Mountain goat in Bailey Range overlooking Hoh River valley and Mount Olympus

Crossing the Olympic National Park via the Bailey Traverse

ANOTHER UPDATE:
I attempted the trip but did not finish. i started on the e fork of the quinault and attempted the quinault traverse. perhaps due to an error in navigation on my part or due to a change in the topography since the traverse was written about in the guidebook(Olympic Mountains Trail Guide by Robert L Wood 1984) i was unable to find a route over/around mt taylor that i was comfortable doing alone and without gear. the traverse was also taking much longer than i had planned–on trail i was able to go 5-6 MPH but once off trail i was usually going 1MPH or less– this slow speed was going to make me miss my ride from sol duc back to my truck at the quinault trailhead. i think next time i’ll combine the bailey traverse with the skyline trail instead–the quinault traverse is cool idea but in reality there are some really unfun sections due to dense vegetation and steep loose slopes but i was amazing to be in places that very few if any people have even been. The quinault traverse is serious wilderness travel it probably should not be attempted by anyone except the most experienced folks with excellent off trail navigation skills and a willingness to suffer greatly.

UPDATE:
Sept 10th I will start from the E. Fork of the Quinault Trailhead and cross the Olympics via the Quinault Range and the Bailey Range and end at the Sol Duc/Seven Lakes Basin Trailhead. I’m going to take an easy pace(probably) and i’m going to bring camping gear and food for 3-4 days. I might go faster and I might not. I’m Meeting up with friends in Seven Lakes Basin to camp with them for a few days so I’ll have to carry all my gear anyhow. This is ok because even though the route is only approx. 60 miles and a good bit of it is off trail and there’s atleast 18-20 thousand feet of elevation gain so I’d rather be prepared for it to take multiple days just in case. Maybe next year or later this year I could run it for speed… 

Here’s my planned route:
E. Fork Quinault Trail 
Pyrites Creek Trail(abandoned)
Quinault Traverse via Bretherton’s Pass/Mt Taylor/Elk Bones Pass/Martin’s Park
North Fork Quinault TR to Low Divide and then into Elwah Basin and the southern end of the Bailey Traverse
Bailey Traverse via Bear Pass/Pulitzer Pass/Eleven Bull Basin/Mt Carrie/The Catwalk to the High Divide Trail
High Divide to Deer Lake Trail to Sol Duc Falls Trailhead(with possible detours to Heart and or Lunch Lakes for camping with friends)

When I used to live in Olympia I ran a lot on the trails in the Olympics.  The closest trailheads were only an hour to an hour and a half away and there were lots of options, flat trails in the valleys or steep trails up to the top of peaks or trails that went for miles on open ridgetops. I explored lots of trails on the Olympic Peninsula in those years often by myself or accompanied by Kyle Skaggs before he hit the big time or with Mike “Bushwhacker” Burke as we trained for Hardrock.  One of the runs Bushwhacker and I did was a 48 mile crossing of the national park via the Elwah and North Fork of the Quinault River Trails. It was a great run(except the 5 miles or so through freezing slush and snow up at Low Divide in April–we thought we were going to lose our toes to frostbite) though I’d suggest starting at the Quinault and finishing at the Elwah(the opposite way we went).  But this is a low elevation run with highest point being only 3600ft at Low Divide, this is why we were able to do the run so early in the year.  Not that there is anything wrong with low elevation valley trails but when possible I’d much rather be running on mountain tops and ridges. Kyle at some point suggested we run the Bailey Traverse but it never happened.

OLY.567.H.OLYMPUS

Mt Olympus from Mt Carrie in the Bailey Range

“The Bailey Traverse, in the heart of the national park, is perhaps the finest high country route in the Olympics” according to the Olympic Mountain Trail Guide. And from the Climbers Guide to the Olympic Mountains “through the use of this cross-country route plus the trail from Low Divide to the Quinault River the ridge between the Queets and Quinault(Skyline Trail), it is possible to cross the Olympics from north to south entirely in high, scenic country… Some of these high routes were followed more often years ago by hunters, trappers, prospectors and ‘mountain men’ than they are today.” The Bailey Traverse in recent years has become somewhat popular again with backpackers who often take up to a week hiking the route, although thanks to ruggedness, remoteness and the need to navigate it seems like there is still plenty of solitude to be found.

A note of caution: The traverse is off trail high alpine travel requiring self navigation, there are sections that require class II and class III scrambling and depending on year, time of year and exact route you might have to cross steep snowfields and glaciers. The weather can also sometimes be nasty.  This is not a normal trail run.

On the High Divide above Seven Lakes Basin near the beginning of the Bailey Traverse

On the High Divide above Seven Lakes Basin near the beginning of the Bailey Traverse

Despite, or perhaps because, the traverse is in the “heart” of the park there are quite a few options for getting to and from the traverse proper. The crescent shaped Bailey Range runs north to south just west of Mt Olympus(7828ft), the glacier covered high point of the park, with only the Hoh River Valley being the only thing separating the Bailey’s from ice sheets of Olympus. In fact, travelers with glacier travel experience and gear can continue following the Bailey Traverse Route around the south side of Olympus and eventually all the way back to the Hoh river. Most folks choose to exit the traverse at the Queets Basin by going through the Dodwell-Rixon Pass and descending the Elwah Snowfinger which drops down to Low Divide. From Low Divide folks can choose a variety of departure options: Elwah River Trail, North Fork Quinault River Trail, Skyline Trail or the Quinault Traverse to the Enchanted Valley. The most common approach to the traverse seems to be from the Soleduck River Valley via the High Divide Trail to the Cat Basin Trail which connects to the Bailey Range at it’s highest peak Mt Carrie(6995ft), this approach is probably popular because the trails are some of the most scenic in the entire park.  Other approaches that I’ve seen mentioned are the Cat Creek Trail, a route from Boulder Lake to Cat Basin via Appleton Pass, a route from Lake Mills to Mt Carrie via Mt Fitzhenry(has a class 4 section) and even though I haven’t seen any mention of them being used as approaches High Divide can also be reached by the Hoh and Bogachiel River Trails and the Barnes and Boulder Creek Trails.  All the guidebooks and nearly all the trip reports suggest doing the traverse from north to south but one really good reason to do the traverse northbound instead would be the reward of finishing at the Soleduck Hot Springs!

Bailey Traverse(traditional)Map 100k scale

Bailey Traverse(traditional)Map large scale

Assuming the High Divide Approach I’ll quickly compare the four options for exits:

The Elwah River Trail seems to be used quite a few folks because it provides the shortest shuttle back to the start at the Soleduck(or most of the other approaches) but the 26 mile long valley trail despite being beautiful in it’s own way can’t compare to the scenery of the high routes so using such a long low elevation trail detracts to much from the entire trip to be worth the shorter shuttle. Folks can also bail from the traverse at Mt Ferry and exit out the Elwah via Ludden Peak and Longs Ridge.

Total Trip: ~62 miles and ~14,500 ft of gain

Bailey Traverse(Elwah Exit)Profile

The North Fork of the Quinault seems to be the most used route for completing the traverse but I find it be just a shorter version of the Elwah exit–low elevation river valley. This 19 mile trail along the river is rougher than the Elwah trail but is not a bad trail it’s just that in my opinion there are better options unless you just want to get to the car ASAP.

Total Trip: ~54-55 miles and ~14,000ft of gain

Bailey Traverse(traditional)Profile

From Low Divide instead of going down the North Fork you can instead climb up and follow the 29 mile Skyline Trail which after spending most of it’s time up high on the ridge that separates the Quinault from the Queets River the trail ends near the North Fork Trailhead.  I’ve done the southern half of this trail and it’s great and it would definitely make for a good finish that is consistent with the rest of the trip.  And since the trailhead for this trail and the North Fork Trail are so close you could always plan to do the Skyline Trail to finish the traverse but if for some reason you needed to be done sooner you could simply just come out the North Fork instead.

Total Trip: ~70 miles and ~21,000ft of gain

Bailey Traverse(Skyline Exit)Profile
As good of a ending the Skyline Trail would make I think the Quinault Traverse to the Enchanted Valley would be better. Why? Well because you get two traverses for the price of one and the East Fork of the Quinault aka the Enchanted Valley is probably one the coolest trails I’ve ever been on and the best river valley trail in the whole park. The Quinault Traverse, which seems rarely done, adds another 7.5 miles of spectacular off trail time on high mountain ridges.

Total Trip: ~60 miles and ~19,000ft of gain

Bailey Traverse(Enchanted Exit)Profile

The Pyrites, the Last mountains in the Quinault Traverse.

The Pyrites, the Last mountains in the Quinault Traverse.

Obviously for the fastest trip using the North Fork of the Quinault to end the trip would be the best choice but for me that would defeat the purpose, one doesn’t do the Bailey Traverse to go fast even if one was doing an FKT attempt. For that reason I think I would lean towards the final option the Quinault Traverse and the Enchanted Valley because I think it would be the most scenic and the most like the rest the route.  Obviously anyone can choose to go whichever way they want but for the sake of FKT purposes it would be ideal if folks settled on one or two options to focus initially so we don’t end up with just a bunch of OKTs(Only Known Times).

I would like to do the traverse sometime this late August or early/mid September. Maybe as serious speed attempt or maybe just for fun but at a good clip. I’ll update the post if i set a date.

Elk in the Enchanted Valley

Elk in the Enchanted Valley

If you or someone you know has done or is planning a FKT on any variation of the Bailey Traverse please let me know. Also if folks have comments or suggestions or corrections please feel free to share those too. And links to trip reports, whether they were for speed or not would be appreciated too!

References and Trip Reports:

http://www.climbersguideolympics.com/traverses

https://sites.google.com/site/miscellaneousdebrisproject/hiking-and-biking/seattle-hiking/olympic-national-park-hikes/bailey-traverse

http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8000384

http://cwillett.imathas.com/local/bailey/

http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/bailey-range

http://www.summitpost.org/olympics-traverse-valhallas-olympus-bailey-range-high-divide/470423

http://lamountaineers.org/oldtrips/1.html

http://www.windsox.us/NWEST/nwhigh.html

http://seattlebackpackersmagazine.com/bailey-range-traverse-part-1/

http://seattlebackpackersmagazine.com/bailey-range-traverse-part-2/

quinault river

East Fork of the Quinault River

Bailey Traverse(traditional)Map

9 thoughts on “Crossing the Olympic National Park via the Bailey Traverse

  1. FYI… this is an extremely technical and dangerous route especially to ‘trail run’. Be prepared if you attempt it…. this is a route where the mountains and wildlife show their power. Navigation is key.

    • I attempted the trip but did not finish. i started on the e fork of the quinault and attempted the quinault traverse. perhaps due to an error in navigation on my part or due to a change in the topography since the traverse was written about in the guidebook i was unable to find a route over/around mt taylor that i was comfortable doing alone and without gear. the traverse was also taking much longer than i had planned–on trail i was able to go 5-6 MPH but once off trail i was usually going 1MPH or less– this slow speed was going to make me miss my ride from sol duc back to my truck at the quinault trailhead. i think next time i’ll combine the bailey traverse with the skyline trail instead–the quinault traverse is cool idea but in reality there are some really unfun sections due to dense vegetation and steep loose slopes but i was amazing to be in places that very few if any people have even been.

  2. I made the traverse by myself in 1998 from Boulder Ranger station near Mills Lake, Appleton Pass, to high divide across cat walk and then out the Elwa River to Whiskey Bend. A really great circle, took nine days. Cream Lake Basin where “The Wild Olympic Elk” was filmed is amazing. The trail is sketchy in places and could be treacherous in rainy weather but it was my all time favorite

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