The end of August is normally a great time to do The High Divide, but this year, our winter was so late, (we had snow in May), that it made for a really interesting trip.
We started out at about 9:00 and decided to go up the Heart Lake side first, knocking out the 5 mile section following the river. It was just a routine hike, gradually working our way up through the old growth fir and blueberry patches which were just about prime for the picking. There wasn’t much wildlife to be seen, but there were plenty of other hikers coming down from up above.
At the Sol Duc Campground we came across 4 mountain goats grazing near a group of tent that were set up. They let us get within 20 feet of them before strolling off. We walked a short ways away to refuel ourselves with some carbs before tackling the rocky stair case up to Heart Lake.
Shortly after the Sol Duc River campground we came across a marshy pond with some nearby peaks in the back ground. Gene wanted a picture so we stopped. Upon stepping off the trail we saw about 5 frogs jumping out of our way and into the pond. They were all over the place, probably a couple hundred lined the pool and everywhere you stepped they scramble to get out of the way. I believe that they were Cascades Frogs. Gene said that this is just a great big orgy pool for them.
The approach to Heart Lake is a killer. If you aren’t used to it or aren’t prepared, it can really take you by surprise. Large rocky steps prevent you from half-stepping, forcing you to step all the way up or not at all. It’s something else.
Before long, though, you come up over a rise and there lies the lake, snow-fed and ice cold. Step over to the stream and splash your face, it feels awesome. From this level you cant see what gives the lake its name, but continue up the trail and looking down from above it’s obvious: It’s shaped like a heart.
It was above the lake that we got the first taste of snow. climbing hils in the snow is bad enough, but this snow was melting just enough to make the first inch on the top soft and almost slushy. The going was slow and aggravating and we had at least 2 miles of this to look forward to.
The divide itself is the apex of this hike. Running east-west it divides the Hoh and Sol Duc watersheds. Looking south you see Mt. Olympus and the mighty Blue Glacier. It’s truly amazing.
Finally after trudging through the snow we reached the top of the divide; It was all downhill from here. Past the spur to the top of Bogachiel Peak and past the junction to Hoh Lake you come to one heck of a series of switchbacks. There’s only about 3 of them but it’s steep as heck. Today it was covered with snow as well. Jerry, being the lightweight agile fellow that he is took off across the snow field and was at the first switchback when suddenly we heard a couple choice words from Gene along with the sound of canvas sliding on snow. I looked up and there he was, sliding down the hill, snow was flying to the sides of him like a Bayliner plowing through the water.
There was a moment of ”Oh shit!”, but I quickly realized that he would reach the trail below if he kept going. He kept going. Jerry shouted out, “That’s one way to cut out the switchbacks”. I couldn’t think of anything funny to say, so I just watched helplessly, wishing I could have gotten this on film.
Well, he finally caught a tree and was hanging there about 3 or 4 feet over the trail below. We heard a whimper come from somewhere down below. Gene said it was a marmot, but we couldn’t be certain.
Once he regained his composure, took a mental inventory of his limbs and other assorted body parts that he might have left behind, we continued. The only casualty was his sunglasses. There was no finding them in the thick brush and he decided to leave them behind.
Most of the remainder of the trail was clear. There were patches of snow above Deer Lake, however. Going downhill on the snow is MUCH more enjoyable than climbing it. We were running and sliding and having a good ol’ time when suddenly, we rounded a corner and there was a shapely young lady in a bikini up in the snow getting some sun. Naturally, when faced with the unexpected up in the mountains, all trace of suaveness escapes you and the best you can do is “Uh, hi.” Gene managed to get out a “Just do your thing…” and we continued on hurriedly.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful. We stopped at Deer Lake to refill some water bottles and then tackled the final stretch: about 3 miles down a rocky trail, picking our way over rocks and boulder that look like they’d be more at home on a river bottom. Gene, not used to this sort of thing was getting angry at the rocks. I could see it in his face, he HATED them. He swore that a few of them reached up through his boot and punctured the soles of his feet. We had to stop occasionally to let him calm himself.
Before long, though, we reached the falls and the throng of tourists ever present there, and quickly covered the last mile to the truck. Those beers tasted wonderful.