By Douglas Scott
As the sun was shining on the Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park, butterflies and birds flew along the riverbanks, at home and calm. Mount Anderson and the Anderson Glacier loomed large to the northeast, tower over the valley, dwarfing the three story chalet sitting dangerously close to the Quinault River. The valley, home to numerous roaming black bears, was instead full of workers, mules and horses. The region, normally packed with backpackers and adventurers enjoying the last sunny weekend of summer had been turned into the scene of an $124,000 relocation of one of the oldest and largest building in Olympic National Park.
The Enchanted Valley Chalet had sat in the same spot in the Quinault Region of the Olympic Peninsula since it was completed in 1931, seven years before Olympic National Park was created. Originally a privately owned backcountry lodge, the building stopped being used around WWII and was eventually sold to the National Park Service in the 1950s. For the next 60 years, the Enchanted Valley Chalet stood as a destination for backpackers worldwide, a remote building existing in an otherwise pristine wilderness. Serving as an emergency shelter, as well as seasonal backcountry ranger station, the Chalet was a welcome sight to many a weary hiker.
Olympic National Park Spokesperson Rainey McKenna, who was visiting Enchanted Valley for the first time, led tours for members of the media. She expressed the same love for the region that many have.
“Enchanted Valley is a gorgeous, very popular hike. People have been hiking up here for generations. For a lot of people this is a part of their memory and a part of the National Park Experience. They associate the chalet with their experience on the trail,” says McKenna.
Days earlier, the entire valley had been abuzz with excitement for the move. A helicopter, carrying supplies had been working for three straight days. Flying back and forth with heavy loads dangling 30 feet below the spinning blades, the chopper provided a continuos buzz in one of the quietest regions of the country. As the helicopter flew in, it would carry machinery, heavy equipment and steel beams from a field along the North Shore Road. Flying out, it would carry an assortment of pipes, building material and decades worth of trash, some of which had been sitting in the valley for over 70 years. With just 25 flights, the National Park Service made sure to get their money’s worth, as the helicopter alone cost roughly $1,600 each trip, or $40,000 in total.
Below the helicopters, which is an incredibly rare sight in National Parks, everything else was being hauled in by either mules or hikers. The 13.5 mile long trail from Graves Creek to Enchanted Valley weaves along the Quinault River, through lush rain forests, and some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world. Transporting goods along this route isn’t the worst commute in the world, and the destination makes it even better.
If you haven’t yet hiked to the Enchanted Valley, it is truly an amazing place. Leaving the dark greens of the rain forest, the Enchanted Valley opens up into a majestical, magical wonderland. Miles from anywhere, hours or days from civilization, the valley is often called the Valley of 10,000 waterfalls. The north side of the valley is made up of steep cliffs, with numerous waterfalls pouring down its flanks in the wetter months. To the northeast, Mount Anderson (7,330 ft) sits exposing its huge glacier and endless rugged peaks heading to Anderson Pass. The valley is breathtaking and is consistently named one of the best backpacking trips in the National Park System. Sitting right along the trail in this majestic valley is the Chalet, a three story wooded cabin, perfectly rustic, right down the the hand carved wooden bench that sits on its porch.
Starting in 2014, the Enchanted Valley Chalet had been sitting precariously on the ever-shifting banks of the Quinault River, teetering close to being destroyed by the slightest shift of the river. What had been a 10-foot buffer in October 2013 quickly shrunk to being undercut by the spring rains and snow melt in May 2014. Four months later, the chalet was undercut by over a foot, despite the lower raiser flow. Moving it would be tough, but Jeff Monroe of Monroe House Moving, Carlsborg, WA was up for the job. An experienced home mover, Jeff has is a third generation home mover, who has a best of moving 52 houses in a year.
Instead of using modern tools and machines that could do the job quickly, the Enchanted Valley Chalet had to be done a bit more old school. While some thought it would be moved by a team of mules, it was moved a bit more modern than that. Lifted 20 inches off the ground, the chalet was slowly moved with four hydraulic jacks, pushing the 90 ton building in 17 inch increments over 5 minutes. Lubricating the beams with Dove brand soap, the crew would slide the historic chalet a few millimeters at a second, nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. Luckily, Olympic National Park officials have provided a link to their time-lapse cameras to watch the entire move.
The Enchanted Valley Chalet has been moved roughly 75 feet from the river banks, but its story isn’t over. Within the next year, the final fate of the chalet will be decided from a public planning process. For now, the chalet sits safe, away the the wild waters of the Quinault River, serving as a wonderful sight for the last of the backpackers before winter sets in.
Over the next year, we get to decide what to do with it, as the public, with approval from the National Park Service, has the last word on the historic chalet. By September of 2015, Olympic National Park officials hope to have not just a solution, but already implement the plan.