Olympic National Park: My Second Ever Backpacking Trip

I was invited on a two-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park with two lady adventure friends. The shenanigans with friends on the first day was invigorating, and the solitude of an early morning photo tour on the second day was a dream.

By: Heather DuBrall + Save to a List

We hiked 17.7 miles in total. A year ago I would've cringed at the thought of such a distance, believing that there was no way I could travel long distances without suffering from my knee pain. Back then, anything over 8 miles with a decent incline would cause throbbing aches in my leg.

One of my most painful aches happened after a 9.2-mile hike in the North Cascades. I felt fine on the way up but after miles of a hard impact on the descent, I started to limp. By the time we got back to the car, my legs were on fire. I was suffering and it took me several days to recover.

I've always wanted to backpack but the fear of pain kept me from committing to any trip longer than 10 miles. It took me many months to condition my body for longer, more demanding hikes and climbs.

This past January, I started training for a basic climbing class I was going to take with the Washington Alpine Club (WAC). The class teaches the basics of mountaineering, with a graduation climb of Mt. Baker at the end of the class. I spent two and a half months conditioning myself for the outdoor adventures I was going to embark on while in the class. Unfortunately, COVID hit Washington in March, and the class was canceled this year, which was heart-breaking. I was so ready to learn and connect with other outdoor-loving folks, only to have the opportunity pushed back yet another year.

. . .

After months in quarantine with only snippets of outdoor time, when my friend Gina invited me to backpack with her and another friend, I jumped at the opportunity. It had been almost two months since I was training for the WAC class, I wasn't sure how well my body would do on this trip - it was very much an experiment as it was an experience.

The day before we set off for the backpacking trip, Gina and I met in Port Gamble for an afternoon of mountain biking. I was nervous about biking right before backpacking but I had kept myself fairly active over quarantine and I wanted to see how far I could push myself. We rode for a few hours, ending up with a total of 11.7 miles with an elevation gain of 1,180ft.

. . .

Day One

We took it easy on the way up to our camping spot way up in the mountains. Chatting, catching up, getting to know one another. I don't often hike with only women but when I do, I feel connected, having similar experiences and perspectives to share is empowering. Side note: I want to connect with more outdoorsy women, it's just hard to break into a new group, and a lot of my current women adventure friends have boyfriends as climbing and hiking partners.

Gina and Emma both have more backpacking experience than I so they shared some helpful tips and tricks - one of the most important was that I should definitely invest in a Kula cloth! I purchased one for my next backpacking trip (July 21st-24th) and I'm praying that it comes in the mail before I leave.

When we reached the upper basin, we took a dip in the water (refreshingly cold!), enjoyed a few summit beers, and ate dinner as the sun dropped down below the horizon.

Being outside and experiencing the freedom of the wild is utterly cathartic. I don't feel rushed or anxious about anything. In fact, everything actually feels slower and more intentional. My everyday life sits on the back burner as I enjoy myself in the present moment. When I'm out there, away from it all, I feel comfortable in my skin, I feel at home.

I've done many day-hikes where I've wished I didn't have to leave to go back to "real life." Now that I'm a van dweller and capable backpacker, I can taste the freedom waiting for me. I spent years holding myself back from these experiences because I was afraid and doubtful that I could do it, but something's changed in me and it's helping me unlock an entirely new and exciting life for myself. Adventure isn't a dream anymore, it's my waking life.

. . .

Day Two

My alarm went off at 1:20 am. I cracked my eyes open, disabled the alarm, and poked my head out from the tent. Glistening stars stretched across the sky as far as my eyes could see. I was wrapped up and comfortable in my sleeping bag, unable to muster the willpower to fully get out of bed to try my hand at astrophotography. My eyes closed and I slowly drifted back to sleep...

The next alarm went off at 5:00 am. Once again, I cracked my eyes open and shut off the alarm, this time I committed to breaking away from the warmth of my sleeping bag. I was compelled to witness the day's first light span across the mountainous basin we camped at the night before.

I experienced the sunrise in solitude, wandering from the lake to the meadow, and then onward to the upper basin. Camera in hand, I let my curiosity guide me as I roamed the basin, framing photos as I made my way up the trail.

. . .

Heather DuBrall | She Roams

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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