The Hoh Experience

There are those who hike and backpack in the rain and those who do not, but if you’re going to the Hoh Rain forest in November you may not have a choice in the matter. Jenny had suggested this trip and I was quick to oblige. This trip required permits and I checked online for availability. The entire month and the next couple months were wide open. Backpackers are required to check in at the WIC in Port Angeles. If you’re in the area I highly suggest Fast Burrito. I had planned to hike in with said burrito but I ate the entire thing before reaching the trailhead.

Moss dangled off every limb

We arrived about 10 minutes before opening and the parking lot was empty. The temperature was hovering slightly above freezing. The ranger who helped us was named Dave Turner, I’ll never forget his name or the face he gave me when he asked me if I checked the weather report. I nodded and said that I had and then we made that deep eye contact that conveyed mutual understanding. We both knew that it was going to be a wet weekend. The rain did nothing to curb my excitement.

It’s a long drive out to the Hoh rain forest. It’s a beautiful scenic tour and sights like road side Elk along the final 20 mile stretch into the Hoh make it very worth while. This happened to be the only Elk we spotted the entire trip and it was from the comforts of the car window. It appeared to be a mother and her calf and we gave them plenty of space.

Backpacking in the rain has the potential to be miserable with the wrong gear and mentality. I knew going into this that the ground was destined to be muddy and saturated. I had prepared dry wood and packed it in so I could have a small fire. The flicker of flames is something I need in the wild, even the smallest of which can ground me in my own humanity. Fire makes you feel alive and it warms your bones in a cold and dark place.

The first night of camping consisted of heavy rain and good company. Dinner was cooked and served up under the canopy of a tree that kept us both amazingly dry. I used the tree as place to hang my pack from one of the sturdy limbs as if it was awaiting my luggage after a long trek. In the morning everything was intact except the apple I left in a mesh pouch. Whatever bit into it wasn’t satisfied and left after one bite. I was really looking forward to that apple after watching Jenny devour an apple on our previous trip and wondering why I hadn’t thought of the same thing. Fresh produce is something I yearn for in the woods but only after seeing someone else enjoying it.

We both stayed completely dry during night one even though the heavy down pour never let up. By morning time we knew that some adjustments were needed so we decided to set up in the Happy Four shelter just a couple hundred yards away from our current spot. The ranger never mentioned a shelter so it came as a total surprise. Jenny set up her tent and I suspended my Draumr hammock from the large beams holding up the shelter. As I got into my set up the old wood creaked with a ferocity that had Jenny slightly nervous. I settled into my hammock and the ever present sound of rain drops smacking the roof top.

The biggest issue with the shelter was the slight decline going into the basin. Having spent the previous night in a mostly submerged tent we had legitimate concerns about water making it’s way into shelter and under the tent again. I was elevated in my hammock so my only concern was a total collapse of the building from my weight on the beams. But the water had to be diverted from the tent so we built a canal to divert the water away from the shelter. It filled up and drained it away just as we had hoped and worked towards.

The trail was a leisurely stroll even after several miles. The elevation gain is next to nothing and although it was damp I had worn my gaiters so I had no concerns. I was so happy to be in the Hoh that I was dancing to myself on the trail and fully immersed in the experience. I spent almost 3 days hearing and seeing nothing but the quiet murmurings of a rain forest in full swing. That is something that comes back to the city with you, that you could never forget. The quiet moments spent in the woods beckon you back to humility.

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