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One for the Other – Chapter 7

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It was a good thing I learned about bats that evening for I would have confused all the bats that were feeding on insects in the avalanche chute for night birds. I watched those bats dart and dive back and forth in the clearing from my cozy, log hideaway until I fell asleep.

A mist arrived with the morning and all the bird songs seemed dampened by the moisture. I was horribly stiff-legged. All the favoring of my right leg must have strained both of my legs. I got my day-pack and slowly hiked downward, parallel to the avalanche chute, just paces inside the forest cover. Some would think hiking down would be easier than up, but each downward step sent my weight into my thighs, making them ache terribly. I passed a huge hollowed out tree and wondered if bats lived deep inside that tree—even I could have slept there, the cavity was so large.Snag

“I suppose stewardship goes both ways,” I thought, recalling that stewardship was the last note from Mr. Davis that I had read . “Bats are responsible for eating insects, even some of those that bite us. And we have the responsibility to take care of bat homes.” I passed out of the forest and reentered the chute while continuing my slow, determined descent.

By noon the fog had lifted, but I was stopped in my tracks. The trickle down the center of the chute had gained strength and had become a steep cataract which plunged a hundred feet or so down. I stood upon a cliff facing only air and treetops. The only feasible way seemed to be to my right.

Once again I entered the forest. Inside the forest the trees were immense, wider than I was tall. After I walked in far enough that the sound of the falls eased and became indistinguishable from the deep background murmur that seemed to pervade all of the wilderness, I heard the tiny chirps and trills of birds. Some were flocking high up in the canopy, a couple of hundred feet above me, while others darted around the forest floor, almost seeming to be taunting me to follow them. I had glanced ahead in my journal  in the duff and took a break.

After I had completed the activity, the bird songs that seemed to surround me had vanished and had been replaced by the creaking of tree against tree. A wind was buffeting the canopy. Blue and marbled-white skies were soaring above in the strong, midday breeze.

I had yet to discover a way down the steep mountainside, and was forced to go south, deeper into the forest. So onward I hiked, not able to descend. With my legs continuing to weaken, I hiked for more than an hour and ran into another gully. It was similar to the other avalanche chute, so I chose that route down. It was steep, but not nearly as sheer as the precipice that had redirected me before. Far across the valley, I could make out what looked like a trail winding through a clearing in the forested mountainside. My heart started to pound with anticipation. But my pulse retreated as I started down, for the difficult footing and my sore legs slowed my progress. The wind seemed to be carrying a summer afternoon thunderstorm, for the sky had become mottled and dark gray and I could hear deep rumbles in the distance.

With the thunder growing nearer, I began to feel like a human lightning rod, standing on the open slope. I wanted to find some shelter, so I picked up my pace.

At last I was nearing the bottom—maybe 500 feet to go—and I came across a huge melting snowfield which continued all the way to the valley floor. A few small branches were scattered atop the snow, but otherwise it was clear of hazardous debris and I could clearly see that I was in no danger of careening into a tree, for the snow flattened out onto the valley floor. “Finally, one of Mr. Davis’ notes is going to come in handy!” I remarked out loud excitedly. The previous note was enjoyment.

I sat down on the steep snowfield and began my slide. The speed was tremendous.McMillian Peak

My boots sprayed wet snow in my face. I lost my balance a few times, but otherwise my course stayed true. I ended my ride face up with my arms and legs splayed. I lay there soaked under a darkening sky. But it didn’t take long for me to get moving, because the breeze was still strong and I began to be covered with goose bumps. Only moments after I had slid down the melting snow pile and entered the deep forest, pelting rain fell from the sky.

I found an deer trail and followed it toward the roar of the river. This sound was becoming overshadowed by the chatter of rain in the canopy. I soon came across a very large boulder, at least the size a house, which probably came tumbling down the avalanche chute long ago. On one side its angle created an overhang where I took shelter from the canopy’s water droplet bombardment. Behind me, black soot covered the face of the rock in a wide vertical swath up and out of the overhang, which was otherwise covered with various green mosses. It seemed as though a campfire lay here in the past. The rain still fell and thunder crashed all around. When it calmed a bit, I opened my journal.

Final Chapter
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Harbingers of Hope – Chapter 6

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Courage will strengthen you.” Mr. Davis had written following his previous entry in my journal.

I glanced around at the old-burned forest. “Courage, huh. I wonder how much courage these pitiful trees had as that fire roared upslope toward them. They couldn’t even….” I stopped myself in the thought. “I suppose, if trees could have courage, it sure would be courageous to stand amid a fury of fiery onslaught. And what’s even more amazing is that they did survive. Their seedlings are building a new forest.” I began to backstep in my mock pity.

Before, I saw just dead silver trees all across the barren landscape, but after learning about wildland fire, I saw a refreshed wildflower garden hosting purple lupine, red Indian paintbrush, yellow groundsels and many other high country favorites that were bursting into life beneath the fire-scarred snags. Scattered here and there seedlings were building a new forest.

I began thinking about a time in middle school when this kid was lofting fiery insults at me, I had the courage to stand up for myself. And in that case, I must have been strengthened because that brat never did it again. And I didn’t even need to toss any punches. All I did was stand up like one of these trees and then I walked away. I didn’t even say a word.

I had my last granola bar and refilled my water bottle in a seep coming out of the hillside where yellow buttercups and purple daisies were poking out from among a carpet of sedge. A ways to my south I saw a grassy chute coursing down the mountainside like a lush river of green ground cover. Patches of snow were still melting out in the upper part of the chute. It looked like it may have been where avalanches carved out the forest. The green path seemed to reach all the way to the valley bottom. “Maybe I’ll find a trail down there,” I thought as I began a long descent; eventually I did find the same trail from which I had left my group. But once again, the sun was beginning to set and my walking was still awkward and slow because of pain in my bruised and torn leg.

I found some patches of sweet, watery salmonberry and kept my eyes out for a good sleeping place. There was no way I would be down before it got dark.

“I’ve made the wilderness my home for four nights, I can do it again,” I repeated to myself. A sense of strength began to well up and drown out the weaknesses of my body. I paced myself down five hundred feet or so, using Sitka alder as safety ropes in the steep rocky areas. I was met by the whistles of marmots along this steep meadow—which were not nearly as annoying as the high pitched chirps of those pikas. The marmot sentries stood tall and proud on their entrance mounds. I even came across a bear feeding on summer berries. Staying motionless yet trembly, I watched him for a full minute before his glance, or nose, caught me. He bolted—in terror I guessed. Up the avalanche chute side he shot, straight up and into the dense forest. I never saw such raw strength. Why he was afraid of me, I could not imagine.

Once again I found a nest of fallen logs in the forest nearby, under which a soft, mossy nighttime retreat could be padded down; I practically had a routine established. My nest looked out into the chute’s clearing and I listened to water trickle down the center of the chute. I fed on some of the berries that I had collected and swatted at a few mosquitoes. Using what was left of the evening light, I started the next activity in my journal.

Black BearThe black bear I encountered was of the brown phase, such as the one pictured here.

                                                                                                     

Chapter 7

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Two Steps Backward – Chapter 5

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All the clouds had disappeared over night. The sun was beating down and I hadn’t seen even a trickle of water since the previous day. I retreated from the company of subalpine firs and walked to the top of the ridgeline to search for water. What I got instead was an unimpeded view of Mt. Klawatti and its magnificent northern glacier.Klawatti Lake The dirty, blue glacier snout snaked its way downward and sent a thin white stream winding down the rocks into a milky, blue lake—ahh, water.

My mouth was so parched that I had difficulty even swallowing the other half of my granola bar. I quickly scrambled down through a talus slope. Too quickly; for one of the rocks slipped from underneath me and a sharp piece of schist ripped a gash in my lower leg as I fell forward.

Looking back on that day, if I had listened to Mr. Davis’ last clue, patience, I would have made it to the lake much sooner. My leg was gushing blood. Even as I was in teeth-clenching pain, I took out my handkerchief and applied pressure to the wound. The bleeding stopped and I managed to bandage it up with the cloth. But it wasn’t until the late afternoon that I got a drink of that delicious glacial water. The distance down from the ridge was so deceiving. I kept thinking that I was “almost there,” but seemingly small rocks turned out to be nothing less than house-sized boulders. The limping trudge down was painfully slow.

When I finally reached the breezy lakeshore, I dunked my entire head in the water and gulped from below. I regretted that too, because not only did water go up my nose, it was also so cold that after I resurfaced it gave my head a weird feeling of pins and needles. Eventually I drank my fill and I refilled my water bottle. “I sure hope this water doesn’t have any of that giardia that Mr. Davis warned us about,” I thought uneasily. I also washed my wound thoroughly and rinsed the handkerchief and set it out to dry. I enjoyed the warm breeze and later, after I reapplied the bandage, I opened my journal once again.

I sure wish I had listened to Mr. Davis  or I wouldn’t have gotten into this mess.Pika

It’s up to you. It’s your responsibility.” Mr. Davis had written in my journal. He underscored responsibility three times. I supposed that was the clue.

“But why are mountain lakes my responsibility. I have a responsibility to take care of my injured leg, but why is this mountain lake my responsibility? That’s absurd. I might have the responsibility to clean my room and take care of my home, but I’ve never been here before, and if it’s up to me, I’ll never return! This is a long way from my home,” I preached to myself.

The sun had once again gone away. I gathered my wits and my stuff and headed toward a clump of trees to the south. A green meadow stretched out before the trees. It seemed completely filled with avalanche lilies. Mr. Davis had said they were edible, so I delighted in a large dinner salad that tasted like ‘plant’. “Better than nothing,” I supposed.

That night I had a series of dreams that I will possibly remember for the rest of my life. They seemed so real.

I was flying high above the North Cascades with an eagle who guided me to all of the places he lived: from the oceans to the rivers, to great lakes in the far north of British Columbia, and finally to the top of Mt. Klawatti where he told me he had never been. He spoke in my dream, “Even though I have never been here, this is also my home for I can see the top of this peak from the great river below. If I can see it, it is my home.” With that he disappeared and I was left alone atop the peak. Around me, I could see for hundreds of miles with only a few nearby peaks breaking the encircling horizon. I realized that I was in the center of a great circle.

Avalanche LilyThe thought of my family far away broke the spell and I awoke to darkness. The moon must have set also. Shortly after, I fell back asleep only to have the eagle take me on flight after flight to his favorite fishing spots until the sun once again broke my slumber.

I quickly opened my journal and wrote down all that had happened in my dreams. I determined that the only logical way to proceed was to head east. That way I wouldn’t be retracing my steps, nor would I be forced to go over the massive, daunting ridgeline to the west.

Sometime around midday I reentered the miniature forest, but this one was different than before. All the trees were dead, they shone like silver in the noon sun. I picked up my journal to see if Mr. Davis had an explanation.

Chapter 6

 

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In the Company of Others – Chapter 4

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“If I only had some arrowleaf balsamroot right now, I could make an excellent feast, but I suppose I’m not in that habitat zone, am I?” I reasoned. I also considered catching a few of those jeering pikas that were whistling at me earlier in the evening on my way up that horribly unsteady talus slope. Even though they were probably simply warning their friends of my approach, I still felt a tint of mockery after each slip on the jagged rocks.

Subalpine FirsEven though the night sky was cloudy, it was unexpectedly bright and cold out, I supposed a bright moon was making the clouds glow from above. I must have snoozed a bit after I finished the last activity, because it seemed late at night. But I was too cold to sit still. The mossy logs in the forest below were much more comfortable that these jagged rocks. I slipped on my light day-pack and continued uphill.

Few trees remained on the landscape now, which would have made navigation easy—if I had known where I was heading. Scattered among the rocks, in clumps, were tiny plants all huddled together. It seemed as though there were different species all working together to survive. Even the trees were clumped together helping each other out.

As I continued up the ridgeline, a cold wind bit at my skin. I found a clump of trees and wove myself between the branches until I felt somewhat comfortable and even a bit warm. It humbled me thinking about these old trees and how they had survived for so long in this desolate landscape and how none of these plants could survive without each other. I began to become a bit frightened, not because of my predicament, but because I was beginning to think like Mr. Davis! His last clue was Humility.

Oregon JuncoI slept deeply until dawn burst over the ridgeline and stirred the juncos and roused the twerpy pikas. I had my breakfast of half a granola bar and humbled myself further by starting the next activity.

The Oregon junco looks like this. Unlike the other birds I saw, this bird seemed to be everywhere. I couldn’t escape seeing juncos, not in the forests, mountains or rocky ridgelines. It was almost eery—like one was following me. I took this picture, while I was grounded, in my backyard when I returned home.

Chapter 5

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Upon the Shoulders of a Giant – Chapter 3

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Admittedly, I spent a couple of hours the next morning working on the next activity in my journal. I wasn’t sure what I should do next and the activity, about carnivores, turned out to be quite interesting—carnivores are pretty cool.Bobcat Track Sketch I was reminded of our cat back at home. Her fluid and supple shape was like the forest carnivores in my journal. I couldn’t keep from wondering if her early relatives once lived in forests like these.

Thinking about my cat made me feel a bit lonely so I went down to the water to splash down my face and try to figure out what to do. I noticed a pile of scat which tapered off on the end like a feline’s does. “Bet that’s from a bobcat,” I thought to myself, and sure enough, some cat tracks were scattered across a muddy surface leading upstream. I remembered from the researcher’s discussion in the carnivore activity that bobcat tracks and scat were often found along trails.

I guessed carnivores must take the easiest path too and jumped at the slim prospect of finding a trail back to camp; I grabbed my day-pack and started tracking ‘Bob’. I followed the tracks upstream for a few hundred feet, but they turned upslope and meandered unrecognizably into the spongy moss. I sat down on a log, despairing. Panic began to rise, but as my mind wandered to Bob’s visit, I thought, “If that cat has survived in this bleak forest, so might I. There are no restaurants, no television and no video games. Why would anyone want to live here?” A surge of respect followed for any animal that could survive in the wilderness. Incidentally, respect was the second clue, centered on a blank page following the forest carnivore activity in my journal.

Still thinking that I was lost somewhere along Thunder Creek, I crossed to the other side on a huge fallen log, which was covered by tiny hemlock trees and mosses. Thinking, “Maybe the trail is just a little higher,” I started a relentless climb up the steep mountainside.

I never found a trail on the shoulders of Mount Klawatti. All morning and afternoon I worked my way up through the forest, sweating so profusely that steam issued from my pores. Salal bushes sprawled everywhere, making travel impossibly slow. I cursed their existence until I realized that I could use them as ropes to pull myself upward. I also soon recognized salal berries from Mr. Davis’ botany walk on our first day and knew that they were edible—I’m glad I listened carefully on that day. They tasted a bit like dehydrated blueberries, though hairy in texture. I fed on them until I found an understory full of red huckleberries. Those were much more appetizing, but I recalled a warning Mr. Davis mentioned about another red berry, baneberry, which was deadly poisonous. But these were definitely red huckleberries, sweet yet tart, with oval leaves. I gobbled up handfuls.

As the sun sank westward, clouds began to build and the wind picked up, especially now that I was high on a forested ridge. As I ascended, I noticed the forest began to shift. The trees were becoming smaller. In fact, it was like I was walking through a miniature forest. The sun would soon set and it seemed as though I might be able to get my first view of the landscape below. I scrambled out into a clearing and up through a field of rocks (Mr. Davis called them talus) to a cliff, but a stream of clouds was rolling up the lower valleys and obstructed any lowland view. Even so, the skyscape was stupendous. The clouds below blanketed the inner valleys as if huge glaciers were pulsing backwards up the valleys. It seemed like I had returned to the Ice Age. A large overhanging boulder stood nearby. I would sleep there that night. Thankfully, my thick wool sweater had kept me warm the night before. I picked up my journal and opened it to the next section, while feasting on my hunk of cheese, as the setting sun was enveloped by clouds and gave a final burst of color to all the cirrus clouds above.

Chapter 4

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Plunging into the Deep – Chapter 2

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“No two snowflakes are alike. You too are SPECIAL,” Mr. Davis had written in my journal following the activity.

“Is that it? That’s my first clue! How is that going to help me now? That’s really annoying,” I thought to myself.

At that moment a trout darted into a shady corner of the gravel-bottomed pool. I poked my head over a large mossy boulder to get a peek and sure enough it had light spots on dark. I wondered if it was a bull trout or one of those exotic brook trout. “If no two snowflakes are alike, does that follow for bull trout?” I pondered.

All this thinking about fish was making me hungry, so I pulled out one of my three remaining granola bars and gobbled it down. I didn’t have any other food save for a small hunk of cheese, and I hardly expected at that point that I was going to be out there for six more days—alone.

Once my clothes were dry, I reckoned that I should follow the creek back upstream to look for my party—they probably were missing my witty comments by now. I began a difficult traverse up over logs and boulders, around pools, and through the lacy needles of overhanging hemlock boughs.

Thinking back on that first day, I really had an incredible time exploring that creek. The banks were lined with moss, tiny plants and small flowers. Twice I discovered shiny, dimly-spotted salamanders floating in shallow pools. Both were too quick for my hands and they escaped my examination. Occasionally I was able to follow what seemed like an old trail, scattered with piles of elk pellets along the way. After a few miles the ‘trail’ vanished into the forest. Later, I happened across an elk skull with huge antlers still attached and covered by green algae and bits of creeping moss.

The skull frightened me a bit, because what if the same cougar that most likely ate this elk was watching me stumble through the tangles of salmonberry, elderberry and devil’s club? The thought of a cougar sent me plunging faster and ever deeper into the wilderness.

Finally as the evening light was warming the mountainside above me with a golden glow, I realized that I was truly lost. Once again, I rolled up underneath a big mossy log and listened to the chatter of owls as stars began to shine in the deepening blue sky.

Where I Went Wrong MapWhat I didn’t know at that point was that the creek I was trying to follow back to camp was a tributary, not the main stream. It would be the next day before I realized that I had made a dreadful mistake.

Where I Went Wrong: I created this map for you so you could understand one of my many mistakes. Notice that McAllister Creek intersects Thunder Creek at the orange dot. Instead of retracing my swim down Thunder Creek, I followed McAllister westward—deep into the wilderness. We started our journey two days prior at the Panther Creek Trailhead (yellow dot).

Chapter 3

 

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Too Far to Wander: The Tale and Journal of a Wayward Student

Posted by David

(This is a story I wrote a number of years ago for classrooms visiting North Cascades National Park. I was asked to republish it here. Have fun.)

This tale begins midway through a classroom expedition into the North Cascades wilderness. For the most part, all of the students are being safe, learning about science and enjoying nature—all except one. And this student was about to make a big mistake.Night Sky

Mr. Davis, the science teacher and guide on the expedition is explaining a bit about astronomy, let’s listen in.


Revolving Around the Light –
Part 1

Thus, because he demonstrated that the earth, in fact, revolved around the sun and that Ptolemy was incorrect by saying that the entire universe revolved around a static, immobile earth, Copernicus is not only considered to be the father of modern astronomy, he is also thought by some to be the most pivotal figure in modern thought…

And with that I had all I could take. I had to escape. My class had been out for two days, shuffling along muddy trails and enduring lecture after lecture from Mr. Davis. I was so bored and my mushy, gushy, slimy socks were giving me prune feet. Mr. Copernicus’ sun teased us each evening with sunsets, but hid its face behind the clouds by day; never giving us a moment to dry out our socks. Mr. Davis said that if we put our wet socks inside our sleeping bags at night they would dry out by morning. Neither I, nor any of the other eight students, had dared to try that—nasty!

Although the sky still had a deep blue glow, in the shadows of the fir trees it had become dark enough that I could slip away without being noticed by that curly, gray-haired, bearded, verbose slave-driver. Knowing full well that I was in the wrong, I discreetly backed away from the group and walked down the trail, feeling for its edges with my boots until I got far enough away that I could switch on my headlamp without detection. I walked a good ways down the trail through the shadowy Pacific silver fir forest. At least I assumed that these tall, dark beasts were the same trees Mr. Davis was identifying before supper.

It sure was dark, so dark that my dim light could hardly penetrate to the trail. In fact, it seemed as though something was wrong with my light. I stopped and took hold of my lamp and noticed the beam wavering into a weak orange color. It went out sharply. I hit the lamp a few times on my knee and it came on again, then went out abruptly. I banged it a couple of more times and – no more light.

Luckily, I had another set of batteries in my day pack. I skillfully opened the battery box and slipped in the new batteries, being careful to put them in the same direction as those I took out. However, the lamp still wouldn’t work. I must have broken the bulb’s filament when I banged the light. I pulled the extra bulb from the bulb compartment and to my horror it slipped—practically jumped—out of my fingers into the moss beside me.

I spent the next twenty minutes unsuccessfully looking for the bulb. Now the forest was onyx black, so I crawled toward the river where the glow from the night sky illuminated the river corridor. The river paralleled Thunder Creek Trail, its airy voice rumbled comfortingly. The mossy forest floor soon dead-ended at a precipitous drop to the now thundering river’s edge. I used the exposed roots of a tree to climb down the cobble and till bank, but soon I lost my footing and began a blind, tumbling run down into the river.

That was the coldest night of my entire life. The swift water caught me and propelled me through a minefield of boulders. I was at the mercy of the river. Eventually I ended the 52-degree Fahrenheit flume ride with a stiff swim to the gravel shoreline. I laid face-up, surrounded by trees, staring blankly at the starry sky-river above. “Perhaps tomorrow will be sunny and when I get back to camp Mr. Davis will forgive me for disobeying the rules when he sees how much I suffered,” I considered. I crawled under a huge mossy log and shivered in and out of sleep all night long.

My lips were numb when I awoke to the sun sending rays through the mossy branches. On the ground before me, my journal lay open. How did it get out of my pack? I was too cold to think about that now, so I lay my socks, wool sweater and pants out in the morning summer sun to dry. Steam was rising everywhere, especially off my damp clothes. A warm summer breeze blew, and it turned the journal to a page with some writing. “Funny, I had thought this was a blank journal. I hadn’t even cracked the book, though we’d been instructed to write in it daily,” I thought to myself. Since I couldn’t go anywhere until my clothes dried, and the riverside was so boring, I reluctantly turned the page. I read, “These thoughts will help you if ever you are in times of need.”

Chapter 2

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