Feb 2nd is of course Ground Hogs Day, and more meaningful to a small band of friends and family, Rick Baker’s Birthday. Back in 1988, Rick’s 30th birthday was looming, which seemed like a big milestone at the time, so Terri and I thought it would be great fun to buy one of those “Over the Hill” party packages, complete with the black “Over The Hill” balloons and black buzzard beaks.
It was to be a surprise party, so we called up his girlfriend at the time, Marta, and arranged the birthday party with her and when the day arrived we went over to get their trailer set-up for partying early.
We thought it would be funny to surprise him as soon as he got home from work, so we hid in the spare bedroom to jump out and do the “surprise” thing. Marta said he always went straight back to change clothes and came immediately back and poured himself a drink. I wanted to document his look of surprise on film, so I had my camera and flash ready to go.
We pre-staged decorations just out of sight so we could get them up quickly. We got everything set-up and hid away in the spare bedroom. We were there for a while waiting when Marta came in excitedly and told us he had just pulled into the driveway. He came in the door jabbering about work to Marta…he always seemed to be talking about something.
We let him walk past us in the bedroom, down the narrow trailer hallway to his bedroom in the back. We planned on jumping out as he came back up the hall, sporting our black cardboard beaks on and snapping the shot.
He continued jabbering non-stop from the back. That boy could talk about anything, anytime. We assumed he was changing from his work scrubs and we had some time to get ready to jump out. We pulled our beaks into place, opened the door and listened for him to come back out.
He was back there for what I swear was only a second or two and we heard his steps coming back down the hall. This was it! Terri and I jumped out of the doorway with a big “SURPRISE” and I snapped the flash-photo at the same time. Still jabbering as he came up the hall, he stopped in mid-sentence as he processed what was going on.
The real surprise was that somehow in less than a minute, Rick had yanked every stitch off and was buck-ass naked! I don’t know who was more surprised, Rick or us! I thought the boy must be a magician to strip his clothes off that fast.
I only got one pic off as he was quicker than the flash recycle as he ran back to the bedroom to get some clothes on, quiet as a church mouse now and Marta laughing uncontrollably behind us.
Terri and I turned to each other with big eyes and burst out laughing instantly. Rick took a lot longer to get dressed than he did getting naked, but he eventually came out asking “what the hell is going on around here, can’t a man walk into his own house with some sense of privacy, blah blah blah”. We were all still laughing and getting the party decorations put up.
The stage set, we had a great time making dinner and telling old stories as we created another classic one. I gave the party prints to them and Marta loved to tell the story and show off the buck naked pic by holding her thumb strategically over Rick’s junk…
It’s a story that has been told many times over the years but I happily came across the negatives while digging for photos of Rick 30 years later and was amused to find the negative of Rick in all his glory. So of course I had to scan it and add it to the stories I don’t want to forget. Happy B-Day buddy.
With apologies to Dusty Springfield for the title, one of my favorite memories of childhood is going “picking” with the old man, an activity he loved and my mother detested. You only had to step into the garage to see he was a collector of all manner of previously used “stuff”. I can hear mom shouting “Gordon, we don’t need any more of that old crap, I’m going to throw it all out!, with him hollering back “woman, don’t touch my stuff!”
He never met a bent nail that couldn’t be straightened out enough to pound into a board. Now, they may get flung into an old rusty Folgers can, mixed with sawdust, dirt and god knows what else and sit in that can waiting to be chosen and pounded straight for an eternity, but you never know when you might need a single 3.25” aluminum ring shank with extra-large head.
He knew all the good dumping spots within 10 miles and we would meander from one to the next, checking out what treasures the imprudent had offered up to the more experienced palate of the expert picker.
The best spots back then (and probably still) were along the Miami River between Miamisburg and the Dayton city limits. Vance and West River Roads along the West bank and East River Road on the East bank were particularly fertile grounds as almost no one lived or worked along the river back then. They were usually accessed down a dead end “fishing spot” road that resembled the entrance to the Bat Cave from the old TV show, not the groomed levee banks, bike trails and industrial areas you find today.
He would holler “let’s go for a ride”. We knew exactly what that meant…we could run wild in the woods and creeks along the river, exploring for snakes and frogs while he dug through piles of “stuff”. He would load us kids in the station wagon and off we would go for a few hours of prime entertainment.
It really was great fun for us as we were pretty undemanding kids. We were happy running the neighborhood, climbing trees, picking berries or wading miles up creeks, flipping rocks for crawdads and poking around for fossils.
As a rule, we didn’t get to go to fancy places (i.e., places that charged money or an admission) that smaller families took their children to have fun, so our expectations had a low bar set for what fun was. Just spending time with dad was fairly rare as he was usually working 2nd shift at Dayton Tire and Rubber.
Sometimes, there might be a specific mission in mind, such as finding some (barely) usable lumber to build some project he had in mind. We would all get hammers and descend on a pile of old wood to pound rusty nails out and refill dad’s coffee cans at the same time.
At least once a year during pollination season in the spring he would take us to old farmsteads that were most likely abandoned after the big 1913 flood, before the levees were built. They still had orchards that had gone wild and we had some fruit trees at home that needed to be cross-pollinated from other fruit trees. He would be busy cutting flowering branches off of apple, plum and pear trees while we dug through old foundations, ruins and out buildings seeking fabulous treasures.
More typically though, was the “let’s go see what we can find” drive. We would pull off onto one of the many dirt paths, usually full of puddles that splashed the car with mud and brambles and briers to scratch the paint up with long, slow, teeth-grinding squeals as dad squeezed through the overgrown paths.
These dump sites contained pretty good sized piles, deposited over many years. There was some house hold garbage, but people were usually driving out to these sites to get rid of appliances and other “big trash” that they couldn’t easily get rid of or to avoid paying for getting rid of it at the dump.
Dad would flip everything around with a heavy stick, looking for washing machine motors, lawnmowers, bicycles, tools, old phonographs, radios and other electric gear for parts and pieces. 2x4s and other dimensional lumber was stacked in the wagon, nails or not.
There might be old flower pots, household knick-knacks, old lamps, brass stuff, ashtrays, glassware, crates, you name it. We were always on the look-out for bits and pieces to make go-carts, skate boards, push carts, bicycle choppers and other ways to injure ourselves like miniature Evil Knievel’s.
If we weren’t sure if something was a true treasure or not, we would hold it up and wait for the nod from the master. It felt like we were in the Coliseum, waiting for Caesar to give us the thumbs up or down, tossing it back down in disgust if it didn’t meet whatever standard dad had in his head.
Another favorite was just being down on the river itself. There were a number of bends and log jams along the river that had treasures that had somehow fallen or gotten tossed into the river upstream. There were always a lot of baseballs, softballs, footballs, kick balls, basketballs, whiffle balls and other floating stuff to be had.
Digging for snapping turtles, poking at dead animals, jamming sticks in muskrat holes and prospecting for snagged fishing lures and bobbers rounded out river activities.
Sword fighting with sticks was prized action. My brother Greg and I were playing gladiator on a log jam one time and he hit me in the face with a good size muddy pole that left a good sized gash. Per standard operating procedures, dad poked around with a Zippo heated knife blade, digging for splinters…mom splashed it with peroxide and called it good with slapping a butterfly bandage on. Left a scar for many years, but it has faded away over the decades.
It was not unusual to come across an uncle or cousin down along the river as well. They might be picking junk themselves, fishing or just plinking at cans with a .22.
One time we came across Uncle Pete or Uncle Shelby (Can’t remember which, we had a lot of uncles back then) bow fishing for carp. He was out in the middle of the river, bow at the ready, staring down intently into the muddy water that was almost up to the tops of his folded-down hip waders.
I was amazed because 1) He was only in knee-deep water. We had been told we would drown if we went anywhere near the bank of the Great Miami River. 2) He was using a bow and arrow to fish! 3) He looked very dangerous creeping around with a big bow in water you could barely see through!
The carp got pretty big and generally slow moving as they vacuumed up everything along the bottom, but it looked like grand adventure to me.
We would eventually grow tired of digging in the junk piles, leaving dad to do his serious picking work while we wandered into the woods exploring. I would run out ahead, trying to escape the younger kids, with Greg right on my tail, Laurie chasing him and Phil just trying to see which way we went.
Each time we came back to a familiar place we would fan out a bit farther each time, enjoying the feeling of adventuring on our own in unknown jungle territory. We were oblivious to any sense of danger, getting lost or being injured.
There were other dangers inherent to picking as well. Worst perhaps, given my dad’s predilection for emergency medical procedures, otherwise known as poking around with that heated pen knife, was stepping on a rusty nail in the endless piles of construction debris.
Not only was there an opportunity for a tetanus infection, he had to explain to my mom what we were doing jumping around on piles of wood covered in splinters and rusty nails and had to go get our tetanus shots updated…again.
There were often bee and wasp nests, chiggers, thorns, loose logs in the river jams, poison ivy, snakes…I have very vivid memory of running wild through the woods and stepping on a big snake.
There were low growing and high climbing viney plants that grew everywhere and hid the forest floor and climbed up everything along with wild honeysuckle, but I knew as soon as I stepped on it what it was. It just had that feel. It wasn’t a little garter snake either, it was big and meaty and curled up and now pissed as all Hell.
My blood went icy-cold as I saw it writhing around, striking at everything within range. I suddenly became aware that I didn’t know exactly what else was under all the kudzu and plants around me. I grabbed a stick and started back-tracking, heart beating like a jack hammer, whacking weeds with the stick like I had a machete in the Amazon jungle.
Not every trip was junk picking, some times it was just prospecting for new spots, or going to his pokeweed patches for a mess of poke sallet. He always knew what was in season, whether it was pokeweed, huckleberries, hickory nuts, fruit in the old orchards, paw paws or a wild rhubarb patch on one of the old farms. He could scrounge up a meal for free just about anywhere.
By the way, the whole poke plant is poison, especially the roots. Don’t eat the stems or any purple parts, only the leaves when they are tender in the spring and don’t forget to boil your poke leaves 3 times, with water changes in-between. Now you are ready to go harvest some poisonous poke come spring.
This reminds me of one of my favorite sayings that dad had, and he had many. Opossums seem to be immune to the poison in poke, and are known to eat the berries. When we had Kool-aid stains all around our mouths he would start chuckling and tell us “your mouths looks like a opossum’s ass in poke berry season”. Use your imagination.
Eventually we would pile back in the wagon, and drive home all covered in mud and burrs, bitten up with bugs, punctured with nettles and briers and totally worn out. We would hurriedly carry our booty to the garage before mom saw it, to be inventoried and examined in more detail later.
What did he do with all this stuff you ask? Most of it gathered dust on shelves built of scavenged wood, put together with those recycled bent nails. Us kids might slap together some monstrosity from old lawn mower wheels and wooden crates to rattle down Orchard Hill as fast as we could before we crashed and burned.
But occasionally, dad would have a project in mind and have just the item he needed, sitting on the shelf for the last 6 years waiting for its moment, or just the right screw or plumbing gizmo, even if it was only a nickel at the hardware store.
I don’t want to crawl too far into the old man’s head, because it was just great fun for us, but I think all this scrounging, living off the land, being self sufficient and gardening his own food was a product of growing up on a small tobacco farm in the hills of Kentucky, where his depression era family relied on getting by however they could.
I pale in comparison, but I’m not ashamed to say I inherited some of the master’s skills. I can’t toss an off-cut of hardwood, will stash a hunk of stainless, brass or copper away “for the future” and have my own cans of nails and screws to sort through when I need one “just right”. Thanks pop.
I was standing in the grocery store check-out line, vacantly looking around when I noticed an older guy behind me with a boy that looked about 8-9 years old…most likely his grandson. I’m not sure how old the man was, but he was older than me by a number of years. Seems like as I get older everyone looks younger and younger.
They were quietly chatting and joking around but I heard the old man say “let me see it, did you lose it?” in the tone of voice that suggested this was a serious request and there was to be no clowning around.
The boy immediately dug in his pocket and pulled out a small pocket knife, a small 2 blade that looked like an old style Case or Schrade Old Timer. The kind of classic bone handled pen knife everyone’s grandpa had in the good old days.
I said “nice knife, do you know how to sharpen it?”. He put his head down, acting shy and said “grandpa showed me but I’m not very good at it”. I thought, boy, could I relate to that. As a kid my dad’s knife was always razor sharp and mine always seemed dull as a day at church until dad touched it up for me on his old oil stone.
I told the boy, “you have to keep practicing at it, one day, all of a sudden, you will have the feel of it and make your baby sharp as a razor”. He smiled with a kind of “sure mister” look and put it back in his pocket.
I paid for my groceries but kept thinking about when I got my first official knife. All this reminded of my own papaw Profitt. I had played around with knives as most boys do, trying not to cut myself or get caught by my parents, with mom always saying “you’re too young to be messing with knives, you’ll cut a finger off!”. It felt like I would never have my very own knife.
Then one day when I was seven years old we were down at the barbershop we always went to… George’s Barbershop, down on the corner of the block from my Papaw and Mamaw’s house.
Now this was a classic barbershop, with spinning blue and red sign outside, two old school red leather barber chairs that leaned way back for a shave…
…a place smelling of shaving cream, Brylcreem, Butch Wax and Wildroot hair tonic, with hot towels piled on men’s faces and the steady buzz of clippers or the strop, strop, strop sound as George touched up the edge of his straight razor on the old leather strop. We were often threatened with getting our behinds touched-up with that wide hunk of leather.
It was the barbershop Papaw always went to, sometimes just to sit in the “next up” chair and BS half the day away jabbering about sports, work, old war stories and other manly stuff with all the other manly men. They were all blue collar workers from factories like Specialty Paper, Delco Moraine, NCR, Frigidaire and other big manufacturers that built Dayton Ohio.
Fresh out of the military, my dad also got his hair cut there regularly. My uncles and cousins went there, and therefore my brothers and I went there. It made me feel pretty grown up to sit around with the rough talking men, listening to stories they didn’t seem to tell when their wives were around.
It was always fun to flip through the old men’s magazines like Popular Mechanics, Outdoor Life, True Adventure and if you were lucky maybe a dog-eared Esquire or Swank. Good times for a young boy.
It was best to remain quietly in a corner as long as you could, just soaking it all in, but the men always knew you were there and loved joking around with manly standards such as “how many girlfriends do you have, pull my finger, got any hair on your pecker yet, you need some whiskey to put some hair on your chest” and so on. As a young boy in the 60’s it was a full-on man’s man hang-out.
This testosterone dripping palace of tonsorial delight became the traditional place for Papaw to perform his grandparental deeds of delight. He would hand out various kinds of hard candy, buffalo nickels, silver dollars, odd souvenirs from the bar, stuff like that.
I remember him giving me a 2 dollar bill silver certificate that I didn’t believe was real money at first. I kept it in a special place until one of my siblings used it for buying candy.
So it was in this ultimate den of manliness Papaw told me to reach down in his pocket and see what was there. Now, Papaw was always a snappy dresser when he wasn’t at work. Button-down dress shirt, spiffy tie, nice shoes and slacks with pockets as deep as the Grand Canyon that held all kinds of the magical delights previously mentioned.
I dug down, hoping for a 50 cent piece or silver dollar that I could redeem for a bushel sized sack of penny-candy at the carry-out across the street. There was some loose change so I felt for the biggest one and pulled it out. Nope, keep digging he said. Went back in to my elbow and disappointedly found a lint covered stick of gum. Nope, that’s not it either, one more time.
Now, I had felt the pocket knife in there the first time, but quickly discarded the notion that it might be the object I was seeking. I was stumped as that was the only thing I hadn’t pulled out. Could it be? I slowly pulled the knife out of his pocket, waiting to hear the “not that, you’ll cut your finger off” I had heard so many times before.
I got it all the way out and slowly opened my hand, expecting anytime to hear the words I didn’t want to hear. They never came! I looked at my hand. In the center of my palm was a small, single blade knife. It had scrolled carving on the silver handles. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen in my short life.
“A man needs a pocket knife” my papaw said. I looked quickly over at my dad, half expecting for him to tell me to give it back, or hand it to him until I was older. But he just nodded the silent “go ahead” nod with a grin. The next words out of his mouth were “Don’t tell your mother. If you cut your finger off I will tan your ass with George’s strop.” All the men applauded and congratulated me as I stood there stone silent in disbelief.
There I was among men, in the ultimate place of men with my very own knife. I couldn’t believe it. I was officially a man. I opened the blade and carefully closed it, having been carefully sharpened and oiled by Papaw.
George showed me how to strop the blade on the leather to get it extra sharp…a skill that took me decades to understand and master. All the men in the shop pulled out their knives and showed me their version of proper knife use and safety, many conflicting with each other.
Looking back, the knife was a small one, most likely made in Japan and commonly called a gentleman’s or gent’s knife, and used for light tasks such as trimming fingernails, opening mail, cutting string or peeling fruit. It might as well have been Excalibur to a seven year old me.
I cherished that knife, hiding it when I went to school to keep it a secret from mom. I’m sure she knew all about it. Sliding it back in my pocket each afternoon, pulling it out and slicing apples, cleaning my fingernails like dad and whittling every stick I happened upon down to a toothpick.
I can’t remember what eventually happened to it, but from then on I have always had a knife in my pocket. I joined the Cub Scouts a year later and upgraded to a full sized Boy Scout knife with multiple blades and gadgets.
Over the years dad gave me various knives and showed me how to get it super sharp on a stone as I practiced over and over. He always said “a dull knife will cut you faster than a sharp one”. I had the scars to prove him right.
One of my favorites was a Case XX Stockman that I could eventually get sharp enough to shave arm hair.
I have had many knives over the years and feel very naked without one in my pocket. As I mentioned, every man in that barber shop had a knife in their pocket. Most men these days seem to have stopped carrying pocket knives, even the small pen knives that every man used to have in their pocket. I like the pen knives…when I go to something more “dressy”, like a wedding or funeral, I change my bulky knife out for a slim pen knife, you know, in case I need to open a present, perform an emergency tracheotomy or clean my nails.
My papaw, dad and uncles always had a knife to open packages, cut a string or whatever task was at hand…including holding one over a lighter and using it as a scalpel and probing device if you stepped on a nail or got a splinter. Ask any of my brothers or sisters, I think we were all operated on at some point.
Now, I’m not going to belittle your manhood for not carrying a pocket knife (OK, maybe a little, after all, I became a man at seven), but I just cannot fathom not having such a useful device on me at all times. It amazes me how few carry a knife these days. I have lost a few at airports and concerts, but not in a while.
I have had knives made by Shrade, Barlow, Buck, Gerber, Kershaw, Victorinox, Leatherman, Spyderco, various Kabar and Camillus military knives and countless specialty knives for climbing, kayaking, sailing and woodworking. But the best knife is the one in your pocket when you need it.
For years now I have used a Victorinox Swiss Army knife as my daily go-to utility knife. A friend gave it to me as a birthday present and I would be lost without it.
With screw drivers, bottle openers, cork screw, scissors, magnifying glass, toothpick and other gadgets I use it every single day. But with a stainless steel blade, it will not take a really sharp edge like a quality Case XX, Schrade or other high carbon blade so I often have one of those in my pocket as well, and possibly a Leatherman on my belt for those handy pliers. You need to be prepared, after all.
But I would give every single one of them up for that little silver knife I dug out of my papaw’s pocket back in 1966, when he was about the same age as I am now.
The recent tornado destruction in Port Orchard got me thinking about the time a tornado ran over over me and my friends back in the 70’s. Tornadoes are pretty rare in Washington State, unlike forest fires, floods, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and the odd volcano blowing up. Seems like a good bargain most of the time.
This is what reminded me from the local newspaper:
Emily Silverman told KOMO News she was caught in the tornado. She was in the car with her husband and 2-year-old son near Walmart.
“And it’s raining and it’s pouring down really bad and before you know it everything was flying everywhere,” she told KOMO. “Our car back windows blew out, our side windows blew out. Things hit us — there were a few people who had some head injuries from being hit by things. A car got pushed into a back… there was an accident. It was crazy. There were things flying everywhere. I thought I was a goner.”
My story starts when I was home on leave from the Army, maybe around 1979, just before I shipped out to Korea. I was hanging out with my buddy Rick and his girlfriend Bonnie before going to my next duty station.
We were driving around in Bonnie’s old Pontiac Bonneville. I don’t remember exactly what we were up to, probably no good. It was summer time, with typically muggy thunder storm weather in southern Ohio.
We happened to be out in Fairborn, by Wright Patterson, the local Air Force base, when I saw in the distance what looked like a funnel cloud forming up over some farm fields.
I had my new Canon SLR camera with me and I immediately began trying to convince Bonnie, who was driving, that we needed to get closer to the funnel so I could get some good pictures.
My argument consisted of “as long as we drive 90 degrees to the direction it is moving we will be fine”. I knew this to be true because I read it somewhere. There was no internet back then, so people generally still believed the printed word.
Rick and Bonnie were not convinced it was a good idea, but I kept it up, explaining this may be their only chance to see a tornado up close and personal… you only live once… go for the gusto… I think that was a beer commercial back then for Schlitz beer. (I should probably confess a hurricane party has been on my bucket list since I was around 16 and still is)
I was either very convincing or just wore them down as Bonnie eventually pointed the car in the direction of the tornado. It wasn’t raining all that hard where we had started, but as we got closer and closer the rain came at us harder and harder until it was coming at us horizontally.
We were getting buffeted around by the wind pretty good but I was still convinced her big boat of a car would be fine. The tornado still looked like a baby compared to the massive EF-5 that had wiped out the town of Xenia in 1974 and the hood alone on that Bonneville was the length of a football field and it was as wide as an oil tanker, so I was still pretty confident.
As the intensity picked up they both started in again about how this was “another one of my crazy ass ideas and why do we ever listen to you” complaints. By this time the windshield wipers were on high-speed, beating the window to death but still couldn’t keep up with the rain enough to see very well.
It was like being inside a car wash that had gone off the track. I could still get a glimpse of the tornado once in a while to direct Bonnie which way to go, which was pretty much exactly opposite of the way she wanted to go.
As the sky got darker and darker we found ourselves on one of those straight, lonely roads that cut through Wright Pat that have the 10 foot security fences on both sides of the road. With steep, deep ditches on either side, it was essentially a fence canyon with no place to get off or even turn around, and no where to go but forward.
The car was whipping back and forth, rain coming at us in buckets with shortage of irony in the fact that the closer we got, the less we could actually see of the tornado, much less get “good” pictures.
Suddenly, up ahead in a field on the other side of the fence I see the funnel cloud touch down along a hedge row and explode all the trees and bushes. Vegetation was whirling everywhere and you could see it moving across the field, with crops swirling around like one of those invisible monsters on the old Johnny Quest cartoon as it bounced across the field.
The funnel then hit a big billboard sign and exploded it to pieces. A full sheet of plywood was spinning right at us like a Frisbee and Rick and I were like PUNCH IT!, we’re gonna get creamed!
Bonnie put the pedal to the floor to try to speed past it but the car was being shaken back and forth all over the road, again with nowhere to duck into or get out of the way.
The plywood came at us like it was in slow motion, slowly spinning as it came at us with the Johnny Quest monster right behind it.
As we crossed the tornadoes path it got extremely loud and with a big blast the side windows blew out of the rubber seals around the door frame with a big pressure blast. Our ears all popped at the same time and then the plywood Frisbee smashed into the front of the car, luckily taking most of the initial impact and as it continued on back and sheared both windshield wipers off in one big slice.
By now Bonnie is screaming “what have you gotten me into, I’m going to kill you if I live long enough” or something to that effect…along with plenty of more colorful language that I richly deserved.
She slammed on the brakes as she could no longer see anything out of the windshield and as we watched the tornado bounce across the road into the another field we all looked at each other kind of surprised we were all still in one piece.
I can’t remember what kind of tongue lashing I got after that, if I ended up paying for new wipers or any details really…I believe Rick switched to driving at that point since in order to see anything the driver had to stick their head out of the window and get a continual face full of rain. We somehow limped back home with a great story to tell.
Slippery Slab Tower Alpine Lakes Region/Cascade Range Date –Sept. 23-24, 1995
Approach Route– Surprise Lake Trailhead #1060
Accent Route– Northface/Northridge Variation
Decent Route– Rappel from pine tree on east face (1 double rope rap)
Altitude– 6,400 feet Elevation Gain – 4,200 feet
Total Distance – 11 miles Maps/Guides– Becky Guide, page 328, Alpine Lakes Guide page 42, Green Trails Topo #176, Stevens Pass
Times: Approach– 3 hrs. to Trap Pass Ascent – 2 hrs. Decent –(had to bivy) est. 3.5 hrs.
Grade –I-II Class – 5.6 to low 5.8 some poor pro Pitches – 3
Equipment Used/Recommended– Ropes, small to medium stoppers, cams to 2.5″, long slings & extra biners, (a few small knifeblades wouldn’t be out of place)
Weather– Good weather, clear skies, windy on tower, climbed in pile jackets. Cooled down on our bivy to low 40’s – high 30’s
Climbing Partners – Tom Nicholas, Rick Baker
Climb Leaders – Les Profitt Number in Party – 3
Flora/Fauna – Most wildflowers gone, saw a few marmots & picas. Tom & Rick thought they saw an elk swimming in Surprise Lake from the top of the second pitch.
Comments: We decided at the car not to camp at the lake, so we headed up with just climbing gear. Started up trail at 10:00, about a half mile in Rick discovered he left the whiskey in the car…so back we went. Trail up was very rooty/rocky with many muddy or wet crossing that could be messy earlier in the season. Cruised up to Surprise Lake in about 2 hrs. (4 miles). Took a short lunch and continued up to Trap Pass in under 1 hr. Met a pair of Pacific Crest thru hikers that had been at it for 5 1/2 months. Chatted with them for a bit and then headed down along the goat path on the east side of the ridge. This could be tricky with snow covering the ridge.
Arrived at the base of the tower around 4:00.
Assembled our gear and left what we didn’t need below the tower. Scouted the west face a little and then looked at the NE face. I picked the first chimney system to the east of the ridge, leading to a group of trees about 70 feet up. This pitch was full of loose rock and dirt. Lots of moss & lichen in places.
Half way up I concluded we were not on the Class 4 NE face in the Fred Beckey guide. Luckily I had taken a little bit more than the four slings he recommends. After grunting thru the moss & trees (scrapes) I set up at a bomber tree belay with several rap slings tied around it. Tom & Rick followed, with plenty of “class 4 my ass”, and “Beckey sucks” comments. This 1st pitch is around 5.6 with all the dirt & loose crap.
On the second pitch I moved to the left along a small heather covered ledge looking for the class 4 route, but it all looked harder than that above us. I spied an old fixed pin above a block on the right and headed to it like a moth to light. Standing on top of the block I couldn’t reach the pin, but I could slot a stopper behind a finger crack. This kind of protected the move to the pin… a finger jam and foot smear on heavily lichened rock. I clipped the old pin and took out the stopper to save on biners, (I didn’t have many loose ones) and started up the face. This pitch is very mossy and lichen covered. I started to figure out that this may be why it was called slippery slab.
Continuing up from the old pin I couldn’t find any placements for the pro that I had, and started chanting “help me Mr. Wizard, I don’t want to be a hardman anymore”. Some of the holds were only held in by the moss that grew over them. Of course Rick & Tom, who couldn’t see me, thought this was great entertainment and served me right for making them stand at the belay stance shivering so long.
I had to run it out about 40′ above the old pin until I made it to the north ridge, on dirty, lichened rock. I set up a belay with two small trees and a cam and belayed Tom & Rick up into the dwindling sunshine along the ridge. Tom decided he didn’t want to lead a pitch after coming up that bit of hairy crap. This pitch must be 5.6 to 5.7 also.
From here we moved 15′ to the west along a funky ledge to a better belay tree. I started up the face directly above and again, no place to get any pro in. About 25′ up is a sandy ledge with a tree to the right (with old rap sling). I put a stopper behind a flake and started up to the right. It looked like it would go OK, but I couldn’t see any good way to protect it. I down climbed back to the ledge and moved to the short crack system to the left. I moved up and got a better piece in and felt a little better. I continued up to where the crack ended and stood where the north ridge continued.
I looked out on the face to the right and saw an old ring pin about 25′ feet up. I figured if someone could stand there and pound it in I could reach it also. I rigged up a long sling behind a shallow flake and weighted it down with a few stoppers to keep rope drag from lifting it out. I then moved briefly to the east side of the ridge, put in a cam behind a flake, and threw my right foot onto a high foothold.
Throwing my weight to the right I was now back on the NW face. An exposed traverse up and to the right got me to the old ring pin, not exactly bomber but I would have clipped a blade of grass at that point. A few feet higher I got a decent cam into a crack and breathed a little deeper… until I looked up at the overhanging crap above me.
At that point, rope drag was becoming a real issue. Tom and Rick are below telling me where it looks easier (sure, from down there) and other assorted climber humor comments. I’m telling Tom he should be the one up here suffering, not me.
I finally get my mind focused on the fact that I just have to move thru this overhang and the difficulties would be over. I moved about 15′ up and to the right of my cam, just under the overhang. I looked all over the rock and can’t find a good crack that isn’t loose or flaring. No dice. There is a beautiful bucket hold that would be perfect… if it wasn’t loose and fractured along the base.
I start sweating, look down at Tom & Rick, give the old “when in doubt, go up” chant, shit my pants a few times and commit to moving up onto small funky holds. I wind up in a stance where I’m barely hanging on, smearing with feet, forearms blowing out and desperately groping for something decent above me.
My hand falls onto a blind bucket and with an adrenaline surge yard myself into a good stance. After screaming Shit! Fuck! Shit! I look down and smile at Tom & Rick, “that was fucking wild, class 4 my mother fucking ass” and other assorted testosterone and adrenaline pumped drivel. I calmed down and shook out my arms, found that I was sweating like a madman, my mouth was dry as a popcorn fart, and I was going to make it to the top.
I continued up some actual class 4, across loose blocks and mossy rocks a few more feet until I heard Tom & Rick tell me I was getting low on rope. I set up a belay around a medium sized block and a small tree about 15′ from the summit.
The view was spectacular, the last golden light of the sun shining on Glacier Peak to the north, Mt. Daniels to the south, alpine lakes below, and all around us ridge after ridge of craggy mountains and high country.
I belay Rick up this 3rd pitch. I can’t see him and can barely hear him. The rope slowly moves up until I figure he is at the lower crux. He spends a few moments and the rope is moving again. I can hear him breathing heavy and talking to Tom.
The rope is motionless for some time… he is at the overhang. He tries several times but can’t seem to get past the crux, Tom is below shouting encouragement that I can’t hear over the wind. I hear Rick saying his arms are blowing out and he doesn’t know if he can make it. Tom shouts something and Rick says “alright”. I start pulling on the rope for all I’m worth, to help him thru the crux, bend forward, pull back…taking in rope again and again.
Tom later tells me that Rick’s feet looked like a squirrel flailing on a greased pole. I hear Rick say “thanks Les” just about the time my hands are worn out and cramping. The rope goes a bit slacker, and I know he is thru the hard part. A few minutes later he is pulling himself over the top, looking dogged-out but smiling.
Tom starts up and when the rope stops I know he has reached the crux. I say to Rick: “There ain’t nothin happ’nen”. The rope stays motionless for several minutes while Tom tries his moves. The rope doesn’t move. Finally we hear a loud bellowing, “The Taz” has come alive and the rope starts moving up.
Tom is thru the crux and is shortly on top. I think this pitch is only 5.7 to 5.8, although with all the loose crap and lichen Tom thinks it deserves an “Alpine 5.11”.
We belay the few remaining feet to the top, sign the summit register and the sun disappears behind the mountains. It is 7:00 PM. We untangle ropes and downclimb 20′ to a nice tree with rap slings. As I set up the rappel we decide that this is the class 4 route, and it doesn’t look bad at all. I start down in the dark wondering if I can find another good tree.
I get quickly to a ledge with good trees, but decide I can get to the base in one long rappel. I make it to the base and Rick and Tom follow. As they finish rappelling I start around the tower to retrieve our hiking boots from the base of the other route.
I meet Tom & Rick, give them their boots and we head down to find our packs, somewhere down in the dark boulder field below. I locate the rest of our gear and Tom and Rick catch up. A shot of celebratory whiskey to conclude our “triumph” and we are ready to get off this mountain.
Rick forgot his head lamp at the car, and knowing how much he hates climbing at night, I let him use mine. I lead off down the goat path, using the light from Tom and Rick behind me. We work our way down but lose the track below a talus slope.
We wander along the steep ridge, trying to use the lights from campers way down by the lake as reference points. We stumble up and down trying to regain the track, running into impassable headwalls and drop-offs. The slope we were on is very steep and covered with heather and pine needles, making for treacherous footing. Going from tree to bush we worked our way up and down the ridge for some time. Talk of biving came up and started sounding better & better.
We stopped for a break and I took my head lamp and went to scout below us for the trail, about 40′ below Tom and Rick I was stopped dead by a tall cliff all around us. It was 9:00, it was pitch black, we were tired as hell… it was time to bivy.
Rick broke out the whiskey, a full liter, and we proceeded to empty as much of it as we could. We made much noise laughing and recounting our “alpine adventure”, and settled in on our little sloping bivy site.
Tom had his pile jacket, pants, and Goretex parka. Rick had his pile jacket, long underwear, and Goretex jacket. I only had a pair of shorts and my pile jacket. I dumped the gear out of my pack and shoved my legs in up to mid-thigh. Tom was nice enough to let me use his pile jacket to cover the bare part of my legs.
The whiskey flowed and war stories were told, and we finally crashed around midnight. Tom of course started snoring right away, nice and cozy in his pile and Goretex. I laid there shaking and freezing until dawn.
We awoke and saw that we were totally off course, but it wasn’t too far back to the goat path and onto the main trail. By now we were out of water, severely dehydrated from all the whiskey and exertion, and had over a mile to get to the lake.
A very dry, stumbling hike down to the lake, a long break to fill up with water (ten minutes for iodine is a long time when you’re that thirsty) and we were on our way back to the car. Another total classic.
Seeing photos of Rick on a horse down in Mexico is extremely inconsistent with all his previous equestrian adventures. Horses and Mr. Baker never did get along too well historically, and here are a couple of reasons why.
The first encounters I remember were all out at the Woodland Trails Scout Reservation in Camden Ohio. This was a 1200 acre spread about an hour west of Dayton. It is where summer camps for the whole scout council were held and it had all the usual activities like archery, rifle range, swimming, canoeing at the lake and a horse ranch.
The horse ranch was situated well out on the southwest edge of the reservation and we always had at least one chuck wagon event where most of the troop would all go ride horses on a trail out to an old chuck wagon where a cowboy style dinner of chuck wagon stew, biscuits and cobbler would be served up.
There were also opportunities for additional rides during the day if you and a few friends signed up for them.
When you arrived at the horse barn each boy got to choose their own mount…some with more trepidation than others. Most of the younger boys were afraid of the biggest horses so, being the Senior Patrol Leader, there was an expectation that I would take the biggest or meanest horses. Now, I wasn’t a super enthusiastic horse dude or anything, but it was kind of fun to act like a cowboy for a few hours and it was different than the other camp activities.
These horses all knew the game very well, having been on dozens and dozens of these rides every summer. I’m sure they were chosen for the camp because they were calm, cool, collected and able to follow the horse in front of them without much help from whomever was in the saddle. There wasn’t an actual mean horse in the mix, maybe a nipper or two… but there were a few large hombres.
The ride that stands out was one where I had a horse named “Big John”. He was, of course, the biggest beast in the barn and all the boys had a good time encouraging me to pick him or I would be a big wuss, so it was my destiny to have Big J.
We all mounted-up and began wandering down the trail behind our wrangler with the usual fits and starts of a bunch of city kids that don’t know how to control a horse, but again, most of the horses knew what they were supposed to do so no big deal right?
Along the way all the boys started giving me a load of shit…namely because Big John had gotten excited about something and had an erection as long as my arm. I thought he was named because he was just a large horse, but the size of his horse-wood may have been the deciding factor.
Rick was right in front of me and as we approached a small tree that had fallen across the horse trail he started laughing and yelling that I better grab ole Big John’s dong and lift it up before it whacked the log. This small tree was not a major obstacle on the trail and the other horses just stepped over it with no problem.
But, as predicted by Rick, as Big John stepped over the log he did in fact whack his wood on the wood and that was enough to set him off flying down the trail. I pretty much just tried to hold on with everything I had as I had never actually been on a running horse before. As Big John came up beside Rick’s horse, it was startled and took off running as well.
So now both of us are flying down the trail, trying to hang on to the spooked horses for all we were worth. We were bouncing all over the place, getting beat in the face with branches as the horses went off-trail around the other horses in the line. We were holding onto the saddle horns, mane or anything else we could grab as we quickly forgot all about the reins.
Even with my own troubles, glancing over at Rick with the sight of him swinging from side to side and up and down with the look of panic in his eyes got me laughing so hard I nearly fell off. You would have thought he was on a champion bucking bronc at the rodeo.
We probably only went a couple hundred yards down the trail before the wrangler caught up to us and got them calmed down, but it felt like we had just done the Omak Suicide run and Rick swore horses off for life.
The next time I remember Rick getting on a horse was during the early 80’s out at Ocean Shores in Washington. His girlfriend at the time, Marta, enjoyed riding and talked him into renting some horses to ride along the ocean beach. Sounds mellow and romantic right? Not if you have Ricky Dean’s mad horse skills!
Now, Rick being Rick (and not being a Boy Scout anymore), he had stashed a few beers and his trusty bottle of whiskey in a rucksack to quench his thirst during the ride.
The ride started out slow and easy enough, but the pace picked up a bit when Rick’s horse tried to keep up with Marta’s. This got the bottles clinking together, causing the horse to run even faster, which made the bottles clank even louder, and soon it was galloping at full speed with the bottles crashing and bashing together until the beer bottles were a foamy mess.
I am very impressed that Rick stayed on the horse…they went like that for quite a ways down the beach and there was no wrangler this time. Alas, the bottles in the ruck sack did not fare too well and the pack was full of broken glass and the tepid beer had foamed to the point of oozing out the seams of the pack.
And so that was the last time he got on a horse for decades…eternally pissed that a horse had wasted his perfectly good alcohol. Then necessity transformed him into El Tehano of the Mexican jungle, riding off into the sunset, with steely gaze and chapped ass.
We returned what was left of Rick’s earthly remains back to the Earth this weekend. We stood in a loose circle on a washed out forest road, sharing more stories of Rick. We took a few photos with him in a Target bag, kind of appropriate, as he often seemed to be the target of mountain wrath.
Patty then pulled the box with Rick out to prepare for spreading his ashes, adding some ashes from his mother Marie Ernestine, better known as Ernie to most.
It was a sack full of what everyone commonly calls ashes, but it is really more like a sack full of the more substantial bits and pieces that his human form was attached to all his life, with a little bit of dust mixed in. It was surprisingly heavy, very unlike the light, fluffy ashes you get used to from a campfire.
I appreciated the heft of it. It gave substance to what was left of the body that once carried the spirit of this man around for 60 years. They say an adult male is about 60% water. Rick may have had a bit more bourbon mixed into that percentage, but even bones are 31% water so I just assumed the ashes would be light, or at least not heavy, with all that water and other easily combustible bits gone.
So it was surprising, yet comforting, to feel the weight of my old buddy as I held him one last time to say a few words. I had often held his weight as he dangled on the end of a climbing rope and it seemed familiar.
Patty asked if anyone wanted to speak, so I opened my mouth to say something meaningful, really to just say anything at this point of inferred importance in someone’s life… but nothing came out. I was overcome with yet another burst of grief, like I have experienced over the months since he died.
I had, of course, thought about what I might say…why I picked this particular point in the Olympics, how full of life Rick was, all the adventures, how much I will miss him, but I could only stand there silent for a few minutes, trying to will myself to get a few words out…
Patty had asked me to pick a place Rick would like for his physical remains a while back. While we had traveled all over the state, the Olympic Peninsula had been our back yard for decades of adventure. We had hiked the entire ocean beach in Olympic National Park, camped alongside nearly every river, hiked days into the deepest, hardest to reach interior sections and even reached the highest point, Mt. Olympus. But there was one spot that we went back to regularly…Mt Ellinor.
On the southern edge of the Olympics, Mt. Ellinor is an excellent climbers trail with great summit views and is only an hour from Olympia, so it became our traditional “season opener” in the early spring for getting back into mountain climbing shape. We would run up it all seasons of the year, but as soon as the snow was melted enough to get a car close to the trailhead we would be off and running.
I have no idea how many times we did that hike, but many, many, many times. We would use it for gauging how accessible other early trails might be with snow and just for the shear joy of getting up high in the mountains. We would even dash out there with Rick’s dogs for a quick afternoon blast up to the top, look for goats, ring the summit bell and dash back down for supper.
In our early days we would often have the mountain all to ourselves, but it has become more and more heavily used and these days you can barely find parking at the trailheads. In choosing a spot, I kept this in mind for both privacy and practicality, as not everyone would be up for a summit climb. The roads are narrow, potholed, and washboarded with small pullouts.
Just past the turnoff for the trailhead for Mt. Ellinor is the trailhead for Mt. Washington, another, much more serious alpine effort. While Ellinor is a steep hike with some scrambley bits, Mt. Washington is the big-brother, a real climb needing true route-finding skills through sections where someone can get really hurt when snow covers the peak. We have done Washington a number of times as well and it is one of our favorites.
Continuing on Forest Service road 2419, just beyond The Mt Washington trailhead, which is really just a boulder next to the road with no signs, the road bed has been washed out and impassible for many years. A short hike past this washout is a nice tall waterfall with a scenic view of the valleys below, as the stream tumbles noisily down the steep slopes into Big Creek.
I thought this place would be perfect; more private than the trailhead parking, easy to access, not too long a drive from Olympia, short hike, scenic view, waterfall, splashing stream, and at the base of two of our favorite climbs. Perfect.
After choosing the site I believed to be a perfect fit, self doubt starting creeping in. Was it majestic enough for a final resting place? Should it be a mountain summit or crashing ocean waves on the coast instead? Will there be a locked gate preventing us from driving up there on the Forest Service road? Would the weather cooperate? Would everyone think I was an idiot for picking this spot?
These are the thoughts that were running through my head as I stood there taking deep breaths and trying to calm myself enough to be able to speak. I can’t remember exactly what came out of my mouth, but I began to talk at least, trying to express some of these notions, mixed with the dark humor we practiced on many of our climbs.
I had brought a shot glass that I have been keeping topped off on my whiskey shelf, for Rick, since the day he died. As it evaporated, I thought of it as Rick lazily sipping his share of bourbon, and as the level eased down I would top it off with whatever I was drinking so it never emptied. He was very thirsty when the weather was hot, as usual.
I pulled the Cling-wrapped glass out of my pocket, removed the wrap and handed Jim the bottle of Evan Williams I had brought. Now, Evan Williams is one of the bourbons we cut our teeth on in the 70’s, along with Ezra Brooks, and that we continued to enjoy even after we started enjoying the top shelf whiskeys. They were relatively cheap, good octane, and tasted better than the other bottom-shelf whiskey like Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. Yes, we considered Jack to be bottom shelf.
Jim filled the shot glass, me making sure he topped it off as I know Rick would not want to be shorted on his shot. I spoke a few more words, irreverent I’m sure, and poured the shot into the bag of ashes. I won’t swear that I heard Rick give his whiskey-shot follow-up call, but I felt it.
We then passed Rick around to each person that wanted, or was able, to say a few more words or share a story. I’ll let them share their owns thoughts and stories, but Jim added some higher-end bourbon from the traditional Nalgene trail bottle and Tom shared his Deschutes Pale Ale and other goodies as they spoke a few more irreverent words, as only climbers that have shared danger can, quenching Ricky’s thirst a bit more.
Patty and Zach spoke much more reverently, others declined, there were more tears and more smiles shared and so when Patty asked “what now” I declared it was “time to dump his ass out!”.
Patty carried Rick over to the base of the waterfall and poured him into the stream, declaring that mixing him with the water returned his physical form back to the living cycle of the Earth. I took a good pull of the Evan Williams and passed it around for everyone to have a sip. I took the rest of the bottle and poured it over his ashes.
I had given Jim and Tom, Rick’s other long-time rope partners, a piece of the first “real” rope I had purchased back when I was in the Army in 1980. Rick and I had done many climbs with that rope, including his first summit of Mt. Rainier.
I had tied a re-woven figure eight in each one. This is the knot every climber ties to their harness to connect them to another climber. Jim decided to tie his piece of rope to a small tree over the stream, and proceeded to show us he had forgotten how to tie his mountaineering knots and create a solid anchor. Tom followed suit, tossing Jim his rope as we joked about his knot tying prowess. I’m too sentimental about that kind of stuff. Someone will be deciding why I have a hunk of old rope and what to do with it after I’m gone.
We told a few more stories, sipped a bit more brew and bourbon, took a group shot and then headed back down to Olympia while Tom headed up to do Ellinor.
I don’t know about everyone else, but with all the emotions and love shared, in a spot where I can easily imagine him standing there taking a sip of bourbon, it was perfect at least for me. I believe Rick would think so too, it was so much more “him” than a formal funeral.
I will be back up to share a sip or two with him from time to time, and he’s not hard to find, now that you know where he rests.