here Trail Blazer Vignettes: Skyline Lake

Washington Trail Blazers

Skyline Vacation

Harold Bentley

July 9-17, 1938

As Myron ran around the car and lifted the radiator cap, it flew sky high and the steam broiled his left arm to a turn. I was having radiator trouble and everything seemed intent on stopping or delaying a perfectly planned vacation. Myron Christy and myself had planned food and equipment to the last ounce. Our packs weighed close to thirty pounds each and we were going to be mountain goatting for nine days.

The night we packed the food I sat and argued for an hour with Myron against taking a pound of butter because it weighed one pound, and, would not be enough for a decent taste, but Myron won the argument and I did enjoy the last quarter of a pound on the last two days of the trip. We wanted a light double sleeping bag that weighed (say five pounds - eight ounces), but an Eider down bag of our specifications would have cost more money than we had. So-o-o we put four blankets in a pile, and looked at them for awhile. Then we hefted them, and then decided to take only two blankets. This proved a little chilly at four thousand feet, but with a two pound silk tarp pitched so as to reflect the camp fire’s heat onto our sleeping forms, we made out.

We pulled into a shelter a few miles from Lake Kaleetan late Saturday night, July 9, 1938. By Sunday morning it started to rain a little, but our next stop was Caroline Lake, cross country with no trails, mainly high meadow country. The mists and clouds were pretty to watch as they rolled around Roosevelt and Kaleetan Peaks. We looked across the Middle Fork Valley toward the unfamiliar Snow Mountain and its side ridges, most of the time it was covered with mist. We began to worry about navigating on an unknown terrain with visibility zero and equipment so light.

On the East shore of Caroline we pitched our light tarp, it was a high shore, about a hundred feet above the lake’s surface. We were dry and fairly warm that night as a light rain beat on the shelter. No rain on Monday morning but weather was uncertain so we kept to our camp and scoured the close country.

From our 5,000 foot camp site we descended one thousand feet more or less to Shamrock Lake which was in a Northwestern direction. Directly across the lake and a few feet over a ledge we saw seven mountain goats feeding and resting, while we watched them for fifteen minutes. Suddenly, the wind changed and it took thim thar goats just four minutes to climb one thousand feet into another drainage. One little fellow felt so good he ran circles around the herd (he was small, about 30 pounds).

Working our way down cliffs and draws, we found goat hair on all the brush, and spotted four more goats climbing rapidly away from that awful man odor. Shamrock is a pretty green color and is divided into two parts by a narrow neck of water. [Note: this describes Horseshoe, also known as Upper Shamrock. ] There are many long inlets suitable in part for spawning. The upper half has a mud bottom, ideal as a feeding shelf, and looks to be rich in larvae content.

About noon we reached Derrick Lake via Shamrock’s outlet, which is one or Derrick’s inlets. I fished an hour while Myron towed a net and took notes on conditions. No fish were seen, no strikes, and not a sign of fish, contrary to prevailing rumors.

Climbing up to Caroline’s outlet looked easy, airline distance was approximately one mile and a good fifteen hundred feet above us. We were several hours getting back to camp, for we skirted brush and cliffs via deeply worn goat trails, which branched several times.

Tuesday morning looked promising. We got an early start and as the sun rose over the shoulder of Kaleetan we were on a ridge between Caroline and upper Wildcat. Upper Wildcat was a thousand feet below, and there was a constant series of rings where large Montanas were rising. [Note: in 1981, on the ridge between Upper Wildcat and the route to Derrick, there still was an OLD Trail Blazer sign saying “Caroline, 20 minutes,” with an arrow pointing to the left along the ridge. Anyone getting to Caroline in 20 minutes from that point had to be part angel, with wings! ]

Between the upper and lower lakes we jumped a doe. We looked for a trail at Lower Wildcat outlet. We found none, so we descended to the right, then left, but always on the right of the outlet. Finding no trail, it was difficult work crashing brush, and maneuvering down doubtful cliffs. In early afternoon we broke through to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie. We crossed to where Bill Morrow and two men were building road with a small gas tractor. Just above the Dingford we gorged on blackberries. Myron got sick near the top of the switchbacks, but before dark we camped at Horse Shoe (sic) Lake. There were four men, from Snoqualmie, camped in the cave. They told us there were big Montanas in Goat Lake, and they showed us some nice ones they had caught in Horse Shoe.

Wednesday morning they left via the Green Lakes and Nordrum Lake. We rested a day, then on Thursday we left for Gold Lake. At noon we stopped at Myrtle Lake and caught three Black Spots and ate them then and there. We climbed a cliff to the East and boiled tea at two small lakes half way up Big Snow Mountain. Myron surveyed, and we saw a couple goats on the shore. Half way up a large snow field we cornered a goat and a young kid. They were coming down and we were blocking the only sensible route down. They finally wormed around us and seemed to find it hard to pick a decent descent!

Dropping our packs on the crown of the ridge, we climbed to the top of Big Snow and took pictures. That night we slept well on a thick bough bed at the outlet of Gold Lake. There was a good sunset, thanks to a forest fire on the Olympic Peninsula.

Friday morning we climbed a peak to the East, from where we saw three large goats and a kid, probably only a few days old. They lay motionless on a snow field and were very hard to see. It took nearly all day to reach Iron Cap Mountain by way of ridge tops, and when we finally reached the south side were blocked by a five hundred foot cliff below us. This stopped us from getting to Necklace Valley, so we jolted our knees in a 2500 foot descent to the valley of the Middle Fork. Two goats were seen at close range as we came down some difficult cliffs.

Saturday we expected an easy jaunt down a good trail, and that’s the way it started. About two miles down the trail it got tough. First, the trail was overgrown with weeds and hard to find, then we busted onto a jungle of downed logs, which were caused by a huge slide. It took all day to go seven miles downriver to Goldmyers (sic) Hotsprings.

Sunday morning we climbed up Red Mountain Pass, which is about three-and-a-half miles distant and about 3,500 foot climb. Sure was a climb. Four miles later we were walking down the highway from Snoqualmie Pass to Denny Camp Ground. A fire on Granite Mountain missed the car the the battery had enough juice in it to get started, so we completed a swell vacation.

Harold Bentley