A timeline of the Cascade Pass from 15,000 years ago to the present.


North Cascades National Park, National Park Service

by R. Mierendorf and J. Kennedy, 2009


The events below, based on calibrated radiocarbon ages, are in calendar years before present:

15,000? Glacier ice melts out of the pass.
9600 Early indigenous people camp at the pass and make and repair stone tools, some made from locally-collected stone. Other tool stone is carried in from distant sources, including Hozomeen chert from the upper Skagit River to the north and the Columbia Plateau to the east.
8500 Intensive use of the pass by indigenous people is marked by the association of abundant charcoal, stone tools including microblades, and shallow cooking pits.
7650 Mount Mazama (today’s Crater Lk. in Oregon) erupts catastrophically and sends a volcanic ash (tephra set O) cloud around the world; at Cascade Pass, the ash buries artifacts and hearths under its distinctive fine silt.
7500 Intensive use of Cascade Pass continues unimpeded by the Mazama eruption, with new hearths built directly on top of the new Mazama ash layer.
6500 Mount Baker’s largest eruption sends a gray ash to Cascade Pass, the thin layer marking the farthest known tephra deposit from this volcano.
6500 Approximate beginning of a 2000 year period of slight if any indigenous use.
5800 A thin, sandy layer of Glacier Pk. ash (Dusty Cr. tephra) settles on the pass and correlates with a large lahar that flows down the Skagit valley and partially builds Skagit delta.
3800 Largest known eruption of Mount St. Helens deposits a sandy ash (tephra set Y) across the PNW; the orange-looking sandy tephra buries intact 4000 year old hearth at Cascade Pass.
2400 Mount St. Helens enters another eruptive episode and spews a gray silty ash (tephra set P) across the North Cascades, including the pass.
2100 A basin-shaped cooking hearth contains many small flakes, the by-product of re-sharpening dulled cutting edges of stone points, knives, and scrapers made mostly of Columbia River cherts and chalcedonies (flint and agate-like rocks).


The events below, defining the historic period, are in calendar years A.D. based on historic records:

1814 Alexander Ross makes first historic crossing of the North Cascades through Cascade Pass.
1858 McKee party of prospectors travel from Lake Chelan to Skagit River and Fraser River gold fields via Cascade Pass (Majors 1982:4).
1877 Otto Klement, Jack Rowley, Frank Scott, Charles Von Pressentin, John Duncan, and John Sutter are led by Salish natives Charlie and Joe Seaams (brothers) along an Indian trail that “led over the tops of the high, granite hills bordering” the Cascade River towards Cascade Pass (Klement 1926; also reprinted in Stone 1983:4). Before reaching the pass, they meet “..a band of about thirty Indians with ponies…[that] were in bad condition owing to their feet being worn out on the rocky trail and from lack of food in the high altitudes.”.
1880 Skagit Indians had built a “trail” over Cascade Pass in order to seek aid from Columbia River Indians during hostilities between Indians and non-Indian land surveyors, according to Lt. Thomas W. Symons (cited in Beckey 2003:114); the “Big Snow of January 1880” is the biggest recorded.
1882 First Lt. Henry Pierce describes an extremely difficult crossing of the pass (east-to-west) with horses on August 27th (Pierce 1883). He spends two nights (Aug. 25 & 26) on lower Sahale Arm, then traverses the pass on August 27, across a ¼ mi wide snow bank.
1889 Cascade Pass Mining District begins with filing of Boston Mine and Soldier Boy claims west of Cascade Pass.
1892 Frank Wilkeson, who packed in the Stehekin Valley, tells about a poor berry crop in the Stehekin Valley, causing bears to migrate to the Skagit Valley to subsist on the pink salmon run. He claimed to have counted 23 bears in one day, “All of them were walking along the trail that leads through Cascade Pass. All of them were lean and presumably hungry, and all of them had their noses pointed to the west. At one time two cinnamon [grizzly] bears followed slowly after my pack train, and a black and a cinnamon bear were walking in the trail ahead of me. I had to turn out of the trail to let the bears pass my pack animals.” (Wilkeson 1892).
1895 Washington Board of State Road Commissioners send Bert Huntoon, E.M. Wilson, R.O. Welts, and J. H. Watson to survey possible road routes. They say “… Cascade Pass has an icy appearance even in summer as the Glaciers hug it close and snow remains in the shady side of the pass generally all the summer…” (Luxenberg 1984). This route was intended to connect Fairhaven, in Whatcom County, to Republic in Ferry County, by way of Marblemount and Twisp (Murray 1965:49).
1896 State of Washington funds and “completes” the work to convert the pack trail into the trans-Cascade Wagon Road, actually leaving in places little more than a clearing cut through the brush and timber (Murray 1965, Thompson 1970).
1896-97 Winter avalanches and washouts destroy many segments of the previous summer’s newly constructed “wagon road”.
1897 Thomas G. Gerdine, leading a USGS survey party, establishes an iron survey post topped by a brass cap (bench mark) at the pass, stamped “5423” feet in elevation (U.S. Geological Survey 1914). This elevation is based on an assumed datum at Chelan Falls.
1898 A corrected elevation of “5392” is stamped on the previous year’s brass cap by L. D. Ryus, under the original elevation (the original elevation was stamped over to obscure it).
1899 State of Washington legislature appropriates $20,000. to build an actual wagon road across the pass, but little if any work gets done (Beckey 2003:279).
1903 W.A.C. Rouse proposes building an electric railway from the Skagit River over Cascade Pass to Horseshoe Basin to serve the miners. The idea is quickly abandoned (Roe 1997).
1906 Julian Itter, famous Canadian artist, visits and paints panorama of North Cascades from Cascade Pass (Louder 1998).
1907 The State Good Roads Association was organizes under the leadership of Senator W.A. Bolinger. The State legislature designates the non-existent Cascade Pass Road as State Road 13.
1916 In August, Mary Roberts Rinehart ascends the pass from the east as part of a pack trip into the North Cascades, underwritten by Cosmopolitan Magazine (party of 31 horses and 19 people, with packer Dan Devore of Stehekin and photographer L. D. Lindsley).
1920 Skagit and Okanogan County businessmen form the Cascade Pass Pilgrims to promote the Cascade Pass Highway.
1924 Washington State issues a $16,972.76 contract to Neilan Bros. of Sedro Woolley to construct the Cascade Wagon Road from Marblemount to the mouth of Bridge Creek, thence over Twisp Pass to the town of Twisp. It is reported to be 35% completed on September 30, 1924. (Allen 1924). The Washington State Legislature appropriates an additional $70,000 for the Marblemount to Cascade Pass section of the road (Roe 1997).
1926 The Cascade Pass Pilgrims begin annual promotional trips to Cascade Pass on horseback (Roe 1997).
1927 The Washington State Legislature appropriates an additional $150,000 for the Marblemount to Cascade pass section of the road, and for good measure throws in $35,000 for a bridge over the Skagit River at Marblemount. (Roe 1997).
1927 In August, a party of 72 highway boosters, including M.E. Field, visit the pass. Music was furnished by the Ukelele Girls of the Methow (Stone 1983).
1928 In the largest promotional event, east and west contingents of the Cascade Pass Pilgrims meet at the pass for an encampment featuring barbeques and speeches (Roe 1997:59-60).
1929 The Washington State Legislature appropriates an additional $200,000 which is rapidly rescinded when the stock market crashes.
1930s-1940 U.S. Forest Service improves road towards Cascade Pass; all work halts during WWII. The Civilian Conservation Corps completes some of the grading along the old Cascade Wagon road (Hollenbeck 1987:226).
1940 U.S. Forest Service and Washington State Highway Department permanently abandon the Cascade Pass route (Roe 1997:61).
1951 Note found by U.S. Forest Service personnel tacked to a tree at the pass: “Help. We are lost in a blizzard and are out of food and only God can help us. The Perkinses.” No such party was reported missing or has been found (Roe 1997:151).
ca. 1966 Restoration of native vegetation in bare campsites begins (Thornburgh 1970).
1967 Phillips Petroleum issues a road map showing an improved 2 lane paved road over Cascade Pass all the way to Stehekin (such a road never existed).
1967 Present trail to Cascade Pass is constructed (Thornburgh 1970).
1968 North Cascades National Park Service Complex is established by Congress and administration shifts from USFS to NPS (Louter 1998).
1970 Dale Thornburgh, professor of Forest Ecology at Humboldt State College, prepares report of recreational impacts to the pass and makes management recommendations meant to re-establish native vegetation.
1971-1973 The wooden sitting benches built sometime during this span of years.
1974 First NOCA management plan establishes Cascade Pass as a high-visitation, high-impact area needing protection (Louter 1998).
1977 WWU graduate student archeologists, led by J. D. Pint, survey and record archeological site 45CH221.
1985 Washington State University archeologist R. Mierendorf records new site (45SK216) and collects artifacts exposed in eroded, gullied trail segments at 45CH221.
1988 Congress passes the Washington Wilderness Parks Act, formally incorporating most of the park complex into the national wilderness preservation system, including Cascade Pass.
1988 The park archeological overview and assessment is published and recommends site 45CH221 be test excavated according to a plan consistent with wilderness standards (Mierendorf 1986).
2003 North Cascades National Park wilderness committee members visit and wrestle with management concerns at the pass, including poorly designed and gullied trail segments, vegetation trampling and replanting, and replacement of the dilapidated wooden benches at the patio.
2005 A team of volunteers and NPS archeologists, directed by park archeologist R. Mierendorf, find widespread and significant archeological and paleontological remains sealed under primary volcanic ash layers and radiocarbon-dated to 9,000 years old (Mierendorf et al. 2006).
2006 First field visit by “Nick” Foit, whose pioneering work on volcanic ashes helped to identify the many ash layers at the pass using the electron microprobe facilities at Washington State University.
2007 NPS staff complete new trail reroutes through the pass and reestablish native plants in abandoned trail segments.
2009 Continuing collaborative research at Cascade Pass by Foit and Mierendorf reveals nine separate identified volcanic ash layers.



Allen, James
1924 Tenth Biennial Report of the State Highway Engineer For the Period Oct. 1, 1922 to Sept. 30, 1924. Olympia, Wash.

Beckey, Fred
2003 Range of Glaciers. Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland.

Hollenbeck, Jan L.
1987 A Cultural Resource Overview: Prehistory, Ethnography, and History, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region.

Klement, Otto
1926 Early Historical Incidents of Skagit County (collected by Ethel Van Fleet Harris). Mount Vernon Daily Herald, October 19, 1926.

Louter, David
1998 Contested Terrain: North Cascades National Park Service Complex, An Administrative History. National Park Service, Seattle, Wash.

Luxenberg, Gretchen A.
1984 Historic Structures Inventory, North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Cultural Resources Division, Pacific Northwest Region, National Park Service, Seattle.

1986 Historic Resource Study, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, Washington. Cultural Resources Division, Pacific Northwest Region, National Park Service, Seattle.

Majors, Harry M. (editor)
1980 The First Crossing of the North Cascades. Northwest Discovery 1(3):128-163.

1982 An Army Expedition Across the North Cascades in August 1882. Northwest Discovery 3(1):36-84.

Mierendorf, Robert R.
1986 People of the North Cascades. North Cascades National Park Service Complex, Cultural Resources Division, Pacific Northwest Region, National Park Service, Seattle.

Mierendorf, Robert R., Franklin F. Foit, Jr., and Monika Nill
2006 Earth, Wind, Fire, and Stone at Cascade Pass: Preliminary Archeology and Geochronology. Paper presented at the 59th Annual Northwest Anthropological Conference, March 29-April 1, Seattle, Wash.

Mierendorf, Robert R., Franklin F. Foit, Jr.
2008 9,000 Years of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Stone at Cascade Pass: Preliminary Archeology and Geochronology. Abstracts of papers presented at the 73rd Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology, March 26-30, Vancouver, B.C.

Murray, Keith A.
1965 Building a Wagon Road Through the North Cascade Mountains. Pacific Northwest Quarterly 56(2):49-56.

Pierce, Henry H.
1883 Report of an Expedition From Fort Colville to Puget Sound. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Rinehart, Mary Roberts
1918 Tenting To-Night. Published by Montana Historical Society and Riverbend Publishing, Helena, Mt., 2002.

Roe, JoAnn
1997 North Cascades Highway. The Mountaineers, Seattle.

Stone, Carol
1983 Stehekin: Glimpses of the Past. Long House Printcrafters and Publishers, Friday Harbor, Wash.

Thompson, Erwin N.
1970 North Cascades N.P., Ross Lake N.R.A. & Lake Chelan N.R.A. History Basic Data. Office of History and Historic Architecture, Eastern Service Center, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior.

Thornburgh, Dale A.
1970 Survey of Recreational Impact and Management Recommendations for the Subalpine Vegetation Communities at Cascade Pass, North Cascades National Park. Ms. on file, U.S. National Park Service, Pacific Northwest Region, Seattle.

U. S. Geological Survey
1914 Results of Spirit Leveling in the State of Washington 1896 To 1913, INCLUSIVE. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 557, U. S. Department of Interior, Government Printing Office, Washington.

Wilkeson, Frank.
1892 “The Paradise of Bears”, The New York Times, July 10, 1892.


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