I apologize for the roughness in this narrative. It was written by a 17 year old (myself, but it feels like a lifetime ago) who subsequently failed his English entrance exam to the University of California and had to take “Subject A” English to learn how to write. I have inserted a few things (mainly in parentheses) where more information is helpful. I will explain more below the “7 Day” log.
Northwest Outward Bound School
June 14 – July 8, 1977
I am expecting to learn many things – among them: Rock climbing, survival skills, campcraft. I came because I felt the experience would be well worth it and I would have a chance to meet people and learn how to cooperate with them in a demanding situation. I am very interested in botany and zoology and felt it might be an opportunity to study and compare differences in the flora and fauna of different regions. I have been looking forward to it for 6 months now and here I am! Wow! I am also glad I have the opportunity to comment on the experience.
We learned about one person from another group drowning. It made us all think quite a bit about just why we were there. We started our first expedition today; we got about 4 miles then made camp. We started our First-Aid classes after dinner. I also learned that I am to lead tomorrow’s hike.
We started early, got packed had breakfast and took off. We were first headed for Dishpan Gap, a distance of about 6 miles. From here we went around Kodak Peak and down into Indian Pass. Here we made camp. This was my first major hike across snow and it was very difficult.
Today we took only emergency packs with us when we headed for Reflection Pond. Here we spent all day rock climbing and repelling. This is the first time I have ever tried either one of those either and boy was it fun! We had two fairly difficult climbs and two repels. One was 150′ straight down! I got several blisters on my hand from it to prove I did it. We then went back to Indian Pass to our camp.
Today we did the Indian Head High Route. First I should say, we had snow school where we learned self-arrest on snow, and then we traversed across the peak. I took a long time to get to where we finally went up and through a saddle on the ridge, and then down to our camp just between Indian Head and Mt. Saul. Tomorrow, we learn, that we will climb it (Mt. Saul).
We climbed the mountain (Mt. Saul), what a neat feeling it gave me! Some parts of the climb were very difficult, but that also makes it more worthwhile. We then went down across about 2 miles of snowfields to Airplane Lake where we made camp. tomorrow is resupply!
Today we bushwhacked from Airplane Lake down to a trail which took us to the junction of White River and Indian Creek. Jeff and Jim (our leaders) had a sauna waiting for us. I haven’t felt so good in years. After that, 4 people went down to resupply. When they came back everybody felt like it was Christmas! This was the first night without our instructors, Jeff and Jim, the next morning was completely on our own. We also decided today to climb Glacier Peak instead of Clark (Clark Mountain).
So – what happened really?
I got to Seattle on a relatively warm afternoon in the latter half of June of 1977, I believe it was the first time I’d ever flown by myself on a plane. I’d flown many times before, my daddy was a pilot for American Airlines and we used to fly all over the place when I was younger. But there I was in Seattle by myself, and I got a ride from the airport to a hotel downtown somewhere or other. The first guy I met was Joe. He and I were the first ones there. Turns out, Joe was from California too, so we were instant friends. As time went on, more and more people drifted in to the hotel, waiting for the “Bus” that would take us up to the base camp for our backpacking trek up in the wilderness of the North Cascades.
Much of the time we were to be out there, would be spent in the Glacier Peak Wilderness area, mostly unspoiled, high mountains, lots of snow, cascade rivers, glaciers, all of that. I was a dumb 17 year old with really no idea what lay ahead. I had not been in Boy Scouts as a kid, so I had no understanding what to expect. I had been backpacking once as a kid, and the pack hurt so much on my tiny body (I was tiny as a 10 year old) that my friend’s dad had to take it off and carry it. I was a wimpy kid for sure!
But I had camped quite a lot with my folks, and a few times with friends. I enjoyed being outdoors, and thought that it wouldn’t be much different. Not too much. We really hadn’t thought it all through, the idea that you would carry everything you needed for a week on your back, and that you could sleep under a tarp stretched between trees, in howling rainstorms, and snow, and cold, and hike in wet boots, carrying 70+ pounds around all day and eventually thinking it was nothing at all!
How does one describe Outward Bound? How do you mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for the toughest challenge you may ever face? Certainly, for some, it was the toughest thing they ever tried, and one at least, failed, and died. That part was just like a cold slap in the face with reality! We all knew instantly who it was. There was this one kid on the bus, he had a whole ounce of weed, and he was rolling up reefers and firing them up and then passing them around. We were all stoned by the time we got up the mountain to the base camp on the North Fork of the Skykomish River. I can see it all in my mind’s eye like it was yesterday, and it was 39 years ago!
Even the bus driver had to be pretty stoned from all that smoke that was in the bus! We all kinda felt maybe it was going to be like summer camp, only I think most of us had some reservations, and were thinking with a bit more apprehension about the adventure ahead. 24 days of backpacking just SOUNDS daunting – doesn’t it? I mean, we had no idea (most of us) how to even pack a pack, or how to plan meals, or how to cook, or even how to hike (some of us). I was a swimmer and a water-polo player, strong as an ox, but could I walk? Could I walk and carry a 75 lb. pack? When we left base camp, those packs were LOADED and weighed close to 75 lbs for sure! Yikes! We just had no clue.
After we got off the bus, they divided us into what were called “Patrols”. There were 32 of us there, so it was naturally 4 patrols. There were two patrols of 17 year olds – all boys. There were two patrols that had 18 and older folks, and they got to have the girls in their patrols! We were instantly jealous of those guys! But, we soon forgot about that, after we got about starting some of our “Challenges”. First challenge: Run a mile downstream, and do a team-builder exercise and then strip naked and dip in the river.
We had no idea it was a team-building exercise at the time, our instructors, Jim and Jeff, simply told us to form a “Human animal” that had 14 limbs touching the ground, of which two had to be hands, and at least one person had to be carried (not touching the ground) and then we had to walk 100 feet or something like that. It was interesting, we thought, at least it gave us a chance to learn quickly who were leaders and who would follow. Not that we were thinking along those lines either, but we did it and then they showed us a spot along the river where the water formed a relatively quiet pool, where we could strip naked, and wade into the pool and get ourselves wet. The water was less than 40f degrees, so you can imagine, nobody wanted to “Go in” the water all the way! We all complied, and then we got dressed and ran back to camp and had our first camp meal and camp fire.
I had brought along my harmonica and I think I got it out and played some that night, as I did quite a lot during the trip. I think they showed us a few knots, and a couple other things, but that was pretty much it for the first day. I already started telling about the kid who died, so let me just pick up there. That guy was not in my patrol. It turned out that he was under 18, so was in the other “All boy” patrol, and they did what we did the first day, and were first to do it the second day. They got up real early (like 6a) the second day and ran down the road to that same spot along the river where we could strip naked and get wet. It was a pool, of sorts, as I said, but you gotta remember this was a cascade river, with a LOT of water flowing, it was the main part of spring up there in the last half of June, so there was like a swimming pool (20,000 gal) going down this river every 2-3 seconds. That’s a LOT of water!
So, why this kid did what he did was simply beyond any of our belief, but he did it. He dove into that pool and tried to swim for a rock on the other side, or perhaps in the middle. He went right over the falls. Only his buddy saw it, because he picked the exact moment to dive that his instructors were both looking a different direction. He had come with a friend, from wherever it was, I used to remember, but the years have erased that part of my memory. It took them a good hour and a half to recover his body. He hit his head somewhere downstream and drowned. They pulled his body out about 3/4 mile downstream. Our instructor Jim was the one to actually pull him out. He was dead, and could not be revived. Our other instructor Jeff was a paramedic, so you know they tried.
It was very hard for us to believe that happened. Jeff came back to our camp about 7:30a, and we were all awake by then, but had no idea why we weren’t doing our ropes course like they said we would be doing. Jeff walked into camp and sat down by our fire pit and asked us as we gathered around him “What do you guys think about death?” We all gave some silly answers about whatever, being 17 year olds we really didn’t have much to say. Then, when we were done, he told us “One of the guys drowned this morning”. We all knew who it was, and were just struck by the fact that, well, the guy acted like he was going to summer camp! He didn’t take it seriously! We all got very serious, very fast.
So, in a sort of numbed out haze, or daze, we packed our stuff into our packs and left camp, heading up the road about a mile to where the trailhead took off up into the wilderness. As I wrote above, that first day’s hike was only about 4 miles, but it was all uphill, and with most of us carrying heavy packs for the very first time. It was tough! I came to find out later, that the boots I was wearing were inadequate. I knew next to nothing about hiking and being outdoors it turned out. When I signed up for the trip, I figured I had an old pair of my daddy’s boots that were Kangaroo leather (with Sears label on them!), and that had decent tread on them (they weren’t worn out) and those would be fine for this hike. What I didn’t realize is that those were basically work boots, not mountaineering or heavy hiking boots. The differences are pretty glaring, and I was pretty much an idiot for wearing those boots in the back-country.
But, we went up, camped and then started the following day’s hike up and over Dishpan Gap. The interesting thing was that the trail was basically on the south side of a ridge all the way up to the gap, and then the other side was on the north side of the ridge. So, there was a lot of snow on the other side, and it was deep. I’d say it was at least 2 feet deep, and perhaps as much as 3 feet in places. We were going down the other side to the base of Indian Head Peak where there was a decent campground free of snow and relatively dry. But going down those 2-3 miles was very difficult for me, having never hiked on snow before, and because I had lousy boots on, and because we were carrying those heavy packs. It was the same for all of us though, except the other guys had on decent boots.
The lessons I’ve learned, and that I eventually learned on this trip were to serve me well for the rest of my life, however. Walking on snow is not difficult if you know the trick. The trick is to kick a little with each step to get the tread on your boot to take hold and stabilize you as you step onto it and put your weight above your foot. That way, you get a great deal more holding power, and your foot will not tend to slide out from underneath you as you transfer your weight from one leg to the other. Anyhow, I did eventually master that technique, but not until very late in the expedition. I struggled for days, even the first couple weeks with that difficulty, as the tread on my boots was, well, it wasn’t worn out, but it wasn’t very good either. It kinda shows how much poor choices, and poor planning can impact your overall experiences, you must read and study and learn before any difficult encounter (if possible) so that you are prepared both physically and mentally (and spiritually).
At the time I went on Outward Bound, especially about the time we had one person die on the trip, I would say that my spiritual development was very crude. I had little knowledge of who God is, and I cared very little as well. I was content to kind of bumble along and see what each day brought. In that respect I was probably very typical of the other teens who were there, most of us not caring one way or another what challenges were in each day, figuring we were young and fit and could accomplish pretty much anything that was thrown at us. I don’t remember feeling invincible or anything, especially not after one fellow died, but I do know that somehow I felt different from him (which is not right, it’s just what I felt).
We all kinda felt that way, that we were somehow different from that poor kid who died. After all, he did something stupid, we would never do that – right? We all eventually did something dumb, it just didn’t cost us our lives. We arrived at the camp at the base of Indian Head Peak and relaxed. I remember that we were all learning how to cook with the stuff they gave us. We had dry noodles, flour, brown sugar, butter, cheese, dried vegetables (mainly peas if memory serves), canned fish, some dried meat that I think they said was TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein). Oh, and we had Peanut Butter, crackers and a few other items. But that’s pretty much what we ate for the 24 days up there. It was my first time eating canned fish, but I came to love them. I actually grew quite fond of all of that eventually. When you get REALLY hungry, anything starts to sound good!
That’s a side-effect of the trip that I can talk about more later, how I was a “Picky” eater before Outward Bound, but afterwards ate anything. I still do eat anything! I learned that foods taste different, and that’s part of what makes them good, they aren’t all the same.
Anyhow, the day four adventure was all about rock-climbing and repelling. We learned basic rock techniques, and belay signals. They didn’t let us belay one-another, but we learned the basics. We had these awkward helmets, and we tied our own “Swami” seats. Back then, there were no off-the-shelf harnesses you could get, you simply took some nylon webbing and tied your own leg loops, and then tied those into a waist harness (all one continuous piece of webbing). All you needed was about an 8′ piece of webbing and you could tie your own harness and make it secure. The ropes we used were “Gold line” and not very light. We took turns carrying that rope, it wasn’t too bad unless it was wet. The other equipment we had was a shovel and an axe, which we (again) also traded off with each other so nobody got stuck carrying any one piece of gear all the time. We had two large tarps that functioned as our tents, and each of us had a nylon sleeping bag filled with polyfill and a cotton liner to go inside that. We also had gaiters they issued to us, and whatever gloves or mittens we had brought along.
Add to that the helmet, the Helly Hanson rain gear (pants and jackets), food, personal clothing and items, carabiners, ice axes, and so on, and that’s how you got to 75 lbs the first day out. Basic gear is heavy. Mountaineers spend years accumulating lighter weight gear that is usually more functional than basic gear as well as lighter weight. Our gear furnished by the Northwest Outward Bound School (NOBS) was just basic, and heavy (and heavy duty though).
The most memorable part of the day where we were rock-climbing and repelling was the second repel. We must have carried two ropes in our patrol, because the second repel was right at the limit of a single rope (150′). We went down this major cliff, and then, about 30-35′ above the bottom, we were suspended in mid-air because there was an overhang. We simply dropped those last feet and were pulled by the instructor to the base of the cliff (under the overhang) so we could touch the ground and unclip our harness from the belay. It was something to be hanging there, and we all got pictures taken where we were suspended in mid-air.
The next day proved to be the most challenging so far, as well as the most dangerous. Remember I said how those boots of mine were total junk? Well, they pretty much failed on that day (day five). We went up and over the Indian Head High Route which is a traverse up under the peak. I don’t know how high we were, I would guess around 6,000′ elevation as we traversed along underneath the peak. There was a great deal of snow up there, it was pretty much all a snow hike that day, and I kept slipping. We had learned our self-arrest technique though, so I was somewhat prepared. As it turned out, we weren’t roped up because it was not glacier, just snowfields, but I slipped once along that route in a very steep place and was falling pretty fast.
I decided not to self-arrest first, but to look below me and see what was there, and there were rocks about 50′ below where I fell, so I turned over on my back and leaned back and went over the rocks on my pack, and then hit snow on the other side. When I hit the snow, I turned back over on my stomach and gave it my best shot to stop as quickly as possible. As you can imagine, at that point I had been falling almost 100′ and was going pretty fast, so it took a good 20′ or so to stop, but I finally did stop (to everyone’s relief – especially my own) a ways above the tree line. I was going very fast though, and those trees were coming up fast! I’m not sure who was more scared at that point, me or our instructors, but the self-arrest lesson had paid off, I did stop, and was able to hike back up, finally starting to learn the kick step technique in order to climb those 150′ or so back up to the rest of the gang and proceed with our traverse.
Towards the end of that day’s hike, we proceeded up and over a saddle that was between the main peak of Indian Head and another peak a few hundred yards away. We went up and over and proceeded down a ways to make camp, and then, as I said above, began to mentally prepare for actually climbing a mountain the following day. The approach to Mt. Saul was mostly boring. However, there was some rock to climb near the top. One part of the rock, I’m sure none of us has ever forgotten! We had to traverse a ledge that was maybe 30-35′ across, and just wide enough for an entire boot. The cliff face was not sheer (completely vertical) but close enough that if you fell, you would die (think over 100′ drop to rocks below). We did not rope up, but we did have our helmets on, and it was simply a game of “Follow the leader” as we got to this ledge, as our leaders were up and went across and then simply invited us (one by one) to cross after them.
Believe it or not, that 10 seconds of sheer terror wasn’t even the biggest thrill of the day! I’m amazed how much of the actual adventure I left out of the journal! As I said, we made it to the top of Mt. Saul, took pictures and probably ate lunch up there, and then proceeded down a very large snowfield on the other side to Airplane Lake. Airplane Lake gets its name due to its shape. It looked like it was directly below us, two miles directly below us! And since most of that downhill part was snow, we all started loping along down the snowfield, taking enormous steps as we cruised down. And then one of the guys took his pack off and sat on it like a sled and rode it down the snow. Pretty soon, we were all cruising down on our improvised “Sleds”!
We got to that lake quickly and got our camp set up, and then one of the guys stripped naked and started running around by the lake like a wild Banshee screaming and yelling and carrying on. We all decided he was “Running amok” and so the rest of us did the same. Can you picture that? Eight teen-age boys all running around on the shore of this wilderness lake (that still had ice in it by the way) all screaming and yelling and carrying on like we were wild men? Then the guy who started it (Tracy if I remember correct) turned and ran straight into the lake – freezing water and all. And, as it turned out the lake (at least on our side) was very shallow. He ran fully a hundred yards into the lake and was still only in up to his knees. We all laughed and did the same, and then when we got out that far, simply fell into the water screaming hysterically and laughing like little kids! It was sheer, and pure delight.
After that episode, something unfortunate happened, which I didn’t even realize the full impact until years later. One of the guys on the trip had been so scared on the mountain climb, specifically going across that ledge where we had to shimmy across flattened up against the cliff with our heavy packs on, that he had peed his pants. Dang – he was scared! Well, one of the guys in his “Tent” (remember just tarps) found his wet underwear and put it on a stick and began running around with it like it was some kind of flag. It was teasing and humiliation of the worst kind, we all know that now, but then, it was funny for whatever reason. The poor guy dropped out at our first resupply the next day. Forever after, I will never know if he dropped out because of that humiliation, or because of the fear, or because he just couldn’t take it. I won’t give you his name, I will only say he was from New York City, and could never quite adjust to the whole wilderness concept, being unable to stop smoking cigarettes the entire time he was up there.
The rest of us smoked, we all smoked weed, cigarettes, whatever we could get our hands on back then, it was pretty common, and we all just figured it was one of those things that bonded us further. But the rest of us, the other 7 in our patrol at least, had all quit smoking after the first night, and after the pot-filled bus ride up and the death that followed the next day (remember it was the guy who had rolled up all those reefers who had died) we had pretty much decided not to smoke any weed either and rather just concentrate on staying alive and learning from our instructors.
It’s very strange, it wasn’t like Boot Camp, it wasn’t like “Survival School” either. Our instructors were very nice fellows, one of whom was a dedicated mountaineering guide (Jim) and the other was a Paramedic (Jeff – on vacation?). Both were relatively young still as well (late 20’s or early 30’s). Handsome men, in shape, dedicated, serious, but with a touch of humor to go along with everything we were experiencing (most of us kids for the first time) and gentleness and respect to not tell us what to do but show us how it was done and then coach us along until we were doing it like they were.
I had heard, even before I went on the trip, that the kind of kids who wound up on those “Adventures” were like me, from well to do families I suppose, middle class or higher, but who had not “Performed well” in High School, perhaps had gotten into drugs, some trouble maybe, who needed some “Life coaching” in order to straighten out themselves and learn how to be men. Outward Bound wasn’t really into the business of making men though either. The mission, as I understood it, was to teach life lessons that would last, make a permanent impact on the character of the young person, whomever it was, and leave them with both a taste for adventure down the road in their lives as well as a sense of accomplishment after “Making it through”.
Given the way things worked out, and in light of nearly 40 years hindsight I can comment further on this, but will save that for the end of the narrative, after Week 4. I wrote that day seven included our re-supply, and this was a critically important time for all of us. We came down from Airplane Lake to a river junction, and found that Jeff and Jim had set up a sauna for us. Perhaps it is important to note that Outward Bound tried to adapt Native American values into their program, and there was a great deal of Native American teaching and philosophy thrown in as well. In the middle of the adventure was what they called a “Solo” which I will discuss more later, but amounts to somewhat of a “Vision Quest” and which is very much a Native American idea.
This sauna that we experienced on day seven was also a Native American ritual, one in which the young men climb into the “Sweat Lodge” together, cook together for a little while and then run and jump into the icy cold water of the river nearby. They had built a fire for us with lots of large rocks for us to use in our “Sauna” so we had plenty of time both to cook and sweat together. I don’t remember much else about it except that we were naked in there and used sand and gravel to rub grime off our bodies before rinsing off in the freezing cold water outside. The Sauna was built from branches and tarps, and was a pretty crude structure, roughly dome shaped. Since we only brought hot rocks inside and had no fire in there, it had no need of a vent. We literally cooked, for like 45 minutes at a time. Most of us cooked, scrubbed, rinsed and then repeated it at least once. By that time, our fire had died and the rocks were no longer hot enough to make steam any longer.
Beyond that, I didn’t attach any significant spiritual or emotional meaning to it at the time, and looking back, I don’t see much either. I think the goal for Native Americans is to see “Visions” when in the Sauna, in other words, cook yourself and your body and mind to the point of literal exhaustion, and then let weird spirits give you dreams and visions. None of us had anything like that happen, didn’t have that effect for us. Hey – we were just a bunch of city kids (mainly) who had no real idea what we were doing or why we were out there, remember?
The instructors offered, but I rejected the idea, of taking me down to resupply with them and getting me some new boots. They realized I was struggling more than most, since my boots were lousy, not really hiking grade boots, and certainly not backpacking or mountaineering quality. Why I said no, is just beyond me, pride I guess. They were my daddy’s boots, and by golly, they were good enough for me! After all, they were Kangaroo I figured, nice and soft. The flawed thinking on my part there is that I thought soft was good. Mountaineering boots are stiff and hard and supportive. My error was not in judgement, but in lack of knowledge. I was stupid.
As I wrote above, 4 people went down to resupply, down a trail to the trailhead where they met a car and filled their packs and came back. One fellow, the guy from New York City, left and dropped out – our patrol, that started with 8, was now 7. He did not come back. We felt let down I think, like it could happen to us maybe. But we also built each other up, and thought (to ourselves) that he was weak or something, couldn’t take it. Again, we were stupid. The hardest parts of the trip were yet to come!
I will try to dig up the names of the guys in my patrol and add them here.
I also have lots of pictures to add. Those will be added when I can find them. I found them all recently before we moved out of my mom’s place in Manhattan Beach. But now, in our new house in Lomita, they are still packed away in a box somewhere, yet to be rediscovered. In the briefcase with my Student Journal though, I found all the little slips of paper with everyone’s names written on them. I will add those soon.
Interesting result. In searching my old briefcase for the names of the guys in my patrol on Outward Bound, I found a couple other things. The first thing I found was the brochure, the original brochure that my step-dad and mom had given me back in early 1977, or possibly even late 1976 for Outward Bound. I may scan some parts of that brochure and put them up here eventually. It’s probably a good exercise to compare what they said about their courses back then in comparison to what they say today.
I did find some of the names of the guys who were on the trip with me. A couple from my patrol, I must have lost the others, and a couple who were not on my patrol, but were on other patrols. One fellow I ran into a couple years later in my home town (Manhattan Beach, CA). He moved down there and was working down there in Los Angeles somewhere or other at the time, and we got together and hung out a bit.
I also found another brochure for the International Alpine School, which I guess was popular back then as well. All I have is the brochure on that one, don’t even remember if I ever looked at it. I also found a set of literature from a Socialist/Communist bookstore we visited after the trip (in Seattle). These types of bookstores are usually found in downtown (depressed) areas, and are frequently associated with “Alternative” lifestyles as well (radical feminists, gays, lesbians, etc…). Folks who want to “Buck” the system (our form of democracy in this United States) tend to associate together. Back then, I was young and dumb and impressionable, I remember buying a book there by Mark Twain called _King Leopold’s Soliloquy_ – a very anti-establishment book ostensibly written by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) in his sunset years (1915 or after) when he was even more cynical than during his earlier periods.
The last thing I found was the instructions we used for our “Final” journey (last 4 days of backpacking) where we were divided into new patrols, placed with folks we hadn’t been with earlier, and sent off on our own to make it back to base camp following the route described. What a route we were given! I will include that when I get to the final week chapter of my story.
Members from my patrol:
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Ken Naito (this one from memory, so I’m not entirely sure on his last name, and I cannot remember where he was from, but he was the only member of our original patrol who went on the same “Final” patrol with me, from Hawaii???).
Pat (last name???)
Portland, Oregon (if I remember correct, this one is from memory as well)
Cliff (last name???)
I don’t remember him at all I don’t think… not anymore. Don’t remember where he was from. I need to find my pictures…
Our 7th person (adding me in would make 8) was the fellow from New York. All I remember is his first name, but I have decided not to publish that as it might be distressing to him if he read this journal.
Not from my patrol:
Charles Edward Aldrich, II
Raleigh, North Carolina
Jeff _____ ???
All the other names and addresses have, unfortunately, been lost over time. I’m trying to remember names. There was Pat, from Oregon I believe. And another fellow, from Hawaii I think. He was on my final with me, the only one from my “Original” patrol who finished with me. I remember the name of the guy who dropped out from our patrol, and where he was from, but won’t publish it because it might be embarrassing or taken as offensive. I used to have a business card for Jim, our instructor. I can’t find that anywhere though either. Perhaps some day…