Seven Lakes Loop - Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge

October 17, 2020

Mark Goodro - Second Attempt - solo

Total Time - 24 hours 50 minutes

Distance Completed - 68 miles

Start Time - 12:36 am  End Time - 1:26 am

Strava Link

GPS Track (Gaia)

Link to First Attempt

I didn't expect to have another chance this year, but a narrow weather window opened in mid-October. I expected to go much faster with an earlier start, better navigation, and better trail conditions. I didn't account for how much higher water levels would be after a week of heavy rain and couldn't have imagined the amount of flooding on the trails. It was a full-value adventure!

This time I decided to start at midnight and start at the Hoh Visitor center. This put the roughly 6 miles of road at the beginning as a warmup instead of at the end. I recommend this approach, especially if starting in the dark. After coffee and breakfast I ended up starting at 12:36 am.

1 am - 30 minutes, 3 miles

It was fun catching glimpses of the massive Sol Duc river in the dark after a week of heavy rain. Even my brightest headlamp didn’t reach the other side.

1:30 am - 54 minutes, 5.8 miles

After about an hour I got to the now familiar Hoh-Bogachiel trailhead. It was slightly less wet than last time but there were significantly more downed trees and some very soft sections of trail. I ate near the high point and after a few hundred yards down the trail I realized my hands were empty and had to backtrack for my poles.

4:45 am - 4.2 hours, 15 miles

At one of the switchbacks I lost the trail due to yet another downed tree right at a turn that also happened to intersect the remnants of the old trail. I ended up on the old trail (on the old maps) for a couple switchbacks before bushwhacking back to the “new” trail. This probably cost me a good 30 minutes - at this point I was still tracking against my optimistic time of about 18 hours.

5:45 am - 5.2 hours, 17 miles

When I got to Tumwata Creek armed with my new and improved route beta I still ran into problems. The creek was so high that I couldn’t see where I had crossed it before (it was all underwater). I wandered along the bank looking for a passable section in the dark. The south bank has several very deep undercut sections that wouldn’t be noticeable with lower water levels. I picked what looked like the shallowest section and jumped for what looked like an underwater sand bank. I landed in water that was thigh deep! The shoal where we last pondered our navigation options was underwater. This time I followed the ribbon! But the trail quickly turned into a side stream under 2-3 feet of water and thick sucking mud. Thinking this couldn’t be the trail I climbed a side bank and found that all the downed trees and deep moss traps were even worse than walking in a stream. I resigned myself to wading until I got to higher ground.

I eventually found the end of the “trail” with the small Hoh-Bogachiel Primitive trail sign. The trail crossed Tumwata Creek a second time - and this time the usually small creek was thigh-deep rapids, and what should have been a dry crossing on rocks was a slightly scary crossing in deep fast-moving water in the dark. This should have been more of a warning sign as to what the eventual Bogachiel River crossing would be like.

Miles of the Bogachiel River Trail that were dry in September were under several inches of water, in some places over a foot. Most of the deep sections were areas where leaving the trail would be even slower going than wading through deep water.

Some noise in the bushes turned out to be a spotted skunk - the first I have ever seen! While it was very cute I was also very glad that it didn’t show any signs of distress and was happy to mind its own business.

6:30 am - 6 hours, 18 miles - one hour to first light

When I got to the Bogachiel River I knew it was going to be deep as soon as I started crossing side channels that had been dry in September. When I got to the main crossing the river was clearly much deeper and flowing much, much faster than before.

After spending some time thinking about what it would be like to turn around and go back 18 miles I decided to see how deep the river was. I took a couple tentative steps into the river and immediately got into trouble. The river was thigh deep just a few feet from the bank and I couldn’t move my poles any direction but down-river due to the current. I could feel them thrumming under the force of the water. I’m writing this 2 months later and I still break into a sweat thinking about it. I was barely able to turn around and make it back to the bank.

At this point a prudent person would go back the way they came. A prudent person wouldn't even make that tentative attempt!

I turned both my headlamps to max brightness and looked around. I figured the island I was on likely continued underwater, so I went to the downstream end and looked across the river. I could see from the pattern of the rapids that the shoal continued most of the way across the river! I could also see that it got deeper before the far bank. I decided to see how crossing this section felt, and figured I could turn around if it got too deep. The water was about 2 feet deep here in the shallowest section. It took at least 20 minutes to reach the other side, carefully moving one foot and then one pole at a time, testing every step to find sure footing before committing. When I got to the deep section at the far side the water was fortunately much slower moving, and I felt an immediate and immense sense of relief when the water was suddenly slow enough to stand comfortably instead of fighting for every step. Even though the water was up to my waist in this eddy it was easy going compared to before.

I completed the crossing about a quarter mile down river and needed to bushwhack back to the trail. The river was too high to have a passable bank so I was climbing over downed trees and driftwood until I got back to the flagged trail. My strongest wish at this point was to stop and build a fire to warm up my feet. I was 5 hours before I had feeling back in my left foot.

The triangle is the first attempt and the line going left from it was all in the river. Followed by a bushwhack back to the trail.

The triangle is the first attempt and the line going left from it was all in the river. Followed by a bushwhack back to the trail.

7:15 am - 6.8 hours, 20 miles

First light and still more wading than running.

So much of the trail was underwater! There was clearly no point in putting on dry socks even with freezing feet because I was spending more time in water than on dry ground. The section of trail cleared by WTA now has several new downed trees on it.

8am - 7.5 hours, 22.5 miles

I took my first real break at the Fifeteenmile Shelter.

I sat down, had a proper meal, and put on dry socks. They didn’t stay dry long! The previously overgrown sections of trail were losing their leaves as hoped, so visibility was improved, but the thorny branches were all still intact and going was so much slower due to several inches of water on most of the trail.

8:15 am 7.8 hours, 23 miles

Two pictures of Upper Bogachiel taken a month apart.

9am 8.5 hours, 24 miles

The trail is very overgrown but still easy to follow.

9:15 am 8.8 hours, 26 miles

Hyak Shelter and more food.  I really want to meet and thank the guy who clears this section of trail with a machete!

Every time I thought I had finally climbed high enough above the river to be on dry trail I encountered another long stretch of trail as stream. Stream crossings that had been barely noticeable rock-hops in September were now faster, deeper, and impossible to cross without wading. Somewhere well above 3000' I finally got above the worst of it and was back on pleasant, steep, and (mostly) dry trail up to Low Divide.

12 PM 11.5 hours, 32 miles

Done with the second climb. Views of Mt Olympus from Low Divide!

This is one of the most runnable sections of this course. It's a fun, flowy trail with peek-a-boo views and some nice alpine meadows.

Side note - this was my first time seeing Mount Olympus from either High Divide or Low Divide. Prior to this trip I was 0 for 5  in getting this view.

1:30 PM - 13 hours, 37 miles

Deer Lake, seeing other people for the first time in 37 miles.

The trail from Deer Lake to Sol Duc Falls was the wettest I've ever seen it. Trail crews were braving the mud to work on several sections of the upper trail.

2:30 PM - 14 hours, 40 miles

Sol Duc Falls, tons of people, and where Chris and I bailed in September.

Last time I got to this point I still had energy to spare and it was hard to stop - even if it was the smart choice that day.

This time I was already feeling worn out from the exhausting slog through significantly worse trail conditions. But the "summit fever" that compelled me to cross the raging Bogachiel River once again pushed me to continue. I also didn't want to stop because I never wanted to experience that section of trail again. :)

I took my second real break, ate a proper meal, and put on my last pair of dry socks.

The Sol Doc River trail was in amazing shape and such a refreshing change from the soggy trails of the previous 35 miles. The trail is well maintained with excellent drainage, and despite the usual muddy patches it was actually drier than in September!

3:45 PM - 15.2 hours, 42 miles

Falls on the Sol Duc river that I never noticed when running the other direction.

4:30 PM - 16 hours, 45 miles

Crossing the Sol Duc river again.

5:45 PM - 17.2 hours, 47 miles

Back up in alpine terrain.

I've never done the Seven Lakes Basin loop this direction. Coming up from the Sol Duc River and leaving the tree cover was one of my favorite parts of the outing. This is my happy place! I was glad to make it up to High Divide before dark. I sat down for the third time on a makeshift stone bench near a waterfall.

6:30 PM - 20 hours, 49 miles

As it got dark there was some intermittent freezing rain and wind. There was a few sections of fresh frozen snow on the hillsides and trail. There were also peek-a-boo views of the Bailey Range and Seven Lakes Basin through breaks on the low clouds. Sunset on High Divide was beautiful if not dramatic due to the cloud cover.

7 PM - 20.5 hours, 50 miles

Bogachiel Peak, end of the third and final climb.

Dropping down from Bogachiel Peak put me on unfamiliar trail for the first time this trip. As it got dark I came up on 4 sets of glowing eyes low to the ground on the trail. When I got closer it turned out to be 2 pairs of deer with their heads low to the ground. They heading down the very steep hillside when I got close. The first few miles of descent were on excellent trail with a gentle grade and wide switchbacks. This gave me hope for a relatively easy return to start and a finish around 10PM.

At one point I got distracted by a clump of tree moss that looked like a t-shirt, tripped, and fell off the trail hitting my head on a downed tree. Fortunately it was a slow fall and both my head and headlamp survived the brief encounter.

7:30 PM - 21 hours, 51 miles

Passed Hoh Lake in the dark without seeing it.

Trail conditions steadily worsened with downed trees and in increasing amounts of water on the trail.

8:30 PM - 22 hours, 55 miles

So many downed trees!

Trail in much worse condition than anticipated.

9:00 PM - 20.5 hours, 57 miles

Finally done with the descent and looking forward to the gentle descent of the Hoh River Trail.

Almost immediately realized that the trail was going to be a muddy slog instead of the fast finish I was expecting.

Losing the trail at flooding side crossings

Losing the trail at flooding side crossings

9:30 PM - 21 hours, 58 miles

Crossing onto and off of an island 3 times looking for the rerouted trail.

The trail ran into a side channel of the Hoh River - the river was too high and fast to cross and I couldn't see the other side. Followed a side trail across a nasty snag of downed tress and came upon a couple of tents and a side trail clearly going the wrong direction. Crossed back and backtracked looking for where the trail should have been. Was finally were able to see across the river to another pair of tents and an actual trail. Crossed the snag a third time and this time knew to follow the bank upstream to pick up the main trail near the second set of tents. Apologies to whoever was trying to sleep!

11:45 PM - 23 hours, 62 miles

Another 7 hours in the dark on the very muddy Sol Duc River trail in the rain.

Exhausted and moving much slower than anticipated. Sat down for the fourth and final time on a soggy stump.  It's hard to admit, but if someone had appeared in a golf cart and offered me a ride I probably would have taken it.

1:26 AM - 24 hours and 50 minutes. 67 miles

Hoh River Trailhead and the end of the loop!

I could barely walk. I put on dry clothes and shuffled to the bathroom to wash my feet. 24 hours of mostly wet feet had given me a revolting and painful case of trenchfoot. Dry socks were not enough, I needed to get them clean. So grateful for warm water!

Around 2am I made an attempt to drive but discovered very quickly that I wasn’t in any condition to drive. I pulled into the pullout by the Hoh-Bogachiel trail and slept. It was amazing how much better I felt after sleeping! I got up and made a warm breakfast and drove home.

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