XC Skiing at Red Bridge and an unplanned demonstration; February 2013

A late winter storm blew thru Puget Sound, so I was looking forward to some fine snow on this Outing Club trip.  The two-lane road east of Granite Falls was covered in snow, and the air was thick with big wet flakes.  Our bus driver paused to put chains on the rear tires.  He parked awkwardly at a pull-out east of Red Bridge (a local landmark; it’s just a typical steel truss bridge that’s painted red).  Several cars had parked close to the highway’s edge, probably in hopes that they wouldn’t get stuck in the snow; there was space behind them, but getting a ski bus into it was going to be a project.Red Bridge map

While the driver worked on that project, we skiers gathered our gear and headed out.  About 20 of us walked back across to the west side of the bridge to ski up Mallardy Road.  We had to edge past about four big pickup trucks that were plugging up the trailhead before we could put on our skis.  Beyond the trucks we found billows of deep snow.  This snow had such a fluffy, light structure that it could bear hardly any weight.  Any attempt to ski on level, fresh snow resulted in snowshoeing with skis — all downward motion and no forward progress.  My seat mate Ray Morris and I took turns breaking trail, squashing down a track that the rest of the party could glide along.  The snow was packy; once a couple of people had burnished it, it developed an almost icy surface.

As we neared the bridge over Mallardy Creek we could hear gunshots.  At first a few scattered ones; later on, very closely spaced shots as if an automatic weapon were being fired.  After we crossed the bridge the shots became alarmingly loud.  Next we saw a can of beer sticking out of the snow.  We stopped to listen and look at each other anxiously.  These country boys sure know how to enjoy themselves.

“Hello!  There’s people here!” we yelled.

The firing stopped.  “Okay, we stopped,” came a sulky voice from the trees.  We skied up a hill past the shooters but I never saw them thru the snowy trees.

At the top of the hill I was hot and thirsty, so I pulled aside to take off a layer and rummage in my pack while the rest of the group pressed onward and upward.  At about this time, the snowfall turned to icy drizzle.  The surface of the snow turned gray.  My Gortex was holding pretty well, but my gloves soaked thru and the upturned ear-flaps of my hat started collecting water and transporting it to the back of my neck.  I changed to my heavy mittens, but they were too hot; by this time the temperature had risen to the high 30s F.  How I hate skiing in the rain!  So I reversed course and skied back down the hill.  I found our tracks were too fast, so I skied the fresh snow in this direction and made it.  The skiers I talked to later said the whole width of the road got pressed down to iciness, and some of them fell several times on this hill.

I heard nothing from the firing range.  After crossing Mallardy Creek I picked my way thru a mass of saplings close to its bank to take some pictures of it.  Skiing back to the road, I found myself sliding down a slope and getting thrashed by saplings.  I closed my eyes, got conked on the head by a mama tree that was defending her cubs, and hit the snow.Mallardy Creek

I crawled out of my ignominious sitzmark and got back to the trail.  It was a short distance from there to the highway.  All the pickup trucks were gone.  Back at the bus, I was wet and cold and tired and eager to get in.  But first I had to find my ski bag so I could put my skis in the baggage compartment.  Because the driver had turned the bus around after we’d left, we were now using the opposite door; all the bags and leftover gear were at the far end of the compartment, out of reach.  I managed to fish out a black Fisher bag with yellow lettering; but when I spread it out on the snow I saw an orange ribbon tied to its handle.  Not mine!  I braved the occasional traffic to root around from the highway-side door and found my bag at the bottom of the pile.  At last I was able to get on board, take off my wet things and eat my lunch.

I had time for a nap before we began our return journey to Seattle.  Now Lance Young, the leader of these trips, had an announcement.  While we were out skiing, a deputy had spoken to the bus driver; and on determining that he had no US Forest Service permit, he had confiscated his Washington State Sno-Park Permit.  (For two years the US Forest Service has insisted that Lance obtain a permit, but also has refused to sell him one due to various technicalities.)  The deputy had taken the confiscated permit to the Verlot ranger station, despite that fact that it is a state permit, not a federal one.

We were well aware of the feud; and the Outing Club isn’t the only local organization whose wilderness access the US Forest Service has obstructed. Their policy makes no sense;

  • The Outing Club bus replaces over 20 cars.
  • It enables forest access to people who can’t drive in the snow or, like me, who can’t drive at all.
  • It even carries a toilet.
  • Our outings are planned and supervised by a professional ski instructor.
  • And all of this happens at no expense to the US Forest Service.

Last October, Lance organized a meeting of representatives of concerned organizations with representatives of national forests located in Washington and Oregon.  State legislator Cindy Ryu sponsored the meeting and provided a conference room.  The idea was that the Forest Service would explain and discuss their policy about recreation organization use of forest lands.  However, Forest Service managers for Washington state forests decided at the last minute not to attend, apparently in expectation of a less than enthusiastic forum; and they instructed the Oregon Forest Service representatives not to attend either.

The bus pulled into the ranger station’s lot, and most of the people on it crowded into the office to see that Lance got his permit back; he did.  The young lady ranger at the desk was pretty overwhelmed.  I wonder how her bosses will respond to our little demonstration?

Another interesting question; did those shooters who blocked access, scattered their bullets and shell casings and beer cans around, and probably peed on the trees have to get Forest Service permits?

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