Trails for everyone, forever

Home Go Hiking Trip Reports Elwha River and Lillian River

Trip Report

Elwha River and Lillian River — Saturday, Jul. 23, 2022

Olympic Peninsula
This was not a WTA crew, but a volunteer effort nonetheless. Two of us went in to see about clearing the Elwha above Hayes Ranger station. It does get cleared every year until there, but past there has had logs down for a long time. 
It was a great and productive trip ... except for the oppressive heat (chainsaw pants, hard hats, gloves, long sleeves and heavy boots were not our friends!), the awful bugs, and the addition of the hard-on-the-body extra road walk from the Madison Falls trailhead with the Olympic Hot Springs road closed still and probably forever. 
Next time we give the Elwha this kind of love and attention, we will have to insist harder that the ONP give us a ride up and back down Whiskey Bend road with the vehicle they keep on the other side of the washout. That extra mileage was super hard on our feet and souls, and unnecessary for us to add on top of an already massively difficult trip!
Here's a summary:
Saturday 7/23: Finished getting packed and then hiked with full camp gear plus some tread and lopping tools up the road to then on the trail to camp at Lillian River (about 11ish miles). 
Sunday 7/24: Hiked from Lillian to Remann's Cabin (about 13 miles). Stopped at the tool shed at Elkhorn and got an 028 saw running, borrowed chaps, hard hat, gas, etc and loaded that on top of our camp gear for the last 1.5 miles to Remann's. We did that so we could be working on the trail while we waited for the ONP mule packers to bring up the 440 saw and gear they were packing up trail for us on Monday.
In the last mile or so before Elkhorn we did some tread work to make it safer for the mules to get through. Then we left those tools at the Elkhorn tool shed for packing out.
Monday 7/25: Hiked from Remann's Cabin 1.5 miles up trail with the saw gear (no camp) to the point where the ONP crew had run out of time and stopped clearing. Worked the morning and early afternoon to finish clearing this trail to Hayes (about 2.3 more miles, but it was not heavy work as that section has been cleared annually, unlike above Hayes). Got a hold of the packers on the radio to tell them it was now clear to Hayes. They informed us later that day they would be making the run all the way to Hayes and they got there about 6:00 in the evening after a very long day and some trouble with the mules that cost them stress and an extra 1.5 hours.
Since we were at Hayes by early afternoon, we decided to make a round trip on the 3.8 mile stretch to go get our camp from Remann's and move it to Hayes. So that was 11-1/2 miles for the day (none of these mileages count all the back and forth between pack and saw and water source, etc, that is always done when you're working). 
Tuesday 7/26: Packers headed back downriver to make the 25 mile run back to the corral. Meanwhile, we started up trail with saw equipment, leaving our camp at Hayes. Martin carried the saw as the 440 is a bit of a beast. We sure could have used another body to help us carry this equipment as it never got any lighter (and the heat wasn't helping at all!). We cleared 1.75 miles of trail that day, and then stashed the tools and headed back to our camp at Hayes. 
Wednesday 7/27: We packed up camp and moved it 4.5 miles upriver, past our tool cache. We set up camp at Wilder and then hiked 2.75 miles back down to pick up where we left off with the sawing. So that day, due to moving camp, we restarted the saw at about 11:30. Worked (with breaks from the heat) until about 4:15 when we had to stop due to near heat exhaustion in both of us. The log that made us stop for the day was right in the middle of a miserable thick section of salmonberry and wild rose brush, in the full sun on a day that was most surely above 90 degrees ... enough! Unfortunately that was still one mile from our camp at Wilder and this just so happened to be some of the worse brush and muck on the entire trail ....
Thursday 7/28: Headed back 1 mile downriver to pick up the saw again. Cleared until we got back to the Wilder junction, and then kept sawing 1 more mile upriver until it was time to call it quits. At that point we were about 3/8 mile upriver of the Godkin bridge. Godkin is a GORGEOUS creek, so large and with water moving so fast that it creates a lovely cooling breeze!  
It was today that we heard from a hiker that a large mess had come down behind us in an area we just cleared (he couldn't describe exactly where it was, but it turns out it was about 1.2 miles upriver of Hayes. And we figured out later that it had to have happened within an hour of us moving through there when we moved our camp up to Wilder). Unreal. We were eager to see that, but knew that we'd just have to save enough gas near the end of the trip to take care of that on the way back to Hayes. 
Friday 7/29: Hiked the one mile to our equipment and continued working upriver. Cleared another 1.5 miles that day. We feel we could have gotten farther, but we got stuck for 1.5 hours on a humungous pile of branches and limbs that was a complete stopping point for stock. Plus had to cut many rounds off a log to make it to stock width. 
Saturday 7/30: Hiked 2.5 miles to start our work for the day. Cleared another 1/2 mile and that got us to the first Elwha crossing (which is 3 miles upriver from Hayes or 2 miles downriver from Chicago camp). We spent significant time at the Buckinghorse creek crossing. There we cleared a log off the "footlog" (nature-donated tree) that hikers use, cut steps into the log to make it easier for shorter people like me to get up on the log with their packs, and - what took the most time - there was a log on the sand that was completely blocking the stock ford. So we worked on opening that up. Plus lopped out a bunch of alder that were threatening to crowd access for people and stock alike. 
There was one more 2-tree project right before the stock crossing of the Elwha ... but we looked at the amount of gas we had left and thought about the new project now waiting for us back towards Hayes ... we decided this project would eat up too much of the remaining gas - the hikers had all said the tree that came down was big (a couple had said about 3 feet diameter and we didn't know how many rounds we'd have to cut). We went back to Wilder and then we made a decision that we do not regret, but was miserable to carry out: we decided to carry both camp and the saw equipment at the same time (through the brushiest and muddiest section that is north of Wilder) until we came upon this project (which we figured - correctly - was about 3 miles back towards Hayes). Then we'd drop the tools and continue with camp to Hayes. All the tools had to go back to Hayes for mule pick up and - conveniently - now we had this new project waiting. We just DID NOT want to have to round trip AGAIN through the worse brush and mud and sun of the trail, so we went heavy. 
We dropped the tools at the project - it was an interesting one - and continued to the bridge over Hayes where we used a sweet little camp spot right there next to the bridge. 
Sunday 7/31: Hiked the 1 mile back upriver to the project. What had happened was this: a 3-foot doug fir had crumpled on one side. When it fell, it bound up high in the trees, so that one didn't need to be cut. But it smacked another 3 foot doug fir which uprooted when it got hit (and its rootball was also the trail - there went stock access!). That tree broke, and the top part of it landed over the hill so that 34 feet of it was suspended over the trail. Another smaller tree also came down. 
So I dropped the 34-feet of suspended tree with one cut and - nicely - that landed and rolled right off below the trail. Sweet! Neatened up that cut (to widen the trail more), removed the smaller tree, and then turned our attention to the part that was still attached to the uprooted rootball that was now a torn up trail. We decided to cut it and hope that would settle the rootball back down. It was not an easy cut, due to various factors. But we got it done (Martin had to do that one due to the size of the tree, we needed his height). The rootball did, in fact, settle back down. Not all the way. But enough so that hikers won't even notice as they whiz by, and a tread team can easily clean the rootball off and trim it so that stock can get by with no crowding. 
Okay, so we finished that in the late morning. Then we had to organize ourselves, get all the tools back to Hayes and clearly label and organize it for mule pickup later in the season. Forgot my loppers and small Corona saw at the site so I had to do another 2 miles round trip to retrieve them (but I had no pack on me so I was quick as a rabbit). We really didn't get moving back down trail until about 2:45 that afternoon, and it was still beastly hot. We decided to make Marys Falls our destination for that night (about 8-1/2 miles on top of the approximately 5ish we had already done going between camp, project, Hayes, etc). After Marys Falls is a long climb up and over to get to Lillian, which we didn't have it in us to do that evening. Marys Falls was our least favorite camp of the trip, but it was a place to sleep.
Monday 8/1: We were hiking by 5:55 am (couldn't face another hot day!). We had about 16-1/2 miles or so to hike out, 7 of which is on Whiskey Bend road and the Olympic Hot Springs road ......... 
Total mileage on our feet: approximately 100. With packs in various stages of heavy. In the heat.
But it was lots of fun! 
Long story short: the Elwha is now clear until the first Elwha crossing, which is 2 miles downriver of Chicago Camp. For this crossing, if it's late enough in the season (late July was when it saw it and it was fine) I suggest fording at the stock crossing rather than taking the "footlog." The log is nature-donated and nature did not provide a handrail. But worse, it's not a large log and now it's old and sagging and cracking, made worse by the tree that has landed on it and is weighing it down. Now, when I say "clear" keep in mind that's a moving target. Along with the mess that came down that we cleared, we saw 3 more trees that had come down as we hiked back out. One was small, a step over, but the other (on either side of Lillian) will have to be cleared for stock to get through again. 
We hope next year to get back in there to finish clearing to Low Divide. 
Sometimes it takes a lot of rounds to get the corridor wide enough for stock.