Tonga Ridge Tales

I lay flat on my back in the snow, my orange fifty-pound Sportswest budget external-frame backpack pinned under me, my brand-new Trek cross-country no-wax skis twisted awkwardly if still painfully attached, poles flailing, and four-letter words spewing in a non-stop stream from my cold and ice-encrusted lips.

At times such as these, you find out who your friends really are.

The setting was the final western approach to the saddle between Mount Sawyer and Fisher Lake on the Tonga Ridge Trail, just inside the boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. In the third week of March, 1982, heavy snowfall had the Foss River Road closed all the way down by the Burlington Northern train trestle, so Randy Sartin and I were now, on the second day of our week-long backcountry adventure, some 13 trail miles and 3000 vertical feet higher than where we had parked my–ahem!–trusty VW 412.

After a long day of familiarizing ourselves with the rougher points of gaining elevation on cross country skis, we’d abandoned the Forest Service road and used our snowshoes to cut off a big loop of the spur road to Burn Creek. That first night, we had pitched our tent in a clear cut near the spur road, overlooking the Foss River valley. At dawn the next day, the view was spectacular.

That second day, we had headed off cross-country toward the trailhead on Tonga Ridge, cutting off another miles-long loop of the road. It sounded like a good idea, because we knew our inexperience on skis (with awkward packs) was yielding only a scant one mile per hour of uphill progress… much, much worse time than we’d typically make on heavily-laden foot during the summer.

But gaining another 1200 feet of elevation through snow-shrouded untracked forest is no simple task, even if you know what you’re doing on skis. And we didn’t. By the time we gained the Tonga Ridge Trail, which we’d trekked on snowshoes the previous winter, we were already exhausted.

Frustration was playing a factor, too. The year before, we had been able to drive all the way up to 3500 feet, coming only a mile or so shy of the trailhead. This year, we’d expected problems with the northwest-facing slopes of the hillside that Forest Road 6830 switchbacked across. But we hadn’t planned on getting stuck all the way down at 1200 feet. Sure, we’d cut off half of the 10 miles we’d driven the previous year by eliminating the switchbacks… but we knew we were going to lose an entire day before we established base camp at Sawyer Pass. And that would still be well short of our desired destination: Upper Jewel Lake.

So the slog up to the Tonga Ridge trailbed took a lot out of us. Even standing still in that terrain was hazardous while on skis. I lost track of the number of times they just shot out from under me and dumped me unceremoniously, violently, and variously on my back, sides, and front. All I knew was that this was one of the hardest things I’d ever done.

Once we gained the trailbed, though, I had no doubt where we were. Even several feet further above the trail than I was accustomed to be, I was on very, very familiar ground.

My first trek into this area came in probably 1975 or 1976. My dad had drawn a doe tag in the only kind of lottery then legal in Washington State, so he and Bob and I loaded ourselves down with ninety pounds each of supplies, rifles, and rounds of ammunition for a four-day stay in the woods. We’d hiked in as far as Sawyer Pass and then set out off-trail for some likely-looking hunting grounds around upper Jewel Lake, which perches on a lip of rock overlooking the Burn Creek drainage northwesterly below Sawyer Pass. You can literally sit on the edge of a cliff not twenty yards from your lakeside camp and survey the movement of every living critter within twenty square miles. I know, because I did that one year… and promptly fell asleep in the early morning light, my legs dangling playfully if dangerously in the chilly September air.

Those years of hunting the ridges around Fisher Lake were pretty thrilling, even if we never did fire a shot. On various trips, we’d spend anywhere from three to seven days camped at Upper Jewel, ranging during the days from the east-facing slopes above Fisher as far around on the west slopes as Mary and June Lakes–carefully threading our way through the quarter-mile rockslide on the way–or heading around past Fisher into the Ptarmigan lakes. One year, we even took our camp one night onto the ridge of Terrace Mountain, pitching the tent at about 6000 feet and fashioning a stove out of flat granite slabs. We watched shooting stars send sparks showering over the Skykomish watershed.

How can I describe the mood and thrill of silent pre-dawn risings, of learning to thread my way along game trails in the dark, of being always alert to the unexpected movement of wildlife, of the startling beauty found on dew-laden morning sidehills and across unstable scree? Those stalking explorations often felt like a grimy version of the spirit of Star Trek-lite, boldly going where precious few had gone before… and come back smelling good. Once in a long while we’d find traces of some earlier crew’s camp; but this was truly wilderness which we experienced after the fashion of uncharted territory.

The novelty of those grueling trips wore off, though, and I decided that I could retain all the benefits without the added burden of a rifle and shells. And it was a good decision, for that way the magic of the place never wore off. I kept shooting, but it was only pictures.

And so I introduced Randy, Tim Stevens, Mike Hadley, Tim Tolonen, Jim Moore, Ken Mummert, and–a bit later–Dave Stark and J-W Smith to my happy hunting-free grounds.

I can’t recall for sure, but I believe the very first backpacking trips I took with my former high school cohorts launched from that Tonga Ridge trailhead. Over the years, we expanded the campsite on Upper Jewel by improving the firepit and incorporating downed-log benches around the fire. We packed in air mattresses for comfort, and for lounging on the lake. We found an improved back-door game path into Upper Jewel, one that skirted the last useless elevation gain–our own private Pork Chop Hill–on the spur trail to Fisher Lake. We scouted new routes over to Fisher, naming the saddle between there and Upper Jewel “Pullman Gap” in honor of one of our favorite high school cheerleaders. We’d make speed hikes over to Ptarmigan Lakes for fishing or to Fisher for jugs of drinking water, and on one of those Tim and I scaled Terrace Mountain–only to discover after the ascent that I had almost killed myself pulling a boulder loose from the northeast ridge for no good reason at all… since the south ridge was a leisurely walk-up.

One summer, when the guys were looking for different places to fish, I mentioned that I happened to know of a new destination. Several years before, my dad and I had traversed the rockslide below the west face of Fisher Peak into June Lake. This seldom-visited lake boasts a vast supply of mature trout since there is absolutely no footpath to it. When my dad and I had visited, we had not been carrying lunch and had instead dined on fresh-caught Eastern Brook broiled on flat stones.

My own blisters prevented a return visit to June, but my directions to the secluded fisherman’s haven proved flawless. When Mike, Tim, and Randy returned later in the afternoon, Randy carried a beautiful fifteen-inch trout among several others.

The next year, June Lake became our prime destination. It was a demanding hike in, not to mention perilous descending into and crossing the Fisher Peak rockslide with backpacks. We would later decide it was too hazardous to venture a repeat trip, but while we were there the Tims, Randy, Mike and I sawed and lashed a seven-foot square raft from downed snags, and spent an afternoon cruising June on our makeshift craft, navigating with roughly-hewn paddles. By the end of the raft’s maiden voyage, however, the weathered logs became waterlogged. We came to shore wading in our own ankle-deep bathtub. The raft never did fully sink, however. Years later, you could still espy the semi-sunken craft with the naked eye from the shoulder of Fisher Peak.

Back at the Upper Jewel base camp, however, one of the favorite pastimes (and I am ashamed to admit this) was boulder-rolling from the cliff overlooking the Burn Creek drainage and Lower Jewel. The cliff outside of camp was a 60-or-so-foot precipitous drop, and large stones clinging to the lip were an easy mark for idle college boys. On the early trips, particularly, afternoon card games would last only so long before stone-prying took over the agenda. Eventually, of course, we ran out rocks.

After-dark hours were the best on those backpacking trips. In those days there were no campfire restrictions, and deadfall was abundant–so we’d stoke the flames for hours, chatting on late into the night. When the weather was right and fog would lift off the lake in waves, we’d play “Flashlight Tag,” a cross of hide-and-seek and Kick the Can. Teams would split up for search-and-destroy missions in near-blackout visibility. In hindsight, it was a mindlessly stupid nighttime activity in proximity to a lake and a cliff, but it was highly entertaining.

When the fire died down, or when we just needed to retreat from August mosquitoes, we’d rig my propane lantern in the Big Tent for a couple hours of poker. And that’s what we thought we really were, after all: poker buddies, moonlighting as backpackers. One night, the wire suspending the lantern from the tent ceiling broke, and the lantern dropped right into the pot and bounced flaming over into the sleeping bags. Someone’s quick hands saved us from an utter disaster; I don’t recall whose. The only casualty was one slightly singed spot on my mummy bag.

Nighttime also provided one of my most lasting memories of Upper Jewel. One year, our party arrived in two groups; the second party was delayed by two days in their arrival. As Jim’s, Ken’s, and Tim Tolonen’s scheduled h-hour approached, Tim Stevens, Randy, Mike and I played cards on the cliff’s edge while watching for them on the Tonga Ridge trail. They simply weren’t showing up. It became apparent that they had been delayed… and that they were unlikely to get to Sawyer Pass by dark. That meant that Ken, who was the only one of the three who had previously been to Upper Jewel, was extremely unlikely to find the fisherman’s paths and gametrails into camp.

We set out to meet them with flashlights at Sawyer Pass, and they arrived just at dusk. While they refueled with M&Ms and tanked up with the last of their drinking water, we debated the plan to return to Upper Jewel in the dark. Even with flashlights, the enterprise would be dubious, and the possibility of bivouacking at Sawyer Pass was broached. But I assured the others I’d be able to guide us to camp.

As long as we were on the Fisher Lake spur, navigating with flashlights was fine–but as soon as we headed off-trail, the paths simply vanished. Shadows from the flashlights confused the lay of the land, and we began wandering through the trees searching for Jewel-bound game trails.

Then my instincts kicked in. “Turn off the flashlights,” I directed. And sure enough, as my night-vision returned, my hunting experience paid off. In my peripheral vision I could get enough sense of the shadows of salal, huckleberry, and duff hummocks to discern the faint impressions left by the regular passage of large game animals. With the sure-footedness of the mountain goats that sometimes can be found on the flanks of Fisher Peak, I led our single-file, silent, and lightless group of hikers into Upper Jewel. Truly a night to remember.

We did play a lot of cards on those trips–mostly Hearts and various poker games, but also Pinochle, Pitch, and Cribbage. The latter three were more common on later trips when the group was down to Dave, Tim, J-W and I. On one of our last trips, I carved and drilled a full cribbage board, and bored a hole in the end to hang it from a nail on the big tree by the fire pit. A decade later, J-W made a solo trip into Upper Jewel and took a photo of the cribbage board still hanging from the tree. As near as he could tell, not a single soul had camped at Upper Jewel since the last time we had left.

By 1993, we pretty much had a sense that family and work demands were bringing our time in the Fisher Lake environs to a close, and we wanted to go out in style. A decade earlier, in the flush of our college-age youth, Randy, Tim, Ken, Mike, and I had cut a cross-country course from Tonga Ridge to Salmon La Sac–essentially, a five-day trek from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. We intended to traverse Mount Daniel on the way.

The first day of that 1983 expedition, we took the conventional route from Tonga Ridge to Fisher and Lower Ptarmigan. My earlier hunting experiences told me that excellent camping was available at Upper Ptarmigan, which would also make a great launching point for our off-trail foray to Mount Daniel. Less than ten minutes from Upper Ptarmigan, however, I slipped while crossing a downed tree. My hands got caught in my pack straps, and I took the full brunt of the fall on my forehead, leaving me with an inch-long profusely-bleeding gash above my right temple. We debated whether we should go on or turn back.

Go on we did, unwisely or not. I was probably concussed at the time, which didn’t help my decision-making abilities.

The camp at Upper Ptarmigan was ideal, however, and the next day we clambered directly up the north shoulder of Terrace Mountain as planned. The early-September weather was stupendous, and views from 6000 feet overlooking Ptarmigans to the west and Lake Clarice to the east outstanding. The fish jumping at Clarice looked like whitecaps. After a short snack break, we got moving on the long, slow traverse through the rockslides on the east slopes of Terrace southward toward Marmot Lake.

The final approach to Marmot was the most treacherous part of the trip. The topographical maps, on which we relied for route-finding, showed extraordinarily steep inclines coming down off of the Terrace massif, and we weren’t entirely sure there’d be a safe way to lakeside. After some probing and a couple failed attempts, we did finally discover a narrow game trail that allowed a relatively safe scramble down the east-facing ridgeline, and, with the assistance of tree branches for handholds, another westward switchback traverse of a rockslide to finally arrive at Marmot. But we weren’t done yet. Our destination for the night was tiny No Name Lake on the plateau 500 feet above Marmot. We charged straight up the ridgeline to establish a cold and windy camp, and had a hard time keeping a fire going to rehydrate our freeze-dried meals. It even snowed on us that night.

The morning brought extreme frustration. We had expected to have a good view of the route to Mt. Daniel from our exposed position at 5600 feet on the saddle between Marmot and the Lynch Glacier… but we were completely fogged in. The previous night’s slow flurry had brought the cloud ceiling right down on top of us. After a prolonged debate, we decided we couldn’t afford the time to wait out the weather. If we delayed another day and the route across Daniel proved unfeasible, we’d never be able to stay on schedule for our pickup at Salmon La Sac.

That day turned out to be the most grueling I’d ever spend on a trail. We discovered that there was a footpath connecting nearby Jade Lake to Marmot, so we descended via Marmot to the Pacific Crest Trail at the Deception Pass junction, giving up 1000 feet of elevation in the process. From there, the PCT descends further to just over 3700 feet before regaining 2000 to Cathedral Pass. We were all exhausted at the crest of the trail. I know now that we were probably critically dehydrated. In those days, we traveled with only a quart of water on our hips. Tim fell asleep during our snack break. By the time we settled in at Deep Lake for the night, we were simply done.

Day 4 was another long one. We descended from Deep Lake to Waptus, and then did about 8 miles of the Waptus River trail, spending the night at a horse camp along the river with a plan to complete our trip a day ahead of schedule. That left us a relatively short day on Day 5, arriving at the Salmon La Sac Ranger Station early enough to call for our ride to pick us up later that afternoon.

So that was 1983, when we were still young and foolish. The idea that we could string five of us out along Lynch Glacier with a forty-foot rope was simply absurd. In 1993, we were older but still foolish–perhaps even more so. With my high school buddies all married and having children, and with the crowd dispersing to Spokane and Idaho, and with our midsections ever expanding, we knew the future did not bode well for these annual excursions into Tonga territory–so we decided to recreate that pass-to-pass trek… and this time around bag Daniel for sure! So much for absurdity.

For the 1993 edition, J-W subbed for Ken, and Dave provided our transportation to the Tonga Ridge trailhead, even accompanying us on the trail as far as Sawyer Pass on Day 1. We again spent the first night at Upper Ptarmigan… but it sure required a lot more exertion to cover the same ground. I was getting seriously overheated; the weather was much hotter in 1993, and I was losing a lot more electrolytes through perspiration. Most days on that trip, the other guys (Mike in particular) thought I was going to have a heart attack, and at the end of the day I would simply throw myself into the glacier-fed lakes to bring my body temperature down. Oh, to have known some simple facts about hydration when I was 30!

Day 2′s itinerary was also the same as ten years prior–but it sure seemed like we spent a lot longer at the Lake Clarice overlook on Terrace’s shoulder, recovering from the 1000-foot scramble up from Ptarmigan. Then, after Mike twisted his knee on the rockslide traverse behind Terrace, we were out of gas when we arrived at Marmot. I, in particular, simply had no legs left and getting to No Name was out of the question.

On Day 3, we decided on a recovery/reconnaissance packless day trip up the trail to Jade Lake to scope out the approach to Mt. Daniel. Some recovery day. The mere 500-foot gain to Jade about did me in. While J-W and I lounged at Jade, Mike and Tim and Randy made their slow way across the moraine to the saddle between Jade and the Lynch Glacier. We could already see that the route was way beyond our skills and fitness, but the trio gamely expended their energy to confirm what we already knew. Daniel was a no-go yet again. The proposed route was simply beyond our skill level, much less our conditioning.

That evening we debated Plan B for the remainder of the trip. The weather was extremely hot, and from prior experience we knew that drinking water on the Cathedral route would be hard to find. We also did not relish the idea of repeating that long slog to Deep Lake. We ultimately decided to put our tails between our legs, and exit via Hyas Lake from Deception Pass.

Oh, that 4th day was long, hot, dry, and thirsty. We found nary a clean drop of drinking water on that tramp. What dirty puddle-water we did find I soaked up in my bandana and squeezed over my parched head. I’m pretty sure I brought up the rear guard of our straggling and haggard party into the Tucquala Meadows campground a mile or so past Hyas Lake.

As we set up camp, we discussed our final dilemma: we were out a day early, as in 1983… but we were also at the wrong trailhead. Salmon La Sac was still 11 miles down the road! In the end, Randy hitched a ride down to the Ranger Station to call for changes in our pickup plan, and arrived back at the Meadows later that evening.

The whole aborted ordeal of that 1993 trip reminded us of how much more fit we had been a decade earlier, even though we never felt particularly athletic in those days. I am pretty sure, however, that on more than one occasion while in our prime we covered the five-mile exit from Upper Jewel to the Tonga Ridge trailhead in less than an hour, a formidable feat even if our packs had been relieved of their loads of food. Once we even made a day trip out to Skykomish for ice cream as a lark while we waited for other members of our party to make the hike in, trailing behind them after waiting for them to pass us by on the road. Our youth and our energy and enthusiasm made an entire wilderness world our doorstep and playground. And we took advantage of it for more than a decade. It’s too bad that age and governmental restrictions have intervened.

Today’s public land-use policies mystify me. What is the wilderness for if not to see? How can we ever appreciate unspoiled beauty if it remains unvisited? Today you need trailhead permits to park your cars. You can’t build campfires above 4000 feet–at any time of the year. You can’t camp within certain distances of lakes. You can’t collect firewood. You have to pack out human waste. The end result of these policies is overuse of the more accessible camping areas… and the near-abandonment of beautiful remote locations like Upper Jewel, Upper Ptarmigan, Mary Lake, June Lake, and Top and Rock Lakes on the opposite side of the Foss River valley. Even when restrictions were very light, we never shared these destinations with any other campers. Not even hunters.

I am deeply saddened by the thought that kids today are discouraged from visiting such places.

There is nothing more stirring and evocative in my memory than the scent and scene of the scrub-huckleberry meadow on the shelf above Upper Jewel. The final approach on the standard route into Upper Jewel, that meadow calls to my mind everything that is Wilderness: beauty, seclusion, gentleness, and the sense that you have almost returned to Eden, or are on your way home again–refreshed and renewed, if footsore, exhausted, and ripe.

And even in the earliest of those halcyon days I desperately longed to see that spot in winter.

In 1981, Randy and I decided to rent showshoes and make the trek into Jewel over Spring Break. While our college chums were sunning themselves in Fort Lauderdale or Cabo, we slogged our aching snowshoe-newbie groins about a mile up the snow-clogged road to the Tonga Ridge trailhead and then managed another mile or so on the trail before we simply could not lug our Quaker Oats, Swiss Miss, and Top Ramen any further. We managed to find a snow-free patch beneath a beleaguered fir and even nursed a haggard campfire. The next day we ascended to the top of Mt. Sawyer, and the following did a day trip that got us far as the high point of the Fisher Lake trail the other side of Sawyer Pass. That was quite a feat on snowshoes, but it really didn’t leave us feeling a sense of accomplishment. We had not made Jewel.

This “failure” spawned our epic expedition in the much harsher winter of 1981-82. Fortunately, we were both in much better shape and equipped not only with rental snowshoes but our very own skis–yet we were still chagrined at the longer trail and elevation gain required that winter, and the need for an intermediate camp the first night.

Worse, even after clearing a traverse of Mt. Sawyer on snow slopes of 50 degrees or more, the short daylight hours left us camping at Sawyer Pass rather than our Jewel destination. We wouldn’t know it until the following summer, when we could see the “landmarks” we left on the Pass’s trees, but Sawyer Pass was buried under 10-15 feet of snow that winter, depending on where the drifts accumulated.

We pitched our tent in a relatively sheltered snow meadow on the Pass, close by a large tree pit for our cooking and “lounging” area.

Tree pits, which form around the base of thickly-branched trees because snow doesn’t pile up as deeply there, are one of the wilderness features which can provide valuable shelter during the winter. In a pinch, one can excavate them in the fashion of a snow cave to get out of the wind and capture a little warmth. If you dig down to bare earth, as we were able to do, you can even manage a small fire.

But tree pits, as we found out while skiing through the forested hillsides, can also prove to be deadly hazards. On more than one occasion, our skis flipped out from under us and sent us tumbling with our packs into them. A lone traveler could easily get entangled in one of these and, having been injured and without aid, be stuck until some hunter came across a mouldering pack-weighted corpse the next fall.

Our Sawyer Pass camp did provide an excellent base of exploration for the next three days, however. Our first day at the Pass, we groomed a nice downhill ski run of several hundred yards which allowed us some good practice on making turns on cross-country skis. We enjoyed that run a couple days later as well, and the exercise was both a good method of thawing out on sub-freezing mornings and staying warm throughout the day.

But our second full day after arriving at the Pass was the day of our dreams, as it were. While we realized we would not be able to navigate the steep hillsides of the usual route to Upper Jewel (or even Fisher Lake) on skis, our trusty topo map told us we should be able to traverse into the ponds below Fisher Lake and then have a relatively short series of switchbacks up to Fisher. The route was good in theory, but was particularly nerve-wracking as it followed the base of a very steep (if heavily forested) slope carry a tremendous load of heavy, wet snow. As we crossed this route, both outward and inward-bound, we were very conscious of watching for avalanches, and hugging our path as close to protective tree trunks as we could manage.

Our visit to Fisher Lake was stunning. Even in summer, it’s a beautiful place–but in winter it’s spectacular. I don’t, however, recommend skiing across it even in a deep winter like that of 1981-82. Though its surface was thoroughly frozen, the ice was burdened by a vicious load of snow, and we could hear the ice groaning and cracking as we skied over it, not daring to stop.

From Fisher, the trip to Upper Jewel via Pullman Gap was a relative cakewalk, especially given my familiarity with that off-trail terrain. Because of the short daylight hours, we didn’t have time to actually drop down to our summer campsite at Upper Jewel, instead skiing to the alpine tarn that overlooks Upper Jewel. What a gorgeous sight that was. We arrived back at Sawyer Pass with a real sense of accomplishment, and had thoughts of resting for a day and then attempting a trek into the Ptarmigans on our last scheduled day of the trip.

When we awoke that morning, though, and after thawing out Randy’s feet (which could not stay warm at night and would actually form ice between the toes), the winds kicked up and we could not get our stove to stay lit in our tree-pit shelter. Not only was hot mush and cocoa out of the question, we couldn’t even melt more drinking water. At about 10:30 AM, with just six hours of daylight remaining to us, we made the snap and ill-advised decision to high-tail it out to the car a day ahead of schedule. We’d have to average almost 3 miles an hour to get out before darkness descended.

We hastily packed camp and set out to retrace our traverse across Mt. Sawyer, which proved impossible. While we camped at the Pass, we had enjoyed some sunshine… which melted the open slope of Sawyer and later set it up into a hard sheet of ice which our skis couldn’t begin to bite. Given that snowshoes were totally impossible on such a traverse, not to mention the rapidly evaporating daylight, we were forced to sideslip down into the Burn Creek drainage. While this had the advantage of getting us to lower elevations more rapidly, we had no knowledge of the terrain on the valley floor and quickly found out why the Tonga Ridge Trail avoids this route.

The Burn Creek valley is a tangle of thick-set scrub fir shot through with precipitous arroyos. We were either fighting our way through thickets or reluctantly switching off between skis and snowshoes. It was exhausting and time-consuming work. At one point, with an uphill retreat impossible, we had no choice but to relay ourselves and our gear by freehand rappels from tree trunk to tree trunk down 200 feet or so of 80-degree slope. It was more than fortunate that we had packed that silly forty-foot rope that we’d later take on our Mt. Daniel trek. Here, as in some of the caving trips Randy and I shared, it proved invaluable.

When we finally spotted the bridge over Burn Creek at about 2 PM, we were elated if nearly at the end of our emotional ropes. And yet from where we were, we could not access the forest road. We had once again to don snowshoes and regain a couple hundred feet. But at last we were on familiar terrain–and if our energy could hold out, given our dehydrated and undernourished state, we actually had a shot at safety and a hot meal before dark. And yet we still had miles of road to ski, and one off-trail drop past our first night’s camp from the Burn Creek spur to the main Tonga Ridge road.

The last miles were sheer agony. I distinctly recall hunching over my skis as we slowly glided down the road, letting gravity do every bit of work it could, completely unable to hold myself upright any longer. By the time we reached the car down at the railroad trestle, we were simply done.

And yet we were not done.

The car wouldn’t start.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why we didn’t light Randy’s stove and cook up some freeze-dried meals that night, instead sharing the single orange and half-bag of Doritos that had been left in the 412. But I imagine it had something to do with our fruitless hour-long trudge trying to find someone along the Foss River who could give us a jump. We only found one person at home (it was March, after all, and these were summer vacation cabins), and he flatly refused to help us. And after six or seven failed attempts to compression-start the VW (the battery was simply that dead), we gave up and settled in for an absolutely miserable night sleeping in the car. I’m sure we would have been more comfortable if we had set up the tent, but we just had no energy for that.

The following morning, we hiked the three miles out Forest Road 68 to the Skykomish Ranger Station. The Rangers were kind enough to drive us back out and jump start my trusty steed.

To Randy’s credit, he did not lambaste me for my VW’s obstinate but predictable unreliability.

Nor did he abandon me during the early days of that memorable excursion, not even as I lay flat on my back in the snow, my orange backpack pinned under me, my skis twisted awkwardly if still painfully attached, poles flailing, and four-letter words spewing in a non-stop stream from my ice-encrusted lips.

At times such as these, in foxholes such as these and no other, you indeed find out who your buddies really are. You form bonds that cannot, will not, be broken.

You find family.

About Greg Wright

I have worn many hats as a writer and editor over the years. Unlike my scholarly and journalistic work from the "old days" at Hollywood Jesus, Past the Popcorn, or SeaTac Blog, the writing here is of a more overtly personal and spiritual nature. I hope it provokes you as much as it provokes me.
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One Response to Tonga Ridge Tales

  1. David Ross says:

    Great read! Heading there for high buck season. Thanks for the preview!

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