Travel: Wednesday, November 11, 1998

View With A Room -- In Treehouse Lodging, Guests Get Close To Forest

Don Duncan
Special To The Seattle Times

ASHFORD, Pierce County - When Himalayan expeditions, African safaris and trying to break the bank at Monte Carlo become boring, you may be a candidate for a tranquil night or two in the Cedar Creek Treehouse on the edge of Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Bill Compher, a professional musician with a love of high places, has crafted a treehouse at the 50-foot-level of a massive, century-old western red cedar that stirs memories of childhood attempts to build a hideaway out of scrap lumber in a backyard apple tree.

Of course, Cedar Creek Treehouse - featured in a recent issue of Fine Homebuilding Magazine - is unlike anything we imagined.

It is 16 feet by 16 feet, has a living room, kitchen, bathroom and an attached sunroom / viewing room. The latter sleeps one person. A second-story loft accommodates four more.

The massive cedar is always a presence, growing through the floor and out the roof.

Food is kept cool in an icebox and cooked on a butane stove. Solar panels power 12-volt electric lights. Compher hauls water up daily on his back.

The treehouse offers a 360-degree view of evergreens reaching toward the sky and, from the loft skylight, views of Osborne Mountain, the Sawtooth Ridge and a bit of the icy summit of Mount Rainier.

"The Japanese believe you should have to work for a great view," says Compher. "I feel that way too."

In addition to the treehouse, Bill and his wife, Leslie Rousos, also a professional musician and singer, built a two-story, cedar-lined studio near Ashford, so they could record the folk music they perform at festivals throughout the Northwest.

But the occasional truck or lone airplane created too much noise at the wrong time, so they decided to turn the studio into an overnight retreat for mountain visitors.

Cedar Loft Guesthouse has all the amenities of home.

The treehouse and the Comphers' family residence is about seven miles southeast of Ashford, while Cedar Loft is on another four-acre property, just two miles from town.

The couple bought five acres of heavily timbered land near Mount Rainer 20 years ago and built a rustic family home. Soon after moving into the house, Compher, a native Tennessean, took stock of his forest. He noted the most impressive was the cedar that now holds Cedar Creek Treehouse.

Compher - a fearless climber - scampered to the top. The view was breathtaking. He vowed to build a "little" treehouse retreat.

Compher made a crude ladder to the 50-foot level. He cut limbs to open up the view. Using a rope and pulley, he hauled up tools, nails and lumber to build the main platform, which is bolted to the tree and stabilized by guy wires.

Then he added walls, windows, a roof, a front door and furnishings. Still more hardware secures the top of the treehouse to the tree.

In time, Compher's creation became a magnet for helicopter pilots training at Fort Lewis. For many months, the family's solitude was shattered by choppers hovering over their retreat.

They protested to the Army and to their congressman. The Seattle Times added its voice. But the flights continued.

Then Compher called his congressman, demanded a face-to-face meeting on his property and added that he planned to invite every newspaper and radio and TV station in the area to send a reporter. The flights ceased next day.

After Compher's mother-in-law froze on the ladder one day about 30 feet up, it became obvious that most people might never make it up by climbing wobbly boards.

The solution is a massive framework of recycled bridge timbers tied together with foot-long bolts and heavy metal supports. It rests on six 1,000-pound hand-poured piers.

The stairway rises in 10-foot increments. At the top is a glassed-in observation deck, a hammock and a catwalk to the treehouse door.

It took Compher a year to finish the stairwell. But now, even those who - like this writer - are uncomfortable in high places feel secure going up and down.

Asked what he'd do if the old cedar tree died in his lifetime, Compher said he might string catwalks from the 50-foot-high stairway tower to other 100-feet-tall evergreens on his property "and build a whole village of treehouses, 50 to 60 feet off the ground."

Compher is eyeing the property's tallest Douglas fir, which rises above the family homeas a potential crow's nest.

"Imagine sitting up there at the end of the day, enjoying the view and listening to the wind sighing in the trees," he says. Don Duncan, a retired Seattle Times reporter, lives in Kirkland.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company