Thursday, September 12, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bit Of Haven At Holden Village

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

A half-century ago the dormitories at Holden Village housed miners, drawn by copper.

Today those buildings house hikers, drawn by glaciers and lakes, wildflowers and waterfalls in the North Cascades.

It isn't easy to get to this isolated former mining town, which for the past 35 years has operated as a Lutheran retreat center. Once you've arrived, though, you're in day-hiker heaven.

You can give your legs, lungs and spirit a workout by day, then gaze at shooting stars from the comfort of a hot tub by night.

Three trails lead from Holden Village to the high country of the surrounding Glacier Peak Wilderness. That's not all: the Forest Service, seeking to accommodate aging baby boomers and reduce hiker pressure on the wilderness, last year completed two shorter, relatively flat trails to waterfalls.

They're so new you won't find them on most maps.

Getting to Holden Village usually requires three modes of transportation: car, boat and bus. Drive to Chelan or Fields Point, 16 miles up Lake Chelan; parking is plentiful both places, for a fee. Take the Lady of the Lake II to Lucerne, about three-quarters of the way uplake. School buses take you the final 11 miles up to Holden Village, elevation 3,200 feet.

There the gravel road ends, deep in the mountains. Few communities approach Holden's isolation. There's no television, no telephone.

From 1937 until it closed in 1957, the mine was the state's largest copper producer. It left scars: the ruin of the mill where the ore was crushed and soaring orange tailings piles, still largely bereft of vegetation after 40 years.

The mine's owners gave the town to the Lutheran Bible Institute in the early 1960s. It's now run by a nonprofit corporation. Visitors stay in what once were miners' dormitories - bathrooms are down the hall - and eat family-style in what once was the miners' dining hall.

Holden is a community, not a resort. There are no guests or staffers; everyone's a villager. You make up your bed when you arrive.

In summer, Holden offers classes, children's programs and crafts. Villagers can do as much as they like. The only expectation: attendance at vespers each night.

People at Holden Village are serious about their faith, but not stodgy. At vespers our final night, we observed the 51st anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki - and the first anniversary of the death of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.

Many people, like me, come to Holden to hike. The village operates a "Hike Haus" in summer, with information, maps, and some hiking gear for rent. It's where you sign up to hike the two trails with day-use limits. The village hosted more than 400 people the week we were there. The limits are necessary to protect the backcountry and hikers' enjoyment of it.

The trails

Tenmile Falls - The new trail, of crushed rock and barrier-free, meanders an easy mile through forest to an overlook of the falls. Benches along the way offer views across the valley to Copper Peak and Buckskin Mountain.

Monkey Bear Falls - This cataract's setting is rocky, open, almost arid. The new trail parallels the road, crossing Tenmile and Ninemile creeks, then a few quick switchbacks lead to the viewpoint overlooking the falls.

Hart Lake/Lyman Lake - After Tenmile Falls, Hart Lake probably is the most popular day hike, and limited to 24 hikers daily.

The trail runs four miles up the Railroad Creek valley, through forest and past beaver ponds. Most of the 700 feet in elevation gain comes near the end, as you pass the waterfall at the lake's outlet. The trail then contours through boulders to campsites near the inlet stream. Crown Point Falls, several miles up the valley toward Lyman Lake, beckons.

While my friends, veteran fly fishermen, remained at Hart Lake, I walked three more miles, first through a moor-like meadow with views of mountains, glaciers and waterfalls, then past forested campsites.

From there, the trail got steep, the brush chest-high, the flies voracious, the views increasingly spectacular.

Lyman Lake is something of a Glacier Peak crossroads, where trails from the Stehekin, Wenatchee and Suiattle valleys intersect. It's 18 miles round trip and a 2,400-foot climb from Holden Village, but with an early start, it can be done in a day.

My friends, incidentally, caught their limits of rainbow trout at Hart Lake. The kitchen villagers fried them for us for breakfast the next morning.

Holden Lake - Yes, there's at least one alpine lake in the North Cascades where boots haven't beaten the lakeside meadows into mud. Holden Village limits hikers here to 18 a day.

Holden Lake, five miles and 2,100 feet above the village, fills the cirque below Bonanza and Martin peaks. In early August a half-dozen waterfalls spilled into the basin from Mary Green Glacier, on the shoulder of Bonanza. Anglers who had camped at the lake told us they heard chunks of glacier breaking off all night.

A fat marmot wandered past as we ate lunch near the outlet. Our attempt to circumnavigate the lake was thwarted by a large boulder field and steep snowfield near the inlet, but the wildflower meadows along the way more than compensated.

The trail to Holden Lake proceeds mostly up open, brushy, south-facing slopes, thick with flies when we hiked it. We encountered aspen near the top; when their leaves turn this fall, they will add another attraction.

Copper Basin - Copper Creek supplies Holden's water and electricity. It originates in a glacier-rimmed basin 2,400 feet above the village, filled with dwarfish firs, larch and heather. The three-mile trail climbs steeply through forest, in tight switchbacks but on good tread, before contouring through boulders above the brush-choked lower basin. More switchbacks lead to Copper Basin proper, and yet another waterfall.

Copper Basin isn't as popular a destination as Hart Lake or Holden Lake. Not only is it the steepest trail in the area, it also was the only one on which we found snow patches. We hiked it on a cool, overcast day and encountered only two other parties.

If you go

Cost - Adult rates at Holden Village through Oct. 31 start at $48 per person for the first night, but drop with each succeeding night. A seven-night stay, for instance, costs $226. Prices include all meals.

Transportation - The village will transport non-villagers and their gear from Lucerne to Holden for a fee. Meals at the village also are available to non-villagers for a price.

Camping - The Forest Service operates a tiny campground just west of the village.

Details - Holden Village, Chelan, WA 98816. The village has no telephone. For information on trails: Chelan Ranger District, 428 W. Woodin Ave., Chelan, WA 98816, (509) 682-2576.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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