“Wilderness is a state of mind”, as the saying goes. Nonetheless, there are places left on this planet where vast tracts of relatively untouched forests and mountains exist, and solitude is found in abundance. The Bailey Range in Olympic National Park is one such sanctuary of pristine beauty. The paths are often faint or non-existent, and require imagination combined with in-the-moment focus to follow. Spectacular vistas of endless peaks, ridges, distant oceans, and alpine meadows carpeted with flowers will fill you with awe and melt your heart open. But the treachery of fickle mountain weather, steep snow covered slopes, melting snow bridges, loose and jagged rock, not to mention cougar, bear, and mountain goats, can undo one’s dreams in a moment. Therefore, to survive, to be truly free, in the mountains or in life, one must live in the moment, without clinging to hopes or fears, mindful of the weather, one’s energy, the breath, where one will find the next drink of water, the next shelter, the next meal, and lightly hold to a flexible plan that can be adapted as the winds of change dictate. I go to the mountains because they teach me how to live in the moment, how to be free. I go because when I return, my service work – whether in the family, the workplace, or the larger society – comes from a place of deeper peace, wisdom, and love.
Long Ridge Trail approaching Dodger Camp.
Mount Ferry, Stephen Peak, and Olympus from Long Ridge Trail
Camp One on the Dodger-Ludden Ridge; Stephen Peak in the distance.
Mornings almost always dawned with clear skies. In the afternoon, a marine layer of clouds can creep in and reduce visibility to twenty meters – not good if you are caught out in a featureless landscape of snow and rock with no trail to follow and thousand foot drop offs in places.
Preparing to ascend Ludden Peak. Aesthetically, I enjoy this route more than the traverse out the CCC trail, descending to Ludden-Scott saddle via Crisler’s Ladder, and back up to the ridge. It’s a toss up in time required though. Both routes have many obstacles and the “path” is easy to lose.
Looking back at the route I had just climbed up. The path is obvious, right?
The final few pitches up Ludden. My first time up this in 2016, I recall one mildly sketchy moment where I needed to pull myself up over a ledge reaching high for a handhold. This time, it was a straightforward scramble. Everything is easier with practice. When in doubt, I chose the left route.
There is nothing quite so satisfying as kneeling down and slurping snow melt trickling over rock. There is little water to be found after leaving the tarns beyond Dodger Camp until one reaches the Ferry-Pulitzer saddle. Another trick I learned in hiking in the heat is to pack my wide brimmed hat full of snow and allow it to melt over the course of the next hour or so, keeping my head cool in the mid-day heat.
The route up Ferry from Ludden. To avoid thrashing through the brush, getting lost, and expending unneeded effort, one needs to leave anthropocentric linear mind sets behind and look for subtle clues in the landscape, to think like an animal that lives in the wild, not separate from it. I could give you clues, but finding the way yourself is half the fun! And ultimately, that’s the only way wisdom is gained, through making personal effort.
Looking down Long Creek towards Hurricane Ridge (left horizon) and the ocean in the distance.
The final pitch up Mount Ferry. The route goes through the dirt and scree patch between two triangular shaped brushy trees at top center. (This section there is no margin for error so I’m giving the answer away in case it isn’t obvious.)
Ferry-Pulitzer Pass with the Northern Baileys and Mount Carrie in the distance. Delicious water here!
Treading south towards Lone Tree Pass and the steep snow slope which requires caution and respect.
Looking back towards Mount Ferry and the Ludden-Ferry ridge to the right (and about a thousand feet of air to the right of the boot path).
Some people ascend/descend this snow slope (about 250 vertical feet and quite steep at the top) using microspikes. I chose to wear crampons and hold an ice axe. I had practiced my self-arrest technique a few weeks beforehand on a training hike in the Cascades. I also used hiking poles. The snow was soft in the afternoon sun and even though the crampons offered some grip, I was wary of the possibly of soft snow giving way underfoot. The poles help to distribute one’s weight and lessen the force and therefore, the slippage factor on any single foot placement. In my right hand, I held both my pole and my axe, ready to drop my pole (looped to my wrist), and go into self arrest mode if needed. Fortunately, everything went smoothly.
Ice, snow, rock, floating water, and sky. Mount Olympus in the distance.
Mount Childs. The vast scale of this place opens the mind wide.
Approaching the Bear Glacier. I had been hiking for about 8 or 9 hours straight at this point, with short breaks.
Water Is Life! I have never used a water filter in the Olympics and have never had any issues. Maybe my intestinal flora are sufficient to deal with any critters. I read once that protozoa do sink, so if you carefully full your water bottle from the surface of the water without stirring up the mud at the bottom, you are less likely to have problems. Also, check the temperature of the water. If it is warm, it’s likely bacteria are more abundant. This water was trickling straight from a snowfield before dropping over the edge of a cliff. it was quite cold and refreshing.
Bear Glacier and Mount Olympus.
Thrilled to be at Dodwell Rixon Pass at the end of day 2 after completing the Southern Bailey range. Tomorrow, the Elwha Snowfinger at dawn!
Heading down the Snowfinger at dawn, wondering what challenges lay ahead.
The first snow bridge requiring me to remove my crampons and walk down the left side. Easy enough so far, but hinting at the difficulties which lay ahead in waiting. “The Big Snow Hump” visible in the distance.
Things get radical just below here around the corner. The Snow finger is basically a mini-glacier in places and as with many glaciers worldwide now in retreat, is suffering the effects of global warming. The description in the Climber’s Guide to the Olympic Mountains for the Snow Finger is no longer to be relied upon according to several knowledgeable sources I’ve spoken with. Conditions change daily and year to year.
Looking straight down about 50 or 60 feet atop a ridge of rock ringed by cliffs with the Elwha River dropping over a 10 foot waterfall on my right, and a major creek with waterfalls flowing off Mount Barnes on the left. The big Snow Hump visible further down. After hiking around for a good 30 minutes, I could find no route down to the river that I was comfortable doing solo. So I made a decision to turn around and hike through the southern Bailey Range again in reverse. Being in the present moment is what it is all about. The mind ever conjures hopes and dreams…”I will do this”…”I will go there”…but the mountains teach you to let go of all of that. It was actually a very easy decision for me to turn around. Perhaps my life scars have taught me something. Life is precious and I have much to do in this life if I am granted more time. To risk it all in order to accomplish some preconceived goal with no clear benefit seemed foolhardy. Nearing age 60, it’s time to whittle the ego down rather than continue building it up.
The scene of a great battle.
Still a beautiful day in paradise. Hiking back up to where I started my day.
Looking back at Dodwell Rixon Pass and the mosaic of rock and snow in the upper reaches of the Queets Basin. High clouds now darkening and light drops of rain. I am hoping to make it to Lone Tree Pass without being forced to bivy on the way.
More raw beauty. Mount Childs again.
Heading north on the snow highway to Ragamuffin and Urchin.
Lone hiker traveling south. Our paths did not cross as he took a different route over the mini-pass separating Ragamuffin and Mount Childs. In four days, I met zero humans on the first day, one on the second, eight on the third, and zero on the last day until I had crossed the pony bridge and was within a few miles of the Whiskey Bend trailhead where I ran into a few dozen. Not a single person of color. Having left Seattle the day after the Charlottesville terrorist attack by a Nazi white supremacist, I was acutely aware of my white privilege and even the fact that some might resent me for what could be perceived as self-indulgence while people of color and white allies continue a centuries old fight for equity and survival in a racist society. I don’t have any glib justifications, just a motivation to take time regularly to heal my spirit so that I can more effectively work for peace in the world.
The weather eases up a bit and it was quite hot trudging across the snow. Cool breezes are my reward back on top of the ridge.
The steep snow slope was soft and it was relatively easy to kick deep steps going down. Still, I proceeded very slowly and methodically, aware that I was tired after another 10 hour day, and alone and accidents can happen in a moment of carelessness. Across the headwall, I kicked each step multiple times to ensure a good firm platform, with front points buried at slight downward angle. As a solo hiker, aware of the elevated risk, I carried a Spot tracking device with two friends following my path in real time each day.
The Baron of Lone Tree Pass. Why do I get the feeling this guy was waiting for me to arrive?
Little did he know I was carrying a small package of Himalayan sea salt with me!
Lone Tree Pass and Mount Pulitzer. One of the most picturesque landscapes I’ve ever moved through.
No sooner had I pitched my shelter than the wind picked up and the marine layer started blowing through the pass, reducing visibility to twenty meters.
Excellent, pure, delicious water trickling off the snow pile on the left. Sunshine playing peekaboo again.
4:30 a.m. Light rising in the east on day 4. Guess who lurked near my shelter all evening? Mountain goats are not native to the Olympics and can be dangerously aggressive. Rangers advise you to throw rocks to scare them off. I didn’t aim to hit him, but he seemed to get the message as whenever I picked up a stone, he would move briskly just out of range. When I packed up camp and walked away, he quickly moved in and started licking the ground where I had left salt deposits from my urine. goats
Leaving Lone Tree Pass, a magical place of healing on Planet Earth. When I had left Seattle, I said goodbye to my mother who was only partly conscious and entering an active dying process after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. In the middle of the night, while camped at Lone Tree, I awoke and looked up at thousands of stars splashed across the heavens with the Milky Way galaxy glowing softly. I suddenly had a strong feeling of connection with my mom and a thought spontaneously arose: “I know you are out there somewhere. May your journey now carry you to more peaceful shores.” It turns out that she died in the middle of that very night. We always had a strong connection and I know we will meet again in the future.
Mount Pulitzer at dawn.
The most sketchy, least looked forward part of my day: the initial down climb off the shoulder of Mount Ferry. Again, no room for error here. At least I was doing this fresh, at the beginning of my day. During this descent, I pulled loose a two pound rock which promptly dropped on my ankle. Ouch! Fortunately there was no lasting injury.
At the Ludden-Scott saddle, looking back up at Lone Tree Pass where I started my day.
Traversing beneath Ludden Peak towards Crisler’s Ladder. My fourth time through here and I still get lost in places, though each time goes a bit smoother.
Family of grandfather trees covered in moss near the low point of the saddle between Dodger and Ludden. Moments after I took this photo, a lone Navy warplane “Growler” ripped open the sky, traveling directly through the center of Olympic National Wilderness (11:04 a.m. on 8/17), a reminder of the vulnerability of wilderness to the ignorance and hatred that threatens to poison our world. Is this the new normal now that the Forest Service has meekly granted permission to the Navy to use one of the nation’s crown wilderness jewels as a war games site? I’ll have a thing or two to say about that when I get reconnected with civilization. May all beings be peaceful and happy, free of ignorance and hatred.
My other trip blogs to the Bailey Range:
https://communichi.org/mountain-bones-and-spirit/ https://communichi.org/elwha-river-bailey-range-iii-wilderness-mind-space/ https://communichi.org/3932-2/