trip reports

August 1, 2019

Olympic Mountains – High Divide backpack

Five day backpacking loop on the High Divide trail, with one night at Deer Lake, two nights at Lunch Lake in the Seven Lakes Basin, and one night at Sol Duc Park.

On this five day backpacking trip, we survived needing to use first aid for a deep cut in the first 30 minutes of the trip, 1.5″ of torrential rain overnight at Deer Lake, a forgotten spoon, sunburns, never-ending rock stairs, and crossing a crazy earthquake damaged trail that required scrambling on huge slabs of broken rock with large gaps in the ground.

We also had epic views along the ridges of the High Divide, clear & sunny weather, MOUNT OLYMPUS, dipping in Lunch Lake, seeing the Milky Way and shooting stars, sightings of marmots, a cute deer family, and tons of laughter.

Day 1: Sol Duc trailhead to Deer Lake

4.8 miles with 1,670 ft. gain

The drive to the trailhead from Portland was about 5 hours long and included a stop at the ranger station in Port Angeles to pick up our permits. I reserved the campsites on the day the permitting process opened and we had our own bear canisters (required for this trip), but we needed to stop to get the official permit. The parking lot at the trailhead was full but we lucked out and got a spot so we didn’t have to park along the road and walk back. Sol Duc Falls is a popular destination, so most people were just hiking the first 0.8 miles to the falls. Once we passed the viewpoint for the falls, we saw very few people for the rest of the hike.

Just after we turned and started ascending, one of my friends tripped on a root and fell, hitting a sharp rock that made a deep cut in her lower arm. We immediately went into first aid mode, cleaning the wound and closing it up with butterfly strips. Not the best way to start the trip for sure! We hoped that we had made the right decision in continuing on… (by the end of the trip, the cut had healed considerably and she was fine!)

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

starting the hike in

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Sol Duc Falls

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

rocky trail

 

Our first night’s camp was at Deer Lake. When we arrived, all of the campsites on the main trail side of the lake were full, so we backtracked and found a large group site on the west side of the lake. We were expecting rain overnight and were hoping for a protected site under the trees but we had to take what was available. We heard that a small bear had been seen near the main trail, and later we heard from two campers near us that a bear was on the talus slope above us. They ended up seeing the bear again a little too close to their campsite. So, on the first day, there were three bear sightings but none of us saw them.

It started to rain as soon as we went to bed and continued all night long, dumping 1.5 inches overnight. The sound of the rain was so loud on our tents that we had trouble sleeping. In the morning, my tent was the only one that was completely dry inside. A large channel of water had drained through the camp to the low spot where two of my friend’s tents were pitched. They thought they might float away in the night with a significant amount of water under their tents, but only ended up with a small amount of water inside. It rained so much that several of us had water in the bottom of our bear canisters! I’m not sure how it got in, but it did.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

first view of Deer Lake

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Deer Lake’s outlet stream

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

campsite at Deer Lake

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Deer Lake and the ridges of the Seven Lakes Basin above it

Day 2: Deer Lake to the Seven Lakes Basin

4.4 miles with 1,400 ft. gain / 500 ft. loss

The next morning, the skies were partly cloudy with bits of blue. The forecast had called for it to rain most of the day, so we were happy it wasn’t raining when we were packing up to head to our next camp.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Deer Lake in the morning

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

blue skies over Deer Lake

 

As we left Deer Lake, we crossed a long boardwalk to get back to the main trail and turned right to head to the Seven Lakes Basin. We passed several smaller lakes and tarns while the trail ascended on switchbacks. Views of the ridges around us came into view, and eventually, we could see Deer Lake far below us.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

boardwalk at the end of the lake

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

small tarn next to the trail

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

hiking up to the ridge on the left

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

views of surrounding ridges

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

looking back towards where we started hiking

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Deer Lake is now far below us

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

incredible views on the way up

 

We crested the ridge and the trail wrapped around the other side, ascending along the side of the wildflower-filled ridge with big views of the Bogachiel River basin.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

the Bogachiel River basin

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

continuing up the ridge

 

As we got closer to the junction with the Seven Lakes Basin trail, we started to see evidence of a geological disturbance. It looked like an earthquake had ripped up the earth and rocks, leaving huge gaps in the ground. Soon we reached a section of split apart boulders and it was impossible to tell which direction to go. Thankfully, there were plenty of other hikers in the area and someone pointed out to us which direction to head. We had to scramble across a large section of unstable rock with gaps between them so we could reach the other side and get back on the main trail. Some people like scrambling, but I am definitely not one of them. I kept saying “I fucking hate this” out loud all the way across it. Obviously, I didn’t take any photos of this section. Partway across, a marmot stuck its head up to see what was going on.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

geological shift in the meadow

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

finding our way through the damaged area

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

large cracks in the ground were everywhere

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

at the end of the rocky scramble section

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

smaller section of damaged trail

 

Whew! After finishing the scramble, I was happy to see the regular trail. We turned left at the junction with the Seven Lakes Basin trail and headed across a small talus slope to a narrow section of rock steps to the top of the ridge. There were several marmots in this section chasing each other around on the rocks.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

finally back to the regular trail!

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

turn off for the Seven Lakes Basin

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

heading to the Seven Lakes Basin

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

these rock stairs lead to the top of the ridge

 

As soon as you climb the rock stairs and reach the top, this is the view! The Seven Lakes Basin looks like a fairy land after all of that rock. Now we only had about a million more rock steps to take 500 feet down to reach the trail (and more rock steps) to Lunch Lake. We had permits for two nights at Lunch Lake and needed to find a campsite.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

first view of the Seven Lakes Basin and Round Lake

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Lunch Lake!

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Round Lake and Lunch Lake

 

This area is very popular with backpackers, and most of the campsites were already taken when we arrived. We needed a spot for four single person tents, but could only find two sites suitable for one tent each so we crammed in the best we could. As I backed out of my vestibule, I was entering my friend’s vestibule. It was a tight fit!

There were deer wandering around while we set up camp. We ended up seeing the same deer family again and again over the next two days.

One of my friends discovered a much larger campsite with great views that was going to be available the next morning, so we made a plan to get up early and move camp.

Olympic Mountains High Divide backpacking trip

Deer at our campsite

Day 3: relaxing at Lunch Lake

In the morning, we moved camp to the better site. It was large enough for all four tents and had sweet views and easier access to the privy. After two days of hiking with full packs on, we spent the day relaxing and exploring the area.

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

2nd camp

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

view from our camp

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

small tarn near our camp

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

view from my tent

 

With full sun and temps in the high 60s, it felt hot enough for a dip in a chilly lake. After getting in the water and dunking fully a couple of times, I did laundry using a small plastic bag to rinse some of my clothes. There were large rocks next to the lake that were perfect for laying out the wet clothes to dry in the sun while we lounged in our underwear (aka… backcountry bikinis!).

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

cold water!

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

bluest blue water

 

After so much time in the sun, I discovered that I had stupidly gotten a sunburn on my thighs. I headed back to camp and napped while my friends hiked to Round Lake. After dinner, we wandered around taking photos of the sunset before going to bed, then we got up at 11pm to see a sky full of stars and the Milky Way. It was still a few weeks before the prime Perseids meteor showers, but there was no moon on this night so we were able to see a couple of shooting stars. One of my friends is an avid photographer and she was up late taking star photos.

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

sunset at camp

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

pretty sky

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

good night…

Day 4: Seven Lakes Basin to Sol Duc Park

6 miles with 1,390 ft. gain / 1,770 ft. loss

In the morning, we packed up once again and hiked out of the Seven Lakes Basin. Today’s hike was the highlight of the trip, with at least 3 miles of hiking along the ridges of the High Divide with views of Mount Olympus and many other peaks. But first we had to climb back up 500 feet of rock steps to the top of the Seven Lakes Basin. Thankfully, we didn’t have to cross any more earthquake-damaged sections. The scenery all along this section was stunning… we stopped to have lunch with an up-front view of Mount Olympus. The trail looped around the Seven Lakes Basin and we could see the other lakes as we climbed ridge after ridge before heading down down down the trail looking for our last campsite for this trip.

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

continuing on the High Divide loop

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

wildflowers lined the trails along the ridges

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

hiking around Bogachiel Peak

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

the Potholes

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

MOUNT OLYMPUS!

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

the Hoh River far below the peaks

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

up another ridge

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

the trail continues along all of these ridges

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

Hoh River Valley

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

east end of the Seven Lakes Basin

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

lunch stop with a grand view

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

last views of the Seven Lakes Basin

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

going up

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

rocky summit on one of the ridges

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

great view of Mount Carrie as we climb another ridge

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

Heart Lake

 

We were supposed to camp at Lower Bridge Creek, but I had it waymarked incorrectly in Gaia and we couldn’t find it so we headed back up the trail to Sol Duc Park. There was only one other tent there, and we found a nice site next to the creek with a view of a small waterfall. The other campers came over to tell us about a large bear that just passed through their camp, and that caused a lot of excitement. We were cooking dinner and I didn’t want to leave our food so I didn’t get a chance to see it but one of my friends did. She said it wasn’t interested in any of them as they stood there and yelled “Hey Bear”. It had much better things to do, which is a good thing. I’ll admit that I thought about that bear as I laid in my tent but I was too tired to miss out on sleeping.

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

our camp at Sol Duc Park

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

Bridge Creek and a small waterfall at our camp

Day 5: Sol Duc Park to the trailhead

8 miles with 2,400 ft. loss

We had a long day ahead of us, so we got up early and headed back to the trailhead. On the descent, we passed through meadows full of huckleberries so two of us decided to sing so we wouldn’t surprise any bears near the trail. We sounded like drunken sailors: “Hey, hey, hey! Bear, bear, BEAR! Stay away!” Soon, we were in the rainforest again beside the Sol Duc River. It was a loooong hike out and I was wasted by the end of it but happy to have completed this incredible loop.

Olympic Mountains - High Divide backpacking trip

the hike out

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