Patagonia Lake State Park

After my first three days attempting to thru-hike the Arizona Trail, I decided to get off the trail and re-group.  I spent two days exploring the campground at Patagonia Lake State Park with my aunt.  During this time, I washed my clothes in a bucket, went through my pack and tossed out any unnecessary items, and continued to communicate with my hiking partner in hopes that we would get back on the trail soon.  During one afternoon, my aunt and I went to the marina to see about renting kayaks to tour around the lake.  A very nice gentleman running the marina offered to take us on a quick pontoon boat ride to tour the lake since the wind was too fierce for a kayak trip.


My aunt and I touring Patagonia Lake, Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ


Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ


Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ


Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ


Primitive campsite on the shoreline of Patagonia Lake, Patagonia Lake State Park, Patagonia, AZ

The lake and State Park were beautiful with lots of little primitive campsites tucked away which are only accessible by boat.  The two days I spent at Patagonia Lake with my aunt after the first three days hiking the AZT were perfect.  I believe that things happen for a reason, and even though I was feeling pretty low having to get off the trail so soon, the time spent at the lake was very special.

Arizona Trail – Passage 1: Huachuca Mountains

I would like to preface this blog post by stating that I am no longer thru-hiking the Arizona Trail.  After hiking only 34.6 miles, I made the very tough decision to get off the trail and end my thru-hike.  Before leaving Arizona, I decided to spend time exploring the state with friends and family.  I plan to share my adventures along the AZT and journeys throughout the state over the next few weeks in segments.  Here is the story of my first three days on the Arizona Trail:

3 days, 2 nights / 22.5 miles / 3000′+ elevation gain/loss


Looking back towards the Mexico border from the Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

Day one:  Montezuma Pass to Mexico border to Bathtub Spring

10 miles / 3000’+ elevation gain

Nervous is the one word I would use to describe the morning of my first thru-hike attempt.  All of the planning and organizing had led up to this moment, and now that it was here, I was petrified!  Scared as hell, yes, but also ready for an adventure.

I woke up before sunrise on the morning of my first day on the Arizona Trail.  I was nervous, but excited knowing I would have my aunt joining me as I hiked the first 50 miles over the next five days.  In many ways she has inspired me to find a love in backpacking, and I was happy to finally share that passion with her.  She and I set out early that morning to catch a shuttle to Montezuma Pass with 3 other hikers I had met online several weeks before starting the trail.  As a group we made plans to try and hike at least the first 120 miles together.  It comforted me knowing that I had connections along the trail, and I was thrilled to be creating new friendships.


Our group ready to start our first day on the Arizona Trail.

After a drive up a long and winding gravel road, we arrived at the Montezuma Pass parking lot in the late morning.  Mile 0 of the Arizona trail starts 1.7 miles from the parking lot and retraces its’ steps back.  Since my aunt did not intend to thru-hike the entire AZT, she kindly opted to stay in the parking area with our backpacks while we hiked the first 3.4 miles to the Mexican border and back.  This was it – we were finally starting this incredible journey!


Signing the National Registry for the Arizona Trail


Sign near the Mexican border on the Arizona Trail


The monument at the Mexican border for the beginning of the Arizona Trail


Our group at the Mexican border at the beginning of the Arizona Trail

The morning was nice with mild temperatures, blue skies and pure sunshine.  The first 1.7 miles of the trail descent down towards the Mexican border, making it a fairly easy hike.  The next 1.7 miles back up towards the parking lot weren’t as easy since we were finally starting our ascent up the Huachuca Mountains.  By the time we reached the parking lot we were parched and happy to take shelter in the shade for lunch.


Hiking back up towards Montezuma Pass from the Mexican border, Arizona Trail


Spring flowers, Arizona Trail


Cactus, Arizona Trail


Looking south towards the Mexico border, Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

During our lunch break at Montezuma Pass we had the opportunity to meet the founder of Warrior Expeditions along with three of his warriors kicking of their hike on the Arizona Trail.  I was so excited to be starting my hike surrounded by so many people.  I was energized and ready to throw on my pack and really start this adventure.  My aunt took our first ten steps together side by side grinning from ear to ear.


My aunt and I about to take our first steps on the Arizona Trail

We set out on the Arizona Trail with a goal of making it to Bathtub Spring that evening hiking 6.6 more miles.  Right away the climb up was tough – temperatures were warming and the trail was completely exposed.  All morning my body wasn’t feeling 100%, but I assumed it was just nerves.  As the day progressed I continued to feel uneasy, but was able to slowly hike on.  The next four miles of the trail gain over 3000′ of elevation as it makes its’ way up towards the spine of the Huachuca Mountains.


Looking south towards Montezuma Pass, Arizona Trail


Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass


Arizona Trail

At some point my aunt and I stopped to rest in a rare shady spot, and one of our hiking partners arrived shortly thereafter.  He notified us that our other hiking partner was feeling ill after hiking a few miles.  She and her daughter decided to take shelter in their tent until feeling well enough to continue hiking on.  We suspected altitude sickness considering we started our hike at 6000′ and would be ending the day at just over 9000′.  We stayed connected using our gps devices communicating about potential camping spots along the way up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we all realized that the best decision for our ill hiking partner was to leave the trail as her symptoms continued to worsen.  By the time the three of us reached the highest point of our hike, we were exhausted and still had more miles to go.


Just after reaching our high point for the day on the Huachuca Mountains, Coronado National Forest

As we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains, the sun was beginning to set which created an urgency to move quicker.  The terrain changed with every turn of a corner, and before we knew it the sun had set and all of that beauty had whizzed by. Thankfully, we stumbled into the area near Bathtub Spring with moments of light to spare.  We were even more grateful that  the warriors were camping in the area and happy to share the very tight quarters with our group.  I have never seen six tents in a smaller area!

With headlamps running, the three of us set up our tents in the dark of night.  Shortly thereafter I puked behind a tree nearby.  My body had finally lost the battle with altitude sickness and I was feeling awful.  It took everything I had to drink water, send out sad messages to my husband on my Garmin about how awful the night was, and try not to fall asleep with dried bananas in my mouth that I was forcing myself to eat.  It was a very crazy first day on the Arizona Trail.

But it wasn’t until the middle of the first night on the trail that things really started to get crazy.  It was very cold with temperatures less than 30°, and as the night progressed a fierce wind storm blew in.  All I could hear is what appeared to be the cracking sounds of trees swaying in the wind around me.  I continued to imagine myself being crushed by a giant tree inside my tiny tent.  As time passed into the early morning hours, the wind storm brought rain, that turned to hail, and eventually turned to snow.

Day two:  Bathtub Spring to Parker Canyon Lake trailhead

12.5 miles / 3000’+ elevation loss

I woke up on the second day in southern Arizona surrounded by a light dusting of snow.  I crawled out of my tent still feeling sick to my stomach with shortness of breath.  I forced myself to eat a hot breakfast and hurriedly packed up for the days’ long hike ahead.  Our goal was to make it to the Parker Canyon Lake trailhead where we would be dry camping for the night.

The morning was beautiful as we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains heading north.  As we made our way down the western side of the mountain range, the trail switched back and forth descending through diverse terrains.  We started our day with a chill in the air walking through patches of snow, and ended the day in the warm desert.


My friend hiking through patches of snow near Bathtub Spring, Arizona Trail


My aunt hiking down the western side of the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail


A view of Parker Canyon Lake viewed from the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail

As I hiked down into a lower elevation I began to feel much better and was able to hike at a pretty good pace.  The downhill trek was toe-pounding and by the time we reached the base of the mountains my feet were beginning to get pretty sore.  I welcomed the flatter section as we made our way through Sunnyside Canyon.  A small creek flowed, only a trickle at times, alongside the trail for nearly 3 miles.  Near the end of what we believed was our last water source for the day, our group stopped and filtered water.  I carried 6 liters of water for the last 4 miles of the hike, hoping it would be enough until our next water source the following day.  Funny thing was, we continued to see water almost the entire way in intermittent pools along Scotia Canyon.

By the time we reached our destination after hiking more than 12 miles, we were spent.  Well, my aunt and I were spent, but our other hiking partner was an experienced section hiker who was just getting started.  It was at this time my aunt let me know she couldn’t hike any further.  She was planning to hitch a ride from Parker Canyon Lake campground the following morning.

Arriving at our destination with little daylight to spare once again, we hurriedly setup camp and prepared a hot dinner before sunset.  After a certain point in the day, I stopped looking around me, stopped taking pictures, stopped enjoying the moment.  During the sunset on the second evening of my hike on the Arizona Trail I was able to stop and look around me and be in that “Kodak memory moment,” as my aunt would say.

That evening was emotional for me and I had a lot to think about.  Even though I knew my plans would be shifted as soon as I started the trail, I was panicking as it felt like everything was falling apart around me.  What started out as a group of 5 was now down to a group of 2.  My only hiking partner was a skilled section hiker with plans to hike 15+ miles each day; a pace I could never keep up with.  My options at this point were to either continue hiking the trail alone or leave the trail with my aunt and regroup.

On day 3 of my thru-hike attempt on the AZT I decided to get off the trail.  I hoped to reconnect with my original hiking partner and her daughter and get back on the trail soon.  It was a bittersweet moment that morning as we said farewell to our new friend who was continuing his journey along the Arizona Trail alone.  I was so proud of those people that could hike on, but so disappointed in myself for not being able to.


Looking back towards the Huachuca Mountains from the Parker Canyon Lake Trailhead, Arizona Trail


Parker Canyon Lake view from the Arizona Trail

Through the kindness of others and connections we had already made on the trail in only 3 days, my aunt and I found our way back to Patagonia Lake State Park.  It was here where I spent the next two days reconnecting with my original hiking partner and coming up with a new game plan to get back onto the Arizona Trail.  This adventure was not over yet.

Catalina State Park, AZ

Sunset view from Catalina State Park, AZ

This morning I woke up filled with anticipation to finally start making my way towards southern Arizona.  My aunt and I loaded up her RV preparing for our upcoming adventure on the Arizona Trail. The RV will be our base camp until we start our hike on Monday morning.  We left Cottonwood full of excitement for the journey we are about to take. After dropping off two re-supply boxes with a good friend in Phoenix, we arrived at Catalina State Park in the late afternoon.  We couldn’t have asked for a better evening in the Arizona dessert.  Once we had settled into our new temporary home, we took a stroll through the park watching the sunset over the mountains to the west. 

Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Desert tree sunset, Catalina State Park, AZ

AZT – Boxes, Boxes, and More Boxes

I finally arrived in Arizona earlier this week and have been packing like crazy for my thru-hike on the Arizona Trail.  I arrived at my aunts’ house to a pile of various packages (most of them from Amazon.)

Packages piled up for AZT re-supply boxes.

It took a few days, but I have turned the pile into 10 neatly organized and packed re-supply boxes ready to be shipped and delivered throughout the state.

AZT re-supply boxes almost completed.

I had the pleasure of hand delivering one box to an old friend yesterday while visiting Jerome, AZ.  It was a nice break from all the madness that comes from prepping for a long distance hike. I spent the afternoon having good conversation, and even managed to squeeze in a short hike.  This afternoon I will be shipping my first two boxes – one to Colossal Cave Mountain Park, and one to The General Kearny Inn.  This is all starting to get very real!

The first two re-supply boxes to go in the mail.

This is my first of many blog posts from my iPhone 6s. With limited resources during my adventure, and I’m sure as hell not carrying a laptop with me, I’ll be using my phone to blog along the way.  Next Monday, March 27 is go time!  I can’t wait for the journey that lies ahead.  Happy trails!

AZT Re-supply Plan

The most frequented questions I receive once I start discussing my thru-hike on the Arizona Trail are about food.  Does that mean you will be carrying all of your food on your back?  Yes.  Isn’t that really heavy?  Yes.  Are you crazy?  YES!  How will you get more food while hiking along the trail?  Re-supply boxes.

I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to carry 2 1/2 months worth of food on my back.  Even if it was possible, why bother when you can re-supply along the way.  While I won’t be carrying 70 days worth of food with me, I do plan to carry up to 8 days worth of food at times.  During my 800 mile hike, I will be shipping myself packages along the way that will include many important items; but most importantly – my food.  My boxes will also include things such as first aid supplies, toiletries, stove fuel, batteries, and Ziploc bags.

Luckily for me, there are many hiker friendly locations along the trail that will accept and hold packages for Arizona Trail thru-hikers.  Here is my re-supply plan and the locations that I will be shipping boxes to:

Mile 52.8:  Patagonia, 3/30 – I will have a re-supply box in my aunt’s car, who will be hiking the first 5 days with me.

Mile 119.6:  Colossal Cave, 4/5 – Colossal Cave Mountain Park, 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ 85641

Mile 206.6:  Oracle, 4/14 – Chalet Village Motel, 1245 W American Avenue, Oracle, AZ 85623

Mile 264.9:  Kearny, 4/20  – General Kearny Inn, 301 Alden Road, Kearny, AZ 85137

Mile 345.9:  Roosevelt Lake, 4/27 – Roosevelt Lake Marina, 28085 N AZ HWY 188, Roosevelt Lake, AZ 85545

Mile 440.1:  Payson, 5/6 – LF Ranch, P. O. Box 796, Payson, AZ 85547

Mile 464:  Pine – THAT Brewery, 3270 N HWY 87, Pine, AZ 85544

Mile 537:  Mormon Lake, 5/16 – Mormon Lake Lodge, 1971 South Mormon Lake Road, Mormon Lake, AZ 86038

Mile 569.3:  Flagstaff, 5/19 – A friend will be picking me up to spend a night or two off trail.

Mile 690.6:  Grand Canyon South Rim,  5/29 – Grand Canyon Post Office, General delivery, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023

If you are interested in sending a small package to me during my journey, make sure the package contains my name and an anticipated arrival date.

re-supply address

AZT Re-supply location, Colossal Cave Mountain Park

If you are hiking the Arizona Trail this year or have hiked it in recent years, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my re-supply plan.  This is my first thru-hike, and I’ll take any advice you’re willing to share.  Happy trails!

Dehydrating Fruit for the Arizona Trail

I will be flying to Phoenix to start my journey along the Arizona Trail in just a few weeks.  Before I make my way to Arizona, I will be taking a detour to Texas to visit my friends and family.  What this means is, I only have 12 days before I walk out of my house packed and ready for my hike along the AZT.  While food is one of the most important things to plan while preparing for a thru-hike, I have made zero plans!  Well, that’s not completely true…I have spent the last couple of weeks dehydrating 14 kiwi, 8 pineapples, and 2 bananas.  While this may sound like a lot of fruit, this barely scratches the surface of meal prep for an 800 mile thru-hike.  Since I don’t have enough time to make all of my meals for this journey I’m about to take, my only plan so far is to dehydrate as much fruit as I can until the day I leave.  What are some of your favorite fruits to dehydrate for backpacking or thru-hiking?


Dehydrating bananas for the AZT


Dehydrating kiwi for the AZT


Dehydrating pineapples for the AZT


14 kiwi, 8 pineapples, and 2 bananas

Planning my First Thru-hike: The Arizona Trail

AZT guide book

Your Complete Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail by Matthew J. Nelson

I am so excited, nervous, eager, anxious, scared, and happy to announce that I’m planning to thru-hike the Arizona Trail (AZT) this year!  I have all the feels right now about this journey I’m about to take.  The AZT is a roughly 800 mile pedestrian, biker, and equestrian trail that runs from the border of Mexico to Utah through the state of Arizona.  I plan to hike the entire length of the trail South to North starting from the Mexican border on March 27, 2017.  As you can imagine, this is going to be a daunting task.

Since our move to Washington over four years ago, my husband and I have found our place in a wonderful circle of new friends.  That circle includes many adventurous people with goals and accomplishments I didn’t even know existed, much less thought were possible.  I’m so thankful to be surrounded by so many like minded individuals who have encouraged me to reach higher than I thought I ever could.  When I combine my old friends with these new ones, it creates a tribe like no other!  With the support of my friends and family, I feel confident that in early June I will walk in Utah on my own two feet.

As I prepare for this journey across Arizona, I am going to be using my blog as a platform to discuss all things AZT!  This means the format of my blog may change a bit, but will still focus on photography during my hiking and backpacking adventures.  Only now my hikes will be expanded outside of the PNW.  I hope my followers appreciate the changes I make along the way, and continue to support TamarasCameras.

Since making the decision to hike the AZT and sharing my plan with friends and family, I have received many different responses.  I am asking that people please refrain from using the following phrases:

  1.  “You’re such a bad-ass!” – While I really enjoying being called a bad-ass, I haven’t done anything bad-assery yet.  At this point I have spent way too much money on backpacking gear, sat in front of the computer and AZT guide book for way too many hours, and ignored the basic duties of a housewife leaving piles of dishes and laundry throughout the apartment.  These things do not give me the title of bad-ass.
  2. “I’m so proud of you.” – Including all of the reasons above, there is nothing to be proud of yet.  If I do make those steps into Utah after walking 800 miles, I’ll let that be a moment of pride.  Until then, just wish me luck.
  3. “You’re crazy!” – Ok, this one is true.

I look forward to sharing my adventures with you as I trek across the Arizona desert this spring.  Forgive me as I fumble through the process of planning for and attempting my first thru-hike.  I have sooooooo many things to learn, and look forward to any and all positive criticisms and advice shared.  Happy trails!

Guthook app

Guthook Hikes app – Arizona Trail screenshot

Return to Shi Shi Beach Wilderness Backpacking


Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

3 days, 2 nights / 8 miles round trip / 200′ elevation gain

Last month my teenage nephew visited from Texas and I wanted to take him on his first backpacking trip.  I knew that Shi Shi Beach would be the perfect destination for a first timer.  We left Seattle as the sun was rising with hopes of arriving at the coast in the late morning.  As we drove closer to Neah Bay, the weather grew dreary with cloud filled skies.  The beginning of this journey was looking very similar to my first trip to Shi Shi Beach earlier this summer.  When we arrived at the day use parking area, I knew we’d be hiking in the rain once again.  After dropping off my nephew with all of our gear at the trailhead, I parked the car at the nearest private lot and walked back.


My nephew and I at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, Olympic National Park, WA

We hit the trail in the early afternoon and enjoyed splashing around the muddy puddles along the way.  It wasn’t long before we were done tromping through the mud before we arrived at the section of the trail that heads down towards the beach.  Even though I had hiked this section before, I was nervous about the additional weight I was carrying.  While I usually only carry around 25 pounds, this time I was carrying twice as much!  I powered through the anxiety and cautiously made my way down the trail.  All of my anxieties of the steep trail were washed away instantly as we stepped onto the beach.  The rain had stopped and left the sky filled with clouds.  The two of us hiked along the shoreline of the beach with plans to camp closer to Point of the Arches.  After crossing Petroleum Creek, we looked for a spot to set up camp on the beach close to our water source.

The sunsets at Shi Shi Beach are what called me back to visit once again.  I loved having the opportunity to share the experience with my nephew.  I spent over an hour of that evening attempting to build my first fire on my own.  All of the wood was soaked from the days’ rain, and it wasn’t long before I gave up.  Exhaustion from a day of hiking drove us to  the comfort of our tents early that night.


My nephew watching the sunset on Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Point of the Arches sunset, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

The next morning I was wakened by the sun warming my tent.  I let the teenager sleep in while I enjoyed my morning coffee and read a book.  I enjoyed the solitude, but was happy when my nephew finally crawled out of his tent.  I was excited to explore Point of the Arches and farther south down the beach.  After breakfast, we packed a lunch and headed out for a day of beach hiking.


My nephew and I with Point of the Arches, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


View from Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


Peace rocks, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA


Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

After exploring the beach south of Point of the Arches, we headed towards a picnic spot in the shade near an arch.  As we were getting ready to unpack our lunch, we noticed an eagle flying along the beach.  It appeared to be fighting with another bird as it made its’ way along the shoreline.  It landed on a rock and we noticed feathers flying all around it.  That’s when we realised the eagle was preparing its’ lunch as well.  After we enjoyed our picnic, we took off our shoes and explored the tide pools in our bare feet.  The feeling of the cool Pacific Ocean and sand between our toes was welcoming on a hot, sunny day.


Bald eagle, Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

We arrived back at our campsite in the mid afternoon, and we decided to relax beside Petroleum Creek in the shade.  I read a little more of my book while my nephew took a nap by the creekside.  Once he was rested, we played a few games including bocce ball and Pass the Pigs.  We finally peeled ourselves away from the shaded area among the trees and headed back to our sun filled campsite.  After dinner I was determined to make a fire after the previous nights’ failure.  I spent another hour trying to build a fire without success.  I had almost given up, but after one last try – I finally made fire!  As the sunset and the temperatures dropped we enjoyed the warmth of the fire into the late hours of the night.


The first fire I have ever made by myself!  Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Sunset in front of a fire, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We woke on our last morning to a cloudy, misty day.  We decided to wait for breakfast once we got to the tree covered area of the trail, and packed up as quickly as we could.  As we packed, everything was damp and sandy.  Even though I was happy to hike under a cloud filled sky since the previous day had left me slightly sunburned, the rain was not welcomed.


Crossing Petroleum Creek, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


A doe and two fawn, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA


Looking down the trail back towards Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We crawled up towards the forested section of the trail, and were happy to have our feet on solid ground.  Two days of hiking on the sandy beach had exhausted certain muscles in my legs.  The last two miles back through the muddy trail seemed to fly by, and in no time we were right back where we had started two days ago.  As we loaded up our gear into the car, the skies were opening up once again.  The drive home along the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca was filled with blue skies and good conversation with my nephew.  I hope this is a trip he will never forget; I know I won’t.

Return to the North Fork Skokomish River Backpacking

3 days, 2 nights / 16 miles / 3900′ elevation gain


Black & White Lakes Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

With another long holiday weekend coming up, my husband and I were looking for another backpacking trip to get away from the fast paced city life.  Even though we had already been to the North Fork Skokomish River before, we knew there were many more trails in the area left to explore.  We were seeking out a location to set up a base camp for a few nights and explore the nearby trails via day hiking, and the North Fork Skokomish was just the place.  With hopes of clear skies and opportunities for night photography, I packed up my DSLR and a few lenses in addition to my normal 25 pound pack.  Just like our last trip, we headed towards the Olympic Peninsula late in the evening after my husband got off work.  We enjoyed our stay at the Glen Ayr Resort during our last trip, so we made reservations once again.  After taking a ferry from Seattle late in the evening on Thursday before the Independence Day holiday weekend, we arrived at our home for the night on the banks of the Hood Canal.

Day 1:  5.5 miles / <500′ elevation gain

We woke early on Friday morning in the comfort of our hotel room and loaded our packs with the last few necessary items for a few nights in the wilderness.  We stopped at a local favorite restaurant, The Tides, for a filling breakfast before heading into the Olympic Mountains.  With the hopes of beating the holiday crowds, my husband took a day off work allowing us to arrive at the Staircase Ranger Station on Friday morning just as it was opening.  With our wilderness permits in hand, we hit the trail along the North Fork Skokomish River with Big Log campsite as our destination.  While the Staircase campground was nearly full as we left the parking lot behind us, we felt instant solitude as soon as we hit the trail.  We were virtually alone in the wilderness and had an instant feeling of peace.

Conditions were perfect for a few nights of camping; mild temperatures, blue skies, and no one else around.  Even with the additional weight of my camera and lenses, we moved swiftly along the easy trail as it meandered alongside the river.


Staircase Trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Bridge over the North Fork Skokomish, Olympic National Park, WA


North Fork Skokomish Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

The trail slowly climbs its’ way into the valley with mountains on both sides of it.  Being surrounded by the enormous trees that made up the surrounding forest made me feel so small.  The miles disappeared so quickly as we continued our trek towards Big Log.  As we hiked along, we only passed a few groups of backpackers heading out towards the trailhead.  It wasn’t very long until we reached Madeline Creek, where trail workers were replacing the log crossing that once led the way.  The trail was diverted to the stock trail down below, where we crossed the creek upon a small log.  As we slogged uphill towards the original trail, we thanked the trail volunteers who were harnessed for safety from falling into the creek below.


Trail workers over Madeline Creek along the North Fork Skokomish, Olympic National Park, WA


Log crossing Madeline Creek, North Fork Skokomish River Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

Not long after the creek crossing, we reached a sign pointing downhill towards Big Log leading us to the campsites.  We were happy to arrive so quickly and so early in the day.  After taking our packs off and a quick rest, we scoped out the area looking for a spot to call home for the next few nights.  Only a few sites were occupied, and it seemed it was the base camp for the nearby trail workers.  We picked a private spot alongside a very large log with a pre-existing fire pit.  As soon as we settled and prepared to eat lunch, we knew right away that mosquitos were going to be a nuisance.  Thankfully, my husband was able to quickly throw together a smoky fire that seemed to keep the insects at bay.

We were all alone!  We enjoyed a lunch by the fireside in solitude.  We setup camp without the sounds of anyone else around.  We spent the afternoon exploring the riverside, gathering firewood, taking pictures, and enjoying only the company of each other and nature.


North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA


North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA


Rock cairn on log over North Fork Skokomish River, Olympic National Park, WA

It was a beautiful day in the Olympic wilderness, which continued into the evening.  The only neighbors we had for the night were the trail workers who were camping nearby.  They must have been exhausted, because not a sound came from their direction once the sun set.  As we laid in our tents preparing for sleep, the only sounds that could be heard were the rushing waters of the North Fork Skokomish River.  That night, I had the best nights’ sleep I have ever had in a sleeping bag, on a sleeping mat upon the cold, hard ground.

Day 2:  5 miles round trip / 2900′ elevation gain

After a restful night’s’ sleep, we climbed out of our tents excited to explore a new area of the park.  We enjoyed breakfast and coffee beside the fire hoping to keep the persistent mosquitos away.  Once again we were all alone at the campground since the trail workers had already left to continue their work over Madeline Creek.  We packed our daypacks and started our journey hiking towards Black and White Lakes.  We decided to take the primitive trail from Big Log towards the lakes in hopes of more solitude in nature.

This trail was tough!  Right away it starts climbing upwards and it never seems to stop.  The trail was difficult to navigate; at times it was comparable to game trails making us feel uncertain of our next steps.  The path never seemed to switch back and forth to gain elevation; instead it headed straight up the mountainside with no end in sight.  We stopped several times under shaded areas of the trail to rest along the way.  As we gained elevation and neared the top, the trees became smaller and at one point we were surrounded by flowers (beargrass.)


Xerophyllum tenax (bear grass,) Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA

After hiking just over 2 miles in more than 3 hours, we finally reached a sign pointing us towards the lakes.  Even though we only had 2/10 of a mile to go, there was still more elevation gain left.  The panoramic views as we made the last push were just the encouragement we needed to keep us going.  As the lakes came into view, we were excited to have finally reached our destination.


Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Black & White Lakes primitive trail, Olympic National Park, WA


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

During our hike, we only passed one couple and one solo backpacker – we had found the solitude we were looking for.   After finding the perfect shady picnic spot beside the lake, we were happy to finally rest our aching muscles.  Once our bodies were refueled, it was time to cool off and clean off by taking a dip in the frigid lake waters.  We weren’t in the water long before becoming uncomfortable from the cold temperatures.  We climbed out and sunned ourselves on a log jutting into the lake as our clothes dried on a nearby tree.


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

Before heading back down the trail, we explored the area around the lake photographing the surrounding beauty.  It was hard to leave the 360˚ views as we made our way back into the dense forest.


Black & White Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

Even hiking downhill, this trail was relentless.  I was hoping to make better time during the descent, but as my toes pounded into the front of my shoes we were quickly reduced to a slower pace.  Halfway down the trail, we ran into a couple hiking upwards toward the lakes.  After short discussion, they decided they wouldn’t be able to make it out and back before sunset.  The couple decided to turn around, and the four of us made our way down the trail.  It wasn’t long before the two hikers were out of sight and we we alone on the trail once again.  As we hiked down into the valley, the sounds of the rushing North Fork Skokomish River grew louder until we were home by its’ side for another evening.  We arrived back at Big Log to a completely packed campsite, filled with lots of families.  Our time alone in the wilderness was long gone.

After dinner by the fireside we enjoyed a game of backpackers bocce ball.  We used the last moments of daylight and took turns reading aloud pages from a book together.  As soon as the sun disappeared from the valley, we climbed into our tents.  It wasn’t long before the sounds of the river assisted in our slumber on the forest floor.

Day 3:  5.5 miles / <500′ elevation gain

We woke up early to the sounds of families playing and cooking breakfast all around us.  The sun was making its’ way through the forest trees filling the valley with warm air.  We took our as we had our morning coffee and breakfast near another smokey fire.


Big Log campground, Olympic National Park, WA



Big Log campsite, Olympic National Park, WA

It wasn’t long until all of the surrounding campers were out for the day, leaving us alone in the wilderness once last time.  There was one last item on the agenda before we packed up our gear and headed out. My husband had been talking about jumping into the North Fork Skokomish River since the day we arrived.  With the warm weather and sunshine filling the valley, conditions were perfect for a mid-morning swim.  I watched as my husband examined the perfect spot to jump into, and soon thereafter he was plunging in!  Even the frigid waters of the river couldn’t remove the smile on his face.

With our packs loaded and on our backs, we hit the trail taking lots of memories with us.  We played a game guessing how many day hikers we would see on our way towards the trailhead.  At the end of the day, I won counting 60+ day hikers during the 5.5 mile hike along the river.

We stopped at the junction towards Flapjacks Lake and enjoyed a quick snack.  Two backpackers we had passed a mile back came limping by (one of them wearing flip-flops,) and we struck up a conversation with them.  My husband and I were so excited to meet two fellow Texans!  The brothers were on their first ever backpacking trip and were on the last stretch of a multi-day hike starting at Duckabush.  They mentioned having to hitchhike back to their car left at the trailhead days ago, and we quickly volunteered without question.  We kept our much quicker pace than the two hikers, but agreed to meet in the parking lot.  The last few miles of hiking flew by and the closer we got to the trailhead, the more packed it became with day hikers.  We arrived to an overflowing parking lot full of holiday travellers.  Our new friends arrived shortly thereafter, and we made our way along Lake Cushman and then along the Hood Canal towards Duckabush.  My husband and I enjoyed conversation about a shared passion in backpacking, and were happy to help out fellow adventurers.  The detour was welcomed as it introduced us to new areas of the park.  We dropped off the two brothers and made our way out of the forest one last time, but always knowing we’ll be back soon.