Thursday, August 25th, 2022, 0640-2010
Olympic Hot Springs to Hyak Shelter, WEBO mm 1161.1, Segment 9 Olympic Mountains
28 miles, Gain 7730′, Loss 8170′, elevation 1370′
I didn’t pay attention to the elevation totals for this day, since I left it up in the air as to where I was going to stop and also because I took an alternate route that wasn’t on FarOut. Calculating later and realizing the big numbers, no wonder it was such slow going. The PNT was full of 6, 7, and even 8 thousand foot days, so this was nothing new. Still, it was a long day…but beautiful! I also took some long breaks at the lakes along the way, which were very refreshing.
I contemplated a morning visit to the hot springs but decided I’d rather get some miles made this day. I wanted to get to Forks by the following day so that I could eat pizza and have a beer on my birthday. I’d also been thinking that maybe it was possible to hike the beach section in 2 days rather than 3, in which case I’d finish the hike on my 60th day…a nice clean number that appealed to me. As I set off, I was surprised to see quite a few tents at the nearby campsites. I passed at least 5, one of which was Funk’s. Wolverine and Costanza were ahead, and little did I know that Quetzal was too. None of this was on my mind as I passed, only that I didn’t want to run into the mansplainer again. Though I kind of did, just so I could impart some of my knowledge on him, unsolicited. What could I tell him to broaden his limited scope of view? For starters, how about that women can be equal and sometimes way more competent in the outdoors than their male counterparts. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?
If I sound a little salty it’s because I’d been stewing on the patriarchy and patronizing themes for a long time…my whole life perhaps. Many recent events had brought gender roles into the spotlight. I won’t even go into the topic of women losing their rights to decide in their own health outcomes…that’s for another forum but definitely contributed to my angst. But on a personal level, my recent reflections on my career as ship officer and mate brought back some unfortunate memories of discrimination, harassment and constant concerns over being an imposter. Though I knew I was good at my various roles in the marine industry, I never felt I belonged there. In truth, I was very glad to leave that part of my life behind.
In long-distance hiking, I’d found a niche where I’d never felt as comfortable in my skin…a cis hiker. Yet I still suffered from moments of self-doubt, indecisiveness, and feelings of being under-valued or unheard. I’d had a tremendous amount of anxiety my first night on the PNT. It’s normal to feel this way before a thru hike but usually all of it dissipates the moment my feet hit the trail. The unease had lingered that first day to the point that I was seriously considering scraping the whole thing. I was worried about several family members’ health and wondering if I was doing the right thing being on the trail this summer. I was also worried about all the snow, the bushwhacks, the blowdowns, lack of other hikers, and the bugs.
Yet here I was, having made it through all the obstacles and hardships, feeling as good about a long hike as I ever had. I was confident and strong, without one instance on the trail that I’d felt unequipped to handle. Further, I’d been inspired by so many other strong and independent women I’d met on the PNT: Wolverine, Quetzal, Karaoke, Carol, Kelly, Skunkbear, Iguana, Poppy, Best Western, and Honeysticks, just to name a few. In our time together, I’d watched Wolverine grow and become even more confident, eventually following her own plans and hiking solo. I was happy for her, even if I missed her company as a result. It was so good to see that there were tons of other women out here, just like me. But it still felt like much of the attention was focused on the guys…so and so that was the first, the fastest, the FKT-holder, or had the smallest pack. When guys talked about their revered role models, rarely did I hear mention of a female thru-hiker. I can name a bunch but most can only recall one or two: Anish (Heather Anderson) and Dixie. Whenever Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) was mentioned, it was often with an air of disdain. Elements of misogyny still echo broadly and loudly in the outdoors.
Maybe it was time I shed some of my hangups…or maybe it was just time to be more vocal about them. I no longer felt like an imposter in my landscape, prepared to claim my space if necessary. If people mistook my unorthodox attire and slender stature as being out of place, unprepared, or a sign of weakness, that was their mistake. I could ignore them as I blew by them, or stand my ground and set them straight…the 2 choices I’d always had but with the inclination shifting towards the latter these days. It would probably be a waste of energy, as is my typing of these paragraphs, but there’s something in the doing perhaps. I am Twig, hear me roar.
With these things on my mind as I marched up Appleton pass, I made it there pretty fast. Upon reaching the alpine, I decided to let go of my baggage for the time being and focus on the beauty. I took the Cat Basin alternate I’d read up on from others’ blogs. The trail was pretty defined, but steep and scraggly in places. It stayed high above the Sol Duc river basin, traveling along the ridgelines and offering extended views of glacier-clad Mt Olympus. One glacier was still flowing well down the valley, which is rare these days and impressive to see in the lower 48. I was very glad I took the alt but it certainly didn’t save any time or distance…in fact, it probably took way longer because I lingered for over an hour at Swimming Bear Lake. A vintage Disney documentary had once featured Olympic National Park and in it was footage of a bear swimming in a small lake above treeline…the same lake I now sat besides, sans swimming bear.
This was where Wolverine had camped the night before and I envied her view, yet cherished my swimming hole at the hot springs…. much warmer than the lake. I contemplated a swim but it was a bit cool still in the late morning. Carrying on, I resumed the red line and tourist route. This brought me to the very popular 7 Lake Basins. Where I’d seen only 3 people on the alt in the morning, I passed at least 40 along this section. Apparently a very popular loop hike ran up from the Sol Duc River resort, connecting all the various alpine lakes. This was one part of the park where a quota system was in place…meaning they strictly regulated the amount of people allowed at each campsite. Bear canisters were also required for the entire area. Because of this and the difficulty of getting a walk-up permit, I’d planned to skip camping in the area. Yet I’d still ended up with a permit for a lake along the popular route. It was at the llama site…kind of like a group campsite but for lama packers. Notes in the app said it was an awful site, slanted and rooty, so I wasn’t too keen on staying there.
Knowing I might need to pull close to a 30 mile day…when I’d only done 12 miles by lunch… I picked up my pace a little. This was hard because of all the great views of Mt Olympus and the lakes. At least the travel along the ridge was pretty easy, especially when I started going down after Bogachiel peak. When I arrived Deer Lake, I was pretty quickly turned off by the amount of people there. All the sites were seemingly full by 4 pm but it was too early for me to stop. I took the opportunity to at least go for a swim. There was a tiny gravel shoreline with deep water that was perfect. The water was really nice too…not freezing cold but refreshing. This renewed my strength to go another 10 miles. Once I left Deer Lake, I didn’t see another person all day. It was eerily quiet, in fact.
There were some final views towards the coast as I made my way down towards the Bogachiel river. This was my last big descent on the PNT. I thought I could just make out the ocean, if not, then certainly the marine layer (fog) where the ocean stood. Then I was swallowed by the rain forest for good. Dense understories of ferns and huckleberries closed in on the trail, with even a few blowdowns to negotiate. This section had been a nightmare in years past but was substantially improved by PNT trail crews’ countless hours of hard work in the past 2 years. It showed, because although the trail was a little rough and slow going in places, it was obvious how much worse it could have been. All the trees were huge..the kind that block a trail for many hundreds of feet. But most had been recently cut, so I only had to go over or around about 6 fresh ones.
The light started growing dim. I’d hoped to find a place to camp a mile or so before the shelter but the forest was too dense. I arrived at the shelter just as I was needing my headlamp, surprised to find the area completely empty. I thought at least one other PNT hiker might be there. I briefly contemplated staying in the shelter but something about it warned me of mice problems. My intuition was correct, as I had a little bear scurrying around my tent as I cooked dinner. I made sure to bring everything inside my tent overnight…save for my food in my bear canister. No mouse has ever dared to chew through my tent…they don’t like or can’t chew through DCF…or so I’ve been told. Seems to be true. It was a quiet and peaceful night in the rainforest, sans rain.