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Olympic Rescue Prose Account

NPR Host Rescued From Olympic Mountains

Journal Entry, Friday, September 29, 2000:

“I want to deepen my sense of experience.”

Oh boy! I set out on Friday September the 8th, after a short day’s sleep. Having done my last regularly scheduled edition of the Grooveyard Shift on KPLU (12M-4A), I was anxious to begin my annual soul-searching backpacking trip to the Olympic Mountains. My partner Stephanie said: Call me as soon as you get out of the woods.  Perhaps she intuited something.

Friday night I arrived at the Boulder Creek campground and met a nice couple from the East Coast, Jill Vogel & Christopher Garrett. D.C. is nothing like this, Christopher said, stating the obvious, but appreciated sentiment. I hipped them to the best hot spring, shared my Essential Sandwich with them (Is this gourmet backpacking food?) then got a soak.

The next day, I passed on breakfast with them, but left them with a Michael McClure poem (Action Philosophy) and headed towards Appleton Pass. Halfway there, perhaps more, the weather started to get ominous and I stayed in the Boulder Creek valley for the night. At this point I was further into the woods alone than I had ever been, but still covering familiar ground, having been to Appleton Pass and beyond a few times.

After a day hike Sunday morning up to the Pass to find the weather clearing, I hiked back, took down my camp & headed up to the Pass, elevation 5000 feet. It was good to relive some of the powerful quests of the past. At Appleton Pass in 1995 I discovered the work of poet Michael McClure and one line from his poem was read that year while overlooking the valley from on high:









Sunday night, having hiked all the way to Lower Bridge Creek, I had set up camp and was about to pump some water when two guys named Stan & Ken came along. (From that point on to be known as Stan Kenton!) They encouraged me to join them on their bushwhacking (off-trail) trip to the Bailey Range. I have since learned that the Bailey Range is the largest tract-less parcel of land in the lower 48! I decided after some convincing to join them & was surprised they did not wait for me to take down my camp. Instead, they said they’d wait for me at Heart Lake near the High Divide.

On my way there, I was tagged by a ranger named Linda Humphries. Serendipity? She told me I needed to have a backcountry permit in case I got lost. That would be their first clue as to where to search for me, or my remains, God forbid. She issued one.

When I met up with Stan Kenton, they urged me to turn around, and with binoculars I saw a herd of sixty elk. Amazing! Then we kept hiking. They knew of a great spot to camp. It (I later learned) is called Bruce’s Roost. It was taken. With the most perfect view of Mt. Olympus, I can see why. We camped further along the High Divide that night and followed that path to the end the next morning. We also kept going. When the High Divide Trail ended, we continued towards Mt Carrie. They did not seem to have much patience with my beginner bushwhacking status and left me far behind. What would happen if my grip on these rocks would slip & I would plunge down the mountain? After losing my walking stick, my diamond earring and watch, I decided to head back. They called for me, but I apologized for holding them up. I decided to head to Cat Basin & try to find a way trail (an un-maintained trail) to Appleton Pass. A short-cut! HA!

The next morning, I did just that. Stan Kenton, Linda Humphries and others had told me of the way trail & even though I had NO bushwhacking experience and little knowledge of how to read a topographical map, I started that way in the morning. I saw the last human I would see for several days that morning after I launched into a song my Native American friend Beaver Chief had taught me. The man who heard my song told me he had hiked that way trail 18 years ago and remembered a cabin just down the way.

Heading down the trail, I saw the cabin, now a pile of wood. Shortly after that, I kept going even though the trail did not. I went through thick thickets, over the creek, across the creek, along the side of hills, along cliffs and, knowing I was not going to be able to find the trail that day, decided to camp out alongside Cat Creek before it got too dark.

The next morning, I kept heading along the creek, but its Northeasterly direction was off my mark, so I knew I had to head due West. Eventually, this meant UP a mountain. I mean STRAIGHT up. The rangers who were tracking me on the ground could not believe I scaled that steep grade, but I did it. Well, almost. I slept on the mountain on Wednesday the 13th and enjoyed one of the best full moon views I have ever had. As much as you can enjoy anything on a 60 degree angle!

Thursday the Quixotic trek up the mountain continued. I got to what I thought was going to be the top and, sure enough, there was much more mountain left. When I started getting a cramp in my right calf, I knew that water was my priority and soon I spotted a snowfield below and to my right. I later learned the snowfield was at 4,400 feet, so I was up there.

I got down to the snowfield, melted some water & remembered a Gilligan’s Island episode where the castaways spelled out an SOS in flaming logs in an attempt to get an orbiting spaceship to be aware of their plight. I made an SOS in the snow with logs, sticks, stones and cedar boughs. I added a cross above it later, just to hedge my bets.

I went below the snowfield to find a comfortable camp, sleeping sans tent on some boulders that were covered by a decayed cedar log. I had water, firewood and my books to keep me occupied. A Primer of Jungian Psychology and Walt Whitmans’ Collected Poems were my choices.

I finished the Jung book (what an amazing man) and waited  waited & waited. So tired, tired of waiting. Tired of waiting for you was just one of the many songs in my head as the time went by. Tunes by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Pat Metheny along with other pop songs and even commercial jingles competed for space with other thoughts in my monkey-mind. When you see Libby’s Libby’s Libby’s on the label label label, you will like it like it like it on you table table table. If only we had a trash bin for all that junk inside there! Fortunately, there was room for many prayers, chief among them: Let me be safe, let me find the way. Walt Whitman strengthened my resolve with a line that stated: Those who love each other shall become invincible.

By Sunday morning, my patience was running out. My faith in the notion that I would be rescued by helicopter was running out. I was going to be a man and get MYSELF out. Big mistake. On Sunday, park officials finally acquiesced to my partner Stephanie’s pleas for a search and the helicopters finally came. Now the second-guessing reached new heights. You had a brilliant plan & didn’t stick with it, what a bonehead!  (My language was stronger.) The metaphors for my life were pouring in at this point.

Monday, September 19th, I got myself onto a boulder in the middle of what I learned was Schoeffel Creek and was able to use the mirror on the back of my compass to flash Jack Hughes, the chopper pilot. Soon Sgt Tom Kunkle and the boys from the Ft. Lewis 54th Medical Unit were hovering over the rock, blowing the creek upstream with the force of the propellers. The lift onto the helicopter was the scariest thing I did that whole trip of over 10 days. I had a vision of KING-5 TV Anchor Dennis Bounds reporting the story and smirking. I asked Sgt. Tom if there were any media representatives. He said “OH yeah! You work for NPR?  I confirmed that and tried to think of something clever to say to the talking heads.

I was sorry to have jeopardized the lives of innocent people for my arrogance and ignorance and apologized to every person involved in the search. My search and rescue angels were happy I was not a corpse.

As I learned in the following days, so were thousands of other people around the world, including my partner, daughter, ex-wife, family, community members, listeners, poetry friends and people from other communities with which I have been associated. I really had no idea. One friend said: Paul went on a vision quest and took us all with.  Another friend said: It is obvious you have touched a lot of people in your life and none of this was morbid curiosity.  There is no question I am blessed.

I will never forget the response from my KPLU colleagues. The sense of brotherhood at KPLU is huge. I had no idea. I do now. I also know that the poem by Michael McClure I had discovered on that 1995 trip to Appleton Pass (Dolphin Skull) was unveiling new meaning to me with lines like:


clatter over the canyon











Thanks for sending prayers & good thoughts to me. This morphic resonance kept me alive. See you on Saturday at noon on KPLU.

Paul Nelson
Cedar Dr. S.E.
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