On (or about) June 21, 1947, three of Seattle's most active mountain-climbing pioneers -- Fred Beckey (1923-2017), Mel Marcus, and Bill Dunaway -- successfully tackle an uncharted and forbidding peak high in the Cascade Mountains. The Mount Temple Range is in an area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (within the Wenatchee National Forest) located just outside of the then-still-remote alpine town of Leavenworth (located just west of Cashmere, Washington). Though Beckey will certainly ascend far more challenging peaks throughout his lifetime of climbing, he is enchanted by the whole area and his writings and lecturing will help establish its profound popularity amongst nature lovers.
Climbing the Big Rock
West Seattle's Fred Beckey had taken up rock climbing as a teenaged Boy Scout (Troop 288) who'd studied under Lloyd Anderson -- a member of The Mountaineers club, and co-founder of Seattle's outdoor gear co-op, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI). Some of their training was conducted on a still-extant, giant 19-foot high boulder -- long known as the "Big Rock" or the "Wedgwood Rock" -- out in the woods in Northeast Seattle (at 28th Avenue NE and NE 72nd Street). In 1940 Beckey graduated from The Mountaineers climbing education program and launched a life-long pattern of confounding fellow mountaineers by summiting peaks formerly considered as unclimbable.
This time, the main peak in question -- Mt. Temple -- had, in fact, been bagged previously (by Keith Rankin), but Beckey's goal was to ascend the still-unconquered West Peak, if at all possible, via a new alternative route. Beckey noted that the "mountaineering art has advanced so much recently, that there is virtually nothing left in the 'unclimbable' class, although some of the spires in the Temple vicinity approach such a rating." Of this specific adventure he would also write:
"Lured by the stories of Keith Rankin ... I decided to explore the climbing possibilities." He and his companions
"hiked to Nada and Snow Lakes, camping at the latter, and on a foggy Sunday morning fought through brush thickets along the lake shore beyond the trail, and in several hours we climbed into the most beautiful alpine lake basin any of us had ever seen ... . According to the map, these were the Enchantment lakes, and it was easy to see why they had been named so, for here was a myriad of gorgeous blue pools set in a paradise of granite boulders and lupine meadows. On all sides rose arrays of wild, jagged rock spires, and nearby was our objective: The West Peak of Mt. Temple. To reach its 8350 foot summit was a maneuver that required difficult rock climbing tactics -- with ropes, tennis shoes and iron spikes known as pitons. It was difficult, but the rock was so sound that climbing was a real pleasure. On the summit we built a short rock monument with loose pieces of granite, and left a bottle with out names inscribed. We decided that the entire area was so unique that it deserved a special name. The rock peaks were not large mountains, but rather Crags, so someone suggested 'Cashmere Crags' it being the only rhyming word with a logical geographic reference we could evolve. Descending was easier, but rough going until the trail at the dam at Snow Lakes was reached, and then a quick hike down to the waiting car" (Beckey)
Beckey -- who also trained during World War II with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division; was a member of the 1955 International Himalayan Expedition to Mt. Everest; authored scores of authoritative guidebooks on mountain climbing; and holds the unofficial world's record for "first ascents" of hundreds of peaks, including one in Alaska named in his honor: Mt. Beckey -- is a living legend. One also well-known for his eccentric and gruff ways.
Contacted in 2010, Beckey -- who was still actively climbing in his mid-eighties -- proved his cantankerous reputation to be accurate by giving a very challenging interview. Nearly every inquiry brought a reply that amounted to "I don't think that's very important." Asked, in particular, about the Mt. Temple climb he questioned any lingering significance to it, scoffing:
"That was a really, really, minor -- I mean, you're picking at rocks that are just above the street. It's a really minor one-pitch climb is all it is. I'm wondering why you are focusing on that Mt. Temple group -- it's really a very, very minor portion of the Cascades. As far as rock-climbing goes. It's even kind of a minor one in the Stuart Range ... . The big climbs in the Stuart Range -- as you probably know -- are Mt. Stuart, Dragontail, and Colchuck. Plus there's some rock climbs on the Mt. Temple Ridge: the Boxtop and Prusik Peak are the most popular, and the one's I'm most happy about having done" (Blecha interview).
Thanks in part to Beckey's touting of this area, the Enchantment Lakes basins below those climbs have in recent years become such popular hiking and camping destinations -- though certainly not advisable in tennis shoes -- that the U.S. Forest Service has instituted an advance lottery system for issuing trail passes to very limited numbers of winners each year, in an admirable and necessary effort to conserve and preserve the area's fragile eco-system.