here Trail Blazer Vignettes: Bluff Lake

Washington Trail Blazers

Bluff and Cliff Lakes Survey Trip

Clayton Kilbourn

August 15-16, 1953

[The text of this trip has been edited.] A party of four looked over the Jug Creek Basin and found two promising lakes in its upper reaches, both barren but ripe for a can or two of lively cutthroat. To reach these lakes, drive the Suiattle River road out of Darrington to the Big Creek Road. Drive this road to the Big Creek bridge, then walk up Big Creek to the confluence of Big and Jug. Follow Jug as best you can to the lakes. We can say from experience that it won’t be easy.

About 12:30 a.m. Saturday we begin the trip, heading for Arlington and an early breakfast. In true Trail Blazer fashion, we soon become confused as to the correct road to Arlington. After rides down roads which went nowhere, and various bovines who obviously resented our spotlights shining in their eyes, we finally met up with the local gendarme, who very gladly sped us on our way.

At 3:00 a.m., breakfast under our belts, we left Arlington for Darrington and for high adventure (or so we thought)! Actually, we were hurrying as fast as we could, for swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes, for two lakes which were to prove to be mighty elusive, and for the brush-whackinest, most cliff-hanginest trip in many a day; of all this we were blissfully ignorant as we sped through the night to Darrington.

At 4:00 a.m. we were in the sleepy little village, and we went at once to the Ranger Station to secure a fire permit--finding, to our horror, that it was closed and without provision for outside registering. After some debate, I wrote out the required data on a pamphlet Russ had in the car, entitled “The Care and Feeding of Swine.” (Russ is a gentleman farmer from the South end.) I shoved this document under the door, and we were on our way again. We got confused again, as to the where-abouts of the Suiattle road out of Darrington, but this little episode I will pass over, as even the natives get lost in Darrington. As witness, I cite the case of the confused logger, wandering the streets there at that hour.

Well, at daybreak we were at Big Creek, and our ordeal commenced at once. The less said about the brush we encountered, and the difficulties we ran into in following Jug Creek up to the lakes, the better for all concerned.

I wish I could say “Keep to the creek all the way up,” or “Head right up over the ridge,” but it isn’t as simple as that. Actually, you keep to the creek as long as you can, then you head up as long as you can. After that, you fight Vine Maple and Devil’s Club as long as you can, and finally, if you hold out long enough (we took 8 hours to do it), you top a little rise and there lies Bluff Lake--its deep blue waters sparkling in the sun.

We fell upon our knees like the explorers of old and thanked God for giving us the strength to survive the trip. We were unable to remain in that position long, however, for the mosquitoes were attacking from the rear in droves, so we retreated to a campsite, where we built a smudge fire and ate a bite, and rested our aching and lacerated bodies.

After a swim in Bluff’s cool 55° waters, we looked the lake over, then headed for Cliff, which lives up to its name, believe me! After looking Cliff over, we climbed the ridge above it and were rewarded with a stupendous view of Jug Lake and the rugged lower Skagit country.

Russ went out in his life raft and fished Bluff all Saturday p.m. without getting a nibble, or seeing a fish. Many waterdogs were seen, and at first we thought they were fish rising, so many rings were in sight. There are no signs of old camps at Bluff, but a fairly recent camp was seen at Cliff. We thought maybe it could be a mountaineers’ camp.

Saturday night, it rained a bit, and we got a little wet and one of our party talked in his sleep all night about cliffs, and such like. “You can’t get around that way,” he would yell; “there’s a cliff there!” We would all sit bolt upright in our watery beds and reassure him that everything was all right.

I had worried about our being in the woods without a fire permit all week end, so Sunday, after a four-hour brush whack down to the car, we stopped in at Darrington to see the ranger and see what our sentence would be. The old boy grinned when he handed me the pamphlet on “The Care and Feeding of Swine,” and said it was quite all right, just so long as he knew we were up there. All my worries were for nothing.

Trail Blazer Clayton Kilbourn, assisted by visitors Doug Barrie, Don Ihlenfeldt, and Russ Nyland