Four Days Along the High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin Loop
People come all the way from Florida to hike the High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin trail. It's that good. It's one of Olympic National Park's best backpacking routes, protected under a permit system, where sightings of bears and goats are very common.
19 miles roundtrip, 4000 ft elevation gain, Green Trails Maps: Seven Lakes Basin/Mount Olympus Climbing 133S
Read on for an account of our encounter with a huge bear that kept us awake all night, and for a ton of pretty pictures.
High Divide/Seven Lakes Basin Loop, Day 1
I had to go through some hoops to get time off in order to join Andrew, John and Timea on this trip. But I managed to take Thursday and Friday to make a 4 day long weekend, and grab of the 4th spot left on the permit to hike this popular trail.
Researching online I kept seeing references of goats and bears, and claims that this may be the most beautiful area of the inland Olympic peninsula. Well, I was about to find out if any of those were true.
Sol Duc River Trail
It's a bit of a drive from Seattle to the trailhead. This trip includes a Ferry ride, which comes with the chance to relax, enjoy a muffin and a cup of coffee, and think about the trip ahead.
We arrived at the Sol Duc trailhead a little before noon, got ready, and started the loop clockwise, hiking along the Sol Duc River for a flat 4.8 miles until we reached the Appleton Pass Trail. We passed all the individual campsites along the Sol Duc River; they were a reasonable distance from the parking lot and very nice. At the junction we continued towards Sol Duc Park for another 2.2 miles until we reached Lower Bridge Creek Camp where we were going to spend our first night. Compared to the section before the junction, this last one was steeper, but we enjoyed it.
Lower Bridge Creek Camp
Lower Bridge Creek has 2 camp sites: a lower Lower Bridge Creek and a higher Lower Bridge Creek. Now seriously, the "higher" one is nicer, it's across the creek, on the same side with Sol Duc Park. We found it empty, so we settled in. It was mid afternoon.
Since the sun was going to be up for at least two or three more hours, we decided to hike up to Heart Lake and see if we could have a dip in the lake. Andrew went finishing for a bit, but without any luck.
After enjoying the lake for a while, it was time to hike the one mile and about 800 ft of elevation back to camp. Water was chilly but swimming was refreshing after a long day on our feet. We met a couple of ladies that come to hike the High Divide every year, traveling across the country all the way from the East Coast! That's how much they like it. Wow!
Our permit was less than ideal, but we had no choice so we accepted the one we've got. This one had us spend 2 nights at Lower Bridge Creek. That's fine, because we got to do another trip up to Heart Lake and decided to also explore a bit along the ridge.
Cat Basin Trail and Cat Peak
So we went back to Heart Lake, continued until we gained the ridge, then we turned east, leaving the loop for a bit, on the Cat Basin Trail for about a mile, until the trail has started seriously going down. At this point it was just a boot path and we decided to turn around and have lunch. But not before we got to see Cat Peak.
Looking for a place to enjoy lunch out of the wind, we found a great spot with a view towards Heart Lake, which, from this high angle, really looks like a heart.
... and then, on our way down we found a good source of berries nearby and proceeded to fill both our water bottles and our stomachs with them. While you can't use these blueberries to win the 74th Hunger Games, they were perfectly edible, and quite delicious.
The day doesn't go by before another swim and before we witness the park service helicopter on duty to pick up toilets from nearby camps. Thanks NPS for keeping the wilderness clean!
Strangely, this picture reminds me of the old M*A*S*H TV show.
...and we headed back to camp for the night.
Day 3, Reaching the High Divide Trail
After a quick breakfast, we hiked back up to Heart Lake (for the third time - not kidding). This time we continued on to gain the ridge and merge with the High Divide Trail. From up-there we got to see on the elusive other side of the divide, Mount Olympus was right there in our face and Blue Glacier was carving away at its valley, towards us. A beautiful site!
We continued up the ridge onto what has now become the High Divide Trail. Marvelous views left and right!
To the right, we started getting glimpses of the east side of the Seven Lakes Basin.
This is where we stopped for lunch, 3.5 miles away from the Lower Bridge Creek camp. It was past noon and we had already started seeing lots of day hikers doing the 20 mile loop in one day, passing us from the opposite direction.
After lunch the trail became a little steeper; it made us appreciate the flat section we had before. We were hiking the east flank of 5472 ft. Bogachiel Peak. Soon we made it to its summit, which is a little flat top where views to the West opened up for the first time.
The trail goes around the peak for another mile (same great views, slideshow above). Somewhere in the first section, there's a junction with the Hoh Lake Trail (going down to Hoh Lake and the Hoh River down in the valley). We took the right fork towards Seven Lakes Basin, following the High Divide Trail.
Seven Lakes Basin
Out of nowhere, at the next junction, through a spectacular rock-carved opening, the trail enters the Seven Lakes Basin. Incredible views of Lunch Lake and its surroundings!
To the left (not in the above picture) is Round Lake, another beautiful lake in this basin, and a hangout place for a friendly black bear (as we later found out from other hikers and a ranger).
We descended down into the valley and went around Lunch Lake heading for our camp down at Clear Lake. From up close, Lunch Lake is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes I have ever seen!
Clear Lake Camp
We hiked for about 15 minutes, a 400 feet descent, to reach our camp on the shore of Clear Lake. It's the only campsite at this secluded location. A truly great spot! You can see it in the folowing picture, across the lake's outlet.
We put our packs down, and decided to go have a swim in the bigger Lunch Lake above, where we wanted to also take some photos and Andrew wanted to try his luck fishing again.
Half way up the trail though, we run into a very large black bear who was eating berries nearby! He was very calm, saw us, then moved away minding his own business. I've got nervous a bit for having such a large neighbor, but all my worries went away when I saw Lunch Lake again in the beautiful late afternoon light.
The Black Bear Encounter
After a great swim, the sun went down below the High Divide and it was time for us to return to camp. We still had to set up our tents and get dinner going. But on our way back to the camp, guess who's back? Our friendly neighbor, the black bear:
Looking at this photo again I'm struck by how calm John and Andrew were. I, for one, was nowhere near as relaxed. On the contrary, I was nervous as hell, as this was only my second such close encounter. After making us heard using the well known "Hey Bear", the bear acknowledged our presence, and without paying too much attention to us, returned to his berries. We let him do his business and descended all the way to camp with a great subject to keep us busy throughout dinner and the rest of the evening.
The Bear Story
I had a hard time sleeping, knowing that a huge bear was so close to our camp earlier that day. In the dark of the night my brain was trying to analyze every sound from the nearby forest and decide whether it could be made by a large animal's footsteps. But after several good hours of unrest, I eventually fell asleep.
Around 4 am, Timea woke me up in a hurry saying that she's hearing heavy breathing and cracked branches, right outside the tent at our feet. I woke up and heard it too! It was indeed very close to our tent. At that moment, I took the bear spray in one hand, set my headlamp, then we both yelled for John and Andrew to wake up so we could all go out at the same time.
I got out of my tent and saw nothing, even after flashing my headlamp all around the tent. By this time everybody was around in their underwear flashing headlights and making noise. We stuck around for a few minutes, but nothing was moving, it was as if nothing had happened.
After we calmed down, John and Andrew said that they saw a deer butt disappearing into the forest. Hm... While I believed them, I found it so hard to imagine a deer having the heavy breathing that I heard a few minutes earlier; and the cracked branches. Something did not add up. I could not get those thoughts out of my head.
Eventually, we all went back to sleep, but I, for one, could not close my eyes anymore. Time passed by, and around 6:00am the tent wall began to show signs of daylight. I was glad that whatever it was last night did not come back, but I didn't finish the thought and we all heard a pair of loud thuds. This time no heavy breathing or creaking branches. I started yelling that our bear was back, and I quickly unzipped and got out of the tent with pepper spray and all.
Outside it was already daylight, and, just a few yards away, an adult deer and her fawn. I sigh out in relief. They were so peaceful and calm that all the scare with the bear washed away in an instant and we all laughed about it.
It had been one hell of a night! In the end, I don't know what it was, but it was definitely not a deer. That heavy breathing and branches cracking under its weight, definitely different than what the dear sounded later on.
I guess we'll never know.
Day 4, Breakfast at Clear Lake
With all the excitement I later realized that the lake was enveloped in the most beautiful light, so I took out my camera and captured the moment.
We had breakfast and prepared for the 8 mile hike back.
Chased by the Storm
The adventure was not over yet! It was shaping up to be just different this time. It was going to be a race against a thunder storm that was developing, so we quickly packed and left camp. Once we gained the High Divide again, it was going to be all downhill, but still a long way to go. The white cloud in the photo below was rolling in across the valley at an incredible speed, like somebody laying a blanket over the trees.
We could see lightning and hear thunder all around us. We were moving at an incredible pace, trying to loose as much elevation as possible. As we got lower, the storm caught up with us and we had to stop for cover for a few minutes. It was one of the closest thunder storms that I had ever been caught in, so high up the mountains. Lighting was striking left and right! It was Type-2 fun, indeed.
Eventually, the storm subsided, but we still got rained on and off all the way down. Hiking in near silence, we quietly passed Deer Lake and, at some point along the way, I accidentally dislodged a rock that was covering a wasp nest. Angry wasps sought revenge stinging us before we had the chance to realize what was going on. We all started running downhill like mad people.
It was like nature was throwing everything at us! What was going on?!
Sol Duc Falls
The descent hike was long, but we eventually reached Sol Duc Falls. The rain got everything out of us and all we could think about was getting back to that burger and beer down in Port Angeles.
Seven Lakes Basin Loop - Route Map
We spent 4 leisurely and adventurous days in the Olympic Peninsula backcountry in great company and lots of beautiful surroundings to remember for a long time. I definitely recommend this trip, but if I were to do it again, I would reserve a better permit in advance, one that will secure one night at Heart Lake and 2 nights at Lunch Lake. Hiking it either clockwise or counterclockwise works equally well.
Thanks for reading and happy backpacking!