Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Auf Wiedersehen

Kelly Tjaden moved to Anchorage in the mid-90s, where he lived and worked for the next decade or so. Though I saw him considerably less frequently, we would still gather from time to time -- in Seattle at his home north of the University of Washington campus, his cabin on Yellowstone Road at Snoqualmie Pass or at the Owl Farm near Plain, Washington -- for hijinks, shenanigans and outdoor adventures.

In 2006, we met in Seattle and scammed tickets to a U2 concert. Because I was on a public relations junket at the time, we shared a penthouse suite for a couple nights at the Crowne Plaza, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Daughter Gina and her friend Eilidh MacLean were also in attendance at the concert. Bono graciously accepted Eilidh's small Irish flag as a gift during the show, which Kelly and I ranked among our top ten rock shows of all time.

Afterward, we rented a black Lincoln Town Car with enough room to stash four drunken Irishmen and cruised over Snoqualmie Pass to his cabin, and then on to the Owl Farm. On this trip, we hatched the idea of a tree house. Kelly was enthused, and I had always wanted to build one on the property. Hence, we embarked on an epic project.

As with Grand Coulee Dam, the tree house project would develop incrementally over the next decade. Since Kelly continued to live in Alaska, we would only meet periodically to work on the project while squeezing in a backcountry excursion or two. Many in Kelly's vast network of friends would help on this enterprise.

We also built a small mountain hut, or "capanna" as they're known in the Italian Alps. To recognize our multi-faceted universe of motley fools, court jesters, scholars, charlatans, wilderness junkies and "plain old mountain folk," we established the "Inter-Galactic Legion Of Owls" (IGLOO). Anyone visiting the Owl Farm received a t-shirt.

For the past several years, Kelly and I continued to explore the wilderness near the Owl Farm (he called it the "center of the universe"). On one trek, he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Canadian border to his cabin at Snoqualmie Pass, and I joined him at Stevens Pass for the last leg through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Another season, another big trek: we decided to tackle the entire Icicle Ridge from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth. On the first day, our goal was Doelle Lakes, but on the ascent, I slipped and gouged my knee on a root stab. Once I stopped the bleeding, I limped into the first of three Chain Lakes (above) and called it a day.

Kelly had continued on over the pass to Doelle Lake (above), but it was getting dark so I hunkered down at Chain Lakes. Weak and tired, I pitched my tent in a nice campsite near the lake, crawled into my bag and went to sleep. The next morning, I arose with renewed vigor to get cracking early and hike to the pass before sunrise.

Negotiating the switchbacks beneath Bulls Tooth (above), I spotted his bright yellow tent on the westernmost edge of the first of two Doelle Lakes and bellowed out "Raoul!" as he waved in response. We commiserated about my injury, which seemed to be on the mend, and agreed to continue on to Frosty Pass and Lake Mary.

In 2014, we convened a reunion of the Aldo Leopold Society -- former wilderness rangers, trail dogs and backcountry aficionados -- in honor of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act of 1964.

They came from hither and yon to join our reunion tour hike up Phelps Creek to Spider Meadow, a delightful campsite hidden in a remote corner of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Last summer, we hiked to the summit of Labyrinth Mountain in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness in the upper Little Wenatchee River basin. A couple of other erstwhile members of the Aldo Leopold Society would join us on this trip. It would be our last expedition with Kelly.

We will all remember the good times. Like Leo Tolstoy, Keldon Tjaden wanted movement, not a calm course of existence: excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice himself for his love. Yes, he loved; in return, he was loved by many. Auf wiedersehen, mein freund. I will look for you on the other side of the pass.

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