You Can’t Win Them All
The forecast called for beautiful days over the weekend. Clear, dry, and warm. We wanted to find a hike with spectacular views. With a little online research we found Pete’s Creek & Colonel Bob Peak. Only 8.2 miles roundtrip with 360 degree views that included the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Rainier, the Pacific Ocean, and much more. This is exactly what we were looking for so we planned to head that way Saturday morning.
It’s the journey, not the destination, but that doesn’t make sense until you get there. ~ J.R. Rim
Pete’s Creek Trail
The first leg of the trip starts at Pete’s Creek Trailhead, located in the southwestern part of Olympic National Forest. Getting there from the Tacoma area is about a 2.5 hour drive which takes you through the city of Aberdeen and continues up Highway 101 to the Lake Quinault area.
Once you reach the trailhead parking lot, you’ll have the opportunity to use a single restroom before setting out. Don’t forget to display your Northwest Forest Pass or your Interagency Pass. Make sure you have plenty of water and some snacks as this hike is a difficult one.
The first 1.5 miles of this hike is relatively easy, as far as elevation gain is concerned. The vegetation is a bit overgrown, and it encroaches on the trail here. Women’s hiking pants and even women’s long sleeves – like Stacy’s Lea Pullover – are recommended as you’ll brush up against a lot of this.
The ticklish caress of spider silk on the face and arms lets you know the trail isn’t oft traveled. The trail is often little more than a chaotic jumble of rocks, roots, and debris. A good deal of the path appears to be a dry, narrow creek bed. It’s a rugged trail, but the ruggedness of the path is offset by the beauty of blossoms.
You’ll notice this place is filled with what seems like a trillion trilliums. They’re everywhere to be enjoyed in all their stages. The vibrant, pure white of a snuggly wrapped bud to the deep burgundy of withering blooms. Trilliums go out in a burst of deep color, like the last gasp of a star going supernova.
There are a couple areas of the trail which are hard to find, including one that crosses what appears to be some kind of washed out area. Thankfully, some hikers before us planted some sticks straight up on both sides here to indicate the way.
Roughly 1.5 miles into the hike we came across a small campsite area next to the creek. There’s only enough room for one or two tents max, but the ground is pretty level here. The charred remains of wood and rock indicated a long ago extinguished campfire (not permitted here). It was the perfect spot for our first break.
Continuing onward, the trail noticeably becomes steeper. Did we mention the elevation gain is 3,510’ over this short 4.1 miles up? This became undeniable from this point on.
We eventually exited the canopy of the forest and reached an open meadow area which provided a clear view of how much further we had to go. The air here changes from damp to drier and a bit cooler. We’re unsure of the name of the distant peak. However, it’s still a long way to go, and the actual destination is behind, out of view, and even higher. The vegetation here begins to change as we’d entered a subalpine elevation.
We trekked on, stopping often for water now. We eventually reached a trail junction with the Colonel Bob Trail to the right.
Colonel Bob Trail
Upon reaching this junction we were met by three other hikers who were descending. They told us that there was a bunch of snow a bit further up, and once we hit it, there would be snow the rest of the way. We weren’t prepared for this!
Reading some trip reports before heading out we knew there was some snow about a month and a half ago. The weather had been pretty amazing since then, so we thought it would be mostly gone by now. Not the case.
We were now in an open area where a landslide was present just across the way. Other trip reporters indicated seeing mountain goats in this rocky area. Not today. We hiked on and the trail became ever steeper. Some downed trees blocked that trail in a few spots, and others before us had made a makeshift trail to get around them. It was a bit difficult as we had to climb over quite a few of these downed trees, but nothing impassable. Another group of 10 hikers was heading down. We didn’t exchange many words, but we did notice they had snowshoes attached to the sides of their packs. Not a good sign for us.
Still, we continued on through a set of switchbacks. Another party passed us on their way down. This time it was only two hikers, and they didn’t have much gear at all. The only thing they said to us was that there was a lot of snow ahead. We’re not sure if they made it to the summit or not. We pressed on.
We soon hit the snowy area. It wasn’t that bad, manageable, and after a short distance it was gone. But not for long. The trail made its way to the north side of the mountain. Here, the sun didn’t shine as much, and there was snow as far as we could see.
We continued, the trail descending a bit and then ascending again. When we say the trail, we mean footprints in the snow before us. There was no visible sign of the trail. Hearing the sounds of running water nearby, without always being able to locate it, we decided it was time to make a decision.
No Summit but a Worthy Journey
After going on for another 10 minutes, we reached an open area with a rocky top that gave us a great view of the Olympic mountains to the north. We stopped here for a break and discussed our options. We saw the finish line in the distance. Way off, still. The whole way was covered in snow. This was going to be it for today.
We’d like to say that the unexpected snow is what kept us from continuing on. But, truth be told, we were pretty exhausted at this point. This was certainly the most elevation gain we’ve attempted, and we underestimated how difficult it was going to be. Had there been no snow, we’re still not so sure we would have finished.
We had a late start, and the sun would be setting within a few hours. Even without snow, trip reports indicate it was still another hour to the summit. We’d already spent 3 hours getting this far. We headed back.
Heading back was almost as challenging as heading up. The steepness was a pain on our already tired knees all the way down. We need to look into getting some trekking poles soon! We reached the previously mentioned campsite and rested there once again. We were just as sweaty coming down as we were heading up. This trail is no joke.
We finally arrived to the Jeep, two hours later. Exhausted.
On the drive out, along the National Forest dirt road, we spotted a herd of elk in the woods. We were also challenged by an indecisive Grouse in the road who did not want us to pass.
Like we mentioned earlier, this was the most challenging hike we’ve done yet. It’s also the first hike that we were unable to complete. It was still a great experience and provided us with a killer workout. We’ll be back in a couple months to give it another go!
Side Note: Very soon into our hike we could hear what sounded to be distant sort of drumming sounds. Low, bassy, hollow and rhythmic. Almost as if someone was playing music somewhere quite far off. This area is fairly remote, so music was unlikely. The sounds seemed to be closer at certain points, one of which when near a large, upright, dead tree.
We heard the sudden flapping of wings as of a startled bird, but never saw one. We chalked it up to birds calling to one another……or insert your favorite Cthulhu reference here.
- Distance: 8.2 miles, roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 3,300’
- Highest Point: 4,510’
- Difficulty: Difficult, steep
- Wildlife Seen: Elk, Grouse, Songbirds
- U.S. Forest Service trail info
- Google Maps with Points of Interest