High Divide

Olympic National Park, Washington

July 24-26, 2007

Dave Svilar, Jill


Jill observes Mt. Olympus hovering above a magic carpet of clouds covering what would otherwise be the Hoh River Valley.  Taken from camp on the High Divide.

Jill and I had just concluded babysitting my mom on our hike on the coast and were looking for a bit of variety.  Luckily that's easy to come by in Olympic National Clearcut.  Within a few hours we went from crashing ocean surf at Rialto Beach to a grease-ball meal in Forks to old growth forests to glacier clad mountains.  The High Divide - a ridgeline running for several miles across the middle of the park and adjacent to crown jewel Mt. Olympus - is the most coveted and busy of the long hiking trails in the park (according to me).

I've fallen behind on my trip reports and luckily there isn't a whole lot to say about the High Divide.  Yes, it was beautiful and lived up to its billing in nearly every way, but my problem on this journey was the fact that I was traveling with a zombie.  Jill didn't leave my side in a physical sense, but in reality she was never really there.  Jill whose pysche casts a formidable sphere of anxiety was fixated on large beasts, most notably the bear.  As we loaded rucksacks in the thriving parking lot a group of adolescents coming down from the divide cheerfully informed us that they had seen two bears.  I pretended to act interested.  When I looked over at Jill her face had taken on the color of a bedsheet.  As we entered the forest a sign read "Trail: Sol Duc River Valley", but to Jill whose panic was just beginning it may as well have read, "Trail: Entering the Fire Swamp."

As usual, I'm not here to re-hash each little happening of our trip.  I will say that each little creak and groan of the forest made Jill think "cougar" or "bear."  For two days Jill did not take her hand off the mace.  At one point, after passing Heart Lake she mistook a ranger pruning trailside bush for a bear and almost maced the guy.  When we finally spotted the inevitable bear she was reduced to a blubbering mess.  As we wandered the trails her terror became contagious.  I was afraid to encounter a bear, not because black bears are so terrifying, but because the way Jill would react.  Thankfully progress was made and Jill will someday wander into bear country again - hopefully with a little more composure.

On our second and final night we camped near the summit of what they call Bogachiel Peak - really just a high point along the High Divide.  The Park Service, probably for good reason, wants anyone on overnight "backcountry" trips to follow a strict schedule staying in designated camps.  I hate this.  Part of the fun of a trip is camping wherever the hell you want.  The Park Service had us scheduled to sleep the second night at Scum Lake (or something like that), but Jill and I being such rebellious types chose a snowfield on top of the High Divide instead.  The fog that so commonly - according to pictures - fills the Hoh Valley came boiling over the top of the ridge where we camped creating a surreal misty atmosphere that added to the ambience of our makeshift camp.  Views towards Olympus were magnificent, the fog almost making one think you could walk across the valley on its soft, fluffy billows.  A nearly full moon rose behind Olympus adding to the enchantment of our night.  Behind us, and even more spectacularly lit by the mystic light was Seven Lakes Basin, mostly filled with snow but showing enough lake to make us think that the name "7 Lakes" wasn't enough.  Even better than this mystical, high mountain ambience was my ability to trick Jill into a sense of safety.  My logic went something like this, "Jill, the best part of this camp is that bears don't actually come this high.  They hate snow.  You can probably even sleep tonight without the mace under your pillow."  Shortly after making this unfounded statement I kicked a couple of old bear turds under a rock not 50 yards from camp.  Obviously bears came through this area, but I had convinced Jill and almost myself that we wouldn't see a bear at the top of Bogachiel.

We awoke the next morning after a full night's rest that did NOT include scary bear dreams.  We made the long, partly scenic descent back into the Sol Duc River Valley.  The idea of a dip in the hot springs appealed to both of us, but upon seeing the multitudes of tourons unloading in the parking lot we opted for a dip in the Sol Duc River instead. 

That afternoon we dined in Port Townsend on overpriced fish n' chips, were forced to back off the ferry due to a loading error, and finally made it back to our rent-free sanctuary on Lopez Island.  By this time Jill, realizing we were out of bear country finally relaxed her grip on the mace.  I do believe that she had, after watching the terrifying bear eat blueberries from 200 yards, also relaxed her grip of terror regarding large beasts.  Now that we are about to sign a long term contract, there will be many more trips in which she will eventually confront and finally conquer her fears.  I look forward to it.  


A small stream feeds the Sol Duc River.


We finally broke tree line and came upon the moderately scenic Heart Lake (notice the shape).  We weren't going to be satisfied until we could see glacier clad peaks, so proceeded onto the highlight...


The High Divide!  Above Heart Lake the hillside was littered with lovely Avalanche Lillies which were not in abundance farther west on the ridge where we camped.  My camera was most disappointed.


Jill sobs while staring her nemesis straight in the eye from 200 yards.  The vicious beast was frolicking in the meadow picking berries.  Spot the bear in the upper portion of the photo.


Jill hikes toward camp while the clouds roll over the top of the divide behind her.


Jill places the lid on our new tent.


Scenic photos taken near our camp on Bogachiel Peak.  My camera found the valley fog irresistible, but was disappointed in the lack of wildflowers.


Watch out bears!  Jill takes on the Fire Swamp with her imposing arsenal.


The newly engageds take a break on the way down from the divide.


-written August 2007

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