Thursday, September 15, 2016

Backpacking in Olympic National Park

Post by Henry

Almost every year since the turn of the century, I organize a "Guys Backpacking Trip" somewhere in the USA. More often than not, it's usually planned for the week leading up to Labor Day. The crowds have thinned out by then, the temperatures are cooler, the bugs are mostly gone, and you get the extra day of the holiday. We've had some epic trips to places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Wind River Range, and Isle Royale. We've hiked the Wonderland Trail in Mt. Rainier, the Four Passes Loop around the Maroon Bells in Colorado, plus numerous other trips.

I have a core group of four guys I usually hike with. Not everyone goes on every trip, and in 2015, we didn't get in a trip due to everybody's busy schedules.

This year, we were all ready for a hike.

Corey and Erik flew in from Florida, and Philip, along with Harold, arrived from Georgia, making our first group of five on one of these trips.

I started organizing this trip back in January. I knew Loretta and I would be somewhere here in Washington, so I bounced some ideas off the guys and we settled on two (2) - four day hikes in Olympic National Park. The first would be in the mountains on a hike called the High Divide Loop. The second would be along the Pacific coast from Third Beach to Oil City. The first hike required advance reservations to secure permits and I mailed in the forms in mid March. By early April, our request was approved.

High Divide Loop

Our day started in Port Angeles with a nice big breakfast of 'real food' before four days of backpacking food.

Erik, Philip, Harold and Corey after the Last Breakfast

Next stop was at the Olympic National Park Wilderness Information Center to pick up our permits. 


From there, it was an hour ride to the Sol Duc area of the park to start our hike. Along the way we passed through some light showers. Now Loretta and I have been on the Olympic Peninsula for two weeks and we've hardly seen a cloud in the sky, but looking at the forecasts for the week of our hike, we were likely going to get wet, probably more than once. Let me also say where Loretta and I are staying falls in the rain shadow of the Olympic Range. The Port Townsend area gets about twenty (20) inches of rain a year. Our hikes are located on the other side of the Olympic Range that receives twelve (12) FEET of rain a year. (Yes, FEET!)

Final preparations before hitting the trail

This is the only sign we saw with an 'E' and a 'K' in Sol Duc

We started our hike at the Sol Duc Falls trailhead in a light drizzle that would accompany us on and off all the way to our first nights' campsite at Deer Lake. The first mile to the falls is very popular with dayhikers, but after that, we mostly ran into backpackers on their way out.

Sol Duc Falls

From the trailhead to Deer Lake, we gained 1,700 feet of elevation, so it was a steady, but not too steep hike all the way. 

Hiking to Deer Lake

Once at the lake, we spent almost an hour scouting all the campsites and discovered none of them would accommodate our five tents, so Philip and I set up separately from the other three guys. Our site had a small creek running alongside it, a nice meadow view, and we had a doe and two fawns hanging out for a while. Guess that makes Deer lake quite aptly named!

Deer Lake

Fawn at Deer Lake

Corey, Harold and Erik Cooking Dinner

Day two would be a bit tougher. Our hike to Heart Lake would be nearly double the mileage of the first day and more elevation gain. Luckily, the rain cleared out and we had mostly sunny skies all day. Right from the start, we were headed uphill, with occasional breaks in the tree cover to view the surrounding mountains. 

Nice Day for a Walk

Interesting Looking Trees Along the Way

After a couple of miles we completely broke into the open, where we could see the trail stretching onward and upward far ahead of us to a pass near Bogachiel Peak. 

That 'Dip' at the top of the picture is the 'Pass' near Bogachiel Peak

That last mile or so to the pass was pretty tough, but the views were outstanding! 

Getting Closer

Beautiful Views and Wildflowers Too!

Soon after, there was a short, but steep side trail to our high point of the day, 5,474 foot Bogachiel Peak. Once on the peak, we enjoyed 360 degree views while we ate our lunch.

Lunch on Bogachiel Peak

View of Seven Lakes Basin from Bogachiel Peak

After lunch we had about two miles to go to reach our campsite at Heart Lake. Now since Bogachiel Peak is over 5,400 feet and Heart Lake is at 4,700 feet, our thinking was we were in for an easy downhill stroll.

Not even close.

What followed was a steep downhill descent, followed by seemingly endless ups and downs until finally we got sight of Heart lake several hundred feet below. 

Ridgeline Trail to Heart Lake

Along the way, though, we did have some nice views of Mt. Olympus partially cloaked in clouds and the Hoe River far below.

Partially Visible  Mount Olympus

Once at Heart Lake, we again found out all the sites were too small for our five tents, so Philip and Corey camped separately from Harold, Erik, and I.

I Wonder Why it's Called Heart Lake?

Whenever we arrive at camp on backpacking trips, a series of chores unfold, in no particular order, except the first one: TAKING OFF THE BACKPACK!
Followed by setting up the tent, restocking our water supply, making and chugging at least one liter of Gatorade, washing off some of the sweat and grime, and then just generally relaxing and taking in the beauty of the surroundings we worked hard to get to. Eventually, it's time to consume a delicious freeze dried meal, followed by a few random toasts as the sun sets and then off to dreamland.

On this particular evening at 'toasting' time, Philip spotted a bear down a hill below us, feasting on blueberries. This kept our attention for quite some time, as it seemed to be moving closer until we were convinced the only thing it was interested in was the blueberries.

Black Bear Munching on Berries

Day three started out with beautiful, clear blue skies and three bears on a hill opposite from our site feasting on blueberries. Again, blueberries were the only thing they were interested in. Well, that and pooping.

We had a pretty short day in store for us, so we lingered at camp longer than usual while enjoying the beauty of the Heart Lake area. After breakfast, I decided to hike back up to the ridge line to see if I could get a clear view of Mt. Olympus. Sure enough, there she was in full glory against the blue sky with the Hoe River Valley below, full of fog! Breath taking!

Mt Olympus Rising Above the Fog

Today's hike would be 99% downhill, losing 2,000 feet of elevation in four miles. Along the way, we would drop from wide open mountain views over numerous creeks, back down into green and mossy forest cover. 

Nice Bridge Over a Creek

On the hike, I started thinking about tonights campsite, Sol Duc River #4. Unlike our first two nights where I had reserved a camping area with numerous sites, tonight I had to reserve an individual campsite just for us. There was no way of knowing in advance how large the site would be and actually, it never entered my mind until now. Sure enough, when we arrived, it was only big enough for three tents.

After eating lunch and analyzing every possibility, Erik and Corey volunteered to hike further down the trail to the last three Sol Duc River campsites and either:
A) Hope campers didn't show up for their reserved site or
B) If campers did show up, they might have room for two more tents.

What swell guys they were to allow Philip, Harold and I to stay at our reserved campsite!

We found out later they chose option C.
They hiked out and stayed in a hotel.

Three Tents Squeezed into the Campsite

Trees Above Our Tents

The rest of us enjoyed our night here with the sounds of the Sol Duc River rushing nearby. This was also the first campsite we were allowed to have a campfire, which added to the ambiance of the evenings toasting.

Somewhere around midnight, I woke up to the sound of raindrops hitting the tent. It didn't rain a lot during the night, but everything was wet in the morning. We weren't sure if or when it would rain some more, so we took advantage of the break to quickly have breakfast and pack up. This worked out perfectly as it started to rain right as we were hoisting our backpacks on. We had a mostly level hike out though the first mile or so was an obstacle course of mud, roots, and rocks. It was on our hike out that I discovered my 10+ year old rain gear was no longer very waterproof.

Wet (and Green!) Hike Out

Harold, Philip and I arrived back to the Sol Duc trailhead about noon and soon after were picked up by the freshly showered Corey and Erik, to end our High Divide Loop hike.

The High Divide Loop

All pictures from Erik, Corey, Harold, Philip and Henry using Smartphone cameras only!

Next Up:
Olympic Coastal Hike


  1. What an awesome trip! We love the Olympic Peninsula but have only done day hikes. So funny that two of your buddies chose "Option C" for the night on the Sol Duc River. They probably went to the hot springs resort. :-))

  2. Yea, funny guys they are. Can't say we blamed them. Amazingly they arrived to pick us up within 5 minutes of us getting off the trail. Then they had to ride an hour with us three 'unshowered' guys in the back.