The silent waters of Lake Crescent

Posted by Ken Campbell April 20, 2010 0 Comment 928 views

I have driven past this lake hundreds of times, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. Not really. It’s always been a place I pass on my way to somewhere else, background in the whirr outside my windows. The highway runs along the southern shore and there are houses along the banks almost everywhere else. It’s not really wilderness, but it used to be.
There used to be a ferry here that ran from east to west and back again, before the road and the railroad were hammered through. A handful of passenger and freight hauling boats used to run here, moving people and property between Port Angeles and the outlying communities. The road, completed in 1922, was the end of that scene.

And yes, I did mention a railroad. In the early days of WW I (the war to end all wars), the United States military developed a taste for spruce. The versitile wood had a strength-to-weight ratio that made it ideal for aircraft construction. When the powers-that-be went looking for more, their search led them to the Olympic Peninsula, where vast tracts of spruce stood, as they had since time began. With the urgency of wartime, the railway was pushed through in as much an act of will as of engineering, and was finished just weeks after the war ended.
I park at the deserted Storm King boat launch at the eastern end of the lake. From the put-in, it’s a short paddle (10 or 15 minutes), to the other side, a half-mile across. The water is glass, a reflecting pool 12 miles long, and the green slopes of Pyramid Mountain dominate the view as my paddle cuts like a metronome into the inky black.

Beaches are few and far between on the north shore; the steep terrain means deep water in close. I manage to find a spot to accomodate me and I step onto dry land once again. Directly above the water lies the old railway route, portions of which are now a popular hiking and biking trail. A perfect dirt path runs under a canopy of alder and fir, and I can see foot and tire prints in a few spots along the way.

At one point, the trail cuts left around a point, and I hike up the steep scree to the right for about fifty feet or so, where I get a look inside a tunnel that was blasted during railway construction, and is now effectively sealed off. Shattered timbers and railway ties stick up through the many random boulders on the tunnel floor. I briefly consider climbing into the tunnel, maybe continuing out the other way, but I don’t. Doesn’t seem like I need to, really.

Later, as I’m paddling back to my starting point, I travel past the Lake Crescent Lodge, a majestic building that seems to belong to another time. Built on the site where the Lake Crescent Tavern once stood, back when the ferries were running and talk of spruce filled the conversation, it still looks grand, like an old National Park lodge should look. Outbuildings and cabins dot the grounds, and the beach is the finest on this side of the lake.

There are other places to go today. I want to go surfing, maybe at Twin Rivers, this afternoon. A breeze has started to build, nothing big, but enough to trouble the surface of the water and slap against the bottom of the board. Nothing lasts forever. I glide around the low point and back toward the boat launch, with the feeling that although I have finally seen Lake Crescent, there is still more there to find.

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