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Cedar Lake, 5,300 feet above sea level in the Olympic Mountains, is embraced by frost and a thin sheet of ice which melts with the noon October sun.

It cradles in its crystalline depths the ancestors of rainbow trout planted more than six decades ago. You can reach Cedar Lake from the north or south, but either way, you must hike at least a full day from your car.

In 1939, volunteer anglers hoisted five-gallon drums filled with water and rainbow trout fingerlings onto their backs. They sweated and strained under their packs for at least 14 miles - the last 3 up a root-bound, muddy backcountry trail so faint it lost itself in the grassy alpine meadows.

Despite the severe winters and the long freeze-ups - last week, the remnant glacier at the south end of Cedar Lake was 15 feet thick - the trout survived. They bred in the gravelly inlet or in the pools that dot the alpine meadows below the cascading outlet.

Shortly after Olympic National Park was created in 1938, fish- stocking in all park lakes ceased. Park officials are required by Congress to conserve and protect native flora and fauna and generally regard non-native trout as intrusive and perhaps threatening.

Eastern brook trout were planted in most of the high lakes. They could spawn in the lake and did not need the gravel and moving water to nurse their eggs.

In the Olympics, the brook trout have overgrown their food supply. To rid the lakes of the fish, park officials have removed catch limits on many alpine waters.

All but a few of the high lakes have again become barren. Blue Lake, a lapis gem set in an emerald pocket high above Boulder Lake, no longer holds the trout planted there at great effort by volunteer anglers.

But at some of these splendid alpine tarns, you can cast a fly out to watch big rainbows rise like exploded silver across the water. They have lived here for at least six decades - but they may not live here much longer.

Park scientists are trying to find out whether the trout may be endangering native plants and wildlife. If it is found they are, the fish will likely be removed, first by eliminating catch limits and later perhaps by poisoning or shocking the fish.

I first visited Cedar Lake 31 years ago, meaning to catch the huge rainbows lurking there. Something about the beauty of the place, the amazing survival of the trout and the struggle to get them there, changed my mind about keeping the fish. I have only taken one fish from Cedar Lake.

I returned to Cedar Lake last week to see if the rainbows were still there.

They were - although none I saw were as large as the fish that once cruised water so clear it looks as if the trout are flying.

At first, I worried about revealing Cedar Lake's name, for fear hikers and anglers would visit in destructive droves. Its pristine water and splendid alpine beauty might be ruined, its silver horde of trout pillaged forever.

But today, I worry that not enough people will see Cedar Lake and the fish it holds. Today, I fear too few people will know its beauty and want to save it - and the life Cedar Lake nurtures in its pure waters.

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