TRAPPING IN WASHINGTON
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TRAPPING IN WASHINGTON

TRAPPING IN WASHINGTON




      

TRAPPING IN WASHINGTON


TRAPPING IN WASHINGTON

I do not claim to be an "old timer" at the trapping business, although in the 15 years that I have followed the trap line I have had wide and rather varied experiences, having trapped in the Sierras, the Rockies and Coast Range Mountains, and in the northern part of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

I found my 1915-16 trapping grounds in the Cascades, the most hazardous of any place in which I have trapped. A great many think that we do not have much snow in Washington; this is true of most of the low country west of the Cascades. Up to January 25 on one of my high lines the snow had attained a depth of 16 feet. Of course, this is unusual, as some years it does not snow more than eight feet during the winter. But deep snow is not the only obstacle we have; sudden changes of weather cause more trouble than anything. One may be breaking icicles off his whiskers and inside an hour a gust of Chinook have the snow melting and as quickly freeze again. This usually renders a trap useless, especially those set for small game, such as marten and mink.

Then we have windstorms that last for days. A trapper might as well sign his death warrant as to attempt to go out during these, especially in the burned over sections. I was caught in one of these storms on the 2nd day of January, which came near ending my career. I was running the high line, which followed a long ridge to the summit of the mountain, the altitude of which is about 6,000 feet. Usually I made the summit at about 2 o'clock p. m., but this day, on account of the loose snow, it was near 3 o'clock when I reached the last trap. There was a fine marten in this trap, so while rebuilding the set did not notice that the wind was rising until I heard a tree fall near by. That caused me to stand up and take notice. From where I was I could see for miles in all directions. Looking east I was surprised to note that the mountains seemed to be hidden in a dense fog.

Well, I lost no time in getting under the lee of the mountain. I had descended about 20 rods when that rather harmless fog looking bank hit

the mountain with a shriek. But this time I began to feel uneasy, as this side of the mountain was very dangerous to snowshoe on, on account of it being too steep and covered with cliffs. Nothing less than a windstorm would have induced me to attempt it at all. By this time the trees were falling fast and the air was so filled with drifting snow that it was impossible to see more than a few yards. I had gone probably 60 rods when I heard a large tree snap above me and come tearing down the mountain. It passed but a rod ahead of me. This decided me to make camp as soon as I found a place that was safe. I remembered there being a low cliff with a cave under it and I decided that that would be a good place to camp if I could find it. After about 20 minutes I came onto the place, and to my relief found it a better place to camp than I had expected. I busied myself starting a fire and getting wood for the night. It was getting quite dark when I decided that I had enough to last till morning. I was quite comfortable during the night, considering that it was severely cold. Sleep was out of the question, the continuous crash of falling timber, combined with the roar of the wind, made it a night never to be forgotten.

The fore part of the night passed quite rapidly, as I was busy showing and skinning the two martens I had taken during the day; but the latter part seemed like ages. When daylight finally did break, the wind seemed to be blowing harder than ever. My wood pile was getting low, so I decided to get more. Taking my snowshoes and axe I climbed over the bank of snow which faced the cave and which had piled several feet higher during the night. When I reached the top the air was so filled with snow that it was impossible to see a thing; but after a few minutes the air cleared sufficiently to allow me to see quite a distance. The scene which confronted me caused my heart to sink; but it was several minutes before I fully realized that I was trapped in a most dangerous position. Above the cave there was a narrow bench which was covered with a dense growth of sapling larch, which kept the snow from drifting over the cliff and burying me in the cave; but on either side the snow had completely buried the cliff. To get more wood was impossible, and to stay in the cave without fire and food meant certain death by freezing. It did not take me long to decide. I climbed back into the cave and prepared to dig my way out regardless of the storm. After about two hours of strenuous digging at the almost perpendicular wall of snow, I found myself free from the danger. I had feared that the loose powdery snow being disturbed by my weight would start an avalanche and go tearing to the bottom of the canyon. Pausing a moment to rest, I found that I was trembling from hunger and felt exhausted. I had not thought much about food until then, although it was near 24 hours since I had had anything to eat. The wind had died down a bit, so I had not much fear of falling trees and limbs.

After about two hours more I came into better country to travel and well for me that I did, for I was beginning to stagger like a drunken man. It was 3 o'clock when I staggered into camp, cold, hungry and utterly exhausted. After some difficulty I got a good fire to burning and put the coffee on to boil. After drinking several cups of strong coffee I began to feel thawed out and my appetite for the time being satisfied. The wind was rapidly going down and by dark it was completely calm.

While caring for my fur that night the question arose in my mind: Is it worth while for a man to undergo the dangers and endure the hardships of the trap line for a few pesky skins? Surely a man would not do it merely for the money there is in it; but when a man places his wit against some cunning trap-shy animal and finds him waiting for him in his trap, he feels amply compensated for the hazards and hardships he has endured.

Jake O'Beer. Skamania County, Washington.

Fur, News. Fur News, January 1916.

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