July 11, 2004.
North from Appleton PassI awake early in high spirits, and although Appleton Pass is still socked in by clouds, they seem to be in retreat. The 2,500 feet downhill into the Sol Duc Valley marches the predictable progression from alpine to subalpine, and eventually into rainforest. A passing hiker (one of the "soggy four" from yesterday) lamented this trail as being "really rough... rocks and roots jutting out everywhere that you have to climb over." I've hiked rough trails before, and this ain't one of 'em... I guess it's all a matter of perspective. After passing idyllic Rocky Creek,Aptly-named Rocky Creek the trail follows the Sol Duc River downriver. While not as sizeable as its rainforest neighbors (the Hoh, Queets, Bogachiel or Quinault valleys), the Sol Duc is still beautiful, and quite deserving of the attention it gets. Bookcased on both sides by daunting cliffs, the upper Sol Duc River froths down its own box canyon, daring brave souls to explore inside.

Sol Duc ShelterI'm soon passed by a group of three determined young men (one adult and two teens), storming down the trail with serious demeanors and huge, overladen packs. Their trekking poles march in-step, as if on a mission of great importance. After a quick conversation, I find out they've just completed "THE LOOP" (that's the Seven Lakes Basin Loop, to you and I) and are on their way back to the parking lot. It's day four of their trip. They're obviously very proud of their accomplishments, so I don't bother to comment that I'm on day three of thirty-one in my trip. They didn't ask, and they seem very content to hold sole bragging rights, so I smile and wish them luck on their way.

Sol Duc FallsAs I approach the trailhead of Sol Duc Falls (and the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort), droves of tourists with cameras and day-hikers with strollers predictably appear. They gawk (much as I do) at the half-demolished Sol Duc Shelter (struck by a felled tree several years back) and smile & point at the picturesque Sol Duc Falls (which I also do),Me at SD Falls!The bridge at SD Falls labeled as such from a sign the bridge. After getting my own tourist picture, I scramble down to the river, shed my boots, and have lunch with my feet soaking delightfully in the cold running water. Some tourists aren't sure what to think of this... I simply smile and suggest they might do the same ("it feels great!" ).

Not paying attention to the signs, I head downriver and take a wrong turn, ending up at the trailhead parking lot instead of following the trail another mile to the Hot Springs Resort. Not looking forward to a pointless backtrack, I walk the road (which will reach the resort anyway) for a short while, but my feet quickly grow tired of pavement. Knowing the trail lies less than a quarter-mile from the road, I hop off the pavement off-trail, down the steep hill into the deep forest, much to the urgent dismay of passing motorists. I chuckle to myself... I must look like a man committing suicide to them.

Nurse Log, off-trail at Sol DucIt's quite amazing, when you leave the thoroughfare and head into the forest without a trail to guide your way. Less than a hundred yards from the paved highway, my whole world changes into a scene of forest greenery and old-growth silence, containing no clues that humans have ever touched its soil. Hundreds of tourists wander about in a half-mile radius, but not a soul is here. A quick bushwack takes me back to the wide trail, which I easily follow to the Hot Springs Resort.

I would take a dip in the maintained hot pools at the resort, but instead I simply gasp at the price ($10 to enter, plus $3 for a required bathing-suit rental), use the phones, and continue on my way. On the way up to Mink Lake, I take a quick break and am nearly killed by a tree (seriously!). Standing there eating a trailside snack, innocent and happy with the world, I hear a strange "pfffftttthhhhhhhTTTT!" noise approaching me. My heart skips three beats when a medium-sized branch hits the ground next to me with surprising force. I peer up at the towering 200-foot firs (what was THAT for?!?), heed their stern warning, and continue up the trail.

First views of Mink LakeRushes and sedges on Mink LakeEventually I hit Mink Lake, and am quite struck by its elegance. Rushes and sedges fill its shallows over nearly half the lake surface, providing cover for a wide range of freshwater life. The lake, it appears, is gradually filling with silt, in the steady process of transforming itself into a meadow. Trout leap furiously from the mirrored surface, River Otter in Mink Lakeseveral each second. Had I brought a pole, I could have caught dinner before my lure ever hit the water. I'm the only one here, and I quickly find a wide campsite with picturesque front-porch views of the lake. I quickly decide I'll spend tomorrow here, drying out my clothes and gear from the past nights of rain. Good, that's settled... I'll spend tomorrow here, kicking my feet up and soaking it in.

July 12, 2004.
An idyllic day at the lake. The sun shines brightly, drying my gear and giving my pale body a welcome tan. Close-up of the River OtterLast night I saw a river otter catching fish across the pond. He's returned this morning, feasting on the bounty of the lake. Today I spend time getting to know him, his patterns (three deep breaths and a dive before coming up with a small fish in his teeth) and his routes around the lake. Several times I've surprised him, sneaking up while he dives under the grassy ledge at the lake's edge. He dives for a minute or two (hoping I'll go away), finally surfaces, and splashes away in a frenetic swim. I've taken dozens of pictures, including several foolhardy attempts to use my binoculars with the camera for telephoto (don't bother, it's not worth it). River Otter, Fishing in the LakeColumbia LiliesI wash clothes, and spend the evening watching a brilliant sunset on the lake in the waning moments of the evening. Sleeping out under the open starry sky, I notice myself enjoying life more than I have in a long time. I fall asleep with a smile on my face, and river otters dancing in my head.