CAÑON FISHING AND A TELEGRAM
It was eleven o'clock the next morning before I led Buddy--I had abandoned "Budweiser" in view of the drought--into a mountain stream and let him drink. He would have rolled in it, too, but I was on his back and I fiercely restrained him.
The next day was a comparatively short trip. There was a trapper's cabin at the fork of Bridge Creek in the Stehekin River. There we were to spend the night before starting on our way to Cascade Pass. As it turned out, we spent two days there. There was a little grass for the horses, and we learned of a cañon, some five or six miles off our trail, which was reported as full of fish.
The most ardent of us went there the next day--Mr. Hilligoss, Weaver, and "Silent Lawrie" and the Freds and Bob and the Big Boy and the Little Boy and Joe. And, without expecting it, we happened on adventure.
Have you ever climbed down a cañon with rocky sides, a straight and precipitous five hundred feet, clinging with your finger nails to any bit of green that grows from the cliff, and to footholds made by an axe, and carrying a fly-book and a trout-rod which is an infinitely precious trout-rod? Also, a share of the midday lunch and twenty pounds more weight than you ought to have by the beauty-scale? Because, unless you have, you will never understand that trip.
It was a series of wild drops, of blood-curdling escapes, of slips and recoveries, of bruises and abrasions. But at last we made it, and there was the river!
I have still in mind a deep pool where the water, rushing at tremendous speed over a rocky ledge, fell perhaps fifteen feet. I had fixed my eyes on that pool early in the day, but it seemed impossible of access. To reach it it was necessary again to scale a part of the cliff, and, clinging to its face, to work one's way round along a ledge perhaps three inches wide. When I had once made it, with the aid of friendly hands and a leather belt, by which I was lowered, I knew one thing--knew it inevitably. I was there for life. Nothing would ever take me back over that ledge.
However, I was there, and there was no use wasting time. For there were fish there. Now and then they jumped. But they did not take the fly. The water seethed and boiled, and I stood still and fished, because a slip on that spray-covered ledge and I was gone, to be washed down to Lake Chelan, and lie below sea-level in the Cascade Mountains. Which might be a glorious sort of tomb, but it did not appeal to me.
I tried different flies with no result. At last, with a weighted line and a fish's eye, I got my first fish--the best of the day, and from that time on I forgot the danger.
Some day, armed with every enticement known to the fisherman, I am going back to that river. For there, under a log, lurks the wiliest trout I have ever encountered. In full view he stayed during the entire time of my sojourn. He came up to the fly, leaped over it, made faces at it. Then he would look up at me scornfully.
"Old tricks," he seemed to say. "Old stuff--not good enough." I dare say he is still there.
Late in the day, we got out of that cañon. Got out at infinite peril and fatigue, climbed, struggled, stumbled, held on, pulled. I slipped once and had a bad knee for six weeks. Never once did I dare to look back and down. It was always up, and the top was always receding. And when we reached camp, the Head, who had been on an excursion of his own, refused to be thrilled, and spent the evening telling how he had been climbing over the top of the world on his hands and knees. In sheer scorn, we let him babble.
But my hat is off to him, after all, for he had ready for us, and swears to this day to its truth, the best fish-story of the trip.
Lying on the top of one of our packing-cases was a great bull-trout. Now a bull-trout has teeth, and held in a vise-like grip in the teeth of this one was a smaller trout. In the mouth of the small trout was a gray-and-black fly. The Head maintained that he had hooked the small fish and was about to draw it to shore when the bull-trout leaped out of the water, caught the small fish, and held on grimly. The Head thereupon had landed them both.
In proof of this, as I have said, he had the two fish on top of a packing-case. But it is not a difficult matter to place a small trout cross-wise in the jaws of a bull-trout, and to this day we are not quite certain.
There were tooth-marks on the little fish, but, as one of the guides said, he wouldn't put it past the Head to have made them himself.
That night we received a telegram. I remember it with great distinctness, because the man who brought it in charged fifteen dollars for delivering it. He came at midnight, and how he had reached us no one will ever know. The telegram notified us that a railroad strike was about to take place and that we should get out as soon as possible.
Early the next morning we held a conference. It was about as far back as it was to go ahead over the range. And before us still lay the Great Adventure of the pass.
We took a vote on it at last and the "ayes" carried. We would go ahead, making the best time we could. If the railroads had stopped when we got out, we would merely turn our pack-outfit toward the east and keep on moving. We had been all summer in the saddle by that time, and a matter of thirty-five hundred miles across the continent seemed a trifle.
Dan Devore brought us other news that morning, however. Cascade Pass was closed with snow. A miner who lived alone somewhere up the gorge had brought in the information. It was a serious moment. We could get to Doubtful Lake, but it was unlikely we could get any farther. The comparatively simple matter thus became a complicated one, for Doubtful Lake was not only a détour; it was almost inaccessible, especially for horses. But we hated to acknowledge defeat. So again we voted to go ahead.
That day, while the pack-outfit was being got ready, I had a long talk with the Forest Supervisor. He told me many things about our National Forests, things which are worth knowing and which every American, whose playgrounds the forests are, should know.
In the first place, the Forestry Department welcomes the camper. He is given his liberty, absolutely. He is allowed to hunt such game as is in season, and but two restrictions are placed on him. He shall leave his camp-ground clean, and he shall extinguish every spark of fire before he leaves. Beyond that, it is the policy of the Government to let campers alone. It is possible in a National Forest to secure a special permit to put up buildings for permanent camps. An act passed on the 4th of March, 1915, gives the camper a permit for a definite period, although until that time the Government could revoke the permit at will.
The rental is so small that it is practically negligible. All roads and trails are open to the public; no admission can be charged to a National Forest, and no concession will be sold. The whole idea of the National Forest as a playground is to administer it in the public interest. Good lots on Lake Chelan can be obtained for from five to twenty-five dollars a year, depending on their locality. It is the intention of the Government to pipe water to these allotments.
For the hunters, there is no protection for bear, cougar, coyotes, bobcats, and lynx. No license is required to hunt them. And to the persistent hunter who goes into the woods, not as we did, with an outfit the size of a cavalry regiment, there is game to be had in abundance. We saw goat-tracks in numbers at Cloudy Pass and the marks of Bruin everywhere.
The Chelan National Forest is well protected against fires. A fire-launch patrols the lake and lookouts are stationed all the time on Strong Mountain and Crow's Hill. They live there on the summits, where provisions and water must be carried up to them. These lookouts now have telephones, but until last summer they used the heliograph instead.
So now we prepared, having made our decision to go on. That night, if the trail was possible, we would camp at Doubtful Lake.