Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lake Constance Trail "guide"

I wish I had the right words to describe this hike. I pride myself of being functional with the English language, but some experiences leave me at a loss for words. Typically this only happens when I am in love or hungry, but the Lake Constance trail left me without the right words…but I will try…

Waking up at 4:45am should have been the first clue that the day was not going to be a proverbial walk in the park. It was going to be a walk in the park, but not in the carefree sense that you see in movies. I want to be clear on one thing right off the bat…this was a more than a hike and a climb. This trail is not for the simple weekend warrior looking for their quick fix of nature while using gear bought with their Amex or REI Visa cards. If your idea of hiking is a picnic lunch with a pretty view, I can recommend a million other trails for you to do. The Lake Constance trail is for those who like to be pushed physically and sweat profusely while being attacked by horse flies and mosquitoes. That being said, I will resume with the trail report and commentary.

Driving to the Lake Constance trail from Olympia is best done early in the morning, slipping through depressing, podunk little bergs like Shelton and Hoodsport without really having to see them. Driving up highway 101, it is about 65 miles from Olympia, and travelled in about an hour and 20 minutes thanks to random stretches of 55mph and some 35mph speed traps. Do not speed to get there faster, as 5 minutes ahead on the road isn’t ever worth the ticket; trust me on this. In the “town” of Brinnon, which is really just a few buildings and a hotel/visitor center/senior center/ sign of better times, turn left on Dosewallips Road/National Forest Development Road 2610. From there, wander through the hills and keep an eye out for elk, as numerous road signs will tell you they may be near. I have been here more times than I can remember, and haven’t seen an elk yet, but good luck to you. After about 7 miles, the road turns to a narrow dirt road littered with tire-sized potholes and continues down to a campground at the washout area. Oh, right, the road is washed out, so unless you already knew this, you will be surprised to know you have a 3.5 mile hike to the trail head.

The turnoff to Lake Constance
At the campground, you will need to be prepared for little or no parking, and what you can find is basically just pulling off to the side of the road. This is standard for any of these Olympic National Park areas, and I am a huge fan of it. This is a nice way to gauge how crowded the trail will be, as well as let you feel like you are part of some hidden, wood loving, vagabond community. Proper etiquette is to drive slow, turn down your stereo, and when you are unloading gear from your car, please be quiet and respectful, as some people are more than likely sleeping in their cars or camping by the road. Nothing is worse than being woken up before a day of hiking by someone blaring country music and yelling and screaming at their spouse about not packing their favorite hat. 

Gear, of which I packed too much
Gear you may need for the Lake Constance trail and beyond may vary depending upon seasons, but the following is a partial list of must have items:
-       Good, comfy shoes
-       Extra socks
-       Plenty of water. If you think you have enough, grab 2 more bottles
-       Hiking poles
-       High protein snacks
-       A good attitude
-       First aid kit
-       Bug spray/sun screen
-       A camera
-       Some sort of map/GPS
-       A comfortable backpack

Once you start the trail at the washout area, you head straight up through the woods for a tenth of a mile to bypass the slide area. This isn’t strenuous, but comes as a shock from sitting for a while. You hike though the woods, then head down again and meet back up with what used to be the road to the ranger station. The next 3.3 miles are a gentle climb next to the river. On my last hike, I saw a few deer, some rabbits and some birds of prey flying over the river. It is very scenic and calming and a great way to wake up. One tip I do have to say is to take your time and enjoy this section of the trail, don’t try and power up it to get to the main trail.

Sign in!!!
Welcome to the Pa
About 2 miles up, you will come up to a moderate sized, seasonal waterfall to your right. About 20 feet, Cassandra Falls is a great place to pause for a picture, have a snack and readjust your pack. Take a picture here, slow down you camera speed and enjoy it. Cassandra Falls is your last pretty sight until you reach the lake. The trail from here gets a little narrower, as the rain has caused trees and shrubs to grow over the old dirt road. Signs of the road still exists, with old forest service road markers and other signage litter the trail. Within a few hundred yards of Cassandra Falls, you enter the park, marked by two signs. 
Cassandra Falls

This is also a great place to snap a quick picture and prepare for the upcoming trek. Past this sign, keep going up a small grade until you come to a few fallen logs that are located right by the Lake Constance Trail. Again, readjust your pack, eat some high protein snacks, take a few sips of water and get ready because your legs will soon hate you.
Get Ready to climb!

The trail to Lake Constance has been called a lot of things, but the words difficult, rough and hellish seem to come up short, at least in the summer months. At 2 miles long, with an elevation climb of 3400ft, simple math dictates that you gain a foot vertically with every 3 feet moved laterally.  Luckily, the trail has no long flat stretches, making this a Stairmaster workout for the ages. Now, I can see a few of you dedicated hikers scoffing at this, saying that you have done something like this before. Trust me, I was like you, doubting the trail reports and chalking the hiker complaints up to inexperience and/or general bitching about a bad day, but this is rough. 
The "Trail" to the lake

Typically a trail like this is built using switchbacks and other ways to minimize the direct elevation gain, but not this trail. From your first step, you may be hunched forward, trying to maintain your balance on a dirt and gravel trail that has no traction. With little to no handholds, it is just about momentum and dedication. This is a trail best done with others, so you can laugh and complain as your legs start twitching like a sewing machine. This trail is done best with a light pack, and not the pack that I had with me. I was hoping to fly up the trail and climb C-141 Peak so I had all my climbing gear with me. A 45 pound pack is not the best thing to have strapped to your back as you stair climb up a sloppy dirt “trail” to a lake. That being said, with a light pack just continue on slow and steady and you will start to develop a pace that is comfortable. As you weave through what is called a trail, but is really just an animal path up a mountain, you start to see some large boulders, wild flowers, banana slugs and amazing old growth trees while listening to water rush down the creek that runs parallel. 
Wild Flowers

Banana Slug
After the first mile, I was in pain from a pre-existing hip injury so I decided to labor on as best I could until the pain got too much. That was much sooner than I care to admit, but I can tell the rest of the trip from past experiences. At the end of the slow trek up to the lake, you come through the woods and stumble into a clearing that comes as a much needed sight for sore eyes and legs. 
Soaking my feet

Sitting in the run off from the snow, I reflect back on thinking that the mountains surrounding lake and Mt. Constance seem like they belong in the Northern Rockies or in the center of the Tetons. With majestic, snow covered peaks Lake Constance is the perfect jumping off point to climb 3 of the top 15 peaks in the Olympic Range. With limited camping spots, make sure you check with Olympic National Park ranger service to comply with all the new rules and regulations for the area.
Lake Constance- Thanks to a friend for this pic!

At the end of the day, I would totally recommend Lake Constance to anyone who is looking for a ridiculously challenging hike with an amazing payoff. Be smart and realistic when planning this hike. Don’t think you can do too much in a day. Arrive early, and plan on leaving late. Don’t get discouraged, drink plenty of water and expect to get bit by lots of bugs if it is bug season. I am not sure how to make this an easier hike, and all in all, I don’t think I would. Having a trail that “keeps the riffraff” out is a good thing, and I do agree with the parks decision in not fixing the road or maintaining the trail. Natural beauty as isolated as Lake Constance is a rare thing in this world, and despite a torturing rise in elevation on a trail as slick as ice, it is one of the few “must hike” areas I can tell you to do. Seeing a lake and mountains while soaking your legs, even a posing next to small, yet gorgeous waterfall on the side of the trail, the Lake Constance trail lets you feel accomplished, and gives you a true appreciation for the original mountaineers and explorers.

                                         Now stop reading and go hiking!! 

Blue Skies are coming your way!