Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Phelps Creek, Day 1: Red Mountain Ole

Bad news: our usual noontime start. Good news: the trailhead to Spider Meadows begins at the end of Phelps Creek Road, so we start hiking at 3,500 feet above sea level, with a fine view of Phelps Ridge in the foreground and Buck Mountain in the background (above).  

As we plodded along the wide trail, I recalled tales of the hard-rock miners of Phelps Creek and Chiwawa Basin such as Johan Smeds -- more commonly known in these parts as “Red Mountain Ole.”

These miners had discovered promising signs of ore in the Phelps Creek and upper Chiwawa areas. Phelps Ridge, dividing the two drainages and culminating in Red Mountain (below) and the East Arm of Chiwawa Mountain, was the focal point of mining efforts.

In his book “East of the Divide,” Chet Marler -- a friend and former wilderness ranger on the Wenatchee National Forest -- describes Red Mountain Ole, who lived in a cabin up Phelps Creek in the early 20th century, as "one of the genuine characters of this period, a solitary fellow who lived, prospected and trapped in Phelps Creek.”

He discovered important claims that later became part of the Royal Development Mine at Trinity (below), located near the confluence of Phelps Creek and the Chiwawa River, and received a yearly stipend as compensation. Ole had at least two cabins in the Phelps Creek area and his existence centered on his ability to sell furs and small quantities of gold, silver or copper, in addition to his stipend.

Legend has it that on more than one occasion, Ole was able to outrace an avalanche on skis enroute to Phelps Creek from Leavenworth. Miners like Ole eked out a hardscrabble existence, laboring in adverse conditions and withstanding severe winter snows and avalanches. Alas, they seldom had much to show for their labors.

Passing his cabin site adjacent to the trail about a mile and a half up Phelps Creek, I recalled that Ole was actually buried at the site by his comrades after he died unexpectedly in Leavenworth. Today, most hikers trek past the location without a clue.

No comments: