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Tom Lyon - Personal Communication

E-mail message, 18 December 2001
To Lowell Skoog from Tom Lyon

Tom's message had just the right amount of detail, so rather than paraphrase it, I've largely included it here, with a few deletions:
Chuck and Marion Hessey took me under their wing in 1950, early in my high school years. I visited the Gold Hill cabin at Morse Creek on a Boy Scout trip, just before New Year 1950, and two more times that winter. They saw that I was greatly interested in backcountry skiing and mountaineering and backpacking. Soon, they invited me to accompany them on trips to the cabin and on their other trips, in all seasons.

Early in April of 1952(?), we went south from White Pass to McCall Basin in the Goat Rocks. The party consisted of Chuck, Marion, Dorothy Egg and myself. White Pass had been opened to traffic in 1951. (When the Pass first opened, Chuck had explored the skiing on Hogback and he and his group made a number of one-day outings to Hogback and established what we considered to be a standard route from the Pass. This was all in the days prior to construction of any chair lift at the White Pass Ski Area.)

On that trip to the Goat Rocks, we spent five nights out. We had one intermediate camp site south of Shoe Lake that was used both going in and coming out. We spent three nights and two full days at McCall Basin. Although we did carry a gas stove, it was never used. Chuck believed strongly in having a fire on his winter camping trips and had a procedure of constructing a platform of small green tree logs and constructing the fire on that platform when the snow was deep. That worked well for overnight stays but for longer stays at one location, a deep fire pit inevitably melted into the snow. Also, we constructed insulating pads for our tents using fir tree boughs.

There was a storm the first day in the basin and we ventured onto some protected slopes to ski. That evening the storm passed and the day that followed was clear and cold with about eight inches of new snow. I have not experienced many winter days to equal that day in the ensuing fifty years. As a teenager with limited experience, I was very impressed. We went up into the big, open, glacier basin that leads to the saddle on the Cascade Crest just north of Old Snowy. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, the air cold and the powder was perfect. We took a number of partial runs cutting turns in that fabulous snow, then reclimbed our switchbacks to make another run. Two days later, as we returned over Hogback we had another cold and sunny day. In all the times I have been to Hogback since, I have never seen the trees more completely plastered with snow.

Both Chuck and Dorothy Egg took 8mm movies of that trip. I understand that Dorothy (she still lives in Yakima) has showed her movie at Cascadian meetings in Yakima in recent years. [See de-1953-goatrocks.] It has been a long time since I have seen the Hessey version and don't know if it is still viewable. We all still have 35mm slides of the trip and Marion has some enlarged photos on the wall of her house. I repeated the trip, about fifteen or twenty years ago with a friend but the weather and snow conditions were poor. We skied again from the same high ridge but visibility was much like skiing in a bowl of milk in that treeless basin. Other than skiing at Hogback, my recollection is that Chuck's other skiing in the Goat Rocks was limited to a couple of solo trips in early summer, skiing in the McCall Basin vicinity and scouting for our winter trip that followed.

I was privileged to participate in two of the wintertime Lyman Lake expeditions, 1953(?) and 1956. The best skiing was one day on the first trip where we had new snow and skied both North Star and Spider Pass. You already know something of Chuck's Lyman heritage. He made a superb 16mm sound movie of the 1956 trip but it may no longer be viewable, due to lack of use. (Maybe you could find the resources to preserve and restore it.) [Done. See hessey-movies.]

The old snow survey cabin at Lyman made it possible to get out into that country and return to a relatively warm and dry sanctuary, rather than survival in a mountain tent. I believe the Lyman Lake cabin log books are archived at the Chelan Public Library. Entries from all of the trips may be there. I recall reading the 1948 entries of his solo trip, during subsequent cabin visits. [Found, thanks to Harry Majors. See lchs-1974-spr-p27.] Simple cabins such as Lyman were Chuck's early vision for skiing in the Cascades. It never really happened. Over the years, the exception has been a few of the Mountaineers cabins, the Gold Hill cabin, and a few others. Only recently have backcountry cabins started to catch on, but they tend to be commercial entities and the cost is rather high.

I believe you know of the 1967(?) Hessey ski trip to the Pasayten where they stayed at the Spanish Camp cabin. There were other trips that were not so notable due to lackluster weather. Using the reclamation headwork's cabin on Safety Harbor Creek, they visited the high basins east of Lake Chelan in the vicinity of the Navarre Peaks, in 1958(?). I was with them on another ski trip to the high, larch tree basin above Loch Eileen in the northeast Chiwaukums, in early April 1966. The approach was up Gill Creek from Merritt, east of Stevens Pass, through Lake Ethel. We spent four nights in the basin but had warm temperatures and no new snow. It did not freeze enough to make corn snow. However we did get some striking photos of the locale.

Much of our winter skiing of the backcountry has been from the Gold Hill cabin at Morse Creek. There is still active use of the cabin by outdoor groups most weekends of the winter. This will be my fifty-third consecutive winter of skiing the valley. We used to go over into the head of Silver Creek to enjoy the solitude and excellent terrain and snow in the basin now known to Crystal Mountain backcountry users as Silver King Basin, under the highest peak of Crystal. This area is now well used from Crystal . I can also recall a number of times meeting Duke Watson touring back behind Bear Gap, after Crystal Mountain Ski Area was established. He knew Chuck Hessey and they would discuss the future of skiing in the area. Watson had a lot to do with the siting of the Crystal Mountain development, I gathered.

I recall that Chuck told me he first skied the Silver King bowl in 1938. My first trip to the Silver King was 1950 but I did not ski from the top of the ridge until 1951. In the years between 1948 and 1950 there was a lot of skiing over there by the Gold Hill crew and we continued moderate use until about ten years ago. Nowadays, we stay mostly in the Morse Creek valley. Perhaps old age keeps me from crossing over into the Crystal Mountain territory as much as the fact that the slopes have been tracked by others. It is more common for backcountry skiers from Crystal to come to our side around Sourdough Pass, than for us to go over there.

There has not been a lot of connection between east and west, but there have been occasions. I recall weekend visits by Seattle Mountaineer groups to the Gold Hill cabin. Before the days of Crystal Mountain Ski Area, they would come over from Highway 410 by climbing up to Crystal Lakes and over the crest and down Morse Creek for a weekend at the cabin. Bob and Ira Spring, Bill and Stella Degenhardt, Frank Fickeisen, Marilyn Loranger, Gary Rose and Keith Gunnar are some of the names I recall from those groups.

Conversation, 20 October 2007
At Nile Community Church in Naches, WA

At Marion Hessey's memorial service, Tom told me his version of the Lyman Lake dog food story. He said it differed somewhat from what Phil Dahl told me. The incident occurred on the 1956 trip during which Skiing Cascade Wilderness was filmed. The group was running low on food and was down to just one bag of rice. There were a few cans of Dinty Moore beef stew and dog food stored in the cabin. (It's unclear whether the stew was left by the snow survey party or by Chuck Hessey during an earlier food caching trip.) Tom's group cooked up some of their rice and added the contents of one of the Dinty Moore cans to complete their dinner.

Tom remembered that the meal was "kind of crunchy." Chuck said it was just partially cooked rice, but Tom was not so sure. He asked to look at the stew can again. (In the dark cabin, buried in snow and lit by a lantern or two, it was hard to see much of anything.) Tom asked, "Where are the potatoes and carrots that are supposed to be in this stew?" He said, "If I didn't know better, I'd swear this was dog food."

They looked closer at the opened and unopened cans of stew and dog food. Tom said they compared the serial numbers stamped on the bottom of an unopened dog food can and the "stew" can they had used in their dinner. The numbers matched. That's when they figured out that somebody had swapped the labels and they were eating dog food. He said they never finished the meal. The next day the airplane that delivered their food drop arrived. They ate like kings after that.

Tom mentioned that Bruce Gilbert and Chuck Hessey were the first to ski Hogback Mountain above White Pass, shortly after the highway opened and before the ski area was established.

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