There is nothing like the element of surprise while heading off into the backcountry. And I generally welcome surprises—especially if they are of the positive order. An unexpected viewpoint–a rare or unique wildlife sighting—a pleasant encounter with a fellow backcountry traveler. But sometimes surprises can be unnerving—finding a trail unmaintained—an encounter with a belligerent animal—or an unpleasant encounter with a fellow backcountry traveler. And sometimes surprises can evoke a slew of emotional responses ranging from awe to “oh boy” all at the same time!
I research trails before I head out. Then I meticulously note my observations on the trail transcribing them into my writings, so that folks who buy my guidebooks and read my articles can have a good sense of what to expect. Of course I note certain things that most folks would probably not want to be surprised by—such as exposure, limited or no maintenance, lack of water, and other factors that can make a trip difficult or worse.
So, of course it goes without further notice that I must report on the ladder of doom that you’ll find on your way to Olympic National Park’s Glacier Meadows at the near terminus of the Hoh River trail. A few years back the trail suffered quite a washout at a very steep section just shy of the hanging valley cradling Glacier Meadows. A very unstable area, the park service installed quite a ladder here as restoring tread was out of the question.
To many a hiker nearing the end of the 18 mile journey to the base of Mount Olympus, this dangling ladder comes as quite a surprise. And depending on your disposition; you will find it scary, exciting, unnerving, a minor obstacle—or any combination of the previous sentiments. If you’re a climber—no problem. But for many a backpacker, the ladder is a tad bit scary. It is definitely a surprise, as most folks don’t expect it—or if they are aware of it, don’t realize just how intimidating it appears upon reaching it.
My hiking partner and distinguished photographer, Ted Evans is an experienced climber and practically walked down it. Me—I grasped each rung like my life depended upon it. And the name of this trail surprise? It was dubbed by a backpacker we met heading out. This US Armed Services Personnel named it the Ladder of Doom upon his surprise of discovering it—and then subsequently descending it in the dark on his way to his camp. Here Ted has captured me descending and ascending the dangling ladder. What do you think? Intimidating? Exciting? Piece of cake or holy crap!?
Find all the details for this thrilling backpacking adventure in my 100 Classic Hikes Washington book!