MIKE MacFERRIN'S OLYMPIC SOLO TREK....July 24, 2004
Once past the river, the Queets Trail is (quite graciously) an easy path. For fifteen flat miles it parallels the Queets River before dead-ending at Pelton Creek. It connects to no other trails, and attracts few multi-day backpackers. In fact, compared to its rainforest neighbors (the Hoh and Quinault River Trails), it attracts very few visitors at all... that's part of what drew me here. The first few miles of trail are popular among salmon fisherman, but nearly no one bothers hiking to its end at Pelton Creek. Of those few who do, NONE of them (excepting rare crazies like me ) continue further upriver, where the trail ends. My intended route will follow the river its entire length, up to the rarely visited Queets Basin. Three-quarters of the way up, I have a goal of reaching Service Falls, a waterfall so large and impressive that many people have heard of it in conversation, although none of them have ever been there. It's so remote that (to my current knowledge) no picture of it has ever been produced. No one I've ever talked to (rangers, longtime residents, hundreds of hiking partners) has ever been there, nor have they heard of anyone who has. This waterfall, having filled my imagination to mythical proportions, is my goal. If luck holds with me, I hope to be there within five days.
As I walk upriver, the rainforest here is breathtaking, and I use the magnificent trees as a frequent excuse to take a break and shed my heavy pack. Lichens and mosses drip from the forest canopy, which itself varies widely from small Vine Maples and Red Alders to giant groves of towering Alaskan Cedar, Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs. I take lunch at a record-holder, a giant specimen of Douglas Fir that reached acclaim as the world's largest until a wind-storm blew off its topmost branches several years back. The folds in its bark make comfortable chairs, and I sit awhile, basking in natural history, wondering what this tree has witnessed in its centuries here.
By late afternoon I've reached Spruce Bottom, a paltry 6½ miles upriver. Across the river from Spruce Bottom stands the old Smith Cabin, which miraculously (albeit barely) still stands to this day. Along with the Anderson Homestead (which I passed further downriver), it stands as a temporary reminder, despite all appearances otherwise, that the lower stretches of valley here have not always been wilderness. After bushwhacking through the forest to the river's edge and scouting an apparently safe place to cross, I strap on my sandals, unbuckle my hip belt, and step into the river.
"Apparently safe" is a loosely defined term. Very quickly the cold water swarms around my thighs and splashes up my shirt. Using my poles to form a constant tripod, I manage to move slowly across. At one point, gripping my poles tightly (which shake violently in the swift current), the hard plastic cap on one pole pops off and begins floating down the river. I almost lurch for it, but think better as the current nearly takes me under. I have no choice but to watch helplessly as my trekking pole handle floats downriver, around the bend, and out of sight. (Hey, if anyone sees a trekking pole strap floating around the Queets River campground, lemme know, will ya? )
After using my GPS to locate the old Smith Cabin, I camp tonight on a large sandbar along the river's edge. Prints in the sand here tell tales of survival... bear tracks follow along the water's edge and into the forest, accompanied by multitudes of elk prints and even a coyote. The sandbar is a hot, dry, windy place, but with no bugs here I call it a fair compromise, and I lay out my bag & cook dinner. As the sun sets over Kloochman Rock, I stare at a half-moon hung low in the southern sky. I smile as I notice the moon's changing phase these past few weeks... within a week it should be full again.
While I met several hikers along the trail today, I see evidence of no one (not even a footprint) around my campsite tonight on the riverbank. For now, I have this wilderness all to myself.