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Olympic National Park Day Hike 

By Art Weidner

It started out very promising. Keith arrived Thursday night in Everett and gave Mandy and Art a 2.5 hour slide show of his year in Europe. Art left Keith at his place Friday morning to study the possible trails for Saturday's hike. They had decided to only do a day hike, however, the definition of this was very gray. When Art returned home Keith had convinced himself that the SEVEN LAKES BASIN LOOP in Olympic National Park was the hike to do. Art was a little reluctant but trusted the judgment of his long time hiking partner.

They headed out to the Motherstore of REI and purchased their map. Then they went to gather the ingredients of their trail mix. It was a good thing that they bought too much. They decided that they would take Keith's backpack on the day hike so they could carry Art's stove, fuel and the makings for a hot lunch at the peak of the trail. This is an important point in the plot.

After a wonderful meal cooked by Mandy, the three of them headed out to the Trolleyman for a pint or two and some Blues. Keith and Art arrived home a little late to be packing for a trip that was to begin at 6:30 the next morning. But they quickly assembled all of the things that their experience told them they would need, or so they thought.

The morning came very early but it was not difficult getting out of bed for such a promising day. Art cooked a couple of omelets for them using the last of his homegrown tomatoes and other ingredients including capers (an interesting subplot here). They made it to the Kingston Ferry just in time and enjoyed the boat ride across the calm sound as the sun slowly rose into the clear blue sky. It was a beautiful morning as they drove across the Kitsap Peninsula through the quaint little town of Port Gamble and over the Hood Canal bridge to the Olympic Peninsula.

Boy this drive was taking a long time, "Are you sure we are taking the right road, Art," said Keith. "Yeah, the map doesn't lie. It also says that at the end of Sol Duc road there is a HOT SPRINGS RESORT!" said Art. Ding, ding, ding, that's right, at the end of the trail Keith and Art can look forward to a relaxing soak in constant 103 degree water. Finally our heroes arrive at the trailhead at 10 am, 3.5 hours after leaving home. The only comment uttered, "It didn't look that far on the map."

The trail is easy, the forest old and tall, the vegetation lush and the berries in season. Art introduces Keith to the huckleberry and wild blueberry which he immediately goes crazy for. "I think we should collect two liters of huckleberries to brew wine with," says Keith. "Sure," says Art. Neither of our heroes was thinking straight at this point in time. The trail is an 18 mile loop and besides taking photographic breaks every quarter mile or so they are now going to attempt to fill two, one-liter water bottles with berries that are the size of 1 carat diamonds and grow in density similar to that of grass in the desert.

On one of these photographic breaks a tiny mouse takes a liking to Art's boot and then his leg. This was just a foretaste of the friendly wildlife to be met on the trail that day. Finally, after 4.5 hours of hiking the two trekkers break out of the forest into Sol Duc Park and are greeted by clouds everywhere, wind and light mist. Welcome to the Olympics. It may have looked like a beautiful sunny day on the outside, but once you get into the mountains there is water everywhere. There is actually some portion of the forest that averages 400 inches of precipitation a year.

Upon leaving the park to reach the High Divide, our hikers spot a large black bear along the mountain side approximately 70 yards away at the same elevation. There is a long pause here for photo opportunities and then they are off to Heart Lake and lunch. Yes, that hot lunch of beef stroganoff and gourmet hot chocolate to warm the inside of the weary travelers. The steaming pot of protein, carbohydrates and fat that our heroes have been dreaming of for more than two hours now to fill their rumbling bellies. "Art, set up your stove so we can turn this dream into reality," suggests Keith.

Scrape........clatter........scrape........scrape, scrape, clatter, crinkle, "ARRRRRGH!!!!" "What did you forget?" says Keith, grinding his teeth, for he knows that such an exclamation from Art can only mean that there will be no hot lunch menu. "The pressure valve for the stove must be attached to another fuel bottle," says Art. "We really did pack in a hurry last night, we should have gotten home sooner." But there is no excuse that can quell the storm brewing within Keith.

Art sits quietly, bearing the onslaught of Keith's comments, and contemplating. He looks on the bright side and is glad that this mistake has occurred on a short day hike where it will only cause minor suffering and not on an extended trip where it would have been more disastrous. After all, having forgotten it once it surely won't be forgotten again. Especially since his good friend Keith is there to willingly remind him of it for the rest of his earthly life and probably in heaven as well. More regretful to Art is the fact that this mistake has occurred in the presence of Keith. "At least I didn't put orange rind in the trail mix," says Art, wielding a dagger-like tongue while Keith is busy munching a mouthful of scroggin.

After consuming as much dry goods as possible and watching the ducks of Heart Lake play in the ever increasing mist, the two are on their way again. As they turn the corner onto the High Divide Art mutters loudly through the now sweeping rain and enveloping clouds that something tells him they won't be seeing any elk today. "What?" Keith says, and as Art turns his head to repeat himself he notices two mule deer fawns sitting quietly behind pine trees 30 yards away. The deer are not bothered in the least by Keith when he rambles through his pack for his camera and then for a different lens and then for extra film.

A few hundred yards further our heroes happen upon a hen spruce grouse and her two maturing chicks at a small pond. As they stop for the photo shoot the hen actually approaches them within 10 feet. Having reached the pinnacle of the trail at 5474 feet the hikers begin their descent and are beginning to realize that time is running short on them. Art, ever in the lead, starts on a set of switchbacks and almost runs into a blue grouse that sits patiently while he takes a picture at 6 feet and waits for Keith to arrive.

Having now descended to where the trees are now becoming more prevalent, Art steps out from a clump of pines and is frozen by the sight of a 6-by-6 bull elk standing broadside 80 yards below in clear view. He waits for Keith to appear and motions feverishly for him to make his camera ready. The bull did not wait and turns tail down the mountainside but only at a walk and our heroes are afforded a fabulous view as they move to the next clump of trees for cover. Many frames later the two depart and just over the next rise Keith spots a herd (12) of elk 400 yards away in the valley below. It is a second bull with his harem. The bugle of the first bull echoes through the haze infuriating the bull below causing him to round up his ladies to better protect them.

A few yards more on the trail and Art spies another black bear. If he continues down the trail he will pass within 20 yards of the bear. Thinking better of this and wanting to wait for Keith with his camera he waits as the bear goes about his business of gobbling berries and not taking notice of our heroes. The bear is not cooperating with Keith as he strains to get a good frame. Finally there is an opening and Art makes their presence known with a throaty huff at 40 yards. The bear politely lifts his head to look and there is the perfect broadside shot.

A few more yards and two more spruce grouse are seen running along the trail. They allow the hikers within five feet before freezing and finally thundering into the trees. Art comes to a fork in the road with two signs and starts out slowly along the branch that seems most logical. Keith mutters something and Art stops and asks if they should look at the map. A good thing, for not only do they find that Art has started down the wrong trail but they are made aware of how far they have yet to go, how long they have been walking, what little time they have left before dark and what heaps of weary flesh they are going to be by the time they get off of this mountain.

As Art streaks off down the path, Keith announces that they will no longer have time to pick any more huckleberries, 'Fair Dinkum'. 8 miles of trail and two hours of cloudy daylight left on a trail in the depths of the darkest forest means that our heroes must now become unconscious to anything but the trail and one foot in front of another. As they pass through a meadow with a small pond they spot a small black bear at 120 yards that only causes a pause in their stride.

Finally they reach Deer lake, a little later than their worried minds were hoping for. A quick peek at the map tells them they are 3.6 miles away with one hour of light. With all of the precipitation of the day the trail is now barely discernible from that stream flowing down the mountain, they are one in the same. Keith has long since quit noticing the slosh in his boots having now become a robot attempting to keep up with Art and his dry Gore-tex boots.

For the past 4 hours, ever since the stove fiasco, the only thought that has kept our heroes happy, besides the abundance of wildlife, has been the heavenly gurgling of hot, pure water and wafting warm steam that awaits them at the end of the trail. They reach Sol Duc falls as dusk is waning. The sideways falls is impressive but they are too exhausted to stand and enjoy and the light has almost been exterminated. 0.7 miles to go to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and immersion in the sulfurous elixir. Luckily the trail is groomed like a sidewalk and there is no possibility missing a step or losing your way even on the darkest night.

Few words are spoken at the Jeep, mostly just groans and the sounds of painful hurrying to get to the pool of life awaiting. Our heroes ask any passing biped for directions to the temple waters. Alas their hearts are ripped from their limp, quivering bodies with the notification that the hot springs are behind the lodge, enclosed by a fence and LOCKED UP for the evening.

So are heroes are left to drive the 3.5 hours back with heads bobbing. Stopping for some KFC on the way, catching a quick nap while waiting for the return ferry trip and finally collapsing at Art's house around 11:30. The conclusion: 18 miles in 9.5 hours with an elevation gain of 3500 feet would really be a nice TWO day hike.

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