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It rained all last night... most of this morning, too. I pack up late and follow an old avalanche chute up the slopes above Cream Lake. At the top of a high shelf 2000' above the lake I intend to follow the advice I'd heard from one of the passing parties yesterday. "From up there you'll see a game trail... follow it. That'll take you over to the main trail pretty quick. From there, you can follow the trail all the way out to the Catwalk... no more looking for a trail." Sounds good to me!

And sure enough, I see a game trail, and follow it for a while. But soon the trail starts climbing, which confuses me, because from my information (i.e. the reports of several other parties) the actual trail should be lower down. I see no human footprints, only elk tracks, and spot several bull elk grazing and running through the high meadows ahead. But I keep going. "This has to be it," I assure myself. "If it weren't, this trail would have faded off into the first meadow it entered (as elk trails often do)." Sure enough, before long the trail fades away completely into a steep meadow , and I'm left looking around for the actual trail.

For the next hour or two I search, high and low in the intermittent fog.

This slope is steep, almost vertical in places, and I don't relish continuing this sidehill slog without a route. Immediately ahead of me there is a precarious chute that I'd rather not traverse without help of a path. I've had enough tricky off-trail travel for one trip.

Nearly two hours pass, and I'm about to give up, searching aimlessly in the fog. Then, the clouds break for a god-blessed brief moment. There, around the next ridge, far below me (by at least 800 feet!) is a trail... a definite trail. Not an intermittent elk-route, but a trodden pathway of dirt. Almost ecstatically, I scramble down the forests & rockfields, eventually finding my way. After wasting most my morning away, I'm finally heading up through the Northern half of the Bailey Range (yay!).

The trail is here, but it's not what you'd normally think of a "trail." Unmaintained, totally unsupported by the Park, this unofficial route has developed an uncanny habit of side-hilling along steep scree slopes and down over narrow gullies. It has a constant tendency to dangerously slope in the downhill direction. Plenty of "pucker" moments (just don't... slip... here! ) come and go, but compared to what I've done already, this almost seems like a walk through Central Park!

By evening I reach the only possible campsite (with flat ground and a water source) I'll see along the Northern Bailey Range. So, here at Seven Bull Basin, I sit down in the early afternoon. There are no distant views yet through the clouds across the valley, but in the immediate alpine environment, wildflowers and blueberry bushes dominate the stream-braided hillsides.

While eating dinner on a rocky knoll, I spot a bear, gorging on blueberries, a couple hundred yards off. Then, I see another, further off yet. Then another, and another! Before dinner is over, through my binoculars I'm staring at four black bears across the miles-wide hillside of bushes. None of them seem concerned (even though several have looked at me, and I'm quite sure they've all smelled my dinner). Tonight, I'll take extra care to secure the Ursack well... I don't doubt if I'll have a visitor or two tonight!

As the sun sets over the Hoh River Valley, the clouds rise and part, just enough to reveal the glacial braids of the mighty Hoh River snaking through its wide rainforest valley below. "Two days and I'll be there," I think to myself. I will be there... this certainty has become a comfort to me. After so many questions and doubts along the Queets, it is a welcome relief to be so confident of my future once again.