This tale starts, as many do, on a dark and stormy night.
Well, truth be told, it started earlier that day and it wasn't particularly dark or stormy then.
I was supposed to go camping with two of my friends (Charlie and Sam) who I worked with at a Mexican restaurant down in Tacoma. We had all arranged to get shifts that ended about 9pm. We were then going to leave directly from the restaurant and drive for about an hour and a half over to the peninsula where we planned on hiking and camping in the Deer Park Area. We all brought our share of food and supplies and were going to throw them into my ' 76 Honda wagon.
When we arrived one of the guys found out a cook had called in sick so he had to close the kitchen. That meant we couldn't leave until about 1am. I also found out the other friend, Sam, had invited one of his friends (John) along. I was concerned at first thinking we didn't have a big enough tent for four or enough food. I was told this new guy would bring a tent and his own food, so I didn't raise too big a fuss.
By the time we left it was quite dark and there was a sense of foreboding in the air. Being the tough, rugged individual I am, I ignored it. And so we drove 30 minutes the wrong way to pick up the fourth fellow.
By the time we crossed the Narrows Bridge, the rain was heavy and the wind blowing something fierce. About the time we saw the first flash of lightening, an ambulance came tearing up the highway and passed us. Just ahead, it took an exit for Gig Harbor.
Now I feel I should mention that the powers that be had decided to warn us away from going on this hiking trip. You'll understand in a moment.
A few miles later the ambulance rushed back onto the highway right behind and passed us again just to get off at the next exit. Now, there are no hospitals in that area so the only explanation I have is that the driver got lost and took the wrong exit.
Emergency vehicles have all kinds of gadgets to prevent them from getting lost. This was the first sign.
A good half hour or more later, we ran into heavy traffic... at 2:30am! One lane was closed and there were several emergency vehicles on the side of the road, just past where the traffic had come to a full stop. They had one lane closed and the other pushed over to the shoulder where traffic could crawl by. As we crept along we came up even with a white pickup truck. The fire department was using a jaws of life to try and open the driver's side door.
Right as we pulled up on it, the door swung open and a body fell out landing on the pavement right in front of us. That's right, a body, not a person. Dead bodies landing in front of your car should always be seen as a sign to turn back.
But other than stopping long enough for the firemen to bag the body and carry it away, we just kept going. Of course we are now way behind schedule. I had been hoping to be making camp at the trail head by this time. And we still had well over an hour and a half to go before we even got close to the first camp sight.
Well, not terribly long after we left the flashing lights and emergency vehicle behind, the impending storm finally broke. The rain was driving into the windshield causing us to creep along. Lightening was flashing everywhere. Of course I was busy watching the road, but every time the other guys ooed and awed, I tried to look up and see what was going on. Of course, it would be long gone by the time I looked.
The flashes and the thunder got to the point that they seemed instantaneous meaning the storm was right on top of us. Suddenly the radio, which had been broadcasting little more than static anyway, ran through several channels then stopped dead. At the same time the entire car and surrounding highway lit up brighter than noon on a clear day. Shortly thereafter, the storm seemed to break, though it kept raining lightly.
Eventually we got across the hood canal bridge and I found the turn off I was looking for.
The trailhead camp area was packed with other campers, including the space I had reserved. But since I was sure everyone was asleep and it was now coming up on 3 in the morning, I decided to let it slide and we looked for another spot to park and set up tents. The area I selected was off from the other sites a little bit, up against a small hill. We got out of the car and proceeded to set up our tents in the rain.
Sometime later that morning, just before the sun came up, we were awoken by a stream of water cascading down the hill and flowing through our tents. By the time we had all managed to get out the only dry gear we had was what had been left in the car. Unfortunately, that did not include our sleeping bags, which, by this time, were completely soaked. We spent a good part of the morning, which arrived with blues skies and the promise of a hot afternoon, wringing out our sleeping bags and hanging over branches to dry as much as possible.
It was sometime just after getting up that Sam noticed the top of my car was crispy black and where there was still paint, it was peeled up and burned. Yes, we had been directly hit by lightening during the storm. This, my friends, is the third and final sign from above indicating that we should all go home and hide under our beds. But once again, we were too stupid to notice.
After lunch I decided we needed to get moving as the bags were as dry as they were going to get. So we rolled up our sleeping bags, donned our packs and started up the trail. Our plan had been to arrive the previous night, get a good night’s sleep and start out right after breakfast. We would hike for 5 miles along the river before ascending into the hills by means of switchbacks. There was a site after about 2 miles from the start of the incline. I figured 7 miles would be enough hiking for these guys as I was the only one with any hiking experience. I checked their packs before we left and removed some unnecessarily heavy items from their packs to leave in the car and redistributed food and items so that while I carried the majority of weight, I was not carrying all of it. Two items deeply concerned me. One was a pillow. A full size pillow. Do you have any idea how much space a pillow takes in a pack? Sam would not leave it behind, so I advised him that he could carry it by hand, or he could carry his share of food in his hands and the pillow in his back. He made the right choice. The other item was a can of chili. John had said he would bring food for everyone and he apparently felt the best way to accommodate our needs was a can of chili. And not a small can of chili. More like a gallon of chili. The big can you get at Costco to feed twenty people for a company picnic can of chili. Probably about 10 pounds of chili.
Now, I don't know about you, but I do not look forward to sharing a tent with anyone who has consumed their share of 10 pounds of chili. Nor did I want to carry it. Little did I know how glad I would be later that we packed that monster all the way in.
After the first night on the trail, I had planned a short 1 mile hike back down on the other side of the ridge to an area where two rivers and a large creek all joined together. We would camp there for a couple days. There was a lake a morning’s walk up the creek that was supposed to be great fishing and there should be plenty of areas to explore and relax in. On the morning of day five we would pack up and take the day to hike back out since it was mostly down hill. If we needed to camp again, we still had a day, though personally, I would have preferred a day home alone to clean up and goof off.
So we started out much later than I had planned with a lot less sleep and some very damp equipment.
A short way in, I mean no more than a few hundred yards, there was a log across a small creek. I let the others go first then tried to make my way across. Now, I was much heavier than any of the rest of them and I have a bad knee. So for whatever reason at the halfway point across the log, I lost my footing and fell backwards into the creek. Fortunately it was no more than a few inches deep with water. However, the mud went down for at least another foot. So I laid there on my back kicking with my pack sucked into the muck until I managed to get my pack off and back onto my feet. It took two of us to pull the back free.
But we hiked on. The day was glorious. Sunlight filtering through the trees. A lovely trail meandering along a sparkling river. The sound of birds... I couldn't have asked for a more perfect piece of trail. Little did I know what was coming.
About 3pm it was getting really warm so the guys wanted to stop for a few minutes and splash in the river. So we dropped our packs on the trail and cut over to the river. Charlie stuck his foot in the river and yanked it out exclaiming that it was ice cold. I explained that the source of the river was in the mountains towering above, so ice cold was probably accurate.
Sam, being the funny crazy guy he was decided he would grab a log that hung out over the river and ease himself in from above. We all laughed at him as he inched his way out until he swung underneath and the end of the log broke coming down on his head. Stunned, he fell into the water where it was about 4 feet deep and flowing very strongly. Having been a lifeguard I reacted very quickly and shed my clothes down to my shorts (the others had all done so earlier but I hadn't planned on going in) and raced into the water after him. Just before I got within reach of him the current washed my legs out from under me and I went under and was dragged along the rocky bottom. Sam and I must have been washed downriver a good 20 feet before I could grab him and get us to shore.
Pulling ourselves onto the bank I checked Sam and he was fine. We both ran up and down the trail for awhile in our skivvies trying to warm up and dry from physical exertion as well as the hot day.
When we redressed and moved on we were all much more tired than I had anticipated, and everyone wanted to set up camp and relax. It was still early and there was plenty of light. So Charlie and I said we would start the fire while Sam and John went ahead to check out the next days terrain, leaving their packs behind. Charlie grabbed a few pieces of kindling and I looked around for dry branches. At the end of the clearing I saw an old tree that was down from a previous storm. Checking it, I found is was dry and brittle and exactly what I was looking for. So I retrieved a hatchet from our backs and went to chop some branches free.
The first swing met with a good solid thump followed by the whisper of missile silos opening. I looked around. Nothing seemed out of place, Charlie was about 30 feet away blowing into a small fire and the others were still gone. So I took another chop. Thump and a whirring sound like turbine jet engines on the worlds smallest F15s. I looked high. I looked low. But I could see nothing out of the ordinary. However, on the third mighty swing with my little hatchet, instead of a thump, everyone in the valley heard me screeeaaaam as the biggest black wasp I have ever seen nailed me on the thigh. As I leapt away from the tree I saw dozens of holes opening in the ground with more of these giant wasps shooting at me stinger first like missile fire. So of course I turned and ran away... straight towards the Charlie and the fire... with a hatchet in my hand... screaming like a madman....
Charlie took one look at me charging him with that hatchet and took off running. I mean he booked outta there.
Most of the wasps stopped once I past the smoke of the fire, but I ended up with 5 huge welts where I'd gotten nailed. Charlie never got stung. But when Sam and John came back down the trail awhile later and found us a hundred yards up the trail from the clearing, Charlie and I made them go get all of our packs.
So it was that we found ourselves once again on the trail, the evening light fading away and starting up one bastard of a nasty hill on switchbacks. I trudged on slow and steady, knowing full well that my knee was going to give me fits the next day. The other three forged ahead with all the energy that youth and inexperience allows. I passed Charlie about 20 minutes later. Being a smoker, he was the first to drop. When I got to John he was puking off the side of the trail and he begged me to help carry his pack. I told him once I found a spot to camp, I'd come back for him. I was pleasantly surprised to see Sam had made it all the way to the campsite most of the way up the hill I had been planning on using all along. I was not happy to see that the storm from the night before was forming up again. Sam and I went back down the trail to get John and Charlie. By the time we got back it was pouring buckets again. I tied a tarp up across three trees and started building a fire. Charlie started putting up tents but had a lot of difficulty in the dark, so I left the fire to help him. Sam and John took flashlights and went ahead to see how much higher we had to go the next morning.
When they returned, Sam saw the "Sorriest sight ever". I was still trying to light a damn fire from wet twigs with soaking matches. Charlie was trying to retie the tarp so water wouldn't pool up in the center and tear the whole contraption down on my head. Fortunately, Sam had a lighter full of fluid so he poured the fumes into a cup and used it to get a flame going hot enough to get the fire started. After I cleaned up from dinner and nursed the welts I'd gotten from the wasps we crawled into our tents and listened to the wind and rain as we drifted off to sleep.
In the middle of the night we all awoke to a cracking sound followed by what sounded like an explosion. The ground shook beneath us and our tents felt like they were about to be blown away with us inside. We huddled in our tents and reassured ourselves that no one was hurt as the forest quieted once again. In the morning, Sam, who was first out of his tent, discovered that one of the trees I had tied the tarp to had been blown down, landing between the two tents. The tie lines had been ripped out of the ground but as the tents collapsed they came to rest against the fallen tree. We were lucky. The tree was easily a foot and a half around. Had it hit come down a foot to either side the occupants of the tent hit would have been seriously injured or possibly crushed to death.
Once we were over the shock of it all, I cooked up some breakfast while the guys tried to take down the tents and get all the stakes and lines out from under the tree.
As this had been where I initially planned to stay the first night anyway, we only had a short ascent left before reaching the top of the ridge and going down the other side. Our luck held and we made it to the Three Rivers camping area to spend the next few days relaxing and having fun.
The weather cleared up again, this time it seemed liked it would last. We pitched our tents just off the trail and Sam and Charlie tried their luck at fishing the river. John went exploring and I set the camp up to be semi permanent. This meant assigning a kitchen area, including a cutting board, firebox and trash area, as well as a latrine. I set the latrine across the trail about 40 feet from, using a downed branch as a toilet seat and dug a hole in the ground beneath it with the pile of dirt to the side and the shovel so we could bury as we went.
That night I got out my large cooking pot for boiling water and filled it from the river. I brought it to a full boil then made spaghetti and sausage for dinner. I even had dinner rolls with garlic and butter to warm over the fire. After dinner I washed all the pots and pans and took the large pot back to the river to refill and boil for drinking water. Charlie was very impressed by the way I cooled the boiled water. I had place three large rocks in the water to keep the pot from washing away and set the pot in the river near the edge so that the river rose up to the bottom third of the pot. After an hour the pot contained clean, ice cold water.
The next day Sam and John went up river to the lake to see if there was better fishing there as no one had caught anything the day before. I stayed in camp and read for awhile, but Charlie soon got quite bored and I decided to break out a throwing knife I had just bought and teach him to throw. There were a few dead trees standing n the area from a fire many years ago and I selected one that had a wide trunk located where I was certain there was nothing beyond the tree like a turn of the trail or another campsite. So for a good bit Charlie and I took turns throwing the knife at the tree, walking up to it, walking back to our mark and throwing it again. Eventually, I went back to read and prep dinner. Charlie stayed and practiced with the knife.
I suppose he got bored with all the walking because he decided to throw the knife at a tree, walk to it and instead of walking back, threw it at another dead tree. Unfortunately, he missed the tree. Now, this tree was located just above the bank of the river. So his throw sent the knife spinning out into the river. Far beyond the point where either of us felt even slightly comfortable going after it. He felt really bad, and to be honest I was a tad upset with him for losing it for me.
Sam and John returned around lunch time and we discussed the idea of hiking back out the way we came in instead of taking the major uphill hike to reach the summit of Deer Park. I figured we could get to the summit in half a day, but it was all uphill and a lot of switchbacks. But the other direction would mean we'd have to leave a day earlier. We decided to stay with the original plan and Charlie and I hiked out without packs to where the car was parked so we could move it up to the summit for the next two days.
I was amazed at how poor the trail had been maintained all the way back to the car. I hadn't noticed it on the way in but under a heavy pack you don't necessarily notice as many details of the trail. Anyway, Charlie and I got back to the car in about 3 and half hours. These seems really fast but you must remember we were going downhill most of the way and we weren't carrying a weeks worth of equipment. When we got to the car, I drove back out to the main road and headed for Port Angeles. We would have to pass through the city to get to the turn off for Deer Park. On the way we stopped at McDonalds and got some burgers and fries. Being hot out, I think we got ice cream cones, as well, to enjoy on our drive up the mountain. We discussed the idea of bringing some burgers back for the others but decided they would be cold and greasy by the time we got back to camp.
The road up the mountain on the way up to Deer Park wound around the edge of the mountain. On one side was a sheer drop off going down hundreds and hundreds of feet. The other side was a cliff face going up just as far. That is until we came to the beautiful meadow of wildflowers. Before I describe the meadow in detail, let me describe the car.
This was back in the early nineties. Just after the neon splashes on picks ups and sporty cars went out of fashion. Of course, I was late getting the word and was the proud owner of a 1976 bright yellow four door Honda CVCC station wagon. Now, it is important to understand that no one but I thought it was cool. And to add to my car I had pinstriping running the length in both neon pink and lavender. And of course my windshield wipers were hot pink to match.
But let me get back to the meadow full of flowers. And bees. Many many many bees. Apparently every honey bee on the entire mountain came to this meadow to collect pollen. After all they had more colors of flower to choose from. And today they had the most promising day of their little bee lives. because up the dirt road came the biggest brightest most yellow flower, with pink and lavender pin striping and hot pink windshield wipers that they had ever seen! Charlie and I rolled our windows up as quickly as we could before the swarm overwhelmed us. The car was covered in bees and I could barely see out the windshield. But I floored it and tried to get away. But we were going up a very steep hill, and my car was not a fast car. Fortunately even under these conditions I managed to get up to 35 miles per hour and most of the bees were blown off. Unfortunately, honey bees can apparently fly about 35mph. I looked out the side window and saw hundreds of bees keeping pace with us. After a good while, most had given up and gone back to the less active flowers in the meadow. I figured we were also getting beyond the altitude they were happy with as the last bee disappeared behind us. And I had to pee.
So I stopped the car in the middle of the road (no shoulders to pull off on) and walked a couple dozen of yards up the road to whiz off the side of the mountain. No sooner did I have matters in hand, ready to go, than a fuzzy little honey bee caught up with me and decided to take a rest from his long flight on my... .
Confucius say "Man can not take leak while insect with stinger is sitting on his manhood."
Turns out the ol' Chinaman knows what he was saying. The bee and I had a little stand off. Neither of us moved. I'm not sure either of us breathed. Charlie was sitting the car wondering what the hell was taking me so long. When he got out and started walking towards me I tried to waive him off with as little motion as possible. I'm not sure if he got the message or if he just followed the code that states "Man shall not get to close to other man when he is hanging out". Either way, he stopped a fair way off and I screwed up the courage to explain the situation. I think maybe it was his hysterical laughter that finally motivated the bee to leave his perch and fly away. Thankfully I finished my business and returned to the car. I still carry the emotional scars from the trauma.
Finally we made it to the top and parked the car at the Ranger station. The Park Ranger came out to talk with us a little and we told him we had hiked in. He looked at us in wonder and told us that trail was closed because the park service had not come in to clear the trail for the season yet. He was surprised none of has twisted an ankle or hurt ourselves. I guess the closed sign must have fallen over in the storm. Now that’s a sign I may have heeded. We asked about the trail from the summit back down to our camp. He indicated that that trail was in pretty good condition, but also advised us that that trail made an elevation change of over half a mile in less than four miles. That, my friends, is steep. But we had made it in through a closed trail in disrepair so I wasn't too concerned. So we started down the trail back to camp.
It was steep. And it was narrow. At many points you walked a trail along the edge of 100 foot drop offs with nothing but nasty looking boulders at the bottom. It took us all of one hour and fifteen minutes.
When we got back to camp we told Sam and John about our trek (except for McDonalds) including the bees and the trail.
The next morning, Sam approached me and asked if he could borrow my car keys. He and Sam wanted to hike up the trail to see it and take my car into town for the day. They left just after breakfast.
Charlie decided he would take care of boiling water for the day so I cleaned the breakfast dishes while he got water on the fire. When it was at a full boil he took it over to the river like I had done the day before. Except he felt it would cool faster if he put it deeper into the river. When he went to check on it a little later, it was gone.
When Sam and John got back they too were a bit put off by the steepness of the climb out. But they said they had a great time checking out Port Angeles and had refilled the gas tank for me. They also brought us some McDonald’s cheeseburgers. They were cold and greasy. But man oh man were they good.
That evening we had chili. Lots of chili. Any chili not eaten got thrown out so that I could use the can for boiling water for the next couple days. It didn't work anywhere near as well as my old pot, but it worked. And no one let Charlie near it.
Speaking of Charlie. Now he was a problem child all trip. Throwing things and losing things in the river. And he would not shut up about how badly the latrine smelled. Now, none of us could smell it at camp, but it did smell like what it was when you were using it. That’s normal. A latrine smells like a latrine. An outhouse like an outhouse. So we kept telling Charlie to calm down and deal with it.
Unfortunately, his method of dealing with it was to not use it at all. He went out and made his own latrine. He imitated mine with a hole with a branch above it to sit on. But the first time he used it, the day before we were planning on hiking out, the branch broke under his weight and he impaled himself on part of the branch when he landed. He came scrambling back to camp with his pants halfway up and we could tell he was in a lot of pain. I grabbed my first aid kit and started check the injury. He had landed so that it had entered from near the hip and gone into his right cheek about 2 inches. The stick itself was more than an inch across. So I had to pull out the stick, remove several slivers then clean the wound and pack it with gauze. I slapped a big bandage over it and told everyone to start packing as we needed to get back to the car, and get Charlie to a medical clinic.
Everyone, including Charlie, pitched in and we were packed and ready to go in short order. Except for the garbage.
Sam had once again packed his pillow case in his pack and said he would carry the garbage out. I strongly suggested he rethink that, but he insisted. So we started up to the peak.
I could go on and on about what a monstrous pain that mountain was, how my knee ached with every step or how all of us were whining after an hour. But the thing that kills me more than anything is that when we go to the top, Sam did not have the garbage. He claimed that he slipped at some point and dropped the bag over the side of the mountain.
The one thing I was taught growing up is that you do not leave trash in the forest. It’s not good for wildlife and it just makes some place beautiful a little more ugly for the next guy. But I sure as well was not going back after it, especially if it really was at the bottom of some ravine.
Nothing unusual occurred on the ride back and Charlie ended up with four subsurface stitches and three more to close the wound. He also got a good dose of antibiotics just in case. After that, I dropped everyone off and went home.
I still love hiking and camping, but don't be surprised if I change my plans based on the presence of a rainbow, black cat or any other "silly" reason. I can read the signs.