Monday, July 6, 2009

The Stairway to Heaven

On our July 4th weekend, my friend Eve and I headed for the Olympics.

We stopped at the Staircase ranger station to pick up our back country pass and a bear cannister, then headed to the Hamma Hamma road and continued until we reached the washout. From there, we walked to the Putvin trailhead.

The first 1.7 or or so miles of the trail are well maintained, following a set of broad switchbacks along the mountainside, with grand views of Mount Pershing.

After crossing an old road, we started up the unmaintained part of the trail. It begins with a series of steep switchbacks, then levels off and follows the mountainside for a time.

Then it starts climbing. It doesn't bother with luxuries like switchbacks; it just heads straight up the wall of thise valley above the Whitehorse Creek.

This large waterfall filled the valley with its song. As far as I know, this is unofficially named Putvin Falls, after Carl Putvin.

This grueling climb lasted for at least a mile. It was like walking up a steep flight of stairs with a fully loaded pack... plus I was carrying my Ebony 4x5 setup, bringing the total weight of my pack up to around 60 pounds.

Needless to say, by the time we reached the fields of beargrass, my quads were burning.

When the trail reaches the top of the valley wall, it gets a bit steep.

It's a good thing that this moth (butterfly?) wasn't moving around, because I didn't have the energy to chase it by this point.

After walking through a meadow and through a bog, we came to the first of three ponds that we expected to find on our way to the Lake of the Angels. We thought we were there, that our destination was just around the corner... and as it turns out, that was almost true... it was, in fact, around the corner... and across the marsh, and on top of that headwall, the source of the Whitehorse Creek.

It was almost 9pm when we reached the Lake of the False Prophets, so we made camp on the rocky outcropping below the marsh, and planned on hiking up to the lake in the morning, with our new found friends Hal and Diane.

Even though we weren't able to be in the Valley of Heaven when the light was at its most beautiful, at least we had a chance to see it!

This is a beautiful place. This rock formation is known as the Pearly Gates, or St. Peters' Gate, as I understand it because they mark the entry into the Valley of Heaven from the High Divide.

Hal told me about the views he and Diane would see on their way over the ridge, including classic fviews of Mount Olympus. Eve and I didn't have time to make the ascent on this trip, so for my return I will plan on spending an extra day in the Valley of Heaven so that we can have some time to walk up Mount Skokomish and up the ridge to have a look around.

This was definitely the most challenging hike I've done yet, but having done it I feel a lot more confident about my ability to make the trip to the Enchantments later this summer , as long as I keep training and hiking!