Editors note: This is Part 2 of the Bailey Range… Please Read Part 1 first!

 

We began the long, hard slidehiling down a slope into the basin.

Fortunately, the pain of slidehilling was temporarily interrupted when we came across a lone bear about halfway down the hill. We were downwind so he didn’t spot us right away. Mel had a desire to get up close and maybe pet some bears, but I wan’t sure they were that tame. We got very near before it ran off.

Unfortunately, the slidehilling wasn’t over. We continued into the basin. Eventually we came to a beautiful little lake which, I believe is called Lake Billy Everett. Now I don’t know how Billy felt about this place, but as far as I’m concerned, he can have it. The mosquitoes were relentless. Even the dead of night and cool of morning didn’t dissuade them. Much the same as some would “just say NO to Cream Lake,” I would say the same of Ferry Basin. Give me the ridge tops any day.

The next morning we had the task of finding a route out of the basin. This is a place where you can easily get confused as to where to go. There are trails everywhere and of course, the best trails lead you to the wrong place. It seemed as though the easy route would be up into upper Ferry Basin so off we went. The terrain through the basin was easy which should have been the first clue that we were going the wrong way (one should always assume that the right way is always the hardest way). While we got to see beautiful scenery meadows and waterfalls in the upper basin, eventually the trail lead along a steep hillside to nowhere.

After realizing that we should have been going up over a notch beside Mount Ferry an an unnamed peak, two miles back, we had to make a decision. Should we turn around or find another route? I mentally have a hard time backtracking so decided to make our own route. I thought we could go up over the southwest shoulder of the unnamed peak in a counterclockwise direction to get back to where we should have been in the first place. Mel and I took slightly separate routes, so we turned on the radios to stay in contact while we searched for the easiest way through. Mel climbed up  the peak while I took a more mid-level traverse. In the end both worked, but the mid-level course was easier.

I found a route below some cliffs that led me to a steep meadow down to a basin below Lone Tree Pass. I found a way down to a snowfield with a stream flowing out below it and stopped to get water. I heard Mel on the radio and looked up to see him descending a very steep talus and scree slope about 400 feet above. He was so far away, it took me a while to find him.  Then came a slow unexcited call on the radio, “rock”. I looked up to see a large desk-sized boulder rolling straight down toward me. Now I realized I was at the very middle bottom of a gulley below Mel…and the rock. It was moving fast and gaining speed down the slope directly at me.

I left my pack and tried to get out of the gulley as quickly as I could. I heard a smash as I tore my way up the side of the gulley. The boulder had hit an even bigger boulder and disintegrated.

I got on the radio to Mel and screamed: “How could you be so calm when telling me I was about to become roadkill?…trail kill?”

“Oh, I didn’t think you were in the way,” was all he said. I sat down, my heart pounding.

I watched Mel descend and kept an eye out for more “rocks” that might be coming my way. After that, the large talus field and climb before me up to Lone Tree Pass seemed easy. It wasn’t quite as easy for Mel. When we got to the steepest part of the hill, Mel chose to go up along a line of trees while I went up a rock wall. Suddenly I heard Mel yell, “Bees nest!” was all I could make out of his garbled stream of profanity as he tried to escape up the steep hillside. There was no fast way to get up the hill away from his tormentors. Once at the top, we took a break and decided that this day would be one we never forget.

At the top, we took a break and decided that this day would be one we never forgot. Now that we reached the pass, we could look back to see where we should have gone. It seemed so easy. We continued down to “Lone Tree” to contemplate the next challenge before us. This would be our first really serious test of our capabilities on a very steep, almost vertical snowfield. It looked very intimidating.

Since it was fairly late in the afternoon, the snow and ice were somewhat slushy. This snowfield was about 300 to 400 feet high. It started out at a fairly gentle slope and steepened. Near the top it was at about a 60 to 70 degree angle until it rounded out to a big snow hump at the summit. Neither Mel nor I are serious mountaineers so we both stayed rather quiet while strapping on crampons, watching the hill above. We decided it would be a good idea to get a picture with us both in it, for the next of kin.

We began to climb. It was easy at first, but got tougher the higher we went. I found my rhythm and got ahead of Mel. He seemed to be much more cautious of each step, trying to make sure he didn’t fall. My approach was to get to the top as quickly as I could hoping that I would be less likely to fall the less time I spent on the slope. It was the second time today I felt relief to have survived something life-threatening.

I scampered all over the snow looking at the route ahead, taking pictures, and searching for campsites. Then I began to worry a bit. Mel hadn’t come over the top yet. Where was he? I began walking around the top edge of the snow, calling out to him. No reply.

Had he slipped? Was he injured? I couldn’t see over the edge past the steepest part of the snow unless I climbed back down, which didn’t seem like a good idea. I kept calling and trying to get to a vantage point where I could see down the slope. I got more worried by the moment.

No Mel.

Finally I braved the steep top edge of the snow to get a vantage point where I could see down. To my relief I saw his old straw hat. When I asked what took so long, he said he’d gotten tired and found a rock at the edge of the snowfield to down to rest on. What a relief. This was becoming a day of extreme ups and downs both physically and mentally.

Once we were both finally safe on the top, we decided we didn’t want to go on any farther that evening. There wasn’t much in the way of campsites so we took what we found and made the best of it. Mel found a small, slightly rounded knob of rock and dirt at the edge of the snowfield for his tent and I set up my tent on the very top of the snowfield. That night we were in for a treat.

After supper we sat watching the sun slowly settle behind the mountains, which provided us with another bright orange sunset. To the east a very full moon rose over my tent.

The next morning we were back in crampons. The first challenge:  a narrow ridge of snow bordered by two river basins. This tested Mel’s ability to cope with his fear of heights, but once again, he succeeded in overcoming it.

We were very fortunate to have yet another day of sunshine and clear skies, as it helped us to determine a route. Since this part of the hike was all on snow and rock, there wasn’t a definable trail. We were navigating from one snowy basin to the next ridge over and over again, using only general direction. If I had one major complaint about the maps of this area it is that they didn’t identify the peaks by anything more than elevation, which didn’t help when we were in the basin between peaks. Many of the people who gave trip reports knew the names of the peaks and identify them that way which didn’t help when they weren’t referenced on the map.

We walked on through some beautiful snow filled basins with high rough rock ridges all around them. In several of them we knew there would be streams at the bottom so we were very cautious to avoid any places that might be thin snow bridges over swift freezing cold streams below. The thought of collapsing through one of these and drowning in the cold icy waters below kept us on our toes.

As it turned out, we had nothing to fear. The snow was deep enough and solid over every possible stream. As we passed on the west sides of the peaks we were on solid frozen snow which was easy to traverse in crampons. On the east-facing snowfields, we found slushy conditions even in the morning. By midafternoon the snow was about the same slushy condition in all areas. To me this was one of the most beautiful sections of the whole trek. I loved the snow travel and the steep rough shattered rock ridges above us. Everywhere you looked you could see scenes of natural rugged beauty that few people ever got to see. It took grit to get here, but it was worth it. I felt at peace and at home.

In the early afternoon we made the ridge at Bear Pass. It took us a while to realize we were now just above the Queets basin overlooking the entrance to the Elwha Snow Finger. Frankly we were shocked as we thought we had another section of mountains to cross before reaching the snow finger.  We sat down on the highest point of the trail above the basin and rested while we decided what to do from there. We came to the conclusion that since we didn’t take a day off hiking to rest along the way that we would rest the afternoon and enjoy the place before heading down the snow finger in the morning.

Mel scouted out all the possible tent site locations while I crawled around on my hands and knees seeking out all the tiny low-growing blueberries I could find. It was a tasty sweet treat for someone who’d been on the trail for several days without any fresh fruits or vegetables.

Mel returned from scouting campsites and we decided that camping on the ridge with these tremendous views would be better than staying in the valley…with fewer mosquitoes.

That evening once again we were given a beautiful sunset and an even more unique natural wonder to watch. Our vantage point was pretty much at the apex of a ridge between three river basins; the Hoh, the Queets and the Elwha. As the evening progressed, we watched huge fog banks slowly move up all three river valleys and merge just below us. Whole peaks were submerged in fog, only the summits protruding out of the fog like islands. It almost looked like the tide rolling in on a beach as the fog slowly moved up each valley toward where we sat. It was a magnificent evening, the pinnacle of our trip.

That night the temperature fell to 33 degrees, but we were warm and comfortable in our tents. After supper as I lay in my tent I began to feel a sense of sadness come over me. I realized that this was our last day and night in the high peaks and ridges of the Bailey Range. Tomorrow, we would begin a new section of the trip that would lead us back down to the lowlands and back into the civilized world. To me it was the beginning of the end of an epic adventure. I knew that the snow finger would also be a unique experience, but to me nothing could top the magnificent glory of being alone with the natural world in a place few will ever experience. I was feeling as though I was a part of nature, not separate from it as I sometimes do when I’m in the city. At least I know I can revisit this grand place in my mind for years to come, as I look forward to new adventures with new peaks and sunsets and natural experiences in the future.

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