This sign sits in my garage in West Seattle, a gift I don’t quite know what to do with. It was given to me by the folks at the White Pass Country Museum in Packwood, Washington, when I was researching the Yakama-Cowlitz Trail. I suspect one reason it was “surplus” was the spelling of the name Yakima–which is the spelling for the city but not for the people. It was also a nudge–finish that article on the trail! So I did.
This summer’s issue of Columbia, published by the Washington State Historical Society, features my article on the Yakama-Cowlitz Trail to Cowlitz Pass, a trail taken for thousands of years by people from both sides of the Cascade Mountains. Cowlitz Pass stands just southeast of Mount Rainier, on the Pacific Crest Trail.
During the winters some Yakama people lived in the Tieton and Naches River valleys on the east side of the Cascade Crest. The Cowlitz lived in the Big Bottom of the Cowlitz River on the west. In the summer months, the Yakama came up what is now Indian Creek from the east side; the Upper Cowlitz or Taytnapam came up Summit Creek from the west side. They hunted deer and mountain goats, gathered huckleberries, and socialized.
Gradually, through intermarriage, the Taytnapam acquired some characteristics of the Yakama, in language and dress. In years after American settlement, they continued to cross the pass to visit relatives.
I found out about this trail through the writings of archaeologist David Rice, the work of Gifford Pinchot anthropologist Rick McClure, and the advocacy of Ray Paolella for the William O. Douglas Heritage Trail. As a youth, Douglas hiked up to Cowlitz Pass and spent time with the sheepherders there.
Efforts are afoot to map some 23 miles of this historic trail. The last four miles from the west are Forest Service trail #44 which begins from the Soda Springs campground where the real sign is posted. It’s a wonderful day hike or backpack, but beware of mosquitoes until late summer.
The ghost town of Monte Cristo has come alive again after pollution cleanup. More than 8,000 cubic yards of contaminated material have been removed from the mining boomtown of the 1890s and early 1900s. Two Tuesday Trekker groups combined yesterday to visit the site, an 11-mile round-trip walk with the added drama of a log crossing.
We followed the old mine to market road and the roadbed of the Everett to Monte Cristo Railway into town. The bridge over the South Fork Sauk River has long been washed out, and hikers must wade across at low water in late summer or cross a large tree that has been downed over the river. The log is fairly wide, smooth and dry but narrows at the farther end.
Once at the townsite, we lunched in the basin at the foot of the towering mountains that provided gold and silver to the hopeful prospectors, financiers, and investors.
Since the clean-up of toxic materials (lead, arsenic, copper) that leaked into the soils and creeks, the Monte Cristo Preservation Society has added more interpretive plaques, allowing hikers to roam Dumas Street on a self-guided tour. Alexander Dumas was the author of The Count of Monte Cristo, after whom the town was named.
The building called the concentrator climbed the mountainside. Five levels of rollers, washers, and separating tables reduced the ore to “concentrates,” which were then loaded onto rail cars carrying them to the smelter in Everett. The remains of the concentrator are not to be missed.
When I wrote about fire lookouts for the Washington Trails Association magazine in 2008, the Evergreen Mountain lookout was one of only two lookouts that guests could rent in Washington. I have climbed to lookouts on Kelly Butte, Oregon Butte, Columbia Peak, Desolation Peak, Red Mountain, Mount Pilchuck, and Heybrook but I had never been to Evergreen. In September, the best season for mountain hiking–no bugs, less heat–I made the trek with a stalwart hiker, photographer, and driver friend.
The drive, in my friend’s high-clearance “Beast,” was as much a challenge as the hike–fifteen miles of gravel road, two and a half hours from Seattle to the trailhead west of Stevens Pass. The last nine miles are very narrow, with creek crossings (on bridges or otherwise), sharp drop-offs on the passenger side (don’t look!) and grass growing down the middle track. But it was elevation gain, carrying us up to more than 4000 feet. Driving down, the road didn’t seem so bad, especially since we never met another vehicle, coming or going. (There was one other parked at the trailhead, three young women from Bothell area).
The hike, in September, was gorgeous–a cool, sunny, clear day, ranges and ranges of mountains looking into the Glacier Peak wilderness. Most of the wildflowers, except for pearly everlasting, were past their prime, but the fall reds and oranges complemented the blue sky. It’s a one and a half mile climb, with a brief respite in a saddle. The lookout is undergoing restoration but is listed as available for bookings between August 1 and October 1 most years at www.ReserveUSA.com. The lookout is classic, an oasis of human presence in the Big Sky.
When I visited the site of Kettle Falls while researching Hiking Washington’s History, I had read the description by Mourning Dove of her family’s visits to the “roaring waters.” The traditional fishing site, where many tribes gathered in the summer to catch salmon, is now buried under Lake Roosevelt, created by the damming of the Columbia River.
Last winter, I met Lawney L. Reyes at an authors’ night at Island Books. He was clearly the oldest author there, and I bought his book, White Grizzly Bear’s Legacy. Just a month or so ago, I met his nephew on a bike ride in West Seattle, and returned to the book.
Reyes, too, wrote about Kettle Falls, where his people, the Sin Aikst, once fished. The Sin Aikst are now known as the Lakes tribe and have been absorbed into the Colville Confederated tribes. Reyes describes the tribes gathering in June. “As a boy, I would stand in wonder as the chinooks, some more than a hundred pounds in weight, leaped the churning falls…. I still recall the roar of the falls and the voices of the people shouting instructions to each other. I’ll never forget the beauty of the hundreds of tepees of the different tribes. They lined the shores of the river close to the falls. There were horses and people everywhere.”
Kettle Falls was once the center of Sin Aikst culture. Reyes quietly and poignantly tells the story of the loss of this food source and history when the dam was completed in 1942.
It has been more than ten years since I hiked to Indian Racetrack in the Indian Heaven Wilderness doing “research” for Hiking Washington’s History. The racetrack hasn’t changed, but the approach has. The last time I was there, riders and hikers appeared from the opposite side of the meadow, and now I know how. They came up Trail 171 from FS Road 65 on the west side of the wilderness.
I had driven up Road 6048 from the southeast to the trailhead near the Red Mountain lookout. That road is now gated due to frequent vandalism of the lookout. This is the third structure dating from the original in 1910.
My hardy Tuesday Trekkers group came up Trail 171 on a beautiful blue sky day in late August after a few days of haze. After reaching the racetrack, which is still a straight line embedded in a meadow, we sat on a skinny log for lunch. The meadow is shrinking as trees encroach, and the old sign proclaiming Klama’t for the racetrack has disappeared, but the feel of a gathering spot is the same. On the opposite side of the meadow, we continued up Trail 171, desserting on abundant huckleberries.
Cool breezes mitigated the sun exposure on a mostly bare knoll dotted with balsamroot. Where the trail reaches Road 6048, we walked up to the lookout and luxuriated in glorious views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood. After three days of hiking around Mt. Adams for our annual retreat, we were sure of our identifications.
It’s a wonderful hike, after mosquito season. For directions, consult Tami Asars’ Mount Adams and Goat Rocks; for history read the Kalam’t chapter in Hiking Washington’s History.
I’m not a climber, so the overcrowding at Camp Muir–the overnight stop on the climb to Mt. Rainier–and the reports of hundreds of people on the slopes of the Three Sisters in Oregon don’t bother me so much. I am a hiker, however, and I hike mainly for the solitude–getting away from the city or suburb, away from driving, from fixing supper, from hassling phone companies, from scrolling Facebook. In the 35 years I have been hiking in the Pacific Northwest, I have felt less and less solitude on the trails.
I have twice reached the top of McClellan Butte, a nine-mile round-trip, 3700 foot elevation gain hike off I-90 west of Snoqualmie Pass—it’s no easy stroll. The first “summit” was in the late 1980s with the Issaquah Alps Club. The guide was an 80-year-old woman and the one companion was a young man working at a place called Microsoft; it was an inspiring introduction for a newcomer to the Cascades. The second time was a few years later in the 90s. When I again reached the top I had to share it with a guy on his cellphone, yakking away about his awesome hike. I couldn’t believe his total disregard for the awesome experience other hikers wanted to have—away from irksome human behavior.
Now that behavior is common on the trails—people broadcasting the experience instead of just having it. A hundred parked cars stretch down-road from popular trailheads on a weekend. Gross blue doggie bags perch beside trail markers. I will never forget the image of a group of young people “mudding” with their truck—seeing how far they could dig it into and out of the mud in a meadow alongside the historic Naches trail northeast of Mt. Rainier.
Luckily, I’m retired now, and I can hike on weekdays when the crowds are smaller, but this is a problem for us all if solitude and the sounds and sights of nature are what we seek in the wilderness. According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is an area “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.”
I just read and reviewed Exceptional Mountains by O. Alan Weltzien (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), which considered the tension between access and preservation, the difficulty of finding solitude in a steady stream of hikers or climbers. Weltzien argues that the “endless freedom of high country close by reconciles many to urban life,” but if urbanites crowd the mountains, that endless freedom is lost. The proximity of Seattle and Tacoma and Bellingham and Vancouver and Portland to the exceptional mountains of the Cascades promotes “quick thick visitation” or a “windshield wilderness” experience. A fellow writer told me of a cartoon showing a person on a mountaintop with a laptop open, writing “I feel so connected.” To what, we must wonder.
How can we maintain a balance between wanting to feel unconnected and having to share the wilderness with others? Stop writing hiking guides? That might help, but the Northwest is steeped in the ethos of going to the mountains. Whether it’s the macho climbers of the 1800s or the weekend backpacker/hiker who shares exploits with colleagues on Monday morning, getting to the mountains is one of the reasons we live here.
Should we ration the wilderness? Forest managers have experimented with a system of advanced reservations balanced with first-come, first-serve permits on popular hiking routes. A lottery system is already in place for the Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington. Climbing is rationed on Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. National Forest managers may try to limit use in the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon where 400 people often try to climb the South Sister on a summer weekend.
When I backpacked with a friend and our daughters to Cascade Pass last summer, we had to make elaborate plans for one of the most scenic and popular hikes in the North Cascades: a drop-off at the trailhead 20 miles up a dirt road, reservations the third night at the Stehekin Valley Ranch, reservations on the Lady Express down Lake Chelan, and pickup at Chelan, 180 miles from Seattle. The success of the whole enterprise depended on backcountry camping the first two nights at a hikable distance apart for two women in their 70s. We had to give up all hope of backpacking on the spur of the moment when the weather was right.
After phone calls to the ranger station and warnings by friends that this would be hard, we left Seattle at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to arrive at the ranger station when it opened at 7 a.m. to get permits for Monday night. Second in line, we scored rare permits for two nights 12 miles apart; the campsites were free to us seniors for the asking but came at the cost of high anxiety. A Boy Scout leader had camped out the night before to be first in line for his troop. We happily shared Pelton Basin with them on Monday night, and the rest of the trip went swimmingly although, of course, Cascade Pass was completely fogged in.
As with many green spaces in the cities—think Alki Beach–we are loving the wilderness to death, and the transformative power of getting away from it all requires supernatural logistics. If we value remoteness from the sights and sounds of people, if going places untrammeled by man or woman is a transformative experience, we are duty-bound to share it, but how can we get away from us all? Should we lift up the wet gray Seattle image so you don’t want to come here? Should we mention the earthquakes, mudslides, and volcanoes? Should we push farther and farther into the wilderness? Should we stop sharing pictures?
This question bedevils many who hike and many whose job is managing the wilderness experience. The combination of some advance reservations (for those hiking the PCT, for example) with a good supply of first-come, first-serve spots may have to do for now. My personal response is a bit like making small changes to ward off climate change—avoiding popular trails and popular times of the week, savoring the experience without technology other than warm boots, practicing some of the old rules of the road—downhill yields to uphill, pack out your trash, don’t feed the wildlife, bring a shovel, don’t bring dogs to the wilderness. It makes me feel grumpy to say some of these things, but preservation is worth the whine.
See my article on this hike, “Find a Trail to History,” in the October 2017 issue of Northwest Prime Time.
The Coal Creek trail to Redtown, site of industrial mining in the late 1800s, was the first hike I did in Washington and the inspiration for Hiking Washington’s History. I could walk out of my suburban home, follow a social trail down a hill, then a deer trail through wet land to Coal Creek. The trail followed the creek, past an old farm-site (with apple trees), past mining artifacts (wagon wheels chained to a tree, chunks of coal), onto the old road-bed of the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad, past a cinder mine and the remains of the railroad turn-table, and finally reached Redtown. Near the end of the hike there were old interpretive signs and a black hole in the ground–an air shaft going down 100 feet to the mines. The trail was rich in both natural and human history.
In the 30 years since my first hike King County has greatly improved the trail, part of the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. Updated, easy to read interpretive signs mark the Redtown end of the trail. Bridges and stairs have been constructed. The Primrose loop has been restored.
The most important charms remain–the concrete blocks of the turntable covered with fall leaves, the North Fork falls full in October, the remains of a wood-constructed plume in the creek and the visible coal seam, even the bricks discarded from the Mutual Materials lot, now a housing development. You can still walk this three-mile trail, out of sight of homes or parkways, and be greeted by this weathered sign, an historic artifact on its own.
Mount St. Helens remains a stark, startling landscape in the midst of the usually green and heavily timbered Cascades with the clear blue sky reflected in Spirit Lake, the silvered downed trees, the gray behemoth rising above, and a lingering sense of human tragedy haunting the terrain. Yet, it’s coming back. Resilience wins.
When I wrote the chapter in Hiking Washington’s History on Mount St. Helens, I included three trails from the east side since the approach to the west side of the mountain was still blocked by the devastation of the 1980 explosion. In August, 2016, I returned with my hiking group of intrepid women. Much remained the same–the mountain is still gray and fractured, the trees are still down, Spirit Lake is still half-filled with logs–but life is returning.
On the first day we hiked the Boundary Trail on the west side in a perfect storm of unfavorable conditions–a long drive from Seattle, the hottest day of the week (in the 90s), and starting over the exposed landscape at mid-day. Our goal was Harry’s Ridge; we reached the base of the ridge and decided that was enough.
The next day we split up; four of us explored the Truman Trail, which leaves from the Windy Ridge viewpoint and travels south on a gated dirt road, then cuts across the pumice plain at the base of the mountain. The trail is ashy and sandy but broken by creeks and an oasis, providing enough alder shrubbery for a shady lunch. We headed toward Loowit Falls but turned back as clouds came over the ridges and the air turned cooler.
Others in our group took the Harmony Falls trail down to the banks of Spirit Lake, which no longer has signs limiting access.
Then they climbed up to Norway Pass for the most expansive views of the mountain and for close-ups of the wildflowers. At the top of the pass, clouds had obscured the mountain.
The third day some of us went underground, to Ape Cave, then to the dramatic Lava Canyon.
Our fourth day was a cool-down along Siouxon Creek. Wonderful hiking with resilient friends.
This summer I returned to Cascade Pass and a backpack to Stehekin, retracing the hike I described in Hiking Washington’s History. My companions were my daughter–Anne Bentley–a hiking friend Marlee Richard–and her daughter Carrie Richard. When I hiked this route in the 1990s a shuttle picked up three miles east of Cottonwood Camp, cutting out nine miles of hiking, but the meandering force of the Stehekin River has washed out parts of the old road the trail follows. We needed to parse our 21 miles into three manageable parts.
Like every backcountry hiker, we had to take our chances at getting camping permits, leaving Seattle as early in the morning as we could stand it to drive to the North Cascades Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. It opens at 7 a.m. in the summers and issues permits first-come, first-served for the next night. We were lucky enough to get into Pelton Basin Camp, which is just over the pass. The night before the hike began, we camped at the trailhead, plenty of spaces available at Johannesburg Camp, and threw ropes over slim branches to cache our food from bears.
I’ve hiked to Cascade Pass three times now, and only the first time was the weather clear enough to take in the spectacular views. This time it was rainy and cool, so we didn’t linger. By early afternoon, we were standing under cedar trees at Pelton Basin to keep dry, then playing hearts in one tent, and hoping for the skies to clear.
Gradually, they did, the next day, teasing us with appearing and disappearing views of the mountains and the creeks cascading down to form the Stehekin River. This was the long middle day hike to Bridge Creek.
We lunched at Doubtful Creek, and my companions hiked up to Horseshoe Basin while I tended the packs. After a foreshadowing of scat, we did see a bear heading up a hillside of huckleberries, causing only a brief pause in our travel. We rested on the benches of the aged picnic table at Cottonwood Camp, then plodded on to Bridge Creek, where we had the luxury of sheltering cedar trees, a babbling creek, and two picnic tables, enough to dry out the tents and pack covers.
The next day we chose the Pacific Crest Trail route to High Bridge where hikers converge to greet the shuttle. After a half-day hike, we rode to our reward–a night at the Stehekin Valley Ranch and the comforts of showers, flush toilets, and full-course dinners. The fourth day’s ride to the Stehekin Landing took us to the bakery, organic farm, Rainbow Falls, and a history stop at the old schoolhouse, followed by a sunny, sleepy boat ride down Lake. The Stehekin Valley is magical, no matter the weather.
Hiking Washington’s History featured two urban hikes–on the Spokane Centennial Trail and on the Duwamish River–both of them essentially bike trails that are also good for walking. Here’s the blog post I wrote for the University of Washington Press about the hike along the Duwamish, the only river that flows through Seattle, a much altered river still rich in history.