September 26, 1996
Lower Lena Lake Trail is a natural for day-hikers and backpackers
By KAREN SYKES
SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Picnic, fish, pick berries or keep hiking, -- it's your choice once you reach Lower Lena Lake.
Or you can continue and climb The Brothers -- the doublepeak mountain in the Olympics that can be seen from Seattle -- listening to the stories the East Fork Lena Creek tells as it rambles through the Valley of Silent Men.
The valley was so named in the 1940s by participants in a climbing course at Olympic College, who found conversation waned during their early morning ascents in darkness.
Lower Lena Lake, formed by a rock slide that dammed Lena Creek, is snow-free much of the year and is a good choice for almost anyone, either as a day-hike or a backpack.
From there you can explore the Valley of the Silent Men, with its house-size boulders draped in moss, sturdy bridges spanning an often-dry stream bed, and a grotto with a deep pool. Above the tree line are generous thimbleberries and salmonberries for grazers, and lush meadows with flowers.
Whether you are out for a picnic or a two-day climb, be gentle on the land. The trail is popular and hikers have been hard on the trails. Rangers ask that you not shortcut switchbacks, and there are plenty of toilets and existing campsites, so there is no excuse to leave a dirty camp or create a new one.
Also be forewarned that there is poison oak between the switchbacks on the trail.
Drive U.S. 101 along Hood Canal to the Hamma Hamma River Road (FR 25) 2.3 miles north of Eldon. Drive 7.6 miles to the trailhead, elevation 700 feet. The upper portion of the road is occasionally closed in winter because of snow. Allow about 2-1/2 hours from Seattle.
The average hiker will want to stop at Lower Lena Lake, elevation 1,800 feet, three easy miles from the trailhead. The trail, well-maintained and made for easy walking, crosses Lena Creek at 1.8 miles, then climbs to a knoll before traversing beneath dramatic cliffs of basalt.
The junction with the trail to Upper Lena Lake is reached at 2.8 miles. Whether you are hiking or climbing, just about everyone stops for a snack at Chapel Rock, a large outcropping of pillow lava overlooking Lower Lena Lake.
From Lower Lena Lake you have several options: hike on to Upper Lena at 4,600 feet, on a steep, rough trail that leads to some of the prettiest country in the Olympics (adventuresome folks can find interesting cross-country routes); or stay on the Lower Lena lake trail as it rounds the west shore to numerous camps.
The Lower Lena Lake trail ends at an intersection -- turn left for another route to Upper Lena on an old trail, or turn right to continue on The Brothers trail as it follows the East Fork of Lena Creek.
The Brothers trail climbs gently as it crosses and recrosses the streambed before reaching the grotto, which you can see from a bridge. Then the trail climbs and becomes more challenging. About a mile from the grotto there are several obvious campsites, just after you ford the creek at about 3,000 feet. Beyond is mountaineer country, with a few good bivouac spots above the tree line.
The south summit of The Brothers is not a technical climb, except when snow-covered, but it is hazardous due to loose rock. Helmets should be worn, and map-reading and route-finding skills are required even though the route is marked. Clouds often obscure the route, and people have gotten themselves killed here. It is no place for the average hiker. The north summit is a technical climb.
Trail data: Round trip to Lower Lena is six miles, with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet, making this portion suitable for children. Round trip to Upper Lena, is 14 miles with a gain of 3,900 feet.
Lower Lena Lake is in an unprotected area of the Olympic National Forest, but Upper Lena is within Olympic National Park, and The Brothers enclosed by The Brothers Wilderness.
For more information, see "Olympic Mountains Trail Guide" by Robert L. Wood (The Mountaineers, $14.95).