Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stomping Along The High Divide

Part 1 of 2: Day-hiking the Sol Duc loop.

Seven Lakes Basin

This is the sort of place that I never want to go to. Easily-accessible, popular, crowded.

It's also the last remaining piece of Olympic National Park that (a) I had wanted to see, and (b) hadn't gotten to. Because it's easily-accessible, popular, crowded, and requires a special permit because of the former qualities. Admission is limited, though, strictly speaking, you don't actually need a reservation nor are you required to camp in a designated site.

Typical stretch of Canyon Creek Trail leading to Deer Lake.

Though, in a sense, there is a reservation system, since only a limited number of overnighters are allowed, though a backcountry permit is needed inside the park for all hike-in overnight stays.


I knew ahead of time that I wouldn't want to stay overnight anyway, and the Park Service is prickly on the matter of requiring bear canisters for food storage.

Looking back north, after passing Deer Lake and climbing way above it.

Something I like to avoid.

The whole idea of bear-resistant food containers is both smart and dumb.

Given the number of trailside buttwipe blossoms I've seen, I guess if you're going to allow city-apes to enter places like this, at least you should force them to comply with some rules. Just because, OK?

Snow-stressed trees, a fairly common sight here.

And poop isn't really the worst of it. Food actually is.

Piles of human turds don't attract anything worse than flies, and toilet paper bouquets, even less.

Food attracts anything at all with an appetite, and some of those things can be distressing campsite visitors.

South side of ridge, on the way to Bogachiel Peak.

I've never had a bear problem. So far, bears and I get along just fine.

If I see one, I wait, or back up. Whatever seems best — after all, I'm a visitor in the bear's living-room. I ought to show some respect.

And when it comes to eating, I'm fastidious, preferring to eat meals outside of camp, except for breakfast, since, if I'm on my way out anyway, it doesn't matter if I leave a bit of food-scent, or a couple hundredths-of-a-gram of spilled food.

Generally, I try very hard to eat the day's last meal before getting to a camp site, but if I can't, I eat well away from where I'm going to be snoring, and then hang my food in a third location.

Lunch Lake is around to the left of here.

I'm not the world's expert on any of this, but I am careful.

My watchword is stealth. All around.

Be silent, be invisible, leave no trace, and don't broadcast scent.

And then the trail continues, upward, toward the Hoh Lake junction.

I actually did have a problem once, in February, 1981.

That winter I hiked into the Hoh Rain Forest. It was a mild winter, and didn't even rain all that much. It rained pretty much all the time I was there (two nights/three days), but not all that much came down. It was one of those dry rains.

The first night was when my lesson arrived.

But first, some critters — black-tail deer.

I'd stopped at a horse shelter, a roofed, three-walled wooden structure with a dirt floor. It was dry inside. Good enough.

I set up my bivy sack and hung my pack from a wire running along the open side of the shelter. Then I went to bed. OK so far.

Sometime during the night I woke up. Maybe it was the scratching sounds of little feet. I can't say, but I definitely did hear those tiny claws skittering back and forth over my head once I was awake.

Mice. They had me right where they wanted me.

And two deerlings.

Which was zipped up, out of sight, and blind inside my sack.

Leaving my pack hanging out where they could get at it. Which they did.

Chewed a hole right through it, near the top, on one side.

Crazy little bastards. Demented. You can't reason with mice.

A bear can stand there, or run, or charge, and depending on who you are and where you are, and what else is going on, and what the bear is like, you can try something. It might not work, but there's a chance. Not so with mice.

I just backed up, out of their way, and everyone was happy.

I had some mice running up and down my tent on another occasion, and since there was enough light that night, I could see their small, dark shadows, which made dandy targets. I'd whack the inside of the tent with the back of my hand and send each mouse off in a grand trajectory to land several feet away, but though satisfying, it do good. They're nuts.

They can't help it. Within a few seconds they all came back again, skritching and scraping and scratching their way up the outside of my tent.

Eventually both sides got tired and then morning came and it was over.

Something like what happened in the rain forest that other night — it ended, somehow, and I got on with it, with only one hole in my pack, no bears, and a lesson learned.

To this day I'm extremely wary of bears, and meticulously cautious with food, but terrified of mice. Mice would eat you alive if they were just barely bright enough to find their way in.

I don't want to give them, or anything else, a fighting chance.

Lunch Lake, in case you were wondering. Someone pooped in the curve of dead wood to the left.

Which is one reason I like to avoid places where bear canisters are required. Because if they are required, you know two things.

One is that you're going into a place where a lot of others go, and that's no fun right there. A trip to Disneyland — hell, just thinking about it — would make me homicidal. On general principles.

The other is that you're going into a place where a lot of food is randomly scattered. Think about it. The Great Wall of China wasn't built by people who had nothing better to do. It was built to keep out the barbarians. Bear canisters are required because there's an existing problem. Already.

So, better to go elsewhere.

Anonymous lake and Lunch Lake. Actually nicer than the Seven Lakes area.

Although, if there's a place, and you want to see it, and you don't go, you don't see it, so I went.

But on a day hike.

It's a good day hike, about 19 miles.

That's a decent hike.

Off toward the Hoh River valley. Luckily not the real trail.

The road to the trailhead is paved all the way. So is the parking lot. You can even leave your vehicle in the shade most of the day, if there are enough slots open. I got there on a Tuesday, which gave me the choice of about 10 slots. Out of maybe a hundred or so. It's a busy place.

From the lot it's 0.8 mile (1.3 km) to Sol Duc Falls.

Meh again.

The falls are OK, but if you're a backpacker you've seen lots of falls. Sol Duc Falls is a narrow slot in a rocky canyon through which water sluices. No huge drops. No butterflies and rainbows. Just cold water foaming.

Not to be prissy and complaining, just, you know — it's a typical falls.

Still not the real trail, closeup.

After the falls, you turn right and begin climbing, if you're going counter-clockwise.

After just shy of three miles (2.9 miles / 4.7 km), there is Deer Lake. Lovely.

Boggy, grassy, buggy, calm. (Number 15 on the map up top.)

It's surrounded by trees and there are campsites on its east and west sides.

That three miles of trail is rocky and steep. Just like the trail that continues upward from the lake.

Obligatory colorful shot.

But it's all pretty nice — a good clean climb.

In morning air you stay cool enough. The trail is mostly shaded until you get way high, which you do eventually, and are able to catch views back the way you came, and off to the south, where be mountains.

Deer Lake is succeeded by a shallow basin full of lethargic trickles and bogs, supporting several small and shallow ponds.

Viewing them from above makes them look romantic, a feeling which is unencumbered by mosquitoes, which infest all boggy areas but which luckily for us hiking types, aren't able to do much once they lose our scent, especially if we end up standing in cooling breezes to wheeze and gasp and catch a few views.

Mt. Olympus and Hoh River Valley.

Well, anyway, once you get up high, you get views and breeze and more than enough excuses to drag out your camera and stop hiking for a few moments, and then you're mostly out of the trees.

Above, the trail curves eastward, along the south side of a ridge, and heads toward Bogachiel Peak. There's even a side trail that will take you right up there, if you want to go. I didn't, but took the side trail because I was dumb, until it became clear that the main trail went elsewhere.

So, after backing up a quarter mile or so (0.4 km) I got back on the trail and was tempted to go peek at Hoh Lake around to the right. But I didn't.

I'm lazy and/or bright enough, I guess. I decided that 19 miles (30.6 km) was a good enough day. No reason (no decently-good reason) to add two or three or four more miles just to see another lake.

White Glacier on Mt. Olympus. Still healthy-looking.

But I did see Lunch Lake. I did that. I ought to get points enough right there, I'm thinking. It was worth seeing. (Number 13 on the map.)

You reach an intersection with its side trail and have to double back around a small rock-strewn basin, and then chuff over a small ridge (really more of a large berm) and then there you are — another lake. Or two. Two in this case.

OK, fine. Chalk those up.

Hoh valley and the Bailey Range.

Then came the side trail to Bogachiel Peak, and the junction with the Hoh Lake trail, and the curve of the main trail back northish (actually, more like east-ish, again). I.e., more of the same, but slightly different.

By now, by this point on the trail, we are mostly out of the trees, and things are rocky. Rocky enough, and they are odd rocks.

Kind of granite-colored, but not. A sort of dense volcanic pumice, I think. Hard-packed tuff, or something. Light-colored, but heavy, not the usual dark basalt of this area. Anyway, there was lots of this stuff scattered all over.

And air. Lots of air. And sunshine. This is the High Divide. Finally.

And it was good. Or if not good, then OK. Pretty much OK, in a good way.

More of the Hoh River.

OK for a day hike, but I kept encountering people. At random intervals. Most were carrying packs. Large packs. Like small refrigerators. Like people carrying refrigerators and looking for apartments to put them in. People with giant backpacks full of every sort of thing, and mostly dressed in long pants and cotton T-shirts.

And some wore hats. Odd hats. That's a thing they do here, some of them.

I had a pair of long pants along, a pair I'd modified so I could unzip the lower legs upward, along the inseam, and then stuff the cuffs into my belt, and effectively be wearing shorts. Ten seconds of work and two quick zips converts these pants back to longies for chilly areas or for bug-repellency. But even worn as shorts they were insufferable so I stripped down to real shorts.

But almost everyone else wore long pants. And a few had odd hats.

More flowers, and the odd, lightly-colored rock in this area.

Odd as in stocking cap, or watch caps. Knitted hats, pulled low. Hot hats. Crazy hot hats. Some people wear them around town. OK — fashion statement. Grungy, stinky fashion statement.

But doodle-bug-insane sweaty-hot for hiking, and there they were, huffing along underneath packs big enough to house moderate-sized families, wearing long pants and heavy leather boots, and cotton T-shirts, with a few knit wool caps topping the cake. Nutso.

I, however, wore my flat hiking hat. (Flat Hat Jack is my alter trail ego.) And light synthetic shirt. And underwear. I like to hike in my underwear. These days.

But you can't tell.

I used to wear bicycling shorts, but needing a pair this year, I couldn't bring myself to spend $40 or $50 or $60 on a pair, so I'm hiking in my Wal-Mart, mid-thigh-length black undos. They look OK. If you think that bicycling shorts are OK too.

They even have a pee-pee flap, which is handy. I thought I was used to pulling down the front of my bicycling shorts, but it's so much easier to pull open the flap. And with a long-torso shirt hanging out, you can't even see that flap (while it's not in use, of course), and these guys are cheap, comparatively, at around $10 to $12.

Cool, form-fitting (no waving around in the breeze, no disconcerting drafts, no room for bugs to crawl in from below), synthetic (quick-drying), lightweight — a good deal.

Full frontal Olympus.

So all this walking and observing and cogitating eventually got to me. I stopped at a a place with a great view and made lunch.

It was a good day for a hot lunch, especially because I had a high-calorie supper left over from the previous-week's backpacking trip. Had to get rid of it anyway.

And while I fixed lunch the day got warmer and most of the clouds blew away, and took the day's haze with them, so after lunch I got better views of the surrounding mountains.

More White Glacier as the air clears of morning haze.

And then I began walking again, which we'll hear more of next week then, OK? OK.