Gene Jones Sr. has been making the journey since his grandfather first took him there in 1950.
"It's the most sacred place for our S'Klallam Tribe," said Jones of Tamanous Rock, near Anderson Lake. The name roughly translates to "Guardian Spirit," he explained.
Jones has climbed it many times in his 64 years, often taking native people there for the spiritual benefits it offers.
Two weeks ago, the spiritual leader led a special climb for a group of people who have worked for years to preserve the rock and surrounding land as open space. Jones carried a drum with him, and after everyone caught their breath and reflected on the pending acquisition of the site, Jones stayed behind for a few minutes.
Facing the rock, he began to sing, slowly beating his drum as his voice reverberated toward the rock and down the hill. Then he said a prayer, and walked down to rejoin the group.
When he was a child, he didn't understand the sacred importance of the caves around the rock, Jones said. He wanted to play in them, but his grandfather stopped him.
"You can't do that, Cowauh [dear one]," his grandfather told him. "It's the home of our ancestors. Our spirits are there."
That respect is something he's carried through the rest of his life, Jones said. "There's stories about people tying themselves to the rock," Jones said of oral history, and those stories might relate to the huge tsunami caused by an earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone in 1700. At one time, he believes, the base of the rock was at sea level, and that's how the caves around the base were formed.
"The S'Klallam Tribe was one of the biggest tribes in the state," said Jones. It once controlled half of the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas, with 17 villages of 400 to 500 people each, he said.
Heart of the dragon
The rock holds meaning for other people as well. If you look at aerial photos of the Olympic Peninsula, some say, it looks like a dragon, and Tamanous Rock is the heart of that dragon.
"We all figured it was going to be here [forever]," Jones said. "Then one day I was sitting at home," he said, and got a phone call saying the land had been sold and would be developed for housing. That was in the early 1990s.
"Right here, I met with his lawyer," said Jones of George Heidgerken, the developer who signed papers last week selling the property to a consortium of preservation groups.
After Heidgerken bought it, the tribes arranged a meeting with him. That caused a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee to fear that there might be a demonstration or protest of some sort, a story recalled vividly by people who've been working to save the rock all these years.
Jones' wife, Marilyn, recalled the first words from that DNR employee when she arrived on the scene. "What going on?" she asked. "Shut up, my husband's praying," Marilyn Jones told her.
Attempts to purchase the rock from Heidgerken were unsuccessful. Alarm rippled through supporters of the rock when he logged some of the property. Peter Bahls, executive director of the Northwest Watershed Institute, said that although some gravel roads were built, the trees nearest the rock were left standing.
Earlier this year, Heidgerken posted a "for sale" sign asking $1,025,000 for the property. Eventually, he agreed to sell it for $600,000.
Heidgerken, who is the owner of Managing Green LLC in Tacoma, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment for this story.
The deal inked last week creates a two-year window, thanks to a loan from the Bullitt Foundation that provided 80 percent of the purchase funding, said Sarah Spaeth, executive director of the Jefferson Land Trust. "This is just a bridge," she said.
The remaining 20 percent comes from private lenders and donors, said Spaeth. The challenge ahead is to secure federal, state and county funds along with private donations to repay the Bullitt Foundation and community lenders to preserve the rock in perpetuity.
The Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, Suquamish Tribe, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, Washington State Parks and Jefferson Land Trust are working in concert to raise those funds, she said.
The Land Trust will hold the title initially, Spaeth said, but the plan is for either Washington State Parks or the Jamestown Tribe to own the property as well as the adjacent 80 acres known as the Nicholsen Short Plat. The plan is to protect both properties with conservation easements issued to the Land Trust, she said.
The Jefferson Land Trust held an auction several weeks ago, raising $40,000 toward the preservation of the rock. "I sat there almost in tears," said Jones.