Key: 2008-08-01:     2008-08-02:     2008-08-03:    
2008-08-04:     2008-08-05:     2008-08-06:    

Olympic Skyline-North Fork Quinault Loop

Our big summer trip for 2008. A traverse along the Queets-Quinault Divide and back down the North Fork Trail.

Begin Date:

End Date:

2008-08-01: 8.43 mi
2008-08-02: 4.79 mi
2008-08-03: 6.44 mi
2008-08-04: 6.26 mi
2008-08-05: 10.56 mi
2008-08-06: 13.52 mi
2008-08-07: 7.32 mi

Total: 57.34 mi

Maximum Elevation*:
5307.04ft (1618.618m)

Minimum Elevation*:
265.68ft (81.455m)

Gallery for this adventure:
Click here

* This is derived from GPS data and can have major discrepancies due to poor GPS reception.

Trip Report:

Day 1 - Big Creek TH to Three Lakes:

We started the trip at the Big Creek Trailhead, near the North Fork Quinault Campground. The trail immediately began climbing, passing Irely Lake, which is more of a swamp, after little more than a mile. It continues to climb passing over Big Creek before finally reaching a small plateau where Three Lakes sit.

Big Creek Bridge:
The bridge at Big Creek.  There was orange ribbon across both ends but it still looked safe to cross. The bridge is off of its footings on one side.

This was our first night's location and was actually fairly accommodating considering we arrived just after dark in a dreary mist, soaked to the bone. The trail was in good shape, with a lot less blow down than I expected and no snow whatsoever. There was a lot of water on the trail though with a majority of the last mile or so becoming a stream.

Also worth noting is the abundance of frogs here. I had read in the Olympic Trail Guide that they would stop their croaking around 9PM, however this was very far from the truth as they didn't ever stop. Whenever I woke up in the middle of the night I would hear their croaking which actually helped put me back to sleep.

Day 2 - Three Lakes to Three Prune:

The next morning greeted us with beautiful blue sky and a gorgeous bright sun helping to dry our belongings, which was much needed.

Three Lakes in the Morning:
Three Lakes

Unfortunately, the sun didn't last long and was quickly replaced by the all too common northwest overcast. We packed up our somewhat less wet belongings and prepared to head out for Three Prune when we spotted our second black bear (The first one was also that morning, but I couldn't get a pic of it) enjoying the meadows near the lakes.

Bear eating flowers by Three Lakes:
Bear #1 at Three Lakes. Notice the bear wire in the foreground!

As with all the bears we saw on the trip, this guy was less than concerned with our being there and just kept on eating without paying us any mind, which is jut the way we like it. :)

We finally put our boots to the trail at about 10:30AM and made good time through the forest as we approached the large sub-alpine meadows and tarns around Three Prune and the Elip Creek Trail junction which is only a couple miles from Three Lakes. I believe at that junction. The Skyline Primitive Trail officially begins, so that livened our spirits despite the fact that it had started to mist again.

Misty meadows and Tarns & the sign marking the Skyline Trail:
Tracy walking through a meadow that has just thawed on the way to Three Prune. What happened to the nice weather?

A trail sign that didn't winter too well. We really couldn't fix it much better than this.

At this point we also started running into bits of lingering snow, but it wasn't anything to be too concerned about.

We arrived at Three Prune at about 2PM and quickly setup camp in the still misty weather. At about 4PM the mist finally subsided to a teasing sun that would almost come out before quickly darting back behind the clouds. Though this was frustrating as we both still had lots of items to dry, at least it had stopped the drizzle.

The rest of the afternoon and evening were fairly uneventful aside from yet another bear making an appearance as we were just about to retire to the tent for cards and sleep. No worries though, the bear wasn't interested in messing with us and simply went along doing what bears do.

That night the clouds finally subsided treating us to a beautiful star lit sky, which had us both very excited. We would finally get to dry our things in the morning.

Day 3 - Three Prune to Kimta Peak:

As expected the morning was cloud free and gorgeous. We hung all of our still wet things and enjoyed breakfast in the sun. After a little relaxation we packed up our things again and got ready to head out.

Our sunny morning campsite at Three Prune:
More Sunrise. J got up at like 6 to enjoy the sun and take pics while Tracy stayed in asleep til 8.

About that time the first person we had seen since leaving the trailhead strolled into camp. The guy had already gone from Three Lakes to our camp and we hadn't even finished packing. After a short conversation about where we were all heading and where we all from (Apparently he had just spent the last two month on the Pacific Crest Trail) he took off. We later learned from the rangers that this gentleman goes by only "Freeheels" and listed his address as "Olympic National Park" on his registration form. Apparently he hikes upwards of 15-20 miles a day and was headed for a Bailey Range traverse (A very difficult and remote part of the Olympics).

Anyway, back to the report. The trail after Three Prune is officially considered a route and is no longer maintained by the National Park Service. Despite this the trail was actually in great shape all the way to Kimta. There continued to be some downed trees, but not enough to slow travel significantly and at no point was the trail difficult to follow. Also, the amount of snow was again insignificant which left us plenty of time to enjoy the amazing views both to the north and south. The trail finally gains the ridge that it will remain on until shortly after Lake Beauty. To the North is the Queets drainage and beyond that Mt. Olympus and the Vahallas. To the South is the North Fork drainage and beyond that, Mt. Christie and Mt Anderson.

The Queets drainage:
The Queets Drainage.

Finally after what seemed like and eternity of ups and downs while winding back and forth on top of the ridge, the route reaches the base of Kimta Peak. A 300 foot descent of a rather steep snowfield would mark the end of our hiking for the day after about 5.5 hours on the trail.

We setup camp just off the edge of the snowfield and watched as clouds began to roll in. Thankfully, they all but dissipated by sunset which left us with spectacular views down the North Fork Valley.

Sunset from Kimta:
Sunset across the Olympics and the Pacific Ocean (in the far distance).

Day 4 - Kimta Peak to Lake Beauty:

We awoke to a cloudless sky and after yet another quick breakfast of oatmeal, we pack up and headed out for what would be a very strenuous day of cross country travel at about 8:45AM.

The trail for the first half of the leg is easy to follow as it descends about 800 feet (To about 4200 feet) into the Kimta burn, the remains of a large fire that occurred a long time ago. Once in the burn the trail becomes rather marshy, but still is pretty easy to follow.

The Kimta Burn:
The Kimta burn.

After passing through the burn, and much to our chagrin, the trail heads straight back up via switchbacks in order to reach the 5000 foot Promise Creek Pass. The climb is definitely worth it though as the views from up there are simply stunning.

Jason admiring the view:
J enjoying the view that he worked so hard to get to  for the last hour or so.

At this point the trail largely vanishes below the snow and over the rocks. We had heard that it gets very difficult to follow through hear so we came prepared for the worst, but to be honest, it really was easy to follow thanks to a large amount of cairns placed upon the route. There was still a good amount of snow up there, but I suspect a lot of it won't be up there for all that much longer as it seemed to be melting fairly fast.

Tracy making her way to the next cairn:
No trail now. Only following cairn to cairn. Tracy down below making another cairn more visible for the next guy!

The route from here meanders down into the Promise Creek Valley, crossing over some amazing terrain in the process. Mount Zindorf sits immediately accross the valley from the trail and gives way to views of Mt. Christie, Mt. Noyes, and Mt. Seattle.

Mt Christie in the distance:
If Jason could build a cabin right here is where he said he would want it! Looking at Mt. Christie in the distance.

Once down to about 4400 feet, the trail begins to climb yet again to Hee Haw Pass for it's final switch to the other side of the ridge before it reaches Lake Beauty. By the way, the views from above Lake Beauty are tough to beat. Mt. Olympus sits directly behind it and the Vahallas stretch westward from there, above the Queets River, where your eye will eventually meet the Pacific Ocean through a gap above the Queets.

Lake Beauty:
First sight of Lake Beauty. Mt Tom and the Valhallas

We setup camp on the western side of Lake Beauty, hung the last of our wet items, and headed down to the snow covered shore to see if there was any possibility of swimming. If the giant floating chunk of snow in the middle of the Lake wasn't telling enough, we found out as soon as our skin touched the water. Lake Beauty is very cold! Nonetheless, we managed to wash up and a do a bit of laundry before heading back up to camp for dinner.

At about 7PM we spotted a group of 3 people descending from the ridge above Lake Beauty. It turns out that the three were NPS rangers and that one of the members was the same one who had issued our permit. After they walked around for a bit, they returned to our site asking if we would be willing to share it as the other sites were either still under snow, or full of standing water. Needless to say, we of course let them stay with us.

That night, we had a spectacular sunset complete with a crescent moon before slipping into our tents for the night.

The Sunset from Lake Beauty:
Sunset looking west from Lake Beauty. The picture just doesn't do this justice!

Day 5 - Lake Beauty to Low Divide:

Again the weather was perfect with a cloudless blue sky greeting us as we woke. We quickly had breakfast, packed up, and wished the rangers good luck on their day, then ascended the slope back up to the ridge. Once there we popped over to the other side and gradually descended in between Mt. Noyes and Mt. Seattle to Seattle Creek. This leg of the trail is again maintained by the park service so the condition improved considerably and for the most part was in great shape. The only really difficult parts were a couple of avalanche chutes that had yet to be fully melted out making for a rather hairy crossings on a couple of occasions. ON the plus side, each of the chutes had a strong breeze of ice cold air rushing down them which provided a bit of relief from the now hot weather.

We ended up playing leapfrog with the rangers all the way back to Low Divide, passing them at Seattle Creek, and then being passed as we approached the crest of one of the ramparts of Mt. Seattle. Once quick word of warning for future hikers here, we had a difficult time finding the trail again shortly after Seattle Creek. We went straight up the slope after the creek and it turns out that the trail actually takes off a bit to the right. It was only a minor set back though.

The hike from there was uneventful, passing up over part of Seattle Peak and then switch backing back down into the valley of the North Fork to Low Divide.

Low Divide from a distance:
Mt. Christie on the right. Looking down towards Low Divide.

We strolled into Low Divide at 3:07PM. Exactly 6 hours after we left Lake Beauty. Unfortunately we both felt that Low Divide leaves a lot to be desired as far as campsites are concerned. Access to water is truly a pain in the ass and all of the usable spots (We were asked to move from one of the meadow spots by our friendly ranger due to re-vegetation efforts) are deep in the canopy where you can't see the nearby mountains.

Low Divide Ranger Station:
Ranger Station at Low Divide.

We had originally planned to spend two nights at Low Divide and then hike out to the North Fork TH, but since we both weren't too happy with the accommodations there we decided to head out and see if we could find something better downstream the next morning. So with that, we ate dinner and slipped into the tent for cards and sleep.

Day 6 - Low Divide to Elip Creek:

We awoke to yet another beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise on the privy and a meadow at Low Divide:
Who would have thought the privy could be so photogenic!

Day 6- Sunrise on the meadow in Low Divide. Looking NE towards the Elwha.

We packed up quickly, and hit the trail aiming for Twelvemile as our destination for the night. The trail down was fairly uneventful. We crossed the river at Sixteenmile, which wasn't any deeper than maybe 2 feet and reached Twelvemile just before lunch. Unfortunately, Twelvemile isn't much more than a giant pile of rock and sand at this point. In fact the shelter there is 80% underground.

The shelter at Twelvemile:
12 mile shelter buried.

After seeing the state of Twelvemile, we decided to push on to Trapper and maybe Elip depending on how things looked.

A couple of miles later, we came to the Trapper Shelter and with it, most likely the worst bugs of the entire trip. We took a break there for a moment and both of us were eaten alive, so it was very short lived and without even discussing it, hightailed it to Elip Creek for the night.

The Trapper Shelter:
Trapper Shelter.

One thing to note about the North Fork Trail is that although the trail is in good shape in most places, there are a number of very nasty washouts that can be a huge pain to get across. In fact about half of the major stream crossings no longer have bridges. Just an FYI for those who are wondering.

Elip Creek also hasn't gone without its fair share of destruction and while there is still a privy and bearwire, there are only two proper spots and since we took one and another party took the other, the place was filled to capacity.

Tracy relaxing at Elip Creek:
Tracy's turn in the hammock at Elip Creek.

We also decided that since were were only about 6.5 miles from the trailhead, that we might as well just hike out the next day and cut the trip a day short. There simply wasn't much of a point for us to be out there for another night and both of were getting eager to shower after 6 days in the wilderness. So we made the preparations for a hasty exit the next day.

Day 7 - Elip Creek to the North Fork Trailhead:

We woke up with first light to cool temps and overcast skies, perfect for the final push to the trailhead. We finished packing, and were on the trail by 6:50AM. Not too bad for us.

The last 6.5 miles went by quickly as we were pushing hard to get to the trailhead by 10AM at the latest, and pretty much went nonstop aside from a minor setback when Jason rolled his ankle yet again at about the 5 mile mark.

The trail did however have a couple more nasty washouts, one where they have placed a temporary cable ladder to help hikers get by.

Cable ladder:
A wash out at Wild Rose Creek. ONP has put a rope/cable ladder to climb up.

We ended up reaching the trailhead at 9:20AM thrilled that we were done, but also a bit sad that our trip was over. All in all, it was great, we got everything out of it that we expected, including wildlife and great views, and didn't have anything go seriously wrong. What more can a couple of backpackers really ask for?