9 Years Young: Engles Just Keeps On Climbing

Harold Engles' friends really ought to tell him to slow down.

After all, Engles, one of Darrington's best-known citizens, turns 90 this weekend, making him older than most trees being logged in the area.

But friends of Engles know you can't take the mountain out of a mountain man. And Engles, who served as a U.S. Forest Service District Ranger for 34 years (25 of them as head of the Darrington ranger district), is about as much of a true mountain man as you'll find these days.

So instead of discouraging him, Engles' pals next weekend will join him in what he does best: Climbing. He and his pals aim to scale Three Fingers Mountain.

That's no cakewalk. It's a 6,800-foot peak, and Engles didn't pick it by accident. He and a partner, the late Harry Bedal, were first to scale the mountain - 63 years ago.

Engles has no qualms about climbing at his age, despite recent surgery that had him under the weather for a few weeks. His doctor didn't really approve the climb, but didn't really know about it, either.

"We didn't discuss it too close," Engles said. "He told me I could eventually go back (to climbing) if things went right."

Engles, who stays in shape by taking a hike of several miles every morning, says it's a lot tougher to reach the summit of Three Fingers than it was on his first ascent in 1929.

"It depends on the conditions - and your age," he said. "Yeah, you're slower. The years are going to take a little out of you. You can try, but you can't really get away from that."

But Engles figures he makes up much of that with experience. He's been up the mountain so many times he's lost count. Enough times to learn that it's no fun in bad weather.

"We won't try it if it's raining," he said. "If it isn't too good, we'll probably just go up there and camp."

Engles, a legend among local Forest Service officials, was a contemporary of the agency's founding fathers, including Gifford Pinchot, the first Forest Service chief, and Aldo Leopold, an early advocate of scientific forestry.

His work in the Darrington area lives on, as evidenced by an announcement this weekend that a 40-acre forest Engles set aside 50 years ago has been tabbed as the future Harold Engles Forest Reserve.

Fred Harnisch, the Darrington district's current ranger, said he's proposed that the trees Engles long sought to preserve be saved as a permanent educational exhibit, particularly for local school children. If the project receives Forest Service approval, a network of trails will be built on the property with help from Darrington schools, Harnisch said.

The 40-acre stand includes trees harvested at various times, as well as some nearly 200 years old that Engles protected from logging decades ago, he said.

Harnisch also plans to ask school children help compile an information booklet about the forest. But he believes most questions about the woods might best be addressed to Engles himself, who Harnisch fully expects to spend mornings hiking the reserve bearing his name.

TRAILHEAD VANDALISM -- Most Washington hikers who've been at it for very long have their own car vandalism story: Thug visits remote trailhead, smashes window in car, makes off with stereo and anything not welded on.

But trailhead vandalism reached a new "high" this week, when vandals nearly destroyed 10 cars at the Trout Lake trailhead near Stevens Pass highway.

Sometime Tuesday, nearly every car parked at the trailhead was burglarized, with most stripped of car stereos and speakers. The thieves didn't stop there. They hot-wired one old van (a "beater" probably driven to the trailhead by a veteran hiker who keeps it around as a trailhead sacrificial lamb) and used it as a battering ram to smash all the other cars.

"They just about bumper-carred to pieces nine or 10 vehicles," said Ron DeHart of the Mount-Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. "Not even that was enough. They then used a sledge or axle to do additional damage."

Forest Service officials are infuriated by the incident, but say it's an unfortunate example of the risk any hiker takes leaving a vehicle unattended for days at a trailhead. Most are remote and seldom patrolled.

Skykomish-area rangers report between 100 and 150 incidents of auto vandalism this summer alone. Rangers in the Darrington area report similar wanton destruction at trailheads.

Because the break-ins occur in dozens of police and forest jurisdictions around the state, no annual figures are kept on property damage at trailheads, DeHart said.

King County Police are investigating the Trout Lake incident. Late this week, they joined forces with the Forest Service, offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to the arrest or filing of charges against vandals at any King County trailhead. Information for police can be left with the Forest Service at 1-800-624-4595 or King County Police at 343-2020. Rangers hope to extend that reward to other counties soon.

With the new level of destruction, it's difficult to advise hikers what else to do, DeHart said.

"There was a time when we used to just tell people: `Don't take your best vehicle. Don't leave stuff in plain sight. But that doesn't do any good anymore."

LOOK, UP IN THE SKY -- The current infusion of warm ocean water into our state's normally frigid coastal region, termed a "limited El Nino" by scientists, has done much more than change weather patterns and affect coastal and Puget Sound fishing. It's also brought flocks of birds not normally associated with our climes. "We're calling it the invasion of the elegant terns," said Ian Paulsen of the Washington Ornithological Society. As many as 1,000 of the small, gull-type shorebirds have been spotted recently near Tokeland, Pacific County.


-- The King County Chapter of Pheasants Unlimited has its fall banquet Sept. 17 at the Bellevue Holiday Inn. The evening includes a rare address to a sportsman's group from controversial state Wildlife Director Curt Smitch. For tickets and details, call 451-1415.

-- Birdwatchers of all stripes who belong to the Washington State Ornithological Society meets at 7:30 Friday (and the first Thursday of each month) at the Burke Museum. Details: 842-2352.

-- Trail crew volunteers are needed to improve hiking trails at Seattle's Carkeek Park from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 12. Details: Chris Miller at REI, 323-8333.

-- The Northwest Sports Fair, including shooting demonstrations and clinics, is tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday at Paul Bunyan Rifle Range, 17902 Meridian East, Puyallup.