19 August 2020
Soleduck Trail to Deer Lakes Trail to High Divide Trail to Solduc Park and back
(19 miles, +5,000/-5,000 feet).
I have been traveling with my mom and dad the past 10 days, first in the Redwoods and then in Olympic National Park. It has been a beautiful trip, but we have mostly been doing short walks under very tall trees.
Time for a change of pace!
Olympic National Park is mostly forest, but there are some extremely beautiful parts above tree line, too. The most popular of these is the Seven Lakes Basin, but it is often booked months in advance by people who do the trip over two or three days.
I didn’t have a backpacking permit, and none were available, so my only choice was to do it all as a day hike. 19 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
But what a day!
Mom and dad gave me a ride in their RV to the trailhead at 6am and soon I was on my way.
The first mile of the trail took me to a historic shelter near the beautiful Soleduck Falls.
I then started a 2,000 foot climb up to Deer Lake. It felt great to work the glutes for the first time in a while!
Above Deer Lake I started seeing tons of wildflowers, some of which were new to me.
Another thousand feet up and I finally broke above the canopy to some spectacular green slopes.
The solitude was wonderful. For the past week and a half we have mostly been on popular trails, and this one is no exception, so I expected to see some people. But this morning I passed only one backpacker on his way down from Deer Lake and two above the lake. And thanks to the absence of my fellow homo sapiens, I got to see something amazing:
At first I caught its black color out of the corner of my eye, and then I heard something munching grass. I immediately thought it was a small elk or something, but when it raised its head I got very excited and froze in my tracks.
It was just below me where the trail was quite steep. I couldn’t really go forward or back without passing within 10 feet of it. So I just stood there watching it for about 10 minutes.
It could care less about me. After our initial face off it went back to grazing like a cow. It seemed small, like a juvenile, and I was a little concerned a mother might be around, but no other bears showed up. After I had my fill I slowly continued my way up the trail and left it in peace.
The trail was suddenly surrounded by a closed blue flower that was absolutely gorgeous and some Cotton Grass that must have inspired Dr. Seuss.
After another half hour I hit some switchbacks below Bogachiel Peak and had another animal encounter.
I had to wait a couple of minutes for them to find a way off the trail and down the steep slope. The faun actually lost its footing on the way down, but it only fell maybe three feet to the switchback below (whew!).
At the top of the switchbacks I got my first view of the Seven Lakes Basin.
So lovely, but so dry! In other photos I’ve seen, the whole basin is green. It’s a testament to the awful drought we’ve been experiencing this year.
As I approached the intersection with the Hoh Lakes Trail, Olympus became a permanent part of the view to my right.
I finally got to see those lovely blue flowers open, and they were even prettier. I later looked up their name.
I took a break around 11am near the halfway point of the hike. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was catching up with me. When I hike too many miles too fast (especially if there is a steep uphill) my patellofemoral pain syndrome starts to kick in. I can usually manage this knee pain with ibuprofen and stretches (toe touches, quad stretches, figure four stretches — anything to stretch the back of my legs and give more slack to the system), but I was very worried that it might not be enough, especially since I had many miles to go and I had to descend all those thousands of feet I had already climbed.
A nice distraction in the midst of all this worry was a pleasant discovery. My view of Mount Olympus unexpectedly included a wonderful view of the Blue Glacier!
Before doing this hike I had previously thought about hiking to that glacier on a trail up the Hoh River. But that would have been twice the mileage and only 2-3 miles of a two day hike would have been above tree line. I felt sad not doing that hike thinking I would not get to see the glacier, and here I was staring at it! Two for one!
After my break I hiked over the rolling High Divide to Heart Lake, which actually looks like a heart!
I encountered lots of backpackers here headed in both directions, maybe two dozen or so. Everyone was friendly, but I was really happy I had previously had my morning solitude to see the animals and experience the best part of the day all by myself.
When I got down to Heart Lake I decided to take a swim and then got some water from the inlet to the lake.
Then below Heart Lake I passed through Solduc Park and gradually descended below tree line once again. Along the way I saw my very first pack llama (well, the first one since I was a peace corps volunteer in Ecuador!).
The rest of the way down was a mixture of ho-hum, occasional beauty, and my hurting knees. I listened to music as I hiked and I tried to take several breaks, though the flies almost always shooed me along.
I made it back to the trailhead about when I told my folks I would, which is good because I did not want them to worry. If I have a chance to hike this loop again, I will definitely try to get a backpacking permit so I can spend 2-3 days above tree line and really enjoy it.