Life's Lessons Learned Camping
Raven's Roost Lookout
The excitement was building. I know we talked about it for the past couple weeks, but it didn't seem like we would ever go until mom started to fry the whole batch of bread. Then, then we knew for sure. We were going camping! This time we headed for Crow Creek nestled on the eastern doorstep of Mt Rainier. We would have a whole day on this trip to find Raven's Roost Lookout.
Chinook pass held a special allure because it was scary. Every few thousand feet, sometimes less, there was a hairpin turn where you came too close to the precipice overlooking the canyons and rivers far below. Riding in the trunk made the trip exhilarating and exciting. When we had to stop to water the car, mom kept a tight rein on her menagerie. This was unusual for her, usually we had total freedom to run about and conjure up any kind of trouble, but on this path she had heard horror stories about kids falling off the edge of a 1,000 foot ledge, body never found. This scared her. I have no idea why this was such a big deal, after all we were riding in the trunk of a car that was basically held together with hay wire, had scampered about over cliffs, water towers, tree tops and such. This is one time she tried to corral us kids. Lot of good it did her. She was better off when she did not notice. The whole 45 mile journey from Enumclaw to the top of the mountain on Chinook Pass and lake Tipsoo, elevation 5,430 ft, took the better part of the day. It was slow going with frequent stops but at the top of the mountain, there was snow and a small alpine lake that was too beautiful to imagine. Even today, the trip is a good 1 ½ hours. It is worth the effort to see this place.
Chinook Pass Summit, Alpine Playground
At the summit of the pass, we all stopped for a breather and were allowed to scamper about the place, as we played in the 10-12 foot snow, and slid down the melting snow banks and chased each other and washed each others faces in the snow and threw snowballs at the tourists. We did our best to spoil the delicate alpine balance of nature, it is probably still recovering 50 years later. We piled back into the cars, exhilarated, exhausted, fingers frozen and soaking wet. After begging some of the bread, mom had to convince dad to dig into the bundle on the top of the car. The dogs were ready for nap too. We all slept red faced and wet and recharging our batteries all the way down the eastern slopes headed to our destination: Crow Creek.
Rolling in and Finding that Forest Campsite
A family of 6-9 kids (honestly, I don't remember how many we had. I eventually ended up with 8 brothers and sisters, but I forget how many we were when we went on this trip. I think it was 6 but my older sisters had to drag someone else along every time, either a boy or a best friend and I can't separate friend from foe in my mind), grand parents, parents and two dogs all piled into a DeSoto and a Chevy coupe. Of course the lucky kids got to ride in the trunk of the Chevy, the best place. I sometimes wonder at the kids of today shouting, “Shot Gun!” They have no idea what an inferior place that is to ride.
The picture was of a bunch of rag tag kids hanging out of the trunk of an old car billowing steam from the radiator rolling through the dust spilling out onto the low banks of a river. If anyone saw anything like this today, they would not believe it.
As my dad drove slowly along the river, he would deposit a kid at every area that held promise until the perfect camping spots were found. The kid left at the site was to hold the place until the final decision was made and then the whole bunch would run to the new spot and find a place to fix for sleeping. These camp locations were unimproved, usually all that was there was a fire pit that had been used by previous campers and a place in the river that had been built up as a cooler with a ring of rocks to keep the watermelon and such cold.
The girls had only one thing on their minds: boys. They were older and had been slapped around by their hormones and could hardly think of anything else, although when sufficiently distracted did make pretty good hikers, anglers, and spelunkers, not to mention master minding the worst of the gang activities. I don't know why today's youth seem to think that being in a gang is so wonderful. It always has this pecking order that runs from largest dinosaur to smallest dinosaur. If you are small, smaller, or smallest, how does it make sense to join up with the big, bigger, and biggest? You know you are gonna do the dirty work, get the worst pay, be the biggest patsy, provide the scape goat, eat dinosaur dust and never change your status. You have 'choice' people, exercise it. When it comes to sisters, you have no choice, so you are doomed. Unless, of course, your sisters are essentially risk taking criminals and, yes, use you, but also deliver some freaken' awesome thrill rides. So it was with us, sisters that climbed mountains, forded rivers, traversed valleys, skinny dipped, went fishing, jumped off of cliffs, swam raging rivers, slid down ice slopes, stole beer out of the creek, caught salmon with their bare hands, and ran through cavernous caves. They still kept a keen lookout for any boys or young men that might cross their paths, but there weren't too many of them up in the wilderness. Lord help them if they did dare to take a hike into the woods and crossed our sister's paths.
Swimming to Wash Clothes
The weather was hot and dry. This made for sweaty adventures up and down the mountains. Dust covered and chased by biting flies we always ended the day's adventure in the river. This cleaned us and our clothes. After a spell, we would take our clothes off and ring them out and put them on the sun heated rocks to dry.
Family Fun Day with the Crack Heads
Occasionally my parents, would pack some grub in a sack and pile us into the old DeSoto to explore one of the local wonders, this day was to be Raven's Roost. Looking back on it, I wonder what my parents must have been thinking. They must have been cracked. The original crack heads.
We started the climb in the old car and in the early 50's the roads were narrow, no pull outs, only one car traveled at a time. Creeks and streams were forded the old fashioned way, the road went through the stream bed. It was best to send a kid through first. If you lost the kid, then you wouldn't want to risk driving the car through. Not that the old DeSoto was such a prize with its hard starting and stubborn ways.
The Car is an Adventure in Itself
This journey to Raven's Roost takes you to an elevation of 6198 feet at the top. As I recall, it is about 11 miles straight up, on winding switch backs that are impassable in some places, with no water, no turn outs, no way out except to back out, and the DeSoto had no reverse. Didn't need reverse with a car load of kids. Why my parents thought is was a good idea to try to drive that thing up that mountain I will never know. But they did and it turned out to be a once in a lifetime stunt.
The last 4 or 5 miles of the climb is nothing but rutted switchbacks, some of it hanging precariously over the valley below and when you are standing in the road, it seems like about a 30% grade, but I suppose it must be closer to 10% in reality. Of course, the DeSoto would only go about a couple of miles before succumbing to heat exhaustion which meant stopping and allowing it to cool off, but not too much if you want it to start again. Of course, the emergency brake did not work so it was our job to jump out and find a good rock to put behind each of the tires and then dad would gently allow the old car to settled slowly onto the impromptu wheel chucks. At this grade, it was possible to run over the rocks and then we would lose the car down the alpine setting and into the abyss below. Once the car was settled, we were all ordered to step back and not touch the thing for fear of unleashing the impending catastrophe.
Kid 1 + Kid 2 + Kid 3 = 1 horsepower!
About half way up the slope, it became clear that the car had nothing left. It would not go up another inch on its own. By this time we were all walking behind for that last mile or so. Not much for choices were available at this point, the car would not go, it could not be backed down, no reverse so no control, only two options remained: stand back and let the old car find its own way down the mountain, or push it up the road until we reached the top or a place to turn around. Since there was no place to turn around, that left: pushing.
It was hotter than blazes and we were placed at strategic places around the car where we each could proffer the most horsepower. Then carefully and ever so diligently the car was pushed up the hill. The two youngest kids had the job of grabbing the rocks from behind the wheels and tossing them in the trunk and then assuming a position to help with the locomotion. Fortunately, we only had about two miles to go. It would have been a better choice to leave the car at the bottom and hike the last few miles, but no, we must push a car instead.
Yahoo gets its Name
When we were completely tired and ran the risk of losing the car, dad would call for the rocks which were placed behind the wheels and the car was allowed to slowly carefully settle on them. We all laid out on the bank of the road and regained our strength by eating a piece of fried bread. I could have lived the rest of my life just laying there. No where in my future was there going to be a rust bucket like this gaining most of its horsepower through a bunch of yahoos like us. Oh my God, is that where they got that name? It is based on a passel of yahoos who know no better?
We pushed and rested several times, and a couple of times we almost lost the dang car, but persistence paid off and we finally crested the last rise and we were on flat ground, on the top of the world. You can literally see both Yakima and Seattle from this vantage point. No place in this universe is so majestic, so marvelous, and so exhilarating. The spot is a full 1,000 feet above the pass summit and has unobstructed views of Mount Rainier, and the valleys and canyons below.
Donner's Party Fiasco
It is a miracle that the old car made it up to the top. The food was gone and if we didn't want to repeat the nefarious Donner party fiasco, we needed to head back toward food. And soon. This bunch of vagabonds would turn on us younger ones sooner or later and it was best to keep them fed and worn down.
Sweaty, dusty, dirty, and full of a magnificent view, we needed water. But drink was not in the cards for this thirsty bunch of marauders, noooooooooooo, it had to be saved for the car that would not bring us to the top of the mountain.
So we all piled into the car and dad gave the starter a turn. Of course, it would not start, and since it had a fluid drive automatic with low and high gears and clutch transmission (without reverse) it could not be push started like a normal clutch job. No, it had to hit something like 15 miles an hour to get started. Let me tell you, that last 4 miles or so up was not going to be taken at 15 miles an hour going down. So we had to depend on the brakes. Oh my, I hope you never have to risk your entire family to save a car, it is thrilling, true, but somehow in the moment, it makes you feel less important.
Driving Lesson: Brake and Bank
We pushed the car to the edge of the cliff, and I just wanted to push it on over and let it land where it landed. But our destiny was to save this car for another day's adventure. It is important to note that when the brakes on a car get hot, they fade and lose their braking power. On a fluid drive transmission, there is no compression available at low speeds under 15 mile an hour. If you allow a car to go 15 in a 5 zone, you will be disappointed in the outcome. Expert driving can minimize the effect on the brakes, but this provides an exhilarating if not frightening ride since the driver has to utilize the bank on the edge of the road to help stall the flight of this downhill missile. If you start at the beginning with the front tires turned into the bank, you can then use the grade and gravity to pull the car forward in a sliding motion that if controlled just right gave the brakes a break and could actually keep them from heating too much. Stopping when possible and allowing the brakes to cool was the strategy for the long haul. This method gained about 1000 to about 3000 feet between cooling periods.
The carefully applied 'brake and bank' driving works until the brakes completely give out. This occurred about the halfway mark. Fortunately, my dad's other life must have been professional driver. When the brakes lost all function of stopping, the car lurched forward in a manner to soil the pants of even the most pious do-gooder, this would not be a time to panic. And my dad did not panic. No, what he did is somewhere like a miracle in driving worlds, he was able to use the bank to slow the car and eventually get it stopped in the most precarious position. Stopped it was. The captain shouted the order, “Everybody out!” The vehicle sighed as the passengers disembarked and took the high road. The next order came, “Get them rocks out.” The brakeless car was stabilized and it looked like we might save the old heap.
Braking Tasks: Hold Back Positions
This time we were each assigned a braking task. Two of us would carry rocks along side of the car while the rest of the family took “hold back” positions around the car. Each of the older children were to be in front of the car and would walk backwards with their hands pushing on the car to keep its speed under control. This would allow the driver, my mother, to run the car up on the bank every so often to give us a rest. This method gained us about 1000 feet between rest periods. Being young and eager, the rest periods were relatively short. We were slowly dropping from the grasp of that hideous mountain. We only had a couple of miles to go.
My dad, the Original McGyver
My dad, the original McGyver, stood on the roadside looking back and forth from his clan to his car. He scratched his head a few times and then the twinkle returned to his eye. (Maybe this is why he worked for Santa later in life!) We all knew he had a solution and we waited to hear the dreaded decision. Was this the end of the car? Were we finally getting rid of that pile of nuts and bolts? No, we were going to save the car once again.
Card Carrying Hill People
By the time we reached the bottom of the mountain, we were one sorry bunch of smelly, sweaty worn out wanderers. The sweat on our faces was the only wet we had and we had washed ourselves by taking our shirts off and pulling the sweaty grime across our faces. We looked like a band of dirt streaked card carrying hill people. Ma and Pa Kettle revisited.
Finally we pulled into camp the same as we had arrived a few days earlier, radiator billowing steam, kids hanging off the car and clouds of dust chasing us down the mountain.
Never Say Never, it can be Done!
This experience has served us well for the past 50 years or so. When anyone tells me I can't do this or do that, I just smile and think, “If you only knew, buster, my family carried a car to the top of a mountain, and then turned around and carried it back to the bottom of the mountain, for fun! There is nothing that we cannot do!”