Reflections on adventures from youth to old age
Published by Verl Rogers at Shakespir
Copyright 2015 Verl Rogers
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This is a memoir, and skeptical readers must be warned that all such writings are distorted by self-interest and damaged by time. I try to be accurate but also, please remember that I am human.
Names, characters, places and incidents are mostly the product of my imagination or are changed to suit the story. Some essays depict past events. My memory is not complete, nor would I want to set down everything, the good and bad, so these biased accounts cannot be taken as the factual story of what passed.
When we were kids in the 1930s the Christmas trees in the sale lots were priced out of our reach. We usually drove up to the woods in the hills above Wenatchee WA, where we lived, to cut our own tree. Before one Christmas Dad was out of town for some reason, I think for a job. Anyway, the car was not available.
My big brother Art and I decided to walk up to Number One Canyon, three miles from home, to find a tree. In this semi-desert you must go uphill to find timber. We planned to look in the Douglas Fir groves high on the south wall of the canyon.
We took an ax and a pruning saw and set out, wearing heavy coats and overshoes. On the valley floor there was a thin snowfall, an inch or two. A light snow was falling: it was a gloomy day with clouds low on the hills.
We walked up to the mouth of the canyon, then up the road along the bottom to a place where the first trees stood far above us on the south side. We scrambled up the steep slope, only to find the trees were scrawny. More firs stood along the slope a quarter of a mile away.
We gouged our heels in to walk along the side-hill to the next grove. Those trees were not much better. Art did not want to lose elevation but we could not see any trees around the hill. I wanted to stay up high too, so we went on around the sidehill, climbing all the time. Now we were in cloud and deeper snow. Even though we found no trees close by we kept on.
I think we must have gone a full mile on that hillside before we came to any trees worth considering. This grove looked much better, with limbs bushy and spaced closely. Mind you, we were still on a steep hill and the tree limbs followed the contour of the ground.
By now we were getting tired and we decided one of these firs would be the perfect tree, six feet high and bushy. Art swung the ax a few times, then I used the saw and finished the job. Art shouldered the tree and we walked straight down to the road, no more sidehill gouging, then home. I was glad to get off that slope. My ankles were glad too.
At home we got a mixed reception. Mom was glad to see we had no feet chopped off. Maybe she had not expected much. Sister Shirley was not so polite. She said, “You idiots! That’s the most lopsided tree I ever saw! It’s four feet high on one side and six feet on the other!” As I remember, Art replied, “Do you want to go find a better one?”
For swimming in Wenatchee in 1934, there was a Natatorium, privately-owned, and the Columbia River. The Natatorium cost admission money that we did not have. The river was cold and full of strong currents, but it was free.
Mom chose the river. She insisted that we learn to swim well. Our house was about a mile from the river, an easy walk.
One June day Mom gathered us four children together in swim suits and led us to the end of Miller Street. The pioneer Miller Trading Post building was there still, in bad shape. Below is a gully that opened to the river. Here was a shallow channel that we waded, then a series of high sand banks capped with willows.
This is just where the Wenatchee River joins the large Columbia. In those years, shallows and a row of sand banks extended to the main current of the Columbia. Three big eddies in a row swirled below the banks, each one deeper. Mom stopped at the first eddy and said, “This is where we can swim until the water drops later. We’re safe below the sandbars.”
The river crests each June. It takes that long for springtime snow-melt upstream in British Columbia to arrive at Wenatchee, so the high water comes in summer. The water is cold, but Mom never turned blue like the rest of us.
My two brothers and sister, all older, already could swim. Mom tried teaching me to float while she held a hand under me. I was seven and skinny and could not float. I had to scull with my hands to stay up, so she let me try that awhile, still with a hand underneath.
At that first session I learned the frog kick and breast stroke, and managed to go a few feet. As the weeks of summer went by we swam once or twice weekly. I learned a strong side stroke and an easy back stroke as well as the breast stroke.
The inner eddy was small, maybe thirty feet across, so we had to turn often. As the water level dropped through the summer, we left the inmost eddy and moved to the center eddy, then to the outer one. Just a few feet beyond the end of the last sand bar, the main river current always threatened us. I tried the bare edge of it once, enough to scare me silly.
One day, brother Harold dragged a five-foot plank to the swimming hole. With Sis and brother Art, we scrabbled to build a support system of big flat rocks.
Harold tried the board and all the rocks fell ! Mom kept on swimming while we fooled with the diving board.
We hauled more rocks, and this time they held. Harold dived twice, Sis, Art and I got one dive each, then Mom said, “You took all the time we had to build that thing. Time to go home.”
Next week we dived a few times, but it wasn’t very good. Sis said, “ All that work isn’t worth it. Let’s just swim!”
A few years later we moved into town. There was a new public swimming pool, clean and warm. Kids could swim for five cents, and there was a real diving board!
Rock Island Dam downstream was raised by twenty feet about 1950. The water backed up to cover our old swimming hole and the sand banks. Now a few children at the nearby Confluence Park swim off the river bank in hot weather. There’s no current now, but they still turn blue with cold.
Everybody in Wenatchee calls the big hill Twin Peaks because that’s what it looks like. A pioneer built an upland ranch nearby at Horse Lake, so the hilltop’s name on the map is Horse Lake Mountain. We still call it Twin Peaks.
When I was eleven in 1938 all I knew was that Twin Peaks was the big hill at the top of Number One canyon and my big brothers wanted to climb it. One Saturday in spring Dad let Harold, my older brother, take the car with my other brother Art, Sis and me, so we could go climb Twin Peaks.
“You don’t go up Number One canyon,” Art told me. “You go south, take the road up Number Two, wind around behind, drive as far as you can, park and walk north up a bad road to the top.”
We drove to the end of the good road and started walking, but then Harold scouted ahead and said, “There’s a farm with a sign that says ‘Martin – NO TRESPASS.’ We have to take a loop around the farm and come back to the road beyond.”
So we crashed through some brush to a ridge that led us around a big bowl that held a pasture and farm buildings, and we thought that ridge would never come to an end.
The ridge did end and we reached the road beyond the farm. Across a flat, the road sloped up steeply to climb the last hill and we found ourselves in a high saddle behind the peak that is seen from the valley as the south Twin. Here was a third peak I never saw before! It stands on the west of the saddle, hidden from the valley floor.
“Hey, there are three peaks here!” I yelled. “Of course, we knew it all along,” they said. Stupid kid.
A snow patch lingered in some shade; it thrilled me because snow had vanished in the valley two months earlier. Better, at the edge I found a mule deer antler with three points. I kept it.
We strolled to the north peak and looked down at Horse Lake beyond. Art had gone there on his bike, and remarked that the lake is small, really a pond. So Horse Lake is not a lake but a pond, the map name of Horse Lake Mountain should be Horse Pond Mountain and Twin Peaks are not Twins but Triplets. We still call the hilltop Twin Peaks. Got that?
We built a fire and roasted wieners and marshmallows. Finally we used snow to put out the fire and walked back down the road.
At the upper farm gate Sis said, “What are they going to do to us if they catch us trespassing? They’ll just have to send us on down the road which is what we want anyway!” So we stayed on the road past the farmhouse. Nothing happened. Nobody caught us, nobody yelled, nobody saw.
We arrived at the car in good order and Harold drove home. That had been a grand adventure for me at eleven. I kept the deer horn for years. Even though Twin Peaks, at 4619 feet elevation, is counted locally as a big hill, I called it my first mountain.
A few years later I climbed Twin Peaks via Number One canyon, going straight up a long steep ridge. Over the years I turned into the family’s peakbagger, climbing over thirty real mountains, but Twin Peaks still has a place in my heart.
Dwight Wood, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop Ten, was my hero when I was twelve. He announced that we would build an Adirondack shelter at our troop’s camp ground at Scout-A-Vista, the Wenatchee scout reservation twelve miles from town up a steep canyon.
Even at that age, I found the reservation name unbearably cute, in the same class as Bide-a-Wee or Pineful Lodge. The name has never changed even though we once agitated for a more sober name. The reserve is lovely, meadows and woods and steep mountainsides, with a rushing roaring stream.
I still think it deserves a better name, maybe Camp Verl.
One fine Saturday, about twenty strong we went to camp at Scout-A-Vista to start the log lean-to shelter, open on one side, intended to keep us warm and dry on all future campouts.
Dwight pointed out the building site on a bench near the creek and then four boys started leveling the ground while the rest of us went up the steep hill above, looking for good trees to convert into log walls.
“The logs should all be Tamarack at first and about a foot through,” Dwight ordered. “ Why Tamarack, and what does it look like?” we asked. “This little tree right here is tamarack, and it won’t rot even if you lay it on the ground as a foundation,” was the reply. “There is more Douglas Fir growing here, and we will use it higher up in the walls, but start with Tamarack.”
The hill was steep, thick with trees, but we climbed a long way before we found the species and size ordered. We split into crews, four men (boys) each, and began to cut. We knew the method and had good axes, but only one cross-cut saw. It took practice before we learned to swing the axes well, to cut a big chip with each swing. The two-man saw, called Swede Misery, was even harder because it is limber and will bind if you push the blade even a bit, The contrary device will drive two sawyers crazy before they learn to pull, not too fast, not too slow, and in perfect teamwork. The first log our crew cut looked as if a beaver had chewed it down. That took all morning.
We trimmed off the limbs and tied the haul – rope to the log., then dragged it into position to slide straight downhill. Oops! The log wanted to slide downhill on its own! By a magnificent leap, one boy managed to swing a chunk of tree limb into place and stop the slide.
Then we untied the haul- rope and retied it to the upper end of the log. Three of us held the rope firmly while the boy at the bottom got a big pry pole to steer the log as it slid. The log stuck. The kid below pried the log to the side, then it began sliding.
It was a struggle to let that log slide down to the building site without killing anyone. We dragged heels, slid through a prickly gooseberry bush, snaked between trees.
That was the first log for the lean-to. Dwight sent us back for more. He notched the log ends to fit the next logs, then seeing that log delivery was going to be slow, he turned his leveling crew into loggers. He also needed short cross – logs to hold the front edge of the wall in place, at the sides of the front opening.
We felled and dragged logs, a few, all the rest of the day. Exhausted, we quit at 6 pm, fixed supper and collapsed in our sleeping bags, out in the open. We flattered ourselves we would have the shelter to hold off the weather on our next trip.
The next day we went back to logging, but slow and slower. It took a long time to chip out half-moon notches to hold the logs solid in the corners Finally about 2pm we had eight good logs and five short cross-logs in place. The walls were three-log height on one side and the back, and two-log height on the other side. Two raw logs lay on the ground.
We had to leave. The troop chairman had borrowed a truck to haul us home, and it was needed elsewhere in an hour.
The next weekend our Wolf Patrol was the only group able to go camping and work on the lean-to. In two days we cut and laid two more logs, a big job for six boys.
Dwight, the assistant Scoutmaster, left for a summer job somewhere else, so he never came back to finish the lean-to. That fall he went to college. We got a new Scoutmaster who did not want the lean-to.
Our Wolf Patrol went back one more time, but we put up only two more logs. It was hard to get transportation and a weekend where many members could go camping.
The Troop Ten “One-third-of-a-lean-to” then sat that way in the weather for years.
By contrast, just up the creek and a month later, Troop Three made a lean-to for their camp area in one day. Its plan was far more simple. Walls were rough “Bark Boards,” pieces from the sawmill where the log was made square by the first cut. They were half-round, bark-covered on one side, rough-sawn on the other, and cost very little.
Four vertical posts were sunk for the corners, and the bark boards were nailed on horizontally. The roof was also made of the same boards, laid like tiles on the shed roof. It leaked, but they did not fuss. There was no overhang in front, because that would have taken too much work.
My friend Mel and I walked up to the Troop Three site to marvel. Why had we started such a design that took so much labor? When you have a volunteer group, make simple plans that can be done in a short time.
This happened in 1940. I was thirteen and it was my first time at Prince Creek Scout Camp on Lake Chelan, WA.
An older kid on the camp staff, Gordon Fenton, taught swimming. The beach on the lake front had a steep dropoff and the water was cold. The creek was warmer, but shallow, so Gordon built a rock dam there to form a pond for swimming.
Admission to the pond, that he named the “J. Gordon Fenton Memorial Swimming Pool,” consisted of one rock as big as you could carry, set on the dam to raise the water level. The place became more popular than the waterfront on the lake though the water depth was only three feet at best.
I thought the pond was passable, so long as it was not crowded. One day another kid told me about a waterfall a mile up the creek, so we went up to see. Hurray, just what I had wanted without knowing it!
There was a series of three falls, each about twenty feet high, and the bottom one fell in a straight drop into a big pool. Both upper falls were twisted and would churn a swimmer into bits. That lower fall looked scary because of the height, but free of hazards.
I said, “Let’s go up and dive off.” My buddy wasn’t sure. Just then some other kids came up and passed us. They shed their clothes at the edge of the bottom pool, climbed the rocks, lay down in the stream at the brink, then shot off headfirst into a twenty-foot dive. O My Goodness!
With that example I did the same. What a thrill! The only trouble came when I tried to surface and got tumbled by the currents. It took strong strokes to break loose.
About on the third dive I learned to steer to one side and avoid the worst eddies. The rest of the week we went up to the falls and left poor J. Gordon with fewer customers.
The following year J. Gordon’s dam had been washed out. In the lake I worked on improving my swimming so I went only once to the falls.
As I was writing this remembrance, I recalled the Rabideau brothers, Jim and Phil, who also were at camp in those years. They became famous because of their song about Slewfoot Sue.
“There once was a girl I knew, her name was Slewfoot Sue,
She was chief engineer at a shirttail fact’ry down by the riverside blue.
Her figger was all she had. A face like a softshell crab.
A stiff upper lip like the rudder on a ship, by golly she looked sad!.
“Oh that’s where my money goes, to buy my baby clothes,
I buy her everything to keep her in style.
She wears my B.V.D.’s while I stand round and freeze.
She sits on the lawn and beckons them on.
And in my future life, she’s gonna be my wife.
How in the world did ya find that out?
She told me so!”
In about 1943 a spring flood washed out the entire Prince Creek camp, buildings and all. The area is still covered with gravel. The Scout camp moved to the State Park (new then) at First Creek on Lake Chelan, then to Scout-a-vista.
The summer I was 16 – that would be 1943 – four of us on the Boy Scout camp staff at First Creek on Lake Chelan planned a marvelous and glorious hike after the camp session.
The goal was Lyman Lake, a gem of a lake beneath a mountain and a glacier, 8 miles from Holden, a mining town above Lake Chelan. Dutch Hartmann and I had been there the year before, enchanted by flowers, crags and glaciers.
Holden is reached by daily mail boat up Lake Chelan, then by a bus ride ten miles up Railroad Creek. About 1870 a railroad surveyor had named the creek, hoping that it offered a low-level route to the coast. Then he found miles of cliffs at the top of the canyon, all scenic but bad for a railroad.
Dutch recruited two others from the staff. Before camp ended, we gathered what extra food we could from the camp cook. The choices were poor; oatmeal and sugar, oh yes and prunes.
Camp ended on a Sunday afternoon. We were to take the mail boat up the lake on Monday, but all the tents had been hauled away. We rented a sleeping cabin at the fishing resort next door, an unexpected cost.
The boat ride on Lake Chelan is a fine excursion by itself. Looking back, that was the best part of our trip. The present “Lady of The Lake” is several boats newer than the old “Speedway,” the craft in use then. “Speedway” had cabin space for 50 while the current boat can hold 285 and the new fast express boat holds 80. We paid for a round trip.
At Lucerne, the boat landing for Railroad Creek, we found there was a charge for the bus ride up to Holden. More expense, but we paid. “Cheer up,” said the driver, “You don’t pay on the trip back.” Dutch muttered, “O Yeah? We already paid his blood money for both ways.”
The road was rough. The driver dodged the worst holes, but it felt as if the springs were broken. At Holden we were surprised to see a model village of 500 in the forest.
Packs on, we took the trail up the canyon. Two miles of easy going brought us to Hart Lake, a dark hole in the canyon bottom.
Four miles of steep climbing along a brushy hillside followed, wet alders overhanging the trail. Crown Point Falls appeared, a high cascade rather than a free fall, but the cliffs blocked our view up the canyon. We could see a snowfield on the mountainside opposite, far lower than expected.
The trail comes to the streamside at a viewpoint just above the falls. We were already in six inches of old snow, and the rain kept coming. Lyman Lake was still two miles away; we could have gone there, but what then? More cloud and rain with snow underfoot.
A shelf of rock, mercifully bare, led across the cliff top above the falls. We could see flat bare ground beyond. That would be our campsite, the only choice for miles.
Wading the stream was easy, but beyond we found the flat spot was a bog, grass hummocks with water beneath. At one edge we found space to build a fire and to sleep.
Dutch gathered firewood, I cooked and the two others hauled alder branches and fir boughs to make an elevated bed for us all. We had no tent. The rain eased to a mist as we got into our sleeping bags, but I could see beads of water on the “water-resistant” cloth. The beads soaked through to my skin. The boughs underneath were wet, but I was wetter on top than the bottom.
Maybe the rain stopped in the night: I don’t remember. Breakfast was cold and damp. We headed for home. Rain began again.
Going downhill helped but the overhanging alders were now streaming. We sloshed into Holden Village and found a dry corner in the store while we waited for the bus. We could buy a few candy bars but had to save the rest of our funds to buy bus tickets from Chelan home to Wenatchee.
The downhill bus to the boat landing at Lucerne bounced even more than the day before. The boat was jammed. In Chelan we had a long wait for the Wenatchee bus, with no spare money for food. We ate prunes from our packs. I offered to go build a fire in a vacant lot and boil oatmeal, but had no takers.
The summer we were sixteen, Dutch Hartmann and I worked on the Boy Scout camp staff. After two weeks at the Lake Chelan State Park, primitive at the time, we moved the camp for two weeks to an old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp at Lost Lake in the Okanogan highlands east of Tonasket.
After the tents at Lake Chelan, the Lost Lake location was luxury because it had a barracks, a washhouse with hot showers and inside toilets, a cookhouse and messhall, a repair shop, even a cabin for the director. We found some bunk beds and moved them into the shop building as a staff dormitory. The lake water was warmer than Chelan.
The location had one bad feature; there was no way to control public access. Organization camps work best when the boys have no distractions from visitors, and when the staff knows who is around.
In the second week we were there, a group of six or eight girls our age came to camp next door. They were Campfire Girls, the staff of their own camp that would start after we were gone. The boss came over, talked with them and evidently decided that they would behave. Us too. He gave us permission to have an evening swim party with the girls a few days later, and arranged for party food.
In time we had the evening swim, though I found it was not much fun to swim at night, even in the moonlight. I sat and talked and ate and drank soda pop with one girl for a long time. That, I enjoyed though she and I were both shy. I still remember her.. . what was her name? That was in our flaming youth.
Dutch and a girl named Belle hit it off well together from the start. About eleven o’clock the party broke up and Dutch came over to tell me that he and Belle were going to take a moonlight hike to Strawberry Lookout, two miles away. They were wearing shoes and swim suits, but said they’d be okay when I asked, “Don’t you think you’ll get cold?”
The rest of us went back to camp. I woke up about dawn, five o’clock, and found Dutch’s bunk empty. Six a.m., still no Dutch. The shop building was at the opposite edge of camp from the director, across a road from the Campfire Girls. I was getting nervous, when Belle and Dutch came dragging in. She turned off to her tent and Dutch came up
to the shop.
“Where have you been? What happened?” I asked. He said, “Wait till everybody else is awake and I’ll tell you all at once.”
I called, “Wake up everyone! Dutch is here!” Then Dutch spoke up. “We took a midnight walk to Strawberry and lost the trail coming back. Then the moon went down and we couldn’t see, so we sat on a log until daylight came and here we are! And nothing happened, except we fell asleep on the log. And we got awful cold.”
It may be true, I thought. He admitted a small fault, getting lost, and denied a big fault, seduction, in a way that would put you in the wrong if you challenged his claim that nothing happened.
Dutch stayed awake for the morning flag ceremony and breakfast, then by luck had no training class to lead that morning. He went to bed after breakfast and showed up for lunch. No one told the boss, but I bet he learned of the event somehow.
It took me three summers to learn to hike slowly in the mountains. I was young, strong and eager to travel fast, but leaders Ralph and Eric held me back. At length I learned a way to walk in the hills at a steady slow pace, able to go on and on for hours, to take few rest stops, to relax, to look aside and see the small worlds that make our big world.
It was the summer I was sixteen that I first backpacked into the mountains with Ralph Childs, the Boy Scout leader and his helper Eric Soderberg. Our route led up Icicle Creek from the town of Leavenworth WA, over the crest of the Cascade Mountains to Deception Pass, down the Cle Elum River a few miles, over Paddy-Go-Easy Pass. I’d better confess here that we missed Paddy-Go-Easy and instead found ourselves at Fish Eagle Pass two miles east, but made up the difference by finding a connecting trail, a bad one. The last day would take us down Ingalls Creek to the Blewett Pass highway and home, about seventy miles in a week.
At a meeting in town beforehand, my brash friend Dutch raised his hand. He lived near Orondo, ten miles from town. “I can walk twenty miles to town and back in a day, easy. Why only ten miles a day?”
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