PAT NEAL: For deep snow, tread back in history

THE HISTORY OF the Earth goes back billions of years.

The history of Man keeping weather records goes back a few hundred years.

To compare the two, imagine a drive across America.

If the history of the Earth could be represented by the distance across this great country, human history would be a speed bump in the road somewhere west of Oil City.

Still, we’ve seen some bad weather.

The front-page article in the Dec. 30-31 Peninsula Daily News, “Big Snow 20 Years Ago,” was a reminder of just how much fun a blizzard followed by a gully-washing rainstorm can be.

That pivotal event in our modern lives with electricity, gasoline and telephones was nothing compared to the natural disasters our forefathers suffered before we got here.

The further back you go into the history of our weather, the more violent the weather seems to be.

In the book, “Port Angeles Washington, A History” by Paul Martin and Peggy Brady, 1916 was remembered as the year of “The Big Snow.”

It started snowing in January and kept on falling until there was up to 6 feet in Port Angeles.

Twenty feet of snow was reported at the Olympic Hot Springs, which would have been a great place to ride out the storm.

There was no recorded depth at Hurricane Ridge because there was nobody up there but trappers and varmint hunters, and they didn’t bother measuring snow.

The worst Peninsula winter on record had to be the one the Press Expedition endured on the Elwha River back in the late 1800s.

The expedition had been told by some enterprising locals in the lumber business that the Elwha was navigable clear up to an “Indian Paradise” located in the heart of the mountains.

Thus informed, the expedition purchased a good supply of 30-foot planks and began constructing a boat on the Elwha somewhere upstream of the canyon where the first Elwha dam was later built.

On Dec. 23, 1889, a foot of snow fell, knocking down a tangle of timber across the trail upriver.

The famed historian Edmond Meany dropped by the Press Expedition camp and spent the day fishing.

He did not catch a thing.

Neither did the Press Expedition leader, James Christie.

That was back in the good old days before the Elwha River dams, nylon line, the Boldt Decision, loggers, drift nets, habitat degradation, climate change or fish hatcheries could be used for excuses for not catching fish.

Thereby proving the well-worn axiom that fishing for winter steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula has always been tough.

A week later, on New Year’s Day, it snowed 3½ feet.

On Jan. 4, the snow was 4 feet deep.

Thereafter the Expedition’s journal relates less precise measurements.

They were too busy dragging a leaky, 30-foot monstrosity up a river of freezing cold water before the invention of breathable waders.

They mentioned the snow being waist deep, then neck deep before Gertie was abandoned somewhere near the present Olympic National Park boundary.

It was snowing the whole miserable time, so it seems as if the guys just gave up measuring how deep the snow was.

Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, it started raining, making progress upriver even more difficult.

Imagine slogging through the snow with 100 pounds of bacon and beans on your back and 40 pounds of wet snow sticking to your snowshoes, then sleeping under a “half-blanket” next to a fire beneath the stars.

Makes me sorry I missed it.


Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild [email protected]

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