Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Staircase Rapids Loop

Distance: 2 miles round trip
Critters: Banana Slugs
Flora: More ferns than you can shake a stick at

Sunlight only dimly reaches the floor of the forest on the Staircase Rapids Loop

While on business to the Ft. Lewis area of Washington State last month, I took a day to explore the area. I wanted to set foot in Olympic National Park and so I drove to the Staircase Area, which took me about an hour. My original intent was to hike the Hoh Rainforest, but that trailhead was 3 hours away. Let me tell you that the Olympic Peninsula is big!

Lake Cushman borders the route to the Grand Staircase area

Moss and ferns, moss and ferns!

I started freaking out the moment I stepped onto the Staircase Rapids Trail. The trees were the size of skyscrapers, the ferns the size of Volkswagen Beetles, and the moss looked like it would reach out smother you if you stood still too long. The forest was so dense that 10 Sasquatches could have been hiding behind each tree and you never would know it. I kept waiting for a giant Banana Slug to leap out and cover me in a blanket of slime. Step off the trail in this forest and you would be lost for the next 10,000 years. They would never even find your bones! And this was only 1 mile into the wilderness!

Typical Trail Segments

The Staircase Rapids Trail follows the Skokomish River and winds in and out of dense trees. The bridge was out at the far end, and although I had planned on fording the stream, decided not to when I saw the speed of the current and the large rocks I would have had to walk on. I am not sure the trail would have been much different on the other side. The forest seemed uniformly green to me. Sigh, I am such a spoiled Coloradan. In Colorado, as all my blog posts will attest, the scenery is forever changing. I wonder if I would get bored hiking on the Olympic Peninsula if that is where I lived.

Bark of the Red Cedar Tree

Sunlight glinting through the moss

I did find myself being drawn to the micro-scale since the macro-scale was so monotonous. This too can be hazardous. Some fellow hikers discovered me ignominiously buttocks up, face down in a pile of moss. I told them I was fascinated by the forest within a forest. From their facial expressions, I could tell they thought I was rooting around for magic mushrooms like some truffle happy pig.


I had planned to spend the entire day in this area but decided to take the plunge and drive out to the coast instead. That was a very long drive indeed. Did I mention that the Olympic Peninsula is big?

Fungi with the river in the background

If you go to the staircase area, be advised that you may feel like you will never get there, or worse that you are lost on the back roads. There are very few signs guiding you to the park, and the main route travels besides Lake Cushman and all the splitter roads leading to lake-side cabins. The road also turns to dirt before it returns to pavement just before the entrance. That was particularly disconcerting.

River views

Rare glimpse of the Skokomish River in full sunlight

In the Staircase are is a ranger station and a bathroom, but no ranger on duty per say. There are maps to the entire park on the door to the cottage but the trail I was on was dwarfed by the scale of entire park. There are more strenuous trails in the area as well. To get to Wilson Lake, one hikes two miles with nearly 4,000 ft elevation gain. That is a 14er by Colorado standards. If the entire trip wasn't in the trees, I might have chosen that trail as an option.


Sarah Rebecca said...

I just discovered your blog last night while searching for pictures of Naylor Lake. Love it, love it, love it!!! :D
I've hiked in both Colorado and Washington - your blog brings back awesome memories!
Gorgeous pics! ~Sarah

~Cheryl said...

Absolutely delightful post!

Anonymous said...

So where's the OR slugs? Popper Bear

Nina said...

I have often been found 'buttocks up' while photographing something off-trail. You have the right idea: on trails in thick forest, the really interesting stuff is often small and not immediately obvious. Of course, a lot of the time the trees themselves can be the attraction. Your photo of Lake Cushman is beautiful.
I believe my parents visited the rain forest on a trip they took to that area last year. They must have taken over 1000 pictures there.