marina parking lot and headed toward Hood Canal, passing through the town of Belfair on the way.
In Belfair, at the window of the drive-through Starbucks, two young women were ordering their coffee while on horseback. All around them was a Generica of commercial suburban sprawl and a traffic jam of cars.
After a short while, we drove out of the population areas and reached the woods. We turned off the main road onto a back highway through dense woods leading us to Hood Canal. For twenty miles, we followed a two lane road along Hood Canal. This road was immediately behind a non-stop strip of water front wood cottages constructed in the latter half of the twentieth century. The homes looked across the canal to green foot hills and the snow capped Olympics.
Finally, we turned onto more remote roads and traveled through the exurbs of new vacation homes lining the shore of Lake Cushman, an artificial lake fed by the snow runoff from the Olympics. Virtually all these homes had the plague: For Sale signs. One even said "new price". These beautiful homes all faced a stunning view of snow capped mountains and green foothills as background to a perfect deep blue green lake.
Perhaps the Microsoft Basin more commonly known as “Seattle and surrounding metropolis” is not as prosperous as I thought. It appears nowhere has missed the housing crash, as these homes had to be second homes for prosperous Seattle workers.
After that sordid brush with reality and two hours after we left the Port of Bremerton marina parking lot, we turned left onto a gravel, two-lane road leading to the National Park. As soon as we turned onto the road, two over sized raccoons clumsily sauntered unhurried across their road, scarcely turning to look at our pickup invading their territory.
The road was bordered on the left side by Cushman Lake. On the right side of the road, small to medium sized water-falls were frequent and chattered down the steep hillside. Rocks from previous slides spattered the road.
We were provided with stellar views of the still, deep blue-green lake with mirror images of the snow capped Olympic range towering behind the completely undeveloped evergreen covered hills of the park. Kind of took our breath away, and we forgot completely about all the population we had just left behind.
Two miles later on the gravel road, we entered the National Park and left our truck in the parking lot. We set out for Staircase trail with our boots and walking sticks and with a backpack loaded with cameras, snacks, and water bottles. We were on a trail that hugged the side of the mountain stream that feeds Lake Cushman.
The stream varied in color depending on the steepness of the slope. Where the stream was shoved steeply against giant boulders and rudely thrown down the hill by old man gravity, the surface of the water foamed white and the color below it was like a cool green peridot gem. When the stream flattened to a happy gentle rush, the color was a blue green, not as deep in intensity as the color of the lake. The water was crystal clear, and round tumbled rocks and boulders were easily seen through the water. A small brown diving bird bid his time on the gentle stretches of water, looking for food.
As we carefully picked our way through the woods on this trail, we occasionally heard a squeak or a chirp from a few of the smaller gentle mountain bird species. But otherwise, besides the occasional bird and the sound of the rushing stream, the only noises were made by Herb and I, sliding on the slick trail.
The Olympic National Park has the reputation of being the rainiest place on earth, and whether that is true or not, I don’t know. However, it is unquestionably and definitely a very moist location.
Misty moisture hung in the air, on the rocks and on the trees. The pine, cedar and fir trees were fleeced with moss and ferns on their trunks and limbs as thick and bulbous as a down parka. The ground and all the fallen trees and nurse logs were covered with moss and ferns.
The scenery of fir and cedar trees from 75’ to 100’ tall, twisted and curved, covered with a thick green hanging growth gave the appearance of a party of wild creatures frozen in a Dirvish dance by a magical spell. Under these “wild creatures” were shiny fresh large green ferns amid a carpet of moss, lichen, smaller fern and fallen brown and yellow leaves. Numerous species of mushroom dotted the tree trunks and fallen trees. Little brush bushes with dots of yellow leaves peppered the emerald green background. Drops of water condensed and fell from the trees, landing on us below.
The mushroom species were varied in color. One group was indigo blue and about six inches in diameter. Another species spotted in small groups was bisque colored with tattered edges. Some were oily umbrellas of ivory color with ochre spots. One tree was covered with a colony of small brown hooded mushrooms. To say the least, this was a moist forest.
In areas at the level of the stream, the woods changed from evergreen to birch. The leaves had recently fallen from the birch, and combined with the mud on the trail, created a slip and slide experience. We were happy we had hiking sticks.
The stream had recently had some washouts over the trail. At two locations, we had exceptional difficulty crossing the trail, having to slide down slippery boulders, or ford washouts from a water fall. A structural steel tube bridge had been washed out from one part of the trail and retrieved from the stream by the Parks Department and set in a field. We noticed the steel tubes had been bent and crushed.
At the highest point of the trail, along a bluff about 70’ above the water, the bluff had collapsed and taken the trail with it to the bottom at the river. We looked down and saw where tall trees on the edge of the bluff had ended up in the stream.
Before we came to the bluff, we walked past a 1985 burn in the forest. The 75’ to 100’ trees were twisted, tortured and charred. All in all, nature was clearly in charge on this trail.
After we had hiked back to the vehicle and were driving out of the park, we were given the gratis view of a herd of big elks grazing on the side of the stream near the stream’s entry to the lake.