PAT NEAL: The evils of rock stacking

IT WAS DAYLIGHT on the river with a heavy fog hugging close to the water.

As the sky grew lighter the outline of the distant hills revealed the glaciered peaks of a mountain the Native Americans called “Sun-a-do,” the meaning of which has been lost.

They said the thunderbird lived there in ice caves, but nobody’s seen a thunderbird since the glaciers started melting.

Capt. Juan Perez named the mountain El Cera de la Santa Rosalia for Saint Rosalia, who fled to the mountains at the age of 14 to live as a hermit until her death in 1166.

The Englishman John Meares named it Mount Olympus in 1778.

It was a name that stuck after the Spanish retreat to California.

Between the ocean and the top of Mount Olympus there lies a varied range of wilderness biomes, wildlife and history best described by Murray Morgan in the opening sentence of his 1955 classic, “The Last Wilderness”: “God made the universe and when He was finished He dumped everything left over onto the Olympic Peninsula.”

The rivers that drain Mount Olympus have retained their Indian names and much of their wilderness character.

By some miracle some of the native fish runs have survived.

If you are lucky you can see big herds of elk on these rivers, and if you’re really lucky you can spot a cougar or a bear.

All of which can give a day on the river the feeling of stepping back in time before the current modern era.

Imagine shedding the stress and worry of this chaotic age in which we live by appreciating the remote natural beauty that is all around us.

Perhaps you have just settled into the reverie that a state of natural meditation might engender where you feel as if you are the first person to ever sit in that place, at least for a very long time.

Then you see it.

There along the shore of what you thought was a remote wilderness stream stands a stack of rocks.

It was placed there by a human being.

At first there were probably only a few hundred thousand people across the whole of North America.

They made rock monuments as guideposts or as a way to drive game or as an expression of worship.

Now that there’s more than 7 billion humans on the Earth they have evolved brave new ways of expressing themselves.

Pleistocene rock structures were sophisticated examples of art and culture that make today’s rock stacking serve as evidence for the theory of the de-evolution of humans as a species.

They spray-paint our buildings, bridges and road signs, and when they get done they go out and stack rocks.

It’s what we call organic graffiti.

An egotistical expression that many of us sensitive woodland creatures find disturbing.

Imagine a stack of rocks on the lap of the Mona Lisa.

It would outrage the sensibilities of any art lover.

Or put a stack of rocks on home plate at Safeco Field and maybe you get the idea.

Why is stacking up rocks from the creek a bad idea?

You could be disturbing a salmon nest full of ripe eggs about to squirm out of the gravel about now.

Even if you don’t stomp a baby salmon you’re disrupting an entire ecosystem that lives under rocks.

Maybe those are just bugs to you but they represent a biomass that is larger than all the worthless humans on Earth.

These bugs are food for the fish, the ones that you didn’t stomp.

Thinking about stacking rocks?

Just don’t do it.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River 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