Trip latte in hand, I left town at 6:30 Friday morning and turned CuRVy toward the Olympic Peninsula. The day had dawned with blue sky, but as I ate my homemade granola and yogurt breakfast, fog had sneaked into the valley and hung out up I-5 toward Olympia. I knew it was going to be a beautiful day, so I welcomed the fog. I thrill to leaving on an adventure closed into CuRVy’s womb and at some point breaking into sunshine and blue.
I was heading up Hwy 101 when the fog dissipated, and I drove along the sun sparkling water of Hood Canal. I crossed the Duckabush and Dosewalips rivers, curved around Lilliwaup Bay, and turned onto the Hamma Hamma River Road. Fourteen miles of paved road was a treat; few of my adventures are without bone-jarring potholed dusty gravel surfaces.
I was on the trail at 8:30, six cars in the parking lot. I know this hike is a popular one—partly due to easy access, and it’s an easy 7-mile RT hike—but it was Friday, so I was hopeful it wouldn’t be too crowded. One man and young boy passed me about halfway up, followed shortly after by a ranger. I saw no one else until I arrived at the lake at 10:30.
The trail broke out of the second-growth forest to a broad rock outcrop above the blue, blue lake. The rock was occupied by a chatty couple a bit older than I, so I didn’t dally there. I should have. I headed down the steep trail with them right behind me. When I stopped to let them pass—hoping to get the noise ahead of me—the man stopped to tighten his shoes laces. I pressed on with a sigh. Where is it written that where there are two or more people there must be talking?
At the lake I passed some of the 28 campsites, a few occupied. I decided to continue on the trail along Lena Creek a ways to see where it went. I knew there was a bridge out—a casualty of the wettest fall in Washington history—cutting off access to the north end of the lake. I thought I would check it out. The trail forked, one direction to the inaccessible Brothers Wilderness Area. A large log spanned the tumbling creek, a few feet above the water. There was no sign of a bridge. I was confused. The report I reread when I got home was posted in November. Maybe the bridge parts rolled on down the river and were among the many logs in the lake. (The couple at the outcropping did say to one another they had never seen so many logs in the lake.) Or maybe the not-a-bridge was somewhere else.
A hiker crossed on the log while I stood there debating. Well, I wasn’t really debating. I think I could have done it, it was a wide log and I had my poles, but while I am not afraid of hiking alone, I am always aware of the limits to my risk-taking. If I traverse a rocky or root-filled spot, I plant my poles and move with deliberate care. If I twist my ankle, there is no one there to help. I didn’t think I would fall off the log, but that I would get to the middle and panic. I could have sat down and scooted, but a man and young boy were setting up camp several yards down the creek and would have observed me. I have my pride.
I continued up another fork of the trail that turned out to be a spur meeting the main trail to Upper Lena Lake. I was tempted to keep going, but I had read in a trail guide that it’s a hike for masochists, and that I am not. And I hadn’t read anything else. (As I write this I read a trip report that there is still snow. Reading on, though I would love to go there, I know I will not. That one needs a back country permit is probably a clue that I am too old for some adventures.)
I turned back toward the lake and went down into a campsite that made me wish I was spending the night. Sweet! Sitting on a log by the lake, my feet in the chilly water, I ate my lunch, defending it from the camp robbers (grey jays). A bat made some lazy circles, I heard a toad. My mother warned me the day before not to get eaten by a bear. She was light-hearted, but I know she worries when I am out alone. Kudos to her for five years of mostly keeping her fear to herself. I could tell her I saw nothing larger than a single squirrel, and astoundingly only two slugs.
By 12:30, the campsites were filling up. I dried my feet, put my shoes back on, and headed up the hill, hoping to spend a few minutes at the outcrop. Now, I know there are people who like to hike in large groups—community, camaraderie, meet new people and all that, you know who you are. I am not one of them. A group of twenty-some people around my age, give or take 10 years, covered the rock, along with three dogs and, I kid you not, a parrot. (What is the line between eccentric and weird?)
They seemed to be getting ready to move on, so I stuck around snapping some photos. I caught some snatches of conversation. They weren’t going down to lake level, they were going my way. I stuffed my camera into my pocket, snatched my poles, and took off, just ahead of two dads and their two young boys, who had camped the night before. The seven-year-old was getting whiny, he missed his mom. I walked faster. The dads started playing movie trivia with them to distract them, calling out questions, answers, discussion. I was nearly flying down the trail. (All told I saw six groups of dads and sons. Did any of them have daughters at home? If they had a daughter, would they bring her? It irritated me.)
I came up short behind a young couple stopped in the middle of the trail in wild-animal-observation stance. “Goat and baby” the woman mouthed. I caught a glimpse then hustled back up the trail until I had the movie trivials in sight and put my finger to my lips, indicating that they should shut the f*** up. “Goats,” I said quietly. The dad in the rear must have gone back to the mega group with the message, they got quiet though the dogs were having none of it.
Now this was a bigger-than-a squirrel thrill. I’ve seen a mountain goat close up just one other time, and it was lying down. They were not much interesting in the thirty people behind them, most of whom couldn’t see them and had started talking again. They grazed, moved down the trail a bit, grazed, drank from water trickling across the trail.
A hiker came around the corner from the other direction and stopped dead, then retraced his steps. Trapping them was probably not a great idea. In front now, and ready to move on, I started walking slowly toward them. The young boys pulled up beside me in a wide spot, definitely distracted now. We waited again then moved on, forcing them around the corner where the man and his party, holding a dog, were pressed up against the bank at the edge of the trail.
Suddenly aware of stranger danger, Mama dashed passed them, her baby bounding behind her. They hurtled down the shortcuts between the switchbacks and found more intimate dining on a rock outcrop away from the trail.
And I was back to hiking with a crowd. The young couple galloped past me and I took off too, eventually putting distance behind me, only hearing the chatty boys and dads above me when there were switchbacks.
I was back in my car at 2:30—the parking lot was nearly full—ice cream in Hoodsport was calling my name.