Sunday, August 31, 2014

Aldo Leopold Society: Camp Catharsis, Day 3

Morning arrived with a day of transition for the cathartic campers. Some would venture to the Upper Phelps Creek basin for an up close and personal view of Dumbell Mountain (above), listed as one of the 100 highest peaks in Washington at 8,421 above sea level -- a strategic massif on the Phelps-Railroad divide, notes Fred Beckey.

Dumbell -- another whimsical mountain moniker among many created by A.H. Sylvester, the first Forest Supervisor of the Wenatchee National Forest -- towers over the basin. From the view looking south from Cloudy Pass, the mountain does indeed resemble a dumbell, but from Phelps Creek, it looks more like a La-Z-Boy recliner. 

A 1926 article in Mazama magazine titled “In The Glacier Peak Region” described Dumbell Mountain as “a ponderous gendarme in regal isolation and reaching to a dizzy height.” The mountain was likely climbed by miners in the prospecting era, considering its central location between the mining hubs of Trinity and Holden.

Others would have a camp day in the meadows. Others still would head "back to the barn.” As we visited and said our long good-byes, we chose the name “Cathartic Spire” (the pointy wizard's hat on the right, below) for the heretofore unnamed peak in honor of our summit meeting. A climb of the spire is in the works.

As one of those who needed to head out that day to attend to details relating to Owl Farm, I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed my third day. Thinking ahead to next year, I scouted the Phelps Ridge Trail for a potential trip up Red Mountain. Another possibility is Leroy Basin at the base of Mt. Maude and Seven-Fingered Jack.

Proceeding to the trailhead, we discussed names from our past and reminisced about our halcyon days as wilderness rangers. Near the one mile marker on the Phelps Creek Trail, I paid my respects to Red Mountain Ole, one of the original miners in the area who is buried just feet from the spot where most pass by without a clue. 

Red Mountain Ole was one among many miners of his genre who toiled hard and braved extreme winter weather but seldom had much to show for their efforts. A colorful character, he roamed the ridges of the Upper Chiwawa River for years, trapping silver foxes for skins that fetched more money than what little gold dust he could muster.

After the long drive down Chiwawa River Road, and with a stop at Midway Grocery for a six-pack, we adjourned to the Owl Farm, and our lovely beach at the junction of the Chiwawa and Wenatchee Rivers (below). Word on the street is that a number of members of the Aldo Leopold Society are already talking “next year.”    

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aldo Leopold Society: Camp Catharsis, Day 2

Having been to Spider Glacier last summer, my plan was to climb Red Mountain via the Phelps Ridge Trail on Day 2; everybody else wanted to hike to Spider Gap. After sleeping on it, I had a change of heart and decided to join the troupe. Besides, it would be more fun to socialize along the way, providing an opportunity for people pictures.

The trail is not for wimps. Miners based at Trinity had built the pathway, along with an assayer outpost for the summer months at Spider Gap. The route's steep grade fails to meet federal criteria for backcountry trails, but the Forest Service continues to maintain the popular approach to Lyman Lakes, Cloudy Pass and beyond.

Once it leaves Spider Meadows, the trail skirts below a sheer cliff before ascending quickly through sparse greenery to Spider Glacier beneath the East Arm of Chiwawa Mountain (above). The views from the glacier are spectacular: Mt. Maude, Seven-Fingered Jack, Mt. Fernow and Copper Peak (below), just to name a few.

Three groups of Aldo Leopold Society trekkers departed camp over the course of an hour, so we all connected coming and going, allowing for a bit of tomfoolery and mugging for the camera, along with a good look at a huge porcupine in a tree enroute. Back in Spider Meadow, a sense of exhilaration from the day’s hike permeated camp.

Libations were in order and soon, the stories began to cascade: tales of horses bolting to the trailhead after a full day of trail work, footraces to Pass No Pass from Buck Creek Trail, total lunar eclipses and meteor showers against a jet black wilderness sky, and trail encounters with bears, coyotes, cougars and survivalists. Oh, my!

For dinner, I would create my gourmet version of macaroni and cheese with Spam. “Spam?” asked a couple of pilgrims, incredulously. Little did they know of my unique way of cooking the meal, with sautéed onions, garlic and, of course, Spam. Tasting this epicurean delight, the doubters conceded and gave me two thumbs up.

After dinner, more wine  -- and stories -- flowed until dark. Because of the high fire danger locally, campfires were prohibited -- even in wilderness areas. So when dusk fell, the party was pretty much over. Helmut Vallindaklopf’s evil twin, Ramone, appeared briefly, but was soon banished from camp by three strong-willed, intelligent women.

The day had waned and, with a sense of gratification from a good workout in God’s Country, we could sleep easy that night -- even on hard ground. But mostly, this was about the opportunity to spend time reconnecting with old friends, and the bonus of meeting in the wilderness was worth the price of admission. Nay, it was priceless.