2005 Olympic High Traverse

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I never did write up a proper Trip Report for our 2005 High Traverse of Olympic National Park. However, my good friend Steve did quite a nice job of it, so the report you see here is his work. (Click on any photo to see a larger version with captions.) Enjoy,

Olympic High Traverse, July 2005

"Before" Shot It's mid July, 2005 in the high country of Olympic National Park, and three of us begin what was to become my greatest journey and challenge of my backpacking life. Only two of us would finish after ten days. The Bailey Range. Its name evokes mystery and awe in many due to its remoteness, ruggedness and legendary beauty. It's the backbone of the Olympic Mountains with see-forever views seemingly from the top of the world. Only a scant two years earlier I would have never dreamed of attempting such a trek; but after much mountaineering training, more experience, waiting, dreaming and planning the day finally arrives.


Day One

GoBlueHiker, Kathy and I (Hoosierdaddy) were dropped off at the Olympic Hot Springs trailhead on a sunny Saturday afternoon with the long range forecast calling for above average temperatures, Resting in the Sun sunny days and cool nights. Our plan was to hike up to Appleton Pass before nightfall and make camp, then take the Cat Creek Way Trail the following day and camp at Cat Lake. Up to the pass. Kathy and I had just done the Cat Creek Way trail three weeks prior and I knew the route would be good. GoBlueHiker really wanted to see this part of the Olympics. Off we went, passing numerous day hikers coming back from the Hot Springs. I'm amazed at a group of three guys that are pulling wheeled airline luggage behind them while one in their group has a large yellow Dewalt boom-box on his shoulders that is blaring rap music. We arrive at Appleton Pass at dusk and it has cooled off quickly. The wind is constant and intense. We quickly set up camp in the slight protection of the trees. A chilly, restless night is spent by all of us.

Hoosierdaddy Sunset Over Mount Appleton


Day Two

Chilly morning at Appleton Pass The day begins early with the wind still howling, but it quickly dissipates and it starts to warm up. A quick breakfast is made and we set off headed east along the ridge. We soon get our first in your face of Mt. Olympus. It's an intricate jumble of rock and ice continuously visible throughout nearly the entire rest of the trek. It's kind of like hiking around an 8000' tall statue in that you get a constantly changing view daily. By mid morning we make it to Spread Eagle Pass where we decided to break off the route and try to find Herb Crisler's Hot Cake Shelter that I'd heard exists in the valley 700' below the pass in a pretty little meadow. Resting On the High Divide Many years ago the film maker had reportedly made several shelters in this part of the Olympics in order to have base camps to go between while filming. Legend has it that this particular shelter is named because Crisler packed in a HUGE cast iron griddle that is still present. Well, after scrambling and bushwhacking in the area, I finally located the shelter (or what was left of it) just to the north of the meadow. It was flattened probably by heavy snows a year or two previous. The "griddle" was still there though! It wasn't actually a round, hot cake griddle but a square, flat piece of ¾ inch thick iron that probably weighed 75 plus pounds! We also found a couple of old rusty cans and a length of rope probably used by Crisler.

Crisler's Hot Cake Camp Crisler's Hotcake Shelter Pretending to be Herb... Camp at the Fire Ring

We climbed back up to Spread Eagle Pass and continued on our journey. The heat was oppressive and the sweat just poured from us. Kathy was starting to lag behind somewhat due to a knee injury that was beginning to bother her. Tarn below Spread Eagle Pass Upon taking a break at the beginning of the third cirque, we spotted a solo hiker headed toward us in the distance. He was acting strangely, first climbing slightly above the obvious trail, and then sliding down below it before scrambling back up to the trail. He would often stop, look behind him then look intensely toward where we were sitting. We continued onward and intended to greet him to find out if he was alright; however when we arrived at the spot where he should have been....he was gone! There weren't that many places that he could be, so apparently he was intentionally hiding from us? We waited a few minutes until it became obvious that he didn't want to be seen or contacted and we left. Strange.

Hoosierdaddy, Enjoying the View Rockfield Cathy's Bug Repellent

Camp at Cat Lake Moonrise Over Olympus We continued onward and finally arrived at Cat Lake located on a shelf above the Cat Creek Basin. A very nice spot to camp in spite of the voracious skeeters! GoBlueHiker and I simply set up bug netting over our sleeping bags and called it camp, while Kathy set up her tent. The bugs went away after dark and it was a beautiful, warm & starry night right above my eyes. I've never seen so many stars before!


Day Three

Mount Olympus Kathy advised that her knee had swollen overnight and gotten worse. She thought it ill-advised for her attempt to continue on what was certain to become rougher and rougher terrain. She would stay an extra day at this camp, then hobble out to the nearby Sol-Duc Trailhead and get a ride home and perhaps try this another day. So, we sadly parted ways with only GBH and me continuing on the journey.

We traveled south on the manicured High Divide Trail as it went below Cat Peak and eventually stops at a cliff face where the trail's builders, The Civilian Conservation Corps, ran out of funding in the 1930's. Right there, in the middle of the trail was a family of four mountain goats! There were two adults and a pair of very cute twin babies. These were the first goats I've ever seen and danged if they weren't fearful of us at all! We got to within 10 feet of them before they only slightly moved away, but still blocked the trail that we needed to head upwards on.

Family of Goats They followed us! The Hoh River

We rested for a few minutes in hopes that they would move away, and then I remembered how pesky many deer can be in their search for salt when the call of nature has struck me in the wilderness before and I hoped that goats would be the same way, so.....both GBH and I heeded that call of nature down the trail somewhat and sure enough the goats ran right over to that spot, leaving the trail open to our advancement! Overlooking the Catwalk The manicured trail had ended and the route now leads pretty much straight up to the ridge top a distance of about 250' causing us to claw, climb and pull our way up to the beginning of The Catwalk. 3,000 Feet Above the Valley I've heard legends about this thing and sure enough, my nightmares seemed about to come true. I'm no slouch when it comes to scrambling and exposure, but {gulp!} DANG! This arête swaling before us looked intimidating as all get out! "Holy Crap!" I said to GBH and told him to tell my probably soon-to-be-widowed-wife that I loved her before we began our initial descent onto the knife edged connecting ridge. The Catwalk has several different possible routes that one can take, depending on how foolish or lucky you are. When we found ourselves hanging over a couple thousand feet of air, we retreated and looked for a different route. We soon found that the "correct" route was the one that had all the goat hair stuck on the bushes and rock edges. It seems that the goats know the "easy" way across! We finally made it relatively unscathed save for a couple of punctures to the palm of my right hand when I was hanging onto a prickly branch in what technically is called a Vegetable Belay.

Beginning the Catwalk Traverse. Up the Catwalk Scouting a Route Narrow Path Almost Done Last Traverse

Boston Charlie's Camp is immediately on the far side of the Catwalk and it's not much more that a very welcome flat spot with a small, mosquito larva infested stagnant pool of water that we happily and greedily filled our water containers from. The water tasted much better than it looked. The Hoh, from the flanks of Carrie We moved on and soon were at the grassy meadow at the base of Mt. Carrie. We dropped our packs, grabbed a liter of water and began a scramble with the intent to summit Carrie (6995'). The higher we got, the more open and gorgeous the views became. Catwalk From Above The full gleaming majesty of the glaciers and spires of Mt. Olympus was ever present. The silver, glistening ribbon of the Hoh River shimmered down in the forested valley below us. The Catwalk looked deceptively easy as we viewed it from high above. Up and up we scrambled on loose scree, dirt and rock until we neared the false summit at 6750'. As hard as we looked, we could not see a viable route ahead of us that did not involve certain death leading over the sharp rocks jutting precariously from the mountain ridge. (We had no ropes or protection with us) Sigh....Foiled again. We took a few photos and began clambering back downwards.

Panorama of Mount Carrie

After a few minutes and with still nearly 500' of vertical descent to go before reaching the packs, I spotted the enemy below. Upper Hoh & The Bailey Range It was the same family of mountain goats that had apparently followed us over The Catwalk and were now making a beeline for our unprotected, sweat encrusted, and salty tasting packs! Northern Bailey Range "Trail" We had created a monster and they wanted more salt!! I yelled to GBH that we had better head 'em off, so we began a straight down, rapid descent toward the packs. I'm sure that my legs were just a blur as they were whizzing through the heather. I also soon realized that heather was a tad more slippery than scree as you're running down through it at breakneck speed, and found myself a**hole over tea kettle on more than one occasion. One of Many Gullies The open Marmot holes didn't help with secure footing either! Well, I made it to the packs with time to spare and the goats apparently decided that facing the lunatic that had just tumbled down the slope above them wasn't worth the reward, so they went away merrily munching on grass. We shouldered our packs and continued on our journey once again. We soon reached the first of four steep, scree gullies that we had to cross. They were all ankle wrenchingly uneven, coursed steeply upwards, then downwards and most of the available tread was sloped outwards which lead to the valley floor, many hundreds of feet below us. Foot placement required constant care and the mental attrition really wears on you! Eleven Bull Basin But, we kept in mind that it's just a way-trail made only by the footsteps of our predecessors and we slowly and carefully negotiated our way through this intense 2 mile section until arriving at the flat, grassy meadow area of Eleven Bull Basin that would be our haven for the night. Wildflowers were abundant with bees humming busily at nearly all of them. Several watercourses flowed down from the peaks above, with waterfalls interspersed here and there made an idyllic setting. Camp at Eleven Bull Our lofty view perch provided a corridor view of the Hoh River nearly 3000 feet below us, curving westward down the valley toward the ocean many miles away. We set up our bags, once again with only bug netting over us and settled in. As the sun set, the alpenglow on snow-clad Mt. Olympus was awe inspiring and beautiful! It looked like a giant orange snow cone! The sounds of the waterfalls, a nearly full moon, the bright stars and a tired body helped me drift off to a peaceful sleep.

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