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Seven Lakes Loop - First Attempt

September 19, 2020

Mark Goodro and Chris Heiden

Total Time - 13 hours 32 minutes

Distance Completed - 33.5 miles

Start Time - 4:11 am End Time - 4:05 pm

Strava Link

GPS Track

Link to Second Attempt

This route has been on my list since it was created a few years ago. The elevation profile was exciting but I had concerns about navigating the junction from the Bogachiel River Trail to the Hoh Bogachiel primitive trail and having so much elevation gain in the second half.

My plan was to go clockwise starting with the Hoh-Bogachiel (or Snyder-Jackson) primitive trail to get the most difficult trail and navigation out of the way up front. This also front-loads the route with 2 of the 3 climbs in the first half. The idea was to finish with 18 miles of downhill at the end. I figured I could do this in about 16-18 hours.

Mid September was the peak of the terrible air quality from all of the fires on the west coast. We postponed the trip a couple times while watching the air quality index and predictions. The weekend of September 19 was predicted to be much better than recent weeks with some rain and fresh air coming in from the ocean. We were watching the air quality maps right up to the evening before and made the go decision Friday evening. During this waiting period half our team dropped - one due to a running injury and the other because it didn’t sound fun, especially with the longer drive to the Hoh River start vs Sol Duc trailhead which is an hour closer. But I was determined to stick with my plan even if it meant more driving and less sleep.

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I met Chris at the pullout right outside the Hoh River entrance station at 3:30 am on Saturday. I had a quick breakfast of coffee, oatmeal, and dried fruit before hitting the trial a little after 4 am.

We started at the Hoh-Bogachiel trailhead in light rain. The trail is fairly overgrown so we were soaked from wet vegetation very quickly.

Navigation was not difficult for most of the trail. Some sections of trail are in great shape, but others are almost nonexistent. Some of the larger down trees made for some minor route finding challenges in the dark.

Trouble came when we made it to Tumwata Creek and had differing navigation information. Jayme’s route crossed the creek (which turned out to be correct) but the old gpx track did not. We found a flag on the other side of the creek but I assumed from gps that we had found the main Bogachiel River trail and that following that flag would take us downriver. The old gps track doesn’t show the trail crossing Tumnwata creek so we spent a lot of time following faint trails that appeared to line up with the gpx track. We ended up intersecting with the correct trail after about 45 minutes of exploring. If we had just followed the ribbon we would have found the correct junction with the Bogachiel River trail in a matter of minutes!

Once on the Bogachiel River trail we made good time to the main crossing. It was well marked and easy to cross.

We noticed and appreciated WTA’s recent trail work that included clearing numerous large trees. It was clear when we passed the end of this years’ work after the Fifteenmile shelter. The trail was in decent shape but got steadily worse as we approached the upper Bogachiel River crossing.

The bridge is well made and solid and in great condition, in marked contrast to the now nearly primitive trail leading to it. Check out the side by side comparison of the water level above the bridge in the Second Attempt Trip Report.

After this point the trail became progressively more overgrown with long stretches of very tall thorny vegetation again keeping us very wet even without any rain.

A mile or so before the Hyak shelter the trail suddenly opened up and looked like someone had come through with a massive mower. On closer inspection we could see that the vegetation had been cut by hand, probably with a machete. Clearing a six-foot wide swath for several miles is an impressive accomplishment and I want to thank the guy who did it.

One section of trail has been completely obliterated by a large double tree fall in a meadow and we would have spent significant time looking for the trail on the other side if Mr. Machete hadn’t cleared an entirely new trail around the downed trees to the other side.

The climb to low divide has a few cool spots that open up to some impressive views. Every time we thought we had finally climbed above the overgrowth we came on another overgrown section.

Low Divide is a very runnable trail with impressive views even with the low clouds and no mountains in sight.

Shortly after we got to Low Divide we were hit with very heavy and very cold rain. We already realized we were significantly behind schedule due to our earlier route finding issues and slower than expected progress through overgrown sections of trail.

We started the unwelcome conversation around the possibility of bailing and started discussing criteria for quitting.

When we finally got to Sol Duc Falls we were over 3 hours behind my most pessimistic schedule and facing a very high likelihood of hitting High Divide in the dark in freezing rain with barely enough layers to keep warm. Chris had also set the expectation that he would be home when his kids woke up the next morning - something that was only possible if the rest of the day went perfectly. It was already after 4 pm and we were only halfway through the loop.

We knew it was raining on High Divide from talking to other people coming down the trail - including several that I knew from local running groups! We got a ride back to the Hoh River road (windows down and masks on). After Chris left a ranger pulled in to ask what we’d been up to - how early our cars were at the trailhead coupled with the Bainbridge Ultra Running Team stickers on our cars had piqued his curiosity. I learned from him that there’s a guy who goes out with a machete to clear the trail along the upper Bogachiel River. His work was welcome and very appreciated!

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Two things are apparent in hindsight -

First, continuing that day would have been far easier than my experience returning in October.

Second, with the information we had we still made the right decision to bail. While the trail to High Divide is in great shape, the trail down from Hoh Lake to the Hoh River trail is not. While I’m sure we would have finished - and in significantly less time than my October outing - there is still risk in being that far from the trailhead in wet freezing conditions with the bare minimum gear. And we definitely would not have made it home before our families started waking up.

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