|August 1, 2004.
Two days ago, I promised myself that I'd get out of this river valley. Today, I think it just might happen! My mood is much improved. After finding a relatively
easy crossing of the Queets River to avoid the Humes Glacier River, I continue up the Queets. The forest, while thick with brush in places, and steep in others, is passable, and profuse with fresh berries (which I gorge on regularly)! At one point, I reach a view that puts a lump in my throat. There, before me, is an unbelievably steep-walled canyon, at least a hundred feet deep, that looks positively impassable. It surprises me, because the map makes no mention of any more large side canyons.
After checking my GPS, I soon realize the obvious... I'm staring at the Queets River itself, where it makes a turn in one last canyon after draining from the Queets basin. I don't have to cross this... I can simply go around it (yippee)! Schlepping uphill along the canyon rim, I continue through the dry, subalpine forests of the upper Queets River. Slopes are traversed and gullies are crossed, but everything is manageable.
Scrambling over the rocks of one final gully (a minor one), I look up the river and see open meadows ahead, profuse with wildflowers. The Queets Basin!
I surge uphill along elk paths, flush with energy, through the final bits of forest to treeline. On the way up, I scare a black bear nearby, feasting on the profuse hillside berries. Too tired and grizzled to be surprised, I smile at the bear and nod. We both stare at each other for a short while before he tumbles off into the bushes. Onward and upward I plow, sweat dripping from my face. Soon, I crest a ridge onto a flat alpine plateau, criss-crossed with clear rivulets and tiny lakes that brim with tadpoles. This is it... the Upper Queets basin, the ultimate source of the mighty river I've followed for nine straight days. I'm nearly brought to tears. The crevassed blankets of the Humes and Queets glaciers can be seen on the not-so-distant slopes of Mts. Olympus and Queets. The many jagged spires of the Olympus Mons seem so close I can almost reach out and touch them. A sweet-scented breeze blows the hot air of summer across my cheeks. I walk around aimlessly for an unknown time, soaking it in. My heart leaps; my body too tired to scream for joy. I have completed an entire traverse of the Queets River valley. I made it!
Shouldering my pack
(which by now seems positively featherweight
), I navigate up the convoluted knobs & valleys so characteristic in the Upper Queets Basin.
Before long I reach the Dodwell-Rixon Pass (a famous divide between the Queets & Elwha drainages). Most people who visit this basin take this pass to get here... positively no one
goes the way I did. Either way, no one else is around... not today. After a brief photo-op to prove I was there, I continue uphill through the basin, passing beautiful snow-filled tarns on my way to the rim.
I now sit in camp,
on the bank of a beautiful clear tarn, just below the ridge of the Queets-Elwha divide. A stone's throw to my north lies the Bailey Range, that legendary spiny row of peaks that I will spend the rest of my trip traversing, starting tomorrow. The peak of Mount Barnes sits so close I can almost touch it. I eat dinner as the sun sets over the backside of Mt. Olympus, and wonder to myself about the past nine days. Will I ever do anything like that again? I'm not sure. How difficult will it be to cross the Bailey Range? Will I be able to make it out in time?
These are questions for tomorrow. Tonight I can rest; tired, joyful, and ready to come home.
August 2, 2004.
I awake to a chilly alpine morning, under heavy dew. As I sit in my bag eating breakfast, the emerging sunlight strikes the tips of the Olympus Range, lighting the countless peaks in an iridescent orange glow.
Soon enough, surrounding spires in all
directions glow brightly in the alpine air. It's really something to see.
Nearby to camp I hear something stirring, and see a small Olympic marmot (another species endemic to the peninsula) burrowing a hole under a large boulder, less than a hundred feet from where I sit. Trying to get a good photo and having no luck, I get up and move a little closer. The marmot startles and tries to hide, but I sit still, waiting. Eventually, the little guy grows used to my presence, and peeks out again, returning to his chores. So, I move again, this time to within 20 feet. Again, he scurries away and emerges in 5 minutes, munching on the grass and flowers around his burrow. So I move closer, and closer again, each time waiting until he's comfortable enough to show himself. After an hour of moving and waiting (mostly waiting
), I'm perched within four feet
of his little burrow, making myself as comfortable as possible. At this range, any
movement scares him away, so I have to sit perfectly still, finger on my shutter and eye in the viewfinder, waiting for him to emerge into open daylight.
I lay in my exact position for nearly an hour, waiting for brief moments when the marmot dares to peek out. Taking a picture, the tiny "whirr... click" of my camera sends him scurrying back into his hole. I choose my shots carefully. After nearly another hour, getting a good selection of shots, I get up off my numbed elbow and stretch my neck, returning to camp. With one eye stuck in a viewfinder for the past hour, my eyes have trouble focusing on anything, and I spend the next 15 minutes recovering from a headache.
My sleeping bag has finally dried these past two hours, so I pack up my things, stretch out my legs, and go. From the very start, my hike today takes on a decidedly different "feel" than before. I follow a faint (but well-defined) trail heading up the ridge, and then see something that entirely surprises me. A footprint. A human
footprint. It's nondescript and at least a few days old, but it's definitely there. Someone
has been this way, recently.
I do a little jig. Not only is this footprint the first sign of humans I've seen in nine straight days, but it signifies that the route ahead is passable! That's a luxury I haven't enjoyed for quite some time. My future outlook suddenly boosted, I continue down the trail (how novel!) and whistle a tune. I even make up a jingle titled "Bailey Range" (sung to the tune of the "Penny Lane," by the Beatles), which I holler at the top of my lungs. (No, I don't remember the lyrics, so please don't ask.
I eat an early lunch at the peak of a nondescript point labeled "5833T"
on the map, referring to its elevation (in feet). It would be an entirely ignorable landmark, except that it signifies one unique geological feature. At this very point is the exact convergence of three of the largest river drainages in Olympic National Park. Facing in three different directions from this peak, I can peer down the headwaters of the Queets, Elwha, and Hoh River valleys, making their mighty ways to the sea.
Although it has no label on the map, I've come to call this "Three-Basins Point." Who knows, maybe they'll put that on the map someday.
Approaching Mt. Childs from the south, I suddenly hear human voices in the distance. My heart leaps as I scan the horizon... sure enough, sitting on a ledge in the distance ahead of me are two, three, four, five
hikers taking a break. For a route that is considered (by those who know) to be a "rugged, remote, off-trail route," the Bailey Range suddenly seems like a veritable superhighway to me, in stark contrast to the lonely elk trails of the Queets Valley. I hurriedly race across a large snowfield, scrambling up a ledge to greet the oncoming hikers. Suddenly I'm engaged in the first actual conversation I've held for a long, long time. It turns out they're climbers, approaching the back side of Mt. Olympus for a climb up the Humes Glacier to the summit.
The rest of the day passes amiably, following a sometimes-tricky but always-navigable path along the crest of the southern Bailey Range. Views are endless, and through my binoculars I can see the Hurricane Ridge Visitors' Center on a distant crest. I wonder how many tourists are there now, looking back at the mighty wilderness of the Bailey Range. I stake camp at a windy pass below Mt. Pulitzer, finding shelter under the shade of a few stunted white pines.
Counting off the days on my fingers, I figure I've got three days to finish the Baileys and make it down to the Hoh River. Once there, I'll spend a day waiting (god bless it, a rest day!) for the PNWH Posse to meet me at Five-Mile Island, bringing me food, wine, and much-needed friends. On day sixteen, I'll hike out, finished!
Amazed with the prospect of actually completing my journey (and still in one piece!), I fall asleep under the tarp with a smile on my face. Despite the cold wind tonight, I sleep with a warm feeling in my chest.