Saturday, July 24, 2010

Full Circle

On Thursday, July 15, it was back to Owl Farm for a bit of frolicking in the forest -- as well as fraternizing with friends -- for a week.

One reason for the trip was to attend a program on Forest Service history at Barn Beach Reserve in Leavenworth, Washington. The program was billed as a "trip back through time" with A.H. "Hal" Sylvester, the Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor from 1908-31.

So, along with fellow former wilderness ranger Kelly Tjaden and his grandson Zachary, we witnessed a one-man performance of the life and times of Hal Sylvester as portrayed by Denny McMillin (left, in character), our supervisor during our Forest Service days on the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District, on Friday, July 16.

Denny was Resource Assistant on the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District when Kelly (below, right) and I roamed the Glacier Peak Wilderness back in the '70s.

Sylvester, a pioneer surveyor and explorer, was initially a topographer for the U.S. Geological Service. His work involved the first detailed surveying and mapping of large portions of the Cascade Range in the State of Washington.

Over the course of his career, he named as many as 3,000 natural features in the Cascades -- including the Enchantments, a series of Hobbit-like pools high in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness southwest of Leavenworth. His names were often creative and patterned, sometimes practical and descriptive, and occasionally whimsical.

His survey work often required placing cairns and other survey targets on top of mountains; as a result, he made a number of first ascents on peaks in heretofore unexplored areas known only to indigenous people. Tragically, Sylvester was mortally wounded when his horse panicked an a steep and rocky slope while leading a party of friends to one of his favorite parts of the mountains.

Sylvester once wrote that of all the many places he had explored, the Buck Creek Pass area in the upper Chiwawa River Valley was the most beautiful. The Chiwawa River empties into the Wenatchee River adjacent to Owl Farm, our mountain property near Plain, Washington.

On Tuesday, July 20, friend and Owl Farm neighbor Frank Czubiak joined me for a hike into Lake Valhalla (left and below), one of the many wilderness lakes named by Sylvester, a literary enthusiast with a penchant for mythology and the classics.

Valhalla, from Scandinavian mythology, is the hall of Odin (the Supreme Being) where the souls of heroes slain in battle and others who have died bravely are received (read: heaven for martyrs for the cause).

Lake Valhalla is located on the Pacific Crest Trail north of Stevens Pass in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. That morning, Frank and I motored up the Little Wenatchee River over Rainy Pass to the trailhead at Smithbrook.

The mile-long Smithbrook trail connects to the PCT at Union Gap. The route then proceeds another 2.5 miles south to Lake Valhalla. It was a good day for hiking, though the mosquitoes were hatching rapidly by afternoon. Thank God for bug dope.

In addition to seeing Denny and our hike, Frank and I spent quality time with Chuck Ferguson, Roger Wallace, Steve Steinke and other friends from our Forest Service days that week.

We had, as Kelly so eloquently described it, come "full circle," from our days as seasonal wilderness rangers working their way through college, through busy professional careers, and back.

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