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
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.