Saturday, June 27, 2015

Robe Of The Rainbow

This year marks the 40th anniversary of my arrival in the Upper Wenatchee River Valley. Having accepted a job as a “trail dog” on the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District, I initially wasn’t even sure of the exact location of the place, only that it was somewhere in the northern reaches of the State of Washington.

The valley was named for the Wenatchi tribe, the natives in residence when white settlers first arrived in the early 19th century. The translation is: “river which comes from canyons” or “robe of the rainbow.” The city shares its name with the Wenatchee River, its headwaters at Lake Wenatchee and the Wenatchee National Forest.

Truth be told, in addition to securing a summer job roaming the wilderness, I went north for a girl. Didn’t get that girl, though. Instead, I met another girl, a lookout on an adjacent district, at a U.S. Forest Service training session in Ellensburg. I’ve been married to that girl for almost 37 years now. Here’s how it all started:

As spring quarter at the University of Oregon in 1975 came to a close, my college roommate Vince and I, both seasonal employees for the U.S. Forest Service, were busily applying for various and sundry positions on ranger districts throughout the Pacific Northwest. We were looking for new gigs, new adventures.

Though I should have graduated that June, my approach of working the full 180-day appointments for the USFS meant that I only could attend two quarters a year, thus delaying my projected graduation date. Simple economics, really: I had no money. But seasonal USFS jobs allowed me to finance my higher education.

Having worked at Crater Lake as a tour guide on the boats, and a forestry technician on the Malheur National Forest, I cast my gaze toward Washington. The two of us applied to over two-dozen forests in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Not surprisingly, we netted some interesting results that spring from forests far and wide.

By May, I had received offers on interregional fire suppression crews -- also known as “hotshots” -- on the Okanogan and Siskiyou National Forests, timber crews on the Siuslaw and Willamette Nationals Forests, a lookout position on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and, interestingly, as a lifeguard on the Winema National Forest patrolling a public swimming area in a USFS campground on Klamath Lake.
As June began, my plan was to head to Baker City for the lookout gig when fate interceded. Meeting Vince for an end-of-the-quarter beer at Taylor’s, he announced that I had received yet another job offer, this time on trail crew. “Oh, yeah?” I asked. “Which district this time?” “Lake Wenatchee” came his reply.

Stunned, I hurried home, called the Lake Wenatchee Ranger District and accepted the position. I had met a girl who worked at Lake Wenatchee the summer before through a fellow seasonal employee on the Malheur National Forest in Prairie City and was immediately smitten. At that point, it was Lake Wenatchee or bust.

That relationship didn’t pan out. But I fell in love with the Wenatchee Valley and later, a USFS lookout from Naches. All told, I worked eight seasons for the Wenatchee National Forest to fund my college education and then graduate school. After moving back to Eugene, we purchased our mountain property near Lake Wenatchee in 1988.

We have many wonderful memories from our place in Shugart Flats, and now we’ve upgraded our accommodations from a travel trailer to a mountain hut (or “montagna capanna” in Italian), not unlike those found throughout The Alps from France to Slovenia. Great spot to enjoy the “tonic of wildness,” as Thoreau so aptly put it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Buy One, Get Three More Free

Knowing the snowpack in the wilderness is quickly going, going, gone, we targeted Four-In-One Cone in the Three Sisters Wilderness for our first training hike of the season. Located near McKenzie Pass, the trail follows a route blazed by Captain Felix Scott, who led wagon trains through the high-elevation pass into the McKenzie Valley in 1862.

The hike along Scott Trail climbs the 1,500-foot relief gently for the four-and-a-half mile trek -- with a few exceptions -- and is mostly forested, providing welcome shade on a hot day. Having hiked these parts before, I was shocked by the fact that there was no snow whatsoever. Normally, snow remains until late summer. Not this year.

In a rather bad news/good news sort of way, the lack of snow also meant no mosquitoes either, always a welcome respite when trekking in the wilderness. The beargrass (above) was out in force in the forested sections of the trail until reaching the intense lava flows, where the scenery suddenly changes dramatically.

Once on top of a bed of barren, blocky lava, the trail ultimately crests into a broad cinder flat, where the views open up to the southeast with virtually unobstructed perspectives of North Sister and Middle Sister. The hike traces Scott’s footsteps to a junction with a short trail to viewpoint atop four connected cinder cones.

From the top of Four-In-One Cone, you can see how the lava flows breached each of the four craters. The initial eruptions spewed cinders, with the prevailing winds from the west building the cones highest on the east rim. Once the magma released its gases, a quieter basalt flow then oozed from the cone’s base to the west.

From the highest point on the southern summit, a nearly level trail skirts the rim of the other three cones to a viewpoint of Mt. Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Washington, with even a little of Mt. Hood peeking around the eastern flank of Mt. Jefferson. In short: an enjoyable hike (nine miles roundtrip) with great rewards.