MIKE MacFERRIN'S OLYMPIC SOLO TREK....July 29, 2004


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Today, I take the long way around. In order to progress roughly 1 miles up the Queets River, in order to avoid the impassable Queets Canyon, I must haul myself nearly 4,000 vertical feet up, cross a glacier (solo, mind you, with no substantial equipment), and find a safe route down an uncertain glacial canyon back to the valley floor. That is, if it's passable at all.

With a considerable amount of huffing and puffing (and frequent map-checking for the best possible route), I finally edge myself up a scree gully and over a rocky ledge, emerging onto a wide rocky plateau, where I leap for joy at the sights I see. Visible for the first time, I see the jagged spires of Hermes, Circa and other innumerable points abutting the backside of Mt. Olympus. I have 360 views of the upper Queets Valley and Mounts Meany, Queets and Noyes on the opposite side. I take some pictures, but don't want to tarry too long. This is a land of rock & ice, where the laws of stone and glaciers rule. I need to get off this exposed plateau before nightfall, and I've got my work ahead of me.

Yesterday, in a greenhorn-esque moment of misjudgment, I lost my sunglasses (right off my hat!) during the steep uphill bushwhack through the forest. Today, while crossing the adjoining snowfields of the Jeffers Glacier, I regret that mistake.
In order to avoid squinting and eventual snow blindness (a temporary but painfully rehabilitating condition), I sink my brimmed hat down low over my brow and cover my cheeks with a black bandana, bandit-style. The theory is to reduce the sunlight & glare finding its way into my eyes, and sure enough, it works! I'm sure the look isn't very stylish, but after seeing no one for 5 straight days, I doubt I'll find any fashion-critical company on this glacier today. I don't have to look pretty here.

After passing several lakes on the snowfields and avoiding the discolored & pocketed snow, I finally reach the glacier proper. A crevassed icefall reveals itself ominously to me, and further down the valley I can see the frothing waters pouring out from under the glacier. Looking at the terrain, it's obvious I'm gonna have to cross this beast... it's much too steep to safely scramble down on this side. Regrettably having no ice-axe along, I carefully look for the narrowest, shallowest part of exposed ice. It looks solid, but I know that looks can be deceiving (glaciers have an uncanny habit of trying to eat you), and I pray to god that every step I take won't be my last. Luckily, the slope here is gentle, and enough pea-gravel coats the ice for traction. Within twenty minutes, I'm across the worst of it.

The route down the canyon alternates between snowfield and rockfield, and I amble downward, trying to avoid the worst of the snow bridges still arching over the river, melting away in the hot July sun. Eventually, rocks & snow give way to flowers & grasses, and even trees begin appearing once again as I continue further down the canyon. By 6:00 in the evening, I'm camped on a ledge (still ~800 feet above the river) exhausted again after another nerve-trying day. Looking at the map, I'm not far upriver from Service Falls, and I know that tomorrow, I just might have one last chance to get there. After what I've been through, I have to... I'd regret it for years if I didn't try.

So tonight, the nagging question remains... will I reach Service Falls tomorrow? Or will I be turned back once again, denied by the powers that be? My time is running short... it's already day 6, and I was hoping to reach the Upper Queets Basin (still several days off) by day 7 or 8. Tomorrow will be my last chance.