Joy (cithra) wrote,

the woods are lovely, dark and deep

The plan had originally been to go camping down on the gorge for the full moon. But people's lives got in the way, and when the dust cleared it was just Tani and I with the weekend free, and she was getting over the sniffles. That put the end to that; I was sad - I'd been looking forward to getting out in the wide wild woods for my health, for my sanity, and just 'cause.

I was therefore delighted to get an email from Tani asking if I wanted to go up to Solduc (there are about fifty different spellings of the name; this is mine) for a day hike on Sunday. I love the Olympic mountains; they used to be my backyard, and their accessibility was one of the few keen things about growing up in Bremerton. I'd not been in that specific neighborhood since the ill-fated hike for my 5th-year Girl's Camp certification in the Seven Lakes Basin late one September. [We mis-timed the onset of the monsoon and got completely soaked (and it wasn't like we were unprepared for rain, mind you); the thought of the hot springs at the foot of the mountain was the only thing that kept me going on the hike down. That is without a doubt the closest I've come to hypothermia; in retrospect we were very lucky we made the decision to come back when we did.]

So I got myself up and on the 7:50 a.m. boat to Bainbridge, along with people going clam-digging and other folks bedecked with various species of outdoor gear. Tani picked me up at the docks and we headed back to Suquamish, where we took Gordon and the dog for their regular early morning coffee hike. I thus got to meet Rick, barista extraordinare - and we were in no particular hurry. It looks like Solduc is a long ways away, because it's on the other side of the mountains, and past Port Angeles on Hwy 101, but it only takes a couple of hours to drive there. [Sol Duc Hot Springs, from whence the map, is a private resort. In Olympic National Park. There's also Olympic National Forest, to add to the confusion. Don't ask me how it works jurisdictionally...]

After collecting some groceries for lunch we headed out of town, up across the Hood Canal Bridge and out onto the Peninsula proper. Traffic wasn't too bad, we expected that most people would be where they were going since it was Sunday of a long weekend. There was some haze and sprinkles that looked likely to burn off by the afternoon; either way it was excellent weather. Lake Crescent is spectacular, the old highway winds around the shore and the banks look steep enough you know if you run off the road you're going straight to the bottomless fathoms to be a snack for Cressie - yes, there are rumors of a Loch Ness Monster-like creature living here, too.

We didn't see Cressie, but there were other wonders. Ravens! We felt blessed to see one on the road along the lake, and would have been content. But when we got to our first stop at Marymere falls trailhead by the Storm King Ranger Station, there were more. Three, I think - hanging out with a small flock of crows, no less. Sneaky... but when you see them next to each other, there's little doubt. The ravens are bigger by half again as much, and their beaks are shaped differently. There's a color difference as well that isn't always as apparent; the raven's feathers are blue-black where the crow's tend to be brown-black. They never spoke, and as I said, they were hanging out with the crows - almost deliberately sly it seemed. This impression was borne out by our final encounter, at the Solduc trailhead. While waiting for the restroom I heard a giant whoosh sound over head, and looked up to see a raven circling over the parking lot. It flew back from whence it came and perched in a tree about 10 feet from the trail entrance. I pointed it out to Tani and she attempted to get a photograph with her digital camera (sans zoom, alas). Of course, the raven was having none of this - it let her walk up to just outside of camera range, then it would sidle slightly deeper into the foliage, but no farther than was necessary to prevent clear photography. When we were sitting in the car for a snack it came down and perched on the picnic table about 50 feet away - I could see a band on its leg at that point. So someone is tracking the population, which may explain why they're in evidence. It makes a certain amount of sense to expect to see them - Raven is an important character in the local mythos, after all - but this was the first time in all my trips to the Olympics that I have actually encountered any.

Not to slight the other wildlife, we also saw deer, chipmunks, squirrels, juncos, finches and goldfinches, robins and various insects. I heard something that reminded me of a red-winged blackbird, but didn't see any - and I'm not nearly expert enough at birdcalls to be willing to claim their presence solely by sound. Homo sapiens sapiens made a strong appearance as well - in an amazingly international array. We were certain that as English-speakers we were a minority; I heard Russian, German, French, Japanese, and Korean to recognize, and there were also people who appeared to be of Chinese, Vietnamese and subcontanental-Indian decent. It was kind of cool, actually. It occurred to me that as far as rain forests go, it's us and the Amazon basin pretty much, anymore - and given my choice of travel/accommodations I'd probably choose the Olympics myself if I had to pick between the two.

We did the Marymere falls hike first, as it was the steeper of the two as well as the closer on our itinerary. They are spectacular - small, but very steep. The trail is not too difficult, but I'm glad we did it first. My knees weren't overly impressed but there were handrails at all the nasty spots. It was hard to imagine how the first people to do so came across them, really, for they are smack in the middle of a steep hillside - you'd have to be deliberately following the watercourse to look for the origin or something to find them, I think. Which I suppose people did, a fair bit, when exploring... anyway, the trail to them is just that - to the falls with a small loop between an upper and lower viewpoint, and no further. Unlike the Solduc falls, which are on the way to various other places.

The Solduc trail is quite easy, at least as far as the falls goes. Right before the falls become audible the Seven Lakes Basin trail branches off and up, and just beyond the falls the trail continues toward some hike-in campsites, also in a somewhat steeper fashion. But the initial part of the trail, while there are ups and downs and numerous little foot bridges over small streams, is wide and level and not too muddy. This is the rainforest proper, unlike Marymere, so drainage maintenance is paramount. [There were a huge number of mudholes on the Marymere trail, a number of which had widened to an extent that it was less treacherous to walk through the middle.] The elevation was such that the trillium were still blooming. The huckleberries were just starting to flower, the ferns had fiddleheads, and the devil's club was just budding out. Down at Marymere things were farther along, including rafts of little blue flowers I don't know the names of - they like the shady understory, and they almost glow in the dark at times. I'd be tempted to call them periwinkles if I didn't already know what periwinkles were...

As I said, Solduc is in the rainforest proper - at times it's like walking through a cloud. With the sprinkles we had yesterday, it was difficult to tell if it was raining or just dripping at both sites. You could tell a little if things picked up when the trail came out from under the canopy, but still. The Solduc trail was green, everywhere except the trail itself for the most part. If not trees, ferns; if not ferns, salal or oregon grape, or trillium (or these trillium-like plants with serrate leaves that weren't in bloom); if not these then moss. A dizzying variety of moss, even. There is the sound of water all along the trail, but you reach a certain bend and you can begin to hear the falls speaking, a deep shuddering note added to the higher babble of the numerous rills and creeks. A little ways along you notice the air is darkened further up ahead; then you are down some steps and out on the bridge over the falls themselves, with the spume flying up around you. One outlook point is exactly like being rained on, the mist is so heavy and constant. The bridge vibrates from the roar; if you put your hand on the ground you can sense the steady pulsing, like an endless earthquake. The water has cut a steep channel as well as polishing the outlying areas smooth, like the skin of a porpoise. My only wish would have been for a few fewer people, but at least everyone was behaving responsibly and carting their detritus out with them. I mostly felt like I was ending up in the photo albums of an international cadre of nature enthusiasts. Cameras everywhere...

Finally we headed back down the road to the hot springs. Sulfurous fumes were no deterrent, and truth be told your nose edits them out mercifully rapidly - though I did catch a whiff every so often from our bathing gear on the way home. They were well-populated, but not overly so. This was the first time I had been publicly swimming post-surgery, and I did catch a few stares in the dressing room, but mostly from the under-5 set, so no big deal. Out in the hot pools the topic of conversation seemed to be hair color and tattoos, and I wasn't anywhere NEAR the endpoints of the spectrum there in either case. [So I've no excuse not to take my elephant skin swimming here at the apartment complex anymore.] The water was lovely, and the soak much appreciated by feet, knees and muscles. We hiked seven miles, according to Tani's pedometer - not bad for a day trip. We hauled ourselves out of the pool before it became too soporific, and headed home. It was a delightful trip, easily done, and satisfied my cravings for the wide wild woods. For the nonce...

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