Considered the hardest hike in Olympic National Park, the Lake Constance route was made worse in 2009 when a fire burned the lower section. The upper reaches test the human body and are a right of passage among Olympiphiles. Risks are weighed against the reward of beholding a deep blue tarn that fills a cavity below some of Olympic's tallest peaks.
From the old roadbed, the route climbs the slope just west of Constance Creek in a recently burned forest. The hiker will need to use hands to maneuver over and through piles of blackened and fallen trees that criss cross each other at steep angles. Look for ribbon markers where route-finding is difficult.
At 0.4 mile the burn area ends and the route enters shady old growth forest. Constance Creek roars ahead, and feeder streams gush down the mountainside. The ruckus fills the canyon while snow melts in the high country. But by late summer the canyon is dry and silent, and an eery feeling befalls the solo hiker who strays here.
At 0.8 mile sits Half Acre Rock, a monolith that dwarfs the mature trees surrounding it. This is also the midway section of the hike, offering a slight reprieve in grade. Twin camp sites straddle the trail next to Constance Creek and offer agreeable accommodations, although the dense canopy keeps the canyon in relative darkness.
At 1.1 miles the route resumes its vertical assault, squeezing through brushy slopes that are often muddy. A backwards glance through arms of salmonberry reveals the Brothers high above Dose Canyon.
At 1.3 mile the creek crashes through a defile and the route is forced up and over a series of ledges and cliffs. Roots offer assistance, but the exposure increases with each ledge gained, and the upper-most has no root holds. There is no room for error here, and this section should not be attempted when wet. Atop the highest ledge, the hiker stands directly over Constance Creek with a good view of the Constance Massif. This upper ledge may be nerve wracking to people with a fear of heights. Remember that going down is perhaps harder than going up.
The route now proceeds straight up the mountainside, with metal tags marking most of the way. Look up and to the left where the route comes to a cliff, and follow a steep ramp to a switchback across another steep ledge with roots. The route now becomes more evident, although it is relentless, skirting ledges on cliffs with a fair amount of exposure.
An Alaska cedar must be hugged to gain another ledge, and its python root leads to yet another ledge. At this point the drill becomes familiar, although a very steep chute filled with roots and rocks demands extra care and skill.
Suddenly the cliffs end, and the lake appears through the open forest understory. Deep and turquoise, Lake Constance sits like a jewel among peaks reminiscent of the Tetons or High Sierra. A mosaic of sunken logs rest at the outlet near a broken sign post and map of the environs. All camp sites are located on the far shore and are reached by following the path on the eastern edge of the lake. A composting toilet sits near the camp sites and a bear wire ensures proper food storage. Please respect restoration areas that are marked by signs. The lake has been a pristine destination for generations, and should remain that way.