Yakama-Cowlitz Trail

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.

Mount Rainier visible from Cowlitz Pass

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.

Monte Cristo Revived

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.

Photos by Donna Hahn

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.

Photo by Juli Hill

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Photo by Donna Hahn

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.

 

Walking Washington’s Riverfronts

Sacajawea Heritage Trail along the Columbia River in Richland

While writing Walking Washington’s History: Ten Cities, I was struck by the importance of rivers to the development of cities in Washington–the Puyallup in Tacoma, the Duwamish in Seattle, the Yakima and Naches rivers for Yakima, the Columbia for Vancouver and the Tri-Cities, the Snohomish for Everett, the Spokane for Spokane.  When most of these cities were founded, in the late 1800s, rivers were the transport of choice for people and freight.

Over the decades, many of those rivers have been dredged, straightened, drained of their power, and polluted.  Although it is now an industrial powerhouse, the lower five miles of the Duwamish River is also a SuperFund site,requiring millions of dollars of clean-up to restore it to even a semblance of its original health.

The West Seattle bridge soars over the mouth of the Duwamish River.

The flow and falls of the Spokane River had been so drained for use as a power source and its islands covered with railroad structures that some residents hardly knew it existed. The mouth of the Puyallup River in Tacoma was renowned not for the smell of a tideflat at low tide but for the aroma of pulp.

Gradually attitudes toward the rivers in our midst have changed.  We have reclaimed them as common space.  When Spokane hosted a world’s fair in 1974, the citizens reclaimed the riverfront.  With cooperative efforts, the city pulled up railroad tracks, restored much of the river’s flow, and cleaned up pollution.  The result is a riverfront of trails and community gathering spots at the city’s historical center.

Ilchee, of the Chinook Nation, gazes out over the Columbia River.

Although still in the process of a massive cleanup, Seattle has a Duwamish River bike trail that goes for miles into the Puget Sound lowlands.  Tacoma’s riverfront walk skirts the Thea Foss Waterway, carved from the river and tideflats.  Vancouver’s Columbia River Renaissance Trail winds through the early maritime explorations and trade of the lower Columbia River.  The Yakima Greenway follows the Naches and Yakima rivers as they converge on the edge of Yakima.

These walks and more are described in an article I wrote for Northwest Prime Time’s June 2018 issue.  Read it here. 

 

Searching for a streetcar line

The West Duwamish Greenbelt Trails group advocates for and supports trails in Seattle’s largest contiguous forest, which is located on a ridge above the Duwamish Waterway in West Seattle.  I wrote this article for the group’s website.  

For an eleven-year-old boy, the fun is using a metal detector to find old railroad spikes. For his father, it’s discovering the railroad grade he can feel with his feet and see as an opening in the woods. For me, it’s the history. We went looking for all three on a sunny winter day in the West Duwamish Greenbelt, the largest contiguous urban forest in Seattle.

This is Craig Rankin’s backyard. He has hiked the trails, biked some, trimmed dead branches threatening the paths, and volunteered for work parties on countless weekends. His passion is finding the path that has been obscured.

That would be the grade of the Highland Park & Lake Burien Railroad which brought prospective home buyers to land southwest of Seattle. In 1912 the large unincorporated area was still farmland; stands of timber and woods teemed with wildlife that appealed to hunters. But real estate developers like George W.H. White envisioned streetcar suburbs–Highland Park, White Center, Oak Park, Seahurst, Sunnydale, Lake Burien, Gregory Heights, Three Three Point, and Burien. All buyers needed was an easy way to get there.

The fourteen-mile route began at the West Seattle Junction in the community of Riverside near the tideflats of the Duwamish River. There three streetcar lines from the west converged to head over a trestle to downtown Seattle. The Highland Park and Burien route headed south, behind businesses along the Duwamish River. After traversing the hillside that slopes down from South Seattle College and the Riverview playfields, the route crossed Highland Park Way and continued south to the end of the line in Burien.

The electric streetcars ran until the early 1930s when landslides, financial challenges, and competition from roads made them unviable. The tracks and power lines were ripped out; trees fell over the path, landslides continued, and blackberry vines crept over the gravel roadbed.

Although many have speculated, the streetcar’s precise route through the greenbelt, has been a mystery. Landslides in 1912 and 1933 interrupted service on the route for several months and have further altered the terrain since then. Rankin studied old maps and photographs of sidings, tracks, and stations and set out to find the grade he knew was there. He brought along his eleven-year old son Hagen, Hagen’s friend Jackson, Jackson‘s father Mark, and a metal detector. The proof of the route would be railroad spikes.

They found them—and more.

Following a hunch, Rankin started down an old road that carried trucks to and from a sand and gravel operation at the top of the ridge. About halfway down Rankin spotted what looked like a break in the east-west ridge on the north side of the road. That notch looked like a cut for the railroad line.

Climbing down from the old road and bushwhacking carefully through dense vegetation, the explorers crossed a stream and followed a faint path through the second-growth woods–past a discarded suitcase, a rain-soaked sleeping pad, and a backpack buried under the leaves. Part of a thick wooden post leaned on the ground with the word “Swain” partially visible. (Nature Consortium placed markers in the forest for the migratory birds that pass through, including Swainson’s Thrush.) A curious roll of barbed wire around remnants of a wooden barrel was half-buried in the mud and leaves.

Then—along the trampled pathway–the clink of metal. Hagen and Jackson started digging. In three places, they found iron spikes, shorter than those on a long-haul route like the Milwaukee Road.  The spikes provided clear evidence of the railroad’s route.

On a follow-up adventure, Craig, Hagen and I bushwhacked a bit farther on the path we could see winding through the trees.By then Rankin had unearthed a King County survey map showing the route of an “abandoned street railway” right where the spikes were found. We were soon blocked by a downed tree and blackberry vines, saving more exploration for another day.

Again following the lay of the land, we decided to head uphill instead of back the way we had come. We soon realized we were hiking an old road up toward the top of the ridge. Then—a tin sign on a tree—Clinker Hill Road. Who could have expected a sign?

Clinker is the waste produced from industrial processes such as smelting or cement production. After the streetcar line was taken out, much of the land on the ridge was mined for sand and gravel (sand is clearly visible in streambeds). In the 1970s the Ideal Cement Company dumped cement kiln dust waste on property at the northern end of the greenbelt. That legacy of pollution has complicated the construction of north-south trails.

There are more mysteries to be unraveled: Where were the two sidings that appear on railroad maps: the Schoolhouse Siding (which must have been near the old Riverside School which opened in 1888 at Detroit Avenue and W. Juneau Street) and the Michigan Siding? What are the small rectangular pieces of iron the boys found? What was the bale of barbed wire? What type of vehicle did that narrower gauge tire come from [photo]? What happened to the power poles? Where did the streetcar route exit onto West Marginal Way?

Exploring for tangible history underfoot has intangible rewards. Hagen learned there was once a streetcar passing right through his neighborhood. “It was fun to discover where it was.”

Craig hopes the rail grade remnants could be used as part of a loop hike complementing the existing trails in the Greenbelt. “The lower streetcar grade segment offers one of the better Cascade views in the greenbelt and what fun to hike the old trolley route!”

For more information, see Mark Bergman’s talk on the Highland Park & Lake Burien Railway in the Southwest Stories series sponsored by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society.

 

Reshaping our Shared History

A hallmark of American progress is our ability to learn from our history.
National Park Service statement on Civil War monuments, August 2017

When I was walking cities for Walking Washington’s History, I encountered statues and memorials of all kinds: Chief Seattle and Jimi Hendrix in Seattle, Dirty Dan Harris and J.J. Donovan in Bellingham, William O. Douglas in Yakima, Marcus Whitman and Christopher Columbus in Walla Walla, Henry Jackson in Everett, and Mother Joseph all over the state. A group of citizens would decide that some person or some event should be honored, convince city leaders their cause was just, raise money and find a suitable public place to make a statement.

At the beginning of the 20th century, one such group–the United Daughters of the Confederacy—launched a national campaign to re-interpret the civil war. They wanted to depict it as a war fought to repel invasion and defend states rights, a noble cause, fought by brilliant military leaders and brave foot soldiers.[1] They placed statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee on town squares in the South—a reminder to people walking by on the way to the courthouse as to who should be honored and who was in charge. They advocated naming a national highway the Jefferson Davis Highway.

In Washington there had been strong support for the Confederacy both during and after the Civil War. Designating Highway 99 as part of the national Jefferson Davis Highway and the placement of a memorial to Confederate soldiers in Lakeview Cemetery came during a period of renewed segregation and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Pacific Northwest, which targeted blacks, Catholics, Jews, and immigrant groups.

No doubt the soldiers and leaders were brave—they faced horrible deaths and terrible odds. This was truly a civil war, tearing apart the country, state by state, family by family, soldier by soldier. But it was not a noble cause. Alexander Stevens, vice president of the Confederate States of America, made it clear in what was known as his “Cornerstone Speech.” He said the Confederate government rested upon “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

Jefferson Davis claimed that Lincoln’s plan to limit slavery would make “property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless…thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars.”[2]

These issues came to the fore in a program I moderated for the Pacific Northwest Historians Guild: “How Statues and Memorials Interpret our Shared History.” The day before the panel I read an essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled “Why do so few Blacks Study the Civil War?”[3] He described the country’s long search for “a narrative that could reconcile white people with each other.” The narrative we white people have come up with is one of “tragedy, failed compromise, and individual gallantry.”

But blacks see it differently. For Frederick Douglass and for Coates the Civil War was much more important in shaping America than the Revolutionary War. Coates sees the war as “a significant battle in the long war against bondage and for government by the people.” Coates himself has become a frequent visitor to civil war battlefields.

One hundred and fifty years after the civil war, Americans are not free of this conflict. The Guild panel and historian audience argued difficult issues:

  • Should offensive statues be completely removed or the plinths retained to remind people what was once there?
  • Are memorials on private land different from those in public places? Markers from Highway 99 now stand on private land surrounded by Confederate flags at Jefferson Davis Park, outside Ridgefield, WA.
  • Should the ordinary soldier who fights in what others perceive as an unjust war still be honored? Are the Confederate Soldiers monument in Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle, the memorial to Spanish-American war veterans in Walla Walla, the Vietnam veterans memorial in Spokane’s Riverfront Park different from statues of generals?
  • Is someone like Isaac Stevens whose treaties with Native Americans were unjust but who died at Chantilly fighting for the Union cause to be honored with street and county names, or is his name to be repressed in the public square? Is he at fault for implementing a policy of the United States government supported by the majority of citizens?
  • Can each ethnic group demand its own heroes–Christopher Columbus to Italians, Leif Erickson to Scandinavians?

The most positive thrust to come out of the panel was a look to the future. Who should be remembered? What injustices can be addressed through memorials?

Tacoma has a Chinese Reconciliation Park, remembering the expulsion of the Chinese from the city in 1885. Walla Walla has a new statue of Chief Peo Peo Mox Mox, who was taken hostage and killed during conflicts in 1885. There is a trend toward memorializing the common person, from the Pioneer Mother statue in Vancouver’s town square to Wendy Rose, representative of women welders in the shipyards during World War II.

It is also possible to re-interpret old statues. The Alki Landing Monument has added the names of the women of the landing party and acknowledged the role of the Suquamish and Duwamish in helping the group survive. A county named for the slave-holder Rufus King was renamed for Martin Luther King. Jr.

Welcome Figure, Richmond Beach

We cannot erase history by removing statues that now offend us. Nor can we excuse ourselves by pigeon holing regional identities. Spokane has a statue of Abraham Lincoln; Seattle has George Washington.

But our heroes and sheroes are not static. We can remove memorials to an unjust cause from places of honor and authority. We can change who we honor in the future.

Peace Park, Seattle

[1] Erin Blakemore, “The Lost Dream of a Superhighway to Honor the Confederacy,” The Atlantic. 29 August 2017.

[2] Ta-Nehisi Coates. We Were Eight Years in Power, An American Tragedy. One World Publishing, 2017.

 

Evergreen Mountain Lookout

Photograph by Juli Hill

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.

Kettle Falls

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.

Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain Lookout

Indian Racetrack

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 Rocksfor history read the Kalam’t chapter in Hiking Washington’s History.  

Everett Massacre Revisited

After my talk in Everett yesterday, I revisited the site of the Everett Massacre, a confrontation on the waterfront that led to at least seven deaths one hundred years ago.  When I wrote Walking Washington’s History: Ten Cities, there was nothing marking the site on Port Gardner Bay, but an audience member told me there was now a plaque.   Sure enough a plaque sits at the western foot of Hewitt Ave. where a brick spur ends at the railroad tracks.  This isn’t the exact spot where shots rang out on the City Dock, November 5, 1916, but it’s close.  The plaque is grounded on granite that should Plaque remembering the Everett Massacreoutlast the shifting sands of both the waterfront and historical interpretation.

My eye was drawn beyond the rock to a more temporary and more moving memorial–eleven cedar IMG_3379wreaths, red ribbons intertwined, hung on a fence, each with the name of a man killed or missing in the worst labor-management conflict in Washington history. Members of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W. or Wobblies) had been beaten and chased back to Seattle when they tried to support a shingle-weavers strike in the IMG_3367mills.  They returned by boat and were met at the dock by the sheriff and a force of deputized men.  A shot rang out, and in the ensuing battle, at least five Wobblies died, as well as two deputized citizens.  Another six or seven Wobblies went missing, never reclaiming the union cards they had left in Seattle that morning. They may have drowned after being shot or jumped into the water to escape the firing.  Another 50 were wounded.

IMG_3370Each wreath bears the name of a “fellow worker” who died that day.  They were hung by contemporary members of the I.W.W. who then completed the march the Wobblies had intended in 1916, to the Speakers Corner at Hewitt and Wetmore.  The wreaths hang on a fence with a No Trespassing sign, still drawing lines between corporate interests and public access.

The Everett Herald published a detailed discussion of the clash near its 100th anniversary.

My walking tour of Everett in Walking Washington’s History ends at the site of the massacre.  For more historic walking tours of Everett, visit www.historiceverett.org

 

 

Too many on the trails?

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.”Pelton Creek

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 Cascade Pass hikeone 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.

Cascade Pass
Cascade Pass

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.