MIKE MacFERRIN'S OLYMPIC SOLO TREK....August 2, 2004
I lay in my exact position for nearly an hour, waiting for brief moments when the marmot dares to peek out. Taking a picture, the tiny "whirr... click" of my camera sends him scurrying back into his hole. I choose my shots carefully. After nearly another hour, getting a good selection of shots, I get up off my numbed elbow and stretch my neck, returning to camp. With one eye stuck in a viewfinder for the past hour, my eyes have trouble focusing on anything, and I spend the next 15 minutes recovering from a headache.
My sleeping bag has finally dried these past two hours, so I pack up my things, stretch out my legs, and go. From the very start, my hike today takes on a decidedly different "feel" than before. I follow a faint (but well-defined) trail heading up the ridge, and then see something that entirely surprises me. A footprint. A human footprint. It's nondescript and at least a few days old, but it's definitely there. Someone has been this way, recently. I do a little jig. Not only is this footprint the first sign of humans I've seen in nine straight days, but it signifies that the route ahead is passable! That's a luxury I haven't enjoyed for quite some time. My future outlook suddenly boosted, I continue down the trail (how novel!) and whistle a tune. I even make up a jingle titled "Bailey Range" (sung to the tune of the "Penny Lane," by the Beatles), which I holler at the top of my lungs. (No, I don't remember the lyrics, so please don't ask. )
I eat an early lunch at the peak of a nondescript point labeled "5833T" on the map, referring to its elevation (in feet). It would be an entirely ignorable landmark, except that it signifies one unique geological feature. At this very point is the exact convergence of three of the largest river drainages in Olympic National Park. Facing in three different directions from this peak, I can peer down the headwaters of the Queets, Elwha, and Hoh River valleys, making their mighty ways to the sea. Although it has no label on the map, I've come to call this "Three-Basins Point." Who knows, maybe they'll put that on the map someday.
Approaching Mt. Childs from the south, I suddenly hear human voices in the distance. My heart leaps as I scan the horizon... sure enough, sitting on a ledge in the distance ahead of me are two, three, four, five hikers taking a break. For a route that is considered (by those who know) to be a "rugged, remote, off-trail route," the Bailey Range suddenly seems like a veritable superhighway to me, in stark contrast to the lonely elk trails of the Queets Valley. I hurriedly race across a large snowfield, scrambling up a ledge to greet the oncoming hikers. Suddenly I'm engaged in the first actual conversation I've held for a long, long time. It turns out they're climbers, approaching the backside of Mt. Olympus for a climb up the Humes Glacier to the summit.
The rest of the day passes amiably, following a sometimes-tricky but always-navigable path along the crest of the southern Bailey Range. Views are endless, and through my binoculars I can see the Hurricane Ridge Visitors' Center on a distant crest. I wonder how many tourists are there now, looking back at the mighty wilderness of the Bailey Range. I stake camp at a windy pass below Mt. Pulitzer, finding shelter under the shade of a few stunted white pines. Counting off the days on my fingers, I figure I've got three days to finish the Baileys and make it down to the Hoh River. Once there, I'll spend a day waiting (god bless it, a rest day!) for the PNWH Posse to meet me at Five-Mile Island, bringing me food, wine, and much-needed friends. On day sixteen, I'll hike out, finished!
Amazed with the prospect of actually completing my journey (and still in one piece!), I fall asleep under the tarp with a smile on my face. Despite the cold wind tonight, I sleep with a warm feeling in my chest.