David Foscue, himself a retired superior court judge in the State of Washington, is the former president of the PCTA. He rode the PCT on his horse, Stub, from 1991 to 1998 and has written a number of stories about the historical people and personalities associated with the PCT. His story, “Triumph and Tragedy at Stevens Pass”, is included in the Oregon/Washington volume of The Reader.
Those who have hiked the Oregon PCT will immediately recognize the name ‘Waldo’ from Waldo Lake, just north of Willamette Pass and downhill from Charlton Butte. Foscue’s account of Waldo’s journey follows many of the PCT landmarks of southern Oregon … Odell Lake, Thielsen, Cowhorn Mtn., Summit Lake, Crater Lake, Devil’s Peak and more.
By David Foscue
Judge John Breckinridge Waldo hiked and rode the PCT through Oregon a half century before anyone even thought of a Pacific Crest Trail. However, in a lifetime of exploring the Cascades, he blazed the way. On July 10, 1888, Waldo left his home in the Waldo Hills near Salem with several companions for a major trek to Mt. Shasta to acquire more knowledge for his proposal to create a preserve of the Cascade wilderness. It took nearly three weeks just to reach the crest from his home by wagon and horseback.
Waldo and his companions first “crossed” the PCT to the north of Summit Lake in today’s Diamond Peak Wilderness area at Emigrant Pass (which was known as Willamette Pass until 1960). From the pass they rode six miles east of the crest to Crescent Lake then north to Davis Lake, a shallow lake east of O’Dell lake and frequented by Waldo. Waldo and two others rode north west to Waldo Lake — again crossing the future PCT just northwest of Maiden Peak. They camped at the north end of Waldo Lake, just west of Charlton Lake and an easy amble from our PCT. From Waldo Lake they spent six days exploring parts of the area now known as the Waldo Lake Wilderness. In an era before enforced game laws, they imposed voluntary limits on their hunting:
“We had agreed not to shoot does or fawns but fat bucks only were to be our game. Of these we saw but two in the afternoon, while eleven does and fawns had to be scared out of our way.”
On August 6 they returned to Davis Lake to rejoin the other two membrs of their group. They stayed at Davis Lake another week enjoying their time at the lake, except for the sheep:
“We have fared well at Davis Lake but a band of sheep have been about the lake since before we came, and have taken much of the charm from the place. For taking the aroma out of the wilderness this animal can hardly be excelled … .”
Leaving Davis Lake they passed O’Dell Lake, a PCT favorite spot and one Waldo often visited, and returned to Summit Lake. There they turned south along the route of the Pacific Crest Trail, three-quarters of a century before the PCT was established.
After several camps they reached Mt. Thielsen (Waldo preferred the more descriptive name Cowhorn to Thielsen) and Diamond Lake. Incredibly the men had packed a boat. They yarded the boat a few miles further south to Crater Lake where they rowed to the “Island” (named “Wizard Island” three years earlier).
Following closely the same route as the PCT, Waldo and his companions headed south from Crater Lake to today’s Sky Lakes Wilderness area. “The summit of the Cascades became our highway,” wrote Waldo. They then strayed off west into Valley of the Middle Fork of the Rogue River. “A wilder spot or more inaccessible have I not seen in the mountains.” “Our camp is safe from human intrusion, we are alone with the deer and the bear, signs of which are numerous” They returned to the PCT domain at Seven Lakes Basin. Going up the Devil’s Peak - Lee’s Peak slopes, they experienced a dreaded pack horse wreck: “Old Sampson got off the trail we had blazed … and rolled down the mountain, by actual measurement, two hundred and fifty-five feet, fifty feet of which were over a ledge of rock nearly perpendicular, and finally came to a stop in a pile of sharp volcanic Rocks.” Rugged Old Sampson survived.
At Island Lake, along the PCT route, a companion carved the names of the group into a tree near the lake’s southeast shore. The tree was known to generations of hikers as the “Waldo Tree.” Their next camp, on September 15, was at Fourmile Lake from there they climbed Mt. Pitt - now known as Mt. McLoughlin. Clouds obscured the view south to their goal, Mt. Shasta (curiously, Shasta was once known as Mt. Pitt).
The PCT snakes through the lava beds of Brown Mountain. Waldo avoided that jumble and camped at Lake of the Woods, just east of Brown Mountain. There they were surprised to find a wagon road, “Deadington Road” wrote Waldo. Actually the road was known as “Dead Indian Road.” They rode westerly on the road. The PCT crosses Dead Indian Road just south of Brown Mountain and proceeds to go over Mt. Baldy. At some point near this area Waldo and his men left the road and headed south to Mt. Baldy. Of the view south from the top of Baldy, Waldo wrote:
On the South in California, lay Shasta Valley … with several sharp conical buttes … rising out of the level plain, while on the left, solitary and grand, above blue mountains, lay Shasta with its fields of snow.
At Mt. Baldy, where the PCT swings west toward the Siskiyous, the Waldo party continued south down the Cascades — following what would become, according to an early guidebook, the ad hoc alignment of the Oregon Skyline/PCT before it was reoriented to the west.
Mt. Shasta from the north
With the goal of Shasta in sight, they wasted no time getting there, straight south. On September 27, Waldo wrote: “Yesterday we ascended Mt. Shasta.” Then they began their return trek. “There is nothing in these mountains to interest us outside of Mt. Shasta” which helps to explain why the PCT avoids this stretch and arcs through the spectacular mountains to the west.
The trip north took the party east of the PCT and along the banks of Klamath Lake rejoining the general track of the PCT just south of Crater Lake. The return trip is largely undescribed by Waldo but apparently retraced his route. The group returned home nearly four months after their departure.
The following year as a legislator, Waldo introduced his bill petitioning Congress to “set aside and forever reserve” a strip of land twelve miles wide on each side of the crest of the Oregon Cascades. The bill failed but in 1893 President Cleveland acted on a petition submitted by Waldo by placing much of the Oregon Cascades under the protection of the Forest Reserve Act of 1893, the predecessor of our National Forest legislation. Much of the area explored by Waldo is now protected by Wilderness designation.
Judge John Breckinridge Waldo hiked, rode and explored much of what was to become the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail decades before a border to border mountain crest trail was ever proposed. To learn more about this PCT pioneer and his 1888 explorations read A Wilderness Journey with Judge John B. Waldo, Oregon’s First “Preservationist” by Jeff LaLande, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 1989.