Smack-dab in the middle of a Pacific Northwest winter, I came up with a stellar idea. Let’s go camping in the Olympics! Even with my over the top enthusiasm, I couldn’t find anyone else to agree with this plan. Sure, the weather might be a bit much, but that wasn’t going to stop me…nooo sir!
If you live in Seattle, like I do, then hello! Also, when you look at a local map, the Olympics appear to be relatively close. Sadly, that’s not really the case. The place where you lose so much travel time is within the ferry. There is the whole waiting for a ferry, loading onto the ferry, riding the ferry, and then waiting to disembark the ferry. When it’s all said and done, that’s a little over three hours just to get halfway around the north side of Olympic National Park.
When going on a long day-hike I normally I just wake up super early and start driving to the destination. But since would be roughly 3.5 hours of drive time, I was going to have to drive out the day before, camp out, and then hit the trail right before dawn. The only issue with this plan would be the weather. Forecast was calling for a lot of rain and temps in the low 30s. Meh, it’s the Pacific Northwest. If you wait for the rain to stop, you’ll be inside forever. So off I went!
I made it to the Sol Duc campground in the late afternoon. I was the only one there. It was raining a little and starting any kind of fire was impossible. So I bundled up and hid in my tent till I feel asleep.
Fast-forward to the morning, nothing like being the first one on the trail. Not only was I the first on the trail, but the first to drive through the light covering of snow that fell during the night. This should be a good hike!
As I sometimes do, I just pack up and figure out a location when I get there. I tend to make some last minute decisions, and this was one of them. So when I came up to this first set of falls, I thought this was Sol Duc Falls.
I mean, I’ve seen these falls in my quick google image search. So naturally I assumed this was it.
Of course it’s nothing spectacular, but it’s still beautiful.
In fact, this is one of my favorite shots from the whole trip.
Post hike, I tried to figure out what the name of this creek was, but came up empty handed. If you know, please feel free to leave the name in the comments.
The small bridge that passes over the creek.
So, figuring I had now captured all the acceptable angles of Sol Duc, I moved on with the rest of my day hike.
It didn’t take long till I started hearing that familiar rumbling.
And that’s when I started to realize what a derp I was.
Approaching the Sol Duc Falls, you get to see a bit of the small gorge the Sol Duc river has created.
Another angle for context. The trees go up forever.
And here are the real falls. The ones you will see if you do any real google search. Hah.
Standing on the icy bridge, I was only able to get a couple shots off until my lens was covered in water from the mist of the falls. In order to resolve this, I headed over to the viewing platform to do some maintenance.
The view from the platform is nice, but you don’t get to see the full context of the falls.
I did see quite a few photos from this angle, where when the sun is out, you can get an amazing rainbow shot.
No rainbows for me. What I did get was a wooden bridge covered in ice. Wood and ice are horrible things, unless you have cleats. I had on my best hiking shoes, which meant nothing to the physics of that death sled of a bridge.
Actually, this reminds me. Here is where I was passed by a trail runner.
I have this thing where I love to be first on a trail. It’s mainly just in case there is some amazing wildlife, I will be there to take photos of it. I always worry that when there is someone in front of me they might scare it off.
The running fellow was a nice man. We exchanged our quick hellos and he asked me for directions to Deer Lake. I stared blankly at him trying to visualize the map in my mind. It took me a little while, but I eventually spat out an answer.
Most people would have taken that advice with a large grain of salt, but I guess it was more than what he knew so it was obviously good enough for him. And off he went.
After spending a length of time taking photos of the falls, the cold was starting to get to my fingers. I figured this would be a good time to pack up the gear and do some hiking with my hands in my pockets. At least until the feeling returned to my fingers.
It wasn’t until a mile or so later that I started to see snow on the trail. It’s nothing amazing, but worth getting the gear running again.
I there’s something I love about the look of this frozen bridge.
My guess is this is the Canyon Creek bridge. And that is obviously Canyon Creek.
Here’s a shot looking back at the bridge. It’s hard to tell, but the side rails are super short. Maybe mid-thigh at the most. And with the bridge being basically ice, it was a bit scary to think one could easily slip and just flop over the side. To say I took my time crossing it is an understatement.
After getting back onto the trail, I saw my friendly trail runner on his return trip. I asked him if he made it up to Deer Lake and with a sigh of defeat he said he made it close, but maybe next time. Good, that means there’s still unspoiled places for me to venture! Hah, I know it’s silly, but whatever keeps me pressing forward helps. At least now I had a gauge of how far I need to go. If I calculated my walking time by his running time and then divided…yeah, umm it should be kinda of close, but a bit more than that.
A couple miles into the trail and things start to get a bit wet. Also the trial becomes a lot more rugged. Boulders, loose stones, tree roots, you definitely need to be looking where you are walking.
A closer look at one of the many mossy water features flooding the trail.
Whenever there was a large stone in the trail, like the one above, I would sometimes see a wet footprint from the trail runner. This eventually became my makeshift distance calculator. So every time I figured I had finally made it past his give up point, and then discovered another footprint, I would comically curse him.
Quite a bit further up the trail, bits of sunlight was beginning to break through the trees.
I must be getting close, the trees are getting smaller and the snow is becoming much more prevalent.
Taking a break to photograph the now snow covered trail, I slowly realized that the only tracks I was seeing were deer tracks. This was it! I had officially passed the point of the running man. Or he morphed into a deer. So if this was where he gave up, then I must be getting close to Deer Lake.
Snow covered trails, frozen creeks, and deer tracks were becoming a common sight.
Hiking through the snow wasn’t too bad. Thankfully it was mostly hard packed and only compressed a little when you walked.
After a bit more hiking through the snow, I could now see an opening through the trees.
Wait a minute. I had been on the trail for over an hour since I passed running man. That means he didn’t make it anywhere close at all. That’s the last time I gauge my calculations on that scheme.
Breaking out of the trees I was greeted with this astonishing view of a partially frozen Deer Lake.
This is what I have been looking for. Nowhere in my portfolio do I have a wintery lake landscape that is untouched from other inhabitants or hikers. Camping in the freezing rain and hiking up rocky flooded and frozen trails have made it more than worth it.
From this view point, I’m standing on a little bridge that crosses the river from the lake. A little out of breath and hungry, I decided this would be a good spot for a break and give myself some time to take in the view.
After break time was over, I planned to head to the left and tackle the lake trail in a counter-clockwise fashion.
While the trail was mostly covered in snow, you could still make out where you needed to go.
Looking back at where I came from.
Straight across the lake. The trees in the shadows still have their snow.
Halfway around the lake is a slough like area. In the shot above, you can seen the show covered boardwalk that takes you over the (now frozen) marshy grass.
Halfway across the snowed in boardwalk.
While the surface is frozen, water sill moves underneath.
Shooting into the sun. I rarely use lens hoods these days. I kind of prefer the shot to blow out or get flares if I am aiming into the sun. It just feels more natural to me.
With all the campsite around the lake snowed in and closed for winter, you can tell no one else has been up here for a little while.
Looking back, almost across the slough.
Here’s where things got a little tricky. The path takes you right to the river’s edge. But with all the show, it’s hard to tell where the land stops and the lake starts. Not wanting to take any risks, I packed up the camera gear and hiked as close to the trees as possible.
Here’s a shot of where I just was. It’s hard to tell but that mound that goes down to the lake is where the trail was.
Into the shadow side of the lake, the trail is almost indistinguishable. Never seeing the sun, the snow rarely melts and just piled up on itself. This really slowed me down, I had to use a bit of guess work to figure where the trail might be. The good part was when ever there was a small creek, you could see a snow covered boardwalk. This kept me close enough.
After making it all the way around Deer Lake, I took one last break. I wanted to absorb as much of that gorgeous view as I could, before making the long hike back to the car.
So there you have it. Sol Duc Falls and Deer Lake in the Olympic National Park. It was quite the adventure, especially with the camping in the freezing weather. Will I come back here? I’m not sure. There are so many other trails and sights in the Olympics that it would hard to justify coming back to the same one.
What I would have done differently is I would have backpacked in half way and camped at one of the primitive sites. That would have been a bit more enjoyable, plus I would have had more energy to continue the hike past Deer Lake.
Now if it was in the summertime. One of the campsites up at the lake would be premo. I can only imagine what that’s like in the summer.
Well that’s it. And as per usual, here is a map of the hike with a few stats for you. Thanks for reading!
While my father was visiting during the summer break, I took him out to the falls. I decided I would like to see how the falls look when it’s a bit warmer out. Definitely a whole new perspective.
Here’s a screen grab from the route I tracked on WentHiking.com