"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

The stillness of soot

By on September 27, 2017 in Outdoor Fun with 1 Comment

A happy Sarah Shaffer covered in ash, dirt and sweat after a long day of climbing uphill.

Story and photos By Sarah Shaffer

This August I spent a weekend backpacking through the Larch Lakes Pomas Pass area at the end of Entiat River Road.

Two friends joined me along with my dog, Tana. Little did we realize (even though we should have known) we would be backpacking mainly through the remnants of the Mills Canyon Fire that burned through here three years ago in 2014.

Wildlife was scarce — we saw two deer and no people during the trip until the last couple of miles on our hike out. Two nights we spent in the wilderness.

The pictures captured are of the beauty, devastation and eeriness of the leftovers from the fire.

During our days hiking we could see for miles as there was little to none in the way of vegetation.

It was so very quiet other than the chatter of three women backpacking together — no birds calling, no crickets chirping, it made me wonder what happened to all of those creatures? Did they burn up in the fire? Did they have to hike hundreds of miles to find food and a grassy spot to lay down?

But then farther on our journey we found many a mountain lion scat fresh on the trail and even new bear foot prints. Somewhere out there a few big game animals existed in this very empty wilderness.

Our first night the wind was blowing, you could hear the dead snags creaking in the wind. Within the first two hours of our hike a sizable limb broke and came crashing down from 50-60 feet above.

It was uneasy as we were hiking at dusk at that point, and had no idea if we would find a spot to camp that wasn’t under those widow makers.

An hour later we did end up camping in the snags after we got to our Entiat River crossing .2 miles from Myrtle Lake, and the bridge was burned down. All that remained were the steel framing pieces, which were too far apart for my trusty companion, Tana, to be able to jump across. So, we made camp knowing that for the night, the dead snag forest would have to do.

I slept in my tent uneasy that night, listening to the wind in the tree corpses hoping one of them wouldn’t decide to break and fall directly on my one-person tent. I kept thinking, wouldn’t this be terrible if my daughter lost her mom to a dead tree?

Well, luckily fate or mother nature or whomever spared me and my friends that night as we all woke up to another glorious day in unfamiliar territory.

The beauty within the devastation the next day was breathtaking.

Fields of Fire Weed taller than my head grew, and areas that had been untouched by the fire, though few and far between, existed. Small glorious wildflowers some like mini snap dragons of all different colors still lived among wild grasses next to the river.

Once we got into the sub-alpine there existed areas untouched by the fire. It felt so good to be sitting on dirt again, to see lush green trees and to see beautiful water with amazing reflections. Life was good.

Although you may not consider hiking through a burned up forest as ideal, seeing the outdoors through a different lens showed me the beauty and powerful destruction fire has in the wilderness.

Yet some of the creatures within it still exist.

You can find more stories like this one at www.wenatcheeoutdoors.org, where Sarah works as the Executive Director for this non-profit organization.

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  1. Larry Selden says:

    The fire you hiked through was the Wolverine fire. Burned in 2015.

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