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“If you are considering a trip into the mountains around Lake Chelan contact Cragg & Robbie Courtney at Cascade Corrals in Stehekin, Wa. Their years of experience, knowledge of the area combined with good equipment, friendly, courteous, personalized, professional service and hard working staff, in addition to the hearty portions of some of the best food you will ever eat in the high country will provide you and your companions with memories of a trip that will last a life time. In more than 40 years of extensive travel on mules, horses, and by foot thru wilderness area in Canada, Alaska, and much of the Western United States I would have to say that our recent trip with the Courtney’s in one of the best we have ever experienced. I endorse and recommend Cragg & Robbie and Cascade Corrals without hesitation, they are the very best.”
Greg & Kathy Stafford
“We have greatly enjoyed every pack trip we have taken. The hospitality, food and sights are world class and we look forward to our trips every year.”
Mark T. Anderson
Anderson Hay & Grain Co., Inc.
“Dear Cragg and Roberta,
It is good to hear from you.
I hope you know how much our family and friends enjoyed their visit to the Stehekin area. This was greatly helped by the Courtney support. For a group of people with widely varying physical abilities, your tent-to-tent program was perfect. With so much incredible country available from the camp sites, each person could choose from a variety of day or overnight hikes; and the one rainy day was comfortable with the huge stand-up tent and inside warming stove. The propane cooking arrangement was better than our car camping stuff.
With the Stehekin River road washout, the campsite locations for the tent-to-tent were perfect. It allowed us to split our group so we could approach from both west and east, meet at Cottonwood campground, and trade cars. That way we could easily traverse the Cascade range via Cascade Pass both ways. Your packhorses carrying our gear into the camp solved my own logistal nightmare. We like to hike, but everyone had a much better time carrying a lighter pack. And best of all, from my planning perspective, it was great to be able to schedule in advance. Since I have to plan my vacation far in advance, it is reassuring to know there will be no problem finding a campspot; the National Park Service would not let us make any advance arrangements like you do.
My wife tells me that everyone enjoyed the comfortable sleeping pads, camp cots, and the incredibly roomy tent. Best of all, everyone appreciated the incredibly friendly and helpful support from the Courtneys. The area is some of the best mountain country in the world. Knowing we can have your help will keep us coming back.”
Best wishes to you all,
Mike and Yoko Colpitts
The Cougar I Never Saw by Tom Bale – A story written about our 2015 trip to Cottonwood
I was on my way up Lake Chelan. The rumble of the enormous diesel engines propelling the Lady of the Lake through the blue water vibrated under my feet. The North Cascade mountains rose up on all sides forming a giant bathtub that plunged at its deepest point over one thousand, four hundred feet to the bottom. Looking over the edge of the Lady I clutched my sunglasses tightly imagining them slipping off my face, plummeting through every watery foot of the lake to rest forever in the silt at the bottom. My dark green duffel bag nestled like a large pillow on top of a stack of similar bags in the stern of the boat, many with a number written on the end identifying its owner as part of the Stehekin Outfitters wilderness trip I was soon to join. I looked around the crowded boat wondering who among my fellow travelers was attached to these duffel bags. I had been told that everyone in the party lived in Washington. I was the lone traveler from Philadelphia. I imagined them all sitting together in a comradeship on board that I was not yet part of.
At the end of the fifty-five mile ride up the Lake I was introduced to the hiking companions I would share this trip with for the next five days. We were herded into a dusty jitney that drove us to the trail head. A string of horses waited to take all of our gear on their backs, even the iron stove that would heat our food. I patted the soft hair on the cream-colored flank of one of the horses whose name I learned was Jaws. The seven horses remained stoic under the dead weight they hauled relieving our backs of the thirty pounds each of us would otherwise have had to carry. I had great respect for these animals as they followed each other up the trail.
We moved out under a blue sky through the spruce and hemlock trees towering over our heads. A mild breeze carried the pine fragrance that reminded me with every step of how far away I was from the sometimes sour air of my home town. My fellow hikers lived in the general area. They were close friends who had hiked together many times in these woods and mountains. They had an easy familiarity with each other that I envied, and wanted to become part of. I struggled to learn the many names, and would often get them wrong throughout the trip,
Joy, Sari, Denise, Cynthia, Chris, Carlyn, Linda, Barb, Margie, Rose, Bonnie. Later I would meet Randy and Ann as well as Dave and Nancy.
If I had trouble sometimes putting a name and a face together the directness of the gaze of each of my companions toward me was warm and inviting, and put my self-consciousness to rest. We shared many stories over the trails of previous hiking adventures, and family life back home. I was charmed by the curiosity each person had about my life, asking many questions about my wife and adult children, and my work. This was such an unusual experience for me. Most people I had known in my life were primarily interested in talking about their life, never wanting to know too much about mine. These were different people. Their interest in me extended to making sure I was okay along the way. Was I carrying enough water along the trail? Was I going to be secure sleeping without a tent in the open air? When it rained one night they made sure I was ushered under a dinning fly to keep dry. I felt very cared for throughout the trip.
I have a strong body at seventy-four. I had worked at getting myself in shape walking regularly for an hour up and down local hills several times a week. However, I discovered that my efforts at home did not prepare me for the demands of the Cascade trails. The longest day hike for me was thirteen miles, climbing to over four thousand feet. Someone calculated with their pedometer that this trip accumulated more than twenty-two thousand steps. The pleasure I had in my accomplishment was diminished by the ache I felt in my toes and calves at the end of the hike. It was work. At this point in my life I had to admit the work that was involved in the forty miles I hiked during the entire trip was more than I would want to repeat, even after having witnessed the beauty in these mountains. At the same time I knew the soreness in my legs would fade. The immense passivity of the mountains surrounding me would be the image that would endure.
In 1964 the Sierra Club mailed me a brochure about the North Cascades in its effort to build public support to create a national park. Within this brochure was a ten page color spread on the ‘Wilderness Alps’ of Stehekin. I was stunned viewing these photos, and decided I must go to these mountains someday to “get their good tidings” as John Muir had said about another mountain range. Finally, after dreaming of hiking in the North Cascades for 51 years I was here on the cusp of these mountains. On one day trip I stood before the Horseshoe Basin. It’s sweep from one end to the other reminded me of a giant alter topped with a white cloth, the cap of a glacier spread out on its rim. Shoots of water slid down the long gray face of the mountain, looking like silver braids reaching down to the boulders below where my party ate lunch. The small streams of ice cold water that cut through green meadows were the remains of the dying glacier above. Eventually these rivulets would gather together and empty into the Stehekin River that rushed through our valley below. The sound of this river would always be present. I would soak my tired feet in it, wash my dirty face in its clear water, drink filtered water from its rapids running pell-mell by our camp site. I listened. Was it the rocks that created the roar or the water beating against them? Of course it did not matter. But, this little puzzle was my attempt to find a way into the mystery of this wilderness.
The dark gray Dipper knew how to live in the river, bobbing again and again under the flow of water as it searched for small crustaceans. A brilliant yellow warbler with a black slash across its eye and olive green on its back hopped from limb to limb along the river’s edge. Could it be the blue-wing? My companions introduced me to the scarlet salmon berry perched on top a wide chartreuse leaf with deep notches. The bears in the area had left some of them behind for me to taste their delicate sweet flavor. All around the tall fireweed grew, its clumps of blue flowers growing along the trails. Curiously the green flat leaves lower on the stem evolved into lavender fingers toward the top of the plant.
On one break along a trail I leaned against a granite boulder, catching my breath. I looked down to see a clump of rose-colored wild flowers. One of my fellow hikers told me it was called Indian paintbrush. Since I am part Native American the name stirred my interest. How did it get that name? It did indeed look like a paintbrush with its upright petals suggesting the bristles. I imagined watching an Indian long ago holding this flower in hand transformed into a brush dripping with bright orange paint mixed from crushed cottonwood. With a sweep of his hand he painted a stallion rising on hind legs using as a canvas the very boulder I rested against. Perhaps it would be similar to the pictographs I was told were painted on the canyon walls in one spot along Lake Chelan.
At night I chose to sleep without a tent. I knew from past backpack trips back East that on a clear night a billion stars would greet me in the middle of the night. Once again I was treated to the same spectacle. This time my view was punctuated by a bright shooting star that slid slowly across the sky. It competed for my attention with the countless constellations like Orion spread out above me, cozy in my sleeping bag.
Before the trip I winced a bit thinking about giving up my gleaming white porcelain toilet at home for a latrine in the woods. As it turned out I almost enjoyed sitting on the hand-crafted oak seat surrounded by a canvas blind situated on a solitary trail marked by a wooden post. A hat perched on top announced the latrine was in use.
The meals of the day were my highlight. Everyone would stand around our cook waiting for her to create her delicacies. I never liked beef stroganoff before, but in her hands I came back for seconds. At home I prided myself in the coffee I made, but in this camp kitchen the smooth tasting coffee was unrivaled. The biggest surprise was the three berry pies we had for dessert one evening. Raspberry, black berry, and strawberry-rhubarb, all baked fresh in the Stehekin bakery down the trail, delivered by one of our horses. Take your pick. Since I couldn’t decide, I sampled a slice from each pie. All three rivaled one another in their mixture of sweet and tart flavors covered with a flaky crust.
One afternoon several of us were standing under the dinning fly having a conversation about the experiences we had that day when one of my companions looked over my shoulder wide-eyed and speechless. I didn’t understand what was going on. She pointed behind me. By the time I turned around a large cougar had passed by. I had missed seeing him. This animal is also known as a mountain lion, and grows up to two hundred pounds. Others in the group had also seen him peering toward the preparations for the evening meal of steak. But, not me. I never saw him. One of our party had been hiking for years in these mountains, and they are so rare she had never seen one before.
On our last day we hiked nine miles back to the lake for the boat ride back to Chelan. I was ready to return. I missed my wife and daughter who I had been out of touch with for the week. During the four hour trip down the lake I visited with all my fellow hikers on board. I no longer felt like an outsider. I took many pictures to help me remember these folks through the years ahead. One of my favorites was actually a pair of boots sitting on the deck. The owner pointed out how the toes of her boots were pointed in the opposite direction. Perhaps this illuminated the crossroad I had arrived at. While I was glad to be heading home my dream was ending. I was leaving these mountains behind, possibly never to see them again. I looked around at my companions scattered throughout the deck and cabin of the boat. Looking at each person I felt great affection for them. Each one was genuine. No pretentions here. And, I was so fortunate to be a witness to the care they had for each other. And for me. As I drove off toward the Seattle airport I thought about how much I would miss them. More than the mountains. More than the cougar I never saw. The End