here Trail Blazers: Clayton Kilbourn Memorial

Washington Trail Blazers

Clayton Kilbourn Memorial

Mike Swayne

August 25, 2001

The Clayton Kilbourn memorial was a memorable experience for those participating in any of the three groups. Group 1 took Clayton into June Lake, Group 2 hiked into the old Tonga Ridge sheep camp and Group 3 met at Mike Swayne’s daughter Elizabeth’s home.

Saddling up on Tonga Ridge with the morning sun burning the dew on the trees from left to right: Phil Leatherman, Rex Johnson (note interesting packs he and Yanling have, reminds me of the old Trapper Nelson days), Don Ihlenfeldt, Chris Kilbourn, Dave Kilbourn, Jim, Ed Lebert, Cliff Lawson (that's right the guy in the beard and feathers is none other than Cliff), Yanling, Dan Sjolseth, Tom Sjolseth (he may not be as tall as the old man but he is a strong guy and really enjoys being out in the mountains).

The June Lake group started with 13 and picked up momentum as we went. Don Ihlenfeldt, an old Trail Blazer and friend of Clayton who came in from Colorado for the memorial, and Mike Swayne picked up Clayton’s son Dave Kilbourn, Dave’s brother in law Jim who came in from Milwaukee and Dave’s son Chris and proceeded to the main Tonga Ridge trailhead. We arrived about 7 AM and saw Henry Mills Subaru (Henry had hiked in to Hummingbird Lake the evening before) and Phil Leatherman’s truck (Phil had planted Cub Lake the day before and slept at the trailhead during the night). Within a few minutes Dan Sjolseth arrived with his son Tom and Ed Lebert, Ken McLeod arrived with Jamie Van Etten, and Rex and Yanling arrived.

Then who should our eyes behold but a diminutive man with white hair and beard and cap with two white feathers. Upon approaching this apparition spoke and said, “Well you and Danny sure haven’t shrunk any.” This remark gave him away as none other than Cliff Lawson. Cliff then lit up a cigarette, said his lungs have never felt better since he cut back to two packs a day. Then said he was heading around to the Deception Creek side and that we might see him in there some place and took off. He had a wood stove in the back of his pickup and I figured maybe he was going to carry that up and reoccupy the old sheep camp. In fact he could have passed for an old sheepherder.

At Tonga Ridge Trailhead. Left to right: Phil Leatherman, Cliff Lawson, Rex Johnson, Don Ihlenfeldt, Chris Kilbourn, Dave Kilbourn, Jim Piskula (Dave's brother in law), Ed Lebert, Yanling, Dan Sjolseth.

After this diversion, 13 of us packed our gear and the essentials: the box with Clayton, the Golden Trowel, the whiskey, the vermouth, the bitters, and maraschino cherries and headed up the trail about 7:30. It was a nice cool morning as it had rained hard a couple days earlier and the ground and trees and bushes were still wet. We made good time into sheep camp arriving about 9 AM. We waited around expecting to see Ed Conroy, Jim Smith, Glenn Lee and Mark Boyle who were coming up from Deception Creek but no one came by. There was one tent in the area.

We started up the Fisher Lake way trail about 9:30 and were soon in the flat bench on the north side of the hump going over to Fisher Lake. The Deception Creek bunch caught up with us at this point swelling our numbers to 17. I decided to continue straight ahead toward Hummingbird to save a little elevation. There were faint routes in the heather indicating some folks go this way. At the ravine just east of Hummingbird I went back up to the open benches above and headed toward the end of the ridge just south of bump 5307. At a pond above Hummingbird Jim decided the Cascades were a little too much and said he would wait for us there. We left Jim with a radio and proceed up the ridge. I began to wonder where Henry was. (It turned out he had camped only a couple hundred feet away from the pond but had left for June Lake a few minutes ahead of our arrival).

At 4711 bump on Tonga Ridge about .5 miles in. Left to right: Phil Leatherman(notice how Phil is always on the Left Wing with his KUOW T shirt), Yanling, Don Ihlenfeldt, Chris Kilbourn, Rex Johnson, Jamie Van Etten, Dave Kilbourn, Ken McLeod, Ed Lebert.

The brush was not bad and we were soon on top of the ridge and contouring the backside at about the 5300-foot level. The going was reasonably good in the woods and little benches and we made good time until we approached the rockslide where it gets steeper. We dropped into the rockslide and Ed Conroy, having flashbacks of Helena Lake where he broke his foot years ago and had to crawl out, decided to wait for our return. All I can say is if we are still perking as well as Ed at the age of 73 we will be doing darn good.

I was also surprised to see Dave Kilbourn right there every time I looked back. For a guy who doesn’t get out in the hills much he is in darn good shape. Chris being a young animal barely got a sweat up. The Kilbourn genes also probably have something to do with it.

We dropped down the rockslide into the dry outlet and proceeded up to June Lake. It was now after 12, a little later than I had planned. There was no snow left and the water level was down about a foot. We went over to a little flat spot a couple hundred feet west of the outlet and dropped our packs. There were several nice 12-14 inch TLCT cruising taking flies so Jamie soon had his pole out snaking them in. Henry came in and said that he had dropped down the ridge a little earlier and traversed a little lower.

Meadow on way toward Hummingbird. Left to right:Yanling, Ed Lebert, Jamie Van Etten, Ken McLeod, Mark Boyle, Glen lee, Chris Kilbourn, Don Ihlenfeldt, Phil Leatherman hiding behind Don, Dan Sjolseth, Tom Sjolseth, Dave Kilbourn, Ed Conroy, Jim Smith, Jim (Dave's brother-in-law). Not shown: Rex Johnson taking a picture, Mike Swayne taking a picture, Henry Mills camped overnight, Cliff Lawson who hiked to his own drummer.

Don Ihlenfeldt has been having knee problems the last few years and the steep side hills and rockslides were really getting to him. But he was determined to see Clayton off so he kept plugging away and came in several minutes after Henry.

We had lunch and then Dave said he wanted to bury Clayton intact instead of scattering him so a few of us went over to the big rockslide on the south side of the lake. Chris and Dave moved a few large rocks until they had a hole about 3 feet deep. Then Clayton was placed and Ken McLeod threw in a little earth using the Golden Trowel. The rocks were replaced and then Jim Smith dug a sprig of heather with the trowel and placed it on top of the rocks. Then Henry who had the foresight to have a bag of Manhattans with him poured a cup and we all had “communion”. Then Dave gave Clay his last Manhattan by pouring it onto the heather sprig and rocks.

We then went back to the group where Ken McLeod said a few words on behalf of the Trail Blazers.

Clayton became a member of the Trail Blazers in 1951 and was a colorful character in the club. He loved the forest, lakes and mountains, and loved being there with good friends, family, and other TB’ers. Though we now say farewell to Clayton, we won’t forget him. Here's a poem I’ve read before, one I think Clayton would like

Oh that I could spend endless hours,
there among the alpine flowers,
the rockslides and fields of snow,
where the avalanche lilies grow,
where God took jewels and blended them together,
and formed mountain lakes surrounded by heather.

Chris and Dave saying goodbye to the “King of the Mountain Moles”.

Ken then mixed and poured Manhattans all around and we had toasts to Clayton. Then we had a few Clayton stories. Ken mentioned how he would sit next to Clayton at a meeting and every once in awhile Clayton would blurt out, “You know I haven’t been had a drink for a month” to be followed later by “You know I haven’t been sober for a month”. Donny said what a great friend Clayton had been to him and how they had so many good times out in the mountains together. I said that while George had been like another father taking me into the mountains, Clayton was like a crazy uncle who you always had a good time being out with no matter how good or bad the conditions. Clayton had a good body from hiking and physical labor and he would like to get up on a ridge or mountain and strip to his shorts or his boots and walk around taking pictures and reveling in the views.

It was now after 2 so, mission accomplished, we packed up and headed out.

Mark and Glen said they were going out over the ridge through the Ptarmigan Lakes. Rex and Yanling went up to look at Mary. It was warm going up the rockslide but the front group made good time and we were soon near the top of the ridge where we met up with Ed Conroy. We then went to the top of the ridge where there is a good view of Fisher Lake. We walked along the ridge, which is good going and soon could yell down to Jim at the pond. We were soon down at the pond waiting for the others. Ed Lebert, Jamie, Henry and Donny took their time coming out. Henry has to watch his heart rate and Don‚ s knees were snap, crackle and popping. Then Jamie started getting cramps and was having a hard time walking. When he finally got down, we gave him some water for rehydration, some booze for muscle relaxer and started out.

Ken adding some earth with the Golden Trowel.

Tom took Jamie’s pack to help out.

This time we stayed on top of the ridge and stopped at the Fisher Lake way trail to wait for Jamie. Some took off to get a head start for sheep camp.

Jamie finally came along with Phil who was keeping an eye on him. I asked Phil why he just didn‚t carry Jamie to speed things up and Phil said that Jamie had offered for him to do that but he had declined (perhaps if Jamie lost a little weight next time Phil might do it). I asked Jim Smith if he and Ed Conroy could take Jamie down to Deception Creek, since that way is shorter. Ed said he was still mad at Jamie for giving away some of his secret fishing holes, but in the interest of humanity he thought that he could put up with Jamie for a couple hours.

The rest of us took off for sheep camp where we saw a sign scratched in the dirt from Tom Williams and George Kniert saying they left about 2:30. It was now after 4:30 so we headed out. Dave said he was going to hurry out because Peg was supposed to meet us at the trailhead and we were now a couple hours late. I made the mistake of reminding Dave I had the car keys so he immediately asked me to give him the keys. I immediately realized my mistake in opening my big mouth. I began having visions of Dave, like Jack Rollo, getting to the car getting into the beer and drinking or hiding or handing it all out to thirsty hikers. After a few minutes my paranoia was running rampant so I took off in hot pursuit with Ken, Tom, Danny, and Chris hot on my heels. We burned across Sawyer mountain at a good clip, Tom figured we were doing over 3 mph. Ken said on the way out that he is feeling much better this year, and it must be true because he was strong on the whole trip. Tom said he had been climbing every weekend so he had no problem keeping up even though he was carrying two packs. The kid has a pair of legs on him that won‚t quit; Danny looks skin and bones along side of him. It was warm so we were in shorts and I soon stripped my shirt. We arrived at the car about 5:30 just after Dave so, although the car was open, he was wasting time changing clothes and had not had time to drink, hide or dispose of all the beer so we were saved.

Dave giving Clayton his last Manhattan (note the heather).

Peg came up and was wondering where the heck we had been. She had been asking other hikers if they had seen a large group of strange people but they had all said no. It was about 6:30 by the time Henry, Jim and Don came in. Then Jim Smith and Ed Conroy brought Jamie around. Jamie had bloodshot eyes and looked a little the worse for wear but he will probably live. I was glad to see that Jamie and Ed Conroy had kissed and made up and I got a photo of them hugging each other.

It was now well past time to head for home so we took off down the road. Ken said he was going to take care of Jamie, who looked like death warmed over, and skip Elizabeth‚s; Danny said his knee was bothering him so he and Tom were going home and skipping Elizabeth’s. Henry said he was going to Elizabeth’s so he would give Ed a ride back since he would be going past Kenmore. Peg took Dave, Jim and Chris so it was just Donny and I going back.

I still had some coffee in the thermos so I figured I better take some to keep from falling asleep since I had been up since 4 AM.

Ed and Jamie after they made up. It was a wonderful thing to see. I expect Ed in the future to just tell Jamie where all his fish holes are instead of making Jamie search for them.

On the way down the ridge Don said over and over how, in spite of his knees, he really enjoyed the whole trip and would not have missed it for anything.

I told him to get his knees fixed up so it doesn’t jeopardize our Steamboat ski trip next winter. I went the back way through Duval because Monroe was a big mess with the fair going on. Henry and Ed followed us down to Elizabeth‚ s. By the time we got there some people had already left. Brandmeir does not like to drive after dark, Virg needed to get back for Dona, and the Rollo’s had a boat to catch. George Kniert and Tom Williams were still there as were Milt and Beulah Tanggard and Bob and Judy Matthews, Martin Messing and Don and Sharon Swayne. Bob Matthews was delighted to hear about Jamie’s trouble and said it served him right. That is what I like about the Trail Blazers, so much love and brotherhood. Ed Conroy showed up a little later because of the Monroe traffic. George had a photo of Clayton at Crawford Lake. Dave Kilbourn stopped by to thank the Trail Blazers for turning out for Clayton.

Dave found the Trail Blazer photos that had been on Clayton‚s wall so I will give them out to the appropriate people: Don, Jack, George and myself. I will give the one’s of Doug to Mabel. There were a couple of Nitzinger but we have not heard from him for years. The others were of a bunch of dead people so they will go in the library.

Martin Messing, Henry Mills, Don Ihlenfeldt, Ed Lebert, Bob Matthews, back of Tanggard's head at Elizabeth's. Elizabeth's husband Lance was a little taken aback when Milt first let loose with a big load of tobacco juice on his manicured green lawn but after awhile got used to it.

We had something to eat and drink and relaxed and talked. Then I got a strange phone call from Rex Johnson. He said he and Yanling had found a few nice fish at Mary and a lot of small fish in Hummingbird. Then he said, “You know that strange guy in the hat with the feathers, well he was camped at Hummingbird and asked me to phone and say that he was not coming out and would not be coming to Elizabeth’s”.

I would say that it was a very successful trip, we got Clayton to his last resting place, had appropriate symbols, libations, poems, and stories, Jamie and Tom caught 9 fish, no one fell in a hole in the rocks and broke anything (Henry kept telling people the most important thing they were going to do all day was to watch their next step). I guess the only negatives were: we were a little late, and Jamie gave his adversaries more ammunition, but I guess that is a positive as far as they are concerned. I had such a good time; I probably could have even been nice to Ledbetter. Don Ihlenfeldt said, “You know these modern Trail Blazers are all good people and I really enjoyed being with them and talking with them.” Lastly, a big thanks to Lance and Elizabeth Fuhrman for helping out with the food and drink and making their home available. It was a nice day and evening and it appeared that everyone was enjoying themselves.