Views from the Top: High Divide Loop, WA
Words and photos by Steven Hoefgen
The alarm sounded at 3:30am on Sunday, August 12th, and the four of us awoke from our slumber alongside Lake Crescent within the Olympic National Park. We reluctantly began packing up camp so that we could hit the road in order to arrive at the Sol Duc Falls trailhead nice and early to tackle the entire High Divide Loop in a single day. We arrived at the trailhead parking lot within a half an hour of leaving camp and began putting on our hiking boots and other gear in the darkness. The hike itself began at precisely 5:13am – our headlamps illuminated the trail and the silhouettes of old growth trees were visible with a backdrop of thick, looming clouds as the faint light of day began to emerge.
Nearly a mile into the hike, we arrived at Sol Duc Falls. Due to the dense forest canopy, it was still too dark to see anything without our headlamps, but I had brought my camera and tripod along for the trip to get some long exposure shots of the falls. The others in the group began snapping pictures as well and before we knew it the light of day had arrived and we no longer needed our headlamps. Once we had sufficiently captured the majestic falls, we continued on our lengthy adventure towards the next landmark along the trail, Deer Lake. The path was lined with thick undergrowth that was holding onto every bit of moisture that it could from the rains that fell the previous day. The trail itself was teeming with thick tree roots that were extremely slippery due to the moisture. We encountered a few wooden bridges that crossed over creeks with mini waterfalls peppered throughout. Lush foliage was visible everywhere along the sides of these waters and the rocks were covered in thick, bright green moss.
4 miles into the hike we arrived at Deer Lake, where we paused for a short snack break and watched the reflections in the calm water as the clouds surrounding the area moved in and out for the duration of our stay, constantly changing the scenery.
As we climbed higher up we slowly exited the forest and came out into some lush meadows composed of many varieties of alpine wildflowers. The clouds were still very dominant and had settled within the valley making for a rather picturesque scene. We continued along the trail and eventually found ourselves on what I would call the “High Divide” portion of the High Divide Loop. We hiked along the ridgeline for some time and were rewarded with a view of just the tip of Mount Olympus peeking out from behind another ridgeline across the way.
We continued along and eventually hit a fork in the path that branched off towards Lunch Lake or continued along the High Divide Loop Trail. We climbed for a bit of elevation and then the trail opened up and we had an amazing view of Round Lake and Lunch Lake with the cloud filled valley in the background. As we got closer to Lunch Lake a couple of overnight campers were on their way out and said that there was a large black bear grazing about 50 yards off the trail. We were all excited to see the bear and kept our eyes peeled for the remainder of our approach to Lunch Lake. Eventually, the black bear was visible and he seemed to have very little interest in any of us. We hung out at the lake for a while where we had lunch and took a dip to rinse off, all the while the bear did his own thing about 75 to 100 yards away. A family of deer also visited us; they were grazing about 15 yards away. After about an hour at the lake the bugs started making their presence known, so we packed up our things and headed back to the fork along the main trail to gain access to the remainder of the High Divide Loop.
We continued along the High Divide Trail and made our way towards Heart Lake, hiking primarily through alpine meadows. The views of Mount Olympus opened up, but we couldn’t see much more than the top 500 – 1,000 vertical feet of it due to the thick clouds that enveloped the entire valley below. Not far from the fork in the trail, we came upon a sweeping view of a series of small alpine lakes (about ten) surrounded by patches of trees and green grasses. We paused here to take in the view and to snap a few group photos and then we were back on the trail. Eventually, we were all just hiking on autopilot, not taking any breaks and keeping a rather quick pace as we all knew there was quite a bit of distance left to cover until the loop would be complete.
Somewhere along the trail, the heart-shaped lake was spotted and we all rejoiced. It didn’t take long for us to reach the edge of the lake, and we plopped down alongside the water and took our final break. I went for a quick swim and we all ate some more snacks and began preparing to head out when a fellow hiker approached. We got to talking about how much further we had to go and he said that he had a map, so he pulled it out and we determined there were another 8.7 miles or so until we had completely finished the loop. We thanked our fellow hiker and continued on our way back to the Sol Duc Falls trailhead parking lot.
The last 8.7 miles were predominantly downhill which made them go much faster than the first half of our adventure. Somewhere along that route back we encountered another grazing black bear, this one was about 25 yards away and paid no attention to us whatsoever. We stopped and observed the bear doing bear things for a bit and then continued with the task at hand. We eventually found ourselves hiking alongside the Sol Duc River – every hue of green was visible. After what seemed like an eternity, we started passing through the Sol Duc Falls campsites, and eventually, we were back where the adventure started. All in all, it was a long trek, but oh so worth it. The views were slightly obscured by the haze from the forest fires that we have in eastern Washington, but we were certainly blown away by the scenery that we encountered. It’s so rewarding to conquer that many miles with your own two legs. Hiking is a blast, that’s why I do it.