A winding dirt and gravel road whips around the ridgelines and courses the snaking route of small streams as it ascends toward an anticipated treeline. A brief break in the forest reveals an obscured view of the peaks that dot the distance just as a pothole sends the rear end sidewinding around another dusty corner.

An unmarked turn off headed uphill takes you to the trailhead. It’s a right. Unless you pass it and have to turn around. Up at the top, where the road zags backs down around the bend, a dirt turnout is filled with cars. Fifty people have driven to the edge of the world in hopes of climbing the rest of the way for a look-see.

The path is steep and leads beyond the mile high line but the moss draped trees are persistent, if stunted and gnarled, so shade leads the way. Roots provide the steps. Stumps serve as seats. Horse flies, cow beetles and rooster bugs swarm and bite if you stand still too long, but a cool blue breeze is aloe vera on sweaty skin. So you move on.

The very first person up the hill had no path to follow, only a desire to go, and so they went. It’s why anyone goes. And so we follow in those footsteps.

Along the way, where the edges of the bald path gives way to spongy forest floor, wildflowers and berry bushes explode in surging swaths of sunlight. Purple tinker bells. Asparagus tipped snowballs. Sleepy headed orange trumpeters. Common strawberry butterfly wings. Jungle leaf fruity pebbles. Pink lemonade make-a-wishes. Screaming sunburst sea stars. Huckleberries, too.

More than a mile up the trail the first taste of the view-to-come emerges as the path veers a switchback away from a plunging precipice. A razorback ridge line cuts a line through the center of our spire stairway and bisects the cascading evergreen valleys below. An alpine lake lays flat in the distance and ripples like mercury in a motivated midday sun. Up on the edge of the world the shade persists.

Around the corner the path begins to run bare in spots to reveal hard rock. The trees thin out like comb overs and the top is revealed just a few hundred yards away. As the final strands of trees relent the path turns to slab rock and a 45-degree scramble serves as a final threshold.

Atop that jutting column of rock, at the very top, sits a weathered 90-year old shack with 360-degree views that are obstructed only by the crowns of Rainier, Adams, St. Helens, and, on it’s best days, Hood.

The clapboard shanty used to house observant eyes to scan for smoke and flames across the forest. Now it sits mostly empty and always defiant to the odds against its very existence.

White paint is peeling away like exploded feather pillows. Its wood bones brittle and crumbling from the inside. The foundation is held to the rock by habit instead of bolts and only sagging cables are employed to truly keep it in place. The existence of each board, each screw, and pane of glass is a testament to human relentlessness and the enduring power of an idea.

Generations have shared the timeless vistas delivered from the remote perch. It no longer serves as a fire lookout but its value is immeasurable nonetheless.

Like the first person who trekked that cliffside, and the intrepid teams of horses, mules, and assorted jackasses that have followed, one quickly learns that a trip up to High Rock is a perfect excuse to stop and take a look around.

FISHIN’

Fishing prospects on the Cowlitz River are suffering from near record low flows that are only expected to become more severe as the summer stretches on.

Last Friday, when the City of Kelso imposed voluntary water use restrictions to reduce strain on the system, the Cowlitz River was running at 3,100 cubic feet per second at the Castle Rock gauge station. That flow rate was about 45 percent below the average for the date and the river is running about two feet lower than normal, per U.S. Geological Survey data. The record low flow for July 13 was recorded at 2,300 cubic feet per second in 1940.

On Wednesday river flow at Castle Rock had fallen to 3,070 cubic feet per second, whereas the mean flow rate for the date is 5,050 CFS. Upriver a ways on Wednesday, just below Mayfield Dam, the Cowlitz River was flowing at 2,370 CFS, compared to the annual mean of 4,050 cfs. The low flow at the location for the date is recorded as 1,470 CFS from 1968.

That limited flow on the Cowlitz is hurting fish migration due to a dearth of water and increased in-stream temperatures. What’s more, river flow doesn’t typically bottom out until late August or early September just before fall rains return to the area. Officials are blaming the low river level on a relatively dry spring, early snowmelt in the mountains, and reduced releases by Tacoma Power from behind Riffe and Mayfield dams.

The WDFW conducted limited creel sampling on the Cowlitz River last week and anecdotal fish tales were also scarce. Numbers provided by the WDFW show that 22 bank rods between the Barrier Dam and the I-5 bridge kept five steelhead, while 56 boat rods in the same vicinity kept 32 steelhead and released on jack Chinook. The Cowlitz River is currently closed to Chinook retention from the mouth of the Cowlitz up to Forest Road 1270, along with the Cispus River and Lake Scanewa until the end of July.

In worse news, several trips to area rivers last week resulted in emergency responses, and tragic outcomes, and served to highlight the need for continued caution around waterways during the heat of the summer.

On Saturday a man was rescued with assistance from a crane after he fell approximately 15 feet from rocks located at the upriver side of Mossyrock Dam on the Cowlitz River. The man was reportedly attempting to fish near the dam when he fell and broke his leg.

“He was never on the dam, it was the rocks that they fish from there,” Doug Fosburg, chief of Lewis County Fire District 3, told The Chronicle. “He decided rather than to take the walking path to the water, he decided to climb down the rocks.”

One day earlier, an angler on the Cowlitz River paid the ultimate price when the boat he was in capsized near Blue Creek. Lewis County coroner, Warren McLeod, said that Ronald Borst, 59, of Mossyrock, died from cardiac arrhythmia, and noted that episode could have been linked to a heart attack triggered by the fall into the river. He added that Borst did not drown.

According to a witness, Borst and a 75-year old Vancouver man both went into the river around 7 a.m. after the boat they were in collided with the bank and became snared on a tree. The man from Vancouver was able to bring Borst to shore but was unable to revive him.

That sort of bad news was not contained to just one area river, either, as an 18-year old man from Elma drowned in the Chehalis River last week. The victim, Cole R. Hendrickson, had been swimming near the South Elma Bridge with a friend before disappearing beneath the surface of the water.

Grays Harbor Undersheriff, Dave Pimentel, noted that the air temperature exceeded 90 degrees that day while the river was running at about 54 degrees. He said that those conditions, “can be stressful on even the strongest of swimmers.”

Authorities say that all anglers should bring a floatation device with them whenever they are near the water.

Anglers on the Chehalis River have had limited success for steelhead recently and that bite is not expected to improve any time soon. However, fishers have been having success in the early mornings for bass feeding around the cool mouths of tributaries and streams.

Other WDFW sampling last week showed three bank anglers on the Elochoman River kept one steelhead, while two bank anglers on the Kalama River and 11 bank anglers on the North Fork Lewis river had no catch to show.

Overall success has been best on the mainstem of the Lower Columbia River in recent weeks as anglers target steelhead while the salmon fishery is closed. As in recent weeks the best odds have been found between the Wahkiakum County line (County Line Park) and the mouth of the Lewis River. In other Columbia River news, the annual tally for shad is rapidly approaching 6 million at Bonneville Dam. This year’s count has already surpassed the record of 5,355,677 shad counted passing Bonneville in 2004.

In trout news, the WDFW recently continued with ongoing stocking efforts in Lewis County. On July 5 Mayfield Lake was planted with 3,200 catchable size rainbow trout and Chambers Lake, near Berry Patch in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, was planted with 1,000 little brown trout.

HUNTIN’

Hunters who are hoping to be able to bag a deer in the most tantalizing stretches of Okanogan County this fall will have until 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 13 to submit their application.

In total, eighteen applications will be selected via random drawing for an opportunity to hunt deer in the Charles and Mary eder unit. That 6,000 acre unit is located within the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area in northeastern Okanogan County near Oroville.

“This is part of our effort to provide quality hunting opportunities in Washington,” said Matt Monda, WDFW northcentral regional wildlife manager, in a press release. “This drawing is open to the general public without any additional fees beyond the cost of a hunting license and the standard tags.”

The 18 access and harvest permits for the special hunt will be divided up evenly between bowhunters, muzzleloader toters, and hunters using modern weapons. Each chosen hunter will be allowed to take one deer, in accordance with license regulations.

The hunts will take place within GMU 204 during the general season, which is set for Sept. 1-28 for bowmen, Sept. 29 through Oct. 7 for musketmen, and Oct. 13-23 for riflemen.

Applications for the “limited-entry” drawing can be submitted contacting the WDFW by phone at either 509-754-4624 or 360-902-2515, or online at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/permits/scotchcreek/.

Results are expected to be posted on the WDFW website by the last week of August.

New hunters hoping to give it a go this fall should be sure to get their hunters education requirements taken care of in time.

All hunters born after Jan. 1, 1972 are required to complete a hunter education course prior to purchasing their first hunting license and classes typically fill up quickly in the weeks prior to fall hunting opening dates.Those required courses are offered in a traditional classroom setting as well as online.

The slow opening of hunting seasons will begin in just under two weeks when black bear seasons open up on Aug. 1 in coastal areas and in the East Cascades zone. The South Cascades Zone will open two weeks later on Aug. 15.

Until then, of course, coyotes remain fair game for hunters all across Washington.

FUNDIN’

The WDFW is inviting the public to participate in a webinar in order to discuss the particulars of the agency’s long-term funding needs.

That webinar will take place on July 23, beginning at 7 p.m., and will be hosted by WDFW staff. The session will include updates on funding issues and opportunities for the state to invest in fish and wildlife management, as well as conservation of lands and habitat.

In particular, WDFW policy director, Nate Pamplin, will attempt to shed light on the reasons for the projected $30 million gap in funding that his department expects to face during the two-year budget cycle set to begin next July. Pamplin plans to include insight from independent consultants as well as the WDFW’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group. He will also go into detail on planned budget cuts and proposed funding increases that would help to bridge that anticipated shortfall.

According to Pamplin, there are several reasons for the funding problems. Those causes include:

· Several one-time funding patches approved by lawmakers in recent years are set to expire soon.

· Revenue from the sale of recreational licenses has not kept pace with spending authorized by the Legislature for managing fish, wildlife, and their habitat.

· The department still has yet to fully rebound from cuts imposed during the economic recession a decade ago.

To particpate in the webinar go online to attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8360838542216730371.

Participants must register prior to logging into the webinar. Additionally, members of the public who simply wish to listen in can join the proceedings by phone by calling, 415-655-0052 after 6:45 p.m., and entering the access code 281-297-953.

Documents related current spending and revenue proposals can be accessed online at wdfw.wa.gov/about/budget/development/.

SUCKIN’

A series of public meetings arranged by the WDFW will seek input on future rules and regulations for suction dredging permits.

In addition to potential changes to the permit process the WDFW would like to sift through the public for ideas to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species during suction operations targeting gold and other minerals.

In April, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission instructed the WDFW to develop new rules in order to address ongoing concerns.

Current regulations only require people to carry, and ostensibly follow, the Gold and Fish pamphlet in order to operate a small suction dredge. In an attempt to stoke accountability by dredge users the commission has called on WDFW to draft rules that would require all suction dredge users in Washington to apply for an individual permit.

“The department is reaching out to citizens who have an interest in how the rules are developed,” said Randi Thurston, WDFW habitat program protection division manager, in a press release. “Commissioners have emphasized that the department's rule development must be open to public involvement. We are very early in the process, and we are seeking the public’s help in shaping the development of these rules."

Thurston added that the commission is likely to act on the new permit requirement early in 2019.

The public meetings are scheduled at the following times and places:

· Wenatchee – July 16 from 7-9 p.m., Port of Chelan County Confluence Technology Center (Methow and Teanaway Rooms), 285 Technology Center Way.

· Spokane Valley – July 17 from 7-9 p.m., CenterPlace Regional Event Center Auditorium, 2426 North Discovery Place.

· Olympia – July 19 from 7-9 p.m., Natural Resources Building Room 172, 1111 Washington St. S.E.

· Everett – July 25 from 7-9 p.m., Everett Community College, Jackson Conference Room 2000 Tower St.

RIPARIAN

The WDFW has extended its input period for public comment on proposed conservation efforts along river and stream banks across the state.

Written comments on riparian zone management will now be accepted through Aug. 17. Those comments should be targeted toward recommendations found within “Riparian Ecosystems, Volume 2: Management Recommendations,” which is available online. That draft is an update to the original tome published in 1997.

The new recommendations can be viewed online at wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01988, while the original riparian guidelines can be seen online at wdfw.wa.gov/publications/00029/.

Groups or individuals are able to submit written comments by mail to Terra Rentz, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98501, or online at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/phs/mgmt_recommendations/comments.html.

EXAMININ’

A cougar that was killed by authorities in May after being blamed for the death of a bicyclist on a popular trail near North Bend showed no abnormalities in a subsequent examination.

A report recently released by Washington State University showed that the animal was on the low end of the healthy weight spectrum for its age but was by no means starving or otherwise imperiled.

“The cause of aggressive behavior reported in this cat was not evident in gross necropsy evaluation,” read part of the report.

The animal, estimated to be about three years old, was tested specifically for rabies and other afflictions, but screening did not reveal anything out of the ordinary.

The cougar is believed to have attacked two cyclists, killing one, on May 19. Authorities believe the cougar that was killed and sent in for testing is responsible for the attack due to its proximity to the attack and the low density of cougars across Washington. DNA testing is currently underway in an effort to confirm that suspeicion. Results are expected within a month.

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