Humes Ranch

Posted by Ken Campbell April 13, 2008 0 Comment 933 views

“We had long since learned that there were no snakes in these mountains, nor along the streams, hence we used the last of our antidote at this point and looked upon the dead soldier with sorrow and regret.”

Harry Fisher
O’Neil Olympic expedition, 1890

I think it’s kind of funny, the euphemisms we use for booze. The O’Neil expeditions of the early 1890’s took along bottles of whiskey that they referred to as “snake-bite antidote,” although they were not, in truth, expecting to see any snakes. Somehow the antidote still managed to escape the cork and evaporate, yet the men survived in relative safety.

Fisher (which was not the man’s real name – there’s a fascinating story here, which I’ll save for another time), was wrong, however. There are snakes in the Olympics. I know because my path crossed one just a few minutes ago. A skinny fellow, a foot or so in length, slithering through the duff of the trail. Dark green in color, almost black, with a single thin, red stripe running down the length of his back. The Northwestern Garter Snake (Thamnophis ordinoides), is actually quite common in these parts. I think about picking him up, subjecting him to a closer examination, but the river is close and the snake and I both have other places to go before nightfall.

I stole a few hours away from the Port Angeles Sea Kayak Symposium and hied myself off to the mountains instead. Away from salt water for the afternoon, to hike the loop trail to the Humes Ranch on the upper reaches of the Elwha River. It’s a popular trail, especially on a sunny Saturday, and there are several large parties on their way out as I hike in.

During the 1889-1890 Press Party Expedition, the first successful crossing of the Olympic Peninsula, expedition member James Christie predicted that this part of the Elwha valley would make “a young paradise for some venturesome squatter.” Ten years later, venturesome squatters Will and Grant Humes homesteaded the valley and their cabins still stand among rolling meadows on the flanks of the mountain, several hundred feet above the tumbling power of the Elwha.

From the Whiskey Bend trailhead, it’s a 5-mile loop to Humes Ranch. I look at my feet as I hike the well-traveled path, the dirt and mud holding images of the feet that came before me. The prints of other boots, the hoof marks of pack horses. I raise my eyes to the hills off across the river, snow-tipped peaks atop seas of green.

It is all green here. The understory of salal and vine maple, huckleberries and fiddleheads, is awash in impossible shades of green. April in the alpine country is a celebration of life and a promise that winter, although it is sure to return, is gone for a while, at least.

I come to Michael’s cabin first. It has been restored by park personnel but it stands as it did a hundred years ago in an opening in the forest canopy. A stream cuts through the property, winding and burbling its way down as it descends to the river far below. The pasture has been overtaken by alder now, and what used to be a clear meadow is slowly being reclaimed by the forest. Remnants of a garden remain and I’ve heard you can still find mint and herbs that were planted by the first settlers, but I continue on down the hill toward Humes Ranch.

The Humes cabin is slightly larger than the first, but it is still a rough-hewn building with few appointments. There used to be a barn here as well, but it’s been gone since the 1930’s. Rolling west from the ranch house, open meadows provide a contrast to the surrounding evergreens, and water seems to be everywhere. Rivulets and streams bisect the meadow at several different points, and there is no escaping the sound of the river below.

It’s a short hike down to the Elwha and in a matter of minutes, I am next to the rushing water. Huge trees are scattered like sticks around the flood plain, evidence of what the river can do when she is angry. The wind follows the valley, rising up off the water in that way that mountain winds are prone to do, a refreshing breeze, filled with the smells of new life. I take a few photos as I sit on the riverbank, but mostly I just look around in new amazement and appreciation of the size of it all.

Everyone should come here. We all need to get out to a place like this one as often as we can. In a world where we are usually the biggest concern, a world that revolves around self and our personal needs, it is easy to lose sight of the larger truths. It is good to get away to a big land like this one, filled with history and bright scenery. We need to see how big it all is. To regain perspective.

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