MIKE MacFERRIN'S OLYMPIC SOLO TREK....July 31, 2004
Luckily, I reach the edge of the rapids by stepping blindly from submerged rock to submerged rock, in stomach-deep frigid water. It shallows-out at the top of the rapids (to only thigh-deep), but I can tell this will be scary. Step-by-step, inch-by-inch, I find a safe place to put each foot in front of the other, making steady progress in the rushing torrent that constantly threatens to wash me down the canyon. Reaching a wet outcrop on the other side, I hoist myself up, very wet and cold, and breathe a sigh of relief. I do a few jumping jacks to bring feeling back to my numbed toes, and start back across to fetch my pack.
As soon as I slide my legs back into the waist-deep current, a sudden surge comes and knocks me off my feet. I fall into the water, banging my left arm violently on a submerged boulder. In the most frantic moment of my life, I grapple back from under the water, back onto the shore about 10 feet downriver. The rock has cut a deep gouge in my left forearm, which (within seconds) is bleeding down my fingers. I know that once the adrenaline wears off, hypothermia will soon set in on my chilled body. Having no choice but to get to my pack, I go back up to the rock. In a moment of determination that surprises me still to this day, I slide back into the water (albeit in a slightly different spot this time), and safely make it back the way I came.
As soon as I reach my pack, I frantically strip my dripping shirt, use my teeth to tie it around my left arm at the elbow, and force myself to do jumping jacks until I stop shivering. Knowing the river will only get deeper as day progresses, I hoist my pack onto my shoulders and force myself back across to the other side. Once safely there, before I can celebrate, I strip off all my wet clothes and put on almost every piece of dry clothing I have left. For the next hour I warm myself back up, dry my clothes on the exposed rocks, and bandage my left elbow. Once the sun peeks over the canyon walls, I am comfortably warm and dry again. It amazes me how quickly these cold glacial waters can suck all the warmth from my body, and how much time it takes me to recover that warmth.
Now nearly noon, I need to find a way out of this godforsaken canyon. The walls of this "exit gully" are high (60-80') and look deceivingly steep. From afar they appeared quite climbable, but up-close-and-personal, with a pack on, these walls are a death wish! But I have to find a way somewhere. Attempting one way, the rotten shale proves too unstable for safe footholds. There are no plants but weak matchstick sword ferns to grab a hold of. I descend and search farther up the gully. Far too soon, I reach a spot where I can continue up no more. Looking at the still-too-high walls, I try another route... I have no choice! At least in this spot, there are small pine saplings that provide some purchase on the otherwise vertical walls. I pause at a particularly rough spot (my feet are planted in loose crumbly footholds, and my hands clutch small pine saplings that can barely support my weight), close my eyes, and pray for a safe passage to the top. I hoist myself up, trust the strength of the pine saplings, and reach for the base of a larger pine bough. I've got it! From here, the plants & trees are stronger, and I do a series of repeated pull-ups, from one tree to another, until I finally hoist my legs over the solid forest ledge. At the top, I collapse and nearly cry again. I don't know how many more life-and-death challenges I can face... the emotional strain is taking its toll.
Almost immediately, I find at my feet a blooming blueberry bush, ripe with fruit. Nestled in the leaves below it is the bleached skeleton of a bull-elk, complete with antlers (but missing the skull ). As I eat the sweet berries, somehow I begin to realize that the worst of my threats are now behind me. I don't know how I know, but I'm quite sure of it. The going will be easier from now on... it HAS to be easier! In a matter of minutes, my mood is so elevated I can barely contain myself.
And so I continue hiking upriver through the forest, as if floating on a cloud. The steep forest (according to the maps) proves easily navigable, and I make significant headway as the afternoon rolls by. Eventually I cross back over the river (now a wide, easy passage once again) and by late afternoon I've reached the Humes Glacier River, the last major glacial flow that empties into the Queets Valley. Here, the Humes Glacier River is in its own little canyon once again (why do they all form canyons? ), but I am bothered little by it. I figure I'll make camp tonight, find another easy crossing of the Queets River (much easier now that I'm near the end of the valley) and continue up the other side, avoiding the glacial waters of the Humes altogether. I've had enough scary crossings of glacial rivers for one lifetime, and quite frankly, I'd rather be through with them.
Tonight, I'm camped on the edge of a small marshy meadow. As I lie in my bag & bug bivy, writing in my journal, I hear an odd noise coming from the bushes. I hear the same noise again, coming this time from the opposite side of the meadow. Looking up, I notice the tail-end of a bobcat (complete with its white rump and bushy little tail) storming into the forest, retreating from the meadow. There must be two of them... I wonder if they were discussing this weird smelly creature camped out in their backyard. I wonder what they thought of me.
It'll be another clear night tonight... much to my blessing, it hasn't rained in over a week. The moon is nearly full, and I let out a tired sigh as I drift to sleep in the waning light.