Royal Basin/Constance Pass - 1990
Solo Adventure in the Olympics
I was clinging to small bits of rock imbedded in a steep gully, facing inward, rather than out, because to face out would have seriously tempted fate. I looked down between my legs to see several hundred feet of very empty air, and thought: "What in the hell am I doing here?" I had moved into this gully, thinking that the disturbed track running down its center was the path referred to in the Climber's Guide. I quickly learned that it was merely the track that rocks would take as they spontaneously rolled down the slope, for the latter was steeper than the rock's angle of repose. Gingerly, I stepped down a few feet, continuing to face into the gully. I shifted from the rock outcroppings to hard dirt and scree. I turned sideways, and began side stepping down the slope, ice axe ready in a pre-arrest position. The inevitable soon happened: my right boot hit some tiny stones that started rolling. I fell into the slope on my left side, and started to slide, like a big blue boulder. I could feel the skin on my elbow starting to grind away ........
Tuesday, September 4, 1990
Susie and I had flown out to Seattle for a long weekend, and she planned to return home on Labor Day, leaving me to do a five day solo trip in Olympic National Park. I think, among other things, it was difficult for her to return to a city where she and her first husband had once lived, so soon after marrying me. Who knows what goes on inside the human brain? Certainly, the weekend had been less spectacular than it might have been. I dropped her at the airport on Monday noon time, and headed for Sequim. Spent a bit of time going out on the Dungeness Spit. Interesting, but not something I would want to come all the way out from Seattle just to see. Spent the night in a nondescript motel, with a nondescript seafood dinner out on the spit. Not much else to do but final packing and prepare mentally for a solo trip.
I got an early start this morning, and did not have too much finding the route to the Royal Creek Trailhead, so I was able to get to the trailhead before 8 am. Emboldened by our success with our off-trail traversing of the northern 2/3 of the Bailey Range in 1987 (five of us), the logical trip on my next return to the Olympic Mountains seemed to be one that was inspired by a High Alpine route (advertized as a cross between climbing and hiking) described in the Climber's Guide to the Olympic Mountains: the Royal Basin - Constance Pass Traverse. Another book indicated that if the Mystery Glacier (on the south side of Deception Basin) was crevassed, it would be possible to climb the hogback immediately east of the glacier, and cut in and over through a notch at the glacier's head, and then traverse along the ridge crest to Sunnybrook Meadows. So the overall plan was up to Royal Lake, over the col on the ridge east of Mt. Deception, down into Deception Basin, up over the col above Mystery Glacier (just to the east of Mt. Mystery) and follow the crest to the Constance Pass area, where I would return to the car in five days via Home Creek and the Dungeness River. That was The Plan. But things don't always follow the plan.
On this morning, I was optimistic. The weather forecast looked great for the next few days. In fact, it was kinda on the warm side. I was underway by 8:02, adopting a leisurely pace, probably assisted by the temperature. As soon as I broke out into the open along the Royal Creek trail, I started to sweat profusely. Sometimes blue skies and sunshine can be toasty. The trail alternates flat spots with steep, which makes for a less boring hike. I got to Royal Lake at 1:20 pm, taking full advantage of plenty of rest stops to kick back and enjoy the scenery. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed by Royal Lake. It seemed hemmed in quite a bit by trees, even though the lake itself is lovely. Not really any good campsites. The meadow to the west of the lake was also hemmed in, and I did not fly 2500 miles to get the same type of campsite I can get in the Smokies. I climbed a few hundred feet elevation to the next bench, but the meadows were still pretty marshy. So I headed for the Upper basin. Near tree line, but below the rock and snow. Absolutely delightful. Plenty of flat spots, awesome views, and lots of water. Even a few remaining wildflowers. I set up camp and wandered around, checking out routes for tomorrow's work. Headed back to camp and cleaned up, doing a bit of laundry. Talked briefly to three day hikers who had been exploring the upper basin, and had supposedly checked out both routes to the crest. They said the easterly one was easier, so I thought I would take that. (Note, at this point, TSFB - Temporary Shit For Brains - is setting in.) Dinner was a pretty mediocre Cheese Enchilada Ranchero. When you have no company, the food takes on greater importance. And there is lots of time to ponder.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2000, 2006