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Trip Report

High Divide - Seven Lakes Basin Loop, Appleton Pass

Olympic Peninsula

Trip Report By

WTA Member

 

25 

Hiked Jul 12, 2014

Type of Hike

Multi-night backpack

Trail Conditions

Trail in good condition

Road

Road suitable for all vehicles

Bugs

Bugs were an annoyance

Snow

Snowfields to cross - could be difficult
The short version of this absolutely epic trip: - Amazing. Glorious. Stunning. If you're feeling strong and have at least a few days, we can't recommend it highly enough. Wildflowers in abundance, alpine lakes, endless views, craggy peaks, wildlife (like, Wild Kingdom level). This hike has it all. - Trail conditions are outstanding (many thanks to the trail crews!) with snow to cross only at the higher elevations. One snowy section near Bogachiel was pretty sketchy (details below). - Bugs were a nuisance, as to be expected this time of year, but due to our Permethrined clothes and DEET we walked away fairly unscathed. Leave the lemon-eucalyptus stuff at home-bring the real deal. You'll need it. - Buy a more detailed map of the Seven Lakes Basin than the Trails Illustrated Olympic National Park one that is readily available. The Visitor's Center in Port Angeles offers them for all of the major backcountry trails. We wished many a time on the trail that we had purchased one. If you're more of a detail-oriented person, here's the scoop: After very little help from the ranger at the WIC in Port Angeles (really, when two excited-as-kids-at-Christmas backcountry campers come in and say they've never been to your park before and are uber-stoked to check out what it has to offer, please Mr. Ranger, share your expertise!!) and striking out on permits for Royal Basin, we settled on the Seven Lakes Basin Loop. Thank the universe Royal was booked. This turned out to be some of the most beautiful scenery we've been graced with visiting. Without any real knowledge of the area or advice to go on (seriously, Mr. Ranger), we chose to do the loop clockwise starting along the Sol Duc River Trail and closing by coming out from Deer Lake, and we actually recommend this, both because the long descent from the Divide (while unrelenting) is a little more gradual on the Deer Lake side than it would be on the Heart Lake side, and because apparently the hordes of visitors to this area all congregate on the Deer Lake side when visiting the Seven Lakes Basin. We didn't encounter more than a handful of people at any given time until we were hiking out that way on our third day. The first portion of the loop starts off meandering through an absolutely magical old-growth forest, with shoulder-high ferns, mossy carpets, and magnificent trees. All of the flora is very happy here. We spent our first night at Rocky Creek Camp near the Appleton Pass junction (approx 4-6 miles from the trailhead, depending on which source you're trusting). Lovely little spot tucked amongst the towering trees and next to a gloriously rushing stream. While not terribly private, being right off of the main trail, you are right next to a great water source and as not very many people were passing through, we never felt exposed. Along the way we were fortunate enough to run across a lovely couple who have obviously traversed these trails for many years. They recommended making the trip up to Appleton Pass for dinner. After an afternoon nap, we thought we were refreshed enough to tackle it. We weren't. But, boy are we happy we took their advice. Endless views of Mt. Olympus and the surrounding peaks, alpine wildflowers galore, a velvet-antlered deer friend for company, and soft mountain alpenglow. Yours too for an extra six miles RT and 2600 feet of vertical. Phew. But there was NO ONE there. We're not sure how that is possible...but there you have it. The second day had us sweating buckets as we trudged our way past Sol Duc Camp (we recommend this as a great place to stay-beautiful with lots of camping options) and on up to Heart Lake. Stayed there long enough to filter water and take a very (very) quick dip to cool off. Another gorgeous option for camping-there's a reason it's so popular (although on this day there were only two tents set up there). We were glad we stopped for water here, as we were unable to locate another source all the way along the Divide until reaching Lunch Lake. Patchy snow started just above Heart Lake and became more continuous as we made our way up to and along the Divide. The High Divide is stunning. Just, breathtakingly beautiful. I think I mentioned the Sound of Music more than once. We had blue skies, prolific wildflowers and snowy, craggy peaks as far as the eye could see, for miles upon miles. There was more elevation gain and loss than we had anticipated (thanks to our poorly-detailed Trails Illustrated map), including a fairly long, snowy climb up the flank of Bogachiel Peak. We found out later from some very kind and helpful park volunteers that you can apparently enter the Seven Lakes Basin and get to Lunch Lake by traversing down the snowfield below Bogachiel, which would have been good to know (ahem, Mr. Ranger) as it would have saved a bit of cursing and grunting. Nevertheless, we made it around Bogachiel and at the junction to Hoh Lake, met with a very large family of mountain goats. Most scampered off towards Hoh, but two of the more curious (according to Ponder)/aggressive (according to Muse) followed us for about a half mile as we made our way towards Lunch Lake. They were not in the least bit deterred by Muse's frantic trekking pole banging. Unfortunately, this coincided with the only scary bit of snow crossing of the entire trip-afternoon sun had made a steep section of trail fairly mushy. We opted to push through the brush and scramble down some rocks rather than try to plunge-step down the slushy, exposed sketchy bit. After that point the snow becomes negligible. The trail down to Seven Lakes Basin is clear and well-maintained. A short series of switchbacks leads you to the trail junction for Lunch Lake, which was our destination for the second night. Although the campsites themselves leave a bit to be desired privacy-wise (unless you're lucky enough to score site 11, which will afford you a glorious sunrise), the lake is sweet, the surrounding peaks are begging to be climbed, and there is tons of exploring potential in the basin. We were sorry to only have the one night here. We were visited by a mama deer and her two spotted fawns at dinnertime, and in the morning yet another family of mountain goats traipsed through our camp (this time, thankfully, not stopping to stare at us or follow us around). Absolutely stunning sunset, and a sunrise that was peaceful, still, and quiet. It's a long eight or so miles from Lunch Lake back to the Sol Duc trailhead. It's fairly rocky in places, but again, incredibly well-maintained. There are tarns along the way to filter water from, but no continuous source between Lunch Lake and Deer Lake. This is obviously the more popular route to Lunch Lake-and we suspect Deer Lake is a frequently-visited destination in and of itself. We passed scores of people headed in as we were hiking out on Monday-a stark contrast to the relative solitude we had experienced for the first two days of our loop trip. With the side trip to Appleton, we guesstimate that we hiked around 24 miles, with roughly 8,000 feet of elevation gain. No wonder our legs feel like Jell-o. Give us a week, and we're ready to do it again. ~If you're looking for a pint and incredibly good food to wash down after time spent in the Olympics, head to Next Door Gastro Pub in Port Angeles. Then cross the street to Northwest Fudge and Confections-hands down some of the best homemade fudge we've had...ever...handcrafted by a local family who were kind enough to stay open late for us.