Bailey Range Traverse

Washington’s Bailey Range Traverse is a 60 mile loop with over 25k feet of vertical gain, offering plenty of opportunities for a “choose-your-own-adventure” excursion. The route tests your skills in both patience and backcountry travel and presents a rugged wilderness experience for those who want to spend a few days truly off the beaten path. Washington is home to an abundance of high-routes and alpine traverses; the Bailey Range is one not to be missed. Brigette Takeuchi takes us on a summary of this fastpacking adventure.

With roots in Washington, my sister and I were excited to return home to the mountains that raised us. 

We have backgrounds in trail and ultra running, and when I planned the logistics of the trip in early January a four-day itinerary seemed low-key and relaxed. However, upon arriving in Seattle in mid-July, the thought of any amount of days on my feet left me feeling worried and wary. A mild bout of COVID I had contracted in mid-May had progressed into physically-debilitating post-COVID symptoms. By the end of June I struggled to get out of bed, let alone run a mile.

Long story short, I was not in peak-shape, and, as the departure day approached, my anxiety surrounding my physical condition was at an all-time high. Things had been improving however, and the team and I were confident that I could safely take on the Traverse. “I’ll take it one day at a time. I can always turn around if need be”, I reassured myself.

So the journey began, and with a later-than-planned start at the Sol Duc Trailhead we set off. The start of the route proved tame as it meandered along the valley floor, parallel to the Sol Duc river, before it climbed up the North side of the High Divide. The low-key nature of the first few miles allowed our group to appreciate the temperate old growth rainforests unique to the Olympic coastline. After stopping to refill water at Heart Lake we said goodbye to maintained trails and headed off to find some of that Type-2 fun we had all been craving. 

The Northern Bailey Range can be summed up in one word: sidehilling. Before heading off on this trip we were sidehilling rookies. By the end of the traverse, we had enough sidehilling to last a lifetime. What exactly  is sidehilling, you might be asking? Well if you ask Bailey Range, sidehilling is a form of travel that consists of bushwhacking the side of a 40+ degree slope while searching for a sign of a trodden path across steep ravines and loose gullies. Fun. Yup, that’s the word I was looking for. 

Though the terrain proved tedious, we were able to capture our first glimpses of the journey in advance. The valley fell away below steep ridgelines and an array of glaciated peaks towered above in the distance. The vista conjured feelings of both intimidation and anticipation for the miles ahead. The only way was forward. 

Over the next couple of days we frequently found ourselves off the “established” route. On one particularly memorable day we bushwhacked up and down the same 45 degree slope for 6 hours before we decided to rappel down the initial ravine we had scouted out earlier in the afternoon (this was not our finest hour). At the bottom, we were greeted with a chilly river crossing and some more bushwhacking straight through an alder garden to the toe of Humes glacier. With the homestretch sprawled before us we were looking forward to some straightforward glacier travel. 

The rest of the trip was glorious and the terrain felt expansive and grand as we traversed glacial passes towards the Blue Glacier below Mount Olympus. Crevasses were starting to open up and it was impossible to peel our eyes away from the dark blue abysses beneath the ice. These moments will not be forgotten; they served as necessary reminders of the amazing opportunity we had to explore this terrain. 

As we picked our way through the fields of crevasses and marveled at the streams running underneath the translucent blue ice, I was humbled by the impermanence of the ground beneath me and tried to appreciate the last couple miles of off-trail travel while they lasted. After crossing the Blue Glacier we reached the lateral moraine – the common entry point for those climbing Mount Olympus – and descended into the Hoh Rainforest. A cozy night on the gravel-bar by the Olympus Guard station marked our final night of the trip. 

The following morning as we headed back up the High Divide to our cars, I heard my other companions wailing “SLOW DOWN!”. I smiled to myself and charged on. The trail had done its job, and I thanked the Bailey Range and its obstacles for whipping my butt back into shape. 

I often find myself feeling down after trips like this one. However, as I write this reflection I am surprised by the lack of the post-adventure blues on this go-around. Though I am unable to put a finger on the culprit, it could very well be that the Kingdom of Hoh took its hold.

For those curious as to what was in our bags, I wanted to mention some MVPs in our gear list. The ultimate goal was to pack for light and fast travel, but we placed the most emphasis on packing gear and products that would enable us to endure any obstacles we might encounter. 

  • Lighting – Ledlenser has become our go-to source for all of our lighting needs. We were thoroughly impressed with the headlamps’ wide range of illumination and long-lasting battery capabilities.

Headlamp Models Used: HR19 Signature, MH7, MH5

  • Nutrition – Long days on the trail left us searching for high quality nutrition and hydration systems. UnTapped uses pure Vermont maple syrup to offer long lasting energy. We appreciated the simple nature of their products. No GI issues whatsoever! 

Our favorites: UnTapped waffles (any and every flavor), UnTapped Salted Raspberry and Coffee gels, and the Ginger MapleAid hydration mix

  • Traction – Kahtoola offers top-of-the line traction that is both lightweight and easy to use. We appreciated the durability and sleek design of the LEVAgaiter Mid GTX gaiter and the KTS hiking crampons, which felt secure and were running shoe-compatible!
  • Sleeping system and clothing – Long days bushwhacking and route finding left us absolutely exhausted. When it came down to sleeping, Feathered Friends’ Hummingbird 20 Sleeping Bags were lightweight and perfect for summer nights in the backcountry. I was surprised to find myself getting such quality sleep on this trip. In addition to their sleeping bags, Feathered Friends’ Eos Down Jackets proved perfect for summer nights in the alpine. The jackets are both lightweight and compact, and will undoubtedly accompany us on many adventures to come.