Stepping Out

"The logging road on which we walked didn’t seem very steep. Deep grooves in the roadbed, cut by water that chose its own course, joined with a tangle of small alders to slow our progress. We had parked our vehicles near a water bar at the beginning of the road, but not before Larry bottomed out his van. I had spent the night, along with Larry, Joe, and the members of Troop 59’s Frog Patrol, at Camp Marian. Seattle City Light in Newhalem makes the camp, a large cabin situated alongside the Skagit River near the outlet of Bacon Creek, available to Boy Scouts for free. Our plan was to search for an abandoned lookout site at nearby Bacon Point. The lookout site had been removed in 1956, and my map showed Bacon Point and the nearby logging road, but not the trail. The Scouts were to figure out where the trail had been, and where it probably intersected with the road. Then we’d search for artifacts underneath the old, overturned outhouse. My younger brother, Pete, had been here with me three or four years earlier, on an early spring outing. We had trouble finding the intersection of the road and trail, but scrambled up a slope and stumbled onto the overgrown path. After visiting the lookout site, we followed the trail out to the intersection, about 100 yards past where we had started up the steep bank. Some of these Scouts had also attempted this trip before. I loaned the troop my map last year, showing the adult leaders where to look for the trail if the Scouts weren’t able to find it. “Sure, John, of course the trail is there,” Scoutmaster Bob Spiller said upon returning. Right. Yep. Sure. Today, the three Frogs ran ahead, while their fathers ambled up the old logging road, talking about the joy of sleeping on cabin floors, the quality of the breakfast the Scouts had prepared, and how pleasant it was to hike in the rain. As we arrived at a bend in the road we found the Frogs waiting patiently. “Hey, slow guys! This should be the last turn,” said Philip, the Frog. “It should just be a half mile or so, now.” Philip had looked at the map earlier and determined the route. “No, we should have two more switchbacks,” I corrected. “And look at these contours; theres no way we’ve gained seven hundred feet already.” “Are you sure?” he asked. “Pretty sure,” I said. “Wait for us at the next switchback.”After walking another half a mile, I noticed an opening in the trees that looked strangely familiar. The time Pete and I had come a foot or two of snow remained. Now, there was a lot more brush. Also, I had carried an altimeter on that outing. For some odd reason, the instrument leapt out of my hand onto the garage floor one day — a plunge it didn’t survive. I had only the map to determine my altitude. Joe blew on my whistle two times — a prearranged signal for the boys to return. While Joe and Larry waited, I stomped into the woods in search of the path. Five minutes later I returned. I couldn’t find it, I said. “Thats okay,” Joe replied. “They didn’t come back anyway.” “We’ll catch up with them soon,” I said. “We have the food.” Trudging on, we came to a distinct right turn in the road. I pulled out my compass, and oriented my map. “That’s odd,” I said. Next week: You gotta go back to get to the past."

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