You Meet the Nicest People

I have returned to our state’s east side numerous times this year, drawn by an incredible, long-loved ranch. On a Thursday evening last July I spent the afternoon with the family who has called the ranch home for over 70 years. We ended the conversation about 7:00 in the evening. 

I have returned to our state’s east side numerous times this year, drawn by an incredible, long-loved ranch. On a Thursday evening last July I spent the afternoon with the family who has called the ranch home for over 70 years. We ended the conversation about 7:00 in the evening.

I’ll detour for a paragraph to explain the late ending. Working alongside families who work their land is different from other conservation transactions—not any more technically challenging or financially complex, but far more emotionally weighty. You see, the land is not just what earns their bread; it is generational glue.

Our work extends beyond the immediacy of saving the land to respecting the family’s history—from the legacy of its hard-earned beginnings to the prospects for future generations. In this case, the mother and father set up their stake on this ground when they were just barely 18 years old, raised four children on the ranch and this month celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. Enough said… these meetings take time and it is an honor to work on such projects.

Well, I took advantage of the late breakup to stay on the east side and get an early start on a hike up the standard front route of Ingalls Peak and then down and out its untraveled backside, rejoining a trail at Lake Ann. I don’t call myself a climber, more of a stumbling scrambler of long duration.

I have been up Ingalls a few times, including one fine August day years back traversing across its ridgeline to Fortune Point. But as is the nature of mountains, Ingalls Peak can be menacingly capricious. On the wane of one October, I ducked out of an interminable conference at Suncadia Resort to climb the peak. A normally class-three route was something much more because of hard ice and deep snow. A darkly foreboding day with the summit catching low clouds and nearby Steward completely enshrouded.

This July day was the opposite. It was stunning, spectacularly glorious and I repeatedly got off track by choice mountain lakes, streams and tarns perfect for swimming. Much of the final approach was on a steep snowfield. Near the top, a herd of 15 mountain goats lounged on the snow—nannies, yearlings and kids.  Since my way back down was off any standard route, I was left blessedly alone with my wandering thoughts. It was a great antidote to summer heat—and the two weeks prior of national political conventions.

After Ingalls, I was nosing my way towards Lake Ann and came across a very civilized scene. A delightful couple was quietly reading in the shade with a campsite well organized for comfort and a merry stream gurgling nearby. Bonnie and Garry greeted me with arched eyebrows, happily entertained by my idiosyncratic route. Garry pulled out a map and we traded favorite hidden spots across the Cascades, like two old pals promising not to spill each other’s secrets. 40 years ago they came across this near-holy glen while roaming about and have been religiously visiting ever since with their kids and, now, grandkids.

The two rising generations learned to glissade on the nearby snow fields and ‘boulder’ on the big rocks strewn about. Their childhood roaming was naturally contained by the steep slopes that cradled the perched valley. The couple has observed Lake Ann filling in over the decades. Mountain lakes eventually, of course, become meadows, but that’s usually over many centuries, not a few decades. So—a mystery ripe for speculation.

Garry and Bonnie returned to their books and I went on to Lake Ann for a lazy swim and lingering dinner, basking in the still-warm sun. I glimpsed a coopers hawk (maybe it was a northern goshawk) as I rounded a bend during the last hour of the hike. And, afterwards, I footed it back to the car with easily an hour’s worth of daylight to spare. The drive from trailhead to homestead was about 2.5 hours.

Now seriously people, in how many parts of this country can we be in high snow, swim wonderful mountain lakes, see some wildlife and return to a great city neighborhood in one day? Answer: not many. Better answer: not any—at least of the caliber of our wild Cascades and the uncommon grace of our Puget Sound cities. So, of course, that’s why we do the work we do. Because this place is worth it. And you meet some of the nicest folks along the way, too.