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I've been set on getting my feet wet with backpacking this year. I did my first overnight trip along Thunder Creek a couples weeks ago, and was hoping to do a 3-day trip for Memorial Day weekend.

My plan thus far has been to set out to the Olympic Peninsula, but it looks like it could be cold and soggy for the weekend. Can anybody recommend an early season trip in the Northwest? My criteria so far has been:

  • 6 to 10 miles per day (18 - 30 total)
  • Less than 400 elevation ft/mi average
  • Low temp above 40, High temp at least 50

Specific recommendations, or pointers to good planning resources are all appreciated!

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The Olympic Peninsula is always cold and soggy. –  Olin Lathrop May 23 '13 at 18:46
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2 Answers

I realize you already made your trip, but I will answer your question anyhow. These tips are not regionally constrained to the Olympic Peninsula.

1) Footwear When setting out to wet places or in rainy weather always take a second pair of boots. In my experience from the army every shoe will let in water sooner or later under heavy rain. Always pack a couple of durable plastic bags with two heavy duty rubber bands (useful for other tasks as well). So if you have to cross a stream you just step in the bags and seal them off over your calves with the rubber. They will get you through wider streams than you'd think. Keep in mind: improvise - adapt - overcome. Always bring your wits when you go hiking. Change your socks often.

2) Clothing Clothing is very individual, and everyone finds out what becomes him most. However I am of the opinion to dress light. You should be cold before you walk. If your still cold after the first mile, walk faster! You cannot avoid perspiration, but try to limit it. Soaked feet will not be a problem for 3 days and 30 miles, but better learn good habits early. Use synthetic material that can dry fast. Get some nice comfortable cotton clothes for the evening/night, but make sure they stay dry. Do not wear them while sleeping, even without a tent perspiration during the night in the enclosed sleeping bag will make them humid. Also, sleeping bags warm better through direct contact to the skin.

3) Packing Use compression bags to pack your clothes. You save space and will be able to pack a sturdier pack and well-distribute weight. This makes a hug difference the heavier your pack gets. I assume you know this, but just to be complete on these essentials: Carry the weight on your hips, not your shoulders! The hip belt and frame are the most important features of a pack. Consider buying a Camelback (cannot post more than 2 links sorry). Having the water easily accessible through the hose will encourage you to drink. It's easy to forget drinking in cold weather, but it is very unpleasant later on and can get dangerous sooner than you might expect.

4) Sleeping Another useful tip in cold and wet weather, assuming your a purist and not sleeping with a closed tent, is to put your walking clothes that are humid between the inner and the outter layer of the sleeping bag: The heat from the inside will dry them through the night (just remember to let the outer cover rather loose so the hot and humid air can escape. With a closed tent you can use a one layer sleeping bag and hang the clothes in the tent (but leave it open so warm and humid air gets out).

Buy a Jetboil. In a less than two minutes you can fill a bottle with hot water. By holding this to your chest and belly you will fall asleep easily even in extremely cold weather. Before you drift off throw the bottle to the bottom of the bag, warm feet are a luxurious pleasure when sleeping in cold weather.

Might seem ridiculous to mention, but you never know who might read this: before Hiking anywhere, especially alone, be sure of your navigating skills! Always bring a compass and a map. I understand we have access to GPS and iPhones and whatnot - but I know just as well that whatever can go wrong eventually goes wrong. It is Murphy's Law. Google it. A compass and a map doesn't go wrong, as well as informing someone of your approximate locations and est. return date. Trust in the most simple solutions.. it should be at least your plan B.

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I am near Seattle and I am getting some miles in around Snoqualmie and Middle Fork Wilderness areas. I think you should stay close to help if you need it in a hurry. At least try to stay in reasonable cell service. Large areas of the Leavenworth National Forest, Steven's Pass and much of the North Cascades are outside cell service. I guess you could have an EPIRB or a sat phone, but the help is still some time away. I grew up around the North Cascades and the thought of a green camper stepping out alone to try his new hobby in the North Cascades makes me cringe.

Snoqualmie has cell phone reception nearly throughout the Sno Valley. That equals some comfort, and practicality even. You can dial in navigation, and stay in touch with loved ones/checkins. Another benefit is the area is more heavily travelled. Less bear, slightly lower likelihood of human/animal hostile encounter than say Steven's Pass. (based on current Cascade bear, wolf, cougar, and wolverine migration data)

I believe the North Cascades are a bit more brutal overall, but the Snoqualmie Valley, North Bend array, and Issaquah Alps all offer plenty of getaway and challenge. Take a look at Alpine Lakes Wilderness if you need more elevation. I have been going to Otter falls each year and that is fun also.

Suggested route inside the Snoqualmie Valley is:

Snoqualmie Valley Trail.... to John Wayne Trail / John Wayne State Park (Near Rattlesnake Lake)

overnight camping at John Wayne state Park...

continue to Summit at Alpental along John Wayne Trail (AKA, Iron Horse Trail).

I run this route from North Bend occasionally. Its a nice easy grade, some nice scenery, and still in cell phone reception.


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