Monday, July 18, 2011

Pot Creek Cabin Camp - May 2011

History is a remarkable thing, ever fluid, ever elusive.  With our increasingly mechanized world, wonders of the even recent-past have a habit of quickly vanishing from the public consciousness.
Before roads, trails were the only way to cross our tangled Cascades.  People journeyed in ways most basic - by foot, or by horse.  Suitable camps become precious places, especially after a many-day trip into deep wilderness.  A flat spot to rest, suitable browse and water for man and horse, all crucial things we now take for granted.  It is hard to picture an unroaded Oregon.  Unfold the logging roads, you can get to the moon and back.  But as recently as the 1950s this wasn't the case.  And granted, in some places time seems to stand still.
1938 MHNF map 

What fun is this snorting beast History if we cannot at least hunt for her elusive tracks?  In places where strip malls fear to tread, time does seem to pause.  In the earlier part of the 20th century, Pot Creek Cabin was such an important place.  Although I have never seen a photograph of the cabin, other such utilitarian forest structures were pretty crudely built of local materials, all by hand.  They were usually a day or so journey from  the city, and located in a perfect place to spend a night or 2.

Bagby Guard Station, a similar structure

Can you see the cabin?  

It is strange to sit at the Pot Creek Cabin site.  The camp is a nice, open, level area surrounded by old growth forest.  It has been abused somewhat due to proximity to busy summertime roads, so it can be difficult to picture the vast wilderness once crossed to reach this welcome spot of frying bacon and comfortable conversation.  But when the sun is just right, the mists of time can be pierced for a time, and 1922 slips slowly into focus.  Imagine the tired horse and mule teams milling about, resting under tall trees.

Even in those days, a man was a man, and the call of beer was probably deep in his mind, especially down miles of dusty trail.  But he probably didn't emblazon his baser thoughts into the bark of an ancient sentinel.
However, in this Modern Era, we have quick access to rare places and odd materials, so mischief soon ensues.  Well no matter.  An hour patiently scrubbing with a wood chip and the vandalism is lost and I can get back to my pretending.
No more beer

But there is more to these hubs of history then the moldering depression of a lost cabin.  When there are old camps, there are trails, usually also lost to time and jungle.  I am always surprised that those very men and women who knew and loved these forests would allow so much history to fade unnoticed by our modern eyes.  But time and time again, I am able to find the splendid ruins of the best part of our civilization.  What could symbolize our gentle collective in a better way than an ancient route snaking through timelessness?
So with these lofty and romantic thoughts in mind, we set out to find the remains of our forefathers.  What is left?  Does anything remain of 100 years ago?  It is always a crap shoot.

But the sun does shine on this fine May day, and with hard work we are able to find the old trail as it climbs it's way out of the deep Clackamas canyon.  It has been many years since this deep tread has felt the touch of boot, but the route still manages to survive despite time, weather, and clearcuts.

In those days, electronic communication was in it's infancy.  The many scattered Forest Service guard stations and outposts were kept in constant contact by cast iron phone lines strung between trees.  At suitable intervals, the line passed through ceramic insulators, tacked somewhat loosely to tree trunks.  This would prevent the line from breaking if a tree were to fall.

Ring of the past

Can you imagine the conversations that passed through this thin line?

By the 1940s things were changing.  Radios soon put an end to the old fashioned telephones.  Roads soon made the grueling trails obsolete as we moved to a strictly petroleum based society.  Later, historic structures were destroyed and trails left to the elements as progress disguised as this beast Technology leads us by our upturned noses.

Some ancient forest valleys were clearcut right to the creek

And yet, the mountains survive, carrying the microscopic seeds of an entire ecosystem upon their flanks.  Perhaps they just sit at laugh at our futile efforts at our own eradication.  Time exists in a different way for them.  It is this way that we may move beyond human, as we try to come to grips with unknown forces greater than our comprehension.  It is through our mistakes that we may gain our own perspective.  Looking back over our shoulder as we hike this trail of life, we can not only see where we've come from, but where we are going.

I recently received the following emails from a nice fellow that used to hike into the Upper Clackamas back in the '40s and 50s.  A lot has changed!  It sure is nice to be provided with another piece of the puzzle in this nebulous and ever changing world.  Thank you Gene!

Saw your post on line about the Pot Creek Cabins.  I was looking for photos of them if they exist?
We used to hike into the Big Bottom in the late 40’s and early 50’s until the Eisenhower regime declared war on the old growth in that country.  In the late 40’s it was necessary to hike in from the junction of the Collowash.  In the early 50’s they pushed the road to several miles above Austin Hot Springs and the trail started there.
There were two cabins at Pot Creek.  One was a log structure with bunks around the wall, a table and a good wood stove.  It was usually open to use – people didn’t trash things in those days.  There was a smaller second building just to the west of the main building and it was always locked up and appeared to house a good number of supplies.  The big cabin was a warm retreat on winter days if you went into that country at that time of the year.  I don’t think the cabins lasted very long after the road was punched in.  I am unsure if they were torn down or vandalized to the point that they had to be torn down?
I seem to remember being told that the cabins were the property of Portland General Electric. I know PGE ran the Austin Hot Springs campground for a number of years and in early times they planned a dam in that area to flood the upper Clackamas and the Big Bottom.  I wondered if they or the Forest service at Estacada would have some old photos?  I will try around and see what I can discover.  If I find some I will forward them on.
As well we visited the old station and bath houses at Bagby when it was a 15 mile hike to get there.  Again, folks didn’t trash things then so it was a very serene and peaceful place to go.

Gene M.

Good to hear your enthusiasm. Keep up the good work and keep me posted.
You are welcome to post anything I send. By the way, there was a cable
crossing across the Clackamas where the Rho trail went south. Don't know if
any of the remnants are still ther.
My father used to take the speeder (he said) to Three Lynx to fish. I gues
there were tracks that predated the roads. In the 50's and 60's the log
truck traffic on the road to Estacada was enormous (I am sure it was worse
in the 80's). The Log trucks took the outside on the curves and if you
didn't follow the postings you were in trouble. Some friends lost all three
of their children a ways above Estacada when their VW was headoned by a
loaded log truck.
I often fished Roaring River from the main road up about 3 miles but not
above that. We travelled some in the Salmon River Watershed as well and had
an interesting trip to Plaza Lake and then down the South Fork to the
Salmon. Again, the lower Salmon Canyon was fantastic before they put the
road in but at least the very extreme canyon of the middle Salmon has saved
When we went to Plaza lake there was just a rough trail down to the lake
from the road. We bushwhacked from the lake to the South Fork Salmon and
then down to the Salmon proper. There used to be a neat shelter just
upstream of where the South Fork came in and on the south bank of the
Salmon. Hambone Springs sounds familiar but I can't really recall it.
Don't want to pass along wrong information. The cable crossing, as I
remember, was between the end of the road above Austin Hot Springs and Pot
Creek and crossed from the north bank to the South Bank. I think it was a
trail that went to Mt Lowe but that is a bit foggy since we never crossed
(the gondola was always locked on the north side) to see where it went.
Talk to you later.