North Fork Trail at NPS.gov
The North Fork of the Sol Duc river is a different one. Relatively level, not many hills, but there is the river: Just one mile in you have to cross it. Then several more miles in there are more crossings. In the summer months this is no real issue, just bring your sandals or other water shoes, cross it then be on your way. However, every other time of year, the water is too high to cross with any real certainty.
A friend of mine at work had been planning this hike for several weeks. There were about 9 of us planning on going, but when the time came, only four showed up: Me, Jerry, James and Gene. Jerry was our “guide” on this trip, he’s been up here several times and knew what to expect… though he never really let the rest of us know the full extent of it.
We met at the trailhead about 830, geared up and set off.
The trail begins as a gentle uphill grade, a bit rocky and several small trees and branches upon it. After about a half mile, you reach the ridge and begin the descent into the river valley.
We heard the river long before we ever saw it. It sounded big. Once we saw it our suspicions were confirmed. Poking around, looking upstream and down, there were no places to cross safely. Jerry pipes up and says that there’s a pretty good sized log about a mile upstream that we can cross, but we have to bush-whack our way up there. All righty then, off we went, up the river, opposite the established trail on the other side. We could see it, sometimes not even 25 feet away, just out of reach. The rapids were way to large and the channel way too deep.
We soon learned what he meant by bushwhacking: There were points where we were scaling rocks and logs over the rushing water as seen here:
Most of the was either boggy marshy mud hole hopping or pushing our way through tangled vine maple, salmon berry bushes or devils club. It took us an hour and a half to cover that one mile.
Sure enough, according to my GPS, almost exactly one mile we see the “pretty good sized” log that Jerry was talking about. He skillfully omitted one vital bit of information: Is was about a 50 foot span probably 20 feet above the river and rocks below. The log was about a foot wide in the middle and bowed downward considerably. I’ve never liked crossing logs, but I’m no stranger to it, however, this one made me wonder WTF I was doing. Jerry jumped on it, scurried across and dropped his pack on the other side.
I figured well, we have to do it so lets do it. I hopped up on it, pensively made my way to the first branch sticking up out of it and worked my way around it.
I don’t know it you’ve ever crossed any logs in your time, but the WORST feeling you can have up on one of them is going around an upright limb: You have to move your body off center, over the free space below you and the branches themselves are rarely sturdy enough to reliably support you in that endeavor. the first one was the worst, the remaining limbs were easily navigated, but before and after each one I had to pause, breathe, control my heart rate, steady my legs and then continue on. Once past the decline and halfway point, it got easier. I picked up the pace and soon made it to the other side. My legs shook for several minutes afterwords.
Gene was next. He hopped up on it, made his way past the branches, pausing and cursing and wondering what the hell we got ourselves into just like I did, and before long made it to safety.
James on the other hand has ear problems and therefore poor equilibrium. He was forced to scoot across, crawling over the branches. He made it though.
Pausing before continuing up the trail, we decided to hell with the log, we were going to brave the river on the return trip.
The remainder of the trail is clear and mostly flat or a slightly up hill grade. The old growth timber is gigantic and the views of the river are gorgeous. There are many deep green and crystal clear pools that I’m sure are just full of trout. I wish I had brought my fishing pole. Perhaps next time.
Shortly after rejoining the trail, heading over a flat area and past a campsite by the river we spotted several elk. One of them was bigger than any elk I have seen in many years; it was still in velvet, the antlers were still growing, but even so, it was HUGE. They spotted us, bolted across the river like it was just a trickle and then disappeared up the hillside in a flash.
About 2 or 3 miles later we stopped for lunch and decided that now would be a good a time as any to turn around. We were wet and cold from tromping through the brush and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to cross the river down below.
The return trip was uneventful aside from the bear tracks across the trail that weren’t there when we came up. Not sure why, but everyone picked up the pace a bit.
Before we knew it, we were back at the original river crossing. From this side it looked even deeper than before and nobody was particularly excited to jump in and get soaked by all this glacier runoff. I was pumping myself up to ford the river with the rope to secure on the other side when Jerry signals us from down stream: He found a better spot. We make our way about 200 yards down the river to find a giant spruce laying across the river, just out of sight from the trail at the crossing. We navigated the upturned root wad and strolled casually across the rapids. If only we had looked downstream, we could have avoided a whole lot of trouble in the first place.
After the spruce crossing, the remaining mile to the cars went by in a flash. Something about a cooler full of brews waiting in the car puts a little motivation in my step, and man did it taste good. Replenishing the lost electrolytes is vital after a long hard days trekking over the river and through the brush.