Mt Thielsen Wilderness - Passport in Time

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Archaeological Inventory of Mt. Thielsen Wilderness

Winema National Forest, Oregon, 1998
by Jorie Clark, FS Archaeologist

Another name for this project might be “thunderbolts and jolts.” First, the snow refused to melt; then came the lightning storms, pushing our two-week PIT project in July into August and reducing our numbers of volunteers as a result of scheduling difficulties. Nonetheless, we had an enthusiastic group consisting of 3–6 volunteers (including FS personnel) who ultimately accomplished what we set out to do: conduct a preliminary sample survey in the Winema NF portion of the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness area. Another objective was to assess frequency of use based on site density. If site densities were low, could it be because of the lightning storms and their attraction to Mt. Thielsen, the “Lightning Rod of the Cascades”? For logistical reasons, the project was divided into two one-week sessions so that we could survey portions of the vast terrain with a small crew. Excerpts from my field journal for each session follow:

August 10–14. Two volunteers and two FS employees, each carrying 30–40-pound packs, began our backpack trip on and off a trail that appeared to be an endless eight miles of up and ups and . . . alas, down to where we would camp. We set up camp along a perennial creek on a beautiful meadow with an incredible view of the mountains. Bright and early the next morning, after another safety session, we went over map and compass techniques and archaeological methods and commenced with our survey. On day three, the district ranger and the forest public affairs officer joined us for the day to help survey. In spite of the aching feet and sore muscles, we surveyed approximately 350 acres and located several sites. We could not ask for much better weather during the week! Why, we even survived a bachelor party for one of the volunteers (who promised to get back in time for the rehearsal dinner) and bear snorts in the middle of the night. Some of us made a wish upon a shooting star. Our journey ended with a nice cool dip in the lake and cheery farewells.

August 24–28. This week, there were two volunteers, four FS personnel, and two mascots! Loaded with our gear, we had a shorter hike (by four miles) to the base camp, but we certainly compensated for it the rest of the week because we had a more rugged and steeper terrain to survey than in the previous journey. Crossing the same stream three times with our heavy packs proved challenging at times, but was well worth the effort. By midafternoon, we reached our destination and set up camp on a windy point with an awesome view of the mighty Mt. Thielsen. Straight away we began our survey. After the second day, however, I feared mutiny as we climbed up and down and sideways, sometimes on all fours, on steep terrain, but safety was always first! We located a few sites and mapped them manually and with the GPS. On the third day, my FS colleagues had to return to more mundane office tasks, and we said our goodbyes. The two dynamo volunteers and I continued to survey for the next day and a half before we headed out of the wilderness. All in all, we surveyed nearly 300 acres. In good company, we endured the howling wind, cold nights, and blisters on the feet—but we had one of the best aerobic workouts that one could ever possibly hope for! We long to do this again.

Epilogue. During this preliminary inventory, we located a low number of sites. It would be difficult to really know, but could it be that Mt. Thielsen did play a role in the frequency of use in the wilderness area? Our group, after all, felt a bit of an afterjolt when we nearly had to cancel our trip because of the snow and the lightning storms.

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