BY America I mean the United States without Alaska and the overseas appanages, and by mountaineering I mean much besides scaling high peaks. One cannot put all the qualifications into a title.
There is altogether too little told and written about the mountains of our country, — the high mountains, higher than the Alps, — and about the joys and adventures of climbing them. Because they are not snowand ice-clad, — a few are, — with névés, crevasses, and ice couloirs to tell about, and because one does not climb them in a roped-together chain-gang, led and followed by professional guides in picturesque costumes, along well-known paths often staircased and balustraded, the mountains of California and Colorado seem to have few attractions for Americans who have a fancy for climbing.
But actually they demand as strenuous and careful work, and offer as much adventure, as the more favored and familiar European mountains. You can climb as high, fall as far, and land with as much disaster, in the Sierra Nevada or Rockies as in the Swiss or Tyrolean Alps. And there goes with the climbing itself in America a lot of fine things that do not go with the Swiss climbing — the camping, the pack-train, the troutfishing in almost virgin waters, the great forests, the aloneness, the real escape and change from that world which is too much with us — all these are pleasant surplusage in American mountaineering, added to the actual climbing, which latter, by the way, you do — as climbing should really be done, to get from it its finest flavor — on your own, unguided and unroped.
It seems an odd thing that the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the Colorado Rockies are all of about the same height. Take the highest twenty in each of the two mountain-systems, and not only will their average be very close to 14,000 feet in the case of each group, but the range of height in the whole fort y will come within 500 feet above or below the fourteen-thousand-foot average. The high points of both Sierras and Rockies seem to have been cut off in their aspiring at fourteen thousand feet or a few hundred feet above or below that level — although there is little indication on many of these summits of any cutting off, the tip-tops of some, indeed, making two men standing close together on them seem badly crowded. But some, on the other hand, have a really truncated top, often surprisingly broad and level.
This is true, for example, of Long’s Peak, one of the highest and best of the Colorado peaks — meaning by ‘best,’ most interesting, and possibly adventurous, to climb. One could lay out a very decent little farm on its summit, if the soil were a little further on in course of making — so far it is only in its first, or rock, stage. But in getting up to this broad, flat top, you have to work carefully almost completely around the great cliffy cap of the mountain, with a dizzying narrow ledge on one face, to test your head; a long steep trough, with snow and loose rock in it:, at one corner, to try out your heart, lungs, and climbing luck; and a steeper, mostly smooth wall-face, to swarm up on the last stretch.
Long’s Peak is much beset by wind and sudden sleet-storms, and its really safe climbing season is unusually short, although it is often climbed before and after this safer period. One such attempt at a late climb, however, cost an adventurous woman her life; and a headboard, fixed among the harsh rocks of the great Boulder Field, just beyond which the real climbing begins, commemorated, as long as it stood, her death on the mountain from fall and exposure in storm. The inscription reads, —
Here CARRIE J. W—
Lay to rest, and died alone,
with the date, which I have forgotten.
She died alone because the local mountaineer who, after much protest, went up with her when she declared that, if he would not accompany her, she would go anyway by herself, and who found her helpless on his hands in a sleet-storm on the summit, had, after carrying her down the more dangerous part of the mountain, through hours of struggle in blinding snow and cutting ice-sleet, until he was almost as exhausted as she, left her at nightfall in the comparative shelter of the greatrocks of the Boulder Field, himself to stumble on down the mountain in the dark, for help.
He had a difficult decision to make. Should he stay there with her, and both almost certainly perish before dawn, or should he take the chance of leaving her and possibly get help up to her during the night, and thus save both? He took what he believed the only chance of saving her. Alone, he could not possibly get her farther. Staying with her, he could have done nothing but, in all probability, die with her. He got down the mountain to his father’s cabin. The rescuers started back at once. But it took long hours to get to her. They found her dead. She had, in panic or delirium, left her shelter among the rocks, and, stumbling about, had fallen near-by, striking her head against the merciful granite. It has been always a haunting question with that man as to whether he had done what a brave man should do under such circumstances. Knowing the mountain and the man, I believe he decided as a brave and experienced mountaineer should have decided.
I know of another fatal accident on Long’s Peak. There may have been still others. This one came about through a man’s inexperience and foolishness. He carried a loaded revolver in his hippocket on his climb. He fell in a bad place, and the cartridge under the hammer was exploded, the bullet shattering his hip. His one companion did what he could to drag him along the narrow ledge on which he lay; but little progress was possible, and, after hours of suffering, the wounded man died. The companion was a prematurely old man when he finally got down the mountain and found helpers to go up for the body.
I have always maintained that there should be three men together on mountain climbs, one to get hurt, one to stand by, and one to go for help. But most men hunt mountain-tops in pairs; some like to go alone. I knew one such,— besides John Muir, who, with his bit of bread and pinch of tea, almost always went alone, — who did much climbing in the Sierra Nevada and took many chances. He used to carry a rope and, in difficult places, where he could not reach high enough for hand-grips, he would tie a big knot in one end of his rope and throw it up until it. caught firmly above him. Then he would drag himself up, without regard to the fact that he probably could not get down more than the uppermost one of these places by using his rope. He trusted to finding a different and easier way down — and always did. He climbed Mount King — a very pinnacly peak in the King-Goddard divide, which juts out westward from the main Sierran crest near Kearsarge Pass — in this way, by one of its seemingly impossible faces. Although at best it is a difficult mountain, it has at least one fairly negotiable face. He came down that way.
American mountain-climbing, at all events as I am limiting it, is rock-climbing. There can be a good deal of snow on the symmetrical cones of the old volcanoes, like Rainier, Baker, Hood, and the others that are the high mountains of Oregon and Washington; and there are elsewhere occasional snowpatches and a few scattered, insignificant, persisting remnants of the once mighty local glaciers that did so much in the old days to give the Sierras and Rockies their present configuration. But these are rarely in the way of the climber; in fact, the ice-remnants have to be sought out to be seen, and are among the special goals of the mountaineers. Two or three in the Front Range of the Rockies, near Estes Park, now included in the Rocky Mountain National Park, are among the most accessible.
Climbing the American mountains, then, demands no special knowledge of the characteristics and habits and dangers of deeply crevassed glaciers, with their thin snow-bridges, or of the behavior of snow when it inclines, under proper weather conditions, to cornicebreaking and avalanche-making. But it does require, for safety’s sake, a considerable knowledge of the character and habits of various kinds of rock in various states of firmness and brittleness, as met variously on cliff-faces or in narrow chimneys. It also requires some judgment as to the critical angle at which loose rock may lie for the time quietly, yet may not be stepped on with careless confidence. It does not require ropes and ice-axes, but it requires hands as well as feet, and a steady head. Narrow ledges, hand-hold crevices on steep faces, knife-edges, both firm and badly weathered, and long steep troughs of mixed snow, loose stones, and easily excited granite-dust make earnest call on the American mountaineer’s nerve and confidence and expert judgment of the possibilities.
It is not always the highest mountain, of course, that is the hardest, even in its demand on endurance, to say nothing of skill. Our highest point south of the Canadian border is Mount Whitney, yet it is but a tiresome steep walk to its summit, after one has made the long, beautiful, and inspiring forestand cañon-trail trip to its western foot. Its eastern foot stands in a desert. A few miles north of Whitney is the slightly lower peak of Williamson, one of three closely grouped splendid Sierran notabilities (Williamson, Tyndall, Barnard). But Williamson offers everything to the climber which Whitney, except for its height and position, does not.
I had the privilege of spending a few weeks again last summer in the Sierras, after an absence of years. Our small party was composed of members of the Sierra Club, that organization which has done so much to make the California mountains known and accessible to mountain-lovers; and one of our group was intent on attempting to get up a certain peak which has long resisted the attacks of climbers — not that it has been so often tried, but that the few tries have been made by climbers well known for their success with difficult mountains.
We, therefore, pushed our pack-animals up a great side cañon tributary to the greater cañon of the Kern, until we could make camp in a last little group of tamarack pines practically at timberline (about 10,500 feet here), and directly under a high northwest spur of this unclimbed mountain, which connected with its main peak by a long, rough knife-edge. From careful study of the mountain from various points, it had been decided that the most likely approach to the peak-summit seemed to be this northwest spur and knife-edge. In our previous movements we had nearly encircled the great group of which the unclimbed peak was one, and members of the party had climbed another mountain, not far away, mainly for the sake of an orienting examination of the upper reaches of the resistant peak.
The actual vertical height of the peak above our timber-line camp was only a little more than three thousand feet, as the Geological Survey maps attribute an altitude of 13,752 feet to it. But three thousand feet can be much more difficult than five or six thousand. However, if the summit could be reached at all, it could probably be done in a day from our high camp. So the climbers — properly three — made a five-o’clock start, aiming directly for the summit of the spur. The going, though steep, was fairly good and entirely safe, and the top of the spur was reached in a few hours. But the knife-edge, bad enough where it was continuous, revealed itself so deeply notched at several points, that it proved wholly impassable. It was necessary to try a different way. The north face of the knife-edged spur was as impossible as the knife-edge itself. But the south face is gashed by a number of narrow sleep troughs leading almost up to the main peak, any one of which might prove itself, on trial, to be possible, but any one, or all, of which might be unfeasible because of interrupting cliffs not visible from the climbers’ point of view. To select and try one was, however, the only chance.
After a careful study, one was chosen that revealed indications of a trickle of water coming from some upper snowbank, and seemed to be more winding in its course than the others; hence, would offer more protection than these from rolling stones. The climbers, therefore, worked their way from the knife-edge down, and laboriously across several other troughs until, finally reaching the selected one, they turned their faces upward again. There was much loose rock in the trough, and some small, but troublesome, cliffs running across it; but by skillful work it was successfully followed to a point where a short acrobatic scramble gave them the very summit. By half-past two the three men stood, or rather crouched, closely together on the dizzying point of the highest pinnacle of the mountain — and the Black Kaweah was no longer the unconquered peak it had so long remained. The near-by Red and Gray Kaweahs had surrendered in earlier years. So the Sierra Club has no more scalps to bring home from that fine mountain group. But there are still other peaks, both in the main Sierran crest and in some of the great lateral spurs, or ‘divides,’ that run out west from it, which offer pressing invitation to climbers who like to be the first to scale untrodden summits.
I referred at the beginning of this paper to the surplusage of pleasant experience that the American mountaineer may enjoy in the high mountains of California and Colorado, — one really ought not to slight Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming in speaking of American mountaineering, — in addition to that of the actual climbing. This experience is that of the trail and camp. For example, while the three more venturesome members of our party were capturing the Black Kaweah, — when one is soft from five or six years of being kept away from high altitudes, and has had only a few days to accustom heart and muscles to severe work in them, one must not. be among the more venturesome, — I busied myself with providing one of the courses of a proper dinner that should be ready for the returned climbers. Right past our camp ran the clear, cold water of a stream that had its sources only a mile or two farther up the canon, in t hesnowfed lakes of a great glacial basin, or cirque, of successively higher levels under the Kaweah summits. Nine Lake Basin contains even more clear little green lakes than its name indicates, and their overflow makes a stream that has helped materially to deepen t he great glacial gorge that extends from the upper cirques down to the Grand Canon of the Kern. In this stream swarm hard-fighting, firm-fleshed rainbow trout, not too sophisticated, or yet too inexperienced. A Royal Coachman and a Black Gnat made a good killing combination, and I soon had a sufficient number to furnish the second course of the camp dinner.
And then there was time for some rambling and scrambling over the granite faces and great rough blocks of the upper cirques, and even over a low divide that separates the Kern from the Kaweah watershed; to look down the precipitous gorge of trivially named Deer Creek, — what a confusing host of Deer and Sheep and Bear Creeks there are in the mountains! — which finds its swift and tumultuous westward way into the Middle Fork of the Kaweah, or ‘crow water,’ as the Indian name translates itself. Along the upper stretches of this magnificent gorge — or cañnon, to give its character its proper due — arE some vertical cliffs and sky-scraping pinnacles and smoothsurfaced, onion-skinned granite domes, which are yet to have their fame in chronicles of Sierran scenery.
The trout-fishing in the higher Sierras and Rockies is a kind of fishing apart from other kinds, even from other fishing for trout. To get to it is an adventure; to live a few weeks, or even days, where it may be had is an exalting experience. It is so much more than fishing. It is realizing how the primitive granite core of the earth, and ice and water and time have combined to make great mountains, great basins, great moraines, great cañons. It is learning to know the giant trees and dwarfed alpine flowers. It is seeing close at hand the realities of the bitter struggle of life with boreal nature.
‘Timber-line’ is one of the strange and revealing places of earth, with its misshapen, scarred, fighting pines and fir and juniper, and swiftly growing fragrant flowers, which expand their brilliant colors in the short season of warm sun and melting snow, to attract the few hardy butterflies and bees that flit away their brief lives amid surroundings that awe and humble the greater animals and even man. Shrillbarking marmots and curious little squeaking guinea-pig-like conies perch on great granite blocks, to stare and challenge the human intruder in these upper levels of earth, and dive out of sight in the dark crevices as he turns to stare back at them.
Rut the trout themselves are reassuring. They may even be of the very sort you know in the meandering brooks of New England meadows. For many of the Sierran lakes and streams have been stocked with trout varieties foreign to their geography. One meets speckled Eastern Brook and brown Loch Leven in some of these waters. Most famous and most wonderful to see are the bizarre Golden trout, originally of Volcano Creek, which flows into the Kern from the foot of Mount Whitney. These trout were originally isolated in that part of the stream which is above the high falls, not far from the streammouth; but they have been transplanted into numerous streams and lakes of the Kern and Kings watersheds. They have a brilliant, scarlet belly, roseate lateral rainbow line, and general yellowishred tinge over the whole body. They do not seem to grow very large, but are curiously long and slender for their weight. They are reputed to be unusually vigorous fighters; but the few that I caught in the single stocked lake of Five Lake Basin above the Big Arroyo were tame compared with the native Rainbows of the Arroyo itself.
Besides trout, the Sierran and Rocky Mountain streams are the home of a few other interesting animals. There used to be many beaver, especially in the reaches where the Colorado streams flowed through the more level glacial parks, which are characteristic of the Rockies just as the narrow, flat-floored, vertical-walled cañons like the Yosemite, Hetch-Hetchy, Tehipite, and the Grand Cañons of the Kings and Kern are characteristic of the Sierra Nevada.
And there are the fascinating waterbraving ouzels, that teeter, half-submerged, on the lips of little falls, as they seek out the larvæ of the water-insects. Among these insects are stone-flies and may-flies and, especially, many kinds of caddice-flies, which make their protecting cases out of tiny pebbles or granite grains, and sometimes out of glittering golden bits of iron pyrites and half-transparent mica — houses of gold and glass and shining jewels.
Finally, there are the curious netwinged midges, known unfortunately only to professional entomologists, and to too few of them, whose few species are scattered all over the world where swift, clear, and cold mountain streams are. The small, slug-like larvæ of these delicate flies cling by ventral suckers to the smooth surfaces of the stream-bed over which shallow water is running swiftly. They cannot tolerate sluggish or soiled water. Their food is chiefly minute fresh-water diatoms, which often grow in felt-like masses on their own backs. The slender-legged, thinwinged flies may be seen occasionally flitting about in the overhanging foliage of the stream-side, or among the great boulders that half block the streams where they break through terminal moraines.
But besides the streams that help give the mountain regions beauty and interest and life, and provide the purest, softest water for the mountaineer’s drink and bath, there are the great forests — forests great in extent and made of great trees. These forests are of special magnificence in the Sierra Nevada, but the lower pines and upper spruces of the Rocky Mountains form fine forests, the spruce, particularly, often running along the range-flanks in a miles-long unbroken zone, at an altitude of (roughly) from nine to eleven thousand feet and even higher. The trees are not large, as large trees go, but are nearly uniform in size, and the forest is almost clear of undergrowth, and is soft and dark and still.
Of birds there are few, but some of them are of special interest. Among these are the noiseless, ghostly camprobbers, or moose birds, which suddenly appear from nowhere in your forest camp, boldly flying down to your very food-bags or camp-fire to beg or steal a free meal. Less quiet are their cousins, the Clark crows, or jays. But most beautiful of voice are the Western hermit thrushes, which fling out their rippling liquid notes at early dawn and twilight, to echo through the long forest aisles.
I remember one special adventure in the Great Spruce Forest on the flanks of Flat Top and Hallet’s Peak in the Front Range of the Rockies, near Long’s Peak, in which the hermit thrushes played a part. A college companion, Fred Funston, — later the hero of the capture of Aguinaldo and one of the best-known major-generals of the American army, — and I had gone up into the forest, with a single burro as packanimal, from our summer camp on the Big Thompson in Willow Park, to try to get a deer, in order to vary our longcontinued camp diet of bacon and trout. We were rank tyros as hunters, and probably could not have injured any deer with even the best of opportunities; but we had no chance to prove or disprove this, as we saw no venison despite all care and pains.
We did see, however, an animal we had not come to see. This was a big mountain lion. We had made a hasty camp in the upper reaches of the forest in the later afternoon of our arriving, and had turned Billy, the burro, loose, to nibble at anything he considered edible in the camp neighborhood. Then we had hurried out with our guns, each by himself, to post himself at what he should think a vantage-point to see such deer as should come conveniently wandering through the forest. I had lain doggo for some time near an old trail, and dusk had come on so rapidly, and the forest had become so unnecessarily still, that I had decided to get back to the cheering companionship and comfort of the camp-fire, when I was suddenly frozen into immobility by the sight of a great mountain lion silently padding along the old trail only a few rods from me. What with long lean body and long lifted tail, that lion took an amazingly long time in passing a given point. And just as it was by, and out of my sight, it carelessly let slip from its throat a blood-curdling cry, half-bestial, half-human. That completed my demoralization. As soon as the apparition had passed from my sight and the echoes of that howl from my ears, I got my numb muscles into action and speedily made for camp — not by way of the old trail.
As I came near it, I was further startled to see a great, roaring fire, and found my companion, later the reckless hero of many a dangerous, self-chosen venture in war, piling ever more fuel on the camp-fire. I asked him the reason for the conflagration, and he blurted out, without interrupting his good work, ‘ I have just seen the biggest cougar in Colorado.’ Evidently both of us had had the same good fortune.
In the safety of the fire-zone we made a peaceful supper, without venison; and after a final heaping-on of logs, rolled up in our blankets by the fire. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a blow on the chest. I promptly sat up, with the conviction that I was being mauled by the lion. The fire had gone down, and it was very dark. But Funston, who had punched me into wakefulness, whispered hoarsely, ‘That cat is prowling around the camp. I have heard it several times. We must build up the fire.’
I strongly agreed, and we soon had another reassuring pyrotechnic effect. Again we turned in, and I was soon uneasily asleep again, only to be wakened by another blow. This time Funston was really excited. ‘He’s still around,’ he said. ‘There, you can hear him now.’
I listened intently. I certainly heard something moving off somewhere beyond the piled-up pack-saddle and kyaks on the other side of the smouldering fire. I stared hard in that direction. It was the first gray of a welcome morning. As quickly as the light had faded out of the forest the evening before, it now invaded it. Even as we stared through the cold gray, it became light enough for us to see — our faithful burro browsing on a bit of brush a couple of rods from our bed!
It was a great relief, and we rolled over for a real nap, when from far down the mountain-side came the clear rippling call of a hermit thrush. And then another, higher up, answered, and then another, almost over our heads, and, finally, still another from farther up the mountain-flank. It was the most beautiful, most thrilling bird-song I have ever heard. We lay entranced. And then Funston, sitting up in his blankets to glance around the echoing forest, stretched out again with a grunt of comfort, and murmuring, ‘Say, it’s damn religious up here,’ drew his blankets up to his eyes for the needed nap.
We were boys in those days, and we thought more of new peaks to be won, possible elk and bighorn and bear and deer to be shot at, and trout to be caught, cooked, and eaten, with wild red raspberries for dessert, than of the religion of Nature expressed in her greatness and beauty. But some of this religion did reach us occasionally, and once ours, it has never been lost. I have loitered in the incense-dimmed aisles of many a great cathedral and listened to the rolling of the organs and hypnotic chanting of the priests; but each time I have been reminded of the longer, more fragrant forest aisles and the low repeated rumblings of thunder among the great peaks of the mountain regions I know; and it has been those memories that have given me the greater hope in something still above cathedral towers and mountain summits.
Funston and I had another boys’ adventure in the Rockies — this time with a third college mate, now a wise college professor — that I am minded to tell. The three of us, with our longsuffering burro, had started on a rather longer excursion than usual from headquarters camp, which was to carry us some twenty or twenty-five miles northwest toward the Wyoming line, to an old crater called Specimen Mountain. This crater rose just above a high pass that divided the headwaters of the Cache-de-la-Poudre, which flow first into the Platte, and then into the Missouri, and finally, by way of the Mississippi, into the Gulf of Mexico, from those of the Grand, which, after joining with the Green from Wyoming to make the Colorado, and enjoying much experience of cañon and desert, reach the Gulf of California. In fact, on this pass, which is but a few hundred feet below timber-line, there are two tiny lakes hardly a stone’s throw apart, which send their overflow to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, respectively.
Our way carried us to the bottom and up and out of a long, weird, fire-swept cañon, known as Windy Gulch, with its sides bristling with the stark, gray skeletons of burned trees, and its top leading out on to the broad low summit of the Range, stretching away for a dozen miles or more above timberline to the pass I have spoken of.
On this trip we had our guns, as we always had in those earlier days before the protection of the law had been thrown around the disappearing elk and bighorn. Near the top of Windy Gulch we saw a bear — a rather small bear — lumbering its way toward the summit. We immediately gave chase. The bear turned toward a rock-ridge not far away, and disappeared. But on reaching the ridge we made out what seemed the only hole or cave it could have gone into, and there expectantly awaited the coming-out of the bear.
But it did not come out, and Funston finally made the rather startling proposal that he should crawl into the hole and stir up the bear, which, he argued, would undoubtedly chase him out.
We other two were to stand by the hole with cocked rifles, and were to shoot, not at the first thing that came out, which Funston fondly hoped would be himself, but at the second, which would presumably be an irate bear.
After careful consideration of this proposition, entirely generous on Funston’s part, as one must admit, Franklin and I finally declined it, on the ground that in our excitement we should be almost certain to shoot at the first creature that appeared from the hole, and if this were Funston, — as it probably would be if he came out at all, — and we should hit him, we should have to answer to his parents. As his father was a Congressman, these parents seemed formidable. Also, if Funston, by any rub of the green, did not come out at all, we should have to help the burro carry Funston’s pack back to camp. The final vote, therefore, was two to one against the proposal of the future general.
This Specimen Mountain was a famous place for bighorn; I hope it still is. The wild sheep used to come to the old crater from many miles away, to lick at its beds of green and yellowish deposits; and we rarely failed to find a band of from six to thirty of the wary animals in the crater’s depths. In our later trips to the mountain, after the game-protection laws of Colorado were in force, we used to hunt the sheep with cameras instead of guns. The rim of the crater was sharp, and we could crawl up to it from the mountain-flanks and peer over into it, all unperceived. The inner slopes were covered with volcanic ash and broken lava, and great plutonic breccia crags or ‘castles lifted their bulk from various points. By getting one of these castles between us and the sheep, we could work our way carefully down into the crater and fairly near the animals, without startling them.
However, not all the adventures and joys of mountaineering are on or even near the summits. Camp and trail must often be at lower levels, although still truly in the mountains. The trails must lead from wild pasture to pasture — ‘meadows,’ the mountaineer always calls them; for the pack-animals and riding ones must have good feed each night, to enable them to meet the demands made on them each day. The camps must be made near good water, — a dry camp is a sad thing, — but where there is mountain meadow there is water: there would not be meadow without it. Many of these meadows lie on the successive levels reached in moving up or down the glacial gorges. In the upper cirques and gorge-reaches these successive levels carry lakes — wonderful green-blue sheets of cold water set on the wildest and bleakest, of rock scenery; lower down there are wet meadows and still lower dryer ones, or bits of forest, but different from the great continuous forest of the mountainflanks. These meadows are often riotous color-patches, flecked and splashed with a score of kinds of mountain flowers. A stream wanders through them, or, if they are not too level, hurries along with much music. Of course, one can camp in smaller areas, in cañon-bottom, or even on fairly steep mountainsides. One can usually find a few little level spots for the sleeping-bags and fire-irons, or, if necessary, a little terracing work with the spade will make the needed flatness. For you must lie fairly level if you are to sleep at all. Fir branches, old pineneedles, or heaps of bracken help to soften the bed-spots; but you soon get used to the uncovered ground. You manage to fit yourself to its unevennesses.
Besides meadow and water and a bit of level ground, a good outlook is necessary for the best kind of mountain camp. Long views down great cañons, or across them to high peaks, or just straight up along the towering body of wonderful trees, are worth attending to, even for one-night camps. The trees of the Sierras are, of course, alone worth going into the mountains to see. The huge, dinosaur-like bulk of the true ‘big trees,’ emdash;the sequoias, — and the straight, towering sugar-pines, incense cedar, yellow pine, and red fir, make the Sierran forests incomparable. How John Muir loved these trees and lived companion-wise with them! Mountain sculpture, the work of ice, and the great straight trees, were his first interests in the Sierra Nevada.
There is something so different, so remindful of older earth days, when fauna and flora were strange, in the sequoias, those relics of forests that are gone, that they impress me uncomfortably. They do not seem to belong to this time. They can have no companionship with the pines and firs and cedars, which live so congenially together. Their day is past; they must feel sad to linger on.
The trails seem to run most deviously, but mostly they run wisely. They must avoid too bad places and too much steepness; but they must get on, and if the objective is high, they must sometimes climb even steeply, zigzagging up, and they must not go too far around, even if they have to take to rough places or skirt dangerously along clifffaces. They are most delightful when traversing the forests, for then they are cool and springy underfoot. They are most impressive when they run along the sides of great cañons or on cliffy mountain-flanks. They seem to accomplish most when they carry you over high passes. The way up may be very steep and rough, and the way down long and hard on the knees, but the actual crossing of the pass is a triumph. You see both ways down into great watersheds; one may have a very different aspect from the other. You see innumerable near and distant peaks. At your feet are wonderful little green glacial lakes, cupped in the great cirques.
The surpassing trail-triumph is to put yourself and pack-animals over a ‘new’ high pass, that is, to be the first to cross it with pack-train.
We did this last summer in trying to get out of the Kings River watershed into that of the Kern by a shorter way than the usual ones. Some Sierra Club men, making knapsack trips around the headwaters of Roaring River on one side of the Great Western Divide, and the Kern-Kawcah on the other, had suggested in the Sierra Club Bulletin that it might be possible to cross the Divide with animals through a notch in it about 12,000 feet high, a short distance south of Milestone Peak. Sheep men with their flocks had undoubtedly occasionally used this pass, for there were indications of sheeptrails leading up to it on both sides. But sheep are more agile than mules and horses carrying packs of a hundred pounds and more. However, we had a sturdy lot of animals, with two packers in charge, willing and even anxious to make a vent ure. So we worked up without a trail, and with considerable difficulty, out of Cloudy Cañon, to a high level camp (10,500 feet) by the side of a beautiful glacial lake not indicated on the Geological Survey maps, and hence unnamed and officially unknown.
Part of one day was given to spying out a possible way up to the pass, and ‘making trail’ to the extent of indicating by stone ducks the most feasible way to be followed, and throwing some stones out of the way, and strengthening loose and bad places by piling up rocks by their sides. The next day, with one man in front to guide and the others scattered among the pack-animals to lead and urge, we started up slowly, and, with much care and many stoppings to work further at dangerous bits of trail, we won our way to the summit. We were rightfully very proud, and left a record of the winning of the pass in a stone cairn at the top. What needs now to be done is for Forest Service men, or National Park men (if the proposed lines of the new Roosevelt National Park are finally adopted), to make that a really available pass. Then Kern Cañon can be reached from Kings Cañon — or vice versa — in two days less time, and by a much more interesting trail, than now.
It is remarkable how effectively even the unexercised human body responds to the call of the trail to cover miles and make altitude. A distance that would be an exhausting walk on a smooth roadway becomes only a fraction of a day’s inspiriting jaunt up and down over steep mountain trails. Lungs and heart and muscles seem to meet the need on call. You wonder at yourself as you count up in the evening, after dinner, how far you have come and how high you have climbed. I can’t explain it; it is one of the pleasant secrets of the mountains.
But this paper, like the mountain trail, must reach its end. Its objective is simply one of suggestion. If you are surfeited with swift motor-riding; or tired of endless golf; or impatient with having the world too much with you, take a dose of American mountaineering. Go where the highest mountains are, the greatest cañons, the biggest trees. Get a camp cook, — though you will want to be trying your own hand at his game all the time, — an experienced packer, and a train of mountain-wise pack-animals, sleeping-bag, camp-supplies, and a sheaf of U. S. Geological Survey contour maps, — ‘quadrangles,’ they call them, — and take to the trail. Once out, you will not come back until you have to. And you will go again.