Hall of Achievement

- From Oregon Publisher, November 2010 -

It is fitting that the University of Oregon honored Wes Sullivan just a week before Veterans Day.

The late J. Wesley Sullivan was of a generation of journalists who came straight to the newsroom from World War II service. He and other veterans transformed the Oregon Statesman, which later became the Statesman Journal that you’re reading today. Those veterans were worldly, recognizing that events halfway across the globe could dramatically affect the lives and fortunes of Main Street America. Those veterans were mature, hardened by the suffering of war but compassionate and optimistic about humanity’s future. They had little time for chatting; there was work to be done, questions to be answered, deadlines to be met. And they worked hard, diligently recording the day’s events — locally, regionally, nationally and globally — for the next day’s readers. Sullivan carried a variety of roles for the Salem newspaper, including serving as editor and a longtime columnist. He died in 2007 at age 86, five years after writing his final weekly column for the Statesman Journal. He was so well respected that he had been inducted into the Oregon Newspaper Hall of Fame in 1989. That was just one of many local and national accolades the bomber-pilot-turned-journalist accumulated during his decades at the Salem newspapers. On Friday, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication gave him another honor: induction into the school’s Hall of Achievement. Sullivan would have been pleased. He loved his alma mater. He loved journalism. And in thousands of columns he wrote over the years, he showed how much he loved our great state of Oregon.By Dick Hughes, Statesman-Journal, November 8, 2010

a hike from memory

The trek up to Jefferson Park still has special meaning after a lifetime of hiking


For The Register-Guard

Appeared in print: Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, page E1

For decades my father would take a “last hike of summer” to Jefferson Park each September. Whenever I visit this alpine Shangri-La in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, where lake-dotted meadows snug against Oregon’s second tallest mountain, I think of Dad.

Wes Sullivan had learned that the best-kept secret of the High Cascades is Indian summer, after the crowds of hikers and mosquitoes are gone. This is particularly true in Jeff Park. In autumn, huckleberry bushes spread a 4-inch-tall carpet of blue fruit and flaming red leaves across the lakeside meadows. Mount Jefferson rises from the plain like a wall, its top often dusted with a skiff of new snow.

When I was young my dad worked long hours as news editor of Salem’s Oregon Statesman. He stayed up until 2 a.m. to put the paper to bed. The stress of deadlines led many of his colleagues to smoke, drink and die young. Not Dad. He went hiking. Eventually the editor gave him a camera to take along. On slow news days, a surprising number of mountain photos wound up on the front page of Salem’s paper.

When Dad became editor himself he wrote a weekly column, sometimes about his adventures hiking with my mother, Elsie. One story, headlined, “50 Miles at 50”, celebrated their trek from McKenzie Pass to Jefferson Park on the year of their 50th birthdays.

A decade later they hiked 60 miles for their 60th birthdays. Dad suggested they might defeat age indefinitely in this manner.

One of his columns recounted the September my parents took an electronic mosquito repeller. Dad wrote:

The latest and most status-producing item in the competitive field of outdoor gear is a small, battery-operated box that emits a high-pitched sound. Its makers in Dallas, Texas, declare the sound is abhorrent to female mosquitoes. They are the ones that bite.

My wife and I took the device up 6,000 feet to Jefferson Park in search of the wily mosquito. It was a unique experience, hunting for mosquitoes instead of trying to avoid them. The weekend was a glorious success in terms of the beauty of the park and the late wildflowers, but a dismal failure as a mosquito hunt. We sighted only two. My wife swatted one in a reflex action before I could bring the repeller to bear on it.

The other insect just sat there happily next to the buzzing repeller while my wife and I argued whether it was indeed a mosquito and whether it was male or female. A later conversation with the owner of the outdoor store where we had purchased the electronic device drew the comment that, “Some people swear by them and others swear at them.”

But in terms of outdoors status, the actual field effectiveness of the repellent is of secondary consideration. Until the fickle fancy of mosquito fighters moves on to a more esoteric means of disposing of the pesky bugs, we have the most prestigious repellent of them all. We are “in.”

Alzheimer’s disease stole my mother from us, bit by bit, in the three years after her 70th birthday.

The September after she passed away, Dad invited every male in the family to join him on his annual visit to Jeff Park. A framed picture from that all-boy trip to Mount Jefferson still hangs in my living room. Dad looks straight into the camera, his windblown hair as white as snow. My two tall brothers stand to his left. My son, Ian, is a gangly 12-year-old. And above us all, the huge mountain looms like the memory of the one who is missing.

For my father, the best part of the wilderness was going back year after year at just the same time.

I rebelled against this temporal tedium by resolving to visit Jefferson Park in a completely different season.

When my father turned 79 he canceled his September trip. The 10-mile hike had simply become too difficult for him. Would I be going anyway, he wondered?

No, I told him, I’d rather try something new. I would ski there in winter. He raised his eyebrows.

As it turns out, Jefferson Park is much easier to visit in September than in early April, when I finally convinced two chums to join me on the ski trip. Not only is the park still buried by 8 feet of snow in April, but the trailheads are under snow as well. The only plowed road is Highway 22, deep in the North Santiam canyon.

I calculated we would have to ski a total of 20 miles to visit Jefferson Park. The trip would require three days, carrying a winter tent and survival gear.

We loaded everything into my Subaru and drove up Forest Road 46 from Detroit until a big drift stopped us short. Ahead the snow was too patchy for skis, but too deep for tires. So we strapped our skis onto our backpacks and walked.

After three awkward miles, alternately hiking and post-holing through drifts, the snow was deep enough that we could put on our skis for good. Then we climbed another six arduous miles, constantly checking the map against the frozen terrain.

Shadows were lengthening when we finally crested Park Ridge, the 7,000-foot guardian of Jefferson Park’s northern rim. Mount Jefferson loomed before us. Too exhausted to exclaim in wonder, we skied just far enough down the slope to escape the wind, dug out a flat circle in the snow, and set up our tent.

One of the advantages of snow camping is that you can put your tent almost anywhere. In summer Jefferson Park is so crowded that lakeshores are roped off for restoration. In winter, if you want, you can camp on top of a lake.

The circular ledge we constructed for our campsite, using avalanche shovels and ski boots, was perched on the side of Park Ridge, 400 feet above the park’s plain. The view was great, but no one could possibly have pitched a tent there in summer.

The next day dawned blue, with a weird warm wind that soon had us stripped to shirtsleeves. We slathered on sunscreen, left most of our gear in the tent, and spent the day exploring by ski.

From the tracks we found, the only other visitors in the past six months had been coyotes, rabbits and deer.

After a glorious day in the warm sun we returned to our campsite on Park Ridge to discover that our tent was gone.

How could our tent be gone? We had staked this domed structure into the snow with a dozen pegs, many of them scoop-shaped to hold snow. We had loaded the tent with our sleeping bags, pads, and extra gear.

We found nothing but an empty, circular snow platform. The tent and everything in it had disappeared. We were nine miles from our car. Night was approaching. We needed our tent.

Could someone have stolen it?

There were no tracks of invaders. Besides, why would anyone ski in nine miles, pack up our gear, and haul it away? If deranged thieves had lifted the tent away by helicopter, we would have heard an engine.

Increasingly desperate, we searched for clues.

On closer inspection, the site itself was not quite as we remembered. The tent’s circular footprint was now six inches higher than the surrounding snow. Several stakes remained, lying loose on the surface of the snow.

Suddenly we realized what had happened.

The sun had been so hot that the entire snowpack had melted six inches during the day. The pegs had melted loose. Then even a small gust would have been able to send the dome tumbling.

We found the tent a few minutes later, with all our gear, where it had rolled into a grove of trees on Jefferson Park’s plain.

A winter visit to Jefferson Park can be breathtaking, but it is fraught with hazards.

My father passed away at the age of 86. This past November, the University of Oregon recognized J. Wesley Sullivan posthumously with induction into the Hall of Achievement.

I honor him now, with the admission that there is a best time for everything. And the best time to visit Jefferson Park is in September.