Bailey Range 1996
Olympic Hot Springs Trailhead to Appleton Pass
Maybe climbing up a very steep grade with 70 lbs of lightweight backpacking gear on your back and your quadriceps screaming for relief isn't every person's idea of a great way to start a vacation. About 5 pm on Saturday afternoon, it was looking to me that maybe this all was not such a great idea. The unseasonable heat and jet lag and too many frozen margaritas around the waist had taken their toll. The climb to Appleton Pass starts out gently enough, at 1800 feet at the end of the now blocked road to Olympic Hot Springs. Five of us had placed our shuttle vehicle at the Whiskey Bend Trail head, about 13 miles away, and had left the cool of our minivan at 11:20 to start our hike. With more than 50 cars parked at the trail head, we wondered if Appleton Pass was going to resemble the Pike Street Market on a Saturday morning: packed to the gills. We knocked off the 2.4 miles of closed road in about an hour or so, and stopped for lunch in the shade of huge fir trees near the campground. The climb is moderate for the next 2.5 miles - nearly imperceptible. That's the problem: with only a couple of miles to go, but with most of the 3400 feet of climbing left as well, it was clear that the next couple hours was not going to be pleasant. OK, the next 3 hours: With a 9 day food load and all sorts of cold weather gear, we were well equipped: for a blizzard. But being totally soaked with sweat, and drinking water by the quart, a blizzard did not seem imminent. Susie was protecting my already bruised ego by trying to restrain herself and keep ahead of me by only a couple of hundred yards. At 51, she is solid muscle, thin, and in exceptional shape. Her load, in proportion to her body weight, is at least as great as mine. Finally, the switchbacks were nearly completed, and I could see the shortcut up to Oyster Lake, so I went for it. Susie had already been up to the Pass, and declared it as not the place for views or camping. We made it to Oyster Lake by 5:30 pm. The rest of the crew was 30 to 60 minutes behind us. Regina was so overwhelmed by the weight of her pack (this was her longest trip ever, and had yet to learn the lesson that there are things which can be carried on a 6 day trip that are not acceptable for 9 days.) So Will helped by hauling her pack up the last few hundred yards. Chivalry will never die as long as this crew is hiking.
Having hiked this same exact route 9 years ago (with 4 different people), it would be inevitable that I would draw comparisons between this trip and the last one. One that come to mind right away was that there were no mountain goats to greet us at Oyster Lake. Perhaps the irradication program had done well at removing these lovely but exotic critters from the Olympic landscape. Another comparison was that none of us had any energy left to hike up the ridge to our east to watch the sunset and observe Oyster Lake turn into a pool of shimmering molten gold. It was all we could do to bathe (yes, I carried pot after pot of water from the "lake" - it is really just a pond - and poured the resulting broth over the side of the hill) and have dinner. Freeze dried Santa Fe chicken was the fare tonight for Susie and I, and it tasted great. A warm evening was not enough to keep us from turning it early, cause we knew the fun was just beginning.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 1996