By Bret Wirta
Distance: 5 miles One-Way. Elevation Gain: 3,750 Feet.
January 26th 2010.
I parked at the Happy Lakes Ridge trailhead in the early morning darkness. The trailhead is easily reached by entering the Olympic National Park at the Elwha River entrance and driving along a narrow but well-maintained road. With my flashlight, I read the sign that Happy Lake was five miles up the ridge. I was hoping that equipped with my new trekking poles (a thoughtful Christmas present from my wife) gaiters and slip-on spikes, I could hike through the snow to the lake. Today I was going to become a winter hiker!
I have never hiked in the winter before. I’ve snow-shoed plenty as a boy in New Hampshire trying to keep up with my Grandfather, a legendary trapper and I’ve cross-country skied with my wife on many beautiful trails, but during the winter my hiking boots have always sat idle. It wasn’t until I began to follow the winter-time exploits of Olympic hikers that I realized that there is a different kind of adventure on Olympic Peninsula hiking trails waiting for me up high in the mountains.
I hit the trail around six forty-five when it was still dark as night, my headlamp showing me the path. The trail was dry and well-maintained. The temperature was in the mid-thirties and the stars were twinkling through the trees. As soon as I could see the faintest outline of the trail I switched my headlamp off. I’ve always enjoyed the sensation of walking in the forest at night. It’s a feeling of being enveloped by the natural world while the brightly lit, busy world is far away. When I was a teen-ager I built a log cabin and lived in it for a year or so. Like Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond, my cabin wasn’t far from civilization, but it was deep enough in the woods for me to begin to appreciate the darkness and silence of the nighttime forest.