Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hoh Rain Forest

When I was planning my trip to the Olympics, everyone I talked to who'd visited this area recommended seeing the Hoh Rain Forest.  They all raved about how incredible it was.  I didn't get why the Hoh was so special.  I thought, "OK, it rains a lot, the trees are big, and it's really green."  I didn't figure it to be any different from the old growth forests we have here in Oregon.  But because it came so highly recommended, Roger and I added a stop at the Hoh to our vacation plans.

Obligatory rainy park sign photo

Roger and I left Ruby Beach in a downpour.  We were already soaked from tearing down our campsite and hiking Ruby beach in the rain.  We weren't too sure about taking another wet hike.  But we'd planned to hike in the Hoh Rain Forest that day, and we both thought "well, it is a rain forest, what do you expect?"  Besides, we were already wet anyway.  So we stuck to our plans and headed towards the Hoh.

Great name for a business

On the way to the Hoh visitor center, Roger and I saw many interesting sights.  We noticed that everything that wasn't either National Park or National Forest had been logged.  Apparently logging is big business around these parts.  We saw a couple of poor bicyclists trying to ride in the monsoon (they did not look very happy).  And we had a laugh when we drove by a sign advising that the fire danger was "moderate."  Which made us ask the question, "If the fire danger is moderate in pouring rain, when is the fire danger low?" 

Rainforest phone booth

The rain was still falling as Roger pulled the suburban into the Hoh visitor center parking lot.  I was wishing I'd remembered to bring an umbrella on this trip.  The way the rain was coming down, an umbrella would help keep me drier on our hike.  We first went into the visitor center to look around (and use the restroom).  I got to talking to a nice ranger and he told me the visitor center had spare umbrellas that they loaned out to hikers.  Now my head and shoulders would stay dry.  Yay!

I'm happy to have an umbrella

Roger and I headed back to the car to suit up for our hike.  After hearing that rain was forecast, Roger had the good idea to bring our snowboots along.  They would be perfect for a hike in the rainforest.  My shoes and socks were soaked from this morning's adventures, so when I put on my boots and some dry wool socks my feet felt heavenly.  I also got to christen my new rainpants.  With my boots, pants, gore-tex jacket and umbrella, I felt bulletproof (or at least waterproof!)

At the traihead, ready for the rainforest

We started out down the Hoh River Trail, the main trail from the visitor center.  This path winds through the rainforest, following the Hoh River for 18 miles, eventually terminating at the base of Mt. Olympus.  A ranger lady in the visitor center recommended hiking to a waterfall that was about 2.5 miles down the trail.  As it was already past noon when we began, and we'd already hiked at the beach this morning, I thought the waterfall was a good goal for today.

Moss everywhere

Roger and I didn't get too far down the trail before we were soaking in the sights.  Our cameras were out and firing.  The Hoh was amazing!  It was unlike anything I'd seen before.  The trees were huge and mossy.  There was vegetation growing everywhere.  The ferns were huge and numerous.  And everything was a brilliant shade of green.

A huge moss-draped tree

I learned that the Hoh Rain Forest receives between 140 and 170 inches of rain a year.  That's 12 to 14 feet of rain!  Rainforests used to span the Pacific coast from southeastern Alaska to the central California coast.  The Hoh is the only remaining example of a temperate rain forest in the United States.   Some trees in this forest  are more than 1000 years old. 

The green, mossy forest

I've never seen so much plant life in one place.  Huge ferns covered the forest floor.  Vines and small trees sprouted out of dead logs on the ground.  And everything was covered with a thick carpet of moss.  It truly looked like a jungle.

Huge fallen tree lying next to the trail

There were lots of dead trees lying on the ground sprouting vegetation.  These trees are called "nurse logs" and their decaying wood provides nutrients for new trees to take root and grow.   The fallen tree in the photo above stretched out alongside the trail for a long distance.  The photo doesn't do it justice - that tree was a monster!

Roger hikes among the giant trees

Roger and I splashed through the puddles, whipping our cameras out from under our jackets when we saw something amazing to photograph.  Our hiking progressed slowly.  There were a lot of beautiful scenes to distract us.

Downed tree spans the Hoh River

After a mile or so on the trail, we got a glimpse of the Hoh River.  This is a large glacially-fed river with a gravelly stream bed.  It was swollen from all the rainfall and running fast.  A few of the vine maple trees along its bank were already showing fall colors. 

Totally green forest

The showers continued as we walked along.  But Roger and I were well-prepared to hike in the rain, so the wet weather didn't bother us at all.  It was kind of fun to splash through the mud and puddles, knowing that our feet would stay dry.

All the rain made this waterfall gush

We reached a bridge that crossed a small creek.  Looking up the creek, I spied our destination waterfall.  It was flowing strong, fed by all the rainfall.  I moved in closer to get some photos.  I didn't have a tripod, so I hand held the camera using the slowest shutter speed I dared.  A couple of waterfall shots turned out OK.

Hoh River view through the trees

As I was wrapping up my waterfall photo session, the clouds decided to dump out more rain.  Roger and I decided we'd hiked far enough, and turned back towards the trailhead.

Fall color and more moss

The trip back was just as wonderful.  I discovered sights I missed on the trip out.  This was one trail I didn't mind hiking twice.

The muddy, wet trail

Our guidebook said that elk are often seen along the Hoh River Trail.  Roger kept a close lookout, but we never did see any wildlife.  All the animals were probably bedded down somewhere dry!  The only creatures we saw were some unusual white slugs.

This downed tree's diameter is almost Roger's height

A lot of the diameters of the downed trees were as large as Roger or I were tall.  We got some photos of each other standing next to these logs for scale.  You don't see trees that large in many places.  It's good that some of these great forests have been saved in National Parks.

An albino slug!

We reached our car tired and hungry, but happy.  What a wonderful hike!  I'm very glad I took everyone's advice and visited the Hoh.  It is truly an amazing place.  I'd like to come back and hike the entire Hoh River Trail all the way to Mt. Olympus.  Maybe next year??

After shedding our wet layers, Roger and I hit the road, bound for Sol Duc Hot Springs.  Stay tuned, this will be my next blog post!

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