1977 Forest Service Surveyor
September 8th, 2016 in Yesterday
The High Camp road can be long and dusty but stories always make it go much faster. When Steve Johnson and his family visited earlier this fall, the ride wasn’t nearly long enough. Steve is a retired Forest Service land surveyor who helped mark the wilderness boundary line above High Camp. After starting his survey work in Nevada and Utah, Steve came to work in the forests of Washington in 1977. Steve explained how a surveyor puts in a boundary line, from finding the old monuments (often a unique rock or small landmark) and bearing trees marked with a certain axe cut from surveys done more than 60 years earlier, to using an angle measuring device called a theodolite, and walking a transverse. Steve has probably hiked over several thousand miles in his many years in the woods and has encountered many of the creatures and sights available only in the great outdoors. While Steve was marking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness boundary, he read in the field notes from an earlier survey that there was once a miner who built himself a cabin in the meadow above Chiwaukum Lake. Apparently the miner was working a vein of gold in the nearby hills. Long before Steve came to the area, the miner passed away in his cabin and the mule he had tied up outside was rescued by surveyors. Steve said he was still able to find the remnants of a cabin during a recent hike through the area.
Another time, Steve was struggling through some vine maple, a woody bush that grows thickly in valleys and ravines near High Camp. He thought he had heard an elk and was trying to catch a glimpse of it. He popped out of the vine maple to see a large black bear with two cubs less than 10 ft away. The cubs scampered up some trees, the momma reared up on her hind legs, and Steve took off back through the vine maple. He remembered stopping after a while to listen if the bear was following, but “all I could hear was my heart pounding in my ears,” he said with a chuckle. Everyone involved was probably quite surprised. Sometimes when hiking, Steve said he would find a little garter snake and tuck it into his shirt pocket. The snake got a ride and Steve got some company.
One of Steve’s favorite memories is when he took a bunch of kids from his church’s youth group up to the Jason Lakes. These lakes are on the other side of Chiwaukum Lake from High Camp and take a bit of bushwhacking to reach. But according to Steve, they are well worth the effort, being some of the best fishing lakes he has ever visited. Every kid, even the ones who had never fished before, were pulling fish out on practically every cast and Steve spent the whole time helping take fish off lines.
Steve’s many stories can’t begin to fit in one 45-minute Suburban drive, much less a couple of paragraphs. It was great hearing about a few of his experiences and I hope I have enough time and enough road for many more.