An Historic New Year’s Eve.

In last week’s episode, we were sharing the yuletide joy of an 1859 Christmas cruise on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in a cedar dugout canoe, causing questions to be asked like, could anything be more miserable?

Yes. The 1889 New Year’s party where the Press Expedition pulled a leaky barge up the Elwha River in the snow would qualify.

The expedition was financed by the Seattle Press, a forerunner to today’s Seattle Times. Back then, newspapers sent reporters to unknown ends of the Earth to entertain their readers with stories such as Stanley finding Livingstone in the heart of Africa. It was the golden age of journalism where six men, four dogs and two mules were sent into the Olympic Mountains for a story.

It was claimed the Olympics were so rugged no man had ever penetrated their vastness. The Native Americans were said to be afraid of a war-like tribe of cannibal giants and the Thunderbird, a huge creature that picked up whales and dumped them on the glaciers.

This ignored the fact that Native Americans had inhabited the interior of the Olympics for millennia, where they hunted and gathered, warred and traded. Indian Creek and Valley were named for a Klallam village. They had a village up the Elwha at Boulder Creek.

The southern Olympics had been crossed by five loggers from Lilliwaup to Lake Quinault in 1878. They weren’t working for a newspaper, so it didn’t count. As the Press Expedition was organizing, another newspaper, The Buckley Banner, proposed an expedition from Lake Cushman to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Another group said they went up the Pysht River and crossed the Olympics, but their geography was questionable.

The pressure was on the Press Expedition to be off. This seemed to be the deciding factor for the bad idea to head up the Elwha in the dead of one of the most severe winters ever recorded on the Olympic Peninsula. The snow began falling on Dec. 23 and hardly stopped until it was 4 feet deep.

On arrival in Port Angeles, the townspeople told of a giant lake in the interior of the Olympics. James Christie, the leader of the expedition, eventually concluded he could not glean “one sensible idea” from them.

The second mayor of Port Angeles, Norman R. Smith, offered to help the expedition. Smith was a promotor extraordinaire who became famous for building the world’s shortest railroad. He cut a 30-foot rail in half and laid the pieces together to make a 15-foot section of track between Lake Sutherland and Lake Crescent to “secure the pass” for an imaginary railroad.

Smith’s brother had a sawmill. He convinced Christie to build a boat and drag it up the Elwha all the way to the imaginary lake.

Christie bought the lumber. The expedition began packing 1,500 pounds of bacon, beans, flour, tools and fireworks to signal Seattle, along with Smith’s green lumber, into a 200-foot-deep canyon somewhere under the present Highway 112 bridge.

On Dec. 30, the 30-foot boat, christened “Gertie,” was loaded with the expedition’s supplies. She took on water like a “thirsty trout” as the crew pulled her upstream through 4 feet of snow. The New Year was celebrated in the snow under the stars on a gravel bar with pea soup, boiled ham, baked beans, corn bread, prune pie and coffee.

The expedition eventually ditched Gertie and headed upriver, emerging from the Olympics five months later in Quinault with nothing to eat but salmon berry shoots. All of which gives us hope that our New Year will be better than that.

A Christmas Canoe Cruise Continued.

LAST WEEK, WE were comparing our modern system of transportation with a Christmas canoe cruise from Neah Bay to Port Townsend in December 1859 by James Swan and five Makah friends.

Swan was a Boston ship chandler who sailed to California in time for the gold rush of 1849. Then headed north to Shoalwater, now Willapa Bay, and then to Neah Bay in 1859.

Swan was the first working journalist on the Olympic Peninsula, writing a series of columns for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. These stories were published by the Washington State Historical Society in 1971 as “Almost out of the World, Scenes from Washington Territory.”

In his ethnography, “The Indians of Cape Flattery,” published by the Smithsonian in 1869, Swan described the 100-mile journey between Neah Bay and Port Townsend as taking seven days in the winter and making the trip in a little over 24 hours in the summer.

The average passage was about three days. This journey could only be accomplished by using the tidal currents.

Take a moment, look up from your newspaper and look out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a frosty, windy December morning and consider if any of us would survive the seven-day, 100-mile canoe journey these days.

Makah canoes were ocean-going vessels carved from a single cedar log in the shape of a clipper ship hull. The largest canoes were traded from the Clyoquot and Nittinat of Vancouver Island. Swan once went to Victoria to purchase a canoe that was between 75 and 80 feet long. The canoes were powered by paddlers and sails made of cedar bark and, later, cotton.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca flows like a river, changing direction with the tides. To catch the tide, you might have to travel at night, which could make the journey even more terrifying. However, night travel was a good way to avoid hostilities with other tribes with whom the Makah were at variance.

The Makah had a grudge with the Clallam, and it went both ways.

Swan had noticed the burnt remains of a Clallam village at Pysht, where the Nittinats of Vancouver Island killed 20 or more people. The Makah were implicated in the attack.

That night, Swan and his friends pulled their canoe up the Lyre River to where the smoke from their campfire could not be observed by the Clallam.

The next day, they stopped at Salt Creek to build a fire and eat lunch where they found another burnt village. Swan’s Makah friends took credit this time, saying the Clallam had not let them fish in Salt Creek. The Makah left and returned at night, killing 12 Clallam and taking women prisoners.

Swan had friends among the Elwha Clallam. He feared being caught in the middle of the endless battles of retribution.

All of which calls for some historical perspective. The Strait of Juan de Fuca could be a dangerous passage in 1859.

That same year, France and Austria were at war. Over 20,000 Austrians were killed, wounded or missing in just one battle. Shortly thereafter, the American Civil War began, killing as many as 750,000 soldiers and an unknown number of civilians.

Humans can be bloodthirsty critters.

Swan’s canoe slipped by the Clallam village at the mouth of the Elwha at daylight without incident. When they eventually reached Port Townsend, Swan said, “I was entirely satisfied that a winter’s trip on the Fuca Straits is anything but a pleasure cruise.”

Words worth remembering when missing the ferry or getting a flat tire while riding in a heated vehicle this Christmas.

A Christmas Canoe Cruise

As the holiday season progresses, we ask ourselves the question, “will we be at home or on the road?”

This year, staying home for the holidays makes a lot of sense since the road can be risky. Look at the road between Clallam Bay and Sekiu where the side of a mountain fell down.

This is nothing new on the “wet end” of the Olympic Peninsula. State Highway 112 was barely passable during the dry season.

Driving on Highway 112 was like riding a bucking bronco if you dared exceed the 15 mph speed limit over the top of Twin Hill before descending to the “Devil’s Elbow,” a nasty hairpin turn at the bottom near Deep Creek.

Local legend says Highway 112 was built by a logger in a cat following a bull elk in the rut, since it seems to go in complete circles when you least expect it.

Once the monsoons hit, the mountains slid down into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, taking the road with it.

Coincidentally, U.S. Highway 101 is facing the same problem. South of Forks, the effects of gravity and water are clearly seen in the giant cracks in the road, which seems intent on sliding into the Bogachiel River.

Highway 101 is down to one lane just south of the Calamity County line, which is better than no lane at all. Once the single lane slides out, the Olympic Peninsula will have come one step closer to becoming an island, a geographic designation many of the locals would prefer.

Traveling east is no picnic either, given the tendency of the Hood Canal bridge to shut down at any time. Our magnificent State Ferry system is no guarantee, either. They can shut down for low tides, high winds or the lack of any crew to run the darned things.

All of which makes us long for the good old days when our transportation was so much easier, safer and modern. Just don’t go too far back in the good old days or you’ll see just how tough it was to get around.

In December 1859, James Swan was in Neah Bay waiting for a schooner to take him to Port Townsend. The winter hit early that year, and rather than spending it in Neah Bay, Swan “persuaded” a party of Makah to take him “up to the Straits.”

I often think of this journey while complaining about our roads or waiting to get on a ferry.

There was Swan in an open canoe in December with five Makah companions, one of whom was an elderly woman.

They departed Neah Bay on a dark day with a light head wind and every indication of a storm. Though wrapped in several blankets, Swan complained of the cold while he noted the Makah blowing on their hands to keep them from freezing.

The Makah kept close to shore in case a storm should hit. They paddled through tide rips, heavy swells and surf between the rocks with what Swan described as a “consummate skill” that made him feel as safe as a being on a mill pond.

There were, however, other dangers. The Makah were almost always at war with the Clallam. At Pillar Point, they passed the burnt remains of a Clallam village where the Nittinats of Vancouver Island killed 20 or more people. The Makah were implicated in the attack.

That night, they pulled their canoe up the Lyre River to where the smoke from their campfire could not be observed by the Clallam.

This is where we will continue our canoe cruise next week.

Extinction for Profit.

It was another tough week in the news. A decision was made by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife that should go a long way toward reaching their goal of eliminating winter steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula.

These are the same functionaries of our fisheries that have successfully eliminated fishing seasons throughout the Evergreen State.

From the winter blackmouth salmon season to the spring Chinook to the summer steelhead and fall Coho fisheries, our angling opportunities are being eliminated with proven, time-honored management techniques.

First, they require all fish with an intact adipose fin to be released on the theory that they are a native fish. That is, one not raised in a hatchery. Although after 120-odd years of raising hatchery fish in Washington, identifying hatchery fish and native fish is increasingly difficult.

These days, a fish with an adipose fin could be the feral offspring of hatchery fish. The expense and hassle of clipping adipose fins off the hatchery fish can make it a lot cheaper and easier to just dump the hatchery fish in the water anyway.

Then the unclipped hatchery fish are magically transformed into native fish that must be released when they are caught. That would explain why you have to catch 10 or 20 salmon with an intact adipose fin to get one that has a clipped fin.

Step two in eliminating our fishing seasons is to shut down or restrict the fish hatchery production on the theory that it is better to have no fish than a hatchery fish. Extinction has always been good for business. Historically, fortunes were made wiping out the buffalo. Currently, fortunes are being made off the managed extinction of our salmon.

Here’s how. Once these fish are declared endangered, the floodgates of Endangered Species grant money open wide. Not to restore the endangered fish using brood stock from their home streams to rebuild the runs, no. Instead, we attempt to create an environment that the fish might return to someday, theoretically.

The final phase in the elimination of our fisheries is to shut down the fishing altogether, on the grounds that there are none left and there is nothing we can do about it.

Nowhere has the elimination of our fisheries been more successful than in our own Dungeness River. Once home of the best spring steelhead fishing in Washington, it also had legendary runs of spring Chinook and Coho.

Recently a reader sent the numbers of salmon raised at the Dungeness Fish Hatchery in 1961. That was the year 1,283,000 Spring Chinook, 1,062,000 fall Chinook and 2,500,000 Silver salmon were hatched and released into the Dungeness and Elwha, providing a fishery that reached from here to Alaska.

Of course, hatchery runs of salmon and steelhead always fail once you shut down the hatchery.

These days, instead of raising fish, we have the Salmon Restoration Industry that seeks to restore our endangered salmon by buying property, planting native vegetation and building log jams. In addition, Calamity County is about to spend $5 million or so to take out a dike on the Dungeness, so the “endangered” bull trout, a fish that is not endangered nor a trout, can roam across the flood plain.

This will put the total of restoration efforts on the Dungeness at $20 million or so in the last 20 years. Imagine if that money was spent raising fish instead. Unfortunately, our rivers are worth more dead than alive. our salmon are worth more as endangered species than as a protein source for people to the extinction-for-profit industry.

Clam Fever.

 Now that Thanksgiving is over, only the drudgery of cleanup remains. Don’t get bogged down in the details as an excuse for doing nothing.

A good place to start might be to shovel the holiday leftovers out of the refrigerator. As with any tough job, you’ll need the right tools to get it done properly. A hypoallergenic blue plastic tarp placed in a centrally located strategic location to encase the excess holiday offal can be a godsend in dealing with the problem. Unless your blue tarp is on the roof. It’s OK. Most housecleaning projects are simply a matter of delegating, prioritizing and moving on to the next disgusting chore, but remember, don’t put off till tomorrow what you can put off today.

Lately, I’ve discovered a new and easier method of avoiding housework altogether. It can short-circuit the brain muscle into thinking you’re doing something when in fact you’re sitting there doing nothing. It’s quick, easy and perfectly legal in all 50 states the last time I checked. It’s so simple even I can do it: It’s called “writing.”

What if you’re too lazy and ignorant to write? Just do what I do. In the fast-paced modern world in which we live, there is no problem in our lives too big to run away from and blame the government.

One of the best ways to forget your problems is to go razor clamming in the night tides on one of our Pacific beaches, especially since the limit has been raised to 20 clams. Clams are an essential ingredient in many clam dishes like clam patties and clam chowder, but you have to dig them first. To do this, you must spot the faintest dimple in the sand and dig for it.

Spotting the razor clam and digging them are two different things. Sometimes it’s a challenge to match wits with a clam until you remember they have no brain. It’s humbling to find yourself kneeling on a tide flat in the dark with your arm in a hole in the sand, trying to grab a clam, only to be defeated and outsmarted by a creature with no central nervous system.

That makes perfect sense in the evolutionary scheme of things. Bivalves have been around since the Cambrian Era — that’s more than 500 million years ago. Meanwhile, this whole time the clams have been evolving into stronger, smarter and faster organisms with complex abilities to survive in a hostile environment. Modern humans have only been around for 40,000 years or so. We seem to be getting dumber every year.

Razor clams move with surprising speed in wet sand by extending their foot or digger then flattening it out like an anchor. The clam pulls itself down to its anchor and repeats the process, digging down at a rate that is unbelievable to anyone but a clam digger.

There, you struggle with the fleeing clam as it tries to dig to China. In the heat of the battle, you hear another clam digger rush by heading back toward the beach shouting, “Wave!”

A decision must be made. Let go of the giant, mossy-back razor clam, the size of a maple bar, or hang on and get creamed by a wave of unknown height, bearing down on you in the dark of a winter’s night.

The best part about digging razor clams at night is that once you are sandy and wet from being tumbled around in the waves in the dark, the thought of staying home and shoveling out the refrigerator is not such a bad idea.