Monday, February 22, 2016

The Strange Case of Pasola

Pasola Mountain, that is.

I was interested in Pasola for quite a few years.  It is remote, on the edge of the Bull of the Woods Wilderness, and was once along a first-class 1920s Forest Service trail.

For years I studied maps and dreamed about the place.  What could be there? 
 Why the strange Italian name?  What could it mean?

Age of Pasola:
Late Miocene
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Late Miocene (also known as Upper Miocene) is a sub-epoch of the Miocene Epoch made up of two stages. The Tortonian and Messinian stages comprise the Late Miocene sub-epoch.

No, not that one.

Pasola: The Blood Sport of Sumba
Every year the clans of Sumba face off in one of mankind's most ancient and violent rituals: ceremonial battles on horseback that often have very real consequences. They say it's not a Pasola until there's blood on the field.

No, probably not that one either.

Mr. Rondthaller, an early Forest Service employee had the following to say about the trail:
Can you imagine such a wilderness?  Only in dreams...
(courtesy of Rob Williams)

As the article says, 3 miles of "this magnificent" 550 Trail still exists,
 "the rest replaced with logging roads".
True, it is quite striking to see - on the edge of a vast and ancient place, untouched, is the typical sea of snaking roads and the scars of multiple clearcuts.

In the 1950s, the entire area was wilderness, all the mountains and valleys, everything.
  It is difficult to imagine.

What does this old trail log have to say?
(circa 1950s)
Dean Rusmussen and Richard Van Doren, Beavercreek OR
(courtesy of Rob Williams)

Pasola Mountain Camp?  That sounds promising

After 50 years, it can be challenging to find anything at all.  Knowing this, the imagination still runs wild, picturing an untouched landscape.
  Maybe these books are still accurate.  After all, it's in print...
All of these roads and anything left at all?  Why is this always the Oregon story?

After careful study and nervous driving down jarring roads, Pasola Camp seems to be found - at the very edge of clearcuts and down the thin crumbling finger of yet another logging road.  A tiny forest is already reclaiming the center strip, 

Pasola Camp

A bubbling spring nearby could care less about clearcuts, forests, me, anything.  There are millions of blooming lupines carpeting everything, and the dark forest of ancient stands nearby, in stark contrast to the ripped up mountainside.  It is weird to be on the dividing line between these opposite realities, freshly wrecked versus eternally stable, Nature's Way against the Hand of Man.

 Pasola Springs

too big for the camera

It is a strange place, horrifying and lovely.   Even this modern mess of a road to Pasola Camp is set to be decommissioned, and the mountains will be quiet again, for a while.

What's on top of Pasola?  Pre-European trails?  Piles of skulls?  No one has been up there for 100 years I'm quite sure.
Well, not quite.
In reality, I find the ancient forests of Pasola are littered and cris-crossed with survey marks, survey flagging, blazed trees to mark former wilderness boundaries, flags and signs to mark the new wilderness seems like thousands of people bothered this edge of absolutely nowhere -and up a high peak to even more nowhere.
 boundary blazes
one of many, many wilderness signs

Top of Pasola Mtn.

It is still lovely, and very quiet.  As the summer temperatures continue to rocket beyond normal, the old forest is cool, thick with green, timeless.

The contrast between light and dark is striking and dramatic; dancing beams of light filter, flicker.

 through a crack in boulders
 a hole in a snag

As the temperatures continue to climb, a fire smolders nearby in the Wilderness.  The smoke hangs low in the Collawash Valley like winter fog.  The biting flies are gigantic and encouraged by the baked and denuded slopes, fueled by the sun and vicious. 
As the sun sinks, the flies go to sleep, or wherever the hell flies go after dark.  Maybe tiny taverns.

And the sky sings and sets like an Angel all-star band:

 rainbow clouds!

Incredible timeless nights, sweet breezes between the stars bring mornings fresh bright and new.

home for a week, cabin on wheels

What became of the old 550 Trail?  It was first-class back in its day, and was even strung with phone line to the lookout.  Many mule trains passed this spot, lugging months of supplies to the Forest Guard, perched in his station so remote for the summer.
Bull of the Woods Lookout in better days

50 years is a long time.  In fact, it is too long for this trail.
Logging the steep slopes of Pasola has caused an increase of erosion.  The delicate slope near Pasola Camp is slowly rolling down to the sea, eventually.  The trail bench has crumbled as well, below a mess of giant fallen trees.

 Again in the deep woods the trail picks up again.  It is very difficult to locate - survey blazes and a thick jungle have obliterated a lot of history.

 Other than a couple of faint trail blazes, it is all but gone.
 550 Trail, just a gigantic mess now
 once a carrier of messages to Bull of the Woods, now only silent


Time has swallowed this old route whole.  In less than 100 years, the forest has obliterated most traces of it.  I am disappointed, my imagination predicted a different outcome.  
But the forest crackles with infinity; it could care less.  

Back at camp, the skies crack open and drench all creation.  
It cools everything down, and the flies go away.  I strip and dance around like a maniac in the wet dusky twilight.  It is like being born again.

The thick clouds lift after dropping their burdens, fog gives birth to tomorrow's generation, gestating again in deep valleys, draped with sodden trees, lichen star points jiggling rubbery in soft winds.

Another firework evening, nature's candy.  It rolls on endlessly, without struggle, although we sure have our fair share.  It appears as love itself in the skies, stunning and yet completely indifferent.  And I love it back, just the same.

"Life is a thump-ripe melon: so sweet and such a mess"
-Greg Brown

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Accidental Packet

Serendipity often arrives by the mail.

A little while back I acquired this old battered envelope from a family in Wisconsin.  
I was somewhat interested in the maps - they were clean 1963 Mt. Hood National Forest maps (both north and south halves!), completely common despite their vintage heritage.  The Forest Service must have printed a gazillion of the things.  Well they were cheap, so I bought them.

Much to my surprise, they contained quite a bit of history, all relevant to my many lives intertwined over the years.  

art deco Elgin Tower Building

Elgin, Illinois is a long way from the Cascades; geographically culturally it doesn't matter.  It would not surprise me that many of the vintage artifacts that litter wild Oregon had their origin there, nails, lookout hinges, compasses who knows.
When I was a kid, I thrilled at my first solo forages into Elgin, riding the Milwaukee Road to the end of the line, where the conductors never charged me.
1974 end of the lineFrom Chasing Heavy Metal

I have always been fond of Elgin.  Lots of history and the beautiful Fox River.  The terminus of the Chicago Aurora and Elgin interurban railroad, now just a Prairie Path, electric in the weeds.
But that was a long time ago, before I went feral and lost myself in Oregon.  After years of blood by thorns of devil's club, busted ankles from buried stumps in the ferns, hypothermic chills and endless rain, it is a brutal baptism.  Those that have been through it are changed forever.

Well, Egin, Illinois, home of the famous watch company.  Let's see what's in there.
A letter from a Mr. Kenneth Lobbig:
The story gets more remarkable.  I know these places very well, and this man lived them, years before they became abandoned footings in the weeds.

North Fork GS and Oak Grove RS 1935
CCC Camp 1 1/2 

CCC Camp Rag City

In their usual terse tone, but written with the eloquent cursive pen of the day, is the US Forest Service Reply, written on the back of his letter and returned to Elgin, another long trip from Portland.

"Call us when you get here"

Well Mr. Lobbig, if I were around in 1967 I would have delighted in your tales of the early Depression Clackamas, the gilded Forest Service age of conservation and white enamel signs.

  Even by the late 1960s this was a ruthless, cold and efficient Forest Service, building many destructive roads into fragile ancient valleys and logging the hell out of them - right to the riverbank.  A lot of old timers were pissed off to lose those fragile temples of summer memory, back lit and golden, spendid in the late sun and now a clearcut mess.  The old guard was retiring, nobody needed a diamond hitch anymore.

What else is in this envelope?  20 bucks from the 60s?  No.
1964 PNW Forests

ok then

Of course way out of date - facilities change a lot in almost 50 years.  Well, unfortunately for the Mt. Hood NF, many of the campgrounds, roads, trails, and public sites have been abandoned or destroyed - on purpose.  It seems the NW Oregon national forests lack the budget for campgrounds.  Many of my favorite camps are "camps no more".  I will leave this irony up to the reader.

The following pages are the entries for Mt Hood:

Again, I'll leave it up to the historian to determine the pertinence of this information.
Smokey's eyes, almost sensual

Finally in the pack, the somewhat coveted 1963 maps, with their odd "Pure Americana" imagery

the homliest, un-campy strange family I've even seen, yet they're featured prominently

a very poorly cut-in bear (nobody could find an actual photo of a bear in the woods)
and finally
This Guy

Odd, very odd.  
The '63 is the last USFS Mt. Hood map that shows many of the old trails.
By 1967, most are missing on the new map.  Road, many more roads in stead.

And the rest is history!

At the very least, Mr. Lobbig was able to tell his story, no matter how brief.  I wonder how his trip went in the summer of '67.  I hope it brought back a lot of memories.

Kenneth C. Lobbig