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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gray Wolf River, (Slab Camp to Camp Ellis)

Another round of early season backpacking in the Olympic National Park. This trip was to another river valley that I had never been to, the Gray Wolf River. It was also an introduction to backpacking for my best friend Lyss! Apparently reaching the upper stretch of the Gray Wolf River Valley into the ONP requires taking a side trail down hill on the Slab Camp Creek trail due to a trail bridge washout on the lower reach of the trail. You can also more readily access the upper stretch in the ONP by Deer Park rd if it was open, but that road is not currently open and you'd be taking the Deer Park access trail from the same parking lot anyhow. I wanted to see the valley!

After a late start, nearly noon by the time we set foot on the trail, we scurried down hill to Slab Camp on the Gray Wolf river via a well maintained National Forest trail through the Buckhorn Wilderness. You start out in the 2500' elevation range, and plummet downhill to the Slab Camp in the 1500' elevation range. The downhill start is a little inverse for a river hike. In that you lose so much elevation before even starting to climb the valley, which is unlike most ONP river hikes.

After crossing the large bridge across the river you make up for the loss in elevation fairly soon. The trail pulls away from the river and climbs on a narrower path high above the river. The path is laden with moss, and an eerie feel of the recovering forest from an old burn. Small trees strewn across the hillside's floor. With glimpses of burnt stumps, hollow trees, and scorched sections of the few surviving older growth trees in this area. The narrow path meanders along steep forested hill with the occasional trail engineering to maintain a walkable path. As you approach Slide Creek camp the forest thins a bit, and crosses an open rock scree field that gives you glimpses up into the valley. By this point we had passed both large groups, and accounted for all of the cars in the parking lot. After Slide Creek we had the rest of the valley in isolation for a very peaceful, and silent wilderness experience. Rarely is it with this much solitude.

Slide Camp was the first test of the new 2oz in line sawyer mini-squeeze kit. I'll have a further review of use later, including maintenance, and function, but in essence I still retain my 2 bottle system allowing me to add a chlorine-dioxide purification treatment when needed or on light and fast hikes. It also has a no-frills, no extra parts required and was fully integrable with my platypus bladder systems that I currently use. The release of this filter in October of 2013, is likely going to change my water system permanently. The old Squeeze was too bulky, and heavy... The new mini-squeeze is trimmed down and won't be as bulky in my space is limited 9oz frameless pack when I choose to carry it.

After Slide Camp you go up, down, cross another fork of Slide Creek and then you cross the ONP boundry  where shortly after dogs are no longer permitted. We found a wider spot and sat down to make Chicken Ranch wraps and snack on some bacon before we began the slow descent to the Gray Wolf River Camp where the backcountry self register box still exists. I'm not sure if anyone is picking up permits. Having already registered at the Port Angeles WIC we took a left and headed up the river valley. Until this point, other than crossing the Gray Wolf River at Slab Camp we were high above the river and out of sight of the river below. Starting at Gray Wolf camp you are following right along the river for the rest of the trip up the valley. Around this area the forest slowly begins to become older growth as you go further up the valley. Along the way there was a long log crossing, and more meandering through majestic mossy woodlands until we reached Camp Ellis. We decided to stop here instead of pushing on to Falls Camp after such a late start. Setting up camp, overfilling our dinner with water, and making some tent maintenance required before the next trip we finally sat down to make a fire and relax before crashing for the night.

The next morning we made an amazing breakfast! (which Dani and Richard introduced to me on the last backpacking trip). 2 quart ziplocs were filled with a half packet of Idaho instant butter mashed potatoes, and half a packet of McCormick peppered gravy. A third bag was filled with a 1/2 cup of Providence Pantry freeze dried sausage crumbles (boy are these tasty! even without re-hydrating!). The sausage was re-hydrated with the requisite amount of water, and we found that between 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups of hot water was about right for the FBC method. A side of Oberto Applewood Bacon Jerky made for an amazingly filling and delicious backcountry breakfast! This will likely be a staple from now on.

After breakfast we finished tearing down camp and meandered on to Gray Wolf camp. We crossed the Gray Wolf River and had a snack alongside the larger tributary of Cameron Creek. From here it was up and on out. At Slab Camp we stopped for an Italian Sausage, Baby Bell cheese, spicy mustard and mayo wraps before the haul back up the hill to the car. Up and to this point we had barely encountered rain showers, and at lunch it was blue skies and sunny! On the up hill out of the valley, this slowly changed... The closer we got to the ridge, the larger the drops of rain!

Gear in review:
The new filtration system is going to stick around for at least a few more trial runs if not indefinitely.

The adjustment to my rain gear on this trip was adding the rain wrap back into the equation like mentioned in the recent Elkhorn trip. Using that in conjunction with converting my pants to shorts kept me significantly drier. When I get the sewing machine back, I'll fabricate some sil-nylon trail gators for those trips of imminent rain. Knowing my shoe's gore-tex is shot I'll need to test the current rain system with non-leaky shoes anyhow.

The Ti-SOL Jetboil is still kicking strong. It is usable for 2, with at least 2 boils of water for breakfast and drinks. This trip was an experiment, to see how much of a hassle it was and whether I wanted to take one of my larger 1.3L or 2L pots with next time.

66" Neoair pad, Neoair sit pad, and my down jacket in an 8L Ultra-sil dry bag for a pillow is definitely the most comfortable sleep I have been in the backcountry! This setup is staying...

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