Day 1 — June 15
The winter has been light on snow pack. We are interested in seeing the high country early in the year. The Bailey Range in Olympic National Park calls: “come up and see us, boys”. We decide to hike up Long Ridge to Dodger Point and take the Ludden Peak way trail, go cross country to Crystal Pass and then over to Cream Lake Basin.
As there are no camping sites along the Long Ridge trail, we are going to hike it all on day two. As a result, we know we are going to have a nice easy first day, hiking two miles to a campsite near the start of the Long Ridge trail. We leave Seattle on the 11:10 AM Ferry.
On the road up the Elwha valley we talk about history and our roots to the area. Jeff remembers riding in his dad’s pop truck to stock the refrigerator at the old Olympic Hot Springs Resort up on Boulder Creek. There also used to be a little gas station in the meadow along the straightaway.
We drive up the Whiskey Bend road and leave the trailhead at about 3 PM. Just as we enter the old forest fire area (past 1 Mile), we spot a black bear crossing the trail in front of us. It ambles upslope and turns to watch us go by. We are, of course, delighted with this good omen … thrilled to see a large animal so soon on the trail. (As it turned out, it was the only large animal we saw the whole trip.)
Day 2 — June 16
The morning is clear and sunny. We are up by 6:30, eat breakfast and get ready to break camp.
We leave camp sometime around 8 am and cross the Elwha bridge. The bridge shows the signs of having suffered from trees either falling on it, or being washed down river into it. The steel beams are bent.
On the other side, the trail starts to climb immediately and continues to climb for the next 10 miles. It is an eight hour day of a long ridge hike. Nothing particularly steep, just a day full of continuous steady up and lots of quiet. It is easy to observe the change in the forest with the gradual ascent — from low woods with lots of maple and alder along the river, to Douglas fir, western hemlock and red cedar, then an increasing number of pine and yellow cedar.
The trail itself is tough going with numerous blow downs, some of which presented quite a problem with a full pack. Some of the stuff looks as if it might have been down for several years but the majority looks recent, left over from the spring storms.
Most of the time there are no vistas. When we finally break out of the woods and into open areas, there is an occasional stream to cross. As we have been conserving water for the last couple of hours, the first creek delays us for a time as we refill our water bottles, and drink our fill.
The last mile or so of trail has several short sections running through snow banks, easy to navigate because we can see where the trail comes out on the other side, but we both have occasional drops through into the hollows below. Finally, we arrive in gathering dusk at a subalpine meadow with spruce and mountain hemlock.
Day Three — 17 June
We break camp and head for Crystal Pass. Just a short hike uphill and we get to the ridge top, trail sign and a perfectly snow free trail.
The first challenge is to find the drop off point to leave the trail. The trail itself ends in the middle of a mountainside – a dead end. The route books give less than exact details in locating the point to leave the trail.
On the first trip along the trail, we can’t find the drop-off point. We get to where the trail is buried in the rock and debris on the side of Ludden. Like most rock in the Olympics, the bedrock here is rotten, broken and crumbly. Loose dirt and rock from the hillside has covered the trail with debris.
We backtrack and locate a meadow area where we head down. It gets steeper, and more brushy, almost immediately. Soon we are fighting our way through an alder brush thicket until we have dropped about 900’ from the trail and scramble down into a stream bed.
We find that the other side of the stream has a bank that is too steep to get up with packs. We take a lunch break. It is becoming very hot on this south-facing slope. The sun bears down on us and we are using bandanas to keep the sun off our heads.
We have to go lower to get around the shoulder of Ludden that is in front of us, and the gully gets much steeper below us. We start to fight our way back the way we came, trying to find a place to continue to drop. Coming out onto a bench, we are faced with a cliff below and decide to head back and set up camp again at Dodger Point.
The evening is clear and mild as we set up camp around the small pond just below the junction of the Dodger Point trail. The ground is much drier than in the basin, there are not many bugs and lots of avalanche lilies.
A short walk takes us to a meadow on the ridge overlooking the Long Creek valley and a view to the north. We sit and watch the sun set behind the Bailey Range, once again without us in it. The scenery is truly stunning.
We talk about the options for tomorrow. The other possible route to Cream Lake Basin is to follow the ridge line across Ludden Peak. We think about it and enjoy the evening: no wind, no clouds, and no people.
Day Four — June 18
The decision for the day is to carry daypacks and investigate the possibility of the ridge traverse and spend additional time looking for the drop-off point. The first part of the trail along the ridge turns out to be easy-to-follow along the top of the ridge, with the route following first one side and then the other.
Occasionally we leave the ridge top and traverse a lower sidehill. We get to a point where the next section is Ludden proper. We could do this next section with our daypacks, but don’t like the idea of doing it with full packs. We return to the Ludden trail.
We spend quite a little time, using the binoculars go search the valley for signs of the route and to look over to Crystal Pass and the ridge beyond, behind which lies Cream Lake Basin.
We decide to head back to camp, drop additional gear and hike up Dodger Point.
The weather continues to astound us, with clear blue skies, gentle breezes and just a little valley haze. We hike to the top of Dodger Point. The top is superb, with a magnificent 360 degree view: we can see over to Hurricane Ridge and the glint of sun on the windshields of autos.
We head back to camp and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. In the dusk we go for a walk down the Dodger Point trail, scaring an occasional ground squirrel.
Day Five — June 19
We load up our packs and head out, dropping back down the Long Ridge trail to the Elwha. Ten miles of downhill. Long hours of feet pounding dirt. We do not hurry our pace, enjoying the walk in the woods. We look forward to getting back to the lowlands and our first night’s campsite.
We go for a short walk after dinner, hiking the trail that runs uphill from the bridge to the Elwha trail. I get a fire going, and we watch the sunset.
Day Six — June 20
Another beautiful day: blue sky and no clouds. Jeff has bad blisters on his foot so any day hike is out of the question. We decide to take our time hiking out.
As we hike through the meadows that used to be fields for the Humes brothers, we come to where a group of Boy Scouts are busy doing chores.
We arrive at Goblin’s Gate where the Elwha is forced through a narrow opening in the rock cliffs. Supposedly, the spot got its name by the way the rocks would look like faces. There is a rumor that there had been a rock with a very Goblin-like appearance, but it has since broken away (or walked off).
We sit and eat lunch, and watching the water swirl. Finally, we start uphill again. It is mid-afternoon when we finally get back to the truck. We regret not having stored any beer on ice. We do have clean, dry socks, so the return to civilization is not without compensation.
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