Sunday, July 13, 2014

High Divide-7 Lakes Basin in the Olympics

With Friday off of work for the 4th of July, it was the perfect Thursday evening to get out of town.  I headed out with a gal from my climbing class, and one of her friends. We had never backpacked together, but considering the long email thread and shared Google doc for planning, I knew they'd make the most organized, prepared, and positive outdoor buddies I could hope for. We hopped on the Edmonds ferry, grabbed dinner, and made our way toward Port Angeles.

The plan was to hike the High Divide trail, which is a 19-mile loop in the northern Olympics. It wraps around the 7 Lakes Basin, with beautiful lakes and campsites to break up the journey. We knew it was on the early side for this trail, and that we'd be getting quite a bit of snow above 4,000 feet. We were prepared to camp in snow, and brought ice axes for the descent into the basin.
High Divide Loop (map from here)
We left Friday morning from the Sol Duc trailhead, just as the cool morning air was turning into summer heat. The first several miles were along the Sol Duc River, shaded and lush. 
We even took a dip in the river. It was so cold I could barely stand in it. I thought I liked cold water, but these ladies put me to shame. We dried off in the warm sun before starting the uphill section.
The trail climbed steadily up toward Heart Lake. A few clouds rolled in, and we started getting to patches of snow.
We made it to Heart Lake, and we just had a little way to go before getting on to the actual crest of the High Divide. At that point, it was all snow, so we took out poles and gaiters and continued up.
Looking down to Heart Lake
Heading west on the High Divide
The High Divide is beautiful. At that point, you've done all the uphill work and just get to stay high with views in all directions. It was getting cloudier and darker, but we still got fantastic peeks at Mount Olympus and the surrounding ranges.

The lakes in the basin were at various ranges of frozen. Some of the bigger ones were 70-80% melted, while small ones were still completely frozen, with the faintest ring of blue around the edge. Our destination, Lunch Lake, was about 95% frozen still. The upside to the snow was that we could make our own trail, so we decided to cut down a little early to get to the lake just as it started sprinkling.
Descending into Lunch Lake
There were 3 other parties camped there, plus rangers, so we had to tromp around the campsites for quite awhile before we found an open and snow-free area. But we did! We set up camp before the rain really started coming down. We filtered water in the pouring rain, and my spirits got a little dampened by this change in weather.
But by the time we ate dinner, the rain had stopped and the air felt much warmer. A woman wandered over to our camp and said she wanted to check the nearby pond. For what? She was a frog and salamander researcher! She found one salamander and showed it to us, it's belly a bright speckled white, almost glittering. I had no idea there were critters living in those ponds when it was still so cold. 

"Oh, and did you see the sows and cubs?" she asked brightly.  She pointed out the bears on the distant hillside that we hadn't noticed! We saw one mama with two cubs, and another with one cub. She also told us that elk usually grazed that hillside in the mornings. She was like our little dose of National Geographic before bounding off cheerfully.

I can't think of a way I would rather celebrate America than being in the backcountry. But in the absence of fireworks, BBQ's, and cheap beer, we felt we had to do something. So we sang some patriotic songs and crafted this photo.
It rained on and off through the night. We had a slow breakfast and morning coffees before heading out. It was a short but steep climb back up to the trail, as we were going straight up on snow instead of the trail switchbacks (that would probably be melted out in the next couple weeks). Back on the High Divide, we smelled the strong musk of goats and/or elk, but didn't see any. They were probably bedded down in the constant drizzle. We did see glacier lilies, and then more day hikers as we got lower down.
We stopped for lunch at Deer Lake. It was a great spot, though we got swarmed by mosquitoes, which made me appreciate our frozen, bug-free campsite.
Boardwalk at Deer Lake
One of many falls on the Sol Duc River
We made it back to the car tired and happy. We weren't in a rush to get home, so we stopped at Lake Crescent to freshen up and enjoy the serene lake side.
Relaxing at Lake Crescent
We all agreed that a big hike needs to get rounded out with a beer and burger. We stopped in Port Gamble on our way to the ferry, and found the tiny town in full 4th of July festivities mode. We stumbled upon fabulous organic burgers with homemade ketchup, and the friendly owner stopped by our table to chat. Then we made it to the ferry, and were able to catch the very next one- always a bonus coming home from the peninsula!

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