Bailey Range 1996
Across the Cat Walk
We knew we had a big day brewin', so we were under way by 8:30 am. South across steep meadows to the High Divide trail, then out the trail. We stopped for a break near the sign that indicates that the trail is not maintained beyond that point, with great views of Olympus. It is clear that the terrain is getting steeper, and the "trail" narrows to a small shelf, where the CCC blasted it out of the cliff walls more than 50 years ago. Finally, we got to the end: the trail just stops, and you are confronted with a "shelf-less" cliff. So you turn to the left, and start up an extremely steep (ca. 300 feet in 0.1 miles) path. It is not so steep that you have to pull yourself up with your arms, but it is getting close to that. Finally, we topped out on a narrow spine, and looked down on the infamous "Catwalk." The Catwalk is a very narrow spine of rock in the saddle between Cat Peak and Mt. Carrie. Getting down the 200 feet or so to the Catwalk is the first challenge: the rocks are steep and sharp. Much of the path is loose dirt, which slides out from under your feet with disconcerting ease. As we got lower in the saddle, the rocks begin to dominate, and one has to pay a lot of attention to make sure you are on the safest route. At one point, I think we went right, when we should have gone left. We had some major airy steps to make while clinging to the rocks: rock climbing with a backpack on ain't easy. Susie choked for a minute or two at one point, but I pointed out that it was easier to move forward than to turn back. So she sucked in her breath and regained her fortitude. We tried to stay together, but Regina was falling behind, and neither Susie nor I wanted to spend any more time than we had to looking at a thousand feet of air below our legs, so we kept moving. I could see we were starting to gain some elevation, so I knew the worse was behind us. Pretty soon, we made it to Boston Charlie's Camp, a flat spot with a little pool of stagnant water. I pulled out my pump and got us all some treated water. Will had stopped to help Regina, as she had made a wrong turn somewhere, and was getting into some mighty scary stuff. He brought her pack over, and then went back to get his. As I said, chivalry is never dead with this crew.
After lunch, we began a 200 foot climb up to the real start of the Bailey Range traverse: the meadows above Boston Charlie's Camp. I stopped with Regina and Susie for some more to eat, and enjoyed the views again. One of the difficult things about challenging trips is that it is easy to end up concentrating on the work, and forget about the views and the beauty. The flowers waived in the breeze: you feel like you could just stretch out your arms and soar. Within a few hundred yards, we hit our next challenge: our first gully. The southern slopes of Mt. Carrie are very steep. There are a number of streams that come down off the summit, and have washed away any soil, just leaving bare rock. One can cross the stream as it plummets down the mountain, but only at a place where it is flat enough to walk. All one needs is a few inches width of flatness, but these are usually several hundred feet below the point where you are standing when you first see the gully. Translation: you got a mighty steep drop ahead. I remember the first gully from the '87 trip. You drop virtually straight down the side of a hill, so steep you can barely stand up, then you contour to your left, continuing to drop to the crossing. We got down and across, but it took a lot of time. We made the crossing, and headed on, this time with Will in the lead.
Will has incredible physical strength and ability. He is in his early 50's, but looks like he is 35. ('Course, his 41 year old wife looks like she is in her late 20's, so maybe it all fits.) Will can often bull his way through a very difficult physical situation that the rest of us mere mortals have to deal with more delicately. The next gully was a good example. We could see it coming up, and with Will in the lead, we plunged over the side. The vegetation got very thick, and things got extremely steep. Will started hanging on to trees, as he dropped over the side. I could hear him saying that this was pretty tough. Two thoughts ran through my mind: God, if Will thinks it is tough, then it will be nearly impossible for the rest of us; and I sure don't remember this from 9 years ago. I was thinking this with about 4 square inches of bedrock under each boot, while I clung to a tree on the face of this near cliff. I yelled back to Dolph or Regina to find an easier way into the gully. Pretty soon, they hit paydirt: an extremely steep path to our right (heading forward) that involved work, but was do-able. We eventually got to the stream crossing, and learned that Will had continued with his tree-swinging and ended up taking off his pack and lowering it. Something was muttered by one of the group: "God, you could kill yourself out here!"
It had taken us over 3 hours to go about 2 miles from the Catwalk. We encountered some more gullies, none as serious as the first two. The fog was rolling in and it was now 5:30 pm. As George Ritter (graduate of the '87 trip) would have said, (and did so on the '88 descent thru the Twin Alcove into the Dirty Devil river Canyon), "It's getting tired out here!" Visibility dropped to about 100 yards, but I could see the only flat spot between the Catwalk and Ferry Basin just ahead. I passed the leaders, demanding to see if this was in fact the area that I call The Hall of the Mountain King. (Others call this Eleven Bull Basin, but Wood's hiking guide says EBB is about 5 miles out the range, and this place is only 2.3 miles or so from the Catwalk. So I gave it this other name, because the site is so spectacular.) We were home! A lovely little flat area near the trail: you feel like you are perched on an aery, looking down on the Hoh River Valley. Behind were the massive slopes of Mt. Carrie. It was cool in the fog, and we quickly spread out, setting up our tents. Just as I got the words out to the effect that last time we were here, there were lots of mountain goats, so the irradication program must have worked, a group of 8 goats showed up, taking an unusual interest in our sweaty packs and clothes. We bathed in a stream about 150 yds from our tents, and got dressed in our rain gear, cause the fog was so heavy. I was disappointed that the fog obscured the great view of Olympus, but was just happy to be here. We all turned in pretty early. (During the night, the fog level dropped about 500 feet, and we had a spectacular moonlit view of Olympus: like being on a foamy ocean with islands.)
© Roger A. Jenkins, 1996