As I am writing this, the sun is shining and the thermometer is flirting with the Seventies. It’s late September. My morning runs are starting to feel chilly. Fall is here. This means time is running out to visit the mountains without winter gear, crampons or snowshoes.
Last Saturday, Doug and I set off on a epic adventure to Mt. Gladys. The return route required us to bushwhack a traverse via the high country, over to the Black and White Lakes and once again meeting the trail where we headed back. It was most likely our last chance this year for a long, far, epic trip, before the proverbial Winter will come and blanket the high alpine meadows of the Olympic Peninsula in powdery snow.
Getting to Mt. Gladys and back in one day requires a lot of hiking. We tracked over 25 miles in around eight hours. The route made for a long trip, but standing on Mt. Gladys, above Gladys Divide, is worth every foot of elevation, every mile of trail, and every sweaty shirt.
Like with so many of the truly great places on the Olympic Peninsula, the trail head sits at almost sea level. From Hoodsport on the Hood Canal (the Eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula) we took the State Route towards Staircase, our favorite Olympic National Park entrance. We’ve written a lot about this incredible place, each enjoying many adventures there. While most trips are shorter, the trip this weekend started the second we parked the car, venturing further, longer, more remote.
We began our journey taking the Staircase Loop trail and followed the river upstream toward the Flapjack Lake Junction. After a quick four miles, we took a short breather at the big log and readied ourselves for the next four miles which were steeper. We passed a few fellow hikers, as well as crossing over and next to Donahue and Madeline Creeks. Arriving at Flapjack Lakes, we ate a short lunch before pressing on.
The two small lakes, known as Flapjack Lakes are known to be a popular camping spot. I’m not a big fan of lakeside destinations. They are nice to look at, but it’s the peaks that excite me.
The next 1.5 miles of hiking to Gladys Divide are pretty steep, but offer incredible scenery. In the valley and next to the trail, huge boulders on avalanche fields sit, dwarfed by the magnificent Sawtooth Ridge and Mount Cruiser. Last weekend on our hike, they were completely socked in and hidden from view the entire time we were up there.
Every time I pass through this incredible boulder field, I vow to come back with climbing shoes and a crash pad. This time I brought my shoes, but the wet weather didn’t invite us to linger and investigate those giant rocks just waiting to be climbed.
At Gladys Divide, a high divide with spectacular views across the Hamma Hamma valley, the clouds hung low, the wind picked up and the rain began to fall harder. We barely spent 5 minutes at the divide, instead venturing on toward the cloud covered peak of Mount Gladys at 5589ft.
Up beyond the Divide, the official trail ends. Above the tree-line surrounded by rocky, rolling hills, the path is nothing more than a boot path and cairns, awesome and magnificent. When we reached the peak to refuel on much needed calories, the weather got a little worse. The wind had a sudden chill, and the drops of rain had a sting as they hit our faces. Snacking and layering up, we surveyed the barely visible terrain for our next step. Going back the way we came up is the usual approach when reaching this peak, but we’ve recently started establishing traverses across popular peaks on the Olympic Peninsula. Full of adventure, we pointed our GPS to the Northwest and tried to make out a general route toward Black and White Lakes.
The visibility was less than favorable, but as long as we stayed above the tree line, away from sharp drop offs and dangerous exposed sections, movement was swift and easy. It was fun, really. Our speed wasn’t as fast as traveling on a clear-defined trail, but with a good GPS and map, it was possible to go offtrack and find our way around with ease. As we climbed around boulder field after boulder field, we realized we’re starting to gain confidence in doing these traverses- it’s starting to be enjoyable.
The traverse got trickier once we dropped below the tree line. The thicket, surrounded by bushes and fallen logs, made moving cumbersome and the trees were obfuscating our view. Our fast hike had now became a slog.
We knew were we needed to go, and the maps we bought with us, along with our GPS app, didn’t let us down. After about an hour of traversing slowly downhill into the general direction were we needed to go, we connected with a small trail that connects the remote Smith Lake to nearby Black and White Lakes.
Hiking on trails can sometimes feel so unadventurous, perhaps even boring. But after an hour off trail, in the cloudy mist, the trail was a welcoming sign.
We didn’t linger at the Black and White Lakes, but pressed on to reach the junction which connects the Flapjack Lakes trail to the Black and White trail. From there it was all downhill and even the sun came out a bit to help our spirits on the last few miles.
We reached the car as the sun was turning the afternoon into evening. Staircase was quiet. It wasn’t empty yet, but it was peaceful. Sitting in the parking lot, we looked back at the many miles we had just covered. We had seen several lakes, each covered in rainy clouds. We passed through great forests with huge trees, heavily mossed logs, and many mushrooms longing for the winter rains. We hiked past gigantic alpines boulders, long since tumbled down from the huge mountains covered by clouds.
It was a long adventure, one you feel for several days in your bones. It was a true fall adventure- one were the camera stays in the backpack most of the trip, due to the weather, and due to the speed we were moving. There wasn’t much to Instagram, it was a trip for the spirit and one that makes you stronger, hungry for more.
Want to know what gear got us there and back? Read our article in the Tips and Gear section.