First, there was the silence. Rain was falling, of course, but there was none of the percussive water music of a North Cascades storm or even a Seattle shower. The drops were being cushioned and subdivided by so many botanical impediments on their way down, and what little pings they still produced were being sopped up so effectively by the vast sponge of moss and humus that what remained was an ethereal gauze of white noise, a vanishingly faint sibilance that quickly slipped below the threshold of consciousness. The only other sound was an occasional slurp at my feet, as a yogurt-textured mud bog tried to ingest my boots. When an anomalous fat raindrop somehow pulled itself together and plopped onto a crisp fallen maple leaf a hundred feet away, my pulse spiked with a jolt of adrenaline. The silence was beautiful, yes, but also so unfamiliar, so exotic, that it seemed almost ominous.
It’s little wonder that people flock to the Olympic rain forests—the Hoh, the Queets, and the Quinault—during the slender window of dryness, July and August. The Quinault averages eight-tenths of an inch in July, 18 inches in January. Yet July is precisely when I recommend not going. If the point of travel is to spin preconceptions around, discover environments totally unlike one’s usual surroundings, and most of all to experience authenticity, then hiking the rain forest in the rain is the way to do it.
There are a few asterisks: Leave the Gore-Tex at home—“breathing” fabrics are not what you want in this relentless nag of precipitation. Cheap plastic slickers are better; I just use my sailing foulies. Take a compass and trail map in a plastic pouch. A GPS under this forest canopy will prove useful solely for throwing at a pesky raccoon. Check road and trail conditions on the Olympic National Park Web site before you go; snow and washouts always close some routes.
My most recent rain hike was Fletcher Canyon, a modest mountainside trail about four miles north of Lake Quinault. Annual precipitation at nearby Amanda Park averages 129 inches, almost a foot more than at Forks, the usual touchstone of Olympic Peninsula moisture. It was raining, but not fiercely. The trail was a squishy ribbon crisscrossed by inch-deep creeklets where salamanders squirted back and forth. The slugs seemed to have run for cover. I briefly considered slushing back to the car for my rubber kayaking boots, but decided their soles were too slippery. There are worse fates than wet feet; a tumble off the side of a mountain would be one of them.