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in the olympics

Not the Olympics, but the Olympic Mountains in the northwestern corner of Washington State. I’ve had an obsession with this part of the world ever since I was a little girl, flipping through my collection of Time-Life Nature series books. Anyone remember those? We had The Universe, The Sea, The Desert, and The Forest to name a few. At first I only perused the pictures, but as I got older I could read and understand the narrative that accompanied the images that I had internalized in both my imagination and my understanding of the natural world. They imprinted on me. So much so that when I graduated from college, Jeremy and I took a road trip up the coast and back from Southern California to the Olympic Peninsula, stopping at several national parks and wilderness areas en route. My ultimate goal was to see the only temperate rainforest in the continental US – the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park. A photo, an idea, a place I had fallen in love with and latched onto since I was a five year old sitting on the living room floor with books and pictures of other worlds wide open. Adventure – wide open.

This past weekend, Jeremy and I returned after more than a decade away from this gem of a paradise. There are no roads that cross the Olympic Mountains. Most of the year the high peaks, glaciers, ocean, deep valleys, and skies are obscured by thick clouds. August and September are typically the best weather months for travel into the backcountry there, which translates into the busiest time of the season. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you view it), the snow pack was a month behind in melting out this summer and we were happily alone at the most popular backcountry destination in the park at the height of the summer season.


crossing the sol duc river

boardwalk trail through sensitive meadow

deer lake

avalanche lilies are first to bloom after snowfields melt away

the “snake pit”



It was here where Jeremy and I learned to backpack in the rain. As Jeremy likes to tell it – it’s a great metaphor for life. Backpacking is an endeavor of a thousand little discomforts, but we come back to it because we learn to overlook those discomforts and enjoy the greater experience. So much has happened in our lives since the last time we walked that route. Upon our return we felt wiser, certainly older, definitely more humble. Nature puts me in my insignificant place, and I cherish that perspective. I need it.

beams of sunlight race across a thawing lunch lake

jeremy on the way out of the basin

brilliant blue hues on the alpine lakes

headed for the high divide



Every time we had been in the past, we hoped to catch a glimpse of the splendor from the High Divide. To the south, the terrain plummets several thousand feet to the Hoh River Valley where the lush temperate rainforest is dense with green before climbing just as steeply up to (almost) 8,000 foot Mount Olympus, mantled in the Blue Glacier and usually enshrouded in a thick maritime cloud deck. Looking north, the Sol Duc valley leads the eye to the Pacific Ocean – also typically obscured by clouds. On that day, our view stretched from ocean to mountain top. We relished it, savored it. You buy your plane tickets months ahead of time. You request your backcountry permit weeks to months in advance. You get whatever weather Mother Nature feels like dishing out. Sometimes you cannot believe how fortunate you are.

clear view of mount olympus rising above the fog

longing for our skis

wildflowers (magenta paintbrush) just getting started

last ascent before dropping into heart lake basin



We admired Mount Olympus as we traversed the High Divide, but we also noticed that the Hoh River Valley had been filling up with clouds from the ocean like a giant bathtub full of suds. By the time we turned off the divide to drop into Heart Lake Basin, the clouds had breached the ridge and were spilling over and down the slopes in front of us. At first they didn’t get far, dissipating under the sun. Eventually, they won out and we drifted in and out of a fog the rest of the day and into the night. The coveted views were no more. By morning, the constant misting had soaked the rain fly of the tent. We welcomed this damp, cool weather as we left the high country and entered the shelter of the forest canopy.

soft snow on the descent to camp

the view from our tent

jeffrey’s shooting stars streamside

footbridge over a lush cascade

back in the forest



The backcountry is a different place, a different pace from our day to day. It’s all about what you experience and yet it has nothing to do with you at all. Baggage can take on all manner of meaning, but it’s best to leave as much of both the physical and emotional varieties behind. I am present. There is nothing else to be. A great feeling.

See the whole set of photos on the photo blog.

18 nibbles at “in the olympics”

  1. Melissa @ Dash of East says:

    Beautiful! I can see what you guys love the Olympics so much. I love the photo of lunch lake thawing and the profile shot of Jeremy on the last ascent.

  2. Kelly says:

    The pictures are breathtaking! I was wondering what Jeremy was carrying in his hand? We are going backpacking for our first time in 2 weeks and I am still amazed at how much we need to carry!

  3. jessa says:

    Oh, how you torture me Jen. Beautiful pictures! I’ll have to add the Olympics to my list. The mountains have been calling my name lately and my ice axes have been feeling neglected…

  4. vanillasugarblog says:

    wow Jen these are just stunning.
    YOU should be in those time life mags now.
    and yes, i do remember them as a kid.
    that photo of Jeremy on the last ascent is just right; perfect visual, proportions, clarity…

  5. Sara says:

    My goodness those photos are gorgeous! My favorite is the view of Mount Olympus rising above the fog. I recently picked up a TIME magazine special edition with all the places one should see in the USA….even if I could see a handful of them I would be thrilled! Looks like you guys had a great time and talk about peaceful.

  6. Jenny @ Savour the Senses says:

    Wow! These photos are stunning. I just recently moved out of the mountains to finish school, but man do I miss them! I have never been to Washingotn, now I really need to go!

  7. Margie says:

    Pristine, and ever so magical…

  8. tea_austen says:

    Oh my gosh, Jen. It is so so gorgeous!
    And I know what you mean about the insignificant place. I love that.
    Gotta get back out there myself!

  9. Snippets of Thyme says:

    Gorgeous photos. I am so glad I stumbled across your blog today. Your photos remind me of our backpacking days. We backpacked across Tasmania in the snow for a week. This part of Washington state looks beautiful.

  10. Dana says:

    When I was a child, we always had a calendar on the kitchen wall with photos of either the Olympic or Cascade range. Seeing these shots brought me back – I hadn’t even realized that I had those memories until just now. What beauty you have captured here Jen! I’m proud of my state.

  11. Stefanie says:

    omg – i DO remember those books! your photos are simply stunning. i usually focus on the food ones, but these were exceptionally gorgeous – thanks for sharing!

  12. Nicole says:

    My boyfriend David and I met and lived in the Port Angeles area for 10 months before moving to Alaska. Our first date was hiking the High Divide trail. Our first kiss on that bridge on that bridge in your second to last photo. I remember I was utterly exhausted by that point and the trail was perfectly clear and dry. Can’t imagine what I would have done if I had to trek through all that snow. Thanks for posting these photos, they bring back some great memories of my time there.

  13. Leitha says:

    Loved the sentiment and the photos were inspiring, we had planned a trip up there this summer but our hiking has kept us at Mt. St. Helens. So many trails, so little summer.

  14. Melanie says:

    So beautiful. I LOVE your photographs and your commentary is thought-provoking…..a good reminder of our places in the world.

  15. megan says:

    beautiful pictures! love that you posted them. i have always loved the rainforest, i think it is one of the coolest things about my state. you should come on over to the other side of the state and have some wine!

  16. Amy says:

    Breathtaking photos. What a great trip.

  17. Karen says:

    Those Time Life Nature Books served as my window to the world!!! I spent many a day with them. When my Dad passed away he still had them. When I found them they brought back wonderful memories. I was so glad to see they impacted you the same way. When I tried to tell my husband what they had meant to me……..he did not get it. :) Your photos are fantastic.

  18. jenyu says:

    Melissa – thanks! :) It’s a great place.

    Kelly – Jeremy is carry an ice axe which is especially handy on steep snowy or icy slopes (if icy, you’ll want crampons)

    Jessa – if you love the backcountry, the Olympics have a lot to offer (although it does rain there… A LOT) :)

    vanillasugarblog – thank you! xo

    Sara – it was lovely. Certainly worth the visit if you can.

    Jenny – yes!!

    Margie – thanks.

    tea_austen – absolutely, chica.

    Snippets of Thyme – it’s a special place, indeed. I highly recommend a visit.

    Dana – you should be, it’s wonderful! I love it so much (and the great folks out there too)!!

    Stefanie – thank you.

    Nicole – so you know precisely how lovely it is :)

    Leitha – true true.

    Melanie – :)

    megan – I’ve heard many good things about eastern WA. Someday!!

    Amy – thanks!

    Karen – awww, I’m glad we feel the same way about them. I think they’ve inspired a lot of us, eh?

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