Our Hiking Time: 6h 45m
Total Ascent: 3400ft
Highest Point: 4950ft
Total Distance: 7 miles
Location: N 47° 35.8200, W 123° 16.3440
Required Permit: None
We headed back over to the Olympic Peninsula to take on a famously obscure hike of legendary proportions. With names like the Valley of Heaven and St. Peter’s Gate, we anticipated a trip to the Lake of Angels would be stunning – and it delivered.
There is more than one way to reach the Lake of Angels, though the route we chose along the Carl Putvin Trail #813 is the most direct and frequently used approach. The trail runs right past its namesake’s grave, and probably because he died at such a young age, folks are pretty curious about what happened to the 21-year-old Carl Putvin. There are a lot of different stories out there, though all seem to agree that he died during the winter, a victim of the elements. Some say the trapper was headed to get medicine for his sick daughter, others say he was simply found frozen, sitting by the side of the trail. We’ve decided to go with his great-granddaughter’s version: Putvin left the family cabin near the Lake of Angels to get supplies from Eldon and along the way a tree fell on him, pinning him under it. Either the impact of the tree or the elements ended his short life in January of 1913. He left behind a wife and son.
From the trailhead the route immediately plunges into the trees, following Boulder Creek up past Putvin’s grave and winding past ancient moss-covered boulders. Here a forest of pine and hemlock rises out of a thick layer of salal and huckleberry, occasionally thinning to allow glimpses of Mount Pershing and Jefferson Ridge on the far side of the Hamma Hamma Valley. The trail continues to gain elevation at a fairly steady pace, though there are a few ups and downs involved when navigating a couple of large gullies that streams have carved into the mountainside. After about a mile and a half you will find yourself on the remains of an abandoned forest road in front of a small registration station. From here, the real work begins.
Start your ascent, and be prepared for a workout. The trail is not only steep; it is also rougher than the trail below, adding to the challenge. Soon the trail ushers you into the Mt. Skokomish Wilderness and the sounds of Whitehorse Creek. As you switchback ever-upwards, breaks in the treeline offer views of Mt. Skokomish, towering over the rocky headwall you will need to clamber up to reach the Valley of Heaven. Depending on the time of year, your efforts will be rewarded with increasingly better views of the creek tumbling down the headwall into a broad alder-filled plateau before disappearing into the trees below.
After a bit of scrambling you’ll stumble into subalpine meadows, crossing slow creeks and passing The Pond of the False Prophet – a large pond one might mistake for the Lake of Angels in the fevered hope that the journey is at an end. While close, press onward to the Olympic National Park boundary, and the last series of steep switchbacks up an avalanche chute to the Valley of Heaven. Here, the Lake of Angels is gently cupped in a cirque between Mt. Skokomish and Mt. Stone, fed by the snowfields the cling to the craggy ridgeline the connects the two mountains. Expect to run into some wildlife up here, mountain goats and marmots are common. Settle in and enjoy a little slice of heaven.
While we highly recommend this hike, it’s definitely not for the unprepared. It’s not the most difficult hike we’ve ever done, but the Lake of Angels was certainly challenging to get to. At the same time, many guidebooks give the impression that this trail requires some serious mountaineering skills to tackle – this is not the case. While there is one very small section that will probably require you to use some handholds to help you climb up the roots and rocks, that’s as harrowing as it gets. If you’re a strong hiker and are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, this is definitely a trail to check out. There are a few wilderness campsites around the lake, making an overnight an easy option. From the lake there is access to a variety of destinations including Hagen Lake or Mt. Stone and the Stone Ponds via a pass known as St. Peter’s Gate.
To get there, take I-5 south to Olympia to Exit 104 toward Aberdeen and Port Angeles. Follow US 101 along Hood Canal almost 49 miles through Shelton and Hoodsport to FR 25, also known as the Hamma Hamma River Road. Take a left and follow the road 12 miles to the trailhead just beyond Boulder Creek. The last five miles of the road are unpaved and have seen some washouts. A high clearance vehicle is recommended. -Nathan
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