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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Otto Klement: severe winters
and frozen Skagit River

Diary excerpted by the Mount Vernon Daily Herald beginning Oct. 19, 1926
Otto Klement

      We often hear it said that winters in the Puget Sound basin are steadily becoming more severe. This is an error. In the winter of 1874 the river was frozen over from end to end and was used as a highway for ox teams. The following winter it was again frozen solid, and again in 1879, 1888, 1890 and 1907. Twenty years ago, it was closed for the last time. The freezes, without exception, occurred in January and February..
      What has been said of ice is also, in a measure, true of snow. Formerly there was not a winter passed without a blanket of eight inches to a foot of the white element covering the ground for months while in February 1880 a coat three feet in thickness covered the valley and in Olympia upwards of four feet fell, and scarcely less in Seattle. As to the winters becoming colder with the passing years, they are, as a matter of fact, becoming decidedly milder..

Journal Ed. note: Otto Klement was one of the first Skagit River settlers, arriving here in the fall of 1873 after paddling alone across Puget Sound. He eventually chose Lyman as his home on the north bank of the river, when Skagit was still part of Whatcom county and Washington was still a territory.

      Windstorms which formerly prevailed in the spring of the year also seem to be abating. Prior to the present century scarcely a spring passed without a violent storm of this kind, and played havoc with the forests and shipping. One unfavorable feature might be noted in this change of climate, and that is summer droughts. Formerly rain fell in almost every month during the summer season, while in late years as high as two months sometimes pass without so much as a drop of rain. Thunder and lightning too, which in earlier history of the country was wholly unknown, in recent years have become a frequent occurrence.

Unusual ice formation
      The river ice above referred to, by reason of its singular manner of formation, deserves further attention. The ice, instead of forming on the surface of the water and extending downward, as is ordinarily the case, begins at the bottom of the river and extends upward. To illustrate: upon the riffles of the upper reaches of the river, the water is usually shallow and very swift, a slush ice usually called anchor ice, resembling wet snow, forms on the rocks and boulders in the bed of the stream..
      If the weather is very cold it forms with remarkable rapidity, pushing upwards in many instances to the surface. The water rising above it presently tears through the mass, dislodging it from its anchorage and sends it drifting down the stream in great masses. For a short distance above the river's mouth where the water at intervals is slack, influenced by the tides, ice forms on the surface. This ice holds back the anchor ice, and instances have been known where the river from end to end was filled with this kind of ice in less than a week's time. In the eddies and in places along the shores where the water is sufficiently slack it forms on the top and is often quite smooth, but out in the channel where it is made up of the anchor ice it is very rough, presenting the aspect of an Artic scene.

Course of the river
      The Skagit River takes its rise in a rugged mountain region in southern British Columbia, and flows almost due south across Whatcom County. From Marblemount in Skagit County it takes a southwesterly course as far as the mouth of the Sauk River and from there its general course is almost due west to its outlet in Saratoga Passage. Its length is approximately 125 miles. For a distance [of] 50 miles in its upper reaches the river flows through a succession of deep canyons and cracks, between two stupendous ranges of mountains and finds its outlet through the crevice in the western wall into sunshine and the Skagit River proper. This gorge is bounded on the east by the Cascade Mountains and on the west by a range which finds its culmination point in Mount Baker. The base of this mountain covers almost the entire width of Whatcom County, and the circumstance has given the people of Bellingham a transit concern as it denies them a direct outlet for a railroad to the east.

Mazama Park a natural resort area
      On the south side of Mount Baker is Mazama Park, about 10 miles from Concrete. This park is among the most picturesque spots in the west, and some day will become a pleasure resort of note — already it has been too long neglected. Upwards of 1,000 acres of smooth meadow land, with tongues of forest extending into it, and abounding in crystal-pure lakes, characterizes the scene. At every turn new vistas of delightful mountain scenes present themselves to the admiring eye of the visitor, while the pure white mountain stands immediately on its border..
      Mount Hood, the pride of Oregon, and Mount Rainier, that of Washington, have nothing to compare with this spot in point of natural beauty. Indeed the lover of the sublime in nature, standing in its presence, can only say, "How wonderful!" The scene abounds in wild game, and aside from the hunters, who as a rule look for game and not scenery, the place is rarely visited. A fairly good road leading to Baker Lake passes within four miles of this paradise of the mountains. Some day the people of Skagit County will waken to the realization that it is not necessary to travel hundreds of miles to visit some highly advertised and vaunted scene to satisfy their yearnings for the sublime in nature, but that they have it in a more fascinating form right at their door. A few thousand dollars judiciously expended on a road would make this bewitching scene conveniently accessible to the tourist..
      No other place in Skagit County affords a more ideal location for a country club. Golf links and tennis courts can be constructed with a minimum of expense, while the opportunity of hunting, fishing and mountain climbing are nowhere excelled. Here, too, the sport of skiing and toboggan sliding may be enjoyed the year around and the novelty of passing from winter snow into summer sunshine at leisure would not be overlooked..
      The opportunity of airplane landings at practically no cost would speedily come to figure in the scheme, an advantage not enjoyed by any other mountain resort in the country. And all within an hour's drive in an automobile from the center of Skagit County's population..
      The area described is wholly within the forest reserve.


1. River frozen over
      We are puzzled as to why Klement ignored the winter of 1916. In February and March of that year, the Skagit River was frozen throughout Whatcom and Skagit counties and snow was so deep that most cities were cut off from communication with the outer world. For more information about that blizzard, see this Journal site. Then again, he could have meant: "ten years ago . . . " [Return]

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Story posted on March 15, 2008 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 42 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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