Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Day 82: Sun Ducks! Err, I mean... Sol Duc!

August 30: I woke up and hit the trail a little before 8:00am. This next section of trail, I knew, would lead (almost) completely through the Sol Duc region as it was one of the more problematic areas for me while creating my permit schedule because all of the campsites were completely booked. Sol Suc was an extremely popular part of the park! So I camped as close to the region as I could--then would push through 16 miles to Deer Lake on the far side of the Sol Duc region.


The day started with a nice warm-up, climbing steeply to Appleton Pass. At first it was in thick trees, but I passed a couple of small waterfalls which I followed off trail a few minutes to check out. Nice, but after a couple of photos, I turned back and continued onward and upward.

Eventually the trail climbed above the tree line when views opened up. The sun was shining, the skies were blue. Life was good! I also realized that there was someone ahead of me on the trail when I spotted a fresh, wet boot print at a river crossing. I hadn't seen or heard anyone leave camp before me, but there was definitely someone ahead of me.

Turned out, there were two people ahead of me, which I caught up with near the top of Appleton Pass. They took a break, huffing and puffing from the thin atmosphere and heavy packs. I was huffing and puffing myself but after a month on the trail was probably in much better shape and didn't need the breaks that they did.

"Where's the top of this thing?" I joked. "I'm going to file a complaint! They could have drilled a tunnel right through this mountain cutting off a thousand feet of elevation gain and a mile of switchbacks!"

I chatted with them for a couple of minutes. They were getting off the trail at the Sol Duc trailhead and driving home to Portland to make it to work in time the next morning.

"Just as well," I told him, "since it's supposed to rain tonight." For the time being, though, we were enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Nearing the top of Appleton Pass

At the top of Appleton Pass, I found a somewhat official-looking campsite with a couple who were packing up camp. I was surprised at this since my maps didn't show a campsite here. How many other mysterious campsites were along this route that I didn't know about?

Then came a long descent toward the Sol Duc River.

At that point, I hit the main trail between the Sol Duc trailhead and the Sol Duc region and the number of people on the trail exploded. Within a half hour, I probably passed a dozen people in both directions. And I passed what seemed like half a dozen small campsites along the route. They were coming fast and furious!

After crossing the Sol Duc River, the trail headed uphill again--another long, steep climb on a well-worn and tired trail.

I hadn't really taken that close of a look at my maps and this climb surprised me. I knew the area wasn't flat, but I had no idea that it climbed thousands and thousands of feet in elevation either. Sometimes I had trouble figuring out the trail to follow because of the network of side trails leading to campsites. I struggled through this area a lot more than I had expected. It wasn't bad, but it was considerably more difficult than I had imagined.

One group of people who were passing me in the other direction, I eavesdropped on their conversation and heard one woman say that they had seen 10 bears in the past three days. Ten bears?! "What's your secret?!" I asked. "I've hiked nearly 1,200 miles on this trail and have only seen three!"

She didn't have a secret, but she did say that most of the bears were seen from a far distance, just black dots in a distant meadow from viewpoints. A few of them were up close, though. Still.... I made a mental note: this area apparently had a particularly high concentration of bears. (The Sol Duc region was also one of the areas of the park that bear canisters were required.)

Lots and lots of hikers along the Sol Duc area of the park

The trail continued to climb, higher and higher, and once again it broke above tree line near Heart Lake where the views truly became jaw-dropping and stunning.

Mount Olympus, the tallest mountain on the Olympic Peninsula, loomed to the south, glaciers creeping down the flanks of the majestic mountain. Lakes and wide-open views dotted the landscape to the north. Absolutely stunning and definitely one my favorite sections of the entire trail.

But clouds started rolling in. Rain overnight. That's what the weather forecast I saw the day before had predicted, and it looked like it was coming true. I cut my lunch break short and pushed onward.

I had finally reached the top of the ridge, and the trail meandered up and down along the ridge for awhile before descending thousands of feet downward again. I picked up my pace when I felt a few drops of water fall on me. It was only 4:30 in the afternoon--the rain wasn't supposed to start falling until nightfall! Maybe the storm was blowing in faster than expected? I really wanted to set up camp before the rain really started, and although I was exhausted, I pushed onward. I needed to get into camp quickly!

I passed a couple of people hiking in the opposite direction and they told me to keep my eyes open for a herd of elk in the meadow at the bottom of the valley just ahead. They were far away and distant, but clearly visible from the trail. That would definitely be cool to see, even if it were from a distance, so I kept my eyes open.

And I spotted them about 5 minutes later! I tried to take photos, but the meadow was already in shade and it was perhaps a half-mile away. The elk were largely just dots in the field, but they were moving and clearly grazing. I tried to take photos but they were all blurry. My camera just couldn't get decent photos with the elk so far away in low-light conditions.

It's a horrible photo, but the herd of elk are visible! =)

I passed a turnoff for Lunch Lake, wishing that was where my campsite was located, but it wasn't. My permit was for Deer Lake, further up ahead--but not far now!

Except then I reached a point where the trail looked like it had--quite literally--been ripped in half. It was as if an earthquake tore through the area ripping the ground asunder. I found myself having to scramble over and around giant boulders. Large cracks had formed in the ground, some of them 5 feet deep. What the hell happened here?! It slowed my progress to a crawl. At times, I couldn't see the trail at all and had to follow cairns that previous hikers had left on the trail.

I later heard that there was some sort of landslide that had happened in the region which probably explains the giant cracks in the trail, although I couldn't actually see the landslide. The trail was more like collateral damage. I thought I was close to my campsite, but it turned out it would take more than double the amount of time to reach it than I expected. The cracks were very interesting from a geological perspective, but a huge annoyance from a hiking perspective. Especially so since I was trying to rush to camp before any rain started.

Large cracks showed up in the trail. I couldn't really get good photos showing the cracks--it looks more like a jumble of rocks. I really needed a wide-angle lens to get photos where the cracks actually looked like cracks. But it was still a mess to get through!

As the trail descended back down below tree line, I reached a sizeable lake with a trail junction pointing to campsites. I was expecting to reach Deer Lake soon, but I didn't think this was it. But I also didn't know of any other campsites in the region except near Deer Lake. Where did this side trail go? I was absolutely exhausted at this point. I had taken a short 10-minute snack break and a longer 45-minute lunch break, but except for those two breaks, I had charged along the trail non-stop the whole day and I was completely wiped out. I was exhausted and needed a break! I would have even been perfectly happy to stop right then and there at the campsite. Except.... the lake was stagnant and looked horrible for drinking and I really didn't have enough water for the night.

So I decided to push onward to Deer Lake. According to both my map and GPS, it really shouldn't be that much further.

And I finally arrived at the lake a little after 6:00, thrilled to death that I made it before any real rain started. I hiked out to the campsites and grabbed the first one I saw, quickly setting up my tarp.

With that done, I went down to a small creek that fed into Deer Lake to fill up with water before retiring to my campsite for the rest of the evening. I had made it! I was exhausted, but I was done!

According to my maps, I had covered 15.9 miles. Which really wasn't very far all things considered. It took me 10 hours to complete the distance for a measly average speed of 1.6 miles per hour. It was a terribly slow pace, but my GPS had recorded a distance of 16.6 miles--nearly a mile more. And, the main thing that really killed my speed was the more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain and loss I suffered through during the day. The giant cracks in the trail didn't help either. I may not have covered a lot of distance, but it was definitely a tough section of trail!

I cooked dinner under my tarp, brushed my teeth, then settled down to watch a little Netflix before falling asleep to the sound of rain sprinkling on my tarp.

Home, sweet home!

View back from near the top of Appleton Pass

I was still finding these unnaturally-balanced rocks on the trail, which I still think is the work of a PNT hiker ahead of me on the trail even if I couldn't prove it. =)

This is Heart Lake. Any guesses about how the lake might have gotten its name? =)

Mount Olympus with glaciers clearly visible coming down its flanks.

Seven Lakes Basin

Mount Olympus, the tallest mountain on the Olympic Peninsula

More of the trail, torn asunder, so that it doesn't even look like a trail anymore!

Here a crack formed through a more grassy area along the trail. In all, the cracks affected maybe a quarter-mile of the trail.

Deer Lake


KuKu said...

Glad you made it before any major rain. Those cracks & rocks do NOT look fun!

Shutterbug2012 said...

How much weight would you say you were carrying during this section? Factoring the weight and the elevation gain/loss it's no wonder that you were tired.

Ryan said...

I would guess that I was carrying maybe about 40 pounds. Definitely more weight than I'd prefer! =)

Karolina said...

Maybe the unnaturaly-balanced rocks were placed along the trail by aliens? Something to the effect of rings in crop fields.