All that changed at roughly 1:30 a.m. when, after a 4-hour drive from Tacoma and seven miles down a darkened road, we encountered a chain looped across the Matheny Creek Road. Since we had been greeted by a white spotted owl and two elk on the way in, we decided to hunker down in the bed of a truck and let the sounds of the rushing water lull us to sleep. As I stood brushing my teeth, hoping against rain, I spotted an entire herd of elk crossing the creek about 35 feet away. It may not have been the start I was hoping for, but Mother Nature had opened her arms.
We started out the next morning across the bridge and down the road until we found some fallen trees and a sign warning of a “Dip.” Just around a bend, the road closure became quite clear. A massive chunk of the road had been washed away and the rest was eroding into the churning waters 50 feet below.
Not easily deterred, we slid down sand banks and picked our way over slippery boulders until we reached Queets River. It was a misty morning but the sun was out and my only complaint came after I tried to leap from an enormous tree and ended knee-deep in some of the nastiest mud I’ve ever seen. Still with no trail in sight, my hiking partner suggested we track an elk that had just disappeared from atop the hill in hopes that it would lead us to the other end of the abandoned road.
While I had my doubts and was preparing to gloat when we stumbled into a bog, we eventually found more elk tracks and it led us directly to a once-gravel road that had already been reclaimed by grass and young trees. We meandered through an alder forest, admiring the moss-laden maples, hemlocks and towering firs, and spent most of the afternoon picking our way down a 7-mile stretch of road.
It was afternoon by the time we reached the Queets River trailhead and fording the river seemed no small feat, so we relaxed in a meadow and had lunch before heading back. Faced again with traversing the cliff, we chose to follow elk tracks around the hillside and bushwhack our way back to civilization.