Today’s miles: 16.7
Total miles: 412.1
I wake to the beautiful mountains all around me. It’s cold up here on top of the pass, and I struggle to leave the warmth of my quilt. Right away this morning, I hike down several miles through the forest. When I hit the bottom, the trail sends me right back up. So it goes.
Today I’m hiking through the Sol Duc area, one of the most popular and gorgeous parts of the park. It’s difficult to get permits to camp here because everyone wants to camp here, apparently. There are lots of warnings about bears being common in this area—my trail guide even says some hikers have spotted more than ten bears in a single day along Sol Duc! I have not yet seen a single bear on the PNT, so I feel like if ever there will be a day, today’s gonna be that day.
Maybe my muscles are still trying to recover from yesterday, but the climb through Sol Duc feels tough. The terrain is rocky and filled with roots, and there are many, many big steps cut into the stone. Steps made for bodies with longer legs than mine. I pass many different campsites, feeling fatigued, and stop for water at Sol Duc Park camp, where a group of teens is hanging out. It sounds like they’re on an Outward Bound trip or something similar.
The teens head out well before me, but I soon pass them on the hot, exposed, steep climb up to Heart Lake. The big stone steps continue, but the hard work is worth it, because they brought me to these views. From here, I’m on the High Divide trail. I have great expectations of this section—everyone talks about it as one of the most beautiful stretches of the whole PNT. I climb just a little more and can suddenly see why: huge sweeping views of Mt Olympus. I trade photo-taking duties with a group of four hikers from Missouri and then decide to just sit right here and have my lunch break.
After this there’s even more climbing along the High Divide, but wow, it’s unbelievably pretty up here. I’m thrilled to look down over Seven Lakes Basin, and—on the recommendation of my guidebook—take a short, steep side trip to the summit of Bogachiel Peak for what is purportedly the best view of the basin. Once I’m up there, I’m not sure this is better than a view I had a bit earlier on trail, but it’s still awesome. Coming down the other side of this side trail is a doozy—wicked steep with some loose rock and scree for good measure. It takes me a while.
I begin the long, long descent off the Divide. It’s still beautiful but it really does go on forever. A mile out from Deer Creek, I chat with a couple of guys who warn me they saw two separate bears with cubs within about two miles, along the route I’m taking. Okay then. It’s getting late in the day, and I still have several miles to go. I detour into Deer Creek and find the ranger’s site to ask if I can camp here instead, but there’s no ranger home.
I continue on, now in weather turning grey and windy. Clouds are rolling in. I hike as fast as I can uphill, calling for bears frequently. The trail levels out a bit and takes me through a few small meadows between forested sections. In one meadow opening, I stop to look at my map. When I look up, I see a large black bear just in the other side of the grass. Whoa. It’s not so close that I’m nervous, but close enough that I can hear it chewing whatever foliage it’s snacking on. I call out to it, to make sure it knows I’m here, and it does not care at all. Not even a glance in my direction. National park bears, man. I check my map to ensure the trail takes me away from the bear, and then move forward, keeping a steady stream of calm words flowing. “Hey bear, just a hiker here, doing what hikers do. I’ll do my thing and you do yours. You just enjoy your snacks while I pass on through here.” The bear continues to fully ignore me, and once I’m well past it, I resume my quick pace and keep calling for others that might be near.
By the time I reach my campsite, the weather is looking very bad indeed. I have enough signal to text Cyn, who confirms a lot of rain coming my way. Well, at least tomorrow I’ll be descending into the forest. One of the rain forest sections of the park, actually, so I’d expect to get wet either way. I hunker down in my tent and hope the rain holds off until morning.