A grand canyon for the Olympic Peninsula

As if readying for a ball, the mountain was garbed in a delicate pink wrap of rhododendrons accenting the elegant green of its usual dress.

The mountain is full of pink - dark pink, light pink, nearly white pink. The floral display rings the trail and accents the dark of the forest on all sides uphill and down. Late June is the season of the blossom on the Olympic Peninsula and well worth an excursion into the Buckhorn Wilderness, one of the areas most profuse with the pink blossoms. The Tubal Cain Trail is one of the more vibrant examples.

The trail also boasts a bonus way trail to Tull Canyon and one of the more intriguing artifacts in the mountains: the debris of a B-17 that crashed in 1952 while returning from a search-and-rescue mission in a blizzard.

This was my goal for this hike.

The Tubal Cain Trail is a broad, well-traveled trail that is easy to follow. From the very beginning, the trail was festooned with rhododendrons.

It's an easy-to-hike, 8-percent grade for much of the hike; only after the Tull Canyon way trail and Tubal Cain mine does the steepness increase.

Thin tendrils of lichen and moss draped from the fir and hemlock forest made an enchanting backdrop: They were the setting to display the pink floral gems. A thick gray mist shrouding all beyond the trees silenced the forest, adding an additional air of mystery. All was silent save for the drip, drip, dripping of the rain that accompanied the muted rush of water when the trail neared several creeks and rivulets.

The first is a small torrent crossed by a log bridge. My hiking companion for the day - my in-laws' dog Shasta - decided to jump down early, tangling the leash in the bridge's log railing. She's not much of a water dog and it took some convincing to get her to walk through the rivulets later on that were not crossed by a log.

They are narrow enough that a long jump or boulder hop could clear the shallow rush of water but I chose to wade right through in my hiking sandals - without socks to dampen, a stream crossing is little more than a chance to cool warm feet.

The white-foamed waterways cascaded down slick rocks, green-bouldered courses that rose high to the left and dropped far on the right. Each rivulet's thoroughfare contained a magical waterfall.

The rhododendron understory disappears near Tull Canyon Creek and the trail enters into a dark forest where massive, fire-scorched trees and stumps silently speak of a fire that burned a century ago when miners still sought copper, manganese and other ore.

Keep your eyes peeled for the spur trail that leads up the hillside on the left about 3.2 miles in. Because of the angle, it is easy to miss on the uphill trek but easily is spotted on the way down.

The Tull Canyon Trail is a steep climb 1.5 miles to the wreckage. Right away it passes the mouth of an aborted mine before slogging its way upward.

The trail opens up into an alpine meadow ringed by fir. The green canyon walls climb steeply on three sides. In the midst of the picturesque valley, the twisted aluminum and steel of the military plane is scattered in and around a languid stream.

It is even more amazing when you consider that five of the eight crewmen aboard the plane when it crashed survived with little more than cuts and bruises. A thoughtful person tacked up a laminated period article describing the harrowing crash and rescue.

The plane was buffeted up and down more than 800 feet by the storm before clipping a ridge top, sliding some 2,000 feet down the steep slope like a toboggan, spewing men and machines while bursting into flame. The survivors camped overnight before they were ferried out by Coast Guard helicopters.

While reading of the incident, I ate a lunch of tuna and crackers that I shared with Shasta in one of the campsites ringing the meadow, sheltering beneath the tree holding the newspaper article.

On the way back, we met numerous other hikers, some with dogs. This is a great hike for dogs, though I'd keep them away from the jagged metal edges in the crash site.

Though I returned without venturing to the mine on this day, I've hiked there before. It's just 0.3 miles farther and the site of several popular backwoods camp sites.

The side trail to the mineshaft climbs a steep slope of rocky debris tossed out by the miners of yore in their search for copper. Ankle-deep water pours out of the dark shaft and tumbles down the slope. If you go in deep enough, the darkness inside is complete. Rocks and debris litter the ground and a metal pipe is attached to the wall at head height. In several places the pipe too has fallen to the watery floor, joining the rocks and other debris.

The main shaft extends some 450 meters into the mountainside before it Ts. Traipsing around abandoned mine shafts isn't the safest thing in the world. Also, this mine is privately owned so it's trespassing to boot, but modern hikers have explored the whole thing.

Leif Nesheim is hiking columnist and a former reporter for the Sequim Gazette. He is editor at the Montesano Vidette. He can be reached at editor

Tull Canyon

How long: 4.7 miles to Tull Canyon

How hard: moderate

How to get there: The Tubal Cain trail - which leads to Tull Canyon - is located approximately four miles past the Upper Dungeness Trail parking area on Forest Service Road 2860. From Highway 101, turn south on Louella Road, across from Sequim Bay State Park. From Louella, turn left at Palo Alto Road and follow it into Olympic National Forest. Take a right at Forest Service Road 2880 toward the Dungeness Forks campground. Turn left at 2870 when the road forks, and left at 2860 when it forks again. The turns are marked with signs pointing toward the Dungeness trails. A pass is not required to park at the Tubal Cain trailhead.

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