Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: September 10, 2017 | Participants: 7 | Type: Day hike and wayfinding
My nature travel group set out to solve a mystery, where is Camp Edith? The campsite was a favorite of Judge John Breckenridge Waldo, an Oregon man whose legacy is comparable in stature to John Muir or Henry David Thoreau. Like Waldo’s impact on America’s conservation movement, this camp has been generally overlooked by history. Over the years a few people have found the campsite, they keep its location guarded so others might enjoy making their own discovery.
John Waldo explored and documented the Cascades from 1877 to 1907, increased public awareness with his letters to state newspapers in support of forest conservation, and steadfastly pushed legislation to preserve the mountains for future generations. Today, Oregonians can appreciate six national forests, a national park, and at least eighteen wilderness areas because of Waldo’s vision and perseverance.
On his treks, Waldo would travel along the Cascades’ crest for months at a time. Although he traveled with a handful of colleagues and friends it is likely that he became homesick for his family. One of his most beloved destinations now bears his name, Waldo Lake, and it’s upon this magnificent shore where he christened the camp in honor of his daughter, Edith. Today, the campsite doesn’t appear on any maps, it quietly rests with only a century-old blazed tree to signify its human history.
I first learned about Camp Edith while studying Waldo’s journals at the UO Archives last year. In the archives were several photographs, including one photo from 1890 that was simply titled, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” But where was it? I found a few references to the camp in his journals but nothing definitive. An online article said it was in the shadow of Mount Ray near the lake. I met one chiseled-faced man who said that it was somewhere on the south shore. It was helpful information, but since Waldo Lake has an area of 10 square miles, locating the camp would require some fieldwork.
On this trip, our only tools were a copy of the 1890 black and white photograph, several entries from the judge’s journal, and a 2004 Forest Service photo showing a tree with an inscription.
The hike started at Shadow Bay. We were fortunate that thick smoke from nearby fires was blowing in another direction, giving our day a striking clarity. After walking a bit studying the photo, we bushwhacked through the forest, crossed marshy fields, and clamored over downed trees. We made slow progress, partially to avoid stepping on a number of dime-sized toads. One plump toad was the size of an apple.
At the shoreline we again studied the older photo: it showed the campsite in the foreground, and in the distance were what appeared to be several shadowy outlines of land jutting across the lake. As we looked across the water, we could see similar landforms, but our angle was off the mark. We needed to explore further. Several hours after starting our hike one member of our group let out a joyous call: “I found it!”
The rest of us followed her voice through the woods to an area by the shore. Blazed on a tree was a heart-shaped mark. The bark’s growth had covered the outside letters, but the inscription was readable: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”
We were excited about the find. We enjoyed lunch, shared our own stories, and even read a few of Waldo’s journal entries. We left agreeing to be discreet about the camp’s exact location and left it as we found it.
One of Waldo’s journal entries from 1890 was fitting for our hike that day,
“The lake stretches away up to the North; crags and peaks tower above us. It is a splendid scene – this source of rivers and cities, hid away, like pure trains of thought from vulgar observation – in the deep bosom of the wilderness buried. Camp Edith sends you greeting – greeting to Edith from ‘Papa’s Lake.’”