Bogachiel 2005 - A Unique Rite of Passage

When we talk about rites of passage, we often think of some ritual or experience that commemorates the passage from adolescence to adulthood.  But, there are other rites of passage that involve transitions no less important.  These are rites-of-passage that can commemorate the transition from toddlerhood to childhood.   

When my children were very young, I was of the belief that the best way to instill a passion for nature was to let them experience not only the joys of wilderness, but also the miseries that often accompany these same trips—mosquitos, wasps, heat, rain, thick brush and so on.  I was of the belief that this would instill a passion for the outdoors that would bear fruit for the rest of their lives.   

In 2005 when Casey was barely six years old, he and I hiked across the northern edge of Olympic National Park.   We started at the Bogachiel and finished at Sol Duc Hot Springs, thirty-three miles from start to finish.  

The trip started with his grandfather hiking with us to our first camp, five miles up the valley. 

We said goodbye to him there, and from then on, we were on our own.  

The sun was hot.  We continued up the river often stopping to swim and fly fish.  I had brought goggles with us, and the summer heat had brought the river to a tolerable temperature.  Beneath the surface of the crystal waters was a whole new world of sculpted rocks and sleek, silvery fish.  It was pure magic.

Eventually we left the trail and for several miles, we followed the river.


We finally reached the junction of the South Fork and camped on a sprawling beach.  The whole time I was setting up the tent, we chatted about dinosaurs, trains, fish, and whatever else was on his mind.  I built a fire, and we were so enraptured in conversation we almost forgot about the swarms of mosquitos tormenting us.  

In the evening, we fished some more.

At night my shoulders ached from my heavy pack, but I was thrilled that we were ten miles in, and it was clear we weren’t going to be turning back. We conversed excitedly, and I was spellbound by Casey's imagination and inspiration.   

I did have to backtrack a couple of miles for a little pendant he’d brought with him that he’d forgotten a couple of miles back at a water stop as when he realized his mistake, he became almost despondent.  That's what fathers do, though.  Without question.  

The next day the trail grew very faint as the valley narrowed.  Mosquitos continued swarming us, and the only thing I found that worked as repellant was to ask him questions and get him talking.   It worked.  That night we camped near Sixteen Mile Shelter, and as I set up our tent, clouds of voracious mosquitoes chewed on us without mercy.  Casey chattered away, oblivious to the misery and the red welts that were covering his arms and face.  

The following day we worked our way up along a small canyon, and eventually we came to another fork in the river where we bedded down. 

My lower back was very tight at this point, and when we awoke in the morning, it was worse. Casey’s face was even more covered in mosquito welts, and no doubt mine was too.  But, coffee and breakfast always make things better. 

We crossed the river on a wooden bridge and slowly started climbing steadily away from the river and up onto a high ridge.  Soon we began to get peek-a-boo glimpses of Mt. Olympus to our south, and Vancouver Island to our north. 

After several more hours the gray spires of Mt. Olympus and Mt. Tom became more prominent, poking the sky just to the south of us.  The glorious silence was intoxicating.  We were all alone and had not seen a soul in days.  

For miles the trail skirted the sides of ridges so steep that the consequences of a fall were unthinkable.  I hooked Casey's pack to me with a rope, just in case.  While he was stout, his six year old legs were on the clumsy side at times, and he tripped often.  I was glad I had a leash on him.

Then it happened.  We were cruising along when I tripped, the weight of my pack driving me into the ground.  I felt something in my back pop and it wasn’t a good sound or feeling. In moments, it was seizing up and I could not stand up straight. "Are you okay," he asked.  "Of course I'm okay," I said, rifling through the first aid kit for ibuprofen.  I popped a few, shouldered my pack and we continued on again.   Walking was almost tolerable, but I knew once I took off the pack again it was going to be rough.  We continued and Casey was a great distraction as he chatted on about the beauty surrounding us.

After several more miles, we finally descended toward Deer Lake in the Sol Duc watershed and shortly before our arrival, we were greeted by one.    

After taking off my pack, I realized I couldn’t stand up straight, so I crawled around as I set up our tent for our last night.  We were four miles from the car.   After eating we retired early, and Casey asked if I was okay.  “Of course I’m okay,” I replied, knowing nothing was going to stop us from finishing our trip.  

The next morning was rough, but I was able to crawl around, throwing together some breakfast and coffee.  It took quite an effort to get dressed, and packed up.  I took more ibuprofen and carefully put on my pack.   After a long moment, I could feel my body adjust to it, relieved we’d be able to hike the four miles down to the car.   

We made it back to the Sol Duc trailhead in the early afternoon, and I knew I had a hiking buddy for life.  I told Casey I was proud of him.   

Completing a 33 mile wilderness adventure at age six was a big deal.  This remains to this day, one of my proudest moments as a father.