I set out on June 30, 2015, planning for a 5-6 day solo trip in the Bailey Range of Olympic National Park. I’ve already written a little bit about the preparations for the trip here. More good resources on planning can be found in the Resources section at the end of this article and this post from my late summer 2018 trip to the Baileys which could save your life.
As with anything I do in life, I always try to establish a positive intention before any action, large or small, to bring benefit to other sentient beings. How can going for a long walk in the mountains bring benefit when there is so much suffering and violence in the world that needs to be healed? First one needs to vanquish those energies within before one is fully capable of helping. Of course, we are all works in progress, so there’s a lot we can do even before we become enlightened. Wilderness and solitude breathes fresh energy into the spirit and reminds us of what is important in life – love, peace, wisdom, interconnectedness. Whether you’ve come to this page as a Buddhist friend, or someone interested in hiking information, I hope you find something of value. Mostly, I will let the pictures do the talking (click on any image for a full resolution picture). Enjoy.
Day 1. I set out on the Boulder Creek trail at 5:08 a.m. My mind is not seeking any accomplishment or goal, merely to allow the wilderness to open me to the awareness of the beauty of life and my intimate connection with that perfection.
If you wish to touch your primordial aliveness, there is nothing quite like drinking straight from a mountain stream (i.e. bending down and touching your lips to the water). Granted, there are hazards such as giardia (read the article listed in the references at the end), though I’ve been doing it for years, with appropriate precautions, without getting sick.
Anticipation builds as step by step, I move closer to Appleton Pass.
I arrived at Appleton Pass around 9:30 a.m. and rested in the shade of a forest, surrounded by flower beings. A cooling breeze off the Pacific Ocean was funneling up the Soleduck.
My feet were hot and sweaty and I could sense that a blister would soon form, so I put one sock on the top of each hiking pole to dry, tied my shoes to my pack, and continued on barefoot for a while. Delightful intimacy with Mother Earth.
Mount Carrie and the Carrie Glacier visible beyond the ridge dividing the Soleduck River and Cat Creek.
Mount Olympus pops into view for the first time. For the next two days, I would see this mountain from many angles.
The trail bends around to the west, first descending to a steep gully where there was good water (though it will probably be gone by August or sooner), and then ascending to the pass at center top. The Bailey Traverse, including the Appleton Pass to High Divide “waytrail” is not a trail but a backcountry route. In other words, if one ventures into these places, one must be prepared to find one’s way without relying on trail signs or even cairns. Sometimes one must choose between one faint path of hoofprints and another. I spent many hours before setting out studying maps (downloaded from USGS website – see references below), studying at least a dozen other photo blogs (references below), and have some previous experience. Finding the true path, whether in the woods, or in life, demands focus and awareness. One must pay attention to details and learn to focus the mind. Building such skills can lead to great happiness.
As the day got hotter, I lost the trail (in fact the route description indicates that the trail disappears before reaching High Divide). I stumbled upon some scattered bones, a timely reminder of mortality.
The end of the High Divide trail. From this point, one must ascend up a steep slope to the eastern shoulder of Cat Peak, the beginning of “the Catwalk” to reach the western ridge of Mount Carrie, the beginning of the Bailey Traverse.
The Catwalk was the second of several “tests” on the Bailey Traverse. The first was not getting lost on the Appleton Pass-High Divide route – passed with flying colors). The Catwalk is a narrow ridge that separates the Hoh River from Cat Creek. At times, one is scrambling over boulders, through stubborn trees with sharp prongs, hanging on to sturdy, yet flexible cedar branches (a skill which would be perfected over the following days). None of it was particularly threatening, though it required some patience and fortitude to deal with towards the end of a long day on the trail.
I reached “Boston Charlie’s” camp at 5:50 p.m., having just flailed my body over rock, root and thwacked by branches on the Catwalk at the end of a 13 hour hike. I had a vague impression from trip reports, that it is possible for multiple people to camp at Boston Charlie’s. Technically speaking, it is at the very edge of (but within), the Seven Lakes Basin area and thus requires a special camping permit. There were a pair of hikers here when I arrived. One of them was friendly and chatty, but the other made it explicitly clear that I was not welcome to spend the night. He had a permit, I did not. I filled up my water (the friendly guy let me use his filter), wished them a safe journey amicably, and started up the steep ridge of Mount Carrie, pretty sure that there was an even better camp site about ten minutes up the trail.
Score. This campsite, though a bit bumpy, had an unparalleled view of the entire Hoh River valley stretching to the open Pacific, Mount Olympus to the south, and the Bailey Range to the east. There was also the satisfaction of being totally legal by not camping in the restricted permit zone.
In the morning, there was a slight odor of wood smoke coming from the Queets Paradise fire, about 12 miles to the southwest, beyond Mount Olympus.
The gullies on the south side of Mount Carrie were the third big test that I had expected. The day before, I had met an elderly couple (late 60’s?) who had told me one of the gullies was unpassable due to a rock slide and they had chopped steps using an ice axe.
I reached the landslide area and there were the freshly chopped steps in the dirt. It would have been extremely difficult to pass this otherwise. Careful footwork was required to cross. A fall here could have resulted in serious injury. Technically it was not difficult though. I focused on my feet, confident in the lifetime of deft footwork they have performed for me.
A very important piece of my gear list was bicycle gloves with padded palms – very useful hand protection for grabbing sharp rock and branches.
2015 is shaping up to be a record year of drought in the Olympics. Whether these water sources will continue to be available through August and September remains to be seen. The forests are frighteningly crisp and primed to go up in flames. Much caution will be required from all backpackers who use stoves, and prayers can’t hurt.
There were faint boot prints visible in places – someone might have come this way in the past week, or not. But clearly, other beings had been here and were here now. I sang aloud when passing through thick brush to avoid surprise any large four legged creatures.
Finding Cream Lake was the fourth on my list of big tests. The Olympic Mountain Climbing Guide (OMCG) states that one should leave the main trail “which becomes major” at the point where it descends. “A cairn may mark the spot”. The above photo shows that the cairn is indeed there. Logs are obviously placed to block hikers from descending (and ending in a maze of avalanche brush, far from Cream Lake). The guide continues to say one should follow a less obvious trail upwards. I chose to split the difference and go straight ahead, which worked out more or less okay. At one point, I had to descend about 20 feet underneath some cliffs and then up, and probably thwack through some brush that only the bruises on my legs now remember, but it was no serious ordeal. Soon I recognized that I was on course from photos I had seen in various blogs.
At this point, I had a general idea where I was. It was time to ascend. I had to rest in the shade about every 5 minutes on this ascent to catch my breath.
There is considerable evidence that frogs are an indicator species, already suffering massive effects of climate change. Many of the lakes and ponds in the Olympics are clearly drying up, and water temperatures are likely much warmer than usual due to the record heat wave over the past few weeks.
Day 3. Having hiked somewhere around 22 miles by my estimate in 2 days, it was becoming clear that the weak link in my preparations was my meal plan. I had little desire to eat the flat bread I had baked and stacked neatly in my bear can. Similarly, granola and water for breakfast wasn’t cutting it. I was losing my appetite, and with it, the ability to power my body through the most difficult hiking terrain I had ever encountered. Adding to that was the strong odor of wood smoke I awoke to which reminded me of New Delhi.
Some of the most beautiful terrain of the Bailey Traverse lay directly in front of me, but if I continued hiking south, I would pass the headwaters of the Queets River, just above where the fire was located. I also was approaching Big Test number 5, the steep snow field just south of Lone Tree Pass. I had an ice axe, but no crampons or micro-spikes and with my diminished strength, no energy reserves for any unexpected drama in dangerous places. It was time to switch to Plan B and hike from the Ferry Pulitzer Saddle to Dodger Point. I realized that if I hit my trail markers accurately, I could be at the car by the end of the day.
My stomach was feeling slightly queasy after having forced myself to eat granola, cashews, and a couple of dates for breakfast. I made a calculated decision to lighten my load by tossing all my remaining flatbread over the edge of the cliff – not a vigorous throw that would cause them to roll a long ways down, but lightly with hopes that they would hang up in a place where no mountain goat or bear could reach them. It was a regretful decision to violate no-trace backpacking ethics in this way, but I was growing increasingly concerned regarding the tenuous position I was in – many miles from civilization, alone, and running low on energy, lightening my load by 5 pounds might make a critical difference between life and….well, let’s not go there just yet. I did not allow myself to linger with any fears but focused on the route in front of me. According to the description in the OMCG, I could reach the Dodger Point trail in 3 hours from here, and from then, it would be a veritable super highway of easy sailing down the Long Creek trail to the Elwha. The Bailey Range is not a place where you can plan on staying on schedule – the supposed 3 hour traverse to Dodger Point would end up taking me 7 hours.
The OMCG mentions one short steep section as one descends onto the ridge. Other blogs have been less gentle, describing it as terrifying. It was an unexpected test and my first thought was “I don’t like this”. A fall would probably result in serious injury. But I took a deep breath and upon careful inspection, realized it was doable, requiring only a couple of careful down climbing moves. I passed without incident. Again, I missed the correct route (there is a cairn of many stones).
Things start to slow down. OMCG says to look for a faint trail to the left after descending 200 feet from the Ludden-Scott saddle. I obviously missed it, and then, realizing my mistake, chose to triangulate to where I figured the trail probably was. I found it, but it required 15 minutes of strenuous thrashing upwards through thick brush and several pauses for rest. The sun’s rays were starting to feel really hot.
It was getting hotter. OMCG indicated that it was a 400 foot ascent to the trail to Hanging Rock tree (a rock hung from a tree as a mark). I never saw the tree, and I did see the trail, but my first thought was “this can’t be it”. I was wary of being tricked again as I had just made a mistake descending off the Ludden-Scott saddle which had cost me. Being too tired and stubbornly fixated on my preconceived notions, I continued on upwards, searching for the trail, eventually gaining the ridge top several hundred feet further up. The decision cost me at least 3 hours of extra effort in the 90 degree heat, and fortunately, nothing of more serious consequence.
The ridge leading from Ludden Peak to the Dodger Point had a few steep spots requiring me to rappel by swinging off of cedar branches and was generally long and arduous, with many ups and downs. I reached the Dodger Point trail at 12:30 p.m. My stomach was still unhappy and I had eaten nothing since my very light breakfast. I had about 17.5 miles to go to reach the main Elwha road (a washout on the Whiskey Bend road was still un-repaired at this writing), before attempting to catch a ride back up to Boulder Creek, a distance of 5 miles and a few thousand vertical.
I was feeling depleted of minerals and possibly dehydrated. Suddenly I felt the urge to vomit and had a spell of dry heaves, but it passed and I started out on the trail down Long Creek, which fortunately entered deep forest and yielded many springs with cool water trickling out of the hillside above the trail.
Once, a Tibetan yogi, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, told me to sing a certain Milarepa song 1000 times as my meditation commitment. One of the verses contained the phrase “no hopes and fears”. I’m not sure if I completed the full 1000 sadhana, but the “no hopes and fears” phrase came back to me and allowed me to stay focused in the present, without thinking about the distance remaining, the pain in my shoulders, the fatigue. Instead, I placed all my awareness on keeping my legs in a nice steady stride, my feet on the trail, weaving around, under and over downed trees across the trail, pausing less frequently now that I was on a steady down grade. I reached the Dodger Point bridge spanning the Elwha at 4:35 p.m., four hours later. Another four hours brought me to the road below the Elwha dam where I soon got a ride from a very kind Park Ranger back to my car.
I had fantasized at moments about a dinner of rice and beans at one of the many Mexican restaurants in Port Angeles but it was now 9:30 p.m. as I was leaving Boulder Creek trailhead and everything would be closed. I had hiked approximately 23 miles in one day, and 45 in the last three. I drove very carefully down the winding mountain road, hungry and light headed. I pulled into the first big grocery store off the highway and settled on a bag of organic rice chips with sea salt and a pint of fresh Pico de Gallo salsa – just what my body needed – quick digesting carbs, lots of salt, and some veggie flavor. I checked into a motel in Port Angeles and drove back to Seattle early in the morning.
Epilogue: The Bailey Traverse (even a shortened version of it such as I did) demands much from any hiker. My knees are still stiff and painful a few days later (Epsom salt soaks have helped considerably). My legs are covered in scratches and bruises. But the wildness of such places offers a unique opportunity in our face paced lives to slow down and look within. To live one moment at a time without being glued to our devices or schedules. To feel connected with all living and inanimate things. Such an experience enriches one’s life. On my last day, I thought of how much I loved my family, of ways that I could live more authentically, with greater love and awareness. This is why we need to protect wild places like ONP, and visit them from time to time.
One month later: The record heat-drought conditions in the Pacific northwest make it likely that the Paradise Fire in the Queets rainforest will continue to grow until a season ending rain event occurs sometime in the fall. Most days, the smoke from the fire is evident as a layer of haze visible in the Hurricane Ridge webcam. Drought conditions are likely to make water a serious issue for distance hikers, especially between the Ferry-Pulitzer saddle (or perhaps even further to the south) and the Elwha River. That, combined with the likelihood that the Whiskey Bend road will not likely be open until later in the fall are several reasons why one might consider waiting until next summer to attempt a hike of the Bailey Range.
*Note that with any of the following photo blogs, conditions will always vary from season to season and time of month. Consult recent trip reports, park ranger staff, weather conditions, and other current seasonal information sources:
**As with any information derived from the internet, use your own wisdom. All responsibility rests with the reader. Do not construe anything mentioned here as medical advice, or any other kind of advice.
Olympic National Park website (permits, park alerts, trail conditions, etc.)
USGS map store (download maps for free, directly to your computer/phone….this proved very useful to me at one trail junction near the end of the trip.
NWHikers.net (check latest trip reports, find hiking partners).