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Beauty Creek, a simple one-day hike out of Mazama’s Robinson Creek Trailhead, holds the remnants of a once-productive gold mine. The shaft is now flooded (though it could be siphoned out). In the 1970s, a local (and old friend of mine) known as Indian Bob collected several samples of its mine tailings to have assayed. He alleges there was one-half ounce of gold per ton of debris sitting at the shaft entrance. I’ve seen the tailings and I believe him. Nevertheless, don’t bother trying to stake a claim; it’s protected under the Wilderness Act of 1964 and, besides, Indian Bob don’t cotton to covetous claim jumpers. He is typical of many old-timers met by hikers up in the Pasayten — hard-living, cantankerous, and fiercely independent.
It seems this country has hosted all kinds of notables. Parson Smith stands out for his eccentricity. A mountain man and poet, he paused on June 6, 1886, to carve his initials on a tree within a stonecast of the then-unmarked Canadian border. Known as Parson Smith Tree, it stood for years as an unofficial wilderness boundary marker between the U.S. and Canada. The tree was eventually cut down and packed out to Twisp, Washington. All that remains of Parson Smith’s legacy is a stump cast in concrete and one of those nicely routered U.S. Forest Service (USFS) signs.
The border is now marked with an impressively straight clear-cut about a hundred feet wide. Aluminum obelisks spaced at regular intervals stand sentinel on the world’s longest undefended border. You’ve got to see it to believe it.
No story of the Pasayten can be told without mentioning Claude Miller, a horsepacker of some repute. Outfitters like to chide him over his infamous Sunset magazine cover photo 40 years ago. Locals joke he needed a larger hat after the publication (with all due respect, of course). Miller had a reputation for treating his packhorses well. One year, before the infamous Andrews Creek Fire (aka Farewell Fire), he dropped a party of hunters and some saddle stock up at Airview Lake (best fishing in the Pasayten back then). One gentleman asked Miller how he wanted the horses tied out at night — hobbled or on a pony-drag. “Don’t tie up my horses at night,” Claude bellowed, “You’ll lame em’ up.”
Just before sundown the hunters did as they were told, unsaddling the stock, and leading them to a meadow. The next morning the horses were found at Spanish Camp, 17 miles away. When Mr. Miller returned the following day with the wayward horses, his Stetson brim was pulled down low over his eyes. As he dismounted from his own horse he growled, “How come you didn’t hobble em’ ya city slickers.”
Unlike some wilderness areas, particularly the High Sierra, horses and hikers seem to get along pretty well in the Pasayten. Backpackers know that it is horse country and has always been horse country. True, wilderness purists might take offense to some guy that looks like Robert Mitchum allowing his pack stock to drink out of the same creek they do, but that sort of attitude is best left at the trailhead. Horse packers have their designated concessions, granted by the USFS. If a backpacker doesn’t like horses, then a few extra miles of trekking will give the Pasayten hiker all the solitude and pure water he or she desires.
Personally, I like the horses because they have a tendency to keep the black bears and cougars out of the camps. Although these days it seems that the grizzly bear has become latest camp boogieman, and as anyone who has seen these awesome creatures will tell you, a “Griz” isn’t afraid of anything.
For the last two summers (2009 and 2010) my fellow Pasayten devotees and I have run into parties of biologists intent on finding grizzly fur and scat. Their methodology is fascinating. First, they pack into the airfield cabin a supply of rotten fish (“Griz Bait” imported from Montana) and barbed wire. Then, these young scientists wander through the woods spreading the bait on game trails, wrapping it in a ring of barbed wire. The wire is supposed to capture bear hair samples for DNA tests. Last year my buddies Jerry, Craig and I shared the airfield camp with some of the bear biologists. Jerry asked them a few poignant questions about their methodology. It went something like this:
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