To read Part One of this excerpt click here.
In early February of 1942 they began a nine-day ski trip through the central Pasayten country, an extended tour traversing a major portion of the present day Pasayten Wilderness. On their first day they skied up the Harts Pass road toward the summit, but experienced difficulty finding the right wax for the new snow that had fallen. Their destination for that evening was a snug cabin not far from Harts Pass, but their goal was eluding them as evening approached. Dale’s written trip account continues:
It got late and still no cabin. It got dark and finally we got tired of the packs. They were too heavy and we decided to lighten them. We found a big tree to lean against and noticed a pitchy scar. This pitch furnished fuel for a quick fire. Two cups of chicken bouillon apiece and the packs felt better. An hour’s rest was needed most of all.
Stopping when tired, resting and recovering some, then continuing, was a common practice for Walt and Dale. Their philosophy was to never drive themselves near their physical limit, but as Dale would say, “to travel at ease at all time.” This didn’t mean, however, that Dale and Walt wouldn’t ski a great distance in a single day, but even a very long day was undertaken within well understood limits and paced accordingly.
After shouldering their packs and skiing for no more than ten minutes, they were surprised, and somewhat chagrined, when they spotted their cabin. It was new, constructed the summer before by Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service crews as an aid in measuring snow depths during the winter and spring at Hart’s Pass. Cabins like these were always left unlocked, with fuel, food, cooking utensils and possibly bedding on hand, awaiting any weary, winter ski touring party. The next day Dale measured the snow stake: 64 inches, typical for a site in the Pasayten.
After spending several days enjoying powder skiing in nearby basins, Dale and Walt broke camp very early in the morning and began climbing toward a divide north and west of Harts Pass. The route would carry them toward the West Fork of the Pasayten River, the next leg of their extended ski tour. Their second camp, the Three Forks Cabin, was nearly 20 miles distant. Descending from the slopes of Windy Pass just east of Tamarack Peak, they skied through challenging terrain, eventually reaching more gentle and relaxing skiing near the West Fork Pasayten River. Because they had eaten only a light breakfast, Dale and Walt stopped under a massive spruce tree for lunch, cooking a gallon of concentrated pea soup, supplemented with some hardtack. The rest and nourishment bolstered their spirits considerably.
Snow had not fallen for a week, making ideal conditions for efficient traveling on skis. The well preserved snow surface also meant that a week’s worth of animal tracks were clearly visible. Tracks were everywhere. “Marten tracks were numerous. We saw several fox tracks, a few lynx tracks and some bobcat.” Just before dark (February days are short), they reached the Three Forks Cabin, located just north of the confluence of Rock Creek and the Middle and West Forks of the Pasayten River. They were tired after the long day, but very pleased with what they found: the luxury of a cook stove, an abundance of wood, and best of all, dried beans. The beans were a treat.“Besides beans for supper and breakfast, we carried some along in a coffee can, already cooked for the next evening meal.”
On February 6th they skied at a leisurely pace to the U.S. Forest Service Pasayten Guard Station, less than three miles south of the Canadian border. Marten, ermine and rabbit tracks were everywhere, and shortly before reaching the cabin, Dale caught a glimpse of a river otter in one of the side streams. In open areas the snow was no more than a foot deep, and with their dense boughs catching most of the snowfall, there was little more than a trace beneath the big Engelmann spruce near the cabin. Although this cabin did not have beans, it was well stocked with oatmeal, giving the pair a supplementary diet of mush.
The next morning they began skiing the route to Hidden Lakes and the Ptarmigan cabin, but found the snow conditions changing rapidly. The excellent traveling conditions of the earlier part of the trip had been replaced by especially challenging snow, caused largely by warming temperatures.
The surface snow was wet and we, of course, had to wax for it. Under this wet snow was a breakable crust. It would hold your weight on the two skis, but when you stepped forward the rear ski broke through. Under the crust was very loose dry snow. This stuck to the skis and really made them heavy.
Skiing was difficult, but by early afternoon they arrived at a Forest Service lean-to-shelter near Big Hidden Lake, and heated a welcome pot of vegetable bouillon for a short rest and energy boost. Their route led them from the shelter, along the east edge of Big Hidden Lake and part of Middle Hidden Lake, toward the Ptarmigan Cabin. Skiing continued to be difficult due to the unusual snow conditions, but the cabin, which lay near the confluence of Ptarmigan Creek and the Lost River, was reached before nightfall. Always resourceful, Dale prepared some very filling pancakes out of flour and maple syrup he discovered tucked away in a kitchen shelf.
The next day, February 8, was a long one, with the two friends skiing over 18 miles to a campsite near Eightmile Pass. During the day they had seen fresh goat tracks at the head of the Lost River, mink tracks on the frozen snow covering Cougar Lake, and fresh cougar tracks in Drake Creek, a main tributary of the Lost River. The big cat had come down from Eightmile Pass and tried to climb up the Drake Creek drainage.
In several places he had tried to climb up over a snowbank, but he was so heavy and the snow so loose that he fell back. He would then back-track a hundred yards and try again elsewhere. Finally he gave up and apparently went up the Lost River.
Earlier in the winter an intense snow storm had affected the Eightmile Pass area, with 20 foot-tall trees bent over with wet snow, forming arches of various sizes. Smaller trees had been completely covered, and looked “like a group of youngsters who had been covered for the night but did not intend to sleep.”
The next day and one-half were spent skiing over snow-covered roads to the small town of Winthrop, where they shared a celebratory meal. Along the way they had but one crisis, a broken metal ski edge repaired en-route. Dale and Walt traveled this route more than once over the years, naming it the “Pasayten trip”, because the central part of the tour passed through the Pasayten River drainage.
Their journey had many moments of pleasure and relaxation, but there were more difficult and demanding segments of the trip as well, when perseverance was absolutely required. Asked why he did extended ski tours like the “Pasayten trip” Dale answered, “For the simple pleasure of going. Just being out in nature. Of course, you have to have the spirit for it, you have to want to do it.” 2 Reflecting on the effort, determination and patience needed, Dale added: “For many people these trips would be work, but for Walt and me it was a pleasure. There is the beauty of the country, the animal tracks, just being out there. At times it can be windy, cold and you can be hungry, but at other times you have ideal conditions. Then it’s just wonderful.” After a long pause Dale made a final comment: “I’m not sure exactly what being in the mountains does to you, but it does something, and it’s wonderful.” His answer was honest, direct, and completely open-ended.
East of the “Pasayten trip” was an equally long ski trek that Dale and Walt named the “Ashnola”. Over the years it remained their favorite, largely because it included so much terrain ideal for telemark skiing in soft snow conditions. This was especially true of the parkland near Spanish Camp, high rolling country with a backdrop of rugged peaks, notably Remmel Mountain and the Cathedral Peaks. During their lives they were able to take this 10-day journey three times. The following narrative is based on Dale’s recollection, made in the early 1980s, of their first “Ashnola” trip. 3
It began at the Eightmile ranch, the last residence up the Chewuck River and the end of the plowed road during the 1940s. Their first day was spent skiing the remainder of the snow-covered road, arriving at the Lake Creek forest camp for that evening’s rest. The next day they climbed up the Lake Creek drainage toward Black Lake, skied across the frozen lake, and camped in the forest near the lake edge. Traveling had been slow because of deep, soft snow, making it necessary for the pair to trade places frequently while breaking trail.
Black Lake is surrounded by dense forest, giving their camp natural protection and ample firewood for a good evening fire. The weather pattern was colder than normal, with temperatures considerably below zero each night. Nights became colder as their trip progressed, making a good fire more important than ever. Their third camp was made at Fawn Lake just south of Ashnola Pass. It was now so cold they were compelled to adopt an unusual technique for keeping warm at night, placing one down sleeping bag inside the other. One person would sleep at a time, while the second would tend the fire. With the long nights of early February, even a half-night’s sleep was sufficient rest, especially if one could remain warm and sleep soundly. Their system made that possible. After breaking camp in the morning, Dale and Walt skied northward down Spotted Creek, and entered the magnificent Spanish Camp country.
Camp was established on Spanish Camp Creek, just a mile east of Bald Mountain, and adjacent to the areas’ rolling parkland. With continuing cold temperatures the snow was unusually dry, giving them the most enjoyable skiing of the trip, and on slopes not far from camp. They experienced powder telemark skiing at its finest, skiing run after run until the best terrain was covered with graceful arcs.
Their route out of the Spanish Camp basin took them north and east, past the Upper Cathedral Lake and through Cathedral Pass, shadowed by the steep granite masses of Amphitheater Mountain and Cathedral Peak. The pass itself was cold, where a brisk wind was filtered only slightly by the needleless larch trees. A comfortable night was spent four miles east of the pass at the Tungsten Mine cabin. Temperatures continued cold the next day, as Dale and Walt traversed along Bauerman Ridge through miles of silver snags from a wildfire that had burned over a decade earlier. The present day Boundary Trail follows their ski route quite closely (today only remnants remain of the once extensive silver forest). During the day Dale suffered from an annoying nosebleed, and because of the extreme cold some of the blood froze along his face. Eventually the cold temperatures helped to stop his bleeding.
Their second to last camp was made in a sheltered basin just east of Bauerman Ridge, with plentiful firewood for their evening fire from the snags near camp. The following day conditions remained clear and cold, which at least simplified the waxing of their skis, and to Dale’s relief, his nose was no longer a problem. For their last night they dug into the snow on the north side of Windy Peak, using the insulating snow of their cave to help them remain reasonably comfortable. For their last day they planned a long trek all the way to the town of Loomis. The two friends skied into the Loomis gas station at 9 p.m. and learned that the previous night the temperature in town had dropped to minus 30 degrees F.
Read Chester Marler's account of his experience skiing the same powder bowls and traversing the same passes in the upcoming Part Three of this excerpt.