When talking about types of hikers, the list can vary from three to eight distinct types. However, it is the first four types of hikers that I look at as pertaining to the main hiking groups. Very often, a trail or portions of a trail will host all four types of hikers. The Hoh River Trail in the Olympic Peninsula is not an exception to that rule. Actually, the trail itself can be classified as mostly flat and easy, except in the Winter and early Spring when events during the Winter can add obstacles to the trail. At least three of the main four types of hikers; the day hikers, the weekend hikers, and the distance hikers may share the Hoh River Trail in its first five miles. The largest group is the day hikers: they arrive in busloads and tend to crowd the first two and a half miles of the trail up to the Mineral Creek Falls. This portion of the trail, from the visitor center to the falls, is pretty flat. The trailhead is located at the Hall of Mosses where most of the visitors to the park will spend their time. Some will stretch their ‘walk in the park’ to the Mineral Creek Waterfall and fewer will reach the Five Mile Island. Needless to say, the small bank of sand in the middle of the river gets its name because it is located at five miles from the visitor center. Just a handful in the first two types of hikers will venture farther than the Five Mile Island.
Day hikers are the most diverse and colorful group and their attire may range from casual shirt to shorts, tank tops, one 16 ounce bottle of water and no backpack or proper hiking gear to the more professional hiking wear. Depending on the trail and parks regulations, they may bring their pets and it can involve friends and family, ranging from toddlers to elders. Thus, the closer you find yourself to the trailhead, the more day hikers you will encounter and I guarantee it will be louder. There is no solitude at this portion of a trail. The second group is the weekend hiker, which by definition will spend two to three nights on the trail, but distance is not necessarily what defines this group. Weekend hikers may hike just a couple of miles to a campsite and settle there for one, two, or three nights to enjoy the ‘outdoor living’ away from urban living for the weekend. Or, they may hike longer distances to a more secluded campsite. While settled in a campsite, they may do day hikes each day to explore and experience different trails in the area. This type of hike is popular with small groups of friends with varying hiking skills and young couples.
Distance hikers is the third group. This type of hike gets a tad trickier because it involves more planning, a certain degree of experience, and gear. Distance hikers seek the solitude away from the crowded and loud trailheads, experiencing amazing places and sites few will ever see. This is the type of hiker I considere myself to be for most part. It is certainly my favorite type of hike. Whenever I set foot on a trail, I always look forward to get through the first couple of miles as fast as I can. Leaving behind the first two types of hikers and begin to enjoy the peace and quiet that I seek when I hike is always my top priority. The fourth group, the through hikers, is the so- called ‘nomads of the trail’, or the ‘bushy beards’. These are hikers who will remain on the trail, away from civilization for extended periods of time. Often this group takes on a more spiritual nature of solitude.
By the time I reached the Olympic Peninsula, I had been on the road for over two months. Although I had not been hiking consecutively on a single trail or trail network, I had spent most of the time on hiking trails. With a few day hike exceptions, I had done a quite a few backcountry hiking, camping at large for three to five days stretches. The lines between distance hike and through hike were getting a little blurred. I certainly had gained the nickname of ‘caveman’ because of my ‘bushy beard’ which was a far cry from my corporate, clean-cut look my friends back in New York were accustomed to. At that point I had hiked more than a couple of hundred miles and spent most of the time in the wilderness.
I left the campsite at the visitor center early in the morning to beat the arrival of the day hikers at the Hall of Mosses. It was a beautiful day at the visitor center. The sun was shining and the temperatures were expected to reach the mid seventies. However, once on the trail lined with giant cedars, spruce, fir trees and endless ferns, it is almost impossible to see the sun above. For most part, this trail immerses in the true rainforest experience. The caveat at that particular time of the year was that being in the early days of Spring, after a long, harsh Winter, the trail passed the Five Mile Island had not been used enough and debris brought down by the Winter storms had not yet been cleared. I had been warned that the park rangers had not made to the Blue Glacier yet and the conditions of the trail was unknown; reason why the ranger station was not issuing permits for camping beyond the Lewis Meadows campground located at 10.3 miles from the visitor center.
Up to the Five Mile Island the hike was relatively easy. Only just over five miles separated me from the Five Mile Island to the Lewis Meadows campsite. Nonetheless, the five remaining miles became exponentially more difficult each mile I conquered. The obstacles were increasingly challenging. Speaking of solitude, on my way up passed the Five Mile Island, I bumped into a group of three young ladies who were returning from their overnight camping. We chatted for a few minutes, enough for them to tell me how gruesome the trail ahead was. Hundreds of trees that had fallen over the trail were the most common hurdle. At some of the fallen trees, I had to go under, over, or around them. Going under or over them was quite difficult because of the weight of my backpack. Going around trees that measured up to a hundred feet kept adding to the distance. Besides, going around the trees meant getting off the trail and braving the overgrown vegetation.
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of the trail at this portion was not being able to discern where the trail was at all. There were portions of the trail that due to the amount of fallen trees or branches of trees, was difficult to determine if I was still on the trail or not. However, the absolutely challenge was crossing the creeks! The bridges had all been washed away during the Winter, which meant crossing the creeks in the water bed. At each creek crossing, that in certain cases meant crossing more than thirty feet in the water bed, it was hard to find where to get on the trail on the other side. Some hikers had marked the trail on the other side of the creeks with stone markers, but even those markers were hard to find. In certain cases there were multiple markings which made it more confusing. After crossing the first creek and getting my feet wet in waters at temperatures in the thirties, hiking and carrying a heavy backpack became more and more a grueling task. My backpack was a little heavier than what should have been and the culprit was my military sleeping bag.
After spending two nights at Lewis Meadows, feeling rested, it was time to hike the ten miles back to the visitor center where I had left my car. During the couple of days spent at Lewis Meadow, I only saw five people. A group of four guys were camping on the opposite far end of the meadow and we never spoke. Another hiker came in on the first day right after I set up my tent. He had attempted to do what I had planned to do; to try and hike as far as I could toward the Blue Glacier, as suggested by the ranger at the visitor center. That hiker told me that he went as far as just a mile to realize that it was too risky to try and advance farther up. He told me that the amount of accumulated snow made it impossible to tell where the trail was and the risk to fall into deep creeks or holes was too high. Coming from a much more experienced hiker of the Olympic Peninsula trails who was not only a native to the region but who also worked for a wildlife protection organization, I decided to follow his advise and return from the meadows. It was a cold morning on Sunday, Mother’s Day. I got up at five hoping to reach the trailhead by no later than ten. I would call my mother as I regained telephone signal and drive back to Seattle. I hiked 10.3 miles that morning without meeting anyone on the trail! All types of hikers were absent!