By Chris Scranton
Editor’s Note: This wonderful story was an entry in the 2011 Celebrate Elwha! writers contest. All of us at ExploreOlympics.com hope that Chris had a wonderful 40th consecutive year at Dodger Point this summer!
Mount Olympus and the Bailey Range loomed through the fog to the west and Hurricane Ridge appeared to the north across the Elwha Valley. Everywhere I looked mountains appeared through the clouds. It was obvious that I was not in New Jersey any more.
In 1973 I graduated from high school in New Jersey and hitch hiked out to Olympic National Park where the late Jack Nattinger had hired me as a fire control aid at Lake Crescent. I was very excited to explore the park and wondered where I should hike on my first days off. Ranger Jack Hughes suggested that I hike to Dodger Point. With two days off, I shouldered my pack at Whiskey Bend and headed up the Elwha and the Long Ridge trail. 13.5 miles later in a summer hail storm I climbed the last steep incline to the point and approached the old fire lookout cold and wet.
Someone had left a few split pieces of wood in the firebox. That was the way back then. In short order I had a fire going in the old wood stove. This was before the days of no fires in the high country and the old stove has since been removed.
This was the beginning of a long love affair with Dodger Point and a compulsive need to return once a year to see an old friend. This past summer my wife Pam and I hiked to Dodger Point with Kurt Jenkins a USGS biologist. We were on a marmot survey for the park. I met Pam over thirty years ago while hiking at Low Divide where she was the backcountry ranger. I met Kurt in 1976 when I was a backcountry ranger at Seven Lakes Basin. This journey was my 39th consecutive annual trip to Dodger Point.
The Dodger Point Lookout is the last remaining fire lookout in ONP. This structure was packed in by horses and assembled in the 1930s. The trail was built by the C.C.C. In the mid 1970s the roof of the lookout started to leak badly and I tried without success to get the park leadership to fix the roof and do other maintenance. This was in the days when some shelters were burned in the park.
Once a structure’s roof starts to leak it usually will not last long. With this in mind, in late September of 1976 I obtained seven bundles of shingles, two rolls of tarpaper and thirty pounds of nails and decided to take matters into my own hands. One morning, two friends and I started out from Whiskey Bend with very heavy packs containing our food, camping gear and five of the bundles of shingles and one of the rolls of tar paper. The remaining shingles, nails and tarpaper were stashed in the woods. When we got to Dodger Point, I dropped my load, shouldered my empty pack and ran back to Whiskey Bend where I loaded the remaining materials. As it was getting dark that evening I approached the lookout with my load, having hiked almost 41 miles. I was exhausted but happy. The next morning, with bull elk bugling in the meadows below, we started to reroof the lookout. Three days later, as the sun dropped behind Mount Carrie, we toasted our success in replacing the roof and doing other repairs.
Over the years, I have walked or skied to Dodger Point at least once per year without fail. I have painted the lookout several times, carrying paint up on my back and have done numerous other repairs including replacing broken windows, carrying rocks to rebuild the steps and renailing the siding. Once, in December, it took two days to get to the lookout. The hike started by following bobcat tracks in the snow past Michael’s Cabin. I finally reached the lookout, struggling on skis through knee-deep snow. I momentarily panicked when it appeared that the lookout was gone. Suddenly, I realized that only the last six inches of the peak were sticking out of the deep snow. An hour later, using a shovel that Jack Hughes had hung in a nearby tree, I managed to dig out the door and collapsed inside.
In the 1980s I pushed hard for the lookout to be maintained and finally the lookout was put on the list of historic structures. In the 1990s I convinced former Olympic Park maintenance foreman Dave Colthorp, to hike to Dodger with me to see the structure for himself. We took measurements and later Dave organized a work party to do major repairs. Over the years numerous park people have helped maintain the lookout. As a result, Dodger Point continues it’s lonely vigil on the hilltop.
My three children are named after mountains that can be seen from Dodger Point. My oldest boy Cameron is named after Mount Cameron and my twins Stephen and Carrie are named after Stephen Peak and Mount Carrie, which loom next to each other on the Bailey Range skyline.
Next summer, I hope to head up the Long Ridge trail for my fortieth consecutive year to see my old friend and once again marvel at what I consider to be one of the most spectacular views on Earth. With any luck, I’ll be making this pilgrimage for many more years to come.
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