Saturday, September 23, 2017

The First Year at the Homestead by Mike Barnhart

In the spring of 1918, my grandparents, Hugh and Mamie Courtney acquired the old William Mcomb homestead at the end of Company Creek road. Below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book  “At Home In The Woods – A Stehekin Family History – The Moores and Courtney’s”, along with a photo of the Cronk Cabin.   Article and photo "copyright" by Mike Barnhart. Reprinted from 2010 Guidebook.

Old Courtney place 1956

“The first year at the homestead, Dorothy and Harwood went to school at the McGregor Flats School otherwise known as the Cronk cabin, located right across the river from the Courtney homestead. Rather than going down to the bridge and back up the other side, Hugh dropped a large tree across the river allowing the kids a much easier walk to school.  The following year school was moved to an old cabin owned by Fred Bowen near Rainbow Falls. Fred also donated land for a new school at that same site. Since children lived at both ends of the valley it made a lot of sense to have a school more centrally located, especially since most often the kids had to walk to school.  In the winter, when the snow got deep, Hugh went ahead of the kids with his snowshoes to break trail but as we all know, walking in boots on a snowshoe trail doesn’t always work so well. Breaking through the snow down to your knees (we call it post-holing) every few steps turns into a lot of work. At six years old, it was quite a struggle for Laurence.”

Saturday, September 16, 2017

PART TWO: A Five Star Recipe: The Making of the Stehekin Pastry Company

Roberta and Cragg Courtney, 2017

Roberta and Cragg have contributed more than the beloved Stehekin Pastry Company to enhancing the Stehekin Valley. Between their official roles as Bakery owners and excavator and heavy equipment operator, they manage two handsome rental cabins, and were instrumental in keeping the backcountry horse pack trips moving for the Courtney Family for many years. (The tradition lives on through

When their two children, Quinlan and Clancy, were small babes, you could sometimes find them on Roberta’s back, in a pack, as she kept her hands moving in the orchestration of her many tasks creating scrumptiousness. Each of their children has taken a turn in the bakery, as well as helping their dad in his many callings. When high school called to Quin and Clancy, Roberta and Cragg made a way for that to happen, in the midst of all their hard work, and rarely missed any event or game that arose. Even in their relocation for five years, they maintained the high standard of all their businesses.
Fresh out of the oven! Pizza!
What advice would Roberta give to anyone starting into a Bakery business? The secret recipe is this…”They better like to work hard. If you don’t, it’s not going to go,” she proclaims.  Another part of the recipe is revealed: “Start small. Keep it simple, don’t expand till you can.”  Roberta designed her first small kitchen/bakery herself, and it became real through the efforts of Cragg, Mark Courtney, her Dad and her uncle. Later additions were made of lumber milled right here by her nephews Reed and Jake Courtney.

We’ve talked about the unfolding of the Bakery; the inspiration, the self-taught management skills, the talent and fortitude it has taken. But what about running a bakery in Stehekin? 

“Ordering, picking up supplies at the landing off the boat…handling boxes many times, putting them away, “ she sighs. “I am so happy with our brand new arrangement with Mountain Barge Services where they deliver early in the morning, everything on pallets, and no stress of a boat time crowd."

Another interesting aspect to running a business in Stehekin is, hiring. “Finding people that want to be here, but want to work, and are compatible to the Stehekin lifestyle, and to the Bakery,  is always a challenge. The seasonal aspect of the work as well as the hours requires a special kind of person. I am always looking for that kind of person.” 

What has been your most memorable day in the Stehekin Pastry Company?

“Crazy days like one day in August, when there was a convergence of everything we do. Everything that could happen, happened! There were two quick changes of the cabins which meant guests were coming in on the boat and we also had to pick them up. There was a pack trip starting which meant getting everything ready for that…plus picking THOSE people up.  There was a sick horse to care for, and then…..the health inspector showed up!” she laughs.  “Labor Day weekend is our busiest time and sometimes just blows me away.”

And down to more of the details  that guarantee success of this five star recipe to a bakery:

What are your best tools? “I could not live without my mixers: the large Hobart, the Cuisinarts, and three mixers are constantly in use. But the best tool is, really, our own hands.
What does it REALLY take to make a scrumptious Danish with raspberries and custard filling? What is all the work we don't readily see behind that beautiful creation? Roberta itemizes:

·     * Order the flour and butter and all ingredients
·      *Receive it, handle it put it away
·     * Make the dough
·      *Chill overnight
·      *Roll out the next day
·      *Have seasonal fruit on hand
·      *Have cream cheese filling ready
·      *Bakers handle shaping and baking
·      *Counter people fill with filling and apply the icing,
·      *Fill the plate full for the case in a an attractive array
·      *Make it beautiful and artsy, and it must TASTE good, bottom line!!!

     "Truly, it is a team effort all the way."

And what about that wonderful cup of coffee to go with the sublime? “Blue Star Coffee from the Methow Valley is the best, “Roberta says without question.

The all -time best seller? “Cinnamon rolls…for sure. You can order them by the dozen.” It’s true. Fans  have memorized what time they come out of the roaring propane oven, and can barely wait for the delectable cream cheese icing to be swirled on top.
“We are so much more than cinnamon rolls….we have daily salad specials, sandwiches, salads and quiche, pizza…many savory choices. Be sure and mention that,” she says with emphasis.

What is you favorite item to make? “New things, and rolling out dough. It’s just satisfying to roll out a big bunch of dough!” Roberta smiles.

For the final step of this recipe, Roberta reflects on her homeland, and her hard work in Stehekin…
“I appreciate the ingenuity that it takes to live here. Necessity requires it. It’s not all fun, you have to go through it and figure out how to make things work. Our systems are really good now here at the Bakery. I used to get up at 3am which was too early! We have it fine tuned and I can sleep longer. I don’t have much other life from mid May to mid October, but I don’t miss too much,” she smiles. “The Bakery crew are my good friends.”
Hannah, Mairin, Lindsey and Roberta, early spring prep crew

In the nearby shop, Cragg is fixing a huge tire from a dump truck that is being used on the new construction on the Stehekin road. Hops, the family Fox Terrier, is on alert to Rob’s every move, and standing at attention. Mairin returns from the bakery bus duty and talks about the customers, and the road filled with people.  The summer sun beats down on the beautiful pasture out Roberta and Cragg’s window. She is needed elsewhere now, and does not linger too long in the spotlight. There’s work to be done. And, we know whatever it is, she will be able to handle it. l.c.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Leisurely Walk on the Stehekin River Trail

View looking up the airstrip toward
MrGregor from the trail-head.

      The River Trail takes you 4 miles to Weaver Point on the south shore of Lake Chelan where you will find a large public campground and a sandy beach for those who like cold water swimming. The way
 is mostly forested and you are only in view of the river along three different stretches. This is a nice cool hike for a hot day, and comes complete with a few fishing holes along the way. 

View of the river from the meandering
River Trail.

       The trail-head is 4.5 miles up valley from the boat landing 
and across Harlequin Bridge. Follow Company Creek Road 125 yards and take a left into the National Park Service maintenance area. Continue straight ahead to the Stehekin Airport. Heading down-valley (left) along the landing strip you will find the trail head at the end of the runway. 

      The trail meanders past creeks coming off the hill side and the Stehekin River as you head toward Weaver Point for some spectacular views looking down the lake on a lazy afternoon.

A wonderful view looking down lake from the Weaver Point Dock.
A great place to relax an have lunch!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Passing the Reins ~ reprinted from 2016 Guidebook

Ray Courtney heading into 
the back country
     Imagine yourself on top of a mountain, your legs are tired but the breeze tousles your hair and sunshine warms your skin. Before your eyes is a spectacular scene of snow capped peaks, forested mountains dotted with alpine lakes and puffy clouds in a sapphire sky. The mountains of the North Cascades do not disappoint in their grandeur or beauty and with the horses of Stehekin Outfitters carrying your gear they are easier to access than ever. This Outfitting business has been passed through three generations of the Courtney family; each outfitter hosting trips displays an adventurous spirit mixed with a desire to share the high country. 

The original business started in 1946 when Ray Courtney and Virgil Fellows, friends from WWII, teamed up to create Alpine Packers. This Outfitting and guided horseback business worked in conjunction to several other packers in the area like Guy Imus and Dan Devore. Virgil was instrumental in financing the startup of the business; together he and Ray offered rates starting as low as ten dollars a day. Ray was a 
Cragg and Robbie Courtney
man of many talents and to make a living in Stehekin he used all of them, operating his lumber mill, packing, trapping, gardening and in the winter he found work at ski resorts. As the packing business grew the trips swelled in size, some hiking trips with as many as seventy hikers and riding groups rose to around forty. There was one occasion where all the valley packers combined their resources to take a Sierra Club trip with about a hundred hikers that needed over thirty horses and half a dozen packers. The summer season stretched on into fall with hunting parties wanting to be dropped off and packed out after a week or so. In 1961 Ray married Virgil’s sister Esther and that summer they started their own full service trips dubbed “Hike and Like it”. As the family grew, their children all spent time helping on the trips, packing and leading a string of horses, gathering firewood, pitching tents, getting water and helping Esther with kitchen chores. In 1967 the Wenatchee World contracted with Ray for an annual event they called the “Wenatchee World Trail Hike”. The Courtney’s would completely furnish the trip with food, cooks, horses, wranglers and packers in exchange that the newspaper would place ads to help drum up interest. These well-known local trips went on for forty years, continually drawing repeat hikers as the family would alter routes to enable hikers to see more of the back country sights. On any trip, guests can hike strictly from camp to camp or venture up a side trail to summit one of the looming peaks that offers spectacular views.
Nancy Davis

Tragedy struck in 1982 when Ray was fatally injured in an accident during a trip. In the coming years, his sons filled in to keep the business alive and eventually Cragg and his wife Robbie took over breeding and maintaining the Fjords, taking hiking trips with the help of the family and offering guided rides from the corrals at Stehekin Valley Ranch. This valued service continued for over thirty years until Cragg passed the reins over to his nephew Colter and his business partner Nancy Davis who was currently employed in their Outfitting program. Colter and Nancy will continue to provide quality trips to places like Hidden Meadows, Walker Park, Cottonwood, Park Creek and Rainbow Meadows.  Nancy grew up in a small Vermont town and spent her childhood riding horses, camping, hiking, swimming and exploring the Green Mountains before she trekked across the country with an Equine Studies degree from Centenary College. Colter was raised in Stehekin and to avoid mischief at his parent’s Ranch he would often be out gallivanting through the mountains, fishing, hunting, hiking and camping, driven by an unquenchable thirst to explore new territory.

Colter Courtney heading out with a string

His school years took him to Chelan with his cousin Quin to play football and after tasting a year of college he heard the calling of the mountains to come back home. Taking on Stehekin Outfitters is the best way to continue an outdoor lifestyle and sharing it with guests is a rewarding experience. These trips are about companionship, adventure, freedom, physical exercise, and the opportunity to see God’s country. This work is what we love and you are invited to come along on the trip of a lifetime in the high country of the North Cascades. For the full story of Passing the Reins, visit our website at

Friday, September 1, 2017

PART ONE: A 5 Star Recipe: The Making of the Stehekin Pastry Company

We attempt to honor Cragg and Roberta Courtney's contributions to the Stehekin Valley experience in the following two part story. We commend you, Cragg and Roberta for your hard work and dedication to Stehekin…. 

A Tribute to Roberta and Cragg Courtney 

She’s been featured in Martha Stewart ‘s Living Magazine, has appeared in National Geographic at age 10,  had her photo taken with Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire. You won’t find an article about Stehekin that does not mention her name or her place of fame: The Stehekin Pastry Company. Yet, in all of her Northwest and beyond fame over her 28 years of operation, Roberta Courtney remains a believer in generosity, benevolence and management with compassion.
Photo from Martha Stewart Feature
Roberta and her husband Cragg, have created the new most favored and beloved  destination of visitors and locals. The big question of how far is it to the highly sought visual, Rainbow falls, has now been replaced by…how far is it to the Bakery? The answer is a two mile trek from the boat landing to the glory of culinary treats and meals where you must weave through a heavily traveled path full of  rental bikes, hikers, strolling couples, buses, rented Rangers all  drawn like magnets to this delightful compliment to mountain majesty. From mid May to Mid October, visitors are on a “bakery mission.” 

Today, mid August, Roberta is catching her breath, standing on the steps of her Bakery entrance.  Her ear phones around her neck dangle. “Just fixed the water intake,” she reports. “Just” actually means hiking up a steep mountainside, and directing a mountain stream to go where it should. The sprinklers in the beautiful fields near the Bakery are now running, again. She is heading back to her long wooden workbench covered with everything from a stack of pie plates, to large bread sheets full of round dinner rolls to a cavalcade of spatulas, bowls, big spoons. 

Delicious Sourdough Dinner Rolls

Pie Production: Personally Crafted Every time

Back at her station, surrounded by her bustling helpers, bowls of pie fillings, and a myriad of baked goods in process, Roberta’s hands are expertly shaping pie dough for some 20 different pies. However, her eyes are taking in 360 degrees of activity at the same time. Rolls are being shaped, icing is being swirled on cinnamon rolls, soup of the day is being assembled,  the propane stove is roaring as it bakes bread and customers are lining up three and four deep. Roberta sees the line up of enthusiastic requests at the counter, wipes her floury hands on her apron and joins her helpers up front.
Some know her as “Robbie,” those that have known her for her lifetime  as friend and neighbor dedicated to the Stehekin Valley. To others, she is “Roberta,” creative and hard working owner operator of the Stehekin Pastry Company. With either name,  her jaunt up the mountain this morning to fix a problem first hand speaks of her life philosophy: Hard work plus compassion, and the bottom line: a worthy, successful product.
Roberta and Hannah tackling salad orders
“She makes me want to learn more…" says Hannah Geitl, the Bakery’s creative soup salad and sandwich chef. “Robbie is inspiring…she knows so much, she sees so much, she does it all…she sees things way beyond what her hands are doing. She’ll say, ‘Someone check the coffee,’ and she’ll be right on when there is one cup left.
She is always saving the day…she does a lot …it’s cool…she’s knows when I need help. I would go so far as to say she is …omniscient!”

Hannah explains the creativity that has to flow from day to day between the staff and Roberta. “One of my favorite things to make is any hot delicious saucy sandwich. “I was making Rueben’s, and we ran out of sauerkraut. Robbie invented a delicious slaw on the spot of fresh cabbage and jalapenos, and through her emergency miracle working, a new town favorite was born: The Ruebenesque.”

From Roberta's Eagle Perch :)
Roberta is quick to give credit to her staff, and her husband Cragg for the day to day challenges that emerge.
 “Cragg keeps it going, keeps all things functioning. He fixes things, takes on projects, and maintenance, and handles crisis situations in the middle of his main work. If I can’t find him, I tell the staff, sometimes it just works to step out the back door and yell, Help! Cragg!” Roberta says with a laugh. She wants to be sure and give every single staff member credit for their efforts. “From cleaning toilets to taking out garbage, everyone deserves to be mentioned.”

What inspired Roberta to start her adventure 28 years ago?
“Cragg was supportive, we had the land, and there was a niche to fill, and we felt it could be made into something.” And make it into something, they did.  Cragg and Roberta started small, with a kitchen, a case up front, and tables on the porch. Two remodels later, they fill to capacity, handle very long lines, and still provide an atmosphere of happy comfort
Happy locals insisted on photo bombing!

Big Decisions!

“The best education I received besides the Culinary Arts Program at Spokane Falls Community College, was the communication class that was required. I wouldn’t have thought of that.. Life is relationships, and good communication makes you a better manager. The food industry needs it! You always have to think about what someone else has gone through and walk in their shoes. It’s hard to remember, but it is a back and forth process, not just talking at employees.  It’s accepting feedback,  and giving them a chance.

Always a smile at the counter~ Gina

Roberta also cites her favorite help book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.….” as a guideline for good management, along with the “Seven Habits for Managers.” Covey’s influence of compassion in Roberta’s work presence is evident. Just ask her staff.

“What is it like to work for Robbie? She is more than a boss, she is a friend, “ Lindsey says as she is on task, wiping clean the proofing box. “She checks in on you.”
Baking assistant, Mairin is obviously in awe of her mentor. “She does so much. I don’t know when
Mairin visits before driving the Bakery Bus on her day off
she sleeps. She is up at 3:45am.…. She taught me the value of a twenty minute power nap, and also to never waste a step. Carry something out, carry something in. She is always looking for the most efficient way to do things.”

There is much more to Roberta and Cragg’s Stehekin Pastry  Company’s Success:
Tune in next week for “Part Two” where we play quick fire twenty questions about everything from Danish Rolls to Roberta’s favorite Brand of Coffee. l.c.
Roberta at work: Managing ten things at once
Find the Stehekin Pastry Company two miles north of Stehekin Landing--Mid May to Mid October