MIKE MacFERRIN'S OLYMPIC SOLO TREK....July 13, 2004


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Today, I leave the Sol Duc River behind, and enter the headwaters of the Bogachiel River. After a short scramble up to the ridge above Mink Lake, I spot my first views of the Olympus Mons, a range of remote peaks (including the park's namesake mountain) that I will know well in the following weeks. I yell out loud as I soak in the sight before me: miles of untouched forest valleys and countless snowcapped peaks on the horizon. The glacier-strewn slopes of Olympus beckon me onward.

Once the trail descends into the North Fork Bogachiel valley, the dry subalpine forest quickly changes into proper rainforest. I stop at the former Twentyone Mile Shelter for lunch, sitting on a rotten stump, next to a pile of rotting lumber that used to be an emergency shelter. The campsite is small and ragged, quickly being reclaimed by the forest (these are among the fastest-growing trees in the world) in the absence of Park Service maintenance crews. Continuing down the valley, the path quickly changes from a dirt pathway to an overgrown muddy thicket. The route is never hard to find, but plowing through miles of chest-high brush and stepping in constant mudholes slows me up significantly. The path ain't much to speak of, but the forest is MAGNIFICENT. Everywhere I look, I see 300-foot champion conifers towering over a blanket of sweet-smelling clovers and sword ferns. The tracks of large Roosevelt Elk (rightful keepers of this forest) follow the trail frequently. Banana slugs plaster the moist forest floor, keeping the forest in a constant cycle of decay and growth.

After a few more miles, I take a brief brake at Hyak Shelter, where a solid shelter, an open blooming meadow, and shade-covered grassy campsites overlook the pristine river. This is an ideal spot to spend the night. I almost do. But it is still early in the day, so I pack up and trek several miles further to Fifteen Mile. Hopefully it will be just as nice there!

It is not. After crossing a large bridge several miles later, the trail heads uphill to a weedy boggy stretch of forest, where a dingy little shelter sits to the side. There is no view, no open area to camp from the trail, and no water source nearby. I am not gonna stay here. So, I will try to scout a route down to the river.

Heading off-trail, the river is easy to find. Getting down there is not. After finding a 60-foot overlook above the river canyon, I scout upriver and stumble upon an unexpected view. I see a magnificent 3-tiered, 50-foot waterfall in the valley. Just below me is a weed-choked steep gully leading to the foot of the falls... if I can get there, that is where I will camp. So I shed my pack and crawl on my belly over the ledge to scout a route down. I gain footholds on secure branches & rocks for about 10 feet downward. From there, I shuffle over to a small outcrop, where it appears I might climb down thirty feet through a steep bed of ferns to a gentler grade below. For a moment, my heart races, but it works. Then, suddenly, my right foot slides three feet down and nearly takes me with it. I instantly realize that this "bed" of ferns rests on a single inch of loose soil, with nothing but slick, wet, nearly vertical rock beneath it. I try grabbing handholds, but every bush, root, and branch I can reach only slides away and makes my position more precarious. I take a deep breath, recompose, and slowly scramble back up over the ledge to safety. If I am going to find a way down to the river, it won't be this way.

So I grab my pack and find another way. A quarter-mile past the shelter I scramble over uneven rocks down a nearly dry streamlet that flows in a general 45 grade to the river's edge. Within 20 minutes, I lay my bag out on a small bed of pebbles along the river's edge. It won't be my cushiest camp, but it is beautiful, and makes a fine bed for one.

After dinner, I slip on my Tevas, snag my camera and head upriver, looking for those falls I saw before, which are unmarked on any of my maps. With a knee-deep wade and a couple of boulder scrambles, I reach a deep, clear pool lined on either side by vertical or overhanging rocks for 20 feet. The falls are only 100 yards upriver, cascading over a large log and into a deep pool at the bottom. There's no way I will get any further without swimming. It is almost dark tonight, and the clear water is frigid... I will have to wait until tomorrow. I look at the falls, sigh with a slight smile, and head back to camp. Clear skies tonight... no need for the tarp.