Give a mile. Or four. Or five.

The scene was sort of sad. Sort of picturesque. Quiet.

Moss-covered logs were once vehicle curbs. Sword fern and huckleberry where once cars parked. Pavement cracked and covered, seemingly ancient. The sound of the river off in the distance nearby. Julian clambering up on a lichen-covered rock at the head of the Sulphur Mountain trail. Making goofy faces. Katie wandering silently off somewhere  below. The Suiattle #784 trail sign almost eerily un-updated with a tattered map of the Glacier Peak Wilderness stapled front and center. Laminated hiding under plastic. No cars though today. No one actually. Just us.

A mile or two back we had met a guy coming down on bicycle (we too were on bikes). Climber. At least had an ice ax strapped to his pack so we just assumed. Seemed out of it. Told us he had been twelve miles deep earlier that day. Not sure from where but we bid him safe journey as he took off downroad. We hung around for a bit. Planned to be back to head up Miners Ridge. Image Lake. Or Sulphur Mountain.

Weather moving in from the west. Time to go.


A couple hours earlier I found myself, sun fighting through the approaching cloud layer, chumming with a group of men all old enough to be my dad, slumped in the grass of Green Mountain Pasture. A light breeze. Them lamenting the good ol’ days, all with stories to tell. Not enough time to get to them all. The Ptarmigan Traverse namely, since only a few miles east Downey Creek empties into the Suiattle where most plunge out of the alder thickets to wrap it up.

Listening to them meander about days gone by made me wonder, though; were they all just grumpy and griping about why things couldn’t just be the same? Should I have told them to get over it? Things change. Ethics change. Rivers change. The ebb and flow of it all.

Then it hit me. Pretty hard actually and something clicked.

Isn’t more or less the essence of the Wilderness Act (we were sitting smackdab in the middle of Glacier Peak Wilderness, after all) to—well—prevent things from changing? ‘Cos if this sort of stuff always changed—roads and boundaries and use and such—from one generation to the next then—well—just a few down the line. what will be left? How much will have changed?

A mile here. A mile there. Who’s counting anyway?

So taking off from the meadow, the three of us up towards the bridge over Downey, I thought to myself it seemed that these candid and kindhearted old men, whose company I had to remind myself I had been in, and for which we should be thanking them might just be on to something.

©Thom Schroeder


“I’m old school wilderness,” one of them had huffed to me with a partial twinkle in his eye as he prefaced a reply to my question asking why not just pave the last four miles of the road? “I rather like a river walk,” he spoke without answering the question but hinting at a gesture to shush and listen to the quiet still air surrounding us.

Admittedly, though, despite my age I suppose so am I.

There are plenty of un-wild places left it seems. Not enough wilderness. Some may argue that but it’s hardly radical. And the debate has heated up through quick searches of the interwebs as the deadline for public comments draws to a close the end of this week. Alt B or C? Fix the whole road, all twenty-three miles back up to the Sulphur Mountain trailhead and campground next to the creek, or leave the last four or five miles from Green Mountain Road for foot and bikes and packs? What’s four or five more miles anyway?

A mile here. A mile there. Who’s counting, anyway?


The ride uproad was enjoyable. A barely-perceptible up. The last four or five miles from Green Mountain to Sulphur Mountain maybe four hundred feet or so. Quiet. The cedars dripping with moss. A grove of birch near the riverbed. Leaves shuttering. Had to stop my bike to really appreciate it, the sound of knobby tires on rocky roadbed half overgrown drowning out the essence of the river and silence of forest and air. A good sort of eerie.

It didn’t necessarily or really make sense to me why at that point in between reality and sublime all the rage, all the fuss, all the back and forth over four or five miles? Why must we feel, I guess, that “access” can only mean vehicle access? Why must we drive so much? Always be in such a hurry? It seems when all the arguments are made for or against B or C, or this or that, what it all comes down to is something simple–the essence of dew clinging to a fern not coated with dust from a road or fumes.

Of course, it would be easier to drive the road to its end. Park. Stretch some before heading off down the Suiattle River trail. It’s not like I don’t take advantage of roads. Hennegan Pass. Cascade Pass. The cross-state North Cascades Highway-turned-eyesore. So for me, then, I guess I could stand to walk four or five extra miles if I wanted. A couple hours on foot. Quicker on bicycle. Maybe the campground at Sulphur Creek would be more special. Maybe a little tougher to get to than all the others sprawled beside or tucked off pavements. Maybe I just sound like an old curmudgeon.


We get back to the truck parked off the road just outside the gate at milepost twelve. I walk past a pile of garbage spilling, cascading down the hillside toward the river. Ugh. Close my eyes for a second to forget that. Go back to the lichen and the moss and the ferns and cedars at the end of the disintegrating road, the quiet pristine. Still the sound of the Suiattle. Try to picture all of this not now, not today, but when it’s finished and the debates have died down and the construction dust has settled. Fifty years from now. A hundred. More.

Which is the better scene?

©Thom Schroeder

[EDITORIAL: public comments will be accepted until this Friday at:   – read the original Environmental Assessment – or an article by WTA on the release]

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