Washington Trail Blazers

Virg Harder

Virgil Harder

Virg wrote his own biography and It speaks volumes about Virg that he included photos of many of his friends, but neglected to include a photo of himself and we had to sneak this one in.
--photo by Mike Swayne

Born - July 19, 1923, Ness City, KS

Childhood - Otis, KS (population about 300)

Armed Services - Inducted February 26, 1943; discharged, December 12, 1945. left England for France 7/16/44; assigned to 2nd (Indian head) Infantry Division, front lines, 7/25/44; on 8/10/44, while lying in slit trench, subjected to prolonged German 88 artillery barrage; soldier with feet just beyond my head killed, soldier with head at my feet badly wounded, I lost some hearing ability; assigned to 2nd Infantry Division quartermaster company. Overrun by German Tiger tanks 12/17/44, “left on foot--Germans after me” recorded in my (skimpy) diary. Was in Plzen, Czechoslovakia on VE Day, 5/8/45. Discharged 12/12/45, Camp Chaffee, AR, with 40% disability.

Attended college, thanks to GI Bill - University of Iowa, Bachelor of Arts, 8/49 and Master of Arts, 8/50.University of Illinois, Ph.D. 6/58.

Married - 2/4/51, Dona Dobson, Marshalltown, IA

Children - Christine (deceased), Donald

Primary occupation - College faculty, University of Illinois, 1950-55; Schools of Business Administration, University of Washington, 1955-86. Retired, 6/86.

Died - November 15, 2006, Seattle, WA

Becoming a Trail Blazer

My introduction to the Trail Blazers took awhile, like almost 15 years.

Stage One

Stage one was the mid 1950’s, when four other fellows and I started a duck club at a dairy farm on the Skagit Flats. One of the charter members was Dale Timberlake. We didn’t hunt together, but we did talk at periodic membership meetings. He mentioned that he belonged to what I thought was some fishing club. That’s as far as things went.

Stage Two

Stage two was 1962. I had become interested in backpacking to mountain lakes. It started with an overnight trip to Twin Lakes in Monte Cristo area. Shortly thereafter, I heard that a place called the Enchantments was a beautiful place to visit. All the backpackers I knew, which was at that time very few, knew nothing about such a place. While talking to someone, I don’t remember who, he mentioned that a fellow down in the University of Washington medical school might be able to help. He went on to say the fellow did a lot of backpacking and fishing. So, I tracked the fellow down. Called and asked if he had been to the Enchantments. "No," he replied.

Stage Three

Twin Lakes in Monte Cristo Area

Stage three was August 12-13, 1966, when I met a Trail Blazer and his wife at one of the Rampart Ridge Lakes. For details about this trip, see Con Mattson biography.

Stage Four

Stage four evolved in 1967. I was an Associate Dean for Undergraduate programs in the University of Washington Schools of Business Administration. As such, I was responsible for an Administrative Assistant, an Office Assistant, and four staff “advisors” to advise students on majors, course selections, etc. In addition, we employed one doctoral candidate part time, mainly to provide financial support and to offer some “field experience” in working with students. I interviewed several applicants, and picked one of the older applicants, a man who seemed to have a pretty good gift of gab. Wasn’t long before the other advisors and I were directing all the students with serious problems to him. He was like a surrogate father; they were very glad to be able to talk to him, and he handled the students with finesse.

One day we got to talking about various things, and discovered we had something in common--we loved mountains, mountain lakes, and fishing. One thing led to another, and I learned he had worked in the medical school during the early 1960’s. Sure enough, he was the fellow I had talked to about the Enchantments. He said he belonged to a club known as Trail Blazers. As time went by, he talked me into attending a meeting. One meeting led to others, and in 1969 I became a member, thanks to Jack Brandmeir.

Getting Broken in on Nine Hour and Rainy

Jack, on far left; wife, Betty on far right.

However, before becoming a member, I had to satisfy membership requirements. That included going on some fish stocking trips. The one that stands out most strongly is the first trip I went on, to Nine Hour, on August 28, 1968. George Lewis included a stocking report in the Trail Blazer Annual Report, It is about as revealing as a Trail Blazer telling which lakes have RB larger than 24 inches. Eight people made the trip, 5 Trail Blazers and 3 visitors, of which I was one.

I had hiked to several lakes during the 1960’s, including Twin lakes (above Monte Cristo), Kendall Peak lakes, Alaska, Ridge (above Alaska), Rachel, Rampart Ridge lakes--to name some that I remember, offhand. However, I had not been on a REAL hike. My personal log notes say we started from the cars at 5:50 a.m. We waded the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, then headed through the brush. Man, what thick brush! The nice thing about it, however, is that there was a fairly clean route through it. Gene Rose, bless his soul, had come in the previous weekend and pruned brush so we would have a fairly easy walk through all the thick brush.

We started up a hogback. Jack Brandmeir had warned me that the smart visitors volunteered to carry the fish can (special-designed, 5-gallon can, with total weight of about 45 pounds when full of water) early in the trip, before the going really got tough. The trouble was, he didn’t define what “tough” meant. I volunteered early, and soon was struggling up a very steep hogback. Eventually, someone took pity on me and shouldered the fish can. According to my notes, we reached Nine Hour at 8:50 a.m. Planted the fish, roamed around the lake a little, then set out for Rainy Lake. Stopped on the way at a pot in between. By the time we reached it, my legs were quivering, and my feet were hurting. I was breaking in a brand new pair of Raichle Palu boots. That was my intent; the boots, however, were breaking in my feet more than I was breaking in the boots. We reached the pot about 11:30, had some lunch, then headed down a steep hogback to Rainy Lake.

By the time we reached Rainy, Jack was beat--like my feet. I wasn’t hopping and skipping along, but I was in a little better shape than Jack. About an hour later, we started heading out, down the outlet, not back to Nine Hour. Jack was really struggling, and I was gratefully following him because he was moving slowly, very slowly. George Lewis decided Jack couldn’t make it back to the vehicles. He said he was going to take Jack straight down to the Middle Fork, cross the river, then go to the road (which was a short distance from the river). I happily volunteered to keep him from having to be alone with The Velvet Fog (Trail Blazer nickname for Jack’s frequent oratory during meetings).

After getting to about the point where one takes off to the left for Camp Brown, the rest of the group took off to the right to get back to the river crossing and the cars. Eventually, Jack, George, and I reached the river, crossed, and walked to the edge of the road to wait for the rest. After dark, about 9:30 p.m., a car drove up to where we were, and a voice said “Hi there fellows; would you like a ride?” It was Martin Messing. That trip was an "eye-opener" for me, telling me the Trail Blazers could get around the mountains like a veteran taxicab driver in Seattle.


On August 8, 1974, George Lewis, Gene Rose, Norm Burke, and I did a return trip to stock Nine-Hour and Rainy. We zipped to Nine Hour, then on to Rainy, then back to the car. This trip is the one that taught me the value of being in good physical shape. Where I had barely survived the trip in 1968, I whizzed through this trip, over the same route, feeling just great.

Life as a Trail Blazer/Memorable Trips

George Lewis on left, Con Mattson on right

The 1970’s was a very busy decade for me. activities that tied up my time included administrative work, teaching classes, setting up (and going on) hikes with boy scouts, and being actively involved with the Trail Blazers.

Two Trail Blazer offices came my way quickly, Secretary in 1972 and President in 1973. In 1972, I participated in the Trail Blazers’ fish stocking trip to Necklace Valley that was filmed for the Don McCune Exploration Northwest program, and was actively involved with the December 1975 Washington State Sports Council meeting in Seattle, which was co-sponsored by the Trail Blazers and Steelhead Trout Club. Starting in 1975, Charlie Lund and I began our long involvement in the fish stocking controversy with the North Cascades National Park.

Viewing Lime Ridge From an Airplane

But it was not all work and no play. A colleague, Doug North, Chairman of the University of Washington Economics Department (awarded Nobel prize in 1993), and I went on many hunting, salmon fishing, and trout fishing trips together. Doug was one of four partners who owned a HOT (140 mph) Beechcraft Bonanza. Doug also had a nice cabin near Winthrop. We flew over there frequently on hunting and fishing trips. With one exception, we flew the Snoqualmie Pass route, because we always could land at some emergency field if we had engine trouble. Once, in 1966, Doug took the North Cascades way so I would have an opportunity to see the fantastic mountain scenery. That route had a 10-minute period during which “you’ve had it buddy if you have engine trouble and need to make an emergency landing.”

We flew alongside Glacier Peak, then over Lime Ridge. I looked down on all those beautiful lakes spread along what appeared to be the top of the ridge. I marveled at how easy it appeared to be, getting from one lake to another. As Camping Chairman for my son’s boy scout troop, I was responsible for all backpack and camping trips. I decided to set up a 5-day hike to those mountain lakes on Lime Ridge. The year was 1967. I researched the routes, produced written procedures, handled the logistics, and got ready for the trip. Shortly before departure day, for reasons I won’t get into here, I cancelled out. When the troop returned, I asked my son how it went. He mumbled something about it wasn’t a particularly easy trip. I asked about getting from lake to lake. He said there were very few trails, the routes were difficult, and a lot of effort was involved. That flabbergasted me, since from the air, getting from lake to lake seemed an easy walk.

I put the Lime Ridge lakes on my agenda, but didn’t get to them until 1975, when I talked Con Mattson into going with me. We made the “north trip” in 1975, and the “south trip” in 1977. The other most memorable trip I went on with Con was to Chikamin Lake, in 1974. For details about Lime Ridge and Chikamin trips, see Con Mattson link.

Slahal Lake, reached on SEVENTH try, 8/1-2/1970.

After Jack Brandmeir, in 1967, began nurturing my development with the Trail Blazer organization, I somehow acquired some Trail Blazer annual reports. I researched the reports looking for lake stocking trips that might have “fallen between the cracks.” One lake I discovered was Slahal Lake. Three Trail Blazers had tried to reach the lake on August 1, 1954, with 500 CT. They started at Salmon Creek, climbed a steep ridge, then hiked along the top until they were stopped by “a steep cleft which we couldn’t get around.” They had to drop down to “a large and steep snowfield.” Johnson and Smitty balked at crossing the snowfield because they were wearing “shoe-packs.” Al Gove was determined to get the fish in, and did. I inquired around, and learned nobody had been, or knew of anybody who had been, to the lake since Al Gove stocked the fish. Al reported that the lake was largely iced over, even though it had a southerly exposure.

The first six trips included route finding, brush clearing, and "attempt-to-reach-the lake" failures.

The seventh trip was a success, but at a price, so to speak. My son, a friend of his, and I spent most of a day in getting to the lake. We had been in sunshine all the way, but within about 2 hours we were getting rained on. Spent a miserable night. The next day was even worse. Because of fog, we couldn't see more than about 40 feet. Because of all our wanderings the previous day, we were only vaguely aware of how to get back to the cable crossing. We eventually waded over a mile down the outlet, but eventually reached the car--wet, exhausted, and ready for a steak dinner at the Dutch Cup Cafe! As years went by, I characterized the trip as one of the most successful-feeling trips I ever made, and one of the worst trips I ever made.

Forty hours at Slahal Lake, thirty-five hours of which were in rain!

When Smitty learned I’d made it to the lake, he leaned on me until I agreed to take him. We crossed the river via cable platform on September 17, 1970, went by the gold mine, up the skid road, through the old clearcut, and crossed the creek. On the way to cliffs (up which we had to use huckleberry bushes as pitons, part of the way), I took Smitty by the remains of an old (collapsed) trapper’s cabin. After scrambling up the cliff, we headed for the lake. Reached it in about 6 1/2 hours. Set up camp by stringing a coated nylon tarp to a large rock, and started fishing. Smitty caught 8 CT 11-12 inches, while I planted 500 RB. We had been at the lake about 2 hours; guess what. Yes, it started to rain, and it rained, and it rained. We were at the lake about 40 hours; rain pelted our nylon fly for about 35 hours. Smitty was happy, though; he’d made it to the lake 16 years after his first try.

Other memorable hikes

Gene Rose, paying the price for stepping on a rotten log that put him on his face while descending a rockslide.

On one hike, I learned what hypothermia means. I must have visited TB Mowitch and/or TB Honey at least 6 times over the years with Gene Rose and/or George Lewis (and others). We always started at Taylor River, rode our Honda 70’s up the Taylor River road, then up the Quartz Creek road to a spur road, and about a mile up it to the end of what used to be a clearcut.

On 7/13/82, Gene and I traveled to our usual parking spot, and headed for the ridge top. About the time we reached the top, the clouds looked really threatening. I expressed a preference for turning around and going back. “I’d REALLY like to go to Honey,” Gene said. He said it in such a plaintive voice I just couldn’t say no, so we headed down. About 1/4 of the way down the hogback, we left the hogback went onto the old Trail Blazer trail. It eventually hits the lake toward the upper end.

By then, the old trail, which hadn’t been maintained for years, was getting so badly overgrown that one would not have been able to stay on it unless he had been on it enough times to know where it went. We did. We fought a lot of brush, but we eventually reached the lake. Yep, as we reached the lake, it started to rain. Put on our rain gear, fished about an hour, decided we’d better head out. We reached the top of the ridge, soaked to the skin, and headed down to our bikes. Since we had been walking, I stayed reasonably warm. I had no dry clothes stashed on my iron horse. Thus, by the time I rode the 5 miles back to Gene’s truck, I was shivering when we climbed into the cab.

Milt Tanggard, stocking trout fingerling the traditional way.

Gene turned the heater on high; the cab became quite warm. I still shivered; my teeth were chattering, my heart was beating at somewhere around 140-150 beats a minute. He dropped me off at my house. I no longer had chattering teeth, but I was still shuddering once in awhile because of chills, and still had a high heart beat. Took a long, nice HOT shower. Before going to bed, I decided I needed a Tylenol #3 (325 mg acetaminophen with 1/2 gr. of codeine). Went to bed about 9:30 p.m. Couldn’t sleep. Fast, “thumping” heartbeat. Finally, about 2-30 a.m., I went to sleep.

On a visit to my doctor for something else, I told him about my experience. “Oh, you had the beginnings of hypothermia,” he said. When I told him about the codeine, he said “That was the wrong thing to take; it increases the heartbeat.” That was my first, and, fortunately, only experience with hypothermia.

One Last Fish Stocking Trip

Our method of transportation for this trip.

Tanggard, getting settled in. Note 5-gallon bucket, which is about 2/3 full of water. While hovering about 20 feet above the surface of the lake, the fingerling were transferred from oxygenated plastic bag to bucket, then poured from bucket out the door to the lake.

One of my Trail Blazer friends (and British Columbia fishing partner), Milt Tanggard, volunteered to be responsible for putting trout into Bee Lake in 1998. The person “responsible” is known as the sponsor, and is obligated to make sure the lake receives the predetermined (by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) number of trout during the year the lake is “put up” for stocking. Normally, the sponsor (as well as any Trail Blazer member/s, and guests who ask to go along) reach the take-off point via vehicle, then reach the lake via hands, knees, and feet (and, once in awhile, rope).

Milt has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and I have cardiomyopathy. Thus, our physical capabilities were and are limited. We decided to stock the lake via helicopter. Had we been in prime condition, we probably would have been able to go from Darrington to the lake and back to Darrington in 4-5 hours. We lifted off, dropped the fry into the lake, and landed back at Darrington in 18 minutes!! It was a unique, great trip.

Wrap up - And Getting Old

I have no major regrets. I reached most of the lakes I wanted to get to. I went on some miserable trips. But, they make the good ones stand out. I faced some challenging trips, and conquered them to my satisfaction. I enjoyed almost all the Trail Blazers I hiked with. All in all, I’m very satisfied.

Year 2003 is almost half over. Much as I hate to admit it, my hiking days are over. With cardiomyopathy and a pacemaker, I can walk, but that’s about it. My days in the mountains must now be memories.

Although I may be getting old, I congratulate myself about having had the opportunity to do things that many of my hiking partners did not have--they weren’t around long enough. To you young turks, I have a recommendation: Take advantage of opportunity when it’s there, for you may never get the opportunity to go back and do it if you pass it up the first time.

(Virg Harder, June 2003)