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We escaped the harvesting season of 1870. I try to believe all its poetry is not forever immolated under the strong wheels of that pastoral Juggernaut of our day, the steam-reaper, and to be grateful that Ruths have not now to glean the fallen wheat-heads, and loaf around at questionable hours, setting their caps for susceptible ranchers. Whatever stirring rhythm may to-day measure time with the quick firebreath of reaping-machines shall await a more poetic pen than this. Some modern Virgil coming along the boundless wheat plain may perhaps sing you bucolic phrases of the new iron age; but he will soon see his mistake, as will you. The harvest home, with its Longfellow mellowness of atmosphere, or even those ideally colored barns of Eastman Johnson’s, with corn and girls and some of the lingering personal relationship between crops and human hands; all that is tradition here, not even memory.
It is quite as well. These people are more germane with enterprise and hurry, and with the winding-up drink at some vulgar tavern when the hired hands are paid off, and gather to have “a real nice time with the boys.”
This was over. The herds of men had poured back to their cities, and wandered away among distant mines as far as their earnings would carry them.
A few stranded bummers, who awoke from their “nice time” penniless, still lingered in pathetic humiliation round the scene of their labor, rather heightening that air of sleep which now pervaded every ranch in the Sacramento valley.
We quitted the hotel at Chico with relief, gratefully turning our backs upon the Chinamen, whose cookery had spoiled our two days’ peace. Mr. Freeman Clark will have to make out a better case for Confucius, or else these fellows were apostate. But they were soon behind us, a straight, dusty avenue leading us past clusters of ranches into a quiet expanse of level land, and beneath the occasional shadow of roadside oaks. Miles of harvested plain lay close shaven in monotonous Naples yellow, stretching on, soft and vague, losing itself in a gray, half-luminous haze. Now and then, through more transparent intervals, we could see the brown Sierra feet walling us in to eastward, their oak-clad tops fainter and fainter as they rose into this sky. Directly overhead hung an arch of pale blue, but a few degrees down the hue melted into golden gray. Looming through the mist before us rose sombre forms of trees, growing in processions along the margins of snow-fed streams, which flow the Sierra across the Sacramento plain. Through these silent, sleepy groves the seclusion is perfect. You come in from blinding, sun-scorched plains to the great, aged oaks, whose immense breadth of bough seems outstretched with effort to shade more and more ground.
Alders and cottonwoods line the stream banks; native grapes in tropical profusion drape the shores, and hang in trailing curtains from tree to tree. Here and there glimpses open into dark thickets. The stream comes into view between walls of green. Evening sunlight, broken with shadow, falls over rippling shallows; still expanses of deep pool reflect blue from the zenith, and flow on into dark-shaded coves beneath overhanging verdure. Vineyards and orchards gather themselves pleasantly around ranch-houses.
Men and women are dull, unrelieved; they are all alike. The eternal flatness of landscape, the monotony of endlessly pleasant weather, the scarcely varying year, the utter want of anything unforeseen, and absence of all surprise in life, are legible upon their quiet, uninteresting faces. They loaf through eleven months to harvest one. Individuality is wanting. The same kind of tiresome ranch-gossip you hear at one table spreads itself over listening acres to the next.
The great American poet, it may confidently be predicted, will not book his name from the Sacramento Valley. The people, the acres, the industry seem to be created solely to furnish vulgar fractions in the census. It was not wholly fancy that detected in the grapes something of the same flatness and sugary insipidity which characterized the girls I chatted with on certain piazzas.
What an antipode is the condition of sterile poverty in the farm-life of the East! Frugality, energy, self-preserving mental activity contrast sharply with the contented lethargy of this commonplace opulence. Mile after mile, in recurring succession of wheatland and vineyard, oak-grove and dusty shabbiness of graceless ranch-buildings, stretches on, flanking our way on either side, until at last the undulations of the foot-hills are reached, and the first signs of vigorous life are observed in the trees. Attitude and consciousness are displayed in the lordly oaks which cluster upon brown hillsides. The Sacramento, which through the slumberous plain had flowed in a still, deep current, reflecting only the hot haze and motionless forms of the trees upon its banks, here courses along with the ripple of life, displaying through its clear waters bowlders and pebbles freighted from the higher mountains.
Our road, ascending through sunny valleys and among rolling, oak-clad hills, at length reaches the level of the pines, and, climbing to a considerable crest, descends among a fine coniferous forest into the deeply wooded valley of the Pitt. Lifted high against the sky, ragged hills of granite and limestone limit the view. The river, through a sharp, rocky cañon, has descended from the volcanic plains of northeastern California, cutting its way across the sea of hills which represents the Sierra Nevada, and falling toward the west in a series of white rapids.
Our camp in the cool mountain air banished the fatigues of weary miles; night, under the mountain stars, gave us refreshing sleep; and from the morning we crossed Pitt Ferry we dated a new life.
In a deep gorge between lofty, pine-clad walls we came upon the McCloud, a brilliantly pure stream, wearing its way through lava rocks, and still bearing the ice-chill of Shasta. Dark, feathery firs stand in files along the swift river. Oaks, with lustrous leaves, rise above hill-slopes of red and brown. Numbers of Indian camps are posted here. I find them picturesque: low, conical huts, opening upon small, smoking fires attended by squaws. Numberless salmon, split and drying in rows upon light scaffoldings, make their light-red conspicuous amid the generally dingy surroundings.
These Indian faces are fairly good-natured, especially when young. I visited one camp, upon the left river bank, finding Madam at home, seated by her fireside, engaged in maternal duties. I am almost afraid to describe the squalor and grotesque hideousness of her person. She was emaciated and scantily clad in a sort of short petticoat; shaggy, unkempt hair overhanging a pair of wild wolf’s eyes. The ribs and collar-bone stood out as upon an anatomical specimen; hard, black flesh clinging in formless masses upon her body and arms. Altogether she had the appearance of an animated mummy. Her child, a mere amorphous roll, clung to her, and emphasized, with cubbish fatness, the wan, shrunken form of its mother, looking like some ravenous leech which was draining the woman’s very blood. Shuddering, I hurried away to observe the husband.
The “buck” was spearing salmon a short distance down stream, his naked form poised upon a beam which projected over the river, his eyes riveted, and spear uplifted, waiting for the prey; sunlight, streaming down in broken masses through trees, fell brilliantly upon his muscular shoulder and tense, compact thigh, glancing now and then across rigid arms and the polished point of his spear. The swift, dark water rushed beneath him, flashing upon its surface a shimmering reflection of his red figure. Cast in bronze he would have made a companion for Quincy Ward’s Indian Hunter; and better than a companion, for in his wolfish sinew and panther muscle there was not, so far as I could observe, that free Greek suppleness which is so fine a feature in Mr. Ward’s statue; though Ajax, disguised as an American Indian, might be a better name for that great and powerful piece of sculpture.
A day’s march brought us from McCloud to the Sacramento, here a small stream, with banks fringed by a pleasing variety of trees and margins graceful with water-plants.
Northward for two days we followed closely the line of the Sacramento River, now descending along slopes to its bed, where the stream played among picturesque rocks and bowlders, and again climbing by toilsome ascents into the forest a thousand feet up on the cañon wall, catching glimpses of towering ridges of pine-clad Sierra above, and curves of the foaming river deep in the blue shadow beneath us.
More and more the woods became darkened with mountain pine. The air freshened by northern life gave us the inspiration of altitude.
At last, through a notch to the northward, rose the conical summit of Shasta, its pale, rosy lavas enamelled with ice. Body and base of the great peak were hidden by intervening hills, over whose smooth rolls of forest green the bright, blue sky and the brilliant Shasta summit were sharp and strong. From that moment the peak became the centre of our life. From every crest we strained our eyes forward, as now and then either through forest vistas the incandescent snow greeted us, or from some high summit the opening cañon walls displayed grander and grander views of the great volcano. It was sometimes, after all, a pleasure to descend from these cool heights, with the impression of the mountain upon our minds, to the cañon bottom, where, among the endlessly varying bits of beautiful detail, the mental strain wore off.
When our tents were pitched at Sisson’s, while a picturesque haze floated up from the southward, we enjoyed the grand, uncertain form of Shasta, with its heaven-piercing crests of white, and wide, placid sweep of base; full of lines as deeply reposeful as a Greek temple. Its dark head lifted among the fading stars of dawn, and, strongly set upon the arch of coming rose, appealed to our emotions; but best we liked to sit at evening near Munger’s easel, watching the great lava cone glow with light almost as wild and lurid as if its crater still streamed.
Watkins thought it “photographic luck” that the mountain should so have draped itself with mist as to defy his camera. Palmer stayed at camp to make observations in the coloring of meerschaums at fixed altitudes, and to watch now and then the station barometer.
Shasta from Sisson’s is a broad, triple mountain, the central summit being flanked on the west by a large and quite perfect crater, whose rim reaches about twelve thousand feet altitude. On the west a broad, shoulder-like spur juts from the general slope. The cone rises from its base eleven thousand feet in one sweep.
A forest of tall, rich pines surrounds Strawberry Valley and the little group of ranches near Sisson’s. Under this high sky, and a pure quality of light, the whole varied foreground of green and gold stretches out toward the rocky mountain base in charming contrast. Brooks from the snow thread their way through open meadow, waving overhead a tent-work of willows, silvery and cool.
Shasta, as a whole, is the single cone of an immense, extinct volcano. It occupies almost precisely the axial line of the Sierra Nevada, but the range, instead of carrying its great, wave-like ridge through this region, breaks down in the neighborhood of Lassen’s Butte, and for eighty miles northward is only represented by low, confused masses of mountain cut through and through by the cañon of the McCloud, Pitt, and Sacramento.
A broad, volcanic plain, interrupted here and there by inconsiderable chains, occupies the country east of Scott’s Mountain. From this general plain, whose altitude is from twenty-five hundred to thirty-five hundred feet, rises Mount Shasta. About its base cluster hillocks of a hundred little volcanoes, but they are utterly inconspicuous under the shadow of the great peak. The volcanic plain-land is partly overgrown by forest, and in part covers itself with fields of grass or sage. Riding over it in almost any part the one great point in the landscape is the cone of Shasta; its crest of solid white, its vast altitude, the pale-gray or rosy tints of its lavas, and the dark girdle of forest which swells up over cañon-carved foothills give it a grandeur equalled by hardly any American mountain.
September eleventh found the climbers of our party—S. F. Emmons, Frederick A. Clark, Albert B. Clark, Mr. Sisson, the pioneer guide of the region, and myself—mounted upon our mules, heading for the crater cone over rough rocks and among the stunted firs and pines which mark the upper limit of forest growth. The morning was cool and clear, with a fresh north wind sweeping round the volcano, and bringing in its descent invigorating cold of the snow region. When we had gone as far as our mules could carry us, threading their difficult way among piles of lava, we dismounted and made up our packs of beds, instruments, food and fuel for a three days’ trip, turned the animals over to George and John, our two muleteers, bade them good-day, and with Sisson, who was to accompany us up the first ascent, struck out on foot. Already above vegetation, we looked out over all the valley south and west, observing its arabesque of forest, meadow, and chaparral, the files of pines which struggled up almost to our feet, and just below us the volcano slope strewn with red and brown wreck and patches of shrunken snowdrift.
Our climb up the steep western crater slope was slow and tiresome, quite without risk or excitement. The footing, altogether of lodged débris,at times gave way provokingly, and threw us out of balance. Once upon the spiry pinnacles which crown the rim, a scene of wild power broke upon us. The round bowl, about a mile in diameter and nearly a thousand feet deep, lay beneath us, its steep, shelving sides of shattered lava mantled in places to the very bottom by fields of snow.
We clambered along the edge toward Shasta, and came to a place where for a thousand feet it was a mere blade of ice, sharpened by the snow into a thin, frail edge, upon which we walked in cautious balance, a misstep likely to hurl us down into the chaos of lava blocks within the crater.
Passing this, we reached the north edge of the rim, and from a rugged mound of shattered rock looked down into a gorge between us and the main Shasta. There, winding its huge body along, lay a glacier, riven with sharp, deep crevasses yawning fifty or sixty feet wide, the blue hollows of their shadowed depth contrasting with the brilliant surfaces of ice.
We studied its whole length from the far, high Shasta crest down in winding course, deepening its cañon more and more as it extends, crowding past our crater cone, and at last terminating in bold ice-billows and a wide belt of hilly moraine. The surface over half of its length was quite clean, but directly opposite us occurs a fine ice cascade; its entire surface is cut with transverse crevasses, which have a general tendency to curve downward; and all this dislocation is accompanied by a freight of lava blocks which shoot down the cañon walls on either side, bounding out all over the glacier.
In a later trip, while Watkins was making his photographics views, I climbed about, going to the edges of some crevasses and looking over into their blue vaults, where icicles overhang, and a whispered sound of waterflow comes up faintly from beneath.
From a point about midway across where I had climbed and rested upon the brink of an ice-cliff, the glacier below me breaking off into its wild pile of cascade blocks and sérac, I looked down over all the lower flow, broken with billowy upheavals, and bright with bristling spires of sunlit ice. Upon the right rose the great cone of Shasta, formed of chocolate-colored lavas, its sky line a single curved sweep of snow cut sharply against a deep blue sky. To the left the precipices of the lesser cone rose to the altitude of twelve thousand feet, their surfaces half jagged ledges of lava and half irregular sheets of ice. From my feet the glacier sank rapidly between volcanic walls, and the shadow of the lesser cone fell in a dark band across the brilliantly lighted surface. Looking down its course, my eye ranged over sunny and shadowed zones of ice and over the gray bowlder region of the terminal moraine; still lower, along the former track of ancient and grander glaciers, and down upon undulating, pine-clad foothills, descending in green steps, reaching out like promontories into the sea of plain which lay outspread nine thousand feet below, basking in the half-tropical sunshine, its checkered green fields and orchards ripening their wheat and figs.
Our little party separated, each going about his labor. The Clarks, with theodolite and barometer, were engaged on a pinnacle over on the western crater-edge. Mr. Sisson, who had helped us thus far with a huge pack-load of wood, now said good-by, and was soon out of sight on his homeward tramp. Emmons and I geologized about the rim and interior slope, getting at last out of sight of one another.
In mid-crater sprang up a sharp cone several hundred feet high, composed of much shattered lava, and indicating doubtless the very latest volcanic activity. At its base lay a small lakelet, frozen over with rough, black ice. Far below us cold gray banks and floating flocks of vapor began to drift and circle about the lava slopes, rising higher at sunset, till they quite enveloped us, and at times shut out the view.
Later we met for bivouac, spread our beds upon small débris under lee of a mass of rock on the rim, and built a little camp-fire, around which we sat closely. Clouds still eddied about us, opening now wide rifts of deep-blue sky, and then glimpses of the Shasta summit glowing with evening light, and again views down upon the far earth, where sunlight had long faded, leaving forest and field and village sunken in purple gloom. Through the old, broken crater lip, over foreground of pallid ice and sharp, black lava rocks, the clouds whirled away, and, yawning wide, revealed an objectless expanse, out of which emerged dim mountain tops, for a moment seen, then veiled. Thus, in the midst of clouds, I found it extremely interesting to watch them and their habits. Drifting slowly across the crater-bowl, I saw them float over and among the points of cindery lava, whose savage forms contrasted wonderfully with the infinite softness of their texture.
I found it strange and suggestive that fields of perpetual snow should mantle the slopes of an old lava caldron, that the very volcano’s throat should be chocked with a pure little lakelet, and sealed with unmelting ice. That power of extremes which held sway over lifeless nature before there were human hearts to experience its crush expressed itself with poetic eloquence. Had Lowell been in our bivouac, I know he must have felt again the power of his own perfect figure of
“Burned-out craters healed with snow.”
It was a wild moment, wind smiting in shocks against the rock beside us, flaring up our little fire, and whirling on with its cloud-freight into the darkening crater gulf.
We turned in; the Clarks together, Emmons and I in our fur bags. Upon cold stone our bed was anything but comfortable, angular fragments of trachyte finding their way with great directness among our ribs and under shoulder-blades, keeping us almost awake, in that despairing semi-consciousness where dreams and thoughts tangle in tiresome confusion.
Just after midnight, from sheer weariness, I arose, finding the sky cloudless, its whole black dome crowded with stars. A silver dawn over the slope of Shasta brightened till the moon sailed clear. Under its light all the rugged topography came out with unnatural distinctness, every impression of height and depth greatly exaggerated. The empty crater lifted its rampart into the light. I could not tell which seemed most desolate, that dim, moonlit rim with pallid snow-mantle and gaunt crags, or the solid, black shadow which was cast downward from southern walls, darkening half the bowl From the silent air every breath of wind or whisper of sound seemed frozen. Naked lava slopes and walls, the high, gray body of Shasta with ridge and gorge, glacier and snow-field, all cold and still under the icy brightness of the moon, produced a scene of arctic terribleness such as I had never imagined. I looked down, eagerly straining my eyes, through the solemn crater’s lip, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lower world; but far below, hiding the earth, stretched out a level plain of cloud, upon which the light fell cold and gray as upon a frozen ocean.
I scrambled back to bed, and happily to sleep, a real sound, dreamless repose.
We breakfasted some time after sunrise, and were soon under way with packs on our shoulders.
The day was brilliant and cloudless, the cold, still air full of life and inspiration. Through its clear blue the Shasta peak seemed illusively near, and we hurried down to the saddle which connects our cone with the peak, and across the head of a small tributary glacier, and up over the first débris slopes. It was a slow, tedious three hours’ climb over stones which lay as steeply as loose material possibly can, up to the base of a red trachyte spur; then on up a gorge, and out upon a level mountain shoulder, where are considerable flats covered with deep ice. To the north it overflows in a much-crevassed tributary of the glacier we had studied below.
Here we rested, and hung the barometer from Clark’s tripod.
The further ascent lies up a long scoria ridge of loose, red pumiceous rock for seven or eight hundred feet, then across another level step, curved with rugged ice, and up into a sort of corridor between two steep, much-broken, and stained ridges. Here in the hollow are boiling sulphurous springs and hot earth. We sat down by them, eating our lunch in the lee of some stones.
A short, rapid climb brought us to the top, four hours and thirty minutes’ working time from our crater bivouac.
There is no reason why anyone of sound wind and limb should not, after a little mountaineering practice, be able to make the Shasta climb. There is nowhere the shadow of danger, and never a real piece of mountain climbing—climbing, I mean, with hands and feet—no scaling of walls or labor involving other qualities than simple muscular endurance. The fact that two young girls have made the ascent proves it a comparatively easy one. Indeed, I have never reached a corresponding altitude with so little labor and difficulty. Whoever visits California, and wishes to depart from the beaten track of Yosemite scenes, could not do better than come to Strawberry Valley and get Mr. Sisson to pilot him up Shasta.
When I ask myself to-day what were the sensations on Shasta, they render themselves into three—geography, shadows, and uplifted isolation.
After we had walked along a short, curved ridge which forms the summit, representing, as I believe, all that remains of the original crater, it became my occupation to study the view.
A singularly transparent air revealed every plain and peak on till the earth’s curve rolled them under remote horizons. The whole great disk of world outspread beneath wore an aspect of glorious cheerfulness. The Cascade Range, a roll of blue forest land, stretched northward, surmounted at intervals by volcanoes; the lower, like symmetrical Mount Pitt, bare and warm with rosy lava colors; those farther north lifting against the pale horizon-blue solid white cones upon which strong light rested with brilliance. It seemed incredible that we could see so far toward the Columbia River, almost across the State of Oregon; but there stood Pitt, Jefferson, and the Three Sisters in unmistakable plainness. Northeast and east spread those great plains out of which rise low lava chains, and a few small, burned-out volcanoes, and there, too, were the group of Klamath and Goose Lakes lying in mid plain glassing the deep upper violet. Farther and farther from our mountain base in that direction the greenness of forest and meadow fades out into rich, mellow brown, with warm cloudings of sienna over bare lava hills, and shades, as you reach the eastern limit, in pale ash and lavender and buff, where stretches of level land slope down over Madelin plains into Nevada deserts. An unmistakable purity and delicacy of tint, with transparent air and paleness of tone, give all desert scenes the aspect of water-color drawings. Even at this immense distance I could see the gradual change from rich, warm hues of rocky slope, or plain overspread with ripened vegetation, out to the high, pale key of the desert.
Southeast the mountain spurs are smoothed into a broad glacis, densely overgrown with chaparral, and ending in open groves around plains of yellow grass.
A little farther begin the wild, cañon-curved piles of green mountains which represent the Sierras, and afar, towering over them, eighty miles away, the lava dome of Lassen’s Peak standing up bold and fine. South, the Sacramento cañon cuts down to unseen depths, its deep trough opening a view of the California plain, a brown, sunny expanse, over which loom in vanishing perspective the coast-range peaks. West of us, and quite around the semi-circle of view, stretches a vast sea of ridges, chains, peaks, and sharp walls of cañons, as wild and tumultuous as an ocean storm. Here and there above the blue billows rise snow-crests and shaggy rock-chains, but the topography is indistinguishable. With difficulty I could trace for a short distance the Klamath cañon course, recognizing Siskiyou peaks, where Professor Brewer and I had been years before; but in that broad area no further unravelling was possible. So high is Shasta, so dominant above the field of view, we looked over it all as upon a great shield which rose gently in all directions to the sky.
Whichever way we turned, the great cone fell off from our feet in dizzying abruptness. We looked down steep slopes of névé, on over shattered ice-wreck, where glaciers roll over cliffs, and around the whole, broad, massive base curved deeply through its lava crusts in straight cañons.
These flutings of ancient and grander glaciers are flanked by straight, long moraines, for the most part bare, but reaching down part way into the forest. It is interesting to observe that those on the north and east, by greater massiveness and length, indicate that in former days the glacier distribution was related to the points of compass about as it is now. What volumes of geographical history lay in view! Old mountain uplift; volcanoes built upon the plain of fiery lava; the chill of ice and wearing force of torrent, written in glacier-gorge and water-carved cañon!
I think such vastness of prospect now and then extremely valuable in itself; it forcibly widens one’s conception of country, driving away such false notion of extent or narrowing idea of limitation as we get in living on lower plains.
I never tire of overlooking these great, wide fields, studying their rich variety, and giving myself up to the expansion which is the instant and lasting reward. In presence of these vast spaces and all but unbounded outlook, the hours hurry by with singular swiftness. Minutes or miles are nothing; days and degrees seem best fitted for one’s thoughts. So it came sooner than I could have believed that the sun neared its setting, sinking into a warm, bright stratum of air. The light stretched from north to south, reflecting itself with an equal depth all along the east, until a perfect ring of soft, glowing rose edged the whole horizon. Over us the ever-dark heaven hung near and flat. Light swept eastward across the earth, every uplift of hill-ridge or solitary cone warm and bright with its reflections, and from each object upon the plains, far and near, streamed out dense, sharp shadows, slowly lengthening their intense images. We were far enough lifted above it all to lose the ordinary landscape impression, and reach that extraordinary effect of black-and-bright topography seen upon the moon through a telescope.
Afar in the north, bars of blue shadow streamed out from the peaks, tracing themselves upon rosy air. All the eastern slope of Shasta was of course in dark shade, the gray glacier forms, broken ridges of stone, and forest, all dim and fading. A long cone of cobalt-blue, the shadow of Shasta fell strongly defined over the bright plain, its apex darkening the earth a hundred miles away. As the sun sank, this gigantic spectral volcano rose on the warm sky till its darker form stood huge and terrible over the whole east. It was intensely distinct at the summit, just as far-away peaks seen against the east in evening always are, and faded at base as it entered the stratum of earth mist.
Grand and impressive we had thought Shasta when studying in similar light from the plain. Infinitely more impressive was this phantom volcano as it stood overshadowing the land and slowly fading into night.
Before quitting the ridge, Fred Clark and I climbed together out upon the highest pinnacle, a trachyte needle rising a few feet above the rest, and so small we could barely balance there together, but we stood a moment and waved the American flag, looking down over our shoulders eleven thousand feet.
A fierce wind blew from the southwest, coming in gusts of great force. Below, we could hear it beat surf-like upon the crags. We hurried down to the hot-spring flat, and just over the curve of its southern descent made our bivouac. Even here the wind howled, merciless and cold.
We turned to and built of lava blocks a square pen about two and a half feet high, filled the chinks with pebbles, and banked it with sand. I have seen other brown-stone fronts more imposing than our Shasta home, but I have rarely felt more grateful to four walls than to that little six-by-six pen. I have not forgotten that through its chinks the sand and pebbles pelted us all night, nor was I oblivious when sudden gusts toppled over here and there a good-sized rock upon our feet. When we sat up for our cup of coffee, which Clark artistically concocted over the scanty and economical fire, the walls sheltered our backs; and for that we were thankful, even if the wind had full sweep at our heads and stole the very draught from our lips, whirling it about north forty east by compass, in the form of an infinitesimal spray. The zephyr, as we courteously called it, had a fashion of dropping vertically out of the sky upon our fire and leaving a clean hearth. For the space of a few moments after these meteorological jokes there was a lively gathering of burning knots from among our legs and coats and blankets.
There are times when the extreme of discomfort so overdoes itself as to extort a laugh and put one in the best of humor. This tempest descended to so many absurd personal tricks altogether beneath the dignity of a reputable hurricane, that at last it seemed to us a sort of furious burlesque.
Not so the cold; that commanded entire respect, whether carefully abstracting our animal heat through the bed of gravel on which we lay, or brooding over us hungry for those pleasant little waves of motion which, taking Tyndall for granted, radiated all night long, in spite of wildcat bags, from our unwilling particles. I abominate thermometers at such times. Not one of my set ever owned up the real state of things. Whenever I am nearly frozen and conscious of every indurated bone, that bland little instrument is sure to read twenty or thirty degrees above any unprejudiced estimate. Lying there and listening to the whispering sounds that kindly drifted, ever adding to our cover, and speculating as to any further possible meteorological affliction, was but indifferent amusement, from which I escaped to a slumber of great industry. We lay like sardines, hoping to encourage animal heat, but with small success.
The sunrise effect, with all its splendor, I find it convenient to leave to some future traveller. I shall be generous with him, and say nothing of that hour of gold. It had occurred long before we awoke, and many precious minutes were consumed in united appeals to one another to get up and make coffee. It was horridly cold and uncomfortable where we were, but no one stirred. How natural it is under such circumstances to
“Rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of.”
I lay musing on this, finding it singular that I should rather be there stiff and cold while my like-minded comrades appealed to me, than to get up and comfort myself with camp-fire and breakfast. We severally awaited developments.
At last Clark gave up and made the fire, and he has left me in doubt whether he loved cold less or coffee more.
Digging out our breakfast from drifted sand was pleasant enough, nor did we object to excavating the frozen shoes, but the mixture of disintegrated trachyte discovered among the sugar, and the manner in which our brown-stone front had blown over and flattened out the family provisions, were received by us as calamity.
However, we did justice to Clark’s coffee, and socially toasted our bits of meat, while we chatted and ate zestfully portions not too freely brecciated with lava sand. I have been at times all but morbidly aware of the power of local attachment, finding it absurdly hard to turn the key on doors I have entered often and with pleasure. My own early home, though in other hands, holds its own against greater comfort, larger cheer; and a hundred times, when our little train moved away from grand old trees or willow-shaded springs by mountain camps, I have felt all the pathos of nomadism, from the Aryan migration down.
As we shouldered our loads and took to the ice-field I looked back on our modest edifice, and for the first time left my camp with gay relief.
Elation of success and the vital mountain air lent us their quickening impulse. We tramped rapidly across the ice-field and down a long spur of red trachyte, which extended in a southerly course around the head of a glacier. It was our purpose to descend the southern slope of the mountain, to a camp which had been left there awaiting us. The declivity in that direction is more gentle than by our former trail, and had, besides, the merit of lying open to our view almost from the very start. It was interesting, as we followed the red trachyte spur, to look down to our left upon névé of the McCloud glacier. From its very head, dislocation and crevasses had begun, the whole mass moving away from the wall, leaving a deep gap between ice and rock. In its further descent this glacier pours over such steep cascades, and is so tortuous among the lava crags, that we could only see its beginning. To avoid those great pyramidal masses which sprang fully a thousand feet from the general flank of the mountain, we turned to the right and entered the head of one of those long, eroded glacier cañons which are scored down the slope. The ridges from both sides had poured in their freight of débris until the cañon was one mass of rock fragments of every conceivable size and shape. Here and there considerable masses of ice and relics of former glaciers lay up and down the shaded sides, and, as we descended, occupied the whole broad bottom of the gorge. We congratulated ourselves when the steep, upper débris slope was passed and we found ourselves upon the wavy ice of the old glacier. Numerous streams flowed over its irregular face, losing themselves in the cracks and reappearing among the accumulation of bowlders upon its surface. Here and there glacier tables of considerable size rose above the general level, supported on slender ice-columns. As the angle here was very steep, we amused ourselves by prying these off their pedestals with our alpine stocks, and watching them slide down before us.
More and more the ice became burdened with rocks, until at last it wholly disappeared under accumulation of moraine. Over this, for a half mile, we tramped, thinking the glacier ended; but in one or two depressions I again caught sight of the ice, which led me to believe that a very large portion of this rocky gorge may be underlaid by old glacial remains.
Tramping over this unstable moraine, where melting ice had left the bowlders in every state of uncertain equilibrium, we were greatly fatigued, and at last, the strain telling seriously on our legs, we climbed over a ridge to the left of our amphitheatre into the next cañon, which was very broad and open, with gentle, undulating surface diversified by rock plateaus and fields of glacier sand. Here, by the margin of a little snow-brook, and among piles of immense débris, Emmons and I sat down to lunch, and rested until our friends came up.
A few scanty bunches of alpine plants began to deck the gray earth and gradually to gather themselves in bits of open sward, here and there decorated with delicate flowers. Near one little spring meadow we came upon gardens of a pale yellow flower with an agreeable, aromatic perfume, and after another mile of straining on among erratic bowlders and over the thick-strewn rock of the old moraines, we came to the advanced guard of the forest. Battle-twisted and gnarled old specimens of trees, of rugged, muscular trunk, and scanty, irregular branch, they showed in every line and color a life-long struggle against their enemies, the avalanche and cold. Gathering closer, they grew in groves separated by long, open, grassy glades, the clumps of trees twisting their roots among the glacier blocks.
For a long time we followed the pathway of an avalanche. To the right and left of us, upon considerable heights, the trees were sound and whole, and preserved, even at their ripe age, the health of youth. But down the straight pathway of the valley every tree had been swept away, the prostrate trunks, lying here and there, half buried in drifts of sand and rock. Here, over the whole surface, a fresh young growth not more than six or seven years old has sprung up, and begun a hopeless struggle for ground which the snow claims for its own. Before us opened winding avenues through forest; green meadows spread their pale, fresh herbage in sunny beauty. Along the little stream which, after a mile’s musical cascades, we knew flowed past camp, tender green plants and frail mountain flowers edged our pathway. All was still and peaceful with the soft, brooding spirit of life. The groves were absolutely alive like ourselves, and drinking in the broad, affluent light in their silent, beautiful way. Back over sunny tree-tops, the great cone of rock and ice loomed in the cold blue; but we gladly turned away and let our hearts open to the gentle influence of our new world.
There, at last, as we tramped over a knoll, were the mules dozing in sunshine or idling about among trees, and there that dear, blue wreath floating up from our camp-fire and drifting softly among boughs of overhanging fir.
I always feel a strange renewal of life when I come down from one of these climbs; they are with me points of departure more marked and powerful than I can account for upon any reasonable ground. In spite of any scientific labor or presence of fatigue, the lifeless region, with its savage elements of sky, ice and rock, grasps one’s nature, and, whether he will or no, compels it into a stern, strong accord. Then, as you come again into softer air, and enter the comforting presence of trees, and feel the grass under your feet, one fetter after another seems to unbind from your soul, leaving it free, joyous, grateful!
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