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Backpacking Building Blocks Overnight Field Trip - Slab Camp Creek to Camp Tony & Ned Hill

We hiked from Slab Camp trailhead in Buckhorn Wilderness of Olympic National Park to Gray Wolf Camp in ONP.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • This was an early season, low elevation hike beginning at 2600', descending into the Gray Wolf Valley at 1600', then back up to 2100'.  This trail is Valley hike and, as such, is not one of the more popular destination hikes.  However, the Gray Wolf River is beautiful and since it was early June, we saw many beautiful flowers and Rhodies in bloom. 

    Since it was early season, the creeks were flowing at higher levels and there were many downed trees.  There were over 35 downed trees on a 2.5 mile segment from Slide Camp to Gray Wolf Camp. It was possible to get around all of them but about 10 of them required crawling under on hands and knees or climbing over and clinging to the bark so as not to slide down and off the trail.  For two of the trees, we had to scamper above the trail in loose soil and to get to the other side.  A little messy but otherwise okay.

This trip was originally posted as a 5.5 mile hike to Slide Camp from Slab Camp Creek trailhead in the Buckhorn Wilderness for an easy one-night backpack.  I had heard from another leader that Slide Camp was small and not very level so I decided to get a permit for Gray Wolf Camp, which is another 2.8 miles of hiking into Olympic National Park, extending the trip to 8.3 miles each way.  I requested the permit by faxing in the ONP form within 72 hours of the first day we planned to camp. It's not necessary to drive to the ranger station in Port Angeles to get this permit.

Two cars of Mountaineers took the 7:55 Saturday morning ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. We then drove about an hour to the Long House Market & Deli in Sequim, adjacent to the 7 Cedars Casino to rendezvous, buy coffee and snacks and use their restroom.  This is a great place to meet on the east side of ONP because it has pretty good cell service.  The casino also lets you park overnight in their parking lot if you want to consolidate cars, as long as you let them know.  From there, it was another 30-40 minutes to the trailhead going by way of Taylor Cut-off Road from the north, which is much easier, involving less driving on Forest Service roads.  The dirt roads were not bad--a few potholes but could be navigated by a low clearance vehicle if driven with care.

The hike is a reverse hike.  We started at 2600' and descended 1,000' in the first three miles to the Gray Wolf Valley. We saw rhododendrons in bloom and beautiful "maiden hair" moss hanging from the trees. (I'm making up the term maiden hair but it seemed appropriate.)

At three miles, we encountered Camp Tony on the bank of the Gray Wolf River where we had a snack. This section of the trail is lovely with old growth trees, draped moss and the surging river. Also, since this is the Buckhorn Wilderness, you do not have to get a permit. However, three miles is not far enough of a hike for Mountaineers so we pressed on.

After crossing the river on an impressive bridge, we began climbing switchbacks about 600'. We encountered several lovely flowers and beautiful old growth cedar and Douglas Firs trees but not any views. The beauty of this hike is in the forest itself and not the long range views, though we did get a few peekaboo views of Deer Ridge and other snow capped mountains in the background as we approached the 2200' level.

Since it was early June, the creek levels were relatively high and required a little more care in crossing. There was one creek that had a pretty thin log to cross with no railing, which was a challenge for everyone but not particularly dangerous.  Some hikers chose to remove their boots and walk across in the creek itself, hanging on to the footbridge.  All made it across safely.

We reached Slide Camp at 5.5 miles and it was too small and felt damp as it was under dense tree cover right next to a creek. We had lunch, filled out water bottles at the creek and pressed on.  We encountered more than 35 downed trees in the 2.8 mile stretch from Slide Camp to Gray Wolf Camp. We could get around all of them but about 10 of them required either crawling on hands and knees to get under or straddling and hanging on tight to the bark to crawl over. I'm glad it was dry because we would have become quite dirty if it had been raining.

We descended the same 600' we just climbed to reach the Valley Floor and Gray Wolf Camp at 8.3 miles. The camp was large and we were the only campers so we had the run of the place right on the river. We saw a great variety of flowers along the way and in camp. Camp fires are allowed at this level, though we were not interested in starting one.

The next morning I and another Mountaineer hiked the .4 miles to Three Forks Camp, which was large and flat.  The camp was lovely as it was situated right at the point where three major tributaries feed into the Gray Wolf River I(hence the name Three Forks). We had to crawl over a huge fallen tree and cross two more sturdy bridges on the way to the camp.  This spot was a little prettier than the Gray Wolf camp but both are nice.

While both Gray Wolf and Three Forks camps had a privy, the one at Three Forks was totally enclosed and therefore preferable to the one at Gray Wolf Camp. Three Forks is also where the junction is to hike north to Deer Camp or west to Cameron Valley. It's possible to do a loop to Deer Camp and then east back to the starting point along Deer Ridge trail. In the future, I would like to do this loop hike and will definitely stay at Three Forks (and Deer Camp).

A good time was had by all.  Early to mid-June is a good time to do this hike to see a great variety of flowers, many of which I had not seen before.

 

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