Done in a Day: Haunted Hikes

Up­grade your camp­fire tales with these spooky day trips.

Backpacker - - CONTENTS -


Maybe they were in­trigued by a dark mass bob­bing in the wa­ter near Sledge­ham­mer Point. Or maybe it was a small, white flash at the sur­face that caught their at­ten­tion. Or per­haps they sim­ply cast a line for steel­head and were sur­prised to dis­cover a 5-foot-long bun­dle on the other end. But for some rea­son on a day in July 1940, the two trout fi sher­men reeled in a nearly per­fectly pre­served corpse. Lake Cres­cent had sur­ren­dered one of its se­crets.

Lake Cres­cent is nes­tled in a glacial val­ley south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north­ern end of the Olympic Penin­sula. Four-thou­sand-foot peaks rise on ei­ther side, as if to guard it—and maybe they are. The na­tive Klal­lam and Quileute peo­ple tell a story of a once-beau­ti­ful re­gion that was marred by war. Mt. Storm King, which soars over the lake’s south­ern banks, grew an­gry at the tu­mult and threw a chunk of rock from its peak into the river val­ley where the tribes were fi ght­ing. The boul­der killed ev­ery one of the bat­tling tribes­peo­ple and dammed the wa­ter, cre­at­ing an undis­turbed, cres­cent-shaped lake.

There’s some his­tor­i­cal truth to the leg­end. Ge­o­log­i­cal sur­veys in­di­cate that a mas­sive land­slide dec­i­mated the area 8,000 years ago, ef­fec­tively sep­a­rat­ing Lake Cres­cent and Lake Suther­land. One re­sult of the par­ti­tion is the for­mer’s crys­talline wa­ter. With­out ma­jor in­flows, Lake Cres­cent lacks the usual amounts of plant nu­tri­ents, like ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus, pre­vent­ing al­gae growth.

It’s no won­der a float­ing body looked so out of place in the clear wa­ter.

The two fi sher­men, brothers, reeled in the corpse. It was wrapped in a gray, striped blan­ket and bound with rope, but tears re­vealed a shoul­der and a foot, both so pal­lid the body looked less a woman than a man­nequin.

“It’s like a statue,” Sher­iff Charles Kemp later con­cluded af­ter the coro­ner’s ex­am­i­na­tion. “The flesh has turned to some rub­ber-like sub­stance.” There was no odor, nor any sign of de­com­po­si­tion. Some­thing about Lake Cres­cent’s unique makeup had not only pre­served the body—in­clud­ing a ring of still-pur­ple bruises cir­cling the girl’s neck— but had also ac­tu­ated a chem­i­cal process called saponi­fi­ca­tion, es­sen­tially con­vert­ing the tis­sue into soap. What re­mained was the body of a woman in her mid-30s, around 5 feet, 6 inches tall, ob­vi­ously stran­gled, and, to an ex­tent, eas­ily iden­tifi able: Hal­lie Illing­worth, miss­ing for three years.

But Illing­worth was only one of Lake Cres­cent’s vic­tims. In 1956, an am­bu­lance ca­reened off US 101 at Meldrim Point, plung­ing into Lake Cres­cent, killing one. In

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