I have been to the top of the mountain, and the hardest step of all was the first one coming back down.

The ascent was a maddening confection of misery and bliss. Every step required full effort and returned only fractions of perceived progress as the crumbling rocks of ages slipped and shifted under each plodding boot. Far away valleys dressed in cardigans of timber and craggy cornerstone peaks remained unchanged on the horizon as distance and time became unhinged from common scale.

As legs grew heavy and air waned thin, each ridge line promised to reveal the final approach to the summit. A sunburnt neck ached from arching at odd angles in order to peer up the flirtatious flank of the sulfuric cinder cone. It was apparent we were all chasing our own siren’s call.

At every newly attained level those naive, and essential, hopes evaporated like snow on a lava dome as the newfound vista revealed an ever-escalating series of obstacles left to traverse. Sometimes I had to lie down and rest. I had to unstrap from the weight on my shoulders and ponder where I was, the clouded valleys I’d climbed out of, and wherever else there was still left to go.

Along the way, other climbers would attempt to put our station into perspective through the use of common metrics such as time, feet and meters. None of it was any use though, because once you’ve become affected by the high altitude those constraints hardly matter at all anymore. The only variables that matter are if you were going up or down. Everything else had been decided long before you even realized you had started up the trail. Our trajectory and momentum are controlled by the cumulative gravity of our choices and experiences. Our obstacles are waves pulled by the moon and converging currents. We are the surfer, either paddling out and riding back in, or off balance and pummeled beneath the surface.

Along the path the air is filled with fragments of conversation and self imploration. Sometimes it all seemed too much and we’d curse ourselves for ever setting out above the treeline. Other times the intoxicating thought of what might be around the next corner inspired strangers to call out to other strangers with lofty words of encouragement. We told each other what we knew the other could do, even if we uncertain of ourselves.

The final stretch was of course the steepest and slowest. For many, the only thing that prevented them from quitting due to inertia was the irritation of how far they’d already come. Turning around then would be a waste, and the mountain would win.

The chatter grew sparse during that final approach as battles waged inside battered minds while legs and fingers trembled under the unrelenting strain. When the final step delivered each climber to the top, all the talking stopped. Respectful eyes and head nods replaced words and the only sound was that of the wind ripping over the sheer edge of that snow capped precipice.

Sitting in the snow, a crumpled sandwich the only tangible reward for the journey, it was hard to imagine leaving such a heavenly vantage. After all, it had proven so hard to get there and there were so many who would do anything to trade places in this world. There was no amount of time at the top that would have proved satisfying enough, like a clear stream from which one could drink forever.

As the sun rolled across the sky from left to right and the ocean sparkled until the edge of the world, I finally found the strength to push off from the summit. As I took that first step toward the bottom I took comfort in the fact that life is not about what’s at the top of the mountain and nobody is meant to stay there for long. Everything that matters is back beneath the tree tops.

FISHIN’

Fishing prospects took a hit all over Southwest Washington this week as the WDFW rolled out a series of outright closures or catch limit reductions from Willapa Harbor to Puget Sound and even the West End of the Olympic Peninsula.

The Chehalis River wound up in the mix when the WDFW announced a harvest limit reduction that will begin on Saturday from the mouth of Grays Harbor all the way up to the Hoh River. Anglers fishing between those two distant points will now be limited to just one adult salmon per day and will be required to stop fishing as soon as that limit is attained. The rule change was implemented in reaction to a disappointing return of coho salmon.

Waterways subject to the conservation measure include the mainstem Chehalis, Skookumchuck, Newaukum, Satsop and Wishkah rivers. Specifically, that rule change applies to for following waters:

• Marine Area 2-2 (Grays Harbor)

• Black River (Grays Harbor/Thurston Co.), from mouth to bridge on 128th Ave. SW. 

• Chehalis River (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth (Hwy. 101 Bridge in Aberdeen) to the high bridge on Weyerhaeuser 1000 line.

• Copalis River (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth to Carlisle Bridge.

• Elk River (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth (Hwy. 105 Bridge) to the confluence of Middle Branch.

• Hoh River (Jefferson Co.), from Olympic National Park boundary upstream to Morgans Crossing boat launch.  

• Hoquiam River, including West Fork (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth (Hwy. 101 Bridge on Simpson Ave) to Dekay Rd. Bridge (West Fork).

• Hoquiam River, East Fork (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth to confluence of Berryman Creek.

• Johns River (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth (Hwy. 105 Bridge) to Ballon Creek.

• Moclips River (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth to Quinault Indian Reservation boundary.

• Newaukum River, including South Fork (Lewis Co.), from mouth to Leonard Rd. near Onalaska.

• Quinault River, Upper (Clallam Co.), from mouth at upper end of Quinault Lake upstream to Olympic National Park boundary.

• Salmon River (Jefferson Co.) outside Quinault Indian reservation and Olympic National Park.

• Satsop River and East Fork (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth to bridge at Schafer State Park; and from 400' below Bingham Creek Hatchery to the dam.

• Skookumchuck River (Lewis/Thurston Co.), from mouth to 100 feet below outlet of TransAlta WDFW steelhead rearing pond located at the base of Skookumchuck Dam.

• Wishkah River (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth to 200' below the weir at the Wishkah Rearing Ponds; and from 150' upstream to 150' downstream of the Wishkah adult adult attraction channel/outfall structure (within the posted fishing boundary).

• Wynoochee River (Grays Harbor Co.), from mouth to WDFW White Bridge access site.

Every time it rains for five minutes anxious anglers around the Twin Cities rush down to the banks to cast a line and try their luck. As the WDFW’s updated run forecast indicates though, that effort continues to leave most everyone disappointed for the reward they receive in return. While a few sparkly silver salmon have been pulled out of the river in recent days the odds are not likely to improve much until after some big rain settles in over the area. The best odds for salmon on the mainstem Chehalis River typically occur shortly after the river begins to drop.

Willapa Bay was hit even harder than its neighbors to the north this week when the WDFW shuttered the majority of the watershed to any salmon fishing at all. That rule change was also put in place due to a return of coho that has so far fallen far short of the preseason projection. That preseason forecast called for 157,467 coho to return through Willapa Bay.

A WDFW press release left open the possibility of reopening the fishery later, noting that, “Managers will continue to assess coho returns and re-open if warranted.”

Locations now closed to salmon fishing include Marine Area 2-1 (Willapa Bay), Bear River, Forks Creek, Naselle River, Nemah River (Middle, North, and South forks), North River, Smith Creek, Willapa River, and the Willapa River South Fork.

Another ripple of that regulation change was the postponement of a previously scheduled public meeting with the Willapa Bay salmon advisory group. The WDFW indicated that extra time is needed to formulate new strategies in light of the recent update to the coho run and fishery. The meeting was previously slated to take place on Nov. 21 at the Raymond Elks Lodge. There was no timetable provided for a possible reschedule date.

If South Puget Sound is known for anything in particular in salmon fishing circles it’s that those waters almost never close to fishing. Nowadays you can’t even say that.

Several sections of Puget Sound, including a portion of Marine Area 13 (South Sound), and a few tributaries have been closed to salmon fishing by the WDFW in response to a poor return of chum salmon.

Sport salmon fishing is now closed in the Green (Duwamish) River, along with Minter and Kennedy creeks. Salmon fisheries are also shuttered in Marine Area 10, and the portion of South Sound (Marine Area 13) from the southernmost point of Devil's Head (southern end of Key Peninsula) to the eastern boundary of Tolmie State Park, including Case Inlet, Henderson Inlet, Budd Inlet, Eld Inlet, Totten Inlet, and Oakland Bay.

Recreational salmon angling remains open in the eastern portion of Marine Area 13. That area exists east of a line that extends from the southernmost point of Devil’s Head to the eastern boundary of Tolmie Park. There is a two salmon daily limit. Chinook must measure at least 22 inches in length. All chum, wild Chinook, and wild coho must be released.

The lower Columbia River has so far evaded any sweeping changes for salmon anglers. Currently those waters are open from Rock/Tongue Point up to Bonneville Dam, along with most of its tributaries. According to WDFW creel sampling stats the Cowlitz River received its fair share of pressure last week. On the banks between the I-5 Bridge and the mouth 84 bank rods tallied had five cho and one coho jack to show. Another 110 rods on 42 boats in the same areas kept 28 coho and three jacks while releasing four Chinook and 42 coho. From the freeway up to the barrier dam 44 bank rods kept three coho and released 37 Chinook. Another 15 rods on five boats kept five coho and three jacks while throwing back one Chinook and four coho.

At the Cowlitz River salmon hatchery last week crews retrieved 1,389 coho adults, 105 coho jacks, 77 fall Chinook adults, four fall Chinook jacks, 37 cutthroat trout, three summer-run steelhead adults, and two winter-run steelhead adults. Fish handlers then released 67 coho adults, 17 coho jacks, and one cutthroat trout at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood along with 247 coho adults and 27 coho jacks into the Cispus River by Yellow Jacket Creek near Randle. Another 450 coho adults, ten coho jacks, and one cutthroat trout were put into Lake Scanewa near Randle and 453 coho adults, 29 coho jacks, 28 fall Chinook adults, and six cutthroat trout were trucked to the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton. On Tuesday river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 3,540 cubic feet per second with visibility up to 14 feet and a water temperature of 51.1 degrees.

Additional creel sampling by the WDFW showed four bank anglers on the Grays River,  two bank anglers on the Elochoman River, and 10 bank anglers on the Kalama river had no catch at all. However, on the Lewis River 32 bank anglers kept on coho. Another 43 rods on 16 boats kept four Chinook, two jacks, 10 coho, and one jack, while releasing five Chinook and three coho.

In other news, a public meeting regarding the Columbia River fishery policy has been postponed. The Joint-State Columbia River Policy Review Committee was slated to meet on Nov. 18 in Ridgefield. However, the consortium was called off due to scheduling conflicts and, according to a WDFW press release, “to allow additional time for new commissioners to better familiarize themselves with important Columbia River management issues.”

Additional public meetings are expected to be scheduled in early 2020.

HUNTIN’

All good things must end.

To wit — The hunt that got the season started back at the beginning of August has come to an end in Washington now that black bears are no longer fair game.

Similarly, black-tail deer season will end on Sunday in western Washington although some hunters will continue looking for white tails on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. Late archery and musket season for black-tails and elk will begin on Nov. 27 and run through at least Dec. 15. Some areas will remain open through the end of the year for archers chasing black-tailed deer, while GMU 407 will stay open until Jan. 20 for archers and musketeers in search of elk.

Duck season is open statewide until Jan. 26. Even scaup are now legal after a moratorium on their heads ended at the beginning of November. For those who were wondering, coots and snipes are also open through Jan. 26.

Goose hunting will also remain open through Jan. 26 in Goose Management Area 3, which includes Lewis County. However, the rules get more complicated in Goose Management Area 2, which includes parts of Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. In the coastal section of Goose Area 2 (west of Highway 101) goose hunting is allowed on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only through Dec. 1. In the inland portion of Goose Area 2 hunters outside of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge will be able to hunt Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from Nov. 23 through Jan. 12. At the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge goose hunting will be allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from Nov. 23 through Jan. 11.

Pheasant hunts will continue in western Washington through the end of November with legal hunting hours happening between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. In December limited openings will occur at release locations such as Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kosmos, Scatter Creek, and Lincoln Creek.

Forest grouse hunts (Blue, Ruffed, and Spruce) will remain open through the end of the year but mountain quail season will be grounded at the end of November. The good news is that crows will be fair game through the end of the year, although nobody seems too keen to eat it these days.

Wild turkey hunts will stay open through the end of the year in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186. Likeise, cougar hunts will continue through at least the end of the year until the WDFW conducts a harvest count. Historically, most areas will remain open for cougar hunting through Apr. 30

As per tradition, bobcat, fox, racoon, cottontail rabbit, and snowshoe hare hunts are set to stay open through the Ides of March, while coyotes hunts stay open forever.

Beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat, and river otter trapping seasons opened at the beginning of November and will continue through the end of March. Those animals may only be harvested by means of trapping.

Lastly, with the big fall rut in full swing it’s wise to remember that roadkill salvage is legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. However, deer are not legal for salvage in Clark, Cowlitz or Wahkiakum counties in order to protect endangered populations of Columbia white-tailed deer. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24-hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permit applications, and additional roadkill salvage regulations, can now be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage.

CLAMMIN’

There’s still some sand in the hour glass if you’re trying to get to the coast to indulge in some razor clam digging. A multiple beach dig that began on Monday will continue through the end of the weekend with dates on all four of the typical coastal spits.

Those clam digs will take place on the following dates, tides, and beaches”

  • Nov. 16, Saturday, 9:08 pm, -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • Nov. 17, Sunday, 9:59 pm, -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

With evening tides in effect no digging is allowed before noon on any beaches. That means that diggers will be working in the dark.

"We are encouraging people to get out there with family and friends to experience razor clam digging, one of Washington’s oldest and greatest traditions, " said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in a press release. “Diggers want to be sure to come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when low tides come at dusk and after dark.”

The next round of proposed clam tides are awaiting final approval by the WFW pending the results of marine toxin testing. Those digs would take place on the following dates, tides, and beaches:

  • November 24, Sunday, 4:47 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • November 25, Monday, 5:34 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • November 26, Tuesday, 6:18 pm, -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • November 27, Wednesday, 7:02 pm, -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • November 28, Thursday, 7:44 pm, -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

  • November 29, Friday, 8:29 pm, -0.7 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

  • November 30, Saturday, 9:10 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

 CHATTIN’

Next week the WDFW will be subjecting their shot callers to a barrage of questions from the public when the department hosts an online forum. 

WDFW director Kelly Susewind and Coastal Region director Larry Phillips will both be on hand between 6-7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21, in order to field inquiries from residents of Thurston, Pacific, Grays Harbor, Pierce, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson, and Clallam counties.

“From the coast to the Olympic Peninsula and Puget Sound, this region faces a wide range of management and conservation challenges,” Susewind said in a press release. “As a popular destination for many in the state, our efforts here affect more than just the residents of the region. We want to hear what’s on the minds of those who live and recreate in these areas during this digital open house."

The general public will be able to submit questions online through the WDFW website (wdfw.wa.gov) or at player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019111001.

Additionally, Susewind and Phillips will provide updates on regional and statewide issues such as winter razor clam projections, hunting access, WDFW’s budget woes, and the reality of salmon forecasts and closures.

CUTTIN’

The powers-that-be with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest began selling Christmas tree permits earlier this week. The GPNF is one of 13 National Forests that participate in the Christmas tree program with permits available either online or in person.

“Winter weather in the forest can change rapidly,” noted a person tasked with speaking for the National Forest, in a press release. “Most forest roads are not maintained for winter driving. Forest staff recommend bringing traction devices and a shovel, extra food, drinking water, winter clothing, blankets, a flashlight, and a first aid kit. Don’t forget a tool for cutting the tree and a rope or cord to secure it to vehicles. Tree cutting and travel may take longer than anticipated, so let a friend or family member know where you’re going, get an early start, and leave the woods well before dark.”

Those permits cost $5 per tree, with a limit of five permits per household. Permits can be obtained online at openforest.fs.usda.gov. Permits can also be obtained in person at the following locations:

• Fort Vancouver GPNF Visitor Center

• 1501 E Evergreen Blvd, Vancouver, WA 98661; (360) 891-5001. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

• Mt. Adams Ranger District

2455 Highway 141, Trout Lake, WA 98650; (509) 395-3400

Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

• Cowlitz Valley Ranger District

10024 US Hwy 12, Randle, WA 98377; (360) 497-1100

Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. (Closed for lunch 12:00 to 1:00.)

• Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

42218 NE Yale Bridge Rd., Amboy, WA 98607; (360) 449-7800

Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Ashford — Ashford General Store, 360-569-2377

• Ashford — Ashford Valley Grocery, 360-569-2560

• Elbe — Elbe Junction, 360-524-7707

• Elbe — Elbe Mall, 360-569-2772

• Packwood — Blanton’s Market, 360-494-6101

• Randle — Fischer’s Market, 360-497-5355

• Randle — Randle One Stop, 360-497-3261

• Kelso — Sportsman’s Warehouse, 360-423-2600

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