Joined: 02 Jul 2003
Posts: 2027 | TRs
Location: Shoreline, WA
|The O'Neil trail follows the west side of the North Fork Skokomish between 4 stream and 7 stream, the original mule train route hacked from the bush in July of 1890 by an army crew lead by Lt O'Neil. In subsequent years the main trail between 4 and 7 streams was moved to the east side where it remains today. The original route was largely abandoned, as is noted in Wood's book, until 1982 when boy scouts tagged the original route with aluminum "OT" markers on mature trees.
Armed with info from Wood's book, the boy scout pamphlet describing the route, and of course topos, I arrived at the N Fork Skok parking lot at 6:10 AM Saturday 4/23 to cover the old trail as a day trip. The old trail begins with a ford over 4 stream where that trail ends, which I reached at 7:05. Thereafter an established trail heads into the woods, but shortly begins traveling west up four stream, whereas the route to 7 stream should proceed north. Therefore, at a clear switchback I entered the woods and didn't see trail again until reaching the six ridge trail much later. In summary, the old route is classic Olympic's bushwhack, massive downed trees, brush, swamps, cliffs, with the addition of the "OT" tags that come-n-go. Pink and orange flags also track to route, and are similarly intermittent.
The markers are useful now and then to confirm you're not going to wrong direction but of more use is a good topo, keeping the water on the right, and attending to a few landmarks. I headed north thru brush and etc until finding the convergence of 5 stream and the skok. In the mile or so before the Skok, 5 stream runs thru a deep gully (Jumbo's Leap, named for ONeil group dog who jumped in it) , and to reach the ford one needs to veer away from 5 stream, stay high, and find the ford that is just above a falls coming from a creek on the opposing shore. According to the old reports 5 stream has a massive waterfall in it at some point but there was no way I was going to explore that nasty canyon with just a day. Anyhow, I crossed 5 stream at 9:30am. 5 stream ford is a thick old log, picture I'll attach if I can figure out how to do that. After the ford the route follows the contour of the hillside, high above the skok which is running fast through a deep canyon. 6 stream ford was more challenging to find, but as was the case for 5 stream ford, it paid to steer upslope away from the skok and 6 stream channels. Somewhere on this portion I found this amazing emergence of an underground stream, coming out right over a large boulder, spilling down like a shower on a sandy bed before going under boulders again. By following the tags and periodically veering over to 6 stream to see if I was still parallel the canyon, I came to 6 stream ford. Also, I knew to listen for the much-storied Honeymood falls. The ford wasn't tagged well but there was a very old 5' diameter man-made stump near a slow and shallow part of the stream. Also, the roar of Honeymoon falls was just downstream so I knew this was it. Ford was knee deep, made it at 11am and proceed downstream to see Honeymoon falls. Hard to view, but it's a giant, falling what I estimate to be 200 feet down to the deep channel of 6 stream. I viewed briefly as best I could from the awkward north hillside before heading off on the hillside alongside 6 stream and then veering north paralleling the Skok, still running in a deep gully. The route went across a nearly flat bench above the Skok nearly the entire way, only becoming more swampy, with more downed trees, and with fewer tags. Gradually the course came to meet the skok in elevation until intersecting with the six ridge trail and thus to the 7 stream ford. Like 4 and 6 stream, 7 stream was knee deep, swift, and cold. Then on to the bridge over the N Fork which I reached at 1:15pm. N Fork trail was straight-shot out of course and I reached the parking lot at 3:30pm. About 15 miles I estimate in total. Great trip; so nice to be off trail in beautiful rugged terrain.