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Sad Tragedy on a Blue Sky Day

Sunday July 20, 1986
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Click 1986 Wilderness Hike to see all the stories in this topic.

After visiting the Cascades area of Washington in 1984 I knew I had to return. I used my frequent flyer miles and booked a first class ticket to Washington in 1986 and hiked about 65 miles in the North Cascades Wilderness area over a week. I kept a travel diary and have reproduced it here as I wrote it in 1986.


6:18AM I just woke up. I'm sleeping late today. I put my walking clothes in the sleeping bag with me to warm them up. Wearing one set of clothes during the day and another at night is working well. I did not hear any animals last night. They must have visited the two men north of me at Grizzly Creek. I'll be breaking camp today and walking deeper into the valley down Bridge Creek.

9:26AM It only took me less than an hour to hike 2.2 miles back to the junction of North Fork and Bridge Creek. Nothing touched my food last night. I think I hung the food too close to an over hanging branch the night before. Squirrels or chipmunks were able to jump from the branch to my food.

My calves continue to hurt a lot. I can hardly walk when I wake up. I slept great again last night. I'm not going to get to see everything I wanted to see. The mountains are simply too high and the trails too long. That's a good reason to come back here again someday. Maybe take the boat up Lake Chelan and go on one of the horse trips. I've decided that I must start back on Wednesday. It will be 13 miles back to the car. All uphill. I need to camp in Seattle Friday night because of my early flight on Saturday morning.

1:40PM I'm sitting below the Stehekin Road beside Bridge Creek. The creek is much larger now than it was 13 miles and 3 days ago. I met several people on the main trail this morning. One couple had hiked in last night to eat at Cascade Corrals and were hiking back today. 13 miles each way. One couple was from New York. Another who worked on the road was from Connecticut. He hikes on his weekends. He said this spring they cut 140 trees while clearing the road.

Jul 20, 1986 Sun
I am at the road that runs through the wilderness area where the Park Service runs a shuttle van service a couple of times a day. I plan to go to Cottonwood camp.

I trashed my pancakes and syrup this morning. They weren't worth the trouble or weight. I've hiked 5.2 miles today. I reached the road at about 12:00. I started the third roll of film.

I soaked my feet in Bridge Creek several times until they got numb from the cold. I'm going to lay here beside the creek until about 3:00PM. Then I'll catch the van operated by the National Park service up to Cottonwood. I plan to camp there for 3 nights and then head north back to the highway. I hope I can make that trip in two days.

Jul 20, 1986 Sun
A bridge over Bridge Creek.

I'm boiling some more drinking water now. I had to start on a second can of butane. It lasted 2.5 days. When I boil water I put it in my water bottle or canteen and place it back in running water. It isn't long until I have ice cold water. I drink two quarts of water during the day and at least one at night. This place is great. The roar of the water, crystal clear. A slight breeze is blowing.

8:53PM It took the shuttle bus 1/2 hour to travel up here. The road is only a goat trail. He drove about 10 MPH and I was glad to get out. A lady on the bus got the campsite up on the hill so I had to set up at one within 20 feet of the Stekekin River. I'm at Cottonwood Camp. I only walked 5.4 miles today.

Tonight I soaped and washed my hair. I only rinsed it before. I wipe down with a washcloth each night so I feel pretty good.

The deer are bad here. I can't even run them off by hitting them with rocks. I was 30 feet away talking with some folks and one tried to get away with one of my boots. I had Salisbury Steak with noodles and mushrooms tonight. I've only got enough lemonade for 3 more quarts. I popped some popcorn. It was great. I figure I lost a lot of salt through sweat.

Jul 20, 1986 Sun
This deer was cute for about 10 minutes then he was a pain.

Jul 20, 1986 Sun
Bridge Creek

The plastic scouring pads with built in soap works well for cleaning dishes.

I had peaceful, quiet moments today. I stopped often to look at the forest around me and to feel the surroundings. During the bus ride the driver who was a ranger was talking with the lady. There had been a climbing accident and they were getting a helicopter. There was also a ranger trapped in a creek by a boulder. His leg was crushed and he had been in the icy water for two hours.

I had finished supper and was thinking about popping some corn when a couple walked into camp. They were upset because the bus was supposed to wait for them. They were 7 minutes late. We were talking and they were hoping the owner of a beat up old Volkswagen parked in the road would return and they could hitch a ride, when another shuttle bus came up the road. It was not scheduled to be here. I rode up on the last one. The ranger said he was here to take out the climbing party. A guy had been killed. The body was flown out by helicopter and the rest of the party was coming out here. They had gotten the ranger out of the creek.

The ranger didn't know much yet. He said they had a couple of fatalities a year. I was popping popcorn when some of the people came in off the trail. I took my popcorn up to the road and offered them some but they declined. They waited for some time then the ranger came down to my camp. He said that was a nice thing I did. He said there was a fifth person but they weren't sure if he would be coming on down. The ranger wanted me to give him a message. They waited a little longer then the ranger came down again. The people wanted to leave so they could call the boy's parents. The man still on the trail was a surgeon by the name of Flanigan. He was self supporting (tent, food, etc) and could spend the night. He wanted me to explain why they had left. He said the people had expressed their appreciation toward me.

I cleaned up camp and was tidying up my tent when the man came along. At first he was very upset because he would not be able to tell his parents that he was ok. Then he realized they were doing what they thought best. We talked for a while. He was born in Virginia and went to school at Duke. He's been climbing for 25 years and said he had climbed about 150 mountains and had never seen what he saw today. The dead man's name is Terry. He was in his 30's and divorced. There were 6 people total with one woman. This trip was kind of a get together for them. Something they had been trying to do for years. These mountains were a piece of cake for them. Some of them including the dead guy had recently climbed some high mountain in Pakistan as part of the first American ascent.

Jul 20, 1986 Sun
The surgeon whose climbing party suffered a fatal accident. He spent the night at my campsite after missing the shuttle van that took the rest of his group down the valley to Stehekin.

The group started from here this morning. They camped here last night. He said they were cracking jokes and having a good time, then it ended so suddenly and so randomly. A boulder broke loose from the top of the mountain. They only rock they saw fall all day. This guy said that it bounced down the mountain and was about 40 feet above the fellow before anyone saw it. Terry was in the lead. Someone yelled. Terry had time to look up and begin to duck. The rock took off the back of his head. He was killed instantly. This fellow said he had helped remove bodies from mountains and had seen people injured in his own party but had never seen anything like it. On a beautiful sky blue day that was so perfect for climbing.

The man is camped a few feet from me. We'll both be riding the bus down the valley tomorrow. It is a 2 hour ride.

You may be interested in the next article, Day Trip to Cascade Corrals and Stehekin for Some Comfort Food.

The previous article is Relaxing Afternoon in a North Cascades Alpine Meadow.

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