By Amy Rowley
I can’t remember my exact age. I was younger than 20. My sole focus was impressing my boyfriend, showing off (non-existent) skills as a backpacker and outdoor enthusiast. The truth of the matter was that my family’s idea of “camping” was far different than my now-husband’s family. They planned for weeks, securing all the gear necessary for a multi-day adventure in the wooded wonderland. More importantly, the kids grew up with this style of vacationing so it was second nature. Load the backpack with the Ten Essentials, include enough moleskin to last you for the entire trip, share the weight of food and head out.
I probably should have started on an easier route, rather than the grueling 13-mile, one-way hike to Enchanted Valley. Perhaps, I should have spoke up and informed the crew that I maybe wasn’t cut out for this length of the trip. But, when you are a teenager you are bold (and often not so bright). Instead, I plastered a smile on my face, loaded my pockets with Jolly Ranchers and kept up with the stragglers in the back of the pack.
Years later, I am reflecting on that trip as news circulates about the imminent doom of the Enchanted Valley chalet. The iconic chalet was built in the early 1930s, prior to the establishment of Olympic National Park, by Quinault Valley residents. Besides being a beacon for weary hikers (me!), the chalet has served as a lodge for hikers and horse riders before becoming a backcountry ranger station and emergency shelter.
The trail to the chalet follows the East Fork of the Quinault River.
According to the Olympic National Park Service, the migration of the Quinault River is common, especially in the wide, flat expanse of Enchanted Valley. Many factors can impact the river to shift and carve a new channel, including storms, fallen trees, rockslides, and simply the constant process of erosion.
The chalet now sits perilously close to the edge of the river.
“The chalet has a great deal of local and regional significance and is well-known to anyone who has traveled to Enchanted Valley in the past 75 years,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum.
Hoquiam resident, Katri Pelan, traveled this route as a kid with her family. She recalled a camping trip where the ranger staying at the chalet had asked a friend to hike in with supplies. “The hiker misread the request for Coke and brought cake mix instead,” she says with a laugh. The ranger shared the cake with Pelan’s hiking party, sitting around the campfire.
Pelan is quick to point out that while this experience was humorous, Enchanted Valley holds many special memories. “I remember the wide river, and beautiful old wooden chalet. We would wade through the cold river and climb the rocks to a waterfall where we would wash our hair,” she said.
“For me, the Enchanted Valley was the final camping spot for my first traverse across the Olympic National Park,” says avid hiker, Douglas Scott, who now leads hiking and backpacking adventures on the Olympic Peninsula through his company, Exotic Hikes. “While I was only 13 at the time, the image of the chalet made me forget about the previous six days worth of backpacking aches and pains and reminded me that civilization was always just around the corner.”
“Situated in the gorgeous valley, I sat for hours, watching cascading waterfalls tumble down steep cliffs as black bears roamed the riverbanks. It was a magical experience and one that started my addiction to hiking,” Scott continued. “The Chalet helped me realize just how rugged the area was, and the wooden structure was perfectly juxtaposed with the nature settings. The Chalet became a destination for me in the past few years, serving as a winter oasis for solitude and meditation.”
Given the remote location, options are limited to save the historic chalet. It now stands inches from the bank of the Quinault River. The park service will continue biweekly aerial photography flights to provide experts with current information.
We’ve shared the story of my first backpacking trip with our children. My husband hoped to introduce them to Enchanted Valley (preferably at a younger age than my first overnight hiking trip). Alas, unless Mother Nature has a different plan we’ll be looking at photos of the iconic relic rather than exposing the kids to it first hand.