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Chapter 3

The northern boundary of North Cascades National Park coincides with the international boundary between Canada and the United States, the 49° north latitude. Great Britain and the United States had agreed by the Treaty of Washington in 1846 that this parallel would mark the boundary from Lake of the Woods to the Strait of Georgia. Britain was to have all of Vancouver Island, which dips below the 49°. The boundary in this area would run south and west from the Strait of Georgia following the center of the main channel between the U.S. mainland and Vancouver Island.

Unfortunately, two substantial channels, separated by the San Juan Islands, paralleled each other in this area. The British, through the Hudson's Bay Company, claimed that the treaty meant the eastern channel, Rosario Strait, which would have placed all the San Juans on the British side of the line. The Americans, not to be outdone, argued that the treaty really meant Haro Strait which runs closer to Vancouver Island, thus making the islands U.S. territory.

The boundary dispute dragged on somewhat desultorily into the 1850s. The national governments were slow to act. Not until 1856 did the U.S. Congress finally authorize a United States North West Boundary Commission to survey the 49° from the ocean to the Rocky Mountains and to attempt to find a solution for the disputed water boundary. Archibald Campbell received his appointment as U.S. Commissioner in February 1857. He immediately set out to build his team of surveyors, astronomers, and clerks. His responsibilities included both the land and water boundaries. The British decided to appoint separate commissioners: Capt. James C. Prevost, Royal Navy, to head the water survey commission; and Lt. Col. John S. Hawkins, Royal Engineers, for the land survey.

The water survey quickly came to an impasse. The dispute over the San Juan Islands would continue until 1872 before being decided by international arbitration. Meanwhile, this dispute would involve the serious crisis in 1859 known as the "Pig War," wherein British and American armed forces faced each other for a short but tense time. It would also include a joint military occupation of San Juan Island for more than a decade.

The land survey avoided these problems. In the beginning, though, a certain friction developed between Campbell and Hawkins. This antagonism rose in part from the deadlock over the water boundary and in part because Campbell did not quite trust the British, any British. Hawkins considered Campbell to be a most stubborn man, but was determined to get along with him, and more or less succeeded.

Campbell's principal assistant was 1st Lt. John G. Parke, on leave from the U.S. Topographical Engineers. Parke served as chief astronomer and surveyor. Destined to become a major general in the Civil War, Parke proved to be an energetic, capable second-in-command. Three additional members of the U.S. Commission must be mentioned: Joseph S. Harris, assistant surgeon and naturalist, who later be came president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad; James W. Alden, an artist; and Henry Custer, topographer. Custer became fascinated with the North Cascades and attempted to describe the magnificence of the mountains as well as the mundane aspects of his assignment. Alden, although employed only a short time, put on canvas the first illustrations of the national park. [1]

Despite the years of field work and compilation of reports, statistics, and drawings, the U.S. Congress did not direct the publication of a final report. Campbell, working in Washington, D. C., finished a final draft in 1869. In the same year, he and Hawkins signed their names to a final joint report. The Federal Government published neither for reasons of economy. The Smithsonian Institution acquired the manuscript of Campbell's report; then, in 1872, loaned it back to him. His report has been lost since that time. Fortunately, some of the individual field reports have found their way into the National Archives. By accident, a Canadian official found a copy of the joint report in England in 1898. He said that he had it published in 1899; but today copies of this publication seem to have again disappeared. [2]

The two commissioners prepared a protocol in August 1858. This was well into the Americans' second season of survey, but Colonel Hawkins had been quite late in making his appearance. The protocol established certain agreements as to how to mark the boundary on the ground. They would determine astronomical points at convenient intervals. When these points lay in forested country, the crews would cut a track not less than 20 feet wide for at least a half mile on either side of the point along the 49°. This swath would also be cut where the line ran across major streams, trails, or outstanding natural features.

Later on, after some bickering concerning size and style, the commissioners agreed to place iron monuments where possible on the boundary between Point Roberts at the western end and the crest of the Cascades. Where the terrain was too rough to carry in and place an iron monument, a mound of stones would be the marker. These stone beacons were also to be used from the crest of the range eastward to the Rockies. [3]

The geography of the northern boundary of today's park, from west to east, encompasses a variety of forms. The western end is mountainous, one of the largest peaks being Middle Peak. Then comes the valley of Chilliwack River, which flows north into Chilliwack Lake, just north of the boundary in British Columbia, then on to the Frazer River. To the east of this valley is another mountainous complex, the highest peak being Mount Redoubt. Then comes the Skagit River (now dammed to form Ross Lake), which contrasts with the Chilliwack by running from north to south. The eastern end of the line is again mountainous, marked by Hozomeen Mountain a little south of the border.

The American survey parties reached the western slope of the Cascades by the end of the season in 1857. They decided not to tackle the forbidding complex of mountains head-on. Instead, in 1858, they traveled by boat up the Fraser River, then hiked up the Chilliwack valley, and established a base camp at the head of Chilliwack Lake. From here they surveyed both east and west up the slopes of the valley. At first, Campbell did not think that his men could cross the Mount Redoubt area to the east. However, by dipping back into British Columbia a little his men had surveyed the line to the Skagit and beyond.

The earliest note of the rugged terrain appeared in Lieutenant Parke's report of progress in December 1857. He felt that it would be a difficult task to cross the range "whose rugged and snow capped ridges, independent of the forests present serious and formidable obstacles to the prosecution of Astronomical and Geodetic work." [4]

The progress of the survey was complicated in 1858 by the discovery of gold in British Columbia. Campbell found it difficult to persuade his employees to stay on the job. Nevertheless he managed to recruit the nearly two hundred men required to support and man the two astronomical parties and the three survey groups. This small army included astronomers, surveyors, topographers, computers, chainmen, target men, instrument carriers, cooks, packers, a surgeon, a geologist, a quartermaster, an artist, a chief guide, axemen, laborers, and, as important as any, Indian guides and messengers. The number of Indians employed is difficult to ascertain. But a record of man-days of their services was prepared: 1857-1,016; 1858-2,754; and 1859-3,063. These men received $1 per day. Further on, notice will be made of their valuable contributions to the success of the reconnaissances made. Henry Custer relied on them almost completely during his wide-ranging trips through today's park. [5]

G. Clinton Gardner, U.S. assistant astronomer and surveyor, visited Chilliwack Lake in advance of the main party in the spring of 1858. Due to the steep hills along either side of the lake, he traveled to its head on a raft, as would all future surveying parties. He reported that the Hudson's Bay Company had in the past attempted to open a trail from the Fraser through this area to Fort Colville. However, the Company, after reaching the Skagit River to the east, had given up the idea because of the cold weather encountered. [6]

Soon after Gardner's trip, the U.S. Commission established a depot at the mouth of the Chilliwack, then began the difficult task of moving supplies and equipment up to the lake on pack animals and on the backs of Indians. Escorting the party were 25 soldiers from the U.S. 9th Infantry. About this time, the Indians informed Parke that he could reach the heart of the Cascade range by traveling down the Skagit. He was unable to proceed with this idea for the moment; the Indians were more interested then in hiring out their canoes to would-be miners than they were in escorting him on a lengthy trip. Parke later gave up the idea altogether when he learned that rapids barred use of the middle Skagit and that great log jams stretched across the lower river. The Skagit would have to wait another year for its explorer. [7]

By the end of 1858, Parke was able to report that, from their base camp at Chilliwack Lake, his men had succeeded in determining the boundary as far east as the Skagit. He added that they had not made a continuous survey because such would have cost too much money and labor due to the ruggedness of the country. He was satisfied that the boundary had been well-enough marked by astronomical observations at three different points reached via the several north-south valleys. [8]

In 1866 after the Civil War, when Campbell began pulling together the work of the commission, he received a remarkable 47-page report from Henry Custer, who signed himself as "Assistant of Reconnaissances." In this document, Custer, describing the summer of 1859, establishes himself as the pioneer explorer of much of the northern portion of North Cascades National Park. Through his eyes and enthusiasm, the reader may readily see and experience the magnificent primeval land. [9]

Custer first entered today's park by travelling up the headwaters of Ensawkwatch Creek, just inside the northwest corner, a still-remote area. He described the difficulty experienced in breaking a trail--an experience today's traveler may easily repeat:

Our march was a most tedious one, winding our way along the steep slopes of the Mountains bordering the Stream [Ensawkwatch Creek], or breaking our way through dense tissues of bush vegetation, always found in the bottoms of these streams. They are the vine maple & another bush whose name I do not know. They extend along generally the margins of the Creek clear up to the Mountain sumits [sic] and their is no alternative, but to break your way through it. To do so you have to work with hand & foot, to break, or hold away the very elastic twigs of the bush, which if not careful, will give you such a lesson, you will not soon Forget. Add to this a most disagreeable thorny plant with large leaves & red berries [Devil's Club], which obstructs itself continually in your way, a boggy ground . . . and an intolerable swarm of musquitoes.

Continuing up the creek, Custer carefully recorded the geography.

From here to the 2 principal headforks of the Creek is but a short distance, one of these 2 branches heads in a SE direction, the other comes from the Southwest, and takes its rise, as we subsequently ascertained, in a small lake [Pocket Lake, outside the park] in a rocky basin nearly on the sumit of the Ridge to the West of us [Silesia Ridge].

Custer decided to climb the peak to the east of Ensawkwatch Creek. Today this mountain is called Middle Peak. The quotation is lengthy; but its importance is great:

We had much hard climbing to do but fortunately the higher we reached, the more the timber became clear of underbrush . . . After having proceeded some distance on the summit of the ridge [probably the long ridge extending from Middle Peak toward the southwest], we were compelled to descend again by some ravine lateral to our course. After a somewhat difficult descent, we finally reached the valley of a little tributary [not named on USGS map] of the main creek coming from the Northeast, & hear we concluded to camp. It was a most lovely spot, sunny & free of snow. The grass had grown luxuriously, rare flowers . . . everywhere, a fine alpine pasturage.

The next day he climbed the peak. His barometer showed the height to be 7,000 feet. Middle Peak's height is today given as 7,464 feet:

We found ourselves to be on the dividing ridge, between the waters of the Eusanquatch & those of the Klaheih [Little Chilliwack River]. The 3 principal forks of the latter were plainly visible. The Southwest Fork of it heads immediately with the SE Fork of the Ensanquatch & . . . is separated . . . only by [a] thin low Ridge.

The view from here was fine & extensive to all directions of the compass. I leave it to a better pen to describe the sublimity of true Mountain scenery in the Cascade Mts . . . It must be seen, it cannot be described. Nowhere do the Mountain masses & Peaks present such strange, fantastic, dauntless, & startling outlines as here. Whoever wishes to see nature in all its primitive glory & grandeur, in its almost ferocious wildness, must go & visit these Mountain regions.

Toward the East the Mts reache a considerable altitude, & for the first time glaciers . . . were seen to cover the Mountain sides to a considerable extent, dazzling in the reflected light of the sinking sun. To the Southwest, Mt. Thuskan [Shuksan] & Mt. Baker elevate their hoary & icy sumits, beautiful & majestic, from whatever Pt. you may contemplate them.

Custer also noted an immense forest fire toward the east, "sending up vast columns of smoke several 1000 feet high." This fire burned most of the summer. Later on, Custer's report refers to it several times because it interfered with his observations from other peaks.

Descending the mountain, Custer's party came to a steep slope covered with snow: "Sitting astraddle of our mountain sticks, we slided down with great rapidity, everybody delighted with the fan." From the Ensawkwatch, Custer crossed to the headwaters of Little Chilliwack River. Still in a mountain-climbing mood (he never could resist a peak), he ascended a peak that, from the description, was Copper Mountain or one of its spurs. The climb was fatiguing and took several hours. He estimated the elevation to be 7,000 feet; Copper Mountain is actually 7,142 feet:

Mts Baker & Thuskan were . . . visible, the later appears from here not as an isolated peak, but as an immense rocky perpendicular wall many thousands feet elevated above the massive piramidical base base of the Mt. Both of these peaks as I plainly saw from here do not belong or lay in the main body or Ridge of the Cascade Mts.

Custer then traveled down the Little Chilliwack, finding less underbrush the farther he descended. Finally he reached the Chilliwack River (also called Dolly Varden) which he described as "the main Klaheih stream, a stream of some considerable size, flowing in a comparatively wide valley, densely timbered." Following down this river he reached "the vista of the Parallel," which had already been cut where the Chilliwack crossed the 49° Here he passed the already-abandoned U.S. astronomical station, then marched on to Chilliwack Lake.

Custer's next assignment was to explore to the east as far as the Skagit River, about which information "was very vague & meagre." To do this he first ascended "Koechehlum" Creek in British Columbia, where his Indian guide led the party along the traces of an old Indian trail. They crossed a divide and reached the "Kleguanum." After ascending this stream a distance, Custer climbed another mountain. Prom the peak he could see the Skagit Valley to the southeast. Proceeding up the Kleguanum, he "struck a small stream, flowing in a direction opposite . . . namely SE, & we found that we had crossed unknowingly the here almost imperceptible divide between the Fraser & Skagit rivers."

Very soon they came upon a "broad & well traveled trail" which, Custer concluded, was the "Whatcom Trail." Finally, the party reached the Skagit itself, some miles above the international border. He saw that the river was

already a stream of considerable size, with beautiful clear water, & gentle fall, apparently fit for Canoe navigation. It flows in a valley about 2 miles wide, which however becomes narrower to the north or farther up River. We crossed the river on a five foot log. On this side of the stream [east], we found the whole forest burned by late fires, ignited by persons lately camped here. Smoke was still arising in all directions.

Custer did not say who the fire-setters were; he did comment at this point that the Indians frequently set fires so as to clear out underbrush and make travel easier when hunting. Again he climbed a hill to see the surrounding country; but smoke from the fire prevented him from getting a good view. "From here," he wrote, "the Skagit flows almost due South in a broad valley densly timbered, lately a trail has been cut by the U.S. Commission to the intersection of the valley with the 49th Parallel some 14 miles from here." For some unexplained reason Custer commented at this point on the lack of geographical knowledge possessed by the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company: "How little information of the Country they possessed, even of the nearest vicinity of their Forts."

On the way back to Chilliwack Lake, Custer went climbing again. His description is too vague to determine which peak he ascended. From the top he could see the Skagit wending "its peaceful course through the dark masses of the woods." He said that the mountains east of the Skagit rose to a considerable height: "In the first Ridge we observe 2 Peaks especially prominent, the Shawatan & the Hozomeen, the latter is a huge mass of grayish black rock, ending in 2 sharp points of considerable altitude." The Hozomeen still goes by that name and stands on the eastern boundary of Ross Lake NRA. Depending on Custer's location, the mountains that he saw to the south may have been the Pickett Range:

Immediately to the South of us, the rocky, whitish masses of the Chuch-check Mts. elevate themselves far above the surrounding Mts., covered with ice, & broken up in a thousand peculiar forms, castles, colums & walls; they are broad & massive, & seem properly to constitute the main matrix of these Mts.

Almost overcome by the grandeur surrounding him, Custer wrote:

No mortal pen could be found to describe these grand & glorious scenery properly & justly. This endless variety of shapes and forms, these thousands of different shades and colors--here the green & black of the endless forest, & the lovely mountain meadow, here the gray in all its endless nuances, the blue, the red, the daseling white of the snow & ice masses, reflecting & breaking the steady rays of the midday sun, & the whole wonderful landscape covered by a light mist, which chastens down the color & gives the whole matchless view an almost fairy like aspect.

After another rest at Chilliwack Lake, Custer's party (two other whites and nine Indians) set out on a trip that would take them deep into today's park. They first traveled up the Klaheih (Chilliwack) River, following the short trail that ended at the astronomical station on the boundary. He mentioned seeing the vista and the monuments at that point. He noticed that the principal tree in the river valley was the cedar, "which grows to considerable size & height . . ., when having attained considerable size, it begins strongly to lean, sometimes as much as 10°-20°, this is probably due to a want of firmness in the roots, as also the immense weight of its bulky trunk, & to the great number of branches . . . for the wind to act on."

Custer described his trip up the Chilliwack in some detail. The party camped near a cedar-bark Indian hut soon after entering today's park--indicating that the Indians were quite familiar with the country. As was his custom, he climbed a spur of Copper Mountain. From his viewpoint he spotted a mountain to the south that was probably the Whatcom Peak-Mt. Challenger complex:

To the South we notice a Mt with a peculiar, sharply defined, piramidal sumit, it lays nearly at the head of our stream . . . it spreads itself fanlike into many branches. This Mt. I concluded to be the Speech Mt . . . It lays in a tripple divide, between the Chiloweyuck, the Nookaahk, & the Skagit rivers.

Leaving the Chilliwack, Custer and his men turned eastward, climbing a steep ridge. They were now "entirely in unknown territory." Soon they reached a "point near the sumit of a Mountain covered with meadow, of the most beautiful alpine pasturage, here & there a cluster of dwarfish balsam firs, & scattered over the whole gently inclined plain of vivid green, numerous small ponds." One cannot be certain of Custer's route this day, but it seems that while on the Chilliwack he missed Brush Creek and continued on up the river to Easy Creek. He then climbed the ridge between Easy and Brush where he found the "most beautiful alpine pasturage" on top. (Perhaps today's names of "Brush" and "Easy" indicate why he chose the latter.)

Reaching the "sumit" of this ridge early the following morning ("a regular alp"), Custer could see to his great satisfaction that off to the northwest "a gorge . . . extended from the northern foot of this Mt, clear through to another Valley lateral, into which we can see some distance, & which can be no other than the Skagit valley." That day an Indian killed a mountain goat. A great feast was had, ending with the Indians singing, "accompanied by music, with a stick aplied vigorously to a tin kettle."

The next morning, the party descended "Goat Mountain," as Custer named it (Easy Ridge, today?), "a dangerous descent of some 2,000-3,000 feet," and reached the headwaters of Brush Creek. Custer christened the stream "Red Mt. Creek" because of the reddish colored mountain to the north, today called Red Face Mountain. A short distance further up the creek, a tributary came in from the north, "forming a pretty Cascade of some 20-30 feet high."

Continuing, they entered Whatcom Pass. Although Custer made no attempt to name it, this marks the first known crossing of this pass. Instead of following the route of the present trail, they climbed one of the creeks that drain Tapto Lakes on Red Face Mountain, i.e. they continued to follow the headwaters of Brush Creek. Working their way eastward they came to the steep canyon that contains upper Little Beaver Creek, on the east side of Whatcom Pass. This creek would lead them to the Skagit. But before descending the canyon wall, Custer took note of a magnificent glacier:

Nothing ever seen before could compare to the matchless grandeur of this feature in nature. All the glaciers in the surrounding Mts to the East of us, & there are many of them, vanish before it into insignificance, in comparison with this closs[us] of glaciers.

If one follows Custer's description of the location of this glacier, some confusion emerges. The party was heading generally in an easterly direction. Custer said that this glacier was to their left, that is, to the north. Far to the northeast of his position (about five miles) flows Redoubt Glacier. But Custer's detailed description of the characteristics of the glacier indicates that he was not observing Redoubt, but a glacier very much closer. Later on in his account, another reference to seeing the glacier when he was down in the Canyon of Little Beaver Creek completely eliminates Redoubt from consideration. One cannot doubt but that Custer was gazing upon mighty Challenger Glacier to the south of Whatcom Pass, that is, to the right of the party's direction of travel, and less than two miles away.

Another phenomenon that caught Custer's attention was "peculiar spots upon the surface of the snow, some of a reddish, others of a purple color. By closer examination these spots are found to be caused by a fine powder like substance strewn over the snow." He did not know what to make of this "red snow," which today scientists have identified as algae that grow in snow.

The descent into the canyon of upper Little Beaver Creek proved difficult. The party scrambled and slipped down over 3,000 feet of "almost perpendicular" wall. At the bottom they found "a creek of considerable size" that had a "peculiar sky blue color" turning darker blue downstream, a characteristic of streams that originate in glaciers, Custer observed. He named it "Glacier Creek." They found a good camp near the creek in an open forest:

Opposite us is the magnificient glacier [Challenger], below it we see numerous cascades, hundreds of feet high, sending their dust like waters over the rocky precipitious cliffs of the adjacent Mts, all intent to increase the volume of the creek near us.

Vine maple, a narrow canyon, Devil's Club, and alder made the descent of Little Beaver quite toilsome. Farther down, however, the valley widened and the explorers were able to travel more quickly. Becoming worried about the possibility of running out of food, Custer climbed a mountain near the creek to determine how far away the Skagit lay. It proved to be near. A quick march brought them to the river. Custer estimated, rather accurately, that he had reached a point four or five miles south of the parallel. (The distance was six miles.)

Crossing the Skagit, Custer struck an Indian trail on the east bank. He turned north on the trail, eventually reaching the U.S. astronomical station at the boundary. The explorer learned there that Lieutenant Parke had left orders for him to explore the Skagit ten miles in both directions from the border, as well as to inspect the country as far east as the Similkameen River. Custer directed a Nooksack Indian in his group to build a light (8-man) canoe for traveling on the Skagit. The party first traveled north of the 49° parallel, a trip that took them away from today's park and into British Columbia.

On August 27, Custer again departed from the station, this time traveling downstream both by a new canoe and by a part of his group walking the Indian trail. He himself and three Indians took the canoe: "Some distance from the astron. Station, the river is blockaded by large rafts [of fallen trees], over which we hauled our canoe, with some difficulty." Early in the second morning, between the border and Little Beaver Creek, Custer noted that the river divided into three channels, all blocked by log-jams. He encountered similar difficulties for the next few miles. But after passing the confluence of Little Beaver, the canoe had easier traveling.

The third day, August 28, brought a pleasant journey on an unobstructed river. "Nothing can be more pleasant," wrote Custer, "than to glide down a stream like this, the motion is so gentle, the air on the water cool & pleasant & the scenery, which is continually shifting, occupies mind & eye pleasantly." They noticed a large stream coming in from the east, which was possibly today's Three Fools Creek. Farther on they hit some small rapids. Then, at the end of the day, they passed "the bulky form of Nokomokeen Mt., with its snow & ice covered sumit." It is difficult to determine which peak this was, there being several on either side of the Skagit in that general area.

From that evening's camp, Custer could see a large valley, about eight or nine miles farther downstream, coming into the Skagit from the east. Custer called it "East Fork." Today it is known as Ruby Creek.

He had traveled far beyond the ten miles that Parke had directed; yet Custer decided to go still farther down the river, at least to the rapids and canyons where, he had heard, the river breaks "through the Cascade Ridge." The next morning, Custer appointed the Nooksack canoe-builder as steersman, one Chilliwack Indian as midship paddler, and a second Chilliwack as bow paddler:

Our downward course was with the speed of about 5-6 knots and more, the Indians delighted to steer through the swiftest of rapids . . . shouting and singing at the same time. . . . The river valley begins to narrow gradually, the mountains shut in closer and closer; the stream is clear of all obstacles. After an hours navigation, we passed the mouth of a large tributary from the West [Big Beaver Creek?], forming a wide . . . Ravine, which extended to the foot of the main cascade Ridge.

From here the river bed assumes rapidly the Character of a Cañon . . . After another 1/2 hour navigation, we rapidly enter the beginning of a cañon; the river flows here between rocky banks . . . which even makes my expert Indian canoemen feel more or less uncomfortable. From the anxious looks they cast around, I conclude that it is about time to look for a secure harbor.

They found such a harbor on the east side of the river, and landed. And just in time. Only 100 yards ahead roared a fall some 12-15 feet in height. From a view point on the river bank, Custer could see the confluence of Ruby Creek ("East Fork") only a few hundred "steps" away. A fallen "fir" tree formed a bridge across the mouth of Ruby Creek canyon, about 150 feet above the water [sic]: "Over this primitive bridge, one of the Indians was rapidly crossing & recrossing, looking with perfect coolness in[to] the dizzy chasm below . . . He invited each of us to join him in turn, but with little success.

Custer noted that at this point the Skagit turned sharply to the west. He figured the latitude to be 48° 43' 37" north--which is reasonably close. He was now about twenty miles south of the boundary, twice the distance directed by Parke. Custer began the return journey up the Skagit, exchanging paddles for poles. Before the end of that first day, however, Custer abandoned the canoe, and the whole party traveled on the Indian trail.

Part way up, the explorers turned to the east, climbing Kakoil peaks (Devil's Dome, or?) in order to reach the Similkameen. This route soon took them outside today's park complex and into the Pasayten Wilderness. Custer traveled eastward as far as the headwaters of either the Methow or the Pasayten rivers, then returned to the Skagit, "As I considered the program of my orders more than completely carried out." When they reached the astronomical station they found it deserted.

Custer wanted to climb the dramatic Hozomeen Mountain as a climax to his explorations. However, "the whole Country is covered with clouds & smoke," he wrote. Disappointed, he abandoned the project. He summarized his remarkable trips by concluding that he had traveled over 300 miles and had reconnoitered "& made suitable to be mapped" more than 1,000 square miles. He admitted that more than topographical information appeared in his report, but he justified his extraneous observations in that he was the first white to visit a large part of this country and to have described it in writing.

Despite the amount of work accomplished by the U.S. Commission in 1858, various parties returned to the North Cascades in the summer of 1859, completing various measurements and placing monuments. The survey itself proceeded eastward from the vicinity of the Skagit River toward the Columbia. In the spring, Lieutenant Parke reported on the impracticability of transporting and erecting cast-iron monuments in the mountains. As a result, the commissioners ordered that stone monuments be erected, each six to eight feet in height. [10]

Under the direction of Geologist George Gibbs, crews reopened the trail from Chilliwack River to the Skagit, through British Columbia. The Americans complained that the British were slow about helping. [11] By September, however, the North Cascades were far behind. The work parties had reached the Similkameen River, "the first stream encountered whose waters flow into the Columbia." [12]

In 1860, the British, because of some low quality contract work performed the preceding year, still found themselves in the area between Chilliwack Lake and the Skagit. This same year found James M. Alden employed by the U.S. Commission as an artist. Only three of Alden's many excellent sketches concern the general area of the North Cascades. They are included in this report: "Camp Sumas, west of the Cascades," "Chilliwack Lake," and the "Summit of Cascade Mountains, from trail looking west"--probably in the vicinity of the dividing line between Whatcom and Okanogan Counties, east of the park. One regrets that Alden had not been employed during the 1858-59 seasons, when the commission was active in the present park area. [13]

The total number of miles surveyed by the Americans and the British amounted to 409.5. The total cost to the American government came to $600,000. The number of markers, iron and stone, totaled 161. The British numbered the markers from east to west; the Americans numbered them in the order surveyed, from west to east. For the United States, Number 1 was on the seaward side of Point Roberts. The original marker still stands. According to Marcus Baker, in 1900, eight stone markers of the original survey then stood within the present park. [14]

Amer. No.

UnknownBench on hill, east side of Skagit ValleyLong121° 02' 26.6"
"Slope of mountain, west side Skagit Valley
121 04 22.6
"Base of mountain, base of camp
121 16 41.4
"West of and near trail to Skagit River
121 16 56.3
"East of and near trail to Skagit River
121 18 57.3
51East side of Klahaiku (Chilliwack) Valley
121 23 11.0
50West side of Klahaiku (Chilliwack) Valley
121 23 48.5
UnknownEast of Ensawkwatch Creek
121 30 08.4

As the years passed dissatisfaction grew concerning minor points on the boundary. Starting in 1901, Canada and the United States began field operations to resolve these issues. In 1908, a treaty was signed at Washington calling for a complete resurveying and remarking. With few exceptions, each year since then has seen continuing field work. In 1937, the International Boundary Commission published a report on activities up to that date. At the same time, a map consisting of 59 sheets came out supporting the report in detail. [15]

As a result of this remonumenting, new markers replaced all the original ones, except Monument No. 1 on Point Roberts and a few where permanent monuments could not be maintained. [16] In the whole breadth of the North Cascades, 21 stone cairns and one bench mark that had been cut in rock (Nos. 44-65) had been placed in the original survey. Of these, all were found except Nos. 44 and 45, both to the west of the park, in Tamihi Valley, which had been destroyed by falling trees and snowslides. [17]

Following the example of the original commission, the new party established a camp at the mouth of Depot Creek on Chilliwack Lake in British Columbia in 1901. Here they found a headboard marking the grave of an American soldier who had drowned in the lake in 1858 when his company has escorted the commission. By 1936, this headboard had so badly decayed that a marble slab, paid for in part by the same U.S. infantry company in which the soldier had been assigned, replaced it. The old inscription was transcribed to the new slab:

Michael Brown of County Galoway, Ireland, Co. F, 9th Inf., US. Army. Drowned in Chilliwack Lake October 10, 1858, while serving with his comrades as escort to the International Boundary Commission. His body was recovered and interred here by his comrades June 15, 1859, Aged 26 years. [18]

Although the Army escorts are a part of the story of the first survey, their story is a minor part of the whole. No evidence is known to exist that the military escort entered the present park.

The 1901 surveyors found the old monuments 50 and 51 on either side of the Chilliwack River. When new monuments replaced these two, they became numbers 62 and 63. The surveyors also recut the 20-foot vista through the forest in this valley. Moving up Depot Creek, they found old monument 52 in excellent shape. Later, it was exchanged for new monument 65. Here too they reopened the vista. On the western boundary of today's park, where Ensawkwatch Creek (called Middle Creek in the 1901 report) crosses the 49° parallel, the surveyors found old markers 48 (just outside the park boundary and on the west side of the creek) and 49 (almost on the park boundary and east of the creek). No. 48 was simply a mark chiseled on the face of a rock; no. 49 consisted of a standard stone cairn. New monuments 57 and 58 now stand at the same sites.

To reach the boundary line where it crosses the Skagit, the 1901 surveyors established a camp at Ruby Creek, from where they traveled up the Skagit rather than pack through British Columbia as had their predecessors. By then the upper Skagit had been well explored and a trail well developed along the river. While these surveyors could not experience the same thrill of discovery as had Custer, they could still witness the same magnificent scenery. They referred to the old Indian trail above the Ruby as the "abandoned Fort Hope trail," probably referring to its use as a route for pack trains to the Ruby Creek mines in 1880.

At the border, they found signs of the old vista and located stone cairn 56. This latter was eventually replaced with monument 72. For some unexplained reason they did not cross the Skagit on this trip to inspect old marker 55 on the west side (now monument 71). (In more recent times the waters of Ross Lake flooded this section of the valley. Monument 72 today is on the eastern shore of the lake; no. 71 is 1/4-1/2 mile west of the western shore. Whether or not these represent the original sites is difficult to ascertain, even after examining maps drawn before the flooding of the area.)

In 1906, the commission had eleven new markers set in concrete (new nos. 61-71). Six of these replaced old markers 50-55; the other five were new ones, being additions rather than replacements--61, 64, 68, 69, and 70. The next summer, new monuments 55-60 took the places of old markers 47-49, three of the six being additions--56, 59, and 60. [19]

Custer had had to abandon his plan to climb Hozomeen Mountain in 1858; in 1904, a field report referred to a recently installed triangulation and traverse station on this peak. The station mark consisted of an aluminum disk of the International Boundary Commission, 1904-05, set in a drill hole in solid rock. [20]

One of the terms of the 1908 agreement was to cut vistas through all the forested country along the border, rather than just in the vicinity of the markers as had been practiced. These vistas still exist and a border patrol maintains them regularly.

Table of Boundary Markers, North Cascades NP
From West to East

1858-60 Location 1906-07
No.48 W. bank of Ensawkwatch Ck. Just outside W. boundary of park. No.57

49 E. bank of Ensawkwatch Ck. Close to W. boundary of park.

-- Middle Peak area

-- Middle Peak area

-- E. shore of Hanging Lake

50 About 1/4 mi. W. of Chilliwack R.

51 About 1/8 mi. E. of Chilliwack R.



52 E. of Depot Ck.

53 On a tributary of Depot Creek

54 On same tributary of Depot Ck.

-- About 2 mi. N. of Glacier Peak, on a knob of this complex





55 W. side of Skagit Valley

56 E. bank of Ross Lake

-- Shoulder of Hozomeen Mtn, about 1-1/4 mi. N. of peak

-- E. park boundary

Aluminum-bronze markers, set in concrete, as established 1906-07, etc.

Evaluation and Recommendations

The marking of the international boundary across the North Cascades took place at the time when the boundary in the area of the San Juan Islands created a crisis in relations between Great Britain and the United States--a crisis that threatened for a short time to result in bloodshed. Yet the American and British commissioner for the land survey succeeded in cooperating and they demonstrated that the two nations had more in common than just a line. Today the 49° parallel is part of the long, peaceful boundary between Canada and the United States. It is a symbol that two nations can live side by side in harmony.

An important outcome of the boundary survey was the first historic exploration of the heart of the northern portion of the North Cascades National Park. The reconnaissances of Henry Custer on Ensawkwatch Creek, Little Chilliwack River, Chilliwack River, Copper Mountain, Whatcom Pass, Challenger Glacier, Little Beaver Creek, and the upper Skagit River, brought the unknown country to man's attention. Although the report of the U.S. Commissioner was never published in full, thus delaying public knowledge of this stupendous wilderness, today's scientists still find Custer's vivid reports essential to an understanding of the area before development and industrial uses. Indian place names, the extent and kinds of vegetation, fires, meadows, all of management's concern today, were noted by Custer and his associates, the first whites to see much of this country.

For much of its 23-1/2 miles within the park complex, the international boundary is extremely difficult of access because of mountains. Two points can be reached: By foot or horse on the Chilliwack River trail to the point where the river crosses the 49° parallel. Here the visitor would observe the vista and monument 51. A short hike to the west, across the river, stands monument 50. The second point is located where Ross Lake crosses the boundary. This can be reached by boat. Monument 72 stands on the eastern shore of the lake. Monument 71, to the west, can be reached by a short hike. A log boom stretches across the lake, marking the boundary on the surface of the water.

Recommend that the international boundary on the north boundary of North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake National Recreation Area he classified as Class VI land and be placed on the National Register as a historic district (23-1/2 miles long, 10 feet wide on American side, or about 28 acres).

Recommend that the international boundary and its significance, be interpreted at the Chilliwack crossing and at Ross Lake.

Recommend that the larger story of the boundary, its significance, and the explorations, particularly those of Henry Custer, he a substantial theme for interpretation in a visitor center and/or publications.

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Last Updated: 11-Jun-2008