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Title: Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada
Author: King, Clarence
Language: English
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                         MOUNTAINEERING IN THE
                             SIERRA NEVADA



                         MOUNTAINEERING IN THE
                             SIERRA NEVADA

                                  BY

                             CLARENCE KING

                           “Altiora petimus”

                               NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
                                 1902

                          COPYRIGHT, 1871, BY
                         JAMES R. OSGOOD & CO.

                          COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                            TROW DIRECTORY
                   PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY
                               NEW YORK



                                  To

                         JOSIAH DWIGHT WHITNEY

                             AND HIS STAFF

          MY COMRADES OF THE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CALIFORNIA

                      THESE MOUNTAINEERING NOTES

                        ARE CORDIALLY INSCRIBED



NOTE


This book, originally published in 1871, has long been out of print,
though in constant demand. Its publication was discontinued owing to the
desire of the author to make certain emendations in the text, a work
that the arduous activities of a professional scientific life left him
no leisure to perform. A few changes, indicated by him, have been made.
Otherwise the text of the present edition is that of the last, the
revised and enlarged edition of 1874. Only the fastidiousness to which
the extraordinary literary quality of the book is itself due, could
suggest further modification of what is here republished with the motive
of restoring to print and circulation a work too perfect in form and of
too rare a quality to be allowed to lapse. It is accordingly with the
view of renewing the accessibility of a genuine classic of American
literature that the present edition is presented.



FROM THE PREFACE TO THE FOURTH EDITION


Mountaineers will realize, from these descriptions of Sierra climbs, how
few dangers we encountered which might not have been avoided by time and
caution. Since the uncertain perils of glacier work and snow copings do
not exist in California, except on the northeast flank of Mount Shasta,
our climbs proved safe and easy in comparison with the more serious
Alpine ascents. And now that the topography of the higher Sierra has
been all explored by the Geological Survey, nearly every peak is found
to have an accessible side. Our difficulties and our joys were those of
the pioneer.

My own share in the great work of exploring the Sierra under Professor
Whitney has been small indeed beside that of the senior assistants of
the Survey, Professors Brewer and Hoffmann. Theirs were the long, hard
years of patient labor, theirs the real conquest of a great terra
incognita; and if in these chapters I have not borne repeated witness to
their skill and courage, it is not because I have failed in warm
appreciation, but simply because my own mountaineering has always been
held by me as of slight value, and not likely to be weighed against
their long-continued service.

There are turning-points in all men’s lives which must give them both
pause and retrospect. In long Sierra journeys the mountaineer looks
forward eagerly, gladly, till pass or ridge-crest is gained, and then,
turning with a fonder interest, surveys the scene of his march; letting
the eye wander over each crag and valley, every blue hollow of pine-land
or sunlit gem of alpine meadow; discerning perchance some gentle
reminder of himself in yon thin blue curl of smoke floating dimly upward
from the smouldering embers of his last camp-fire. With a lingering look
he starts forward, and the closing pass-gate with its granite walls
shuts away the retrospect, yet the delightful picture forever after
hangs on the gallery wall of his memory. It is thus with me about
mountaineering; the pass which divides youth from manhood is traversed,
and the serious service of science must hereafter claim me. But as the
cherished memories of Sierra climbs go ever with me, I may not lack the
inspiring presence of sunlit snow nor the calming influence of those
broad noble views. It is the mountaineer’s privilege to carry through
life this wealth of unfading treasure. At his summons the white peaks
loom above him as of old; the camp-fire burns once more for him, his
study walls recede in twilight revery, and around him are gathered again
stately columns of pine. If the few chapters I have gathered from these
agreeable memories to make this little book are found to possess an
interest, if along the peaks I have sought to describe there is
reflected, however faintly, a ray of that pure, splendid light which
thrills along the great Sierra, I shall not have amused myself with my
old note-books in vain.

NEW YORK, March, 1874.



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

   I. THE RANGE                                                        1

  II. THROUGH THE FOREST. 1864                                        30

 III. THE ASCENT OF MOUNT TYNDALL. 1864                               60

  IV. THE DESCENT OF MOUNT TYNDALL. 1864                              94

   V. THE NEWTYS OF PIKE. 1864                                       117

  VI. KAWEAH’S RUN. 1864                                             139

 VII. AROUND YOSEMITE WALLS. 1864                                    165

VIII. A SIERRA STORM. 1864                                           191

  IX. MERCED RAMBLINGS. 1866                                         219

   X. CUT-OFF COPPLES’S. 1870                                        254

  XI. SHASTA. 1870                                                   275

 XII. SHASTA FLANKS. 1870                                            303

XIII. MOUNT WHITNEY. 1871-1873                                       324

 XIV. THE PEOPLE                                                     366



MOUNTAINEERING IN THE SIERRA NEVADA



I

THE RANGE


The western margin of this continent is built of a succession of
mountain chains folded in broad corrugations, like waves of stone upon
whose seaward base beat the mild, small breakers of the Pacific.

By far the grandest of all these ranges is the Sierra Nevada, a long and
massive uplift lying between the arid deserts of the Great Basin and the
Californian exuberance of grain-field and orchard; its eastern slope, a
defiant wall of rock plunging abruptly down to the plain; the western, a
long, grand sweep, well watered and overgrown with cool, stately
forests; its crest a line of sharp, snowy peaks springing into the sky
and catching the _alpenglow_ long after the sun has set for all the rest
of America.

The Sierras have a structure and a physical character which are
individual and unique. To Professor Whitney and his corps of the
Geological Survey of California is due the honor of first gaining a
scientific knowledge of the form, plan, and physical conditions of the
Sierras. How many thousands of miles, how many toilsome climbs, we made,
and what measure of patience came to be expended, cannot be told; but
the general harvest is gathered in, and already a volume of great
interest (the forerunner of others) has been published.

The ancient history of the Sierras goes back to a period when the
Atlantic and Pacific were one ocean, in whose depths great accumulations
of sand and powdered stone were gathering and being spread out in level
strata.

It is not easy to assign the age in which these submarine strata were
begun, nor exactly the boundaries of the embryo continents from whose
shores the primeval breakers ground away sand and gravel enough to form
such incredibly thick deposits.

It appears most likely that the Sierra region was submerged from the
earliest Palæozoic, or perhaps even the Azoic, age. Slowly the deep
ocean valley filled up, until, in the late Triassic period, the
uppermost tables were in water shallow enough to drift the sands and
clays into wave and ripple ridges. With what immeasurable patience, what
infinite deliberation, has nature amassed the materials for these
mountains! Age succeeded age; form after form of animal and plant life
perished in the unfolding of the great plan of development, while the
suspended sands of that primeval sea sank slowly down and were stretched
in level plains upon the floor of stone.

Early in the Jurassic period an impressive and far-reaching movement of
the earth’s crust took place, during which the bed of the ocean rose in
crumpled waves towering high in the air and forming the mountain
framework of the Western United States. This system of upheavals reached
as far east as Middle Wyoming and stretched from Mexico probably into
Alaska. Its numerous ridges and chains, having a general northwest
trend, were crowded together in one broad zone whose western and most
lofty member is the Sierra Nevada. During all of the Cretaceous period,
and a part of the Tertiary, the Pacific beat upon its seaward
foot-hills, tearing to pieces the rocks, crumbling and grinding the
shores, and, drifting the powdered stone and pebbles beneath its waves,
scattered them again in layers. This submarine table-land fringed the
whole base of the range and extended westward an unknown distance under
the sea. To this perpetual sea-wearing of the Sierra Nevada base was
added the detritus made by the cutting out of cañons, which in great
volumes continually poured into the Pacific, and was arranged upon its
bottom by currents.

In the late Tertiary period a chapter of very remarkable events
occurred. For a second time the evenly laid beds of the sea-bottom were
crumpled by the shrinking of the earth. The ocean flowed back into
deeper and narrower limits, and, fronting the Sierra Nevada, appeared
the present system of Coast Ranges. The intermediate depression, or
sea-trough as I like to call it, is the valley of California, and is
therefore a more recent continental feature than the Sierra Nevada. At
once then from the folded rocks of the Coast Ranges, from the Sierra
summits and the inland plateaus, and from numberless vents caused by the
fierce dynamical action, there poured out a general deluge of melted
rock. From the bottom of the sea sprang up those fountains of lava whose
cooled material forms many of the islands of the Pacific, and all along
the coast of America, like a system of answering beacons, blazed up
volcanic chimneys. The rent mountains glowed with outpourings of molten
stone. Sheets of lava poured down the slopes of the Sierra, covering an
immense proportion of its surface, only the high granite and metamorphic
peaks reaching above the deluge. Rivers and lakes floated up in a cloud
of steam and were gone forever. The misty sky of these volcanic days
glowed with innumerable lurid reflections, and at intervals along the
crest of the range great cones arose, blackening the sky with their
plumes of mineral smoke. At length, having exhausted themselves, the
volcanoes burned lower and lower, and at last by far the greater number
went out altogether. With a tendency to extremes which “development”
geologists would hesitate to admit, nature passed under the dominion of
ice and snow.

The vast amount of ocean water which had been vaporized floated over the
land, condensed upon hill-tops, chilled the lavas, and finally buried
beneath an icy covering all the higher parts of the mountain system.
According to well-known laws, the overburdened summits unloaded
themselves by a system of glaciers. The whole Sierra crest was one pile
of snow, from whose base crawled out the ice-rivers, wearing their
bodies into the rock, sculpturing as they went the forms of valleys, and
brightening the surface of their tracks by the friction of stones and
sand which were bedded, armor-like, in their nether surface. Having made
their way down the slope of the Sierra, they met a lowland temperature
of sufficient warmth to arrest and waste them. At last, from causes
which are too intricate to be discussed at present, they shrank slowly
back into the higher summit fastnesses, and there gradually perished,
leaving only a crest of snow. The ice melted, and upon the whole
plateau, little by little, a thin layer of soil accumulated, and,
replacing the snow, there sprang up a forest of pines, whose shadows
fall pleasantly to-day over rocks which were once torrents of lava and
across the burnished pathways of ice. Rivers, pure and sparkling, thread
the bottom of these gigantic glacier valleys. The volcanoes are extinct,
and the whole theatre of this impressive geological drama is now the
most glorious and beautiful region of America.

As the characters of the _Zauberflöte_ passed safely through the trial
of fire and the desperate ordeal of water, so, through the terror of
volcanic fires and the chilling empire of ice, has the great Sierra come
into the present age of tranquil grandeur.

Five distinct periods divide the history of the range. First, the slow
gathering of marine sediment within the early ocean during which
incalculable ages were consumed. Second, in the early Jurassic period
this level sea-floor came suddenly to be lifted into the air and
crumpled in folds, through whose yawning fissures and ruptured axes
outpoured wide zones of granite. Third, the volcanic age of fire and
steam. Fourth, the glacial period, when the Sierras were one broad field
of snow, with huge dragons of ice crawling down its slopes, and wearing
their armor into the rocks. Fifth, the present condition, which the
following chapters will describe, albeit in a desultory and inadequate
manner.

From latitude 35° to latitude 39° 30´ the Sierra lifts a continuous
chain, the profile culminating in several groups of peaks separated by
deeply depressed curves or sharp notches, the summits varying from eight
to fifteen thousand feet, seven to twelve thousand being the common
range of passes. Near its southern extremity, in San Bernardino County,
the range is cleft to the base with magnificent gateways opening through
into the desert. From Walker’s Pass for two hundred miles northward the
sky line is more uniformly elevated; the passes averaging nine thousand
feet high, the actual summit a chain of peaks from thirteen to fifteen
thousand feet. This serrated snow and granite outline of the Sierra
Nevada, projected against the cold, clear blue, is the blade of white
teeth which suggested its Spanish name.

Northward still the range gradually sinks; high peaks covered with
perpetual snow are rarer and rarer. Its summit rolls on in broken,
forest-covered ridges, now and then overlooked by a solitary pile of
metamorphic or irruptive rock. At length, in Northern California, where
it breaks down in a compressed medley of ridges, and open, level
expanses of plain, the axis is maintained by a line of extinct volcanoes
standing above the lowland in isolated positions. The most lofty of
these, Mount Shasta, is a cone of lava fourteen thousand four hundred
and forty feet high, its broad base girdled with noble forests, which
give way at eight thousand feet to a cap of glaciers and snow.

Beyond this to the northward the extension of the range is quite
difficult to definitely assign, for, geologically speaking, the Sierra
Nevada system occupies a broad area in Oregon, consisting of several
prominent mountain groups, while in a physical sense the chain ceases
with Shasta; the Cascades, which are the apparent topographical
continuation, being a tertiary structure formed chiefly of lavas which
have been outpoured long subsequent to the main upheaval of the Sierra.

It is not easy to point out the actual southern limit either, because
where the mountain mass descends into the Colorado desert it comes in
contact with a number of lesser groups of hills, which ramify in many
directions, all losing themselves beneath the tertiary and quartenary
beds of the desert.

For four hundred miles the Sierras are a definite ridge, broad and high,
and having the form of a sea-wave. Buttresses of sombre-hued rock,
jutting at intervals from a steep wall, form the abrupt eastern slopes;
irregular forests, in scattered growth, huddle together near the snow.
The lower declivities are barren spurs, sinking into the sterile flats
of the Great Basin.

Long ridges of comparatively gentle outline characterize the western
side, but this sloping table is scored from summit to base by a system
of parallel transverse cañons, distant from one another often less than
twenty-five miles. They are ordinarily two or three thousand feet deep,
falling at times in sheer, smooth-fronted cliffs, again in sweeping
curves like the hull of a ship, again in rugged, V-shaped gorges, or
with irregular, hilly flanks opening at last through gateways of low,
rounded foot-hills out upon the horizontal plain of the San Joaquin and
Sacramento.

Every cañon carries a river, derived from constant melting of the
perpetual snow, which threads its way down the mountain--a feeble type
of those vast ice-streams and torrents that formerly discharged the
summit accumulation of ice and snow while carving the cañons out from
solid rock. Nowhere on the continent of America is there more positive
evidence of the cutting power of rapid streams than in these very
cañons. Although much is due to this cause, the most impressive passages
of the Sierra valleys are actual ruptures of the rock; either the
engulfment of masses of great size, as Professor Whitney supposes in
explanation of the peculiar form of the Yosemite, or a splitting asunder
in yawning cracks. From the summits down half the distance to the
plains, the cañons are also carved out in broad, round curves by glacial
action. The summit-gorges themselves are altogether the result of frost
and ice. Here, even yet, may be studied the mode of blocking out
mountain peaks; the cracks riven by unequal contraction and expansion of
the rock; the slow leverage of ice, the storm, the avalanche.

The western descent, facing a moisture-laden, aërial current from the
Pacific, condenses on its higher portions a great amount of water, which
has piled upon the summits in the form of snow, and is absorbed upon the
upper plateau by an exuberant growth of forest. This prevalent wind,
which during most undisturbed periods blows continuously from the ocean,
strikes first upon the western slope of the Coast Range, and there
discharges, both as fog and rain, a very great sum of moisture; but,
being ever reinforced, it blows over their crest, and, hurrying
eastward, strikes the Sierras at about four thousand feet above
sea-level. Below this line the foothills are oppressed by an habitual
dryness, which produces a rusty olive tone throughout nearly all the
large conspicuous vegetation, scorches the red soil, and, during the
long summer, overlays the whole region with a cloud of dust.

Dull and monotonous in color, there are, however, certain elements of
picturesqueness in this lower zone. Its oak-clad hills wander out into
the great, plain-like coast promontories, enclosing yellow or, in
spring-time, green bays of prairie. The hill-forms are rounded, or
stretch in long, longitudinal ridges, broken across by the river cañons.
Above this zone of red earth, softly modelled undulations, and dull,
grayish groves, with a chain of mining towns, dotted ranches and
vineyards, rise the swelling middle heights of the Sierras, a broad,
billowy plateau cut by sharp, sudden cañons, and sweeping up, with its
dark, superb growth of coniferous forest to the feet of the
summit-peaks.

For a breadth of forty miles, all along the chain, is spread this
continuous belt of pines. From Walker’s Pass to Sitka one may ride
through an unbroken forest, and will find its character and aspect vary
constantly in strict accordance with the laws of altitude and moisture,
each of the several species of coniferous trees taking its position with
an almost mathematical precision. Where low gaps in the Coast Range give
free access to the western wind, there the forest sweeps downward and
encamps upon the foot-hills, and, continuing northward, it advances
toward the coast, securing for itself over this whole distance about the
same physical conditions; so that a tree which finds itself at home on
the shore of Puget’s Sound, in the latitude of Middle California has
climbed the Sierras to a height of six thousand feet, finding there its
normal requirements of damp, cool air. As if to economize the whole
surface of the Sierra, the forest is mainly made up of twelve species of
coniferæ, each having its own definitely circumscribed limits of
temperature, and yet being able successively to occupy the whole middle
Sierra up to the foot of the perpetual snow. The average range in
altitude of each species is about twenty-five hundred feet, so that you
pass imperceptibly from the zone of one species into that of the next.
Frequently three or four are commingled, their varied habit,
characteristic foliage, and richly colored trunks uniting to make the
most stately of forests.

In the centre of the coniferous belt is assembled the most remarkable
family of trees. Those which approach the perpetual snow are imperfect,
gnarled, storm-bent; full of character and suggestion, but lacking the
symmetry, the rich, living green, and the great size of their lower
neighbors. In the other extreme of the pine-belt, growing side by side
with foothill oaks, is an equally imperfect species, which, although
attaining a very great size, still has the air of an abnormal tree. The
conditions of drought on the one hand, and rigorous storms on the other,
injure and blast alike, while the more verdant centre, furnishing the
finest conditions, produces a forest whose profusion and grandeur fill
the traveller with the liveliest admiration.

Toward the south the growth of the forest is more open and grove-like,
the individual trees becoming proportionally larger and reaching their
highest development. Northward its density increases, to the injury of
individual pines, until the branches finally interlock, and at last on
the shores of British Columbia the trunks are so densely assembled that
a dead tree is held in its upright position by the arms of its fellows.

At the one extremity are magnificent purple shafts ornamented with an
exquisitely delicate drapery of pale golden and dark blue green; at the
other the slender spars stand crowded together like the fringe of masts
girdling a prosperous port. The one is a great, continuous grove, on
whose sunny openings are innumerable brilliant parterres; the other is a
dismal thicket, a sort of gigantic canebrake, void of beauty, dark,
impenetrable, save by the avenues of streams, where one may float for
days between sombre walls of forest. From one to the other of these
extremes is an imperceptible transition; only in the passage of hundreds
of miles does the forest seem to thicken northward, or the majesty of
the single trees appear to be impaired by their struggle for room.

Near the centre is the perfection of forest. At the south are the finest
specimen trees, at the north the densest accumulations of timber. In
riding throughout this whole region and watching the same species from
the glorious ideal life of the south gradually dwarfed toward the
north, until it becomes a mere wand; or in climbing from the scattered,
drought-scourged pines of the foot-hills up through the zone of finest
vegetation to those summit crags, where, struggling against the power of
tempest and frost, only a few of the bravest trees succeed in clinging
to the rocks and to life,--one sees with novel effect the inexorable
sway which climatic conditions hold over the kingdom of trees.

Looking down from the summit, the forest is a closely woven vesture,
which has fallen over the body of the range, clinging closely to its
form, sinking into the deep cañons, covering the hill-tops with even
velvety folds, and only lost here and there where a bold mass of rock
gives it no foothold, or where around the margin of the mountain lakes
bits of alpine meadow lie open to the sun.

Along its upper limit the forest zone grows thin and irregular; black
shafts of alpine pines and firs clustering on sheltered slopes, or
climbing in disordered processions up broken and rocky faces. Higher,
the last gnarled forms are passed, and beyond stretches the rank of
silent, white peaks, a region of rock and ice lifted above the limit of
life.

In the north, domes and cones of volcanic formation are the summit, but
for about three hundred miles in the south it is a succession of sharp
granite aiguilles and crags. Prevalent among the granitic forms are
singularly perfect conoidal domes, whose symmetrical figures, were it
not for their immense size, would impress one as having an artificial
finish.

The alpine gorges are usually wide and open, leading into amphitheatres,
whose walls are either rock or drifts of never-melting snow. The
sculpture of the summit is very evidently glacial. Beside the ordinary
phenomena of polished rocks and moraines, the larger general forms are
clearly the work of frost and ice; and, although this ice-period is only
feebly represented to-day, yet the frequent avalanches of winter and
freshly scored mountain flanks are constant suggestions of the past.

Strikingly contrasted are the two countries bordering the Sierra on
either side. Along the western base is the plain of California, an
elliptical basin four hundred and fifty miles long by sixty-five broad;
level, fertile, well watered, half tropically warmed; checkered with
farms of grain, ranches of cattle, orchard and vineyard, and homes of
commonplace opulence, towns of bustling thrift. Rivers flow over it,
bordered by lines of oaks which seem characterless or gone to sleep,
when compared with the vitality, the spring, and attitude of the same
species higher up on the foot-hills. It is a region of great industrial
future within a narrow range, but quite without charms for the student
of science. It has a certain impressive breadth when seen from some
overlooking eminence, or when in early spring its brilliant carpet of
flowers lies as a foreground over which the dark pine-land and white
crest of the Sierra loom indistinctly.

From the Mexican frontier up into Oregon, a strip of actual desert lies
under the east slope of the great chain, and stretches eastward
sometimes as far as five hundred miles, varied by successions of bare,
white ground, effervescing under the hot sun with alkaline salts, plains
covered by the low, ashy-hued sage-plant, high, barren, rocky ranges,
which are folds of metamorphic rocks, and piled-up lavas of bright red
or yellow colors; all over-arched by a sky which is at one time of a
hot, metallic brilliancy, and again the tenderest of evanescent purple
or pearl.

Utterly opposed are the two aspects of the Sierras from these east and
west approaches. I remember how stern and strong the chain looked to me
when I first saw it from the Colorado desert.

It was in early May, 1866. My companion, Mr. James Terry Gardiner, and I
got into the saddle on the bank of the Colorado River, and headed
westward over the road from La Paz to San Bernardino. My mount was a
tough, magnanimous sort of mule, who at all times did his very best;
that of my friend, an animal still hardier, but altogether wanting in
moral attributes. He developed a singular antipathy for my mule, and
utterly refused to march within a quarter of a mile of me; so that over
a wearying route of three hundred miles we were obliged to travel just
beyond the reach of a shout. Hour after hour, plodding along at a
dog-trot, we pursued our solitary way without the spice of
companionship, and altogether deprived of the melodramatic satisfaction
of loneliness.

Far ahead of us a white line traced across the barren plain marked our
road. It seemed to lead to nowhere, except onward over more and more
arid reaches of desert. Rolling hills of crude color and low, gloomy
contour rose above the general level. Here and there the eye was
arrested by a towering crag, or an elevated, rocky mountain group, whose
naked sides sank down into the desert, unrelieved by the shade of a
solitary tree. The whole aspect of nature was dull in color, and gloomy
with an all-pervading silence of death. Although the summer had not
fairly opened, a torrid sun beat down with cruel severity, blinding the
eye with its brilliance, and inducing a painful slow fever. The very
plants, scorched to a crisp, were ready, at the first blast of a
sirocco, to be whirled away and ground to dust. Certain bare zones lay
swept clean of the last dry stems across our path, marking the track of
whirlwinds. Water was only found at intervals of sixty or seventy miles,
and, when reached, was more of an aggravation than a pleasure,--bitter,
turbid, and scarce; we rode for it all day, and berated it all night,
only to leave it at sunrise with a secret fear that we might fare worse
next time.

About noon on the third day of our march, having reached the borders of
the Chabazon Valley, we emerged from a rough, rocky gateway in the
mountains, and I paused while my companion made up his quarter of a
mile, that we might hold council and determine our course, for the water
question was becoming serious; springs which looked cool and seductive
on our maps proving to be dried up and obsolete upon the ground.

A fresh mule and a lively man get along, to be sure, well enough; but
after all it is at best with perfunctory tolerance on both sides, a sort
of diplomatic interchange of argument, the man suggesting with bridle,
or mildly admonishing with spurs; but when the high contracting parties
get tired, the _entente cordiale_ goes to pieces, and actual hostilities
open, in which I never knew a man to come out the better.

I had noticed a shambling uncertainty during the last half-hour’s trot,
and those invariable indicators, “John’s” long, furry ears, either
lopped diagonally down on one side, or lay back with ill omen upon his
neck.

Gardiner reached me in a few minutes, and we dismounted to rest the
tired mules, and to scan the landscape before us. We were on the margin
of a great basin whose gently shelving rim sank from our feet to a
perfectly level plain, which stretched southward as far as the eye could
reach, bounded by a dim, level horizon, like the sea, but walled in to
the west, at a distance of about forty miles, by the high, frowning wall
of the Sierras. This plain was a level floor, as white as marble, and
into it the rocky spurs from our own mountain range descended like
promontories into the sea. Wide, deeply indented white bays wound in and
out among the foot-hills, and, traced upon the barren slopes of this
rocky coast, was marked, at a considerable elevation above the plain,
the shore-line of an ancient sea,--a white stain defining its former
margin as clearly as if the water had but just receded. On the dim,
distant base of the Sierras the same primeval beach could be seen. This
water-mark, the level, white valley, and the utter absence upon its
surface of any vegetation, gave a strange and weird aspect to the
country, as if a vast tide had but just ebbed, and the brilliant,
scorching sun had hurriedly dried up its last traces of moisture.

In the indistinct glare of the southern horizon, it needed but slight
aid from the imagination to see a lifting and tumbling of billows, as if
the old tide were coming; but they were only shudderings of heat. As we
sat there surveying this unusual scene, the white expanse became
suddenly transformed into a placid blue sea, along whose rippling shores
were the white blocks of roofs, groups of spire-crowned villages, and
cool stretches of green grove. A soft, vapory atmosphere hung over this
sea; shadows, purple and blue, floated slowly across it, producing the
most enchanting effect of light and color. The dreamy richness of the
tropics, the serene sapphire sky of the desert, and the cool, purple
distance of mountains, were grouped as by miracle. It was as if Nature
were about to repay us an hundred-fold for the lie she had given the
topographers and their maps.

In a moment the illusion vanished. It was gone, leaving the white desert
unrelieved by a shadow; a blaze of white light falling full on the
plain; the sun-struck air reeling in whirlwind columns, white with the
dust of the desert, up, up, and vanishing into the sky. Waves of heat
rolled like billows across the valley, the old shores became indistinct,
the whole lowland unreal. Shades of misty blue crossed over it and
disappeared. Lakes with ragged shores gleamed out, reflecting the sky,
and in a moment disappeared.

The bewildering effect of this natural magic, and perhaps the feverish
thirst, produced the impression of a dream, which might have taken fatal
possession of us but for the importunate braying of Gardiner’s mule,
whose piteous discords (for he made three noises at once) banished all
hallucination, and brought us gently back from the mysterious spectacle
to the practical question of water. We had but one canteen of that
precious elixir left; the elixir in this case being composed of one part
pure water, one part sand, one part alum, one part saleratus, with
liberal traces of Colorado mud, representing a very disgusting taste,
and very great range of geological formations.

To search for the mountain springs laid down upon our maps was probably
to find them dry, and afforded us little more inducement than to chase
the mirages. The only well-known water was at an oasis somewhere on the
margin of the Chabazon, and should, if the information was correct, have
been in sight from our resting-place.

We eagerly scanned the distance, but were unable, among the phantom
lakes and the ever-changing illusions of the desert, to fix upon any
probable point. Indian trails led out in all directions, and our only
clew to the right path was far in the northwest, where, looming against
the sky, stood two conspicuous mountain piles lifted above the general
wall of the Sierra, their bases rooted in the desert, and their
precipitous fronts rising boldly on each side of an open gateway. The
two summits, high above the magical stratum of desert air, were sharply
defined and singularly distinct in all the details of rock-form and
snow-field. From their position we knew them to be walls of the San
Gorgonio Pass, and through this gateway lay our road.

After brief deliberation we chose what seemed to be the most beaten road
leading in that direction, and I mounted my mule and started, leaving my
friend patiently seated in his saddle waiting for the _afflatus_ of his
mule to take effect. Thus we rode down into the desert, and hour after
hour travelled silently on, straining our eyes forward to a spot of
green which we hoped might mark our oasis.

So incredulous had I become that I prided myself upon having penetrated
the flimsy disguise of an unusually deceptive mirage, and
philosophized, to a considerable extent, upon the superiority of my
reason over the instinct of the mule, whose quickened pace and nervous
manner showed him to be, as I thought, a dupe.

Whenever there comes to be a clearly defined mental issue between man
and mule, the stubbornness of the latter is the expression of an
adamantine moral resolve, founded in eternal right. The man is
invariably wrong. Thus on this occasion, as at a thousand other times, I
was obliged to own up worsted, and I drummed for a while with Spanish
spurs upon the ribs of my conqueror, that being my habitual mode of
covering my retreat.

It _was_ the oasis, and not the mirage. John lifted up his voice, now
many days hushed, and gave out spasmodic gusts of barytone, which were
as dry and harsh as if he had drunk mirages only.

The heart of Gardiner’s mule relented. Of his own accord he galloped up
to my side, and, for the first time together, we rode forward to the
margin of the oasis. Under the palms we hastily threw off our saddles
and allowed the parched brutes to drink their fill. We lay down in the
grass, drank, bathed our faces, and played in the water like children.
We picketed our mules knee-deep in the freshest of grass, and, unpacking
our saddle-bags, sent up a smoke to heaven, and achieved that most
precious solace of the desert traveller, a pot of tea.

By and by we plunged into the pool, which was perhaps thirty feet long,
and deep enough to give us a pleasant swim. The water being almost
blood-warm, we absorbed it in every pore, dilated like sponges, and came
out refreshed.

It is well worth having one’s juices broiled out by a desert sun just to
experience the renewal of life from a mild parboil. That About’s “Man
with the Broken Ear,” under this same aqueous renovation, was ready to
fall in love with his granddaughter, no longer appears to me odd. Our
oasis spread out its disc of delicate green, sharply defined upon the
enamel-like desert which stretched away for leagues, simple, unbroken,
pathetic. Near the eastern edge of this garden, whose whole surface
covered hardly more than an acre, rose two palms, interlocking their
cool, dark foliage over the pool of pure water. A low, deserted cabin
with wide, overhanging, flat roof, which had long ago been thatched with
palm-leaves, stood close by the trees.

With its isolation, its strange, warm fountain, its charming vegetation
varied with grasses, trailing water-plants, bright parterres in which
were minute flowers of turquoise blue, pale gold, mauve, and rose, and
its two graceful palms, this oasis evoked a strange sentiment. I have
never felt such a sense of absolute and remote seclusion; the hot,
trackless plain and distant groups of mountain shut it away from all the
world. Its humid and fragrant air hung over us in delicious contrast
with the oven-breath through which we had ridden. Weary little birds
alighted, panting, and drank and drank again, without showing the least
fear of us. Wild doves fluttering down bathed in the pool and fed about
among our mules.

After straining over one hundred and fifty miles of silent desert,
hearing no sound but the shoes of our mules grating upon hot sand, after
the white glare, and that fever-thirst which comes from drinking
alkali-water, it was a deep pleasure to lie under the palms and look up
at their slow-moving green fans, and hear in those shaded recesses the
mild, sweet twittering of our traveller-friends, the birds, who stayed,
like ourselves, overcome with the languor of perfect repose.

Declining rapidly toward the west, the sun warned us to renew our
journey. Several hours’ rest and frequent deep draughts of water, added
to the feast of succulent grass, filled out and rejuvenated our
saddle-animals. John was far less an anatomical specimen than when I
unsaddled him, and Gardiner’s mule came up to be bridled with so
mollified a demeanor that it occurred to us as just possible he might
forget his trick of lagging behind; but with the old tenacity of purpose
he planted his forefeet, and waited till I was well out on the desert.

As I rode I watched the western prospect. Completely bounding the basin
in that direction rose the gigantic wall of the Sierra, its serrated
line sharply profiled against the evening sky. This dark barrier became
more and more shadowed, so that the old shore line and the lowland,
where mountain and plain joined, were lost. The desert melted in the
distance into the shadowed masses of the Sierra, which, looming higher
and higher, seemed to rise as the sun went down. Scattered snow-fields
shone along its crest; each peak and notch, every column of rock and
detail of outline, were black and sharp.

On either side of the San Gorgonio stood its two guardian peaks, San
Bernardino and San Jacinto, capped with rosy snow, and the pass itself,
warm with western light, opened hopefully before us. For a moment the
sun rested upon the Sierra crest, and then, slowly sinking, suffered
eclipse by its ragged, black profile. Through the slow hours of
darkening twilight a strange, ashy gloom overspread the desert. The
forms of the distant mountain chains behind us, and the old shore line
upon the Sierra base, stared at us with a strange, weird distinctness.
At last all was gray and vague, except the black silhouette of the
Sierras cut upon a band of golden heaven.

We at length reached their foot and, turning northward, rode parallel
with the base toward the San Gorgonio. In the moonless night huge, rocky
buttresses of the range loomed before us, their feet plunging into the
pale desert floor. High upon their fronts, perhaps five hundred feet
above us, was dimly traceable the white line of ancient shore. Over
drifted hills of sand and hard alkaline clay we rode along the bottom of
that primitive sea. Between the spurs deep mountain alcoves, stretching
back into the heart of the range, opened grand and shadowy; far at
their head, over crests of ridge and peak, loomed the planet Jupiter.

A long, wearisome ride of forty hours brought us to the open San
Gorgonio Pass. Already scattered beds of flowers tinted the austere face
of the desert; tufts of pale grass grew about the stones, and tall stems
of yucca bore up their magnificent bunches of bluish flowers. Upon all
the heights overhanging the road gnarled, struggling cedars grasp the
rock, and stretch themselves with frantic effort to catch a breath of
the fresh Pacific vapor. It is instructive to observe the difference
between those which lean out into the vitalizing wind of the pass, and
the fated few whose position exposes them to the dry air of the desert.
Vigor, soundness, nerve to stand on the edge of sheer walls,
flexibility, sap, fulness of green foliage, are in the one; a shroud of
dull olive-leaves scantily cover the thin, straggling, bayonet-like
boughs of the others; they are rigid, shrunken, split to the heart,
pitiful. We were glad to forget them as we turned a last buttress and
ascended the gentle acclivity of the pass.

Before us opened a broad gateway six or seven miles from wall to wall,
in which a mere swell of green land rises to divide the desert and
Pacific slopes. Flanking the pass along its northern side stands Mount
San Bernardino, its granite framework crowded up above the beds of more
recent rock about its base, bearing aloft tattered fragments of pine
forest, the summit piercing through a marbling of perpetual snow, up to
the height of ten thousand feet. Fronting it on the opposite wall rises
its compeer, San Jacinto, a dark crag of lava, whose flanks are cracked,
riven, and waterworn into innumerable ravines, each catching a share of
the drainage from the snow-cap, and glistening with a hundred small
waterfalls.

Numerous brooks unite to form two rivers, one running down the green
slope among ranches and gardens into the blooming valley of San
Bernardino, the other pouring eastward, shrinking as it flows out upon
the hot sands, till, in a few miles, the unslakable desert has drunk it
dry.

There are but few points in America where such extremes of physical
condition meet. What contrasts, what opposed sentiments, the two views
awakened! Spread out below us lay the desert, stark and glaring, its
rigid hill-chains lying in disordered grouping, in attitudes of the
dead. The bare hills are cut out with sharp gorges, and over their stone
skeletons scanty earth clings in folds, like shrunken flesh; they are
emaciated corses of once noble ranges now lifeless, outstretched as in a
long sleep. Ghastly colors define them from the ashen plain in which
their feet are buried. Far in the south were a procession of whirlwind
columns slowly moving across the desert in spectral dimness. A white
light beat down, dispelling the last trace of shadow, and above hung the
burnished shield of hard, pitiless sky.

Sinking to the _west_ from our feet the gentle golden-green _glacis_
sloped away, flanked by rolling hills covered with a fresh, vernal
carpet of grass, and relieved by scattered groves of dark oak-trees.
Upon the distant valley were checkered fields of grass and grain just
tinged with the first ripening yellow. The bounding Coast Ranges lay in
the cool shadow of a bank of mist which drifted in from the Pacific,
covering their heights. Flocks of bright clouds floated across the sky,
whose blue was palpitating with light, and seemed to rise with infinite
perspective. Tranquillity, abundance, the slow, beautiful unfolding of
plant life, dark, shadowed spots to rest our tired eyes upon, the shade
of giant oaks to lie down under, while listening to brooks, contralto
larks, and the soft, distant lowing of cattle.

I have given the outlines of aspect along our ride across the Chabazon,
omitting many amusing incidents and some _genre_ pictures of rare
interest among the Kaweah Indians, as I wished simply to illustrate the
relations of the Sierra with the country bordering its east base,--the
barrier looming above a desert.

In Nevada and California, farther north, this wall rises more grandly,
but its face rests upon a modified form of desert plains of less extent
than the Colorado, and usually covered with sage-plants and other brushy
_compositæ_ of equally pitiful appearance. Large lakes of complicated
saline waters are dotted under the Sierra shadow, the ancient terraces
built upon foot-hill and outlying volcanic ranges indicating their
former expansion into inland seas; and farther north still, where
plains extend east of Mount Shasta, level sheets of lava form the
country, and open, black, rocky channels, for the numerous branches of
the Sacramento and Klamath.

Approaching the Sierras anywhere from the west, one will perceive a
totally different topographical and climatic condition. From the Coast
Range peaks especially one obtains an extended and impressive prospect.
I had fallen behind the party one May evening of our march across
Pacheco’s Pass, partly because some wind-bent oaks trailing almost
horizontally over the wild-oat surface of the hills, and marking, as a
living record, the prevalent west wind, had arrested me and called out
compass and note-book; and because there had fallen to my lot an
incorrigibly deliberate mustang to whom I had abandoned myself to be
carried along at his own pace, comforted withal that I should get in too
late to have any hand in the cooking of supper. We reached the crest,
the mustang coming to a conspicuous and unwarrantable halt; I yielded,
however, and sat still in the saddle, looking out to the east.

Brown foot-hills, purple over their lower slopes with “fil-a-ree”
blossoms, descended steeply to the plain of California, a great, inland,
prairie sea, extending for five hundred miles, mountain-locked, between
the Sierras and coast hills, and now a broad, arabesque surface of
colors. Miles of orange-colored flowers, cloudings of green and white,
reaches of violet which looked like the shadow of a passing cloud,
wandering in natural patterns over and through each other, sunny and
intense along near our range, fading in the distance into pale,
bluish-pearl tones, and divided by long, dimly seen rivers, whose
margins were edged by belts of bright emerald green. Beyond rose three
hundred miles of Sierra half lost in light and cloud and mist, the
summit in places sharply seen against a pale, beryl sky, and again
buried in warm, rolling clouds. It was a mass of strong light, soft,
fathomless shadows, and dark regions of forest. However, the three belts
upon its front were tolerably clear. Dusky foot-hills rose over the
plain with a coppery gold tone, suggesting the line of mining towns
planted in its rusty ravines,--a suggestion I was glad to repel, and
look higher into that cool, solemn realm where the pines stand,
green-roofed, in infinite colonnade. Lifted above the bustling industry
of the plains and the melodramatic mining theatre of the foot-hills, it
has a grand, silent life of its own, refreshing to contemplate even from
a hundred miles away.

While I looked the sun descended; shadows climbed the Sierras, casting a
gloom over foot-hill and pine, until at last only the snow summits,
reflecting the evening light, glowed like red lamps along the mountain
wall for hundreds of miles. The rest of the Sierra became invisible. The
snow burned for a moment in the violet sky, and at last went out.



II

THROUGH THE FOREST

1864


Visalia is the name of a small town embowered in oaks upon the Tulare
Plain in Middle California, where we made our camp one May evening of
1864.

Professor Whitney, our chief, the State Geologist, had sent us out for a
summer’s campaign in the High Sierras, under the lead of Professor
William H. Brewer, who was more sceptical than I as to the result of the
mission.

Several times during the previous winter Mr. Hoffman and I, while on
duty at the Mariposa goldmines, had climbed to the top of Mount Bullion,
and gained, in those clear January days, a distinct view of the High
Sierra, ranging from the Mount Lyell group many miles south to a vast
pile of white peaks, which, from our estimate, should lie near the heads
of the King’s and Kaweah rivers. Of their great height I was fully
persuaded; and Professor Whitney, on the strength of these few
observations, commissioned us to explore and survey the new Alps.

We numbered five in camp:--Professor Brewer; Mr. Charles F. Hoffman,
chief topographer; Mr. James T. Gardiner, assistant surveyor; myself,
assistant geologist; and our man-of-all-work, to whom science already
owes its debts.

When we got together our outfit of mules and equipments of all kinds,
Brewer was going to re-engage, as general aid, a certain Dane, Jan
Hoesch, who, besides being a faultless mule-packer, was a rapid and
successful financier, having twice, when the field-purse was low and
remittances delayed, enriched us by what he called “dealing bottom
stock” in his little evening games with the honest miners. Not
ungrateful for that, I, however, detested the fellow with great
cordiality.

“If I don’t take him, will you be responsible for packing mules and for
daily bread?” said Brewer to me, the morning of our departure from
Oakland. “I will.” “Then we’ll take your man Cotter; only, when the
pack-saddles roll under the mules’ bellies, I shall light my pipe and go
botanizing. _Sabe?_”

So my friend, Richard Cotter, came into the service, and the
accomplished but filthy Jan opened a poker and rum shop on one of the
San Francisco wharves, where he still mixes drinks and puts up jobs of
“bottom stock.” Secretly I longed for him as we came down the Pacheco
Pass, the packs having loosened with provoking frequency. The animals of
our small exploring party were upon a footing of easy social equality
with us. All were excellent except mine. The choice of Hobson (whom I
take to have been the youngest member of some company) falling
naturally to me, I came to be possessed of the only hopeless animal in
the band. Old Slum, a dignified roan mustang of a certain age, with the
decorum of years and a conspicuous economy of force retained not a few
of the affectations of youth, such as snorting theatrically and shying,
though with absolute safety to the rider, Professor Brewer. Hoffman’s
mount was a young half-breed, full of fire and gentleness. The mare
Bess, my friend Gardiner’s pet, was a light-bay creature, as full of
spring and perception as her sex and species may be. A rare mule, Cate,
carried Cotter. Nell and Jim, two old geological mules, branded with
Mexican hieroglyphics from head to tail, were bearers of the loads.

My Buckskin was incorrigibly bad. To begin with, his anatomy was
desultory and incoherent, the maximum of physical effort bringing about
a slow, shambling gait quite unendurable. He was further cursed with a
brain wanting the elements of logic, as evinced by such _non sequiturs_
as shying insanely at wisps of hay, and stampeding beyond control when I
tried to tie him to a load of grain. My sole amusement with Buckskin
grew out of a psychological peculiarity of his, namely, the unusual
slowness with which waves of sensation were propelled inward toward the
brain from remote parts of his periphery. A dig of the spurs
administered in the flank passed unnoticed for a period of time varying
from twelve to thirteen seconds, till the protoplasm of the brain
received the percussive wave; then, with a suddenness which I never
wholly got over, he would dash into a trot, nearly tripping himself up
with his own astonishment.

A stroke of good fortune completed our outfit and my happiness by
bringing to Visalia a Spaniard who was under some manner of financial
cloud. His horse was offered for sale, and quickly bought for me by
Professor Brewer. We named him Kaweah, after the river and its Indian
tribe. He was young, strong, fleet, elegant, a pattern of fine modelling
in every part of his bay body and fine black legs; every way good, only
fearfully wild, with a blaze of quick electric light in his dark eye.

Shortly after sunrise one fresh morning we made a point of putting the
packs on very securely, and, getting into our saddles, rode out toward
the Sierras.

The group of farms surrounding Visalia is gathered within a belt through
which several natural, and many more artificial, channels of the Kaweah
flow. Groves of large, dark-foliaged oaks follow this irrigated zone;
the roads, nearly always in shadow, are flanked by small ranch-houses,
fenced in with rank jungles of weeds and rows of decrepit pickets.

There is about these fresh ruins, these specimens of modern decay, an
air of social decomposition not pleasant to perceive. Freshly built
houses, still untinted by time, left in rickety disorder, half-finished
windows, gates broken down or unhinged, and a kind of sullen neglect
staring everywhere. What more can I say of the people than that they
are chiefly immigrants who subsist upon pork?

Rare exceptions of comfort and thrift shine out sometimes, with neat
dooryards, well-repaired dwellings, and civilized-looking children. In
these I never saw the mother of the family sitting cross-legged, smoking
a corncob pipe, nor the father loafing about with a fiddle or shot-gun.

Our backs were now turned to this farm-belt, the road leading us out
upon the open plain in our first full sight of the Sierras.

Grand and cool swelled up the forest; sharp and rugged rose the wave of
white peaks, their vast fields of snow rolling over the summit in broad,
shining masses.

Sunshine, exuberant vegetation, brilliant plant life, occupied our
attention hour after hour until the middle of the second day. At last,
after climbing a long, weary ascent, we rode out of the dazzling light
of the foot-hills into a region of dense woodland, the road winding
through avenues of pines so tall that the late evening light only came
down to us in scattered rays. Under the deep shade of these trees we
found an air pure and gratefully cool. Passing from the glare of the
open country into the dusky forest, one seems to enter a door and ride
into a vast covered hall. The whole sensation is of being roofed and
enclosed. You are never tired of gazing down long vistas, where, in
stately groups, stand tall shafts of pine. Columns they are, each with
its own characteristic tinting and finish, yet all standing together
with the air of relationship and harmony. Feathery branches, trimmed
with living green, wave through the upper air, opening broken glimpses
of the far blue, and catching on their polished surfaces reflections of
the sun. Broad streams of light pour in, gilding purple trunks and
falling in bright pathways along an undulating floor. Here and there are
wide, open spaces, around which the trees group themselves in majestic
ranks.

Our eyes often ranged upward, the long shafts leading the vision up to
green, lighted spires, and on to the clouds. All that is dark and cool
and grave in color, the beauty of blue umbrageous distance, all the
sudden brilliance of strong local lights tinted upon green boughs or red
and fluted shafts, surround us in ever-changing combination as we ride
along these winding roadways of the Sierra.

We had marched a few hours over high, rolling, wooded ridges, when in
the late afternoon we reached the brow of an eminence and began to
descend. Looking over the tops of the trees beneath us, we saw a
mountain basin fifteen hundred feet deep surrounded by a rim of
pine-covered hills. An even, unbroken wood covered these sweeping slopes
down to the very bottom, and in the midst, open to the sun, lay a
circular green meadow, about a mile in diameter.

As we descended, side wood-tracks, marked by the deep ruts of timber
wagons, joined our road on either side, and in the course of an hour we
reached the basin and saw the distant roofs of Thomas’s Saw-Mill Ranch.
We crossed the level disc of meadow, fording a clear, cold mountain
stream, flowing, as the best brooks do, over clean, white granite sand,
and near the northern margin of the valley, upon a slight eminence, in
the edge of a magnificent forest, pitched our camp.

The hills to the westward already cast down a sombre shadow, which fell
over the eastern hills and across the meadow, dividing the basin half in
golden and half in azure green. The tall young grass was living with
purple and white flowers. This exquisite carpet sweeps up over the bases
of the hills in green undulations, and strays far into the forest in
irregular fields. A little brooklet passed close by our camp and flowed
down the smooth green _glacis_ which led from our little eminence to the
meadow. Above us towered pines two hundred and fifty feet high, their
straight, fluted trunks smooth and without a branch for a hundred feet.
Above that, and on to the very tops, the green branches stretched out
and interwove, until they spread a broad, leafy canopy from column to
column.

Professor Brewer determined to make this camp a home for the week during
which we were to explore and study all about the neighborhood. We were
on a great granite spur, sixty miles from east to west by twenty miles
wide, which lies between the Kaweah and King’s River cañons. Rising in
bold sweeps from the plain, this ridge joins the Sierra summit in the
midst of a high group. Experience had taught us that the cañons are
impassable by animals for any great distance; so the plan of campaign
was to find a way up over the rocky crest of the spur as far as mules
could go.

In the little excursions from this camp, which were made usually on
horseback, we became acquainted with the forest, and got a good
knowledge of the topography of a considerable region. On the heights
above King’s Cañon are some singularly fine assemblies of trees. Cotter
and I had ridden all one morning northeast from camp under the shadowy
roof of forest, catching but occasional glimpses out over the plateau,
until at last we emerged upon the bare surface of a ridge of granite,
and came to the brink of a sharp precipice. Rocky crags lifted just east
of us. The hour devoted to climbing them proved well spent.

A single little family of alpine firs growing in a niche in the granite
surface, and partly sheltered by a rock, made the only shadow, and just
shielded us from the intense light as we lay down by their roots. North
and south, as far as the eye could reach, heaved the broad, green waves
of plateau, swelling and merging through endless modulation of slope and
form.

Conspicuous upon the horizon, about due east of us, was a tall,
pyramidal mass of granite, trimmed with buttresses which radiated down
from its crest, each one ornamented with fantastic spires of rock.
Between the buttresses lay stripes of snow, banding the pale granite
peak from crown to base. Upon the north side it fell off, grandly
precipitous, into the deep upper cañon of King’s River. This gorge,
after uniting a number of immense rocky amphitheatres, is carved deeply
into the granite two and three thousand feet. In a slightly curved line
from the summit it cuts westward through the plateau, its walls, for the
most part, descending in sharp, bare slopes, or lines of ragged
_débris_, the resting-place of processions of pines. We ourselves were
upon the brink of the south wall; three thousand feet below us lay the
valley, a narrow, winding ribbon of green, in which, here and there,
gleamed still reaches of the river. Wherever the bottom widened to a
quarter or half a mile, green meadows and extensive groves occupied the
level region. Upon every niche and crevice of the walls, up and down
sweeping curves of easier descent, were grouped black companies of
trees.

The behavior of the forest is observed most interestingly from these
elevated points above the general face of the table-land. All over the
gentle undulations of the more level country sweeps an unbroken covering
of trees. Reaching the edge of the cañon precipices, they stand out in
bold groups upon the brink, and climb all over the more ragged and
broken surfaces of granite. Only the most smooth and abrupt precipices
are bare. Here and there a little shelf of a foot or two in width,
cracked into the face of the bluff, gives foothold to a family of
pines, who twist their roots into its crevices and thrive. With no soil
from which the roots may drink up moisture and absorb the slowly
dissolved mineral particles, they live by breathing alone, moist vapors
from the river below and the elements of the atmosphere affording them
the substance of life.

I believe no one can study from an elevated lookout the length and depth
of one of these great Sierra cañons without asking himself some profound
geological questions. Your eyes range along one or the other wall. The
average descent is immensely steep. Here and there side ravines break
down the rim in deep, lateral gorges. Again, the wall advances in sharp,
salient precipices, rising two or three thousand feet, sheer and naked,
with all the air of a recent fracture. At times the two walls approach
each other, standing in perpendicular gateways. Toward the summits the
cañon grows, perhaps, a little broader, and more and more prominent
lateral ravines open into it, until at last it receives the snow
drainage of the summit, which descends through broad, rounded
amphitheatres, separated from each other by sharp, castellated snow-clad
ridges.

Looking down the course of the river, vertical precipices are seen to be
less and less frequent, the walls inclining to each other more and more
gently, until they roll out on the north and south in round, wooded
ridges. Solid, massive granite forms the material throughout its whole
length. If you study the topography upon the plateaus above one of
these cañons, you will see that the ridges upon one side are reproduced
in the other, as if the outlines of wavy table-land topography had been
determined before the great cañon was made.

It is not easy to propose a solution for this peculiar structure. I
think, however, it is safe to say that actual rending asunder of the
mountain mass determined the main outlines. Upon no other theory can we
account for those blank walls. Where, in the upper course of the cañon,
they descend in a smooth, ship-like curve, and the rocks bear upon their
curved sides the markings and striations of glaciers, it is easy to see
that those terrible ice-engines gradually modified their form; and
toward the foot-hills the forces of aqueous erosion are clearly
indicated in the rounded forms and broad undulations of the two banks.

Looking back from our isolated crag in the direction of our morning’s
ride, we saw the green hills break down into the basin of Thomas’s Mill,
but the disc of meadow lay too deep to be seen. Forests, dense and
unbroken, grew to the base of our cliff. The southern sunlight reflected
from its polished foliage gave to this whole sea of spiry tops a
peculiar golden green, through which we looked down among giant red and
purple trunks upon beds of bright mountain flowers. As the afternoon
lengthened, the summit rank of peaks glowed warmer and warmer under
inclined rays. The granite flushed with rosy brightness between the
fields of glittering golden snow. A mild, pearly haziness came gradually
to obscure the ordinary cold-blue sky, and, settling into cañon depths,
and among the vast, open corridors of the summit, veiled the savage
sharpness of their details.

I lay several hours sketching the outlines of the summit, studying out
the systems of alpine drainage, and getting acquainted with the long
chain of peaks, that I might afterward know them from other points of
view. I became convinced from the great apparent elevation and the wide
fields of snow that we had not formerly deceived ourselves as to their
great height. Warned at length by the deepening shadow in the King’s
Cañon, by the heightened glow suffusing the peaks, and the deep purple
tone of the level expanse of forest, all forerunners of twilight, we
quitted our eyrie, crept carefully down over half-balanced blocks of
_débris_ to the horses, and, mounting, were soon headed homeward, in
what seemed, by contrast, to be almost a nocturnal darkness.

Wherever the ground opened level before us we gave our horses the rein,
and went at a free gallop through the forest; the animals realized that
they were going home, and pressed forward with the greatest spirit. A
good-sized log across our route seemed to be an object of special
amusement to Kaweah, who seized the bits in his teeth, and, dancing up,
crouched, and cleared it with a mighty bound, in a manner that was
indeed inspiring, yet left one with the impression that once was enough
of that sort of thing. Fearing some manner of hostilities with him, I
did my very best to quiet Kaweah, and by the end of an hour had gotten
him down to a sensible, serious walk. I noticed that he insisted upon
following his tracks of the morning’s march, and was not contented
unless I let him go on the old side of every tree. Thus I became so
thoroughly convinced of his faculty to follow the morning’s trail that I
yielded all control of him, giving myself up to the enjoyment of the
dimly lighted wood.

As the sun at last set, the shadow deepened into an impressive gloom;
mighty trunks, rising into that dark region of interlocking boughs, only
vaguely defined themselves against the twilight sky. We could no longer
see our tracks, and the confused rolling topography looked alike
whichever way we turned. Kaweah strode on in his confident way, and I
was at last confirmed as to his sagacity by passing one after another
the objects we had noted in the morning. Thus for a couple of hours we
rode in the darkness. At length the rising moon poured down through
broken tents of foliage its uncertain silvery light, which had the
effect of deepening all the shadows, and lighting up in the strangest
manner little local points. Here and there ahead of us the lighted trees
rose like pillars of an ancient temple. The forest, which an hour before
overpowered us with a sense of its dark enclosure, opened on in distant
avenues as far as the eye could reach. As we rode through denser or
more open passages the moon sailed into clear, violet sky, or was
obscured again by the sharply traced crests of the pines. Ravines, dark
and unfathomable, yawned before us, their flanks half in shadow, half in
weird, uncertain light. Blocks of white granite gleamed here and there
in contrast with the general depth of shade. At last, descending a hill,
there shone before us a red light; the horses plunged forward at a
gallop, and in a moment we were in camp. After this ride we supped,
relishing our mountain fare, and then lay down upon blankets before a
camp-fire for the mountaineer’s short evening. One keeps awake under
stimulus of the sparkling, frosty air for awhile, and then turns in for
the night, sleeping till daybreak with a light, sound sleep.

The charm of this forest life, in spite of its scientific interest, and
the constant succession of exquisite, highly colored scenes, would
string one’s feelings up to a high though monotonous key, were it not
for the half-droll, half-pathetic _genre_ picturesqueness which the
Digger Indians introduce. Upon every stream and on all the finer
camp-grounds throughout the whole forest are found these families of
Indians who migrate up here during the hot weather, fishing, hunting,
gathering pine-nuts, and lying off with that peculiar, bummerish ease,
which, associated with natural mock dignity, throws about them a
singular, and not infrequently deep interest.

I never forget certain bright June sunrises when I have seen the Indian
_paterfamilias_ gather together his little tribe and address them in the
heroic style concerning the vital importance of the grasshopper crop,
and the reverence due to the Giver of manzanita berries. You come upon
them as you travel the trails, proud-stepping “braves” leading the way,
unhampered and free, followed by troops of submissive squaws loaded down
with immense packages and baskets. Their death and burial customs, too,
have elements of weird, romantic interest.

I remember one morning when I was awakened before dawn by wild,
unearthly shrieks ringing through the forest and coming back again in
plaintive echoes from the hills all about. Beyond description wild,
these wails of violent grief followed each other with regular cadence,
dying away in long, despairing sobs. With a marvellous regularity they
recurred, never varying the simple refrain. My curiosity was aroused so
far as to get me out of my blankets, and, after a hurried bath in an icy
stream, I joined my mountaineer acquaintance, Jerry, who was _en route_
to the rancheria, “to see,” as he expressed it, “them _tar-heads_ howl.”
It seems my friend Buck, the Indian chief, had the night before lost his
wife, Sally the Old, and the shouts came from professional mourners
hired by her family to prepare the body and do up the necessary amount
of grief. Old widows and superannuated wives who have outlived other
forms of usefulness gladly enter this singular profession. They cut
their hair short, and, with each new death, plaster on a fresh cap of
pitch and ashes, daub the face with spots of tar, and, in general, array
themselves as funeral experts.

The rancheria was astir when we arrived. It was a mere group of half a
dozen smoky hovels, built of pine bark propped upon cones of poles, and
arranged in a semi-circle within the edge of the forest, fronting on a
brook and meadow. Jerry and I leaned our backs against a large tree, and
watched the group.

Buck’s shanty was deserted, the body of his wife lying outside upon a
blanket, being prepared by two of these funeral hags. Buck himself was
quietly stuffing his stomach with a breakfast of venison and acorns,
which were handed him at brief intervals by several sympathizing squaws.

Turning to Jerry with a countenance of stolid seriousness, he
laconically remarked, “My woman she die! Very bad. To-night, sundown”
(pointing to the sun), “she burn up.” Meanwhile the tar-heads rolled
Sally the Old over and over, all the while alternately howling the same
dismal phrase. Indian relatives and friends, having the general air of
animated rag-bags, arrived occasionally, and sat down in silence at a
fire a little removed from the other Diggers, never once saluting them.

As we walked back to our camp, I remarked on the stolid, cruel
expression of Buck’s face, but Jerry, to my surprise, bade me not judge
too hastily. He went on to explain that Indians have just as deep and
tender attachments, just as much good sense, and, to wind up with, “as
much human into ’em, as we edicated white folks.”

His own squaw had instilled this into Jerry’s naturally sentimental and
credulous heart, so I refrained from expressing my convictions
concerning Indians, which, I own, were formerly tinged with the most
sanguinary Caucasian prejudice.

Jerry came for me by appointment just before sunset, and we walked
leisurely across the meadow, and under lengthening pine shadows, to the
rancheria. No one was stirring. Buck and the two vicarious mourners sat
in his lodge door, uttering low, half-audible groans. In the opening
before the line of huts a low pile of dry logs had been carefully laid,
upon which, outstretched, and wrapped in a red blanket, lay the dead
form of Sally the Old, her face covered in careful folds. Upon her heart
were a grass-woven water-bowl and her last pappoose basket.

Just as the sun sank to the horizon, one tar-head stepped out in front
of the funeral pile, lifted up both hands, and gazed steadily and
silently at the sun. She might have been five minutes in this statuesque
position, her face full of strange, half-animal intensity of expression,
her eyes glittering, the whole hard figure glowing with a deep bronze
reflection. Suddenly she sprang back with the old wild shriek, seized a
brand from one of the camp-fires, and lighted the funeral heap, when all
the Indians came out, and grouped themselves in little knots around it.
Sally the Old’s children clung about an old mummy of a squaw, who
squatted upon the ground and rocked her body to and fro, making a low
cry as of an animal in pain. All the Indians looked serious; a group,
who Jerry said were relatives, seemed stupefied with grief. Upon a few
faces falling tears glistened in the light of the fire, which now shot
up red tongues high in the air, lighting up with weird distinctness
every feature of the whole group. Flames slowly lapped over, consuming
the blanket, and caught the willow pappoose basket. When Buck saw this
the tears streamed from his eyes; he waved his hands eloquently, looking
up to heaven, and uttered heartbroken sobs. The pappoose basket crackled
for a moment, flashed into a blaze, and was gone. The two old women
yelled their sharp death-cry, dancing, posturing, gesticulating toward
the fire, and in slow, measured chorus all the Indians intoned in
pathetic measure, “Himalaya! Himalaya!” looking first at the mound of
fire and then out upon the fading sunset.

It was all indescribably strange: monarch pines standing in solemn ranks
far back into the dusky heart of the forest, glowing and brightening
with pulsating reflections of firelight; the ring of Indians, crouching,
standing fixed like graven images, or swaying mechanically to and fro;
each tattered scarlet and white rag of their utterly squalid garments,
every expression of barbaric grief or dull stolidity, being brought
strongly out by the red, flaming fire.

Buck watched with wet eyes that slow-consuming fire burn to ashes the
body of his wife of many years, the mother of his group of poor,
frightened children. Not a stoical savage, but a despairing husband,
stood before us. I felt him to be human. The body at last sank into a
bed of flames which shot up higher than ever with fountains of sparks,
and sucked together, hiding the remains forever from view. At this Buck
sprang to the front and threw himself at the fire; but the two old women
seized each a hand and dragged him back to his children, when he fell
into a fit of stupor.

As we walked home Jerry was quick to ask, “Didn’t I tell you Injuns has
feelings inside of ’em?” I answered promptly that I was convinced; and
long after, as I lay awake through many night-hours listening to that
shrill death-wail, I felt as if any policy toward the Indians based upon
the assumption of their being brutes or devils was nothing short of a
blot on this Christian century.

My sleep was light, and sunrise found me dressed, still listening, as
under a kind of spell, to the mourners, who, though evidently exhausted,
at brief intervals uttered the cry. Alone, and filled with serious
reflections, I strolled over to the rancheria, finding every one there
up and about his morning duties.

The tar-heads, withdrawn some distance into the forest, sat leaning
against a stump, chatting and grinning together, now and then screeching
by turns.

I asked Revenue Stamp, a good-natured, middle-aged Indian, where Buck
was. He pointed to his hut, and replied, with an affable smile, “He
whiskey drunk.” “And who,” I inquired, “is that fat girl with him?”
“Last night he take her; new squaw,” was the answer. I could hardly
believe, but it was the actual truth; and I went back to camp an
enlightened but disillusioned man. I left that day, and never had an
opportunity to “free my mind” to Jerry. Since then I guardedly avoid all
discussion of the “Indian question.” When interrogated, I dodge, or
protest ignorance; when pressed, I have been known to turn the subject;
or, if driven to the wall, I usually confess my opinion that the Quakers
will have to work a great reformation in the Indian before he is really
fit to be exterminated.

The mill-people and Indians told us of a wonderful group of big trees
(_Sequoia gigantea_), and about one particular tree of unequalled size.
We found them easily, after a ride of a few miles in a northerly
direction from our camp, upon a wide, flat-topped spur, where they grew,
as is their habit elsewhere, in company with several other coniferous
species, all grouped socially together, heightening each other’s beauty
by contrasts of form and color.

In a rather open glade, where the ground was for the most part green
with herbage, and conspicuously starred with upland flowers, stood the
largest shaft we observed. A fire had formerly burned off a small
segment of its base, not enough, however, to injure the symmetrical
appearance. It was a slowly tapering, regularly round column of about
forty feet in diameter at the base, and rising two hundred and
seventy-four feet, adorned with a few huge branches, which start
horizontally from the trunk, but quickly turn down and spray out. The
bark, thick but not rough, is scored up and down at considerable
intervals with deep, smooth grooves, and is of brightest cinnamon color,
mottled in purple and yellow.

That which impresses one most after its vast bulk the grand, pillar-like
stateliness, is the thin and inconspicuous foliage, which feathers out
delicately on the boughs like a mere mist of pale apple-green. It would
seem nothing when compared with the immense volume of tree for which it
must do the ordinary respirative duty; but doubtless the bark performs a
large share of this, its papery lamination and porous structure fitting
it eminently for that purpose.

Near this “King of the Mountains” grew three other trees; one a
sugar-pine (_Pinus Lambertiana_) of about eight feet in diameter, and
hardly less than three hundred feet high (although we did not measure
it, estimating simply by comparison of its rise above the _Sequoia_,
whose height was quite accurately determined). For a hundred and fifty
feet the pine was branchless, and as round as if turned, delicate
bluish-purple in hue, and marked with a net-work of scorings. The
branches, in nearly level poise, grew long and slenderly out from the
shaft, well covered with dark yellow-green needles. The two remaining
trees were firs (_Picea grandis_), which sprang from a common root,
dividing slightly, as they rose, a mass of feathery branches, whose load
of polished blue-green foliage, for the most part, hid the dark
wood-brown trunk. Grace, exquisite, spire-like, taper boughs, whose
plumes of green float lightly upon the air, elasticity and symmetry are
its characteristics.

In all directions this family continue grouping themselves, always with
attractive originality. There is something memorable in the harmonious
yet positive colors of this sort of forest. First, the foliage and trunk
of each separate tree contrasts finely,--cinnamon and golden apple-green
in the _Sequoia_, dark purple and yellowish-green for the pine, deep
wood-color and bluish-green of fir.

The sky, which at this elevation of six thousand feet is deep, pure blue
and often cloudless, is seen through the tracery of boughs and
tree-tops, which cast downward fine and filmy shadows across the glowing
trunks. Altogether, it is a wonderful setting for the _Sequoia_. The two
firs, judging by many of equal size whose age I have studied, were about
three hundred years old; the pine, still hale and vigorous, not less
than five hundred; and for the “King of the Mountains” we cannot assign
a probable age of less than two thousand years.

A mountain, a fossil from deepest geological horizon, a ruin of human
art, carry us back into the perspective of centuries with a force that
has become, perhaps, a little conventional. No imperishableness of
mountain-peak or of fragment of human work, broken pillar or sand-worn
image half lifted over pathetic desert,--none of these link the past and
to-day with anything like the power of these monuments of living
antiquity, trees that began to grow before the Christian era, and, full
of hale vitality and green old age, still bid fair to grow broad and
high for centuries to come. Who shall predict the limits of this
unexampled life? There is nothing which indicates suffering or
degeneracy in the _Sequoia_ as a species. I find pathological hints that
several other far younger species in the same forest are gradually
giving up their struggle for existence. That singular species _Pinus
Sabiniana_ appears to me to suffer death-pains from foot-hill extremes
of temperature and dryness, and notably from ravenous parasites of the
mistletoe type. At the other extreme the _Pinus flexilis_ has about half
given up the fight against cold and storms. Its young are dwarfed or
huddled in thickets, with such mode of growth that they may never make
trees of full stature; while higher up, standing among bare rocks and
fields of ice, far above all living trees, are the stark, white
skeletons of noble dead specimens, their blanched forms rigid and
defiant, preserved from decay by a marvellous hardness of fibre, and
only wasted by the cutting of storm-driven crystals of snow. Still the
_Sequoia_ maintains perfect health.

It is, then, the vast respiring power, the atmosphere, the bland,
regular climate, which give such long life, and not any richness or
abundance of food received from the soil.

If one loves to gather the material for travellers’ stories, he may find
here and there a hollow fallen trunk through whose heart he may ride for
many feet without bowing the head. But if he love the tree for its own
grand nature, he may lie in silence upon the soft forest floor, in
shadow or sunny warmth, if he please, and spend many days in wonder,
gazing upon majestic shafts, following their gold and purple flutings
from broad, firmly planted base up and on through the few huge branches
and among the pale clouds of filmy green traced in open network upon the
deep blue of the sky.

Groups of this ancient race grow along the middle heights of the Sierra
for almost two hundred miles, marking a line of groves through the
forest of lesser trees, still retaining their power of reproduction,
ripening cones with regularity, whose seed germinates, springs up, and
grows with apparently as great vital power as the descendants of younger
conifers. Nor are these their only remarkable characteristics. They
possess hardly any roots at all. Several in each grove have been blown
down, and lie slowly decomposing. They are found usually to have rested
upon the ground with a few short, pedestal-like feet penetrating the
earth for a little way.

Too soon for my pleasure, the time came when we must turn our backs upon
these stately groves and push up toward the snow. Our route lay
eastward, between the King’s and Kaweah rivers, rising as we marched;
the vegetation, as well as the barometer, accurately measuring the
change.

We reached our camp on the Big Meadow plateau on the 22nd of June, and
that night the thermometer fell to 20° above zero. This cold was
followed by a chilly, overcast morning, and about ten o’clock an
old-fashioned snowstorm set in. Wind howled fiercely through the trees,
coming down from the mountains in terribly powerful gusts. The green,
flower-colored meadow was soon buried under snow; and we explorers, who
had no tent, hid ourselves under piles of brush, and on the lee side of
hospitable stones. Our scant supply of blankets was a poor defence
against such inclemency; so we crawled out and made a huge camp-fire,
around which we sat for the rest of the day. During the afternoon we
were visited. A couple of hunters, with their rifles over their
shoulders, seeing the smoke of our camp-fire, followed it through the
woods and joined our circle. They were typical mountaineers,--outcasts
from society, discontented with the world, comforting themselves in the
solitude of nature by the occasional excitement of a bear-fight. One was
a half-breed Cherokee, rather over six feet high, powerfully built, and
picturesquely dressed in buckskin breeches and green jacket; a sort of
Trovatore hat completed his costume, and gave him an animated
appearance. The other was unmistakably a Pike-Countian, who had dangled
into a pair of butternut jeans. His greasy flannel shirt was pinned
together with thorns in lieu of buttons, and his hat fastened back in
the same way, having lost its stiffness by continual wetting. The
Cherokee had a long, manly stride, and the Pike a rickety sort of
shuffle. His anatomy was bad, his physical condition worse, and I think
he added to that a sort of pride in his own awkwardness. Seeming to have
a principle of suspension somewhere about his shoulders, which
maintained his head at about the right elevation above the ground, he
kept up a good rate in walking without apparently making an effort. His
body swayed with a peculiar, corkscrew motion, and his long Mississippi
rifle waved to and fro through the air.

We all noticed the utter contrast between them as these two men
approached our fire. The hunter’s taciturnity is a well-known _rôle_,
but they had evidently lived so long an isolated life that they were too
glad of any company to play it unfailingly; so it was they who opened
the conversation. We found that they were now camped only a half-mile
from us, were hunting for deer-skins, and had already accumulated a very
large number. They offered us plenty of venison, and were greatly
interested in our proposed journeys into the high mountains. From them
we learned that they had themselves penetrated farther than any others,
and had only given up the exploration after wandering fruitlessly among
the cañons for a month. They told us that not even Indians had crossed
the Sierras to the east, and that if we did succeed in reaching this
summit we would certainly be the first. We learned from them, also, that
a mile to the northward was a great herd of cattle in charge of a party
of Mexicans. Fleeing before the continued drought of the plains, all the
cattle-men of California drove the remains of their starved herds either
to the coast or to the High Sierras, and grazed upon the summer
pastures, descending in the autumn, and living upon the dry foot-hill
grasses, until, under the influence of winter rains, the plains again
clothe themselves with pasturage.

The following morning, having received a present of two deer from the
hunters, we packed our animals and started eastward, passing, after a
few minutes’ ride, the encampment of the Spaniards. About four thousand
cattle roamed over the plateau, and were only looked after once or twice
a week. The four Spaniards divided their time between drinking coffee
and playing cards. They were engaged in the latter amusement when we
passed them; and although we halted and tried to get some information,
they only answered us in monosyllables, and continued their game.

To the eastward the plateau rose toward the high mountains in immense,
granite steps. We rode pleasantly through the forest over these level
tables, and climbed with difficulty the rugged, rock-strewn fronts, each
successive step bringing us nearer the mountains, and giving us a
far-reaching view. Here and there the granite rose through the forest
in broad, smooth domes; and many times we were obliged to climb these
rocky slopes at the peril of our animals’ lives. After several days of
marching and countermarching, we gave up the attempt to push farther in
a southeast direction, and turned north, toward the great cañon of
King’s River, which we hoped might lead us up to the Snow Group.

Reaching the brink of this gorge, we observed, about half-way down the
slope, and standing at equal levels on both flanks, singular
embankments--shelves a thousand feet in width--built at a height of
fifteen hundred feet above the valley bottom, their smooth, evenly
graded summits rising higher and higher to the eastward on the
cañon-wall until they joined the snow. They were evidently the lateral
moraines of a vast, extinct glacier, and that opposite us seemed to
offer an easy ride into the heart of the mountains. With great
difficulty we descended the long slope, through chaparral and forest,
reaching, at length, the level, smooth glacier bottom. Here, threading
its way through alternate groves and meadows, was the King’s River--a
stream not over thirty feet in width, but rushing with all the force of
a torrent. Its icy temperature was very refreshing after our weary climb
down the wall. By a series of long zigzags we succeeded in leading our
animals up the flank to the top of the north moraine, and here we found
ourselves upon a forest-covered causeway, almost as smooth as a railroad
embankment. Its fluted crest enclosed three separate pathways, each a
hundred feet wide, divided from one another by roughly laid trains of
rocks, showing it evidently to be a compound moraine. As we ascended
toward the mountains, the causeway was more and more isolated from the
cliff, until the depression between them widened to half a mile, and to
at least five hundred feet deep.

Throughout nearly a whole day we rode comfortably along at a gentle
grade, reaching at evening the region of the snow, where, among
innumerable huge granite blocks, we threaded our way in search of a
camp-ground. The mountain amphitheatre which gave rise to the King’s
River opened to the east, a broad valley, into which we at length
climbed; and, among scattered groves of alpine pines, and on patches of
meadow, rode eastward till twilight, watching the high pyramidal peak
which lay directly at the head of the gorge. By sunset we had gone as
far as we could take the animals, and, in full view of our goal, camped
for the night.

The form of the mountain at the head of our ravine was purely Gothic. A
thousand upspringing spires and pinnacles pierce the sky in every
direction, the cliffs and mountain-ridges are everywhere ornamented with
countless needle-like turrets. Crowning the wall to the south of our
camp were series of these jagged forms standing out against the sky like
a procession of colossal statues. Whichever way we turned we were met by
some extraordinary fulness of detail. Every mass seemed to have the
highest possible ornamental finish. Along the lower flanks of the
walls, tall, straight pines, the last of the forest, were relieved
against the cliffs, and the same slender forms, although carved in
granite, surmounted every ridge and peak.

Through this wide zone of forest we had now passed, and from its
perpetual shadow had come out among the few black groves of fir into a
brilliant alpine sunshine. The light, although surprisingly lively, was
of a purity and refinement quite different from the strong glare of the
plains.



III

THE ASCENT OF MOUNT TYNDALL

1864


Morning dawned brightly upon our bivouac among a cluster of dark firs in
the mountain corridor opened by an ancient glacier of King’s River into
the heart of the Sierras. It dawned a trifle sooner than we could have
wished, but Professor Brewer and Hoffman had breakfasted before sunrise,
and were off with barometer and theodolite upon their shoulders,
purposing to ascend our amphitheatre to its head and climb a great
pyramidal peak which swelled up against the eastern sky, closing the
view in that direction.

We who remained in camp spent the day in overhauling campaign materials
and preparing for a grand assault upon the summits. For a couple of
hours we could descry our friends through the field-glasses, their
minute, black forms moving slowly on among piles of giant _débris_; now
and then lost, again coming to view, and at last disappearing
altogether.

It was twilight of evening, and almost eight o’clock, when they came
back to camp, Brewer leading the way, Hoffman following; and as they
sat down by our fire without uttering a word, we read upon their faces
terrible fatigue. So we hastened to give them supper of coffee and soup,
bread and venison, which resulted, after a time, in our getting in
return the story of the day. For eight whole hours they had worked up
over granite and snow, mounting ridge after ridge, till the summit was
made about two o’clock.

These snowy crests bounding our view at the eastward we had all along
taken to be the summits of the Sierra, and Brewer had supposed himself
to be climbing a dominant peak, from which he might look eastward over
Owen’s Valley and out upon leagues of desert. Instead of this, a vast
wall of mountains, lifted still higher than his peak, rose beyond a
tremendous cañon which lay like a trough between the two parallel ranks
of peaks. Hoffman showed us on his sketch-book the profile of this new
range, and I instantly recognized the peaks which I had seen from
Mariposa, whose great white pile had led me to believe them the highest
points of California.

For a couple of months my friends had made me the target of plenty of
pleasant banter about my “highest land,” which they lost faith in as we
climbed from Thomas’s Mill,--I, too, becoming a trifle anxious about it;
but now that the truth had burst upon Brewer and Hoffman, they could not
find words to describe the terribleness and grandeur of the deep cañon,
or for picturing those huge crags towering in line at the east. Their
peak, as indicated by the barometer, was in the region of thirteen
thousand four hundred feet, and a level across to the farther range
showed its crests to be at least fifteen hundred feet higher. They had
spent hours upon the summit scanning the eastern horizon, and ranging
downward into the labyrinth of gulfs below, and had come at last with
reluctance to the belief that to cross this gorge and ascend the eastern
wall of peaks was utterly impossible.

Brewer and Hoffman were old climbers, and their verdict of impossible
oppressed me as I lay awake thinking of it; but early next morning I had
made up my mind, and, taking Cotter aside, I asked him in an easy manner
whether he would like to penetrate the Terra Incognita with me at the
risk of our necks, provided Brewer should consent. In a frank,
courageous tone he answered after his usual mode, “Why not?” Stout of
limb, stronger yet in heart, of iron endurance, and a quiet, unexcited
temperament, and, better yet, deeply devoted to me, I felt that Cotter
was the one comrade I would choose to face death with, for I believed
there was in his manhood no room for fear or shirk.

It was a trying moment for Brewer when we found him and volunteered to
attempt a campaign for the top of California, because he felt a certain
fatherly responsibility over our youth, a natural desire that we should
not deposit our triturated remains in some undiscoverable hole among the
feldspathic granites; but, like a true disciple of science, this was at
last overbalanced by his intense desire to know more of the unexplored
region. He freely confessed that he believed the plan madness, and
Hoffman, too, told us we might as well attempt to get on a cloud as to
try the peak. As Brewer gradually yielded his consent, I saw by his
conversation that there was a possibility of success; so we spent the
rest of the day in making preparations.

Our walking-shoes were in excellent condition, the hobnails firm and
new. We laid out a barometer, a compass, a pocket-level, a set of wet
and dry thermometers, note-books, with bread, cooked beans, and venison
enough to last a week, rolled them all in blankets, making two
knapsack-shaped packs strapped firmly together, with loops for the arms,
which, by Brewer’s estimate, weighed forty pounds apiece.

Gardiner declared he would accompany us to the summit of the first range
to look over into the gulf we were to cross, and at last Brewer and
Hoffman also concluded to go up with us.

Quite too early for our profit we all betook ourselves to bed, vainly
hoping to get a long, refreshing sleep from which we should arise ready
for our tramp.

Never a man welcomed those first gray streaks in the east gladder than I
did, unless it may be Cotter, who has in later years confessed that he
did not go to sleep that night. Long before sunrise we had finished our
breakfast and were under way, Hoffman kindly bearing my pack, and Brewer
Cotter’s.

Our way led due east up the amphitheatre and toward Mount Brewer, as we
had named the great pyramidal peak.

Awhile after leaving camp, slant sunlight streamed in among gilded
pinnacles along the slope of Mount Brewer, touching here and there, in
broad dashes of yellow, the gray walls, which rose sweeping up on either
hand like the sides of a ship.

Our way along the valley’s middle ascended over a number of huge steps,
rounded and abrupt, at whose bases were pools of transparent snow-water,
edged with rude piles of erratic glacier blocks, scattered companies of
alpine firs, of red bark and having cypress-like darkness of foliage,
with fields of snow under sheltering cliffs, and bits of softest velvet
meadow clouded with minute blue and white flowers.

As we climbed, the gorge grew narrow and sharp, both sides wilder; and
the spurs which projected from them, nearly overhanging the middle of
the valley, towered above us with more and more severe sculpture. We
frequently crossed deep fields of snow, and at last reached the level of
the highest pines, where long slopes of _débris_ swept down from either
cliff, meeting in the middle. Over and among these immense blocks, often
twenty and thirty feet high, we were obliged to climb, hearing far below
us the subterranean gurgle of streams.

Interlocking spurs nearly closed the gorge behind us; our last view was
out a granite gateway formed of two nearly vertical precipices,
sharp-edged, jutting buttress-like, and plunging down into a field of
angular bowlders which fill the valley-bottom.

The eye ranged out from this open gateway overlooking the great King’s
Cañon with its moraine-terraced walls, the domes of granite upon Big
Meadows, and the undulating stretch of forest which descends to the
plain.

The gorge turning southward, we rounded a sort of mountain promontory,
which, closing the view behind us, shut us up in the bottom of a perfect
basin. In front lay a placid lake reflecting the intense black-blue of
the sky. Granite, stained with purple and red, sank into it upon one
side, and a broad, spotless field of snow came down to its margin upon
the other.

From a pile of large granite blocks, forty or fifty feet above the
lake-margin, we could look down fully a hundred feet through the
transparent water to where bowlders and pebbles were strewn upon the
stone bottom. We had now reached the base of Mount Brewer, and were
skirting its southern spurs in a wide, open corridor surrounded in all
directions by lofty granite crags from two to four thousand feet high;
above the limits of vegetation, rocks, lakes of deep, heavenly blue, and
white, trackless snows were grouped closely about us. Two sounds--a
sharp, little cry of martens and occasional heavy crashes of falling
rock--saluted us.

Climbing became exceedingly difficult, light air--for we had already
reached twelve thousand five hundred feet--beginning to tell upon our
lungs to such an extent that my friend, who had taken turns with me in
carrying my pack, was unable to do so any longer, and I adjusted it to
my own shoulders for the rest of the day.

After four hours of slow, laborious work, we made the base of the
_débris_ slope which rose about a thousand feet to a saddle-pass in the
western mountain-wall, that range upon which Mount Brewer is so
prominent a point. We were nearly an hour in toiling up this slope, over
an uncertain footing which gave way at almost every step. At last, when
almost at the top, we paused to take breath, and then all walked out
upon the crest, laid off our packs, and sat down together upon the
summit of the ridge, and for a few moments not a word was spoken.

The Sierras are here two parallel summit ranges. We were upon the crest
of the western ridge, and looked down into a gulf five thousand feet
deep, sinking from our feet in abrupt cliffs nearly or quite two
thousand feet, whose base plunged into a broad field of snow lying steep
and smooth for a great distance, but broken near its foot by craggy
steps often a thousand feet high.

Vague blue haze obscured the lost depths, hiding details, giving a
bottomless distance, out of which, like the breath of wind, floated up a
faint tremble, vibrating upon the senses, yet never clearly heard.

Rising on the other side, cliff above cliff, precipice piled upon
precipice, rock over rock, up against sky, towered the most gigantic
mountain-wall in America, culminating in a noble pile of Gothic-finished
granite and enamel-like snow. How grand and inviting looked its white
form, its untrodden, unknown crest, so high and pure in the clear,
strong blue! I looked at it as one contemplating the purpose of his
life; and for just one moment I would have rather liked to dodge that
purpose, or to have waited, or have found some excellent reason why I
might not go; but all this quickly vanished, leaving a cheerful resolve
to go ahead.

From the two opposing mountain-walls singular, thin, knife-blade ridges
of stone jutted out, dividing the sides of the gulf into a series of
amphitheatres, each one a labyrinth of ice and rock. Piercing thick beds
of snow, sprang up knobs and straight, isolated spires of rock, mere
obelisks curiously carved by frost, their rigid, slender forms casting a
blue, sharp shadow upon the snow. Embosomed in depressions of ice, or
resting on broken ledges, were azure lakes, deeper in tone than the sky,
which at this altitude, even at midday, has a violet duskiness.

To the south, not more than eight miles, a wall of peaks stood across
the gulf, dividing the King’s, which flowed north at our feet, from the
Kern River, that flowed down the trough in the opposite direction.

I did not wonder that Brewer and Hoffman pronounced our undertaking
impossible; but when I looked at Cotter there was such complete bravery
in his eye that I asked him if he was ready to start. His old answer,
“Why not?” left the initiative with me; so I told Professor Brewer that
we would bid him good-by. Our friends helped us on with our packs in
silence, and as we shook hands there was not a dry eye in the party.
Before he let go of my hand Professor Brewer asked me for my plan, and I
had to own that I had but one, which was to reach the highest peak in
the range.

After looking in every direction I was obliged to confess that I saw as
yet no practicable way. We bade them a “good-by,” receiving their “God
bless you” in return, and started southward along the range to look for
some possible cliff to descend. Brewer, Gardiner, and Hoffman turned
north to push upward to the summit of Mount Brewer, and complete their
observations. We saw them whenever we halted, until at last, on the very
summit, their microscopic forms were for the last time discernible. With
very great difficulty we climbed a peak which surmounted our wall just
to the south of the pass, and, looking over the eastern brink, found
that the precipice was still sheer and unbroken. In one place, where the
snow lay against it to the very top, we went to its edge and
contemplated the slide. About three thousand feet of unbroken white, at
a fearfully steep angle, lay below us. We threw a stone over and watched
it bound until it was lost in the distance; after fearful leaps we could
only detect it by the flashings of snow where it struck, and as these
were, in some instances, three hundred feet apart, we decided not to
launch our own valuable bodies, and the still more precious barometer,
after it.

There seemed but one possible way to reach our goal: that was to make
our way along the summit of the cross ridge which projected between the
two ranges. This divide sprang out from our Mount Brewer wall, about
four miles to the south of us. To reach it we must climb up and down
over the indented edge of the Mount Brewer wall. In attempting to do
this we had a rather lively time scaling a sharp granite needle, where
we found our course completely stopped by precipices four and five
hundred feet in height. Ahead of us the summit continued to be broken
into fantastic pinnacles, leaving us no hope of making our way along it;
so we sought the most broken part of the eastern descent, and began to
climb down. The heavy knapsacks, besides wearing our shoulders gradually
into a black-and-blue state, overbalanced us terribly, and kept us in
constant danger of pitching headlong. At last, taking them off, Cotter
climbed down until he had found a resting-place upon a cleft of rock,
then I lowered them to him with our lasso, afterward descending
cautiously to his side, taking my turn in pioneering downward, receiving
the freight of knapsacks by lasso as before. In this manner we consumed
more than half the afternoon in descending a thousand feet of broken,
precipitous slope; and it was almost sunset when we found ourselves upon
the fields of level snow which lay white and thick over the whole
interior slope of the amphitheatre.

The gorge below us seemed utterly impassable. At our backs the Mount
Brewer wall rose either in sheer cliffs or in broken, rugged stairway,
such as had offered us our descent. From this cruel dilemma the cross
divide furnished the only hope, and the sole chance of scaling that was
at its junction with the Mount Brewer wall. Toward this point we
directed our course, marching wearily over stretches of dense, frozen
snow, and regions of _débris_, reaching about sunset the last alcove of
the amphitheatre, just at the foot of the Mount Brewer wall.

It was evidently impossible for us to attempt to climb it that evening,
and we looked about the desolate recesses for a sheltered camping-spot.
A high granite wall surrounded us upon three sides, recurring to the
southward in long, elliptical curves; no part of the summit being less
than two thousand feet above us, the higher crags not infrequently
reaching three thousand feet. A single field of snow swept around the
base of the rock, and covered the whole amphitheatre, except where a few
spikes and rounded masses of granite rose through it, and where two
frozen lakes, with their blue ice-disks, broke the monotonous surface.
Through the white snow-gate of our amphitheatre, as through a frame, we
looked eastward upon the summit group; not a tree, not a vestige of
vegetation in sight,--sky, snow, and granite the only elements in this
wild picture.

After searching for a shelter we at last found a granite crevice near
the margin of one of the frozen lakes,--a sort of shelf just large
enough for Cotter and me,--where we hastened to make our bed, having
first filled the canteen from a small stream that trickled over the ice,
knowing that in a few moments the rapid chill would freeze it. We ate
our supper of cold venison and bread, and whittled from the sides of the
wooden barometer-case shavings enough to warm water for a cup of
miserably tepid tea, and then, packing our provisions and instruments
away at the head of the shelf, rolled ourselves in our blankets and lay
down to enjoy the view.

After such fatiguing exercises the mind has an almost abnormal
clearness: whether this is wholly from within, or due to the intensely
vitalizing mountain air, I am not sure; probably both contribute to the
state of exaltation in which all alpine climbers find themselves. The
solid granite gave me a luxurious repose, and I lay on the edge of our
little rock niche and watched the strange yet brilliant scene.

All the snow of our recess lay in the shadow of the high granite wall to
the west, but the Kern divide which curved around us from the southeast
was in full light; its broken sky line, battlemented and adorned with
innumerable rough-hewn spires and pinnacles, was a mass of glowing
orange intensely defined against the deep violet sky. At the open end
of our horseshoe amphitheatre, to the east, its floor of snow rounded
over in a smooth brink, overhanging precipices which sank two thousand
feet into the King’s Cañon. Across the gulf rose the whole procession of
summit peaks, their lower halves rooted in a deep, sombre shadow cast by
the western wall, the heights bathed in a warm purple haze, in which the
irregular marbling of snow burned with a pure crimson light. A few
fleecy clouds, dyed fiery orange, drifted slowly eastward across the
narrow zone of sky which stretched from summit to summit like a roof. At
times the sound of waterfalls, faint and mingled with echoes, floated up
through the still air. The snow near by lay in cold, ghastly shade,
warmed here and there in strange flashes by light reflected downward
from drifting clouds. The sombre waste about us; the deep violet vault
overhead; those far summits, glowing with reflected rose; the deep,
impenetrable gloom which filled the gorge, and slowly and with
vapor-like stealth climbed the mountain wall, extinguishing the red
light, combined to produce an effect which may not be described; nor can
I more than hint at the contrast between the brilliancy of the scene
under full light, and the cold, death-like repose which followed when
the wan cliffs and pallid snow were all overshadowed with ghostly gray.

A sudden chill enveloped us. Stars in a moment crowded through the dark
heaven, flashing with a frosty splendor. The snow congealed, the brooks
ceased to flow, and, under the powerful sudden leverage of frost,
immense blocks were dislodged all along the mountain summits and came
thundering down the slopes, booming upon the ice, dashing wildly upon
rocks. Under the lee of our shelf we felt quite safe, but neither Cotter
nor I could help being startled, and jumping just a little, as these
missiles, weighing often many tons, struck the ledge over our heads and
whizzed down the gorge, their stroke resounding fainter and fainter,
until at last only a confused echo reached us.

The thermometer at nine o’clock marked twenty degrees above zero. We set
the “minimum” and rolled ourselves together for the night. The longer I
lay the less I liked that shelf of granite; it grew hard in time, and
cold also, my bones seeming to approach actual contact with the chilled
rock; moreover, I found that even so vigorous a circulation as mine was
not enough to warm up the ledge to anything like a comfortable
temperature. A single thickness of blanket is a better mattress than
none, but the larger crystals of orthoclase, protruding plentifully,
punched my back and caused me to revolve on a horizontal axis with
precision and frequency. How I loved Cotter! How I hugged him and got
warm, while our backs gradually petrified, till we whirled over and
thawed them out together! The slant of that bed was diagonal and
excessive; down it we slid till the ice chilled us awake, and we crawled
back and chocked ourselves up with bits of granite inserted under my
ribs and shoulders. In this pleasant position we got dozing again, and
there stole over me a most comfortable ease. The granite softened
perceptibly. I was delightfully warm, and sank into an industrious
slumber which lasted with great soundness till four, when we rose and
ate our breakfast of frozen venison.

The thermometer stood at two above zero; everything was frozen tight
except the canteen, which we had prudently kept between us all night.
Stars still blazed brightly, and the moon, hidden from us by western
cliffs, shone in pale reflection upon the rocky heights to the east,
which rose, dimly white, up from the impenetrable shadows of the cañon.
Silence,--cold, ghastly dimness, in which loomed huge forms,--the biting
frostiness of the air, wrought upon our feelings as we shouldered our
packs and started with slow pace to climb toward the “divide.”

Soon, to our dismay, we found the straps had so chafed our shoulders
that the weight gave us great pain, and obliged us to pad them with our
handkerchiefs and extra socks, which remedy did not wholly relieve us
from the constant wearing pain of the heavy load.

Directing our steps southward toward a niche in the wall which bounded
us only half a mile distant, we travelled over a continuous snow-field
frozen so densely as scarcely to yield at all to our tread, at the same
time compressing enough to make that crisp, frosty sound which we all
used to enjoy even before we knew from the books that it had something
to do with the severe name of regulation.

As we advanced, the snow sloped more and more steeply up toward the
crags, till by and by it became quite dangerous, causing us to cut steps
with Cotter’s large bowie-knife,--a slow, tedious operation, requiring
patience of a pretty permanent kind. In this way we spent a quiet social
hour or so. The sun had not yet reached us, being shut out by the high
amphitheatre wall; but its cheerful light reflected downward from a
number of higher crags, filling the recess with the brightness of day,
and putting out of existence those shadows which so sombrely darkened
the earlier hours. To look back when we stopped to rest was to realize
our danger,--that smooth, swift slope of ice carrying the eye down a
thousand feet to the margin of a frozen mirror of ice; ribs and needles
of rock piercing up through the snow, so closely grouped that, had we
fallen, a miracle only might save us from being dashed. This led to
rather deeper steps, and greater care that our burdens should be held
more nearly over the centre of gravity, and a pleasant relief when we
got to the top of the snow and sat down on a block of granite to breathe
and look up in search of a way up the thousand-foot cliff of broken
surface, among the lines of fracture and the galleries winding along the
face.

It would have disheartened us to gaze up the hard, sheer front of
precipices, and search among splintered projections, crevices, shelves,
and snow-patches for an inviting route, had we not been animated by a
faith that the mountains could not defy us.

Choosing what looked like the least impossible way, we started; but,
finding it unsafe to work with packs on, resumed the yesterday’s
plan,--Cotter taking the lead, climbing about fifty feet ahead, and
hoisting up the knapsacks and barometer as I tied them to the end of the
lasso. Constantly closing up in hopeless difficulty before us, the way
opened again and again to our gymnastics, until we stood together upon a
mere shelf, not more than two feet wide, which led diagonally up the
smooth cliff. Edging along in careful steps, our backs flattened upon
the granite, we moved slowly to a broad platform, where we stopped for
breath.

There was no foothold above us. Looking down over the course we had
come, it seemed, and I really believe it was, an impossible descent; for
one can climb upward with safety where he cannot downward. To turn back
was to give up in defeat; and we sat at least half an hour, suggesting
all possible routes to the summit, accepting none, and feeling
disheartened. About thirty feet directly over our heads was another
shelf, which, if we could reach, seemed to offer at least a temporary
way upward. On its edge were two or three spikes of granite; whether
firmly connected with the cliff, or merely blocks of _débris_, we could
not tell from below. I said to Cotter, I thought of but one possible
plan: it was to lasso one of these blocks, and to climb,
sailor-fashion, hand over hand, up the rope. In the lasso I had perfect
confidence, for I had seen more than one Spanish bull throw his whole
weight against it without parting a strand. The shelf was so narrow that
throwing the coil of rope was a very difficult undertaking. I tried
three times, and Cotter spent five minutes vainly whirling the loop up
at the granite spikes. At last I made a lucky throw, and it tightened
upon one of the smaller protuberances. I drew the noose close, and very
gradually threw my hundred and fifty pounds upon the rope; then Cotter
joined me, and for a moment we both hung our united weight upon it.
Whether the rock moved slightly, or whether the lasso stretched a
little, we were unable to decide; but the trial must be made, and I
began to climb slowly. The smooth precipice-face against which my body
swung offered no foothold, and the whole climb had therefore to be done
by the arms, an effort requiring all one’s determination. When about
half way up I was obliged to rest, and curling my feet in the rope
managed to relieve my arms for a moment. In this position I could not
resist the fascinating temptation of a survey downward.

Straight down, nearly a thousand feet below, at the foot of the rocks,
began the snow, whose steep, roof-like slope, exaggerated into an almost
vertical angle, curved down in a long, white field, broken far away by
rocks and polished, round lakes of ice.

Cotter looked up cheerfully, and asked how I was making it; to which I
answered that I had plenty of wind left. At that moment, when hanging
between heaven and earth, it was a deep satisfaction to look down at the
wild gulf of desolation beneath, and up to unknown dangers ahead, and
feel my nerves cool and unshaken.

A few pulls hand over hand brought me to the edge of the shelf, when,
throwing an arm around the granite spike, I swung my body upon the
shelf, and lay down to rest, shouting to Cotter that I was all right,
and that the prospects upward were capital. After a few moments’
breathing I looked over the brink, and directed my comrade to tie the
barometer to the lower end of the lasso, which he did, and that precious
instrument was hoisted to my station, and the lasso sent down twice for
knapsacks, after which Cotter came up the rope in his very muscular way,
without once stopping to rest. We took our loads in our hands, swinging
the barometer over my shoulder, and climbed up a shelf which led in a
zigzag direction upward and to the south, bringing us out at last upon
the thin blade of a ridge which connected a short distance above with
the summit. It was formed of huge blocks, shattered, and ready, at a
touch, to fall.

So narrow and sharp was the upper slope that we dared not walk, but got
astride, and worked slowly along with our hands, pushing the knapsacks
in advance, now and then holding our breath when loose masses rocked
under our weight.

Once upon the summit, a grand view burst upon us. Hastening to step upon
the crest of the divide, which was never more than ten feet wide,
frequently sharpened to a mere blade, we looked down the other side, and
were astonished to find we had ascended the gentler slope, and that the
rocks fell from our feet in almost vertical precipices for a thousand
feet or more. A glance along the summit toward the highest group showed
us that any advance in that direction was impossible, for the thin ridge
was gashed down in notches three or four hundred feet deep, forming a
procession of pillars, obelisks, and blocks piled upon each other, and
looking terribly insecure.

We then deposited our knapsacks in a safe place, and, finding that it
was already noon, determined to rest a little while and take a lunch, at
over thirteen thousand feet above the sea.

West of us stretched the Mount Brewer wall, with its succession of
smooth precipices and amphitheatre ridges. To the north the great gorge
of the King’s River yawned down five thousand feet. To the south the
valley of the Kern, opening in the opposite direction, was broader, less
deep, but more filled with broken masses of granite. Clustered about the
foot of the divide were a dozen alpine lakes; the higher ones blue
sheets of ice, the lowest completely melted. Still lower in the depths
of the two cañons we could see groups of forest trees; but they were so
dim and so distant as never to relieve the prevalent masses of rock and
snow. Our divide cast its shadow for a mile down King’s Cañon, in dark
blue profile upon the broad sheets of sunny snow, from whose brightness
the hard, splintered cliffs caught reflections and wore an aspect of
joy. Thousands of rills poured from the melting snow, filling the air
with a musical tinkle as of many accordant bells. The Kern Valley opened
below us with its smooth, oval outline, the work of extinct glaciers,
whose form and extent were evident from worn cliff-surface and rounded
wall; snow-fields, relics of the former _névé_, hung in white tapestries
around its ancient birthplace; and as far as we could see, the broad,
corrugated valley, for a breadth of fully ten miles, shone with
burnishings wherever its granite surface was not covered with lakelets
or thickets of alpine vegetation.

Through a deep cut in the Mount Brewer wall we gained our first view to
the westward, and saw in the distance the wall of the South King’s
Cañon, and the granite point which Cotter and I had climbed a fortnight
before. But for the haze we might have seen the plain; for above its
farther limit were several points of the Coast Ranges, isolated like
islands in the sea.

The view was so grand, the mountain colors so brilliant, immense
snow-fields and blue alpine lakes so charming, that we almost forgot we
were ever to move, and it was only after a swift hour of this delight
that we began to consider our future course.

The King’s Cañon, which headed against our wall, seemed
untraversable--no human being could climb along the divide; we had,
then, but one hope of reaching the peak, and our greatest difficulty lay
at the start. If we could climb down to the Kern side of the divide, and
succeed in reaching the base of the precipices which fell from our feet,
it really looked as if we might travel without difficulty among the
_roches moutonnées_ to the other side of the Kern Valley, and make our
attempt upon the southward flank of the great peak. One look at the
sublime white giant decided us. We looked down over the precipice, and
at first could see no method of descent. Then we went back and looked at
the road we had come up, to see if that were not possibly as bad; but
the broken surface of the rocks was evidently much better
climbing-ground than anything ahead of us. Cotter, with danger, edged
his way along the wall to the east and I to the west, to see if there
might not be some favorable point; but we both returned with the belief
that the precipice in front of us was as passable as any of it. Down it
we must.

After lying on our faces, looking over the brink, ten or twenty minutes,
I suggested that by lowering ourselves on the rope we might climb from
crevice to crevice; but we saw no shelf large enough for ourselves and
the knapsacks too. However, we were not going to give it up without a
trial; and I made the rope fast around my breast, and, looping the noose
over a firm point of rock, let myself slide gradually down to a notch
forty feet below. There was only room beside me for Cotter, so I made
him send down the knapsacks first. I then tied these together by the
straps with my silk handkerchiefs, and hung them off as far to the left
as I could reach without losing my balance, looping the handkerchiefs
over a point of rock. Cotter then slid down the rope, and, with
considerable difficulty, we whipped the noose off its resting-place
above, and cut off our connection with the upper world.

“We’re in for it now, King,” remarked my comrade, as he looked aloft,
and then down; but our blood was up, and danger added only an
exhilarating thrill to the nerves.

The shelf was hardly more than two feet wide, and the granite so smooth
that we could find no place to fasten the lasso for the next descent; so
I determined to try the climb with only as little aid as possible. Tying
it around my breast again, I gave the other end into Cotter’s hands, and
he, bracing his back against the cliff, found for himself as firm a
foothold as he could, and promised to give me all the help in his power.
I made up my mind to bear no weight unless it was absolutely necessary;
and for the first ten feet I found cracks and protuberances enough to
support me, making every square inch of surface do friction duty, and
hugging myself against the rocks as tightly as I could. When within
about eight feet of the next shelf, I twisted myself round upon the
face, hanging by two rough blocks of protruding feldspar, and looked
vainly for some further hand-hold; but the rock, besides being perfectly
smooth, overhung slightly, and my legs dangled in the air. I saw that
the next cleft was over three feet broad, and I thought possibly I
might, by a quick slide, reach it in safety without endangering Cotter.
I shouted to him to be very careful and let go in case I fell, loosened
my hold upon the rope and slid quickly down. My shoulder struck against
the rock and threw me out of balance; for an instant I reeled over upon
the verge, in danger of falling, but, in the excitement, I thrust out my
hand and seized a small alpine gooseberry-bush, the first piece of
vegetation we had seen. Its roots were so firmly fixed in the crevice
that it held my weight and saved me.

I could no longer see Cotter, but I talked to him, and heard the two
knapsacks come bumping along till they slid over the eaves above me, and
swung down to my station, when I seized the lasso’s end and braced
myself as well as possible, intending, if he slipped, to haul in slack
and help him as best I might. As he came slowly down from crack to
crack, I heard his hobnailed shoes grating on the granite; presently
they appeared dangling from the eaves above my head. I had gathered in
the rope until it was taut, and then hurriedly told him to drop. He
hesitated a moment, and let go. Before he struck the rock I had him by
the shoulder, and whirled him down upon his side, thus preventing his
rolling overboard, which friendly action he took quite coolly.

The third descent was not a difficult one, nor the fourth; but when we
had climbed down about two hundred and fifty feet, the rocks were so
glacially polished and water-worn that it seemed impossible to get any
farther. To our right was a crack penetrating the rock, perhaps a foot
deep, widening at the surface to three or four inches, which proved to
be the only possible ladder. As the chances seemed rather desperate, we
concluded to tie ourselves together, in order to share a common fate;
and with a slack of thirty feet between us, and our knapsacks upon our
backs, we climbed into the crevice, and began descending with our faces
to the cliff. This had to be done with unusual caution, for the foothold
was about as good as none, and our fingers slipped annoyingly on the
smooth stone; besides, the knapsacks and instruments kept a steady
backward pull, tending to overbalance us. But we took pains to descend
one at a time, and rest wherever the niches gave our feet a safe
support. In this way we got down about eighty feet of smooth, nearly
vertical wall, reaching the top of a rude granite stairway, which led to
the snow; and here we sat down to rest, and found to our astonishment
that we had been three hours from the summit.

After breathing a half-minute we continued down, jumping from rock to
rock, and having, by practice, become very expert in balancing
ourselves, sprang on, never resting long enough to lose the _aplomb_;
and in this manner made a quick descent over rugged _débris_ to the
crest of a snow-field, which, for seven or eight hundred feet more,
swept down in a smooth, even slope, of very high angle, to the borders
of a frozen lake.

Without untying the lasso which bound us together, we sprang upon the
snow with a shout, and glissaded down splendidly, turning now and then a
somersault, and shooting out like cannon-balls almost to the middle of
the frozen lake; I upon my back, and Cotter feet first, in a swimming
position. The ice cracked in all directions. It was only a thin,
transparent film, through which we could see deep into the lake. Untying
ourselves, we hurried ashore in different directions, lest our combined
weight should be too great a strain upon any point.

With curiosity and wonder we scanned every shelf and niche of the last
descent. It seemed quite impossible we could have come down there, and
now it actually was beyond human power to get back again. But what cared
we? “Sufficient unto the day--” We were bound for that still distant,
though gradually nearing, summit; and we had come from a cold, shadowed
cliff into deliciously warm sunshine, and were jolly, shouting, singing
songs, and calling out the companionship of a hundred echoes. Six miles
away, with no grave danger, no great difficulty, between us, lay the
base of our grand mountain. Upon its skirts we saw a little grove of
pines, an ideal bivouac, and toward this we bent our course.

After the continued climbing of the day walking was a delicious rest,
and forward we pressed with considerable speed, our hobnails giving us
firm footing on the glittering, glacial surface. Every fluting of the
great valley was in itself a considerable cañon, into which we
descended, climbing down the scored rocks, and swinging from block to
block, until we reached the level of the pines. Here, sheltered among
_roches moutonnées_, began to appear little fields of alpine grass, pale
yet sunny, soft under our feet, fragrantly jewelled with flowers of
fairy delicacy, holding up amid thickly clustered blades chalices of
turquoise and amethyst, white stars, and fiery little globes of red.
Lakelets, small but innumerable, were held in glacial basins, the striæ
and grooves of that old dragon’s track ornamenting their smooth bottoms.

One of these, a sheet of pure beryl hue, gave us much pleasure from its
lovely transparency, and because we lay down in the necklace of grass
about it and smelled flowers, while tired muscles relaxed upon warm beds
of verdure, and the pain in our burdened shoulders went away, leaving us
delightfully comfortable.

After the stern grandeur of granite and ice, and with the peaks and
walls still in view, it was relief to find ourselves again in the region
of life. I never felt for trees and flowers such a sense of intimate
relationship and sympathy. When we had no longer excuse for resting, I
invented the palpable subterfuge of measuring the altitude of the spot,
since the few clumps of low, wide-boughed pines near by were the highest
living trees. So we lay longer with less and less will to rise, and when
resolution called us to our feet, the getting-up was sorely like Rip Van
Winkle’s in the third act.

The deep, glacial cañon-flutings across which our march then lay proved
to be great consumers of time: indeed, it was sunset when we reached the
eastern ascent, and began to toil up through scattered pines, and over
trains of moraine rocks, toward the great peak. Stars were already
flashing brilliantly in the sky, and the low, glowing arch in the west
had almost vanished when we came to the upper trees, and threw down our
knapsacks to camp. The forest grew on a sort of plateau-shelf with a
precipitous front to the west,--a level surface which stretched eastward
and back to the foot of our mountain, whose lower spurs reached within a
mile of camp. Within the shelter lay a huge, fallen log, like all these
alpine woods one mass of resin, which flared up when we applied a match,
illuminating the whole grove. By contrast with the darkness outside, we
seemed to be in a vast, many-pillared hall. The stream close by afforded
water for our blessed teapot; venison frizzled with mild, appetizing
sound upon the ends of pine sticks; matchless beans allowed themselves
to become seductively crisp upon our tin plates. That supper seemed to
me then the quintessence of gastronomy, and I am sure Cotter and I must
have said some very good _après-dîner_ things, though I long ago forgot
them all. Within the ring of warmth, on elastic beds of pine-needles; we
curled up, and fell swiftly into a sound sleep.

I woke up once in the night to look at my watch, and observed that the
sky was overcast with a thin film of cirrus cloud to which the reflected
moonlight lent the appearance of a glimmering tent, stretched from
mountain to mountain over cañons filled with impenetrable darkness, only
the vaguely lighted peaks and white snow-fields distinctly seen. I
closed my eyes and slept soundly until Cotter woke me at half-past
three, when we arose, breakfasted by the light of our fire, which still
blazed brilliantly, and, leaving our knapsacks, started for the mountain
with only instruments, canteens, and luncheon.

In the indistinct moonlight climbing was very difficult at first, for we
had to thread our way along a plain which was literally covered with
glacier bowlders, and the innumerable brooks which we crossed were
frozen solid. However, our march brought us to the base of the great
mountain, which, rising high against the east, shut out the coming
daylight, and kept us in profound shadow. From base to summit rose a
series of broken crags, lifting themselves from a general slope of
_débris_. Toward the left the angle seemed to be rather gentler, and the
surface less ragged; and we hoped, by a long _détour_ round the base,
to make an easy climb up this gentler face. So we toiled on for an hour
over the rocks, reaching at last the bottom of the north slope. Here our
work began in good earnest. The blocks were of enormous size, and in
every stage of unstable equilibrium, frequently rolling over as we
jumped upon them, making it necessary for us to take a second leap and
land where we best could. To our relief we soon surmounted the largest
blocks, reaching a smaller size, which served us as a sort of stairway.

The advancing daylight revealed to us a very long, comparatively even
snow-slope, whose surface was pierced by many knobs and granite heads,
giving it the aspect of an ice-roofing fastened on with bolts of stone.
It stretched in far perspective to the summit, where already the rose of
sunrise reflected gloriously, kindling a fresh enthusiasm within us.

Immense bowlders were partly embedded in the ice just above us, whose
constant melting left them trembling on the edge of a fall. It
communicated no very pleasant sensation to see above you these immense
missiles hanging by a mere band, knowing that, as soon as the sun rose,
you would be exposed to a constant cannonade.

The east side of the peak, which we could now partially see, was too
precipitous to think of climbing. The slope toward our camp was too much
broken into pinnacles and crags to offer us any hope, or to divert us
from the single way, dead ahead, up slopes of ice and among fragments of
granite. The sun rose upon us while we were climbing the lower part of
this snow, and in less than half an hour, melting, began to liberate
huge blocks, which thundered down past us, gathering and growing into
small avalanches below.

We did not dare climb one above another, according to our ordinary mode,
but kept about an equal level, hundred feet apart, lest, dislodging the
blocks, one should hurl them down upon the other.

We climbed up smooth faces of granite, clinging simply by the cracks and
protruding crystals of feldspar, and then hewed steps up fearfully steep
slopes of ice, zigzagging to the right and left, to avoid the flying
bowlders. When midway up this slope we reached a place where the granite
rose in perfectly smooth bluffs on either side of a gorge,--a narrow cut
or walled way leading up to the flat summit of the cliff. This we scaled
by cutting ice steps, only to find ourselves fronted again by a still
higher wall. Ice sloped from its front at too steep an angle for us to
follow, but had melted in contact with it, leaving a space three feet
wide between the ice and the rock. We entered this crevice and climbed
along its bottom, with a wall of rock rising a hundred feet above us on
one side, and a thirty-foot face of ice on the other, through which
light of an intense cobalt-blue penetrated.

Reaching the upper end, we had to cut our footsteps upon the ice again,
and, having braced our backs against the granite, climbed up to the
surface. We were now in a dangerous position: to fall into the crevice
upon one side was to be wedged to death between rock and ice; to make a
slip was to be shot down five hundred feet, and then hurled over the
brink of a precipice. In the friendly seat which this wedge gave me, I
stopped to take wet and dry observations with the thermometer,--this
being an absolute preventive of a scare,--and to enjoy the view.

The wall of our mountain sank abruptly to the left, opening for the
first time an outlook to the eastward. Deep--it seemed almost
vertically--beneath us we could see the blue water of Owen’s Lake, ten
thousand feet down. The summit peaks to the north were piled in Titanic
confusion, their ridges overhanging the eastern slope with terrible
abruptness. Clustered upon the shelves and plateaus below were several
frozen lakes, and in all directions swept magnificent fields of snow.
The summit was now not over five hundred feet distant, and we started on
again with the exhilarating hope of success. But if nature had intended
to secure the summit from all assailants, she could not have planned her
defences better; for the smooth granite wall which rose above the
snow-slope continued, apparently, quite around the peak, and we looked
in great anxiety to see if there was not one place where it might be
climbed. It was all blank except in one spot; quite near us the snow
bridged across the crevice and rose in a long point to the summit of
the wall,--a great icicle-column frozen in a niche of the bluff,--its
base about ten feet wide, narrowing to two feet at the top. We climbed
to the base of this spire of ice, and, with the utmost care, began to
cut our stairway. The material was an exceedingly compacted snow,
passing into clear ice as it neared the rock. We climbed the first half
of it with comparative ease; after that it was almost vertical, and so
thin that we did not dare to cut the footsteps deep enough to make them
absolutely safe. There was a constant dread lest our ladder should break
off, and we be thrown either down the snow-slope or into the bottom of
the crevasse. At last, in order to prevent myself from falling over
backward, I was obliged to thrust my hand into the crack between the ice
and the wall, and the spire became so narrow that I could do this on
both sides, so that the climb was made as upon a tree, cutting mere
toe-holes and embracing the whole column of ice in my arms. At last I
reached the top, and, with the greatest caution, wormed my body over the
brink, and, rolling out upon the smooth surface of the granite, looked
over and watched Cotter make his climb. He came steadily up, with no
sense of nervousness, until he got to the narrow part of the ice, and
here he stopped and looked up with a forlorn face to me; but as he
climbed up over the edge the broad smile came back to his face, and he
asked me if it had occurred to me that we had, by and by, to go down
again.

We had now an easy slope to the summit, and hurried up over rocks and
ice, reaching the crest at exactly twelve o’clock. I rang my hammer upon
the topmost rock; we grasped hands, and I reverently named the grand
peak MOUNT TYNDALL.



IV

THE DESCENT OF MOUNT TYNDALL

1864


To our surprise, upon sweeping the horizon with my level, there appeared
two peaks equal in height with us, and two rising even higher. That
which looked highest of all was a cleanly cut helmet of granite upon the
same ridge with Mount Tyndall, lying about six miles south, and fronting
the desert with a bold, square bluff which rises to the crest of the
peak, where a white fold of snow trims it gracefully. Mount Whitney, as
we afterward called it, in honor of our chief, is probably the highest
land within the United States. Its summit looked glorious, but
inaccessible.

The general topography overlooked by us may be thus simply outlined. Two
parallel chains, enclosing an intermediate trough, face each other.
Across this deep, enclosed gulf, from wall to wall, juts the thin but
lofty and craggy ridge, or “divide,” before described, which forms an
important water-shed, sending those streams which enter the chasm north
of it into King’s River, those south forming the most important sources
of the Kern, whose straight, rapidly deepening valley stretches south,
carved profoundly in granite, while the King’s, after flowing
longitudinally in the opposite course for eight or ten miles, turns
abruptly west round the base of Mount Brewer, cuts across the western
ridge, opening a gate of its own, and carves a rock channel transversely
down the Sierra to the California plain.

Fronting us stood the west chain, a great mural ridge watched over by
two dominant heights, Kaweah Peak and Mount Brewer, its wonderful
profile defining against the western sky a multitude of peaks and
spires. Bold buttresses jut out through fields of ice, and reach down
stone arms among snow and _débris_. North and south of us the higher, or
eastern, summit stretched on in miles and miles of snow peaks, the
farthest horizon still crowded with their white points. East the whole
range fell in sharp, hurrying abruptness to the desert, where, ten
thousand feet below, lay a vast expanse of arid plain intersected by
low, parallel ranges, traced from north to south. Upon the one side, a
thousand sculptures of stone, hard, sharp, shattered by cold into
infiniteness of fractures and rift, springing up, mutely severe, into
the dark, austere blue of heaven; scarred and marked, except where snow
or ice, spiked down by ragged granite bolts, shields with its pale armor
these rough mountain shoulders; storm-tinted at summit, and dark where,
swooping down from ragged cliff, the rocks plunge over cañon-walls into
blue, silent gulfs.

Upon the other hand, reaching out to horizons faint and remote, lay
plains clouded with the ashen hues of death; stark, wind-swept floors
of white, and hill-ranges, rigidly formal, monotonously low, all lying
under an unfeeling brilliance of light, which, for all its strange,
unclouded clearness, has yet a vague half-darkness, a suggestion of
black and shade more truly pathetic than fading twilight. No greenness
soothes, no shadow cools the glare. Owen’s Lake, an oval of acrid water,
lies dense blue upon the brown sage-plain, looking like a plate of hot
metal. Traced in ancient beach-lines, here and there upon hill and
plain, relics of ancient lake-shore outline the memory of a cooler
past--a period of life and verdure when the stony chains were green
islands among basins of wide, watery expanse.

The two halves of this view, both in sight at once, express the highest,
the most acute, aspects of desolation--inanimate forms out of which
something living has gone forever. From the desert have been dried up
and blown away its seas. Their shores and white, salt-strewn bottoms lie
there in the eloquence of death. Sharp, white light glances from all the
mountain-walls, where in marks and polishings has been written the
epitaph of glaciers now melted and vanished into air. Vacant cañons lie
open to the sun, bare, treeless, half shrouded with snow, cumbered with
loads of broken _débris_, still as graves, except when flights of rocks
rush down some chasm’s throat, startling the mountains with harsh, dry
rattle, their fainter echoes from below followed too quickly by dense
silence.

The serene sky is grave with nocturnal darkness. The earth blinds you
with its light. That fair contrast we love in lower lands, between
bright heavens and dark, cool earth, here reverses itself with terrible
energy. You look up into an infinite vault, unveiled by clouds, empty
and dark, from which no brightness seems to ray, an expanse with no
graded perspective, no tremble, no vapory mobility, only the vast
yawning of hollow space.

With an aspect of endless remoteness burns the small, white sun, yet its
light seems to pass invisibly through the sky, blazing out with
intensity upon mountain and plain, flooding rock details with painfully
bright reflections, and lighting up the burnt sand and stone of the
desert with a strange, blinding glare. There is no sentiment of beauty
in the whole scene; no suggestion, however far remote, of sheltered
landscape; not even the air of virgin hospitality that greets us
explorers in so many uninhabited spots which by their fertility and
loveliness of grove or meadow seem to offer man a home, or us nomads a
pleasant camp-ground. Silence and desolation are the themes which nature
has wrought out under this eternally serious sky.

A faint suggestion of life clings about the middle altitudes of the
eastern slope, where black companies of pine, stunted from breathing the
hot desert air, group themselves just beneath the bottom of perpetual
snow, or grow in patches of cloudy darkness over the moraines, those
piles of wreck crowded from their pathway by glaciers long dead.
Something there is pathetic in the very emptiness of these old glacier
valleys, these imperishable tracks of unseen engines. One’s eye ranges
up their broad, open channel to the shrunken white fields surrounding
hollow amphitheatres which were once crowded with deep burdens of
snow,--the birthplace of rivers of ice now wholly melted; the dry, clear
heavens overhead blank of any promise of ever rebuilding them. I have
never seen Nature when she seemed so little “Mother Nature” as in this
place of rocks and snow, echoes and emptiness. It impresses me as the
ruins of some bygone geological period, and no part of the present
order, like a specimen of chaos which has defied the finishing hand of
Time.

Of course I see its bearings upon climate, and could read a lesson quite
glibly as to its usefulness as a condenser, and tell you gravely how
much California has for which she may thank these heights, and how
little Nevada; but looking from this summit with all desire to see
everything, the one overmastering feeling is desolation, desolation!

Next to this, and more pleasing to notice, is the interest and richness
of the granite forms; for the whole region, from plain to plain, is
built of this dense, solid rock, and is sculptured under chisel of cold
in shapes of great variety, yet all having a common spirit, which is
purely Gothic.

In the much discussed origin of this order of building I never remember
to have seen, though it can hardly have escaped mention, any suggestion
of the possibility of the Gothic having been inspired by granite forms.
Yet, as I sat on Mount Tyndall, the whole mountains shaped themselves
like the ruins of cathedrals,--sharp roof-ridges, pinnacled and statued;
buttresses more spired and ornamented than Milan’s; receding doorways
with pointed arches carved into black façades of granite, doors never to
be opened, innumerable jutting points, with here and there a single
cruciform peak, its frozen roof and granite spires so strikingly Gothic
I cannot doubt that the Alps furnished the models for early cathedrals
of that order.

I thoroughly enjoyed the silence, which, gratefully contrasting with the
surrounding tumult of form, conveyed to me a new sentiment. I have lain
and listened through the heavy calm of a tropical voyage, hour after
hour, longing for a sound; and in desert nights the dead stillness has
many a time awakened me from sleep. For moments, too, in my forest life,
the groves made absolutely no breath of movement; but there is around
these summits the soundlessness of a vacuum. The sea stillness is that
of sleep; the desert, of death--this silence is like the waveless calm
of space.

All the while I made my instrumental observations the fascination of the
view so held me that I felt no surprise at seeing water boiling over our
little faggot blaze at a temperature of one hundred and ninety-two
degrees F., nor in observing the barometrical column stand at 17.99
inches; and it was not till a week or so after that I realized we had
felt none of the conventional sensations of nausea, headache, and I
don’t know what all, that people are supposed to suffer at extreme
altitudes; but these things go with guides and porters, I believe, and
with coming down to one’s hotel at evening there to scold one’s
picturesque _aubergiste_ in a French which strikes upon his ear as a
foreign tongue; possibly all that will come to us with advancing time,
and what is known as “doing America.” They are already shooting our
buffaloes; it cannot be long before they will cause themselves to be
honorably dragged up and down our Sierras, with perennial yellow gaiter,
and ostentation of bath-tub.

Having completed our observations, we packed up the instruments, glanced
once again round the whole field of view, and descended to the top of
our icicle ladder. Upon looking over, I saw to my consternation that
during the day the upper half had broken off. Scars traced down upon the
snow-field below it indicated the manner of its fall, and far below,
upon the shattered _débris_, were strewn its white relics. I saw that
nothing but the sudden gift of wings could possibly take us down to the
snow-ridge. We held council, and concluded to climb quite round the peak
in search of the best mode of descent.

As we crept about the east face, we could look straight down upon Owen’s
Valley, and into the vast glacier gorges, and over piles of moraines and
fluted rocks, and the frozen lakes of the eastern slope. When we
reached the southwest front of the mountain we found that its general
form was that of an immense horseshoe, the great eastern ridge forming
one side, and the spur which descended to our camp the other, we having
climbed up the outer part of the toe. Within the curve of the horseshoe
was a gorge, cut almost perpendicularly down two thousand feet, its side
rough-hewn walls of rocks and snow, its narrow bottom almost a
continuous chain of deep blue lakes with loads of ice and _débris_
piles. The stream which flowed through them joined the waters from our
home grove, a couple of miles below the camp. If we could reach the
level of the lakes, I believed we might easily climb round them and out
of the upper end of the horseshoe, and walk upon the Kern plateau round
to our bivouac.

It required a couple of hours of very painstaking, deliberate climbing
to get down the first descent, which we did, however, without hurting
our barometer, and fortunately without the fatiguing use of the lasso;
reaching finally the uppermost lake, a granite bowlful of cobalt-blue
water, transparent and unrippled. So high and enclosing were the tall
walls about us, so narrow and shut in the cañon, so flattened seemed the
cover of sky, we felt oppressed after the expanse and freedom of our
hours on the summit.

The snow-field we followed, descending farther, was irregularly
honeycombed in deep pits, circular or irregular in form, and melted to a
greater or less depth, holding each a large stone embedded in the
bottom. It seems they must have fallen from the overhanging heights with
sufficient force to plunge into the snow.

Brilliant light and strong color met our eyes at every glance--the rocks
of a deep purple-red tint, the pure alpine lakes of a cheerful sapphire
blue, the snow glitteringly white. The walls on either side for half
their height were planed and polished by glaciers, and from the smoothly
glazed sides the sun was reflected as from a mirror.

Mile after mile we walked cautiously over the snow and climbed round the
margins of lakes, and over piles of _débris_ which marked the ancient
terminal moraines. At length we reached the end of the horseshoe, where
the walls contracted to a gateway, rising on either side in immense,
vertical pillars a thousand feet high. Through this gateway we could
look down the valley of the Kern, and beyond to the gentler ridges where
a smooth growth of forest darkened the rolling plateau. Passing the last
snow, we walked through this gateway and turned westward round the spur
toward our camp. The three miles which closed our walk were alternately
through groves of _Pinus flexilis_ and upon plains of granite.

The glacier sculpture and planing are here very beautiful, the large
crystals of orthoclase with which the granite is studded being cut down
to the common level, their rosy tint making with the white base a
beautiful, burnished porphyry.

The sun was still an hour high when we reached camp, and with a feeling
of relaxation and repose we threw ourselves down to rest by the log,
which still continued blazing. We had accomplished our purpose.

During the last hour or two of our tramp Cotter had complained of his
shoes, which were rapidly going to pieces. Upon examination we found to
our dismay that there was not over half a day’s wear left in them, a
calamity which gave to our difficult homeward climb a new element of
danger. The last nail had been worn from my own shoes, and the soles
were scratched to the quick, but I believed them stout enough to hold
together till we should reach the main camp.

We planned a pair of moccasins for Cotter, and then spent a pleasant
evening by the camp-fire, rehearsing our climb to the detail, sleep
finally overtaking us and holding us fast bound until broad daylight
next morning, when we woke with a sense of having slept for a week,
quite bright and perfectly refreshed for our homeward journey.

After a frugal breakfast, in which we limited ourselves to a few cubic
inches of venison, and a couple of stingy slices of bread, with a single
meagre cup of diluted tea, we shouldered our knapsacks, which now sat
lightly upon toughened shoulders, and marched out upon the granite
plateau.

We had concluded that it was impossible to retrace our former way,
knowing well that the precipitous divide could not be climbed from this
side; then, too, we had gained such confidence in our climbing powers,
from constant victory, that we concluded to attempt the passage of the
great King’s Cañon, mainly because this was the only mode of reaching
camp, and since the geological section of the granite it exposed would
afford us an exceedingly instructive study.

The broad granite plateau which forms the upper region of the Kern
Valley slopes in general inclination up to the great divide. This
remarkably pinnacled ridge, where it approaches the Mount Tyndall wall,
breaks down into a broad depression where the Kern Valley sweeps
northward, until it suddenly breaks off in precipices three thousand
feet down into the King’s Cañon.

The morning was wholly consumed in walking up this gently inclined plane
of granite, our way leading over the glacier-polished foldings and along
graded undulations among labyrinths of alpine garden and wildernesses of
erratic bowlders, little lake-basins, and scattered clusters of dwarfed
and sombre pine.

About noon we came suddenly upon the brink of a precipice which sank
sharply from our feet into the gulf of the King’s Cañon. Directly
opposite us rose Mount Brewer, and up out of the depths of those vast
sheets of frozen snow swept spiry buttress-ridges, dividing the upper
heights into those amphitheatres over which we had struggled on our
outward journey. Straight across from our point of view was the chamber
of rock and ice where we had camped on the first night. The wall at our
feet fell sharp and rugged, its lower two-thirds hidden from our view by
the projections of a thousand feet of crags. Here and there as we looked
down, small patches of ice, held in rough hollows, rested upon the steep
surface, but it was too abrupt for any great fields of snow. I dislodged
a bowlder upon the edge and watched it bound down the rocky precipice,
dash over eaves a thousand feet below us, and disappear, the crash of
its fall coming up to us from the unseen depths fainter and fainter,
until the air only trembled with confused echoes.

A long look at the pass to the south of Mount Brewer, where we had
parted from our friends, animated us with courage to begin the descent,
which we did with utmost care, for the rocks, becoming more and more
glacier-smoothed, afforded us hardly any firm footholds. When down about
eight hundred feet we again rolled rocks ahead of us, and saw them
disappear over the eaves, and only heard the sound of their stroke after
many seconds, which convinced us that directly below lay a great
precipice.

At this juncture the soles came entirely off Cotter’s shoes, and we
stopped upon a little cliff of granite to make him moccasins of our
provision bags and slips of blanket, tying them on as firmly as we could
with the extra straps and buckskin thongs. Climbing with these proved so
insecure that I made Cotter go behind me, knowing that under ordinary
circumstances I could stop him if he fell.

Here and there in the clefts of the rocks grew stunted pine bushes,
their roots twisted so firmly into the crevices that we laid hold of
them with the utmost confidence whenever they came within our reach. In
this way we descended to within fifty feet of the brink, having as yet
no knowledge of the cliffs below, except our general memory of their
aspect from the Mount Brewer wall.

The rock was so steep that we descended in a sitting posture, clinging
with our hands and heels. I heard Cotter say, “I think I must take off
these moccasins and try it barefooted, for I don’t believe I can make
it.” These words were instantly followed by a startled cry, and I looked
round to see him slide quickly toward me, struggling and clutching at
the smooth granite. As he slid by I made a grab for him with my right
hand, catching him by the shirt, and, throwing myself as far in the
other direction as I could, seized with my left hand a little pine tuft,
which held us. I asked Cotter to edge along a little to the left, where
he could get a brace with his feet and relieve me of his weight, which
he cautiously did. I then threw a couple of turns with the lasso round
the roots of the pine bush, and we were safe, though hardly more than
twenty feet from the brink. The pressure of curiosity to get a look over
that edge was so strong within me that I lengthened out sufficient lasso
to reach the end, and slid slowly to the edge, where, leaning over, I
looked down, getting a full view of the wall for miles. Directly
beneath, a sheer cliff of three or four hundred feet stretched down to a
pile of _débris_ which rose to unequal heights along its face, reaching
the very crest not more than a hundred feet south of us. From that point
to the bottom of the cañon, broken rocks, ridges rising through vast
sweeps of _débris_, tufts of pine and frozen bodies of ice covered the
further slope.

I returned to Cotter, and, having loosened ourselves from the pine bush,
inch by inch we crept along the granite until we supposed ourselves to
be just over the top of the _débris_ pile, where I found a firm brace
for my feet, and lowered Cotter to the edge. He sang out, “All right!”
and climbed over on the uppermost _débris_, his head only remaining in
sight of me; when I lay down upon my back, making knapsack and body do
friction duty, and, letting myself move, followed Cotter and reached his
side.

From that point the descent required two hours of severe, constant
labor, which was monotonous of itself, and would have proved excessively
tiresome but for the constant interest of glacial geology beneath us.
When at last we reached the bottom and found ourselves upon a velvety
green meadow, beneath the shadow of wide-armed pines, we realized the
amount of muscular force we had used up, and threw ourselves down for a
rest of half an hour, when we rose, not quite renewed, but fresh enough
to finish the day’s climb.

In a few minutes we stood upon the rocks just above King’s River,--a
broad, white torrent fretting its way along the bottom of an impassable
gorge. Looking down the stream, we saw that our right bank was a
continued precipice, affording, so far as we could see, no possible
descent to the river’s margin, and indeed, had we gotten down, the
torrent rushed with such fury that we could not possibly have crossed
it. To the south of us, a little way up stream, the river flowed out
from a broad, oval lake, three quarters of a mile in length, which
occupied the bottom of the granite basin. Unable to cross the torrent,
we must either swim the lake or climb round its head. Upon our side the
walls of the basin curved to the head of the lake in sharp, smooth
precipices, or broken slopes of _débris_, while on the opposite side its
margin was a beautiful shore of emerald meadow, edged with a continuous
grove of coniferous trees. Once upon this other side, we should have
completed the severe part of our journey, crossed the gulf, and have
left all danger behind us; for the long slope of granite and ice which
rose upon the west side of the cañon and the Mount Brewer wall opposed
to us no trials save those of simple fatigue.

Around the head of the lake were crags and precipices in singularly
forbidding arrangement. As we turned thither we saw no possible way of
overcoming them. At its head the lake lay in an angle of the vertical
wall, sharp and straight like the corner of a room; about three hundred
feet in height, and for two hundred and fifty feet of this a pyramidal
pile of blue ice rose from the lake, rested against the corner, and
reached within forty feet of the top. Looking into the deep blue water
of the lake, I concluded that in our exhausted state it was madness to
attempt to swim it. The only alternative was to scale that slender
pyramid of ice and find some way to climb the forty feet of smooth wall
above it; a plan we chose perforce, and started at once to put into
execution, determined that if we were unsuccessful we would fire a dead
log which lay near, warm ourselves thoroughly, and attempt the swim. At
its base the ice mass overhung the lake like a roof, under which the
water had melted its way for a distance of not less than a hundred feet,
a thin eave overhanging the water. To the very edge of this I cautiously
went, and, looking down into the lake, saw through its beryl depths the
white granite blocks strewn upon the bottom at least one hundred feet
below me. It was exceedingly transparent, and, under ordinary
circumstances, would have been a most tempting place for a dive; but at
the end of our long fatigue, and with the still unknown tasks ahead, I
shrank from a swim in such a chilly temperature.

We found the ice-angle difficultly steep, but made our way successfully
along its edge, clambering up the crevices melted between its body and
the smooth granite to a point not far from the top, where the ice had
considerably narrowed, and rocks overhanging it encroached so closely
that we were obliged to change our course and make our way with cut
steps out upon its front. Streams of water, dropping from the
overhanging rock-eaves at many points, had worn circular shafts into the
ice, three feet in diameter and twenty feet in depth. Their edges
offered us our only foothold, and we climbed from one to another,
equally careful of slipping upon the slope itself, or falling into the
wells. Upon the top of the ice we found a narrow, level platform, upon
which we stood together, resting our backs in the granite corner, and
looked down the awful pathway of King’s Cañon, until the rest nerved us
up enough to turn our eyes upward at the forty feet of smooth granite
which lay between us and safety. Here and there were small projections
from its surface, little, protruding knobs of feldspar, and crevices
riven into its face for a few inches.

As we tied ourselves together, I told Cotter to hold himself in
readiness to jump down into one of these in case I fell, and started to
climb up the wall, succeeding quite well for about twenty feet. About
two feet above my hands was a crack, which, if my arms had been long
enough to reach, would probably have led me to the very top; but I
judged it beyond my powers, and, with great care, descended to the side
of Cotter, who believed that his superior length of arm would enable him
to make the reach.

I planted myself against the rock, and he started cautiously up the
wall. Looking down the glare front of ice, it was not pleasant to
consider at what velocity a slip would send me to the bottom, or at what
angle, and to what probable depth, I should be projected into the
ice-water. Indeed, the idea of such a sudden bath was so annoying that I
lifted my eyes toward my companion. He reached my farthest point without
great difficulty, and made a bold spring for the crack, reaching it
without an inch to spare, and holding on wholly by his fingers. He thus
worked himself slowly along the crack toward the top, at last getting
his arms over the brink, and gradually drawing his body up and out of
sight. It was the most splendid piece of slow gymnastics I ever
witnessed. For a moment he said nothing; but when I asked if he was all
right, cheerfully repeated, “All right.”

It was only a moment’s work to send up the two knapsacks and barometer,
and receive again my end of the lasso. As I tied it round my breast,
Cotter said to me, in an easy, confident tone, “Don’t be afraid to bear
your weight.” I made up my mind, however, to make that climb without his
aid, and husbanded my strength as I climbed from crack to crack. I got
up without difficulty to my former point, rested there a moment, hanging
solely by my hands, gathered every pound of strength and atom of will
for the reach, then jerked myself upward with a swing, just getting the
tips of my fingers into the crack. In an instant I had grasped it with
my right hand also. I felt the sinews of my fingers relax a little, but
the picture of the slope of ice and the blue lake affected me so
strongly that I redoubled my grip, and climbed slowly along the crack
until I reached the angle and got one arm over the edge, as Cotter had
done. As I rested my body upon the edge and looked up at Cotter, I saw
that, instead of a level top, he was sitting upon a smooth, roof-like
slope, where the least pull would have dragged him over the brink. He
had no brace for his feet, nor hold for his hands, but had seated
himself calmly, with the rope tied around his breast, knowing that my
only safety lay in being able to make the climb entirely unaided;
certain that the least waver in his tone would have disheartened me, and
perhaps made it impossible. The shock I received on seeing this affected
me for a moment, but not enough to throw me off my guard, and I climbed
quickly over the edge. When we had walked back out of danger we sat down
upon the granite for a rest.

In all my experience of mountaineering I have never known an act of such
real, profound courage as this of Cotter’s. It is one thing, in a moment
of excitement, to make a gallant leap, or hold one’s nerves in the iron
grasp of will, but to coolly seat one’s self in the door of death, and
silently listen for the fatal summons, and this all for a friend,--for
he might easily have cast loose the lasso and saved himself,--requires
as sublime a type of courage as I know.

But a few steps back we found a thicket of pine overlooking our lake, by
which there flowed a clear rill of snow-water. Here, in the bottom of
the great gulf, we made our bivouac; for we were already in the deep
evening shadows, although the mountain-tops to the east of us still
burned in the reflected light. It was the luxury of repose which kept me
awake half an hour or so, in spite of my vain attempts at sleep. To
listen for the pulsating sound of waterfalls and arrowy rushing of the
brook by our beds was too deep a pleasure to quickly yield up.

Under the later moonlight I rose and went out upon the open rocks,
allowing myself to be deeply impressed by the weird Dantesque
surroundings--darkness, out of which to the sky towered stern, shaggy
bodies of rock; snow, uncertainly moonlit with cold pallor; and at my
feet the basin of the lake, still, black, and gemmed with reflected
stars, like the void into which Dante looked through the bottomless gulf
of Dis. A little way off there appeared upon the brink of a projecting
granite cornice two dimly seen forms; pines I knew them to be, yet their
motionless figures seemed bent forward, gazing down the cañon; and I
allowed myself to name them Mantuan and Florentine, thinking at the same
time how grand and spacious the scenery, how powerful their attitude,
and how infinitely more profound the mystery of light and shade, than
any of those hard, theatrical conceptions with which Doré has sought to
shut in our imagination. That artist, as I believe, has reached a
conspicuous failure from an overbalancing love of solid, impenetrable
darkness. There is in all his Inferno landscape a certain sharp boundary
between the real and unreal, and never the infinite suggestiveness of
great regions of half-light, in which everything may be seen, nothing
recognized. Without waking Cotter, I crept back to my blankets, and to
sleep.

The morning of our fifth and last day’s tramp must have dawned
cheerfully; at least, so I suppose from its aspect when we first came
back to consciousness, surprised to find the sun risen from the eastern
mountain-wall, and the whole gorge flooded with its direct light. Rising
as good as new from our mattress of pine twigs, we hastened to take
breakfast, and started up the long, broken slope of the Mount Brewer
wall. To reach the pass where we had parted from our friends required
seven hours of slow, laborious climbing, in which we took advantage of
every outcropping spine of granite and every level expanse of ice to
hasten at the top of our speed. Cotter’s feet were severely cut; his
tracks upon the snow were marked by stains of blood, yet he kept on with
undiminished spirit, never once complaining. The perfect success of our
journey so inspired us with happiness that we forgot danger and fatigue,
and chatted in liveliest strain.

It was about two o’clock when we reached the summit, and rested a moment
to look back over our new Alps, which were hard and distinct under
direct, unpoetic light; yet with all their dense gray and white
reality, their long, sculptured ranks, and cold, still summits, we gave
them a lingering, farewell look, which was not without its deep fulness
of emotion, then turned our backs and hurried down the _débris_ slope
into the rocky amphitheatre at the foot of Mount Brewer, and by five
o’clock had reached our old camp-ground. We found here a note pinned to
a tree, informing us that the party had gone down into the lower cañon,
five miles below, that they might camp in better pasturage.

The wind had scattered the ashes of our old camp-fire, and banished from
it the last sentiment of home. We hurried on, climbing among the rocks
which reached down to the crest of the great lateral moraine, and then
on in rapid stride along its smooth crest, riveting our eyes upon the
valley below, where we knew the party must be camped.

At last, faintly curling above the sea of green tree-tops, a few faint
clouds of smoke wafted upward into the air. We saw them with a burst of
strong emotion, and ran down the steep flank of the moraine at the top
of our speed. Our shouts were instantly answered by the three voices of
our friends, who welcomed us to their camp-fire with tremendous hugs.

After we had outlined for them the experience of our days, and as we lay
outstretched at our ease, warm in the blaze of the glorious camp-fire,
Brewer said to me: “King, you have relieved me of a dreadful task. For
the last three days I have been composing a letter to your family, but
somehow I did not get beyond, ‘It becomes my painful duty to inform
you.’”



V

THE NEWTYS OF PIKE

1864


Our return from Mount Tyndall to such civilization as flourishes around
the Kaweah outposts was signalized by us chiefly as to our _cuisine_,
which offered now such bounties as the potato, and once a salad, in
which some middle-aged lettuce became the vehicle for a hollow mockery
of dressing. Two or three days, during which we dined at brief
intervals, served to completely rest us, and put in excellent trim for
further campaigning all except Professor Brewer, upon whom a constant
toothache wore painfully,--my bullet-mould failing even upon the third
trial to extract the unruly member.

It was determined we should ride together to Visalia, seventy miles
away, and the farther we went the more impatient became my friend, till
we agreed to push ahead through day and night, and reached the village
at about sunrise in a state of reeling sleepiness quite indescribably
funny.

At evening, when it became time to start back for our mountain-camp, my
friend at last yielded consent to my project of climbing the Kern
Sierras to attempt Mount Whitney; so I parted from him, and, remaining
at Visalia, outfitted myself with a pack-horse, two mounted men, and
provisions enough for a two weeks’ trip.

I purposely avoid telling by what route I entered the Sierras, because
there lingers in my breast a desire to see once more that lovely region,
and failing, as I do, to confide in the people, I fear lest, if the camp
I am going to describe should be recognized, I might, upon revisiting
the scene, suffer harm, or even come to an untimely end. I refrain,
then, from telling by what road I found myself entering the region of
the pines one lovely twilight evening, two days after leaving Visalia.
Pines, growing closer and closer, from sentinels gathered to groups,
then stately groves, and at last, as the evening wore on, assembled in
regular forest, through whose open tops the stars shone cheerfully.

I came upon an open meadow, hearing in front the rush of a large brook,
and directly reached two camp-fires, where were a number of persons. My
two hirelings caught and unloaded the pack-horse, and set about their
duties, looking to supper and the animals, while I prospected the two
camps. That just below me, on the same side of the brook, I found to be
the bivouac of a company of hunters, who, in the ten minutes of my call,
made free with me, hospitably offering a jug of whiskey, and then went
on in their old, eternal way of making bear-stories out of whole cloth.

I left them with a belief that my protoplasm and theirs must be
different, in spite of Mr. Huxley, and passed across the brook to the
other camp. Under noble groups of pines smouldered a generous heap of
coals, the ruins of a mighty log. A little way from this lay a confused
pile of bedclothes, partly old and half-bald buffalo-robes, but in the
main, thick strata of what is known to irony as comforters, upon which,
outstretched in wretched awkwardness of position, was a family, all with
their feet to the fire, looking as if they had been blown over in one
direction, or knocked down by a single bombshell. On the extremities of
this common bed, with the air of having gotten as far from each other as
possible, the mother and father of the Pike family reclined; between
them were two small children--a girl and a boy--and a huge girl, who,
next the old man, lay flat upon her back, her mind absorbed in the
simple amusement of waving one foot (a cow-hide eleven) slowly across
the fire, squinting, with half-shut eye, first at the vast shoe and
thence at the fire, alternately hiding bright places and darting the
foot quickly in the direction of any new display of heightening flame.
The mother was a bony sister, in the yellow, shrunken, of sharp visage,
in which were prominent two cold eyes and a positively poisonous mouth;
her hair, the color of faded hay, tangled in a jungle around her head.
She rocked jerkily to and fro, removing at intervals a clay pipe from
her mouth in order to pucker her thin lips up to one side, and spit with
precision upon a certain spot in the fire, which she seemed resolved to
prevent from attaining beyond a certain faint glow.

I have rarely felt more in difficulty for an overture to conversation,
and was long before venturing to propose, “You seem to have a pleasant
camp-spot here.”

The old woman sharply, and in almost a tone of affront, answered,
“They’s wus, and then again they’s better.”

“Doos well for our hogs,” inserted the old man. “We’ve a band of pork
that make out to find feed.”

“Oh! how many have you?” I asked.

“Nigh three thousand.”

“Won’t you set?” asked Madame; then, turning, “You, Susan, can’t you try
for to set up, and not spread so? Hain’t you no manners, say?”

At this the massive girl got herself somewhat together, and made room
for me, which I declined, however.

“Prospectin’?” inquired Madame.

“I say huntin’,” suggested the man.

“Maybe he’s a cattle-feller,” interrupted the little girl.

“Goin’ somewhere, ain’t yer?” was Susan’s guess.

I gave a brief account of myself, evidently satisfying the social
requirements of all but the old woman, who at once classified me as not
up to her standard. Susan saw this, so did her father, and it became
evident to me in ten minutes’ conversation that they two were always at
one, and made it their business to be in antagonism to the mother. They
were then allies of mine from nature, and I felt at once at home. I saw,
too, that Susan, having slid back to her horizontal position when I
declined to share her rightful ground, was watching with subtle
solicitude that fated spot in the fire, opposing sympathy and squints
accurately aligned by her shoe to the dull spot in the embers, which
slowly went out into blackness before the well-directed fire of her
mother’s saliva.

The shouts which I heard proceeding from the direction of my camp were
easily translatable into summons for supper. Mr. Newty invited me to
return later and be sociable, which I promised to do, and, going to my
camp, supped quickly and left the men with orders about picketing the
animals for the night, then, strolling slowly down to the camp of my
friends, seated myself upon a log by the side of the old gentleman.
Feeling that this somewhat formal attitude unfitted me for partaking to
the fullest degree of the social ease around me, and knowing that my
buckskin trousers were impervious to dirt, I slid down in a reclined
posture with my feet to the fire, in absolute parallelism with the
family.

The old woman was in the exciting _dénouement_ of a coon-story, directed
to her little boy, who sat clinging to her skirt and looking in her face
with absorbed curiosity. “And when Johnnie fired,” she said, “the coon
fell and busted open.” The little boy had misplaced his sympathies with
the raccoon, and having inquired plaintively, “Did it hurt him?” was
promptly snubbed with the reply, “Of course it hurt him. What do you
suppose coons is made for?” Then turning to me she put what was plainly
enough with her a test-question, “I allow you have killed your coon in
your day?” I saw at once that I must forever sink beneath the horizon of
her standards, but, failing in real experience or accurate knowledge
concerning the coon, knew no subterfuges would work with her. Instinct
had taught her that I had never killed a coon, and she had asked me thus
ostentatiously to place me at once and forever before the family in my
true light. “No, ma’am,” I said; “now you speak of it, I realize that I
never have killed a coon.” This was something of a staggerer to Susan
and her father, yet as the mother’s pleasurable dissatisfaction with me
displayed itself by more and more accurate salivary shots at the fire,
they rose to the occasion, and began to palliate my past. “Maybe,”
ventured Mr. Newty, “that they don’t have coon round the city of York;”
and I felt that I needed no self-defence when Susan firmly and defiantly
suggested to her mother that perhaps I was in better business.

Driven in upon herself for some time, the old woman smoked in silence,
until Susan, seeing that her mother gradually quenched a larger and
larger circle upon the fire, got up and stretched herself, and, giving
the coals a vigorous poke, swept out of sight the quenched spot, thus
readily obliterating the result of her mother’s precise and prolonged
expectoration; then, flinging a few dry boughs upon the fire, illumined
the family with the ruddy blaze, and sat down again, leaning upon her
father’s knee with a faint light of triumph in her eye.

I ventured a few platitudes concerning pigs, not penetrating the depths
of that branch of rural science enough to betray my ignorance. Such
sentiments as “A little piece of bacon well broiled for breakfast is
very good,” and “Nothing better than cold ham for lunch,” were received
by Susan and her father in the spirit I meant,--of entire good-will
toward pork generically. I now look back in amusement at having fallen
into this weakness, for the Mosaic view of pork has been mine from
infancy, and campaigning upon government rations has, in truth, no
tendency to dim this ancient faith.

By half-past nine the gates of conversation were fairly open, and our
part of the circle enjoyed itself socially,--taciturnity and clouds of
Virginia plug reigning supreme upon the other. The two little children
crept under comforters somewhere near the middle of the bed, and
subsided pleasantly to sleep. The old man at last stretched sleepily,
finally yawning out, “Susan, I do believe I am too tired out to go and
see if them corral bars are down. I guess you’ll have to go. I reckon
there ain’t no bears round to-night.”

Susan rose to her feet, stretched herself with her back to the fire, and
I realized for the first time her amusing proportions. In the region of
six feet, tall, square-shouldered, of firm, iron back and heavy mould
of limb, she yet possessed that suppleness which enabled her as she rose
to throw herself into nearly all the attitudes of the Niobe children. As
her yawn deepened, she waved nearly down to the ground, and then, rising
upon tiptoe, stretched up her clinched fists to heaven with a groan of
pleasure. Turning to me, she asked, “How would you like to see the
hogs?” The old man added, as an extra encouragement, “Pootiest band of
hogs in Tulare County! There’s littler of the real scissor-bill nor
Mexican racer stock than any band I have ever seen in the State. I driv
the original outfit from Pike County to Oregon in ’51 and ’52.” By this
time I was actually interested in them, and joining Susan we passed out
into the forest.

The full moon, now high in the heavens, looked down over the whole
landscape of clustered forest and open meadow with tranquil, silvery
light. It whitened measurably the fine, spiry tips of the trees, fell
luminous upon broad bosses of granite which here and there rose through
the soil, and glanced in trembling reflections from the rushing surface
of the brook. Far in the distance moonlit peaks towered in solemn rank
against the sky.

We walked silently on four or five minutes through the woods, coming at
last upon a fence which margined a wide, circular opening in the wood.
The bars, as her father had feared, were down. We stepped over them,
quietly entered the enclosure, put them up behind us, and proceeded to
the middle, threading our way among sleeping swine to where a lonely
tree rose to the height of about two hundred feet. Against this we
placed our backs, and Susan waved her hand in pride over the two acres
of tranquil pork. The eye, after accustoming itself to the darkness,
took cognizance of a certain ridgyness of surface which came to be
recognized as the objects of Susan’s pride.

Quite a pretty effect was caused by the shadow of the forest, which,
cast obliquely downward by the moon, divided the corral into halves of
light and shade.

The air was filled with heavy breathing, interrupted by here and there a
snore, and at times by crescendos of tumult, caused by forty or fifty
pigs doing battle for some favorite bed-place.

I was informed that Susan did not wish me to judge of them by dark, but
to see them again in the full light of day. She knew each individual pig
by its physiognomy, having, as she said, “growed with ’em.”

As we strolled back toward the bars a dusky form disputed our way,--two
small, sharp eyes and a wild crest of bristles were visible in the
obscure light. “That’s Old Arkansas,” said Susan; “he’s eight year old
come next June, and I never could get him to like me.” I felt for my
pistol, but Susan struck a vigorous attitude, ejaculating, “S-S-oway,
Arkansas!” She made a dash in his direction; a wild scuffle ensued, in
which I heard the dull thud of Susan’s shoe, accompanied by, “Take that,
dog-on-you!”, a cloud of dust, one shrill squeal, and Arkansas retreated
into the darkness at a business-like trot.

When quite near the bars the mighty girl launched herself into the air,
alighting with her stomach across the topmost rail, where she hung a
brief moment, made a violent muscular contraction, and alighted upon the
ground outside, communicating to it a tremor quite perceptible from
where I stood. I climbed over after her, and we sauntered under the
trees back to camp.

The family had disappeared. A few dry boughs, however, thrown upon the
coals, blazed up, and revealed their forms in the corrugated topography
of the bed.

I bade Susan good-night, and before I could turn my back she kicked her
number eleven shoes into the air, and with masterly rapidity turned in,
as Minerva is said to have done, in full panoply.

I fled precipitately to my camp, and sought my blankets, lying awake in
a kind of half-reverie, in which Susan and Arkansas, the old woman and
her coons, were the prominent figures. Later I fell asleep, and lay
motionless until the distant roar of swine awoke me before sunrise next
morning.

Seated upon my blankets, I beheld Susan’s mother drag forth the two
children, one after another, by the napes of their necks, and, shaking
the sleep out of them, propel them spitefully toward the brook; then
taking her pipe from her mouth she bent low over the sleeping form of
her huge daughter, and in a high, shrill, nasal key, screeched in her
ear, “Yew Suse!”

No sign of life on the part of the daughter.

“Susan, _are_ you a-going to get up?”

Slight muscular contraction of the lower limbs.

“Will you hear me, _Susan_?”

“Marm,” whispered the girl, in low, sleepy tones.

“Get up and let the _hogs_ out!”

The idea had at length thrilled into Susan’s brain, and with a violent
suddenness she sat bolt upright, brushing her green-colored hair out of
her eyes, and rubbing those valuable but bleared organs with the
ponderous knuckles of her forefingers.

By this time I started for the brook for my morning toilet, and the girl
and I met upon opposite banks, stooping to wash our faces in the same
pool. As I opened my dressing-case her lower jaw fell, revealing a row
of ivory teeth rounded out by two well-developed “wisdoms,” which had
all that dazzling grin one sees in the show-windows of certain dental
practitioners. It required but a moment to gather up a quart or so of
water in her broad palms, and rub it vigorously into a small circle upon
the middle of her face, the moisture working outward to a certain
high-water mark, which, along her chin and cheeks, defined the limits of
former ablution; then, baring her large, red arms to the elbow, she
washed her hands, and stood resting them upon her hips, dripping
freely, and watching me with intense curiosity.

When I reached the towel process, she herself twisted her body after the
manner of the Belvidere torso, bent low her head, gathered up the back
breadths of her petticoat, and wiped her face vigorously upon it, which
had the effect of tracing concentric streaks irregularly over her
countenance.

I parted my hair by the aid of a small dressing-glass, which so fired
Susan that she crossed the stream with a mighty jump, and stood in
ecstasy by my side. She borrowed the glass, and then my comb, rewashed
her face, and fell to work diligently upon her hair.

All this did not so limit my perception as to prevent my watching the
general demeanor of the family. The old man lay back at his ease,
puffing a cloud of smoke; his wife, also emitting volumes of the vapor
of “navy plug,” squatted by the camp-fire, frying certain lumps of pork,
and communicating an occasional spiral jerk to the coffee-pot, with the
purpose, apparently, of stirring the grounds. The two children had
gotten upon the back of a contemplative ass, who stood by the upper side
of the bed quietly munching the corner of a comforter.

My friend was in no haste. She squandered much time upon the arrangement
of her towy hair, and there was something like a blush of conscious
satisfaction when she handed me back my looking-glass and remarked
ironically, “Oh, no, I guess not,--no, sir.”

I begged her to accept the comb and glass, which she did with maidenly
joy.

This unusual toilet had stimulated with self-respect Susan’s every
fibre, and as she sprang back across the brook and approached her
mother’s camp-fire I could not fail to admire the magnificent turn of
her shoulders and the powerful, queenly poise of her head. Her full,
grand form and heavy strength reminded me of the statues of Ceres, yet
there was withal a very unpleasant suggestion of fighting trim, a sort
of prize-ring manner of swinging the arms, and hitching the shoulders.
She suddenly spied the children upon the jackass, and with one wide
sweep of her right arm projected them over the creature’s head, and
planted her left eleven firmly in the ribs of the donkey, who beat a
precipitate retreat in the direction of the hog-pens, leaving her
executing a pas seul,--a kind of slow, stately jig, something between
the minuet and the _juba_, accompanying herself by a low-hummed air and
a vigorous beating of time upon her slightly lifted knee.

It required my Pike County friends but ten minutes to swallow their pork
and begin the labors of the day.

The mountaineers’ camp was not yet astir. These children of the forest
were well chained in slumber; for, unless there is some special
programme for the day, it requires the leverage of a high sun to arouse
their faculties, dormant enough by nature, and soothed into deepest
quiet by whiskey. About eight o’clock they breakfasted, and by nine had
engaged my innocent camp-men in a game of social poker.

I visited my horses, and had them picketed in the best possible feed,
and congratulated myself that they were recruiting finely for the
difficult ride before me.

Susan, after a second appeal from her mother, ran over to the corral and
let out the family capital, which streamed with exultant grunt through
the forest, darkening the fair green meadow gardens, and happily passing
out of sight.

When I had breakfasted I joined Mr. Newty in his trip to the corral,
where we stood together for hours, during which I had mastered the story
of his years since, in 1850, he left his old home in Pike of Missouri.
It was one of those histories common enough through this wide West, yet
never failing to startle me with its horrible lesson of social
disintegration, of human retrograde.

That brave spirit of Westward Ho! which has been the pillar of fire and
cloud leading on the weary march of progress over stretches of desert,
lining the way with graves of strong men; of new-born lives; of sad,
patient mothers, whose pathetic longing for the new home died with them;
of the thousand old and young whose last agony came to them as they
marched with eyes strained on after the sunken sun, and whose shallow
barrows scarcely lift over the drifting dust of the desert; that
restless spirit which has dared to uproot the old and plant the new,
kindling the grand energy of California, laying foundations for a State
to be, that is admirable, is poetic, is to fill an immortal page in the
story of America; but when, instead of urging on to wresting from new
lands something better than old can give, it degenerates into mere
weak-minded restlessness, killing the power of growth, the ideal of
home, the faculty of repose, it results in that race of perpetual
emigrants who roam as dreary waifs over the West, losing possessions,
love of life, love of God, slowly dragging from valley to valley, till
they fall by the wayside, happy if some chance stranger performs for
them the last rites,--often less fortunate, as blanched bones and
fluttering rags upon too many hillsides plainly tell.

The Newtys were of this dreary brotherhood. In 1850, with a small family
of that authentic strain of high-bred swine for which Pike County is
widely known, as Mr. Newty avers, they bade Missouri and their snug farm
good-by, and, having packed their household goods into a wagon, drawn by
two spotted oxen, set out with the baby Susan for Oregon, where they
came after a year’s march, tired, and cursed with a permanent
discontent. There they had taken up a rancho, a quarter-section of
public domain, which at the end of two years was “improved” to the
extent of the “neatest little worm fence this side of Pike,” a barn, and
a smoke-house. “In another year,” said my friend, “I’d have dug for a
house, but we tuck ager, and the second baby died.” One day there came a
man who “let on that he knowed” land in California much fairer and more
worthy tillage than Oregon’s best, so the poor Newtys harnessed up the
wagon and turned their backs upon a home nearly ready for comfortable
life, and swept south with pigs and plunder. Through all the years this
story had repeated itself, new homes gotten to the edge of completion,
more babies born, more graves made, more pigs, who replenished as only
the Pike County variety may, till it seemed to me the mere
multiplication of them must reach a sufficient dead weight to anchor the
family; but this was dispelled when Newty remarked, “These yer hogs is
awkward about moving, and I’ve pretty much made up my mind to put ’em
all into bacon this fall, and sell out and start for Montana.”

Poor fellow! at Montana he will probably find a man from Texas who in
half an hour will persuade him that happiness lies there.

As we walked back to their camp, and when Dame Newty hove in sight, my
friend ventured to say, “Don’t you mind the old woman and her coons.
She’s from Arkansas. She used to say no man could have Susan who
couldn’t show coonskins enough of his own killing to make a bed-quilt,
but she’s over that mostly.” In spite of this assurance my heart fell a
trifle when, the first moment of our return, she turned to her husband
and asked, “Do you mind what a dead-open-and-shut on coons our little
Johnnie was when he was ten years old?” I secretly wondered if the
dead-open-and-shut had anything to do with his untimely demise at
eleven, but kept silence.

Regarding her as a sad product of the disease of chronic emigration, her
hard, thin nature, all angles and stings, became to me one of the most
depressing and pathetic spectacles, and the more when her fever-and-ague
boy, a mass of bilious lymph, came and sat by her, looking up with
great, haggard eyes, as if pleading for something, he knew not what, but
which I plainly saw only death could bestow.

Noon brought the hour of my departure. Susan and her father talked apart
a moment, then the old man said the two would ride along with me for a
few miles, as he had to go in that direction to look for new hog-feed.

I despatched my two men with the pack-horse, directing them to follow
the trail, then saddled my Kaweah and waited for the Newtys. The old man
saddled a shaggy little mountain pony for himself, and for Susan
strapped a sheepskin upon the back of a young and fiery mustang colt.

While they were getting ready, I made my horse fast to a stake and
stepped over to bid good-by to Mrs. Newty. I said to her, in tones of
deference, “I have come to bid you good-by, madam, and when I get back
this way I hope you will be kind enough to tell me one or two really
first-rate coon-stories. I am quite ignorant of that animal, having
been raised in countries where they are extremely rare, and I would like
to know more of what seems to be to you a creature of such interest.”
The wet, gray eyes relaxed, as I fancied, a trifle of their asperity; a
faint kindle seemed to light them for an instant as she asked, “You
never see coons catch frogs in a spring branch?”

“No, madam,” I answered.

“Well, I wonder! Well, take care of yourself, and when you come back
this way stop along with us, and we’ll kill a yearlin’, and I’ll tell
you about a coon that used to live under grandfather’s barn.” She
actually offered me her hand, which I grasped and shook in a friendly
manner, chilled to the very bone with its damp coldness.

Mr. Newty mounted, and asked me if I was ready. Susan stood holding her
prancing mustang. To put that girl on her horse after the ordinary plan
would have required the strength of Samson or the use of a step-ladder,
neither of which I possessed; so I waited for events to develop
themselves. The girl stepped to the left side of her horse, twisted one
hand in the mane, laying the other upon his haunches, and, crouching for
a jump, sailed through the air, alighting upon the sheepskin. The horse
reared, and Susan, twisting herself round, came right side up with her
knee upon the sheepskin, shouting, as she did so, “I guess you don’t get
me off, sir!” I jumped upon Kaweah, and our two horses sprang forward
together, Susan waving her hand to her father, and crying, “Come along
after, old man!” and to her mother, “Take care of yourself!” which is
the Pike County for _au revoir!_ Her mustang tugged at the bit, and
bounded wildly into the air. We reached a stream-bank at full gallop,
the horses clearing it at a bound, sweeping on over the green floor and
under the magnificent shadow of the forest. Newty, following us at an
humble trot, slopped through the creek, and when I last looked he had
nearly reached the edge of the wood.

I could but admire the unconscious excellence of Susan’s riding, her
firm, immovable seat, and the perfect coolness with which she held the
fiery horse. This quite absorbed me for five minutes, when she at last
broke the silence by the laconic inquiry, “Does yourn buck?” To which I
added the reply that he had only occasionally been guilty of that
indiscretion. She then informed me that the first time she had mounted
the colt he had “nearly bucked her to pieces; he had jumped and jounced
till she was plum tuckered out” before he had given up.

Gradually reining the horses down and inducing them to walk, we rode
side by side through the most magnificent forest of the Sierras, and I
determined to probe Susan to see whether there were not, even in the
most latent condition, some germs of the appreciation of nature. I
looked from base to summit of the magnificent shafts, at the green
plumes which traced themselves against the sky, the exquisite fall of
purple shadows and golden light upon trunks, at the labyrinth of glowing
flowers, at the sparkling whiteness of the mountain brook, and up to the
clear, matchless blue that vaulted over us, then turned to Susan’s
plain, honest face, and gradually introduced the subject of trees. Ideas
of lumber and utilitarian notions of fence-rails were uppermost in her
mind; but I briefly penetrated what proved to be only a superficial
stratum of the materialistic, and asked her point blank if she did not
admire their stately symmetry. A strange, new light gleamed in her eye
as I described to her the growth and distribution of forests, and the
marvellous change in their character and aspects as they approached the
tropics. The palm and the pine, as I worked them up to her, really
filled her with delight, and prompted numerous interested and
intelligent queries, showing that she thoroughly comprehended my drift.
In the pleasant hour of our chat I learned a new lesson of the presence
of undeveloped seed in the human mind.

Mr. Newty at last came alongside, and remarked that he must stop about
here; “but,” he added, “Susan will go on with you about half a mile, and
come back and join me here after I have taken a look at the feed.”

As he rode out into the forest a little way, he called me to him, and I
was a little puzzled at what seemed to be the first traces of
embarrassment I had seen in his manner.

“You’ll take care of yourself, now, won’t you?” he asked. I tried to
convince him that I would.

A slight pause.

“You’ll take care of yourself, won’t you?”

He might rely on it, I was going to say.

He added, “Thet--thet--thet man what gits Susan _has half the hogs_!”

Then turning promptly away, he spurred the pony, and his words as he
rode into the forest were, “Take good care of yourself!”

Susan and I rode on for half a mile, until we reached the brow of a long
descent, which she gave me to understand was her limit.

We shook hands and I bade her good-by, and as I trotted off these words
fell sweetly upon my ear, “Say, you’ll take good care of yourself, won’t
you, say?”

I took pains not to overtake my camp-men, wishing to be alone; and as I
rode for hour after hour the picture of this family stood before me in
all its deformity of outline, all its poverty of detail, all its
darkness of future, and I believe I thought of it too gravely to enjoy
as I might the subtle light of comedy which plays about these hard,
repulsive figures.

In conversation I had caught the clew of a better past. Newty’s father
was a New-Englander, and he spoke of him as a man of intelligence and,
as I should judge, of some education. Mrs. Newty’s father had been an
Arkansas judge, not perhaps the most enlightened of men, but still very
far in advance of herself. The conspicuous retrograde seemed to me an
example of the most hopeless phase of human life. If, as I suppose, we
may all sooner or later give in our adhesion to the Darwinian view of
development, does not the same law which permits such splendid scope for
the better open up to us also possible gulfs of degradation, and are not
these chronic emigrants whose broken-down wagons and weary faces greet
you along the dusty highways of the far West melancholy examples of
beings who have forever lost the conservatism of home and the power of
improvement?



VI

KAWEAH’S RUN

1864


After trying hard to climb Mount Whitney without success, and having
returned to the plains, I enjoyed my two days’ rest in hot Visalia,
where were fruits and people, and where I at length thawed out the last
traces of alpine cold, and recovered from hard work and the sinful bread
of my fortnight’s campaign. I considered it happiness to spend my whole
day on the quiet hotel veranda, accustoming myself again to such
articles as chairs and newspapers, and watching with unexpected pleasure
the few village girls who flitted about during the day, and actually
found time after sunset to chat with favored fellows beneath the wide
oaks of the street-side. Especially interesting seemed the rustic sister
of whom I bought figs at a garden gate, thinking her, as I did, _comme
il faut_, though recollecting later that her gown was of forgotten mode,
and that she carried a suggestion of ancient history in the obsolete
style of her back hair.

Everybody was of interest to me, not excepting the two Mexican
mountaineers who monopolized the agent at Wells, Fargo & Co.’s office,
causing me delay. They were transacting some little item of business,
and stood loafing by the counter, mechanically jingling huge spurs and
shrugging their shoulders as they chatted in a dull, sleepy way. At the
door they paused, keeping up quite a lively dispute, without apparently
noticing me as I drew a small bag of gold and put it in my pocket. There
was no especial reason why I should remark the stolid, brutal cast of
their countenances, as I thought them not worse than the average
Californian greaser; but it occurred to me that one might as well guess
at a geological formation as to attempt to judge the age of
mountaineers, because they get very early in life a fixed expression,
which is deepened by continual rough weathering and undisturbed
accumulations of dirt. I observed them enough to see that the elder was
a man of middle height, of wiry, light figure and thin, hawk visage; a
certain angular sharpness making itself noticeable about the shoulders
and arms, which tapered to small, almost refined hands. A mere fringe of
perfectly straight, black beard followed the curve of his chin, tangling
itself at the ear with shaggy, unkempt locks of hair. He wore an
ordinary, stiff-brimmed Spanish sombrero, and the inevitable greasy red
sash performed its rather difficult task of holding together flannel
shirt and buckskin breeches, besides half covering with folds a long,
narrow knife.

His companion struck me as a half-breed Indian, somewhere about eighteen
years of age, his beardless face showing deep, brutal lines, and a mouth
which was a mere crease between hideously heavy lips. Blood stained the
rowels of his spurs; an old felt hat, crumpled and ragged, slouched
forward over his eyes, doing its best to hide the man.

I thought them a hard couple, and summed up their traits as stolidity
and utter cruelty.

I was pleased that the stable-man who saddled Kaweah was unable to
answer their inquiry where I was going, and annoyed when I heard the
hotel-keeper inform them that I started that day for Millerton.

Leaving behind us people and village, Kaweah bore me out under the
grateful shade of oaks, among rambling settlements and fields of
harvested grain, whose pale Naples-yellow stubble and stacks contrasted
finely with the deep foliage, and served as a pretty groundwork for
stripes of vivid green which marked the course of numberless irrigating
streams. Low cottages, overarched with boughs and hemmed in with weed
jungles, margined my road. I saw at the gate many children who looked me
out of countenance with their serious, stupid stare; they were the least
self-conscious of any human beings I have seen.

Trees and settlements and children were soon behind us, an open plain
stretching on in front without visible limit,--a plain slightly browned
with the traces of dried herbaceous plants, and unrelieved by other
object than distant processions of trees traced from some cañon gate of
the Sierras westward across to the middle valley, or occasional bands of
restless cattle marching solemnly about in search of food. It was not
pleasant to realize that I had one hundred and twenty miles of this
lonely sort of landscape ahead of me, nor that my only companion was
Kaweah; for with all his splendid powers and rare qualities of instinct
there was not the slightest evidence of response or affection in his
behavior. Friendly toleration was the highest gift he bestowed on me,
though I think he had great personal enjoyment in my habits as a rider.
The only moments when we ever seemed thoroughly _en rapport_ were when I
crowded him down to a wild run, using the spur and shouting at him
loudly, or when in our friendly races homeward toward camp, through the
forest, I put him at a leap where he even doubted his own power. At such
times I could communicate ideas to him with absolute certainty. He would
stop, or turn, or gather himself for a leap, at my will, as it seemed to
me, by some sort of magnetic communication; but I always paid dearly for
this in long, tiresome efforts to calm him.

With the long, level road ahead of me, I dared not attack its monotony
by any unusual riding, and having settled him at our regular travelling
trot,--a gait of about six miles an hour,--I forgot all about the dreary
expanse of plain, and gave myself up to quiet reverie. About dusk we had
reached the King’s River Ferry.

An ugly, unpainted house, perched upon the bluff, and flanked by barns
and outbuildings of disorderly aspect, overlooked the ferry. Not a sign
of green vegetation could be seen, except certain half-dried willows
standing knee-deep along the river’s margin, and that dark pine zone
lifted upon the Sierras in eastern distance.

It is desperate punishment to stay through a summer at one of these
plain ranches, there to be beat upon by an unrelenting sun in the midst
of a scorched landscape and forced to breathe sirocco and sand; yet
there are found plenty of people who are glad to become master of one of
these ferries or stage stations, their life for the most part silent,
and as unvaried as its outlook, given over wholly to permanent and
vacant loafing.

Supper was announced by a business-like youth, who came out upon the
veranda and vigorously rang a tavern bell, although I was the only
auditor, and likely enough the only person within twenty miles.

I envy my horse at such times; the graminivorous have us at a
disadvantage, for one revolts at the _cuisine_, although disliking to
insult the house by quietly shying the food out of the window. I arose
hungry from the table, remembering that some eminent hygeist has avowed
that by so doing one has achieved sanitary success.

As I walked over to see Kaweah at the corral, I glanced down the river,
and saw, perhaps a quarter of a mile below, two horsemen ride down our
bank, spur their horses into the stream, swim to the other side, and
struggle up a steep bank, disappearing among bunches of cottonwood trees
near the river.

So dangerous and unusual a proceeding could not have been to save the
half-dollar ferriage. There was something about their seat, and the
cruel way they drove home their spurs, that, in default of better
reasons, made me think them Mexicans.

The whole Tulare plain is the home of nomadic ranchers, who, as
pasturage changes, drive about their herds of horses and cattle from
range to range; and as the wolves prowl around for prey, so a class of
Mexican highwaymen rob and murder them from one year’s end to the other.

I judged the swimmers were bent on some such errand, and lay down on the
ground by Kaweah, to guard him, rolling myself in my soldier’s
great-coat, and slept with my saddle for a pillow.

Once or twice the animal waked me up by stamping restively, but I could
perceive no cause for alarm, and slept on comfortably until a little
before sunrise, when I rose, took a plunge in the river, and hurriedly
dressed myself for the day’s ride; the ferryman, who had promised to put
me across at dawn, was already at his post, and, after permitting Kaweah
to drink a deep draught, I rode him out on the ferry-boat, and was
quickly at the other side.

The road for two or three miles ascends the right bank of the river,
approaching in places quite closely to the edge of its bluffs. I greatly
enjoyed my ride, watching the Sierra sky line high and black against a
golden circle of dawn, and seeing it mirrored faithfully in still
reaches of river, and pleasing myself with the continually changing
foreground, as group after group of tall, motionless cottonwoods was
passed. The willows, too, are pleasing in their entire harmony with the
scene, and the air they have of protecting bank and shore from torrent
and sun. The plain stretched off to my left into dusky distance, and
ahead in a bare, smooth expanse, dreary by its monotony, yet not
altogether repulsive in the pearly obscurity of the morning. In
midsummer these plains are as hot as the Sahara through the long,
blinding day; but after midnight there comes a delicious blandness upon
the air, a suggestion of freshness and upspringing life, which renews
vitality within you.

Kaweah showed the influence of this condition in the sensitive play of
ears and toss of head, and in his free, spirited stride. I was
experimenting on his sensitiveness to sounds, and had found that his
ears turned back at the faintest whisper, when suddenly his head rose,
he looked sharply forward toward a clump of trees on the river-bank, one
hundred and fifty yards in front of us, where a quick glance revealed to
me a camp-fire and two men hurrying saddles upon their horses,--a gray
and a sorrel.

They were Spaniards,--the same who had swum King’s River the afternoon
before, and, as it flashed on me finally, the two whom I had studied so
attentively at Visalia. Then I at once saw their purpose was to waylay
me, and made up my mind to give them a lively run. The road followed the
bank up to their camp in an easterly direction, and then, turning a
sharp right angle to the north, led out upon the open plain, leaving the
river finally.

I decided to strike across, and threw Kaweah into a sharp trot.

I glanced at my girth and then at the bright copper upon my pistol, and
settled myself firmly in the saddle.

Finding that they could not saddle quickly enough to attack me mounted,
the older villain grabbed a shot-gun, and sprung out to head me off, his
comrade meantime tightening the cinches.

I turned Kaweah farther off to the left, and tossed him a little more
rein, which he understood and sprang out into a gallop.

The robber brought his gun to his shoulder, covered me, and yelled, in
good English, “Hold on, you ----!” At that instant his companion dashed
up, leading the other horse. In another moment they were mounted and
after me, yelling, “Hu-hla” to the mustangs, plunging in the spurs, and
shouting occasional volleys of oaths.

By this time I had regained the road, which lay before me traced over
the blank, objectless plain in vanishing perspective. Fifteen miles lay
between me and a station; Kaweah and pistol were my only defence, yet at
that moment I felt a thrill of pleasure, a wild moment of inspiration,
almost worth the danger to experience.

I glanced over my shoulder and found that the Spaniards were crowding
their horses to their fullest speed; their hoofs, rattling on the dry
plain, were accompanied by inarticulate noises, like the cries of
bloodhounds. Kaweah comprehended the situation. I could feel his grand
legs gather under me, and the iron muscles contract with excitement; he
tugged at the bit, shook his bridle-chains, and flung himself
impatiently into the air.

It flashed upon me that perhaps they had confederates concealed in some
ditch far in advance of me, and that the plan was to crowd me through at
fullest speed, giving up the chase to new men and fresh horses; and I
resolved to save Kaweah to the utmost, and only allow him a speed which
should keep me out of gunshot. So I held him firmly, and reserved my
spur for the last emergency. Still we fairly flew over the plain, and I
said to myself, as the clatter of hoofs and din of my pursuers rang in
my ears now and then, as the freshening breeze hurried it forward, that,
if those brutes got me, there was nothing in blood and brains; for
Kaweah was a prince beside their mustangs, and I ought to be worth two
villains.

For the first twenty minutes the road was hard and smooth and level;
after that gentle, shallow undulations began, and at last, at brief
intervals, were sharp, narrow arroyos (ditches eight or nine feet wide).
I reined Kaweah in, and brought him up sharply on their bottoms, giving
him the bit to spring up on the other side; but he quickly taught me
better, and, gathering, took them easily, without my feeling it in his
stride.

The hot sun had arisen. I saw with anxiety that the tremendous speed
began to tell painfully on Kaweah. Foam tinged with blood fell from his
mouth, and sweat rolled in streams from his whole body, and now and then
he drew a deep-heaving breath. I leaned down and felt of the cinch to
see if it had slipped forward, but, as I had saddled him with great
care, it kept its true place, so I had only to fear the greasers behind,
or a new relay ahead. I was conscious of plenty of reserved speed in
Kaweah, whose powerful run was already distancing their fatigued
mustangs.

As we bounded down a roll of the plain, a cloud of dust sprang from a
ravine directly in front of me, and two black objects lifted themselves
in the sand. I drew my pistol, cocked it, whirled Kaweah to the left,
plunging by and clearing them by about six feet; a thrill of relief came
as I saw the long, white horns of Spanish cattle gleam above the dust.

Unconsciously I restrained Kaweah too much, and in a moment the
Spaniards were crowding down upon me at a fearful rate. On they came,
the crash of their spurs and the clatter of their horses distinctly
heard; and as I had so often compared the beats of chronometers, I
unconsciously noted that while Kaweah’s, although painful, yet came with
regular power, the mustangs’ respiration was quick, spasmodic, and
irregular. I compared the intervals of the two mustangs, and found that
one breathed better than the other, and then, upon counting the best
mustang with Kaweah, found that he breathed nine breaths to Kaweah’s
seven. In two or three minutes I tried it again, finding the relation
ten to seven; then I felt the victory, and I yelled to Kaweah. The thin
ears shot flat back upon his neck; lower and lower he lay down to his
run; I flung him a loose rein, and gave him a friendly pat on the
withers. It was a glorious burst of speed; the wind rushed by and the
plain swept under us with dizzying swiftness. I shouted again, and the
thing of nervous life under me bounded on wilder and faster, till I
could feel his spine thrill as with shocks from a battery. I managed to
look round,--a delicate matter at speed,--and saw, far behind, the
distanced villains, both dismounted, and one horse fallen.

In an instant I drew Kaweah in to a gentle trot, looking around every
moment, lest they should come on me unawares. In a half-mile I reached
the station, and I was cautiously greeted by a man who sat by the barn
door, with a rifle across his knees. He had seen me come over the plain,
and had also seen the Spanish horse fall. Not knowing but he might be in
league with the robbers, I gave him a careful glance before dismounting,
and was completely reassured by an expression of terror which had
possession of his countenance.

I sprang to the ground and threw off the saddle, and after a word or two
with the man, who proved to be the sole occupant of this station, we
fell to work together upon Kaweah, my cocked pistol and his rifle lying
close at hand. We sponged the creature’s mouth, and, throwing a sheet
over him, walked him regularly up and down for about three quarters of
an hour, and then taking him upon the open plain, where we could scan
the horizon in all directions, gave him a thorough grooming. I never saw
him look so magnificently as when we led him down to the creek to drink:
his skin was like satin, and the veins of his head and neck stood out
firm and round like whip-cords.

In the excitement of taking care of Kaweah I had scarcely paid any
attention to my host, but after two hours, when the horse was quietly
munching his hay, I listened attentively to his story.

The two Spaniards had lurked round his station during the night, guns in
hand, and had made an attempt to steal a pair of stage horses from the
stable, but, as he had watched with his rifle, they finally rode away.

By his account I knew them to be my pursuers; they had here, however,
ridden two black mustangs, and had doubtless changed their mount for the
sole purpose of waylaying me.

About eleven o’clock, it being my turn to watch the horizon, I saw two
horsemen making a long _détour_ round the station, disappearing finally
in the direction of Millerton. By my glass I could only make out that
they were men riding in single file on a sorrel and a gray horse; but
this, with the fact of the long _détour_, which finally brought them
back into the road again, convinced me that they were my enemies. The
uncomfortable probability of their raising a band, and returning to make
sure of my capture, filled me with disagreeable foreboding, and all day
long, whether my turn at sentinel duty or not, I did little else than
range my eye over the valley in all directions.

Twice during the day I led Kaweah out and paced him to and fro, for fear
his tremendous exertion would cause a stiffening of the legs; but each
time he followed close to my shoulder with the same firm, proud step,
and I gloried in him.

Shortly after dark I determined to mount and push forward to Millerton,
my friend, the station man, having given me careful directions as to its
position; and I knew from the topography of the country that, by
abandoning the road and travelling by the stars, I could not widely miss
my mark; so at about nine o’clock I saddled Kaweah, and, mounting, bade
good-by to my friend.

The air was bland, the heavens cloudless and starlit; in the west a low
arch of light, out of which had faded the last traces of sunset color;
in the east a silver dawn shone mild and pure above the Sierras,
brightening as the light in the west faded, till at last one jetty crag
was cut upon the disk of rising moon.

Upon the light gray tone of the plain every object might be seen, and as
I rode on the memory of danger passed away, leaving me in full enjoyment
of companionship with the hour and with my friend Kaweah, whose sturdy,
easy stride was in itself a delight. There is a charm peculiar to these
soft, dewless nights. It seems the perfection of darkness in which you
get all the rest of sleep while riding, or lying wide awake on your
blankets. Now and then an object, vague and unrecognized, loomed out of
dusky distance, arresting our attention, for Kaweah’s quick eye usually
found them first: dead carcases of starved cattle, a blanched skull, or
stump of aged oak, were the only things seen, and we gradually got
accustomed to these, passing with no more than a glance.

At last we approached a region of low, rolling sand-hills, where
Kaweah’s tread became muffled, and the silence so oppressive as to call
out from me a whistle. That instrument proved excellent in Traviata
solos; but, when I attempted some of Chopin, failed so painfully that I
was glad to be diverted by arriving at the summit of the zone of hills,
and looking out upon the wide, shallow valley of the San Joaquin, a
plain dotted with groves, and lighted here and there by open reaches of
moonlit river.

I looked up and down, searching for lights which should mark Millerton.
I had intended to strike the river above the settlement, and should now,
if my reckoning was correct, be within half a mile of it.

Riding down to the river-bank, I dismounted, and allowed Kaweah to
quench his thirst. The cool mountain water, fresh from the snow, was
delicious to him. He drank, stopped to breathe, and drank again and
again. I allowed him also to feed a half-moment on the grass by the
river-bank, and then, remounting, headed down the river, and rode slowly
along under the shadow of trees, following a broad, well-beaten trail,
which led, as I believed, to the village.

While in a grove of oaks, jingling spurs suddenly sounded ahead, and
directly I heard voices. I quickly turned Kaweah from the trail, and
tied him a few rods off, behind a thicket, then crawled back into a
bunch of buckeye bushes, disturbing some small birds, who took flight.
In a moment two horsemen, talking Spanish, neared, and as they passed I
recognized their horses, and then the men. The impulse to try a shot was
so strong that I got out my revolver, but upon second thought put it up.
As they rode on into the shadow, the younger, as I judged by his voice,
broke out into a delicious melody, one of those passionate Spanish songs
with a peculiar, throbbing cadence, which he emphasized by sharply
ringing his spurs.

These Californian scoundrels are invariably light-hearted; crime cannot
overshadow the exhilaration of outdoor life; remorse and gloom are
banished like clouds before this perennially sunny climate. They make
amusement out of killing you, and regard a successful plundering time as
a sort of pleasantry.

As the soft, full tones of my bandit died in distance, I went for
Kaweah, and rode rapidly westward in the opposite direction, bringing up
soon in the outskirts of Millerton, just as the last gamblers were
closing up their little games, and about the time the drunk were
conveying one another home. Kaweah being stabled, I went to the hotel,
an excellent and orderly establishment, where a colored man of mild
manners gave me supper and made me at home by gentle conversation,
promising at last to wake me early, and bidding me good-night at my room
door with the tones of an old friend. I think his soothing spirit may
partly account for the genuinely profound sleep into which I quickly
fell, and which held me fast bound, until his hand on my shoulder and
“Half-past four, sir,” called me back, and renewed the currents of
consciousness.

After we had had our breakfast, Kaweah and I forded the San Joaquin, and
I at once left the road, determined to follow a mountain trail which led
toward Mariposa. The trail proved a good one to travel, of smooth, soft
surface, and pleasant in its diversity of ups and downs, and with
rambling curves, which led through open regions of brown hills, whose
fern and grass were ripened to a common yellow-brown; then among
park-like slopes, crowned with fine oaks, and occasional pine woods, the
ground frequently covering itself with clumps of such shrubs as
chaparral, and the never-enough-admired manzanita. Yet I think I never
saw such facilities for an ambuscade. I imagined the path went out of
its way to thread every thicket, and the very trees grouped themselves
with a view to highway robbery.

I soon, though, got tired looking out for my Spaniards, and became
assured of having my ride to myself when I studied the trail, and found
that Kaweah’s were the first tracks of the day.

Riding thus in the late summer along the Sierra foot-hills, one is
constantly impressed with the climatic peculiarities of the region. With
us in the East, plant life seems to continue until it is at last put out
by cold, the trees appear to grow till the first frosts; but in the
Sierra foot-hills growth and active life culminate in June and early
July, and then follow long months of warm, stormless autumn, wherein the
hills grow slowly browner, and the whole air seems to ripen into a
fascinating repose,--a rich, dreamy quiet, with distance lost behind
pearly hazes, with warm, tranquil nights, dewless and silent. This
period is wealthy in yellows and russets and browns, in great,
overhanging masses of oak, whose olive hue is warmed into umber depth,
in groves of serious pines, red of bark, and cool in the dark greenness
of their spires. Nature wears an aspect of patient waiting for a great
change; ripeness, existence beyond the accomplishment of the purpose of
life, a long, pleasant, painless waiting for death,--these are the
conditions of the vegetation; and it is vegetation more than the
peculiar appearance of the air which impresses the strange character of
the season. It is as if our August should grow rich and ripe, through
cloudless days and glorious, warm nights, on till February, and then
wake as from sleep, to break out in the bloom of May.

I was delighted to ride thus alone, and expose myself, as one uncovers a
sensitized photographic plate, to be influenced; for this is a respite
from scientific work, when through months you hold yourself accountable
for seeing everything, for analyzing, for instituting perpetual
comparison, and, as it were, sharing in the administering of the
physical world. No tongue can tell the relief to simply withdraw
scientific observation, and let Nature impress you in the dear old way
with all her mystery and glory, with those vague, indescribable emotions
which tremble between wonder and sympathy.

Behind me in distance stretched the sere plain where Kaweah’s run saved
me. To the west, fading out into warm, blank distance, lay the great
valley of San Joaquin, into which, descending by sinking curves, were
rounded hills, with sunny, brown slopes softened as to detail by a low,
clinging bank of milky air. Now and then out of the haze to the east
indistinct rosy peaks, with dull, silvery snow-marblings, stood dimly up
against the sky, and higher yet a few sharp summits lifted into the
clearer heights seemed hung there floating. Quite in harmony with this
was the little group of Dutch settlements I passed, where an
antique-looking man and woman sat together on a veranda sunning their
white hair, and silently smoking old porcelain pipes.

Nor was there any element of incongruity at the rancheria where I
dismounted to rest shortly after noon. A few sleepy Indians lay on their
backs dreaming, the good-humored, stout squaws nursing pappooses, or
lying outstretched upon red blankets. The agreeable harmony was not
alone from the Indian summer in their blood, but in part as well from
the features of their dress and facial expression. Their clothes, of
Caucasian origin, quickly fade out into utter barbarism, toning down to
warm, dirty timbers, never failing to be relieved, here and there, by
ropes of blue and white beads, or head-band and girdle of scarlet cloth.

Toward the late afternoon, trotting down a gentle forest slope, I came
in sight of a number of ranch buildings grouped about a central open
space. A small stream flowed by the outbuildings, and wound among
chaparral-covered spurs below. Considerable crops of grain had been
gathered into a corral, and a number of horses were quietly straying
about. Yet with all the evidences of considerable possessions the whole
place had an air of suspicious mock-sleepiness. Riding into the open
square, I saw that one of the buildings was a store, and to this I rode,
tying Kaweah to the piazza post.

I thought the whole world slumbered when I beheld the sole occupant of
this country store, a red-faced man in pantaloons and shirt, who lay on
his back upon a counter fast asleep, the handle of a revolver grasped in
his right hand. It seemed to me if I were to wake him up a little too
suddenly he might misunderstand my presence and do some accidental
damage; so I stepped back and poked Kaweah, making him jump and clatter
his hoofs, and at once the proprietor sprang to the door, looking
flustered and uneasy.

I asked him if he could accommodate me for the afternoon and night, and
take care of my horse; to which he replied, in a very leisurely manner,
that there was a bed, and something to eat, and hay, and that if I was
inclined to take the chances I might stay.

Being in mind to take the chances, I did stay, and my host walked out
with me to the corral, and showed me where to get Kaweah’s hay and
grain.

I loafed about for an hour or two, finding that a Chinese cook was the
only other human being in sight, and then concluded to pump the
landlord. A half-hour’s trial thoroughly disgusted me, and I gave it up
as a bad job. I did, however, learn that he was a man of Southern birth,
of considerable education, which a brutal life and depraved mind had not
been able to fully obliterate. He seemed to care very little for his
business, which indeed was small enough, for during the time I spent
there not a single customer made his appearance. The stock of goods I
observed on examination to be chiefly fire-arms, every manner of
gambling apparatus, and liquors; the few pieces of stuffs, barrels, and
boxes of groceries appeared to be disposed rather as ornaments than for
actual sale.

From each of the man’s trousers’ pockets protruded the handle of a
derringer, and behind his counter were arranged in convenient position
two or three double-barrelled shot-guns.

I remarked to him that he seemed to have a handily arranged arsenal, at
which he regarded me with a cool, quiet stare, polished the handle of
one of his derringers upon his trousers, examined the percussion-cap
with great deliberation, and then, with a nod of the head intended to
convey great force, said, “You don’t live in these parts,”--a fact for
which I felt not unthankful.

The man drank brandy freely and often, and at intervals of about half an
hour called to his side a plethoric old cat named “Gospel,” stroked her
with nervous rapidity, swearing at the same time in so _distrait_ and
unconscious a manner that he seemed mechanically talking to himself.

Whoever has travelled on the West Coast has not failed to notice the
fearful volleys of oaths which the oxen-drivers hurl at their teams, but
for ingenious flights of fancy profanity I have never met the equal of
my host. With the most perfect good-nature and in unmoved continuance he
uttered florid blasphemies, which, I think, must have taken hours to
invent. I was glad, when bedtime came, to be relieved of his presence,
and especially pleased when he took me to the little separate building
in which was a narrow, single bed. Next this building on the left was
the cook-house and dining-room, and upon the right lay his own sleeping
apartment. Directly across the square, and not more than sixty feet off,
was the gate of the corral, which creaked on its rusty hinges, when
moved, in the most dismal manner.

As I lay upon my bed I could hear Kaweah occasionally stamp; the snoring
of the Chinaman on one side, and the low, mumbled conversation of my
host and his squaw on the other. I felt no inclination to sleep, but lay
there in half-doze, quite conscious, yet withdrawn from the present.

I think it must have been about eleven o’clock when I heard the clatter
of a couple of horsemen, who galloped up to my host’s building and
sprang to the ground, their Spanish spurs ringing on the stone. I sat up
in bed, grasped my pistol, and listened. The peach-tree next my window
rustled. The horses moved about so restlessly that I heard but little of
the conversation, but that little I found of personal interest to
myself.

I give as nearly as I can remember the fragments of dialogue between my
host and the man whom I recognized as the older of my two robbers.

“When did he come?”

“Wall, the sun might have been about four hours.”

“Has his horse give out?”

I failed to hear the answer, but was tempted to shout out “No!”

“Gray coat, buckskin breeches.” (My dress.)

“Going to Mariposa at seven in the morning.”

“I guess I wouldn’t round here.”

A low, muttered soliloquy in Spanish wound up with a growl.

“No, Antone, not within a mile of the place. ‘Sta buen.’”

Out of the compressed jumble of the final sentence I got but the one
word, “buckshot.”

The Spaniards mounted and the sound of their spurs and horses’ hoofs
soon died away in the north, and I lay for half an hour revolving all
sorts of plans. The safest course seemed to be to slip out in the
darkness and fly on foot to the mountains, abandoning my good Kaweah;
but I thought of his noble run, and it seemed to me so wrong to turn my
back on him that I resolved to unite our fate. I rose cautiously, and,
holding my watch up to the moon, found that twelve o’clock had just
passed, then taking from my pocket a five-dollar gold piece, I laid it
upon the stand by my bed, and in my stocking feet, with my clothes in my
hand, started noiselessly for the corral. A fierce bull-dog, which had
shown no disposition to make friends with me, bounded from the open door
of the proprietor to my side. Instead of tearing me, as I had expected,
he licked my hands and fawned about my feet.

Reaching the corral gate, I dreaded opening it at once, remembering the
rusty hinges, so I hung my clothes upon an upper bar of the fence, and,
cautiously lifting the latch, began to push back the gate, inch by inch,
an operation which required eight or ten minutes; then I walked up to
Kaweah and patted him. His manger was empty; he had picked up the last
kernel of barley. The creature’s manner was full of curiosity, as if he
had never been approached in the night before. Suppressing his ordinary
whinnying, he preserved a motionless, statue-like silence. I was in
terror lest by a neigh, or some nervous movement, he should waken the
sleeping proprietor and expose my plan.

The corral and the open square were half covered with loose stones, and
when I thought of the clatter of Kaweah’s shoes I experienced a feeling
of trouble, and again meditated running off on foot, until the idea
struck me of muffling the iron feet. Ordinarily Kaweah would not allow
me to lift his forefeet at all. The two blacksmiths who shod him had
done so at the peril of their lives, and whenever I had attempted to
pick up his hind feet he had warned me away by dangerous stamps; so I
approached him very timidly, and was surprised to find that he allowed
me to lift all four of his feet without the slightest objection. As I
stooped down he nosed me over, and nibbled playfully at my hat. In
constant dread lest he should make some noise, I hurried to muffle his
forefeet with my trousers and shirt, and then, with rather more care,
to tie upon his hind feet my coat and drawers.

Knowing nothing of the country ahead of me, and fearing that I might
again have to run for it, I determined at all cost to water him. Groping
about the corral and barn, and at last finding a bucket, and descending
through the darkness to the stream, I brought him a full draught, which
he swallowed eagerly, when I tied my shoes on the saddle pommel, and led
the horse slowly out of the corral gate, holding him firmly by the bit,
and feeling his nervous breath pour out upon my hand.

When we had walked perhaps a quarter of a mile, I stopped and listened.
All was quiet, the landscape lying bright and distinct in full
moonlight. I unbound the wrappings, shook from them as much dust as
possible, dressed myself, and then, mounting, started northward on the
Mariposa trail with cocked pistol.

In the soft dust we travelled noiselessly for a mile or so, passing from
open country into groves of oak and thickets of chaparral.

Without warning, I suddenly came upon a smouldering fire close by the
trail, and in the shadow descried two sleeping forms, one stretched on
his back, snoring heavily, the other lying upon his face, pillowing his
head upon folded arms.

I held my pistol aimed at one of the wretches, and rode by without
wakening them, guiding Kaweah in the thickest dust.

It keyed me up to a high pitch. I turned around in the saddle, leaving
Kaweah to follow the trail, and kept my eyes riveted on the sleeping
forms, until they were lost in distance, and then I felt safe.

We galloped over many miles of trail, enjoying a sunrise, and came at
last to Mariposa, where I deposited my gold, and then went to bed and
made up my lost sleep.



VII

AROUND YOSEMITE WALLS

1864


Late in the afternoon of October 5, 1864, a party of us reached the edge
of Yosemite, and, looking down into the valley, saw that the summer haze
had been banished from the region by autumnal frosts and wind. We looked
in the gulf through air as clear as a vacuum, discerning small objects
upon valley-floor and cliff-front. That splendid afternoon shadow which
divides the face of El Capitan was projected far up and across the
valley, cutting it in halves,--one a mosaic of russets and yellows with
dark pine and glimpse of white river; the other a cobalt-blue zone, in
which the familiar groves and meadows were suffused with shadow-tones.

It is hard to conceive a more pointed contrast than this same view in
October and June. Then, through a slumberous yet transparent atmosphere,
you look down upon emerald freshness of green, upon arrowy rush of
swollen river, and here and there, along pearly cliffs, as from the
clouds, tumbles white, silver dust of cataracts. The voice of full, soft
winds swells up over rustling leaves, and, pulsating, throbs like the
beating of far-off surf. All stern sublimity, all geological
terribleness, are veiled away behind magic curtains of cloud-shadow and
broken light. Misty brightness, glow of cliff and sparkle of foam,
wealth of beautiful details, the charm of pearl and emerald, cool gulfs
of violet shade stretching back in deep recesses of the walls,--these
are the features which lie under the June sky.

Now all that has gone. The shattered fronts of walls stand out sharp and
terrible, sweeping down in broken crag and cliff to a valley whereon the
shadow of autumnal death has left its solemnity. There is no longer an
air of beauty. In this cold, naked strength, one has crowded on him the
geological record of mountain work, of granite plateau suddenly rent
asunder, of the slow, imperfect manner in which Nature has vainly
striven to smooth her rough work and bury the ruins with thousands of
years’ accumulation of soil and _débris_.

Already late, we hurried to descend the trail, and were still following
it when darkness overtook us; but ourselves and the animals were so well
acquainted with every turn that we found no difficulty in continuing our
way to Longhurst’s house, and here we camped for the night.

By an act of Congress the Yosemite Valley had been segregated from the
public domain, and given--“donated,” as they call it--to the State of
California, to be held inalienable for all time as a public
pleasure-ground. The Commission into whose hands this trust devolved had
sent Mr. Gardiner and myself to make a survey defining the boundaries
of the new grant. It was necessary to execute this work before the
Legislature should meet in December, and we undertook it, knowing very
well that we must use the utmost haste in order to escape a three
months’ imprisonment,--for in early winter the immense Sierra snow-falls
would close the doors of mountain trails, and we should be unable to
reach the lowlands until the following spring.

The party consisted of my companion, Mr. Gardiner; Mr. Frederick A.
Clark, who had been detailed from the service of the Mariposa Company to
assist us; Longhurst, an _habitué_ of the valley,--a weather-beaten
round-the-worlder, whose function in the party was to tell yarns, sing
songs, and feed the inner man; Cotter and Wilmer, chainmen; and two
mules,--one which was blind, and the other which, I aver, would have
discharged his duty very much better without eyes.

We had chosen as the head-quarters of the survey two little cabins under
the pine-trees near Black’s Hotel. They were central; they offered a
shelter; and from their doors, which opened almost upon the Merced
itself, we obtained a most delightful sunrise view of the Yosemite.

Next morning, in spite of early outcries from Longhurst, and a warning
solo of his performed with spoon and fry-pan, we lay in our comfortable
blankets pretending to enjoy the effect of sunrise light upon the
Yosemite cliff and fall, all of us unwilling to own that we were tired
out and needed rest. Breakfast had waited an hour or more when we got a
little weary of beds and yielded to the temptation of appetite.

A family of Indians, consisting of two huge girls and their parents, sat
silently waiting for us to commence, and, after we had begun, watched
every mouthful from the moment we got it successfully impaled upon the
camp forks, a cloud darkening their faces as it disappeared forever down
our throats.

But we quite lost our spectators when Longhurst came upon the boards as
a flapjack-frier,--a _rôle_ to which he bent his whole intelligence, and
with entire success. Scorning such vulgar accomplishment as turning the
cake over in mid-air, he slung it boldly up, turning it three
times,--ostentatiously greasing the pan with a fine, centrifugal
movement, and catching the flapjack as it fluttered down,--and spanked
it upon the hot coals with a touch at once graceful and masterly.

I failed to enjoy these products, feeling as if I were breakfasting in
sacrilege upon works of art. Not so our Indian friends, who wrestled
affectionately for frequent unfortunate cakes which would dodge
Longhurst and fall into the ashes.

By night we had climbed to the top of the northern wall, camping at the
head-waters of a small brook, named by emotional Mr. Hutchings, I
believe, the Virgin’s Tears, because from time to time from under the
brow of a cliff just south of El Capitan there may be seen a feeble
water-fall. I suspect this sentimental pleasantry is intended to bear
some relation to the Bridal Veil Fall opposite. If it has any such force
at all, it is a melancholy one, given by unusual gauntness and an aged
aspect, and by the few evanescent tears which this old virgin sheds.

A charming camp-ground was formed by bands of russet meadow wandering in
vistas through a stately forest of dark green fir-trees unusually
feathered to the base. Little, mahogany-colored pools surrounded with
sphagnum lay in the meadows, offering pleasant contrast of color. Our
camp-ground was among clumps of thick firs, which completely walled in
the fire, and made close, overhanging shelters for table and beds.

Gardiner, Cotter, and I felt thankful to our thermometer for owning up
frankly the chill of the next morning, as we left a generous camp-fire
and marched off through fir forest and among brown meadows and bare
ridges of rock toward El Capitan. This grandest of granite precipices is
capped by a sort of forehead of stone sweeping down to level, severe
brows, which jut out a few feet over the edge. A few weather-beaten,
battle-twisted, and black pines cling in clefts, contrasting in force
with the solid white stone.

We hung our barometer upon a stunted tree quite near the brink, and,
climbing cautiously down, stretched ourselves out upon an overhanging
block of granite, and looked over into the Yosemite Valley.

The rock fell under us in one sheer sweep of thirty-two hundred feet;
upon its face we could trace the lines of fracture and all prominent
lithological changes. Directly beneath, outspread like a delicately
tinted chart, lay the lovely park of Yosemite, winding in and out about
the solid white feet of precipices which sank into it on either side;
its sunlit surface invaded by the shadow of the south wall; its spires
of pine, open expanses of buff and drab meadow, and families of umber
oaks rising as background for the vivid green river-margin and flaming
orange masses of frosted cottonwood foliage.

Deep in front the Bridal Veil brook made its way through the bottom of
an open gorge, and plunged off the edge of a thousand-foot cliff,
falling in white water-dust and drifting in pale, translucent clouds out
over the tree-tops of the valley.

Directly opposite us, and forming the other gatepost of the valley’s
entrance, rose the great mass of Cathedral Rocks,--a group quite
suggestive of the Florence Duomo.

But our grandest view was eastward, above the deep, sheltered valley and
over the tops of those terrible granite walls, out upon rolling ridges
of stone and wonderful granite domes. Nothing in the whole list of
irruptive products, except volcanoes themselves, is so wonderful as
these domed mountains. They are of every variety of conoidal form,
having horizontal sections accurately elliptical, ovoid, or circular,
and profiles varying from such semi-circles as the cap behind the
Sentinel to the graceful, infinite curves of the North Dome. Above and
beyond these stretch back long, bare ridges connecting with sunny summit
peaks. The whole region is one solid granite mass, with here and there
shallow soil layers, and a thin, variable forest which grows in
picturesque mode, defining the leading lines of erosion as an artist
deepens here and there a line to hint at some structural peculiarity.

A complete physical exposure of the range, from summit to base, lay
before us. At one extreme stand sharpened peaks, white in fretwork of
glistening icebank, or black where tower straight bolts of snowless
rock; at the other stretch away plains smiling with a broad, honest
brown under autumn sunlight. They are not quite lovable, even in distant
tranquillity of hue, and just escape being interesting, in spite of
their familiar rivers and associated belts of oaks. Nothing can ever
render them quite charming, for in the startling splendor of flower-clad
April you are surfeited with an embarrassment of beauty; at all other
times stunned by their poverty. Not so the summits; forever new, full of
individuality, rich in detail, and coloring themselves anew under every
cloud change or hue of heaven, they lay you under their spell.

From them the eye comes back over granite waves and domes to the sharp
precipice-edges overhanging Yosemite. We look down those vast, hard,
granite fronts, cracked and splintered, scarred and stained, down over
gorges crammed with _débris_, or dark with files of climbing pines.
Lower the precipice-feet are wrapped in meadow and grove, and beyond,
level and sunlit, lies the floor,--that smooth, river-cut park, with
exquisite perfection of finish.

The dome-like cap of Capitan is formed of concentric layers like the
peels of an onion, each one about two or three feet thick. Upon the
precipice itself, either from our station on an overhanging crevice, or
from any point of opposite cliff or valley bottom, this structure is
seen to be superficial, never descending more than a hundred feet.

In returning to camp we followed a main ridge, smooth and white under
foot, but shaded by groves of alpine firs. Trees which here reach mature
stature, and in apparent health, stand rooted in white gravel, resulting
from surface decomposition. I am sure their foliage is darker than can
be accounted for by effect of white contrasting earth. Wherever, in deep
depressions, enough wash soil and vegetable mould have accumulated,
there the trees gather in thicker groups, lift themselves higher, spread
out more and finer-feathered branches; sometimes, however, richness of
soil and perfection of condition prove fatal through overcrowding. They
are wonderfully like human communities. One may trace in an hour’s walk
nearly all the laws which govern the physical life of men.

Upon reaching camp we found Longhurst in a deep, religious calm, happy
in his mind, happy, too, in the posture of his body, which was reclining
at ease upon a comfortable blanket-pile before the fire; a verse of the
hymn “Coronation” escaped murmurously from his lips, rising at times in
shaky crescendos, accompanied by a waving and desultory movement of the
forefinger. He had found among our medicines a black bottle of brandy,
contrived to induce a mule to break it, and, just to save as much as
possible while it was leaking, drank with freedom. Anticipating any
possible displeasure of ours, Longhurst had collected his wits and
arrived at a most excellent dinner, crowning the repast with a duff,
accurately globular, neatly brecciated with abundant raisins, and
drowned with a foaming sauce, to which the last of the brandy imparted
an almost pathetic flavor.

The evening closed with moral remark and spiritual song from Longhurst,
and the morning introduced us to our prosaic labor of running the
boundary line,--a task which consumed several weeks, and occupied nearly
all of our days. I once or twice found time to go down to the
cliff-edges again for the purpose of making my geological studies.

An excursion which Cotter and I made to the top of the Three Brothers
proved of interest. A half-hour’s walk from camp, over rolling granite
country, brought us to a ridge which jutted boldly out from the plateau
to the edge of the Yosemite wall. Upon the southern side of this
eminence heads a broad, _débris_-filled ravine, which descends to the
valley bottom; upon the other side the ridge sends down its waters along
a steep declivity into a lovely mountain basin, where, surrounded by
forest, spreads out a level expanse of emerald meadow, with a bit of
blue lakelet in the midst. The outlet of this little valley is through a
narrow rift in the rocks leading down into the Yosemite fall.

Along the crest of our jutting ridge we found smooth pathway, and soon
reached the summit. Here again we were upon the verge of a precipice,
this time four thousand two hundred feet high. Beneath us the whole
upper half of the valley was as clearly seen as the southern half had
been from Capitan. The sinuosities of the Merced, those narrow, silvery
gleams which indicated the channel of the Yosemite creek, the broad
expanse of meadow, and _débris_ trains which had bounded down the
Sentinel slope, were all laid out under us, though diminished by immense
depth.

The loftiest and most magnificent parts of the walls crowded in a
semi-circle in front of us; above them the domes, lifted even higher
than ourselves, swept down to the precipice-edges. Directly to our left
we overlooked the goblet-like recess into which the Yosemite tumbles,
and could see the white torrent leap through its granite lip,
disappearing a thousand feet below, hidden from our view by projecting
crags; its roar floating up to us, now resounding loudly, and again
dying off in faint reverberations like the sounding of the sea.

Looking up upon the falls from the valley below, one utterly fails to
realize the great depth of the semi-circular alcove into which they
descend.

Looking back at El Capitan, its sharp, vertical front was projected
against far blue foot-hills, the creamy whiteness of sunlit granite cut
upon aërial distance, clouds and cold blue sky shutting down over white
crest and jetty pine-plumes, which gather helmet-like upon its upper
dome. Perspective effects are marvellously brought out by the stern,
powerful reality of such rock bodies as Capitan. Across their terrible,
blade-like precipice-edges you look on and down over vistas of cañon and
green hillswells, the dark color of pine and fir broken by bare spots of
harmonious red or brown, and changing with distance into purple, then
blue, which reaches on farther into the brown monotonous plains. Beyond,
where the earth’s curve defines its horizon, dim serrations of Coast
Range loom indistinctly on the hazy air. From here those remarkable
fracture results, the Royal Arches, a series of recesses carved into the
granite front, beneath the North Dome, are seen in their true
proportions.

The concentric structure, which covers the dome with a series of plates,
penetrates to a greater depth than usual. The Arches themselves are
only fractured edges of these plates, resulting from the intersection
of a cliff-plane with the conoidal shells.

We had seen the Merced group of snow-peaks heretofore from the west, but
now gained a more oblique view, which began to bring out the thin
obelisk-form of Mount Clark, a shape of great interest from its
marvellous thinness. Mount Starr King, too, swelled up to its commanding
height, the most elevated of the domes.

Looking in the direction of the Half-Dome, I was constantly impressed
with the inclination of the walls, with the fact that they are never
vertical for any great depth. This is observed, too, remarkably in the
case of El Capitan, whose apparently vertical profile is very slant, the
actual base standing twelve hundred feet in advance of the brow.

For a week the boundary survey was continued northeast and parallel to
the cliff-wall, about a mile back from its brink, following through
forests and crossing granite spurs until we reached the summit of that
high, bare chain which divides the Virgin’s Tears from Yosemite Creek,
and which, projecting southward, ends in the Three Brothers. East of
this the declivity falls so rapidly to the valley of the upper Yosemite
Creek that chaining was impossible, and we were obliged to throw our
line across the cañon, a little over a mile, by triangulation. This
completed, we resumed it on the North Dome spur, transferring our camp
to a bit of alpine meadow south of the Mono trail, and but a short
distance from the North Dome itself.

After the line was finished here, and a system of triangles determined
by which we connected our northern points with those across the chasm of
the Yosemite, we made several geological excursions along the cliffs,
studying the granite structure, working out its lithological changes,
and devoting ourselves especially to the system of moraines and glacier
marks which indicate direction and volume of the old ice-flow.

An excursion to the summit of the North Dome was exceedingly
interesting. From the rear of our camp we entered immediately a dense
forest of conifers, which stretched southward along the summit of the
ridge until solid granite, arresting erosion, afforded but little
foothold. As usual, among the cracks, and clinging around the bases of
bowlders, a few hardy pines manage to live, almost to thrive; but as we
walked groups became scarcer, trees less healthy, all at last giving way
to bare, solid stone. The North Dome itself, which is easily reached,
affords an impressive view up the Illilluette and across upon the
fissured front of the Half-Dome. It is also one of the most interesting
specimens of conoidal structure, since not only is its mass divided by
large, spherical shells, but each of these is subdivided by a number of
lesser, divisional planes. No lithological change is, however,
noticeable between the different shells. The granite is composed
chiefly of orthoclase, transparent vitreous quartz, and about an equal
proportion of black mica and hornblende. Here and there adularia occurs,
and, very sparingly, albite.

With no difficulty, but some actual danger, I climbed down a smooth
granite roof-slope to where the precipice of Royal Arches makes off, and
where, lying upon a sharp, neatly fractured edge, I was able to look
down and study those purple markings which are vertically striped upon
so many of these granite cliffs. I found them to be bands of lichen
growth which follow the curves of occasional water-flow. During any
great rain-storm, and when snow upon the uplands is suddenly melted,
innumerable streams, many of them of considerable volume, find their way
to the precipice-edge, and pour down its front. Wherever this is the
case, a deep purple lichen spreads itself upon the granite, and forms
those dark cloudings which add so greatly to the variety and interest of
the cliffs.

I found it extremest pleasure to lie there alone on the dizzy brink,
studying the fine sculpture of cliff and crag, overlooking the
arrangement of _débris_ piles, and watching that slow, grand growth of
afternoon shadows. Sunset found me there, still disinclined to stir, and
repaid my laziness by a glorious spectacle of color. At this hour there
is no more splendid contrast of light and shade than one sees upon the
western gateway itself,--dark-shadowed Capitan upon one side profiled
against the sunset sky, and the yellow mass of Cathedral Rocks rising
opposite in full light, while the valley is divided equally between
sunshine and shade. Pine groves and oaks, almost black in the shadow,
are brightened up to clear red-browns where they pass out upon the
lighted plain. The Merced, upon its mirror-like expanses, here reflects
deep blue from Capitan, and there the warm Cathedral gold. The last
sunlight reflected from some curious, smooth surfaces upon rocks east of
the Sentinel, and about a thousand feet above the valley. I at once
suspected them to be glacier marks, and booked them for further
observation.

My next excursion was up to Mount Hoffmann, among a group of
snow-fields, whose drainage gathers at last through lakes and brooklets
to a single brook (the Yosemite), and flows twelve miles in a broad arc
to its plunge over into the valley. From the summit, which is of a
remarkably bedded, conoidal mass of granite, sharply cut down in
precipices fronting the north, is obtained a broad, commanding view of
the Sierras from afar, by the heads of several San Joaquin branches, up
to the ragged volcanic piles about Silver Mountain.

From the top I climbed along slopes, and down by a wide _détour_ among
frozen snow-banks and many little basins of transparent blue water, amid
black shapes of stunted fir, and over the confused wreck of rock and
tree-trunk thrown rudely in piles by avalanches whose tracks were fresh
enough to be of interest.

Upon reaching the bottom of a broad, open glacier-valley, through whose
middle flows the Yosemite Creek and its branches, I was surprised to
find the streams nearly all dry; that the snow itself, under influence
of cold, was a solid ice mass, and the Yosemite Creek, even after I had
followed it down for miles, had entirely ceased to flow. At intervals
the course of the stream was carried over slopes of glacier-worn
granite, ending almost uniformly in shallow rock basins, where were
considerable ponds of water, in one or two instances expanding to the
dignity of lakelets.

The valley describes an arc whose convexity is in the main turned to the
west, the stream running nearly due west for about four miles, turning
gradually to the southward, and, having crossed the Mono trail, bending
again to the southeast, after which it discharges over the verge of the
cliff. An average breadth of this valley is about half a mile; its form
a shallow, elliptical trough, rendered unusually smooth by the erosive
action of old glaciers. _Roches moutonnées_ break its surface here and
there, but in general the granite has been planed down into remarkable
smoothness. All along its course a varying rubbish of angular bowlders
has been left by the retiring ice, whose material, like that of the
whole country, is of granite; but I recognized prominently black
sienitic granite from the summit of Mount Hoffmann, which, from superior
hardness, has withstood disintegration, and is perhaps the most
frequent material of glacier-blocks. The surface modelling is often of
the most finished type; especially is this the case wherever the granite
is highly silicious, its polish becoming then as brilliant as a marble
mantel. In very feldspathic portions, and particularly where orthoclase
predominates, the polished surface becomes a crust, usually about
three-quarters of an inch thick, in which the ordinary appearance of the
minerals has been somewhat changed, the rock-surface, by long pressure,
rendered extremely dense, and in a measure separated from the underlying
material. This smooth crust is constantly breaking off in broad flakes.
The polishing extended up the valley sides to a height of about seven
hundred feet.

The average section of the old glacier was perhaps six hundred feet
thick by half a mile in width. I followed its course from Mount Hoffmann
down as far as I could ride, and then, tying my horse only a little way
from the brink of the cliff, I continued downward on foot, walking upon
the dry stream-bed. I found here and there a deep pit-hole, sometimes
twenty feet deep, carved in mid-channel, and often full of water. Just
before reaching the cliff verge the stream enters a narrow, sharp cut
about one hundred and twenty feet in depth, and probably not over thirty
feet wide. The bottom and sides of this granite lip, here and there, are
evidently glacier-polished, but the greater part of the scorings have
been worn away by the attrition of sands. A peculiar, brilliant polish,
which may be seen there to-day, is wholly the result of recent sand
friction.

It was noon when I reached the actual lip, and crept with extreme
caution down over smooth, rounded granite, between towering walls, to
where the Yosemite Fall makes its wonderful leap. Polished rock curved
over too dangerously for me to lean out and look down over the
cliff-front itself. A stone gate dazzlingly gilded with sunlight formed
the frame through which I looked down upon that lovely valley.

Contrast with the strength of yellow rock and severe adamantine
sculpture threw over the landscape beyond a strange unreality, a soft,
aërial depth of purple tone quite as new to me as it was beautiful
beyond description. There, twenty-six hundred feet below, lay meadow and
river, oak and pine, and a broad shadow-zone cast by the opposite wall.
Over it all, even through the dark sky overhead, there seemed to be
poured some absolute color, some purple air, hiding details, and veiling
with its soft, amethystine obscurity all that hard, broken roughness of
the Sentinel cliffs. In this strange, vacant, stone corridor, this
pathway for the great Yosemite torrent, this sounding-gallery of
thunderous tumult, it was a strange sensation to stand, looking in vain
for a drop of water, listening vainly, too, for the faintest whisper of
sound, and I found myself constantly expecting some sign of the
returning flood.

From the lip I climbed a high point just to the east, getting a grand
view down the cliff, where a broad, purple band defined the Yosemite
spray line. There, too, I found unmistakable ice-striæ, showing that the
glacier of Mount Hoffmann had actually poured over the brink. At the
moments of such discovery, one cannot help restoring in imagination
pictures of the past. When we stand by river-bank or meadow of that fair
valley, looking up at the torrent falling bright under fulness of light,
and lovely in its graceful, wind-swayed airiness, we are apt to feel its
enchantment; but how immeasurably grander must it have been when the
great, living, moving glacier, with slow, invisible motion, crowded its
huge body over the brink, and launched blue ice-blocks down through the
foam of the cataract into that gulf of wild rocks and eddying mist!

The one-eyed mule, Bonaparte, I found tied where I had left him; and, as
usual, I approached him upon his blind side, able thus to get
successfully into my saddle, without danger to life or limb. I could
never become attached to the creature, although he carried me faithfully
many difficult and some dangerous miles, and for the reason that he made
a pretext of his half-blindness to commit excesses, such as crowding me
against trees and refusing to follow trails. Realizing how terrible
under reinforcement of hereditary transmission the peculiarly mulish
traits would have become, one is more than thankful to Nature for
depriving this singular hybrid of the capacity of handing them down.

Rather tired, and not a little bruised by untimely collision with trees,
I succeeded at last in navigating Bonaparte safely to camp, and turning
him over to his fellow, Pumpkinseed.

The nights were already very cold, our beds on frozen ground none of the
most comfortable; in fact, enthusiasm had quite as much to do with our
content as the blankets or Longhurst’s culinary art, which, enclosed now
by the narrow limit of bacon, bread, and beans, failed to produce such
dainties as thrice-turned slapjacks or plum-duffs of solemnizing memory.

One more geological trip finished my examination of this side of the
great valley. It was a two days’ ramble all over the granite ridges,
from the North Dome up to Lake Tenaya, during which I gathered ample
evidence that a broad sheet of glacier, partly derived from Mount
Hoffmann, and in part from the Mount Watkins Ridge and Cathedral Peak,
but mainly from the great Tuolumne glacier, gathered and flowed down
into the Yosemite Valley. Where it moved over the cliffs there are
well-preserved scarrings. The facts which attest this are open to
observation, and seem to me important in making up a statement of past
conditions.

We were glad to get back at last to our two little cabins in the valley,
although our serio-comic hangers-on, the Diggers, were gone, and the
great fall was dry.

A rest of one day proved refreshing enough for us to leave camp and
ascend by the Mariposa trail to Meadow Brook, where we made a bivouac,
from which Gardiner began his southern boundary line, and I renewed my
geological studies east of Inspiration Point.

I always go swiftly by this famous point of view now, feeling somehow
that I don’t belong to that army of literary travellers who have here
planted themselves and burst into rhetoric. Here all who make California
books, down to the last and most sentimental specimen who so much as
meditates a letter to his or her local paper, dismount and inflate. If
those firs could recite half the droll _mots_ they have listened to, or
if I dared tell half the delicious points I treasure, it would sound
altogether too amusing among these dry-enough chapters.

I had always felt a desire to examine Bridal Veil cañon and the
southwest Cathedral slope. Accordingly, one fine morning I set out
alone, and descended through chaparral and over rough _débris_ slopes to
the stream, which at this time, unlike the other upland brooks, flowed
freely, though with far less volume than in summer. At this altitude
only such streams as derive their volume wholly from melting snow dry up
in the cold autumnal and winter months; spring-fed brooks hold their
own, and rather increase as cold weather advances.

It was a wild gorge down which I tramped, following the stream-bed,
often jumping from block to block, or letting myself down by the
chaparral boughs that overhung my way. Splendid walls on either side
rose steep and high, for the most part bare, but here and there on shelf
or crevice bearing clusters of fine conifers, their lower slopes one
vast wreck of bowlders and thicket of chaparral plants.

Not without some difficulty I at length got to the brink, and sat down
to rest, looking over at the valley, whose meadows were only a thousand
feet below; a cool, stirring breeze blew up the Merced Cañon, swinging
the lace-like scarf of foam which fell from my feet, and, floating now
against the purple cliff, again blew out gracefully to the right or
left. While I looked, a gust came roaming round the Cathedral Rocks,
impinging against our cliff near the fall, and apparently got in between
it and the cliff, carrying the whole column of falling water straight
out in a streamer through the air.

I went back to camp by way of the Cathedral Rocks, finding much of
interest in the conoidal structure, which is yet perfectly apparent, and
unobscured by erosion or the terrible splitting asunder they have
suffered. Upon a ridge connecting these rocks with the plateaus just
south there were many instructive and delightful points of view,
especially the crag just above the Cathedral Spires, from which I
overlooked a large part of valley and cliff, with the two sharp, slender
minarets of granite close beneath me. That great block forming the
plateau between the Yosemite and Illilluette cañons afforded a fine
field for studying granite, pine, and many remarkably characteristic
views of the gorge below and peaks beyond. From our camp I explored
every ravine and climbed each eminence, reaching at last, one fine
afternoon, the top of that singular, hemispherical mass, the Sentinel
Dome. From this point one sweeps the horizon in all directions. You
stand upon the crest of half a globe, whose smooth, white sides, bearing
here and there stunted pines, slope away regularly in all directions
from your feet. Below, granite masses, blackened here and there with
densely clustered forest, stretch through varied undulations toward you.
At a little distance from the foot of the Half-Dome, trees hold upon
sharp brinks, and precipices plunge off into Yosemite upon one side, and
the dark, rocky cañon of Illilluette upon the other. Eastward, soaring
into clouds, stands the thin, vertical mass of the Half-Dome.

From this view the snowy peak of the Obelisk, flattened into broad,
dome-like outline, rises, shutting out the more distant Sierra summits.
This peak, from its peculiar position and thin, tower-like form, offers
one of the most tempting summits of the region. From that slender top
one might look into the Yosemite, and into that basin of ice and granite
between the Merced and Mount Lyell groups. I had longed for it through
the last month’s campaign, and now made up my mind, with this inspiring
view, to attempt it at all hazards.

A little way to the east, and about a thousand feet below the brink of
the Glacier Point, the crags appeared to me particularly tempting; so
in the late afternoon I descended, walking over a rough, gritty surface
of granite, which gave me secure foothold. Upon the very edge the
immense, splintered rocks lay piled one upon another; here a mass
jutting out and overhanging upon the edge, and here a huge slab pointed
out like a barbette gun. I crawled out upon one of these projecting
blocks and rested myself, while studying the view.

From here the one very remarkable object is the Half-Dome. You see it
now edgewise and in sharp profile, the upper half of the conoid fronting
the north with a sharp, sheer, fracture-face of about two thousand feet
vertical. From the top of this a most graceful helmet curve sweeps over
to the south, and descends almost perpendicularly into the valley of the
Little Yosemite; and here from the foot springs up the block of Mount
Broderick,--a single, rough-hewn pyramid, three thousand feet from
summit to base, trimmed upon its crest with a few pines, and spreading
out its southern base into a precipice, over which plunges the white
Nevada torrent. Observation had taught me that a glacier flowed over the
Yosemite brink. As I looked over now I could see its shallow valley and
the ever-rounded rocks over which it crowded itself and tumbled into the
icy valley below. Up the Yosemite gorge, which opened straight before
me, I knew that another great glacier had flowed; and also that the
valley of the Illilluette and the Little Yosemite had been the bed of
rivers of ice; a study, too, of the markings upon the glacier cliff
above Hutchings’s house had convinced me that a glacier no less than a
thousand feet deep had flowed through the valley, occupying its entire
bottom.

It was impossible for me, as I sat perched upon this jutting rock mass,
in full view of all the cañons which had led into this wonderful
converging system of ice-rivers, not to imagine a picture of the glacier
period. Bare or snow-laden cliffs overhung the gulf; streams of ice,
here smooth and compacted into a white plain, there riven into
innumerable crevasses, or tossed into forms like the waves of a
tempest-lashed sea, crawled through all the gorges. Torrents of water
and avalanches of rock and snow spouted at intervals all along the cliff
walls. Not a tree nor a vestige of life was in sight, except far away
upon ridges below, or out upon the dimly expanding plain. Granite and
ice and snow, silence broken only by the howling tempest and the crash
of falling ice or splintered rock, and a sky deep freighted with cloud
and storm,--these were the elements of a period which lasted
immeasurably long, and only in comparatively the most recent geological
times have given way to the present marvellously changed condition.
Nature in her present aspects, as well as in the records of her past,
here constantly offers the most vivid and terrible contrasts. Can
anything be more wonderfully opposite than that period of leaden sky,
gray granite, and desolate stretches of white, and the present, when of
the old order we have only left the solid framework of granite, and the
indelible inscriptions of glacier work? To-day their burnished pathways
are legibly traced with the history of the past. Every ice-stream is
represented by a feeble river, every great glacier cascade by a torrent
of white foam dashing itself down rugged walls, or spouting from the
brinks of upright cliffs. The very avalanche tracks are darkened by
clustered woods, and over the level pathway of the great Yosemite
glacier itself is spread a park of green, a mosaic of forest, a thread
of river.



VIII

A SIERRA STORM


From every commanding eminence around the Yosemite no distant object
rises with more inspiring greatness than the Obelisk of Mount Clark.
Seen from the west it is a high, isolated peak, having a dome-like
outline very much flattened upon its west side, the precipice sinking
deeply down to an old glacier ravine. From the north this peak is a
slender, single needle, jutting two thousand feet from a rough-hewn
pedestal of rocks and snow-fields. Forest-covered heights rise to its
base from east and west. To the south it falls into a deep saddle, which
rises again, after a level outline of a mile, sweeping up in another
noble granite peak. On the north the spur drops abruptly down,
overhanging an edge of the great Merced gorge, its base buried beneath
an accumulation of morainal matter deposited by ancient Merced glaciers.
From the region of Mount Hoffmann, looming in most impressive isolation,
its slender needle-like summit had long fired us with ambition; and,
having finished my agreeable climb round the Yosemite walls, I concluded
to visit the mountain with Cotter, and, if the weather should permit, to
attempt a climb. We packed our two mules with a week’s provisions and a
single blanket each, and on the tenth of November left our friends at
the head-quarter’s camp in Yosemite Valley and rode out upon the
Mariposa trail, reaching the plateau by noon. Having passed Meadow
Brook, we left the path and bore off in the direction of Mount Clark,
spending the afternoon in riding over granite ridges and open stretches
of frozen meadow, where the ground was all hard, and the grass entirely
cropped off by numerous herds of sheep that had ranged here during the
summer. The whole earth was bare, and rang under our mules’ hoofs almost
as clearly as the granite itself.

We camped for the night on one of the most eastern affluents of Bridal
Veil Creek, and were careful to fill our canteens before the bitter
night-chill should freeze it over. By our camp was a pile of pine logs
swept together by some former tempest; we lighted them, and were quickly
saluted by a magnificent bonfire. The animals were tied within its ring
of warmth, and our beds laid where the rain of sparks could not reach.
As we were just going to sleep, our mules pricked up their ears and
looked into the forest. We sprang to our feet, picked up our pistols,
expecting an Indian or a grizzly, but were surprised to see, riding out
of the darkness, a lonely mountaineer, mounted upon a little mustang,
carrying his long rifle across the saddle-bow. He came directly to our
camp-fire, and, without uttering a word, slowly and with great effort
swung himself out of his saddle and walked close to the flames, leaving
his horse, which remained motionless, where he had reined him in. I saw
that the man was nearly frozen to death, and immediately threw my
blanket over his shoulders. The water in our camp kettle was still hot,
and Cotter made haste to draw a pot of tea, while I broiled a slice of
beef and pressed him to eat. He, however, shook his head and maintained
a persistent silence, until at length, after turning round and round
until I could have thought him done to a turn, in a very feeble, broken
voice he ejaculated, “I was pretty near gone in, stranger!” Again I
pressed him to drink a cup of tea, but he feebly answered, “Not yet.”
After roasting for half an hour, in which I fully expected to see his
coat-tail smoke, he sat down and drank about two quarts of tea. This had
the effect of thawing him out, and he remembered that his horse was
still saddled and very hungry. He told us that neither he nor the animal
had had anything to eat for three days, and that he was pushing
hopelessly westward, expecting either the giving out of his horse, or
death by freezing. We took the saddle from his tired little mustang,
spread the saddle-blanket over his back, and from the scanty supply of
grain we had brought for our own animals gave him a tolerable supper. It
is wonderful how in hours of danger and privation the horse clings to
his human friend. Perfectly tame, perfectly trusting, he throws the
responsibility of his care and life upon his rider; and it is not the
least pathetic among our mountain experiences to see this patient
confidence continue until death. Observing that the logs were likely to
burn freely all night, we divided our blankets with the mountaineer, and
Cotter and I turned in together. In the morning our new friend had
entirely recovered from his numb, stupid condition. Recognizing at a
glance his whereabouts, and thanking us feelingly for our rough
hospitality, he headed toward the Mariposa trail, with quite an
affecting good-by.

After breakfast we ourselves mounted and rode up a long, forest-covered
spur leading to the summit of a granite divide, which we crossed at a
narrow pass between two steep cliffs, and descended its eastern slope in
full view of the whole Merced group. This long abrupt descent in front
of us led to the Illilluette Creek, and directly opposite, on the other
side of the trough-like valley, rose the high sharp summit of Mount
Clark. We were all day in crossing and riding up the crest of a sharply
curved medial moraine which traced itself from the mountain south of
Mount Clark in a long, parabolic curve, dying out at last in the bottom
of the Illilluette basin. The moraine was one of the most perfect I have
ever seen; its smooth, graded summit rose as regularly as a railway
embankment, and seemed to be formed altogether of irregular bowlders
piled securely together and cemented by a thick deposit of granitic
glacier-dust. Late in the afternoon we had reached its head, where the
two converging glaciers of Mount Clark and Mount Kyle had joined,
clasping a rugged promontory of granite. To our left, in a depression of
the forest-covered basin, lay a little patch of meadow wholly surrounded
by dense groups of alpine trees, which grew in clusters of five and six,
apparently from one root. A little stream from the Obelisk snows fell in
a series of shallow cascades by the meadow’s margin. We jumped across
the brook and went into camp, tethering the mules close by us. One of
the great charms of high mountain camps is their very domestic nature.
Your animals are picketed close by the kitchen, your beds are between
the two, and the water and the wood are always in most comfortable
apposition.

For the first time in many months a mild, moist wind sprang up from the
south, and with it came slowly creeping over the sky a dull, leaden bank
of ominous-looking cloud. Since April we had had no storm. The
perpetually cloudless sky had banished all thought, almost memory, of
foul weather; but winter tempests had already held off remarkably, and
we knew that at any moment they might set in, and in twenty-four hours
render the plateaus impassable. It was with some anxiety that I closed
my eyes that night, and, sleeping lightly, often awoke as a freshening
wind moved the pines. At dawn we were up, and observed that a dark,
heavy mass of storm-cloud covered the whole sky, and had settled down
over the Obelisk, wrapping even the show-fields at its base in gray
folds. The entire peak was lost, except now and then, when the torn
vapors parted for a few moments and disclosed its sharp summit, whitened
by new-fallen snow. A strange moan filled the air. The winds howled
pitilessly over the rocks, and swept in deafening blasts through the
pines. It was my duty to saddle up directly and flee for the Yosemite;
but I am naturally an optimist, a sort of geological Micawber, so I
dodged my duty, and determined to give the weather every opportunity for
a clear-off. Accordingly, we remained in camp all day, studying the
minerals of the granite as the thickly strewn bowlders gave us material.
At nightfall I climbed a little rise back of our meadow, and looked out
over the basin of Illilluette and up in the direction of the Obelisk.
Now and then the parting clouds opened a glimpse of the mountain, and
occasionally an unusual blast of wind blew away the deeply settled
vapors from the cañon to westward; but each time they closed in more
threateningly, and before I descended to camp the whole land was
obscured in the cloud which settled densely down.

The mules had made themselves comfortable with a repast of rich
mountain-grasses, which, though slightly frosted, still retained much of
their original juice and nutriment. We ourselves made a deep inroad on
the supply of provisions, and, after chatting awhile by the firelight,
went to bed, taking the precaution to pile our effects carefully
together, covering them with an india-rubber blanket. Our bivouac was
in the middle of a cluster of firs, quite well protected overhead, but
open to the sudden gusts which blew roughly hither and thither. By nine
o’clock the wind died away altogether, and in a few moments a thick
cloud of snow was falling. We had gone to bed together, pulled the
blankets as a cover over our heads, and in a few moments fell into a
heavy sleep. Once or twice in the night I woke with a slight sense of
suffocation, and cautiously lifted the blanket over my head, but each
time found it growing heavier and heavier with a freight of snow. In the
morning we awoke quite early, and, pushing back the blanket, found that
we had been covered by about a foot and a half of snow. The poor mules
had approached us to the limit of their rope, and stood within a few
feet of our beds, anxiously waiting our first signs of life.

We hurried to breakfast, and hastily putting on the saddles, and
wrapping ourselves from head to foot in our blankets, mounted and
started for the crest of the moraine. I had taken the precaution to make
a little sketch-map in my note-book, with the compass directions of our
march from the Yosemite, and we had now the difficult task of retracing
our steps in a storm so blinding and fierce that we could never see more
than a rod in advance. But for the regular form of the moraine, with
whose curve we were already familiar, I fear we must have lost our way
in the real labyrinth of glaciated rocks which covered the whole
Illilluette basin. Snow blew in every direction, filling our eyes and
blinding the poor mules, who often turned quickly from some sudden gust,
and refused to go on. It was a cruel necessity, but we spurred them
inexorably forward, guiding them to the right and left to avoid rocks
and trees which, in their blindness, they were constantly threatening to
strike. Warmly rolled in our blankets, we suffered little from cold, but
the driving sleet and hail very soon bruised our cheeks and eyelids most
painfully. It required real effort of will to face the storm, and we
very soon learned to take turns in breaking trail. The snow constantly
balled upon our animals’ feet, and they slid in every direction. Now and
then, in descending a sharp slope of granite, the poor creatures would
get sliding, and rush to the bottom, their legs stiffened out, and their
heads thrust forward in fear. After crossing the Illilluette, which we
did at our old ford, we found it very difficult to climb the long, steep
hillside; for the mules were quite unable to carry us, obliging us to
lead them, and to throw ourselves upon the snow-drifts to break a
pathway.

This slope almost wore us out, and when at last we reached its summit,
we threw ourselves upon the snow for a rest, but were in such a profuse
perspiration that I deemed it unsafe to lie there for a moment, and,
getting up again, we mounted the mules and rode slowly on toward open
plateaus near great meadows. The snow gradually decreased in depth as we
descended upon the plain directly south of the Yosemite. The wind
abated somewhat, and there were only occasional snow flurries, between
half-hours of tolerable comfort. Constant use of the compass and
reference to my little map at length brought us to the Mariposa trail,
but not until after eight hours of anxious, exhaustive labor--anxious
from the constant dread of losing our way in the blinding confusion of
storm; exhausting, for we had more than half of the way acted as
trail-breakers, dragging our frightened and tired brutes after us. The
poor creatures instantly recognized the trail, and started in a brisk
trot toward Inspiration Point. Suddenly an icy wind swept up the valley,
carrying with it a storm of snow and hail. The wind blew with such
violence that the whole freight of sleet and ice was carried
horizontally with fearful swiftness, cutting the bruised faces of the
mules, and giving our own eyelids exquisite torture. The brutes refused
to carry us farther. We were obliged to dismount and drive them before
us, beating them constantly with clubs.

Fighting our way against this bitter blast, half-blinded by hard,
wind-driven snow-crystals, we at last gave up and took refuge in a dense
clump of firs which crown the spur by Inspiration Point. Our poor mules
cowered under shelter with us, and turned tail to the storm. The
fir-trees were solid cones of snow, which now and then unloaded
themselves when severely bent by a sudden gust, half burying us in dry,
white powder. Wind roared below us in the Yosemite gorge; it blew from
the west, rolling up in waves which smote the cliffs, and surged on up
the valley. While we sat still the drifts began to pile up at our backs;
the mules were belly-deep, and our situation began to be serious.

Looking over the cliff-brink we saw but the hurrying snow, and only
heard a confused tumult of wind. A steady increase in the severity of
the gale made us fear that the trees might crash down over us; so we
left the mules and crept cautiously over the edge of the cliff, and
ensconced ourselves in a sheltered nook, protected by walls of rock
which rose at our back.

We were on the brink of the Yosemite, and but for snow might have looked
down three thousand feet. The storm eddied below us, sucking down
whirlwinds of snow, and sometimes opening deep rifts,--never enough,
however, to disclose more than a few hundred feet of cliffs.

We had been in this position about an hour, half frozen and soaked
through, when I at length gathered conscience enough to climb back and
take a look at our brutes. The forlorn pair were frosted over with a
thick coating, their pitiful eyes staring eagerly at me. I had half a
mind to turn them loose, but, considering that their obstinate nature
might lead them back to our Obelisk camp, I patted their noses, and
climbed back to the shelf by Cotter, determined to try it for a quarter
of an hour more, when, if the tempest did not lull, I thought we must
press on and face the snow for an hour more, while we tramped down to
the valley.

Suddenly there came a lull in the storm; its blinding fury of snow and
wind ceased. Overhead, still hurrying eastward, the white bank drove on,
unveiling, as it fled, the Yosemite walls, plateau, and every object to
the eastward as far as Mount Clark. As yet the valley bottom was
obscured by a layer of mist and cloud, which rose to the height of about
a thousand feet, submerging cliff-foot and _débris_ pile. Between these
strata, the cloud above and the cloud below, every object was in clear,
distinct view; the sharp, terrible fronts of precipices, capped with a
fresh cover of white, plunged down into the still, gray river of cloud
below, their stony surfaces clouded with purple, salmon-color, and
bandings of brown,--all hues unnoticeable in every-day lights. Forest,
and crag, and plateau, and distant mountain were snow-covered to a
uniform whiteness; only the dark gorge beneath us showed the least
traces of color. There all was rich, deep, gloomy. Even over the snowy
surfaces above there prevailed an almost ashen gray, which reflected
itself from the dull, drifting sky. A few torn locks of vapor poured
over the cliffedge at intervals, and crawled down like wreaths of smoke,
floating gracefully and losing themselves at last in the bank of cloud
which lay upon the bottom of the valley.

On a sudden the whole gray roof rolled away like a scroll, leaving the
heavens from west to far east one expanse of pure, warm blue. Setting
sunlight smote full upon the stony walls below, and shot over the
plateau country, gilding here a snowy forest group, and there a
wave-crest of whitened ridge. The whole air sparkled with diamond
particles; red light streamed in through the open Yosemite gateway,
brightening those vast, solemn faces of stone, and intensifying the deep
neutral blue of shadowed alcoves.

The luminous cloud-bank in the east rolled from the last Sierra summit,
leaving the whole chain of peaks in broad light, each rocky crest
strongly red, the newly fallen snow marbling it over with a soft, deep
rose; and wherever a cañon carved itself down the rocky fronts its
course was traceable by a shadowy band of blue. The middle distance
glowed with a tint of golden yellow; the broken heights along the
cañon-brinks and edges of the cliff in front were of an intense,
spotless white. Far below us the cloud stratum melted away, revealing
the floor of the valley, whose russet and emerald and brown and red
burned in the broad evening sun. It was a marvellous piece of contrasted
lights,--the distance so pure, so soft in its rosy warmth, so cool in
the depth of its shadowy blue; the foreground strong in fiery orange, or
sparkling in absolute whiteness. I enjoyed, too, looking up at the pure,
unclouded sky, which now wore an aspect of intense serenity. For half an
hour nature seemed in entire repose; not a breath of wind stirred the
white, snow-laden shafts of the trees; not a sound of animate creature
or the most distant reverberation of waterfall reached us; no film of
vapor moved across the tranquil, sapphire sky; absolute quiet reigned
until a loud roar proceeding from Capitan turned our eyes in that
direction. From the round, dome-like cap of its summit there moved down
an avalanche, gathering volume and swiftness as it rushed to the brink,
and then, leaping out two or three hundred feet into space, fell, slowly
filtering down through the lighted air, like a silver cloud, until
within a thousand feet of the earth it floated into the shadow of the
cliff and sank to the ground as a faint blue mist. Next the Cathedral
snow poured from its lighted summit in resounding avalanches; then the
Three Brothers shot off their loads, and afar from the east a deep roar
reached us as the whole snow-cover thundered down the flank of Cloud’s
Rest.

We were warned by the hour to make all haste, and, driving the poor
brutes before us, worked our way down the trail as fast as possible. The
light, already pale, left the distant heights in still more glorious
contrast. A zone of amber sky rose behind the glowing peaks, and a cold
steel-blue plain of snow skirted their bases. Mist slowly gathered again
in the gorge below us and overspread the valley floor, shutting it out
from our view.

We ran down the zigzag trail until we came to that shelf of bare granite
immediately below the final descent into the valley. Here we paused just
above the surface of the clouds, which, swept by fitful breezes, rose
in swells, floating up and sinking again like waves of the sea. Intense
light, more glowing than ever, streamed in upon the upper half of the
cliffs, their bases sunken in the purple mist. As the cloud-waves
crawled upward in the breeze they here and there touched a red-purple
light and fell back again into the shadow.

We watched these effects with greatest interest, and, just as we were
about moving on again, a loud burst as of heavy thunder arrested us,
sounding as if the very walls were crashing in. We looked, and from the
whole brow of Capitan rushed over one huge avalanche, breaking into the
finest powder and floating down through orange light, disappearing in
the sea of purple cloud beneath us.

We soon mounted and pressed up the valley to our camp, where our anxious
friends greeted us with enthusiastic welcome and never-to-be-forgotten
beans. We fed our exhausted animals a full ration of barley, and turned
them out to shelter themselves as best they might under friendly oaks or
among young pines. In anticipation of our return the party had gotten up
a capital supper, to which we first administered justice, then
punishment, and finally annihilation. Brief starvation and a healthy
combat for life with the elements lent a most marvellous zest to the
appetite. Under the subtle influences of a free circulation and a
stinging cold night, I perceived a region of the taste which answers to
those most refined blue waves of the spectrum.

Clouds which had enfolded the heavens rolled off to the east in torn
fillets of gold. The stars came out full and flashing in the darkling
sky of evening. We left our cabins and grouped ourselves round a
loquacious camp-fire, which prattled incessantly and distilled volumes
of that mild stimulant, pyroligneous acid--an ill-savored gas which
seems to have inspired much domestic poetry, however it may have
affected the New England olfactory nerves.

The vast valley-walls, light in contrast with the deep nocturnal violet
heavens, rose far into the night, apparently holding up a roof of stars
whose brilliancy faded quite rapidly, until finally the last blinking
points of light died out, and cold, hard gray stretched from cliff to
cliff. Far up cañons and in the heart of the mountains we could hear
terrible tempest-gusts crashing among the trees, and breaking in deep,
long surges against faces of granite; coming nearer and nearer, they
swept down the gorges, with volume increasing every moment, until they
poured into the upper end of the valley and fell upon its groves with
terrible fury. The wind shrieked wild and high among the summit crags,
it tore through the pine-belts, and now and then a sudden, sharp crash
resounded through the valley as, one after another, old, infirm pines
were hurled down before its blast. The very walls seemed to tremble; the
air was thick with flying leaves and dead branches; the snow of the
summits, hard frozen by a sudden chill, was blown from the walls, and
filled the air with its keen, cutting crystals. At last the very
clouds, torn into wild flocks, were swept down into the valley, filling
it with opaque, hurrying vapors. Rocks, loosening themselves from the
plateau, came thundering down precipice-faces, crashing upon _débris_
piles and forest groups below. Sleet and snow and rain fell fast, and
the boom of falling trees and crashing avalanches followed one another
in an almost uninterrupted roar. In the Sentinel gorge, back of our
camp, an avalanche of rock was suddenly let loose, and came down with a
harsh rattle, the bowlders bounding over _débris_ piles and tearing
through the trees by our camp. A vivid belt of blue lightning flashed
down through the blackness, and for a moment every outline of cliff and
forest forms, and the rushing clouds of snow and sleet, were lighted up
with a cold, pallid gleam. The burst of thunder which followed rolled
but for a moment, and was silenced by the furious storm. In the moment
of lightning I saw that the Yosemite Fall, which had been dry for a
month, had suddenly sprung into life again. Vast volumes of water and
ice were pouring over and beating like sea-waves upon the granite below.
Our mules came up to the cabin, and stood on its lee side trembling, and
uttering suppressed moans.

After hours the fitfulness of the tempest passed away, leaving a grand,
monotonous roar. It had torn off all the rotten branches of the year,
and prostrated every decrepit tree, and at last settled down to a
continuous gale, laden with torrents of rain. We lay down upon our bunks
in our clothes, watching and listening through all the first hours of
the night. Sleep was impossible; angry winds and the fury of drifting
rain shook our little shelters, and kept us wide awake. Toward morning a
second thunderstorm burst, and by the light of its flashes I saw that
the river had risen nearly to our cabin door, covering the broad valley
in front of us with a sheet of flood. Gradually the sound of Yosemite
Fall grew louder and stronger, the throbs, as it beat upon the rocks,
rising higher and higher till the whole valley rung with its pulsations.
By dawn the storm had spent its fury, rain ceased, and around us the air
was perfectly still; but aloft, among cliffs and walls, the gale might
still be heard sweeping across the forest and tearing itself among
granite needles. Fearing that so continuous a storm might block up our
mountain trails, Hyde and Cotter and Wilmer, with instruments and
pack-animals, started early and went out to Clark’s Ranch.

So dense and impenetrable a fog overhung us that daylight came with
extreme slowness, and it was nine o’clock before we rose for breakfast,
and at ten a gloomy sea of mist still hung over the valley. The Merced
had overflowed its banks, and ran wild. Toward noon the mist began to
draw down the valley, and finally all drifted away, leaving us shut in
by a gray canopy of cloud which stretched from wall to wall, hanging
down here and there in deep blue sags. In this stratum of gray were lost
many higher summits, but the whole form of valley and cliff could be
seen with terrible distinctness, the walls apparently drawn together,
their bases at one or two points pushed into yellow floods of water
which lay like lakes upon the level expanse. The whole lip of Yosemite
was filled to the brim, and through it there poured a broad, full
torrent of white. Shortly after noon a few rifts opened overhead,
showing a far sky, from which poured gushes of strong, yellow sunlight,
touching here and there upon sombre faces of cliff, and occasionally
gilding the falling torrent. A wind still blew, smiting the Yosemite
precipice, and playing strangest games with the fall itself. At one time
a gust rushed upon the lip of the fall with such violence as to dam back
all its waters. We could see its white pile in the lip mounting higher
and higher, still held back by the wind, until there must have been a
front of from a hundred and fifty to two hundred feet of boiling white
water. For a whole minute not a drop poured down the wall; but,
gathering strength, the torrent overcame the wind, rushed out with
tremendous violence, leaped one hundred and fifty feet straight out into
air, and fell clear to the rocks below, dashing high and white again,
and breaking into a cloud of spray that filled the lower air of the
valley for a mile.

While the water was held back in the gorge there was a moment of
complete silence, but when it finally burst out again a crash as of
sudden thunder shook the air. At times gusts of wind would drive upon
the Three Brothers cliff, and be deflected toward the Yosemite, swinging
the whole mighty cataract like a pendulum; and again, pouring upon the
rocks at the bottom of the valley, it would gather up the whole fall in
mid-air, whirl it in a festoon, and carry it back over the very summit
of the walls. I got out the theodolite to measure the angle of its
deflection, and, while watching, it swung over an entire semi-circle,
now carried from the cliffs to the right, and then whirled back in a
cloud of foam over the head of the Three Brothers. A very frequent prank
was to loop the whole twenty-six hundred feet of cataract into a single,
semi-circular festoon, which fell in the form of fine fringe.

Throughout the afternoon we did little else than watch these
ever-changing forms of falling water, until toward evening, when we
walked up to see the Merced. I never beheld such a rapid rise in any
river; from a mere brook, hiding itself away under overhanging banks and
among shrubby islands, it sprang in one night to the size of a full,
large river, flowing with the rapidity of a torrent and whirling in its
eddies huge trunks of storm-blown pines. As twilight gathered, the scene
deepened into a most indescribable gloom; dark-blue shadows covered half
the precipices, and sullen, unvaried sky stretched over us its
implacable gray. There was something positively fearful in this color;
such an impenetrable sky might overarch the Inferno. As we looked, it
slowly sank, creeping down precipices, filling the whole gorge; coming
down, down, and fitting the cliffs like the piston of an air-pump, till
within a thousand feet of us it became stationary, and then slowly
lifted again, clearing the summit and rising to an almost infinite
remoteness. Slowly a few hard, sharp crystals of snow floated down.

Later the air became intensely chilly, and by dark was full of slowly
falling snow, giving prospect of a great mountain storm which might
close the Sierras. On the following morning we determined at all costs
to pack our remaining instruments and escape. The ground was covered
with snow to the depth of seven or eight inches, and through drifting
fog-banks we could occasionally get glimpses and see that every cliff
was deeply buried in snow. We had still a few barometrical observations
along the Mariposa trail which were necessary to complete our series of
altitudes; and I started in advance of Gardiner and Clark to break the
trail, expecting that when I stopped to make readings they would easily
overtake me. Two hours’ hard work was needed to reach the ascent. It was
not until noon that I made Inspiration Point, snow having deepened to
eighteen inches, entirely obliterating the trail, and had it not been
for the extreme frequency of our journeys I should never have been able
to follow it; as it was, with occasional mistakes which were soon
remedied, I kept the way very well, and my tracks made it easy for the
party behind. Having reached the plateau, I made my two barometrical
stations, and then started alone through forests for Westfall’s cabin.
Every fir-tree was a solid cone of white, and often clusters of five or
six were buried together in one common pile. Now and then a little
sunlight broke through the clouds, and in these intervals the scene was
one of wonderful beauty. Tall shafts of fir, often one hundred and
eighty feet high, trimmed with white branches, cast their blue shadows
upon snowy ground.

At about four o’clock, after nine hours of hard tramping, I reached
Westfall’s cabin, built a fire, and sat down to warm myself and wait for
my friends. In half an hour they made their appearance, looking haggard
and weary, declaring they would go no farther that night. They led their
mule into the cabin, and unpacked, and began to make themselves
comfortably at home.

About five the darkness of night had fairly settled down, and with it
came a gentle but dense snow-storm. It seemed to me a terrible risk for
us to remain in the mountains, and I felt it to be absolutely necessary
that one, at least, should press on to Clark’s, so that, if a really
great storm should come, he could bring up aid. Accordingly, I
volunteered to go on myself, Clark and Gardiner expressing their
determination to remain where they were at all costs.

At this juncture Cotter’s well-known voice sounded through the woods as
he approached the cabin. He had been all day climbing from Clark’s, and
had come to lend a hand in getting the things down. He was of my opinion
that it was absolutely necessary for one of us, at least, to go back to
Clark’s, and offered, if I thought best, to try to accompany me. I had
come from Yosemite and he from Clark’s, having travelled all day, and
it was no slight task for us to face storm and darkness in the forest,
and among complicated spurs of the Sierra.

We ate our lunch by the cabin fire, bade our friends good-night, and
walked out together into the darkness. For the first mile there was no
danger of missing our way,--even in the darkness of night Cotter’s
tracks could be seen,--but after about half an hour it began to be very
difficult to keep the trail. The storm increased to a tempest, and
exhaustion compelled us to travel slower and slower. It was with intense
anxiety that we searched for well-known blazed trees along the trail,
often thrusting our arms down in the snow to feel for a blaze that we
knew of. If it was not there we had for a moment an overpowering sense
of being lost; but we were ordinarily rewarded after searching upon a
few trees, and the blaze once found animated us with new courage. Hour
after hour we travelled down the mountain, falling off high banks now
and then, for in the dark all ideas of slope were lost. It must have
been about midnight when we reached what seemed to be the verge of a
precipice. If our calculations were right, we must have come to the edge
of the South Fork Cañon. Here Cotter sank with exhaustion and declared
that he must sleep. I rolled him over and implored him to get up and
struggle on for a little while longer, when I felt sure that we must get
down to the South Fork Cañon. He utterly refused, and lay there in a
drowsy condition, fast giving up to the effects of fatigue and cold. I
unbound a long scarf which was tied round his neck, put it under his
arms like a harness, and, tying it round my body, started on, dragging
him through the snow, to see if by that means I might not exasperate him
to rise and labor on. In a few minutes it had its effect, and he sprang
to his feet and fell upon me in a burst of indignation. A few words were
enough to bring him to himself, when the old, calm courage was
reasserted, and we started together to make our way down the cliff.
Happily we at length found the right ridge, and rapidly descended
through forest to the river side.

Believing that we must still be below the bridge, we walked rapidly up
the bank until at last we found it, and came quickly to Clark’s. We
pounded upon the cabin door, and waked up our friends, who received us
with joy, and set about cooking us a supper.

It was two o’clock when we arrived, and by three we all went off again
to our bunks. My anxiety about Gardiner and Clark prevented my sleeping.
Every few minutes I went to the door.

Before dawn it had cleared again, and remained fair till the next noon,
when the two made their appearance. No sooner were they quietly housed
than the storm burst again with renewed strength, howling among the
forest trees grandly. Snow drifted heavily all the afternoon, and
through the night it still fell, reaching an average depth of about two
feet by the following morning.

We were up early, and packed upon the animals our instruments,
note-books, and personal effects, leaving all the blankets and heavy
luggage to be gotten out in the following spring. We toiled slowly and
heavily up Chowchilla trail. The branches of the great pines and firs
were overloaded with snow, which now and then fell in small avalanches
upon our heads. Here and there an old bough gave way under its weight,
and fell with a soft thud into the snow. We took turns breaking trail,
Napoleon, the one-eyed mule, distinguishing himself greatly by following
its intricate crooks, while the bravest of us, by turns, held to his
tail. There is something deeply humiliating in this process. All the
domineering qualities of mankind vanished before the quick, subtle
instinct of that noble animal, the mule, and his superior strength came
out in magnificent style. With a sublime scorn of his former master, he
started ahead, dragging me proudly after him. I had sometimes thrashed
that mule with unsympathetic violence, and I fancied it was something
very like poetic justice thus submissively to follow in his wake.

Midday found us upon the Chowchilla summit, following a trail deeply
buried and often obliterated, and undiscoverable but for our long-eared
leader. As we descended the west slope the snow grew more and more
moist, less deep, and gradually turned into rain. An hour’s tramp found
us upon bare ground, under the fiercely driving rain, which quickly
soaked us to the bone. The streams, as we descended, were found to be
more and more swollen, until at last it required some nerve to ford the
little brooklets which the mule had drunk dry on our upward journey.
The earth was thoroughly softened, and here and there the trail was
filled with brimming brooks, which rapidly gullied it out.

A more drowned and bedraggled set of fellows never walked out upon the
wagon-road and turned toward Mariposa. Streams of water flowed from
every fold of our garments, our soaked hats clung to our cheeks, the
baggage was a mass of pulp, and the mules smelled violently of wet hide.
Fortunately, our note-books, carefully strapped in oil-cloth, so far
resisted wetting. It was three o’clock in the afternoon when we reached
Dulong’s house, and were surprised to see the water flowing over the top
of the bridge. In ordinary times a dry arroyo traverses this farm, and
runs under a bridge in front of the house. Clark, our only mounted man,
rode out, as he supposed, upon the bridge; but unfortunately it was
gone, and he and his horse plunged splendidly into the stream. They came
to the surface, Clark with a look of intense astonishment on his face,
and the mare sputtering and striking out wildly for the other side.
Being a strong swimmer, she reached the bank, climbed out, and Clark
politely invited us to follow. The one-eyed Napoleon was brought to the
brink and induced to plunge in by an application of fence-rails _a
tergo_, his cyclopean organ piloting him safely across, when he was
quickly followed by the other mules. We watched the load of instruments
with some anxiety, and were not reassured when their heavy weight bore
the mule quite under; but she climbed successfully out, and we
ourselves, half swimming, half floundering, managed to cross.

A little way farther we came upon another stream rushing violently
across the road, sweeping down logs and sections of fence. Here Clark
dismounted, and we drove the whole train in. Three animals got safely
over, but the instrument mule was swept down stream and badly snagged,
lying upon one side with his head under water.

Cotter and Gardiner and Clark ran up stream and got across upon a log. I
made a dash for the snagged mule, and by strong swimming managed to
catch one of his feet, and then his tail, and worked myself toward the
shore. It was something of a task to hold his head out of the water, but
I was quickly joined by the others, and we managed to drag him out by
the head and tail. There he lay upon the bank on his side, tired of
life, utterly refusing to get upon his feet, the most abominable
specimen of inertia and indifference. While I was pricking him
vigorously with a tripod, the ground caved under my feet and I quickly
sank. Cotter, who was standing close by, seized me by the cape of my
soldier’s overcoat, and landed me as carefully as he would a fish. As we
marched down the road, unconsciously keeping step, the sound of our
boots had quite a symphonic effect; they were full of water, and with
soft, melodious slushing acted as a calmer upon our spirits.

The road in some places was cut out many feet deep, and we were obliged
to climb upon the wooded banks, and make laborious _détours_. At last
we reached a branch of the Chowchilla, which was pouring in a flood
between a man’s house and his barn. Here we formed a line, a mule
between each two men. Our line was swept frightfully down stream, but
the leader gained his feet, and we came out safe and dripping upon
_terra firma_ on the other side. A mile farther we came upon the main
Chowchilla, which was running a perfect flood; from being a mere
brooklet it had swollen to a considerable river, with waves five and six
feet high sweeping down its centre. We formed our line and attempted the
passage, but were thrown back. It would have been madness to try it
again, and we turned sorrowfully back to the last ranch. Cotter and I
piloted the animals over to the barn, and, upon returning, threw a rope
to our friends upon the other side, and were drawn through the swift
water.

In the ranch-house we found two bachelors, typical California partners,
who were quietly partaking of their supper of bacon, fried onions,
Japanese tea, and biscuits, which, like “Harry York’s,” had too much
saleratus. We stood upon their threshold awhile and dripped, quite a
rill descending over the two steps, trickling down the door-yard as a
new fork of the Chowchilla.

We asked for supper and shelter, but were met with such a gruff,
inhospitable reply that we lost all sense of modesty, and walked in with
all our moisture. We stretched a rope across the middle of the
sitting-room before a huge fire in an open chimney, then, stripping
ourselves to the buff, we hung up our steaming clothes upon the line,
and turned solemnly round and round before the fire, drying our persons.

In the meanwhile our inhospitable landlords made the best of the
situation, and proceeded to achieve more onions and more saleratus
biscuit for our entertainment. Upon our departure in the morning the
generous rancher charged us first-class hotel prices.

The flood had utterly disappeared, and we passed over the Chowchilla
with surprise and dry shoes.

At Mariposa we parted from Clark, and devoted two whole days to
struggling through the mud of San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco, where
we arrived, wet and exhausted, just in time to get on board the New York
steamer.

On the morning of the twelfth day out Gardiner and I seated ourselves
under the grateful shadow of palm-trees, a bewitching black-and-tan
sister thrumming her guitar while the chocolate for our breakfast
boiled. The slumberous haze of the tropics hung over Lake Nicaragua; but
high above its indistinct, pearly vale rose the smooth cone of the
volcano of Omatepec, robed in a cover of pale emerald green. Warmth,
repose, the verdure of eternal spring, the poetical whisper of palms,
the heavy odor of the tropical blooms, banished the grand, cold fury of
the Sierra, which had left a permanent chill in our bones.



IX

MERCED RAMBLINGS

1866


Delightful oaks cast protecting shadows over our camp on the 1st of
June, 1866. Just beyond a little cook-fire where Hoover was preparing
his mind and pan for an omelet stood Mrs. Fremont’s Mariposa cottage,
with doors and windows wide open, still keeping up its air of hospitable
invitation, though now deserted and fallen into decay. A little farther
on, through an opening, a few clustered roofs and chimneys of the Bear
Valley village showed their distant red-brown tint among heavy masses of
green. Eastward swelled up a great ridge, upon whose grassy slopes were
rough, serpentine outcrops,--groups of pines, and oak-groves with pale
green foliage and clean white bark. Under the roots of this famous Mount
Bullion have been mined those gold veins whose treasure enriched so few,
whose promise allured so many.

As I altogether distrust my ability to speak of this region without
sooner or later alluding to a certain discovery of some scientific value
which I once made here, I deem it wise frankly to tell the story and
discharge my mind of it at once, and if possible forever.

In the winter of 1863 I came to Bear Valley as the sole occupant of a
stage-coach. The Sierras were quite cloud-hidden, and desolation such as
drought has never before or since been able to make reigned in dreary
monotony over all the plains from Stockton to Hornitas.

Ordinarily solitude is with me only a happy synonym for content; but
throughout that ride I was preyed upon by self-reproach, and in an
aggravated manner. The paleontologist of our survey, my senior in rank
and experience, had just said of me, rather in sorrow than in
unkindness, yet with unwonted severity, “I believe that fellow had
rather sit on a peak all day, and stare at those snow-mountains, than
find a fossil in the metamorphic Sierra”; and, in spite of me, all that
weary ride his judgment rang in my ear.

Can it be? I asked myself; has a student of geology so far forgotten his
devotion to science? Am I really fallen to the level of a mere
nature-lover? Later, when evening approached, and our wheels began to
rumble over upturned edges of Sierra slate, every jolt seemed aimed at
me, every thin, sharp outcrop appeared risen up to preach a sermon on my
friend’s text.

I re-dedicated myself to geology, and was framing a resolution to delve
for that greatly important but missing link of evidence, the fossil
which should clear up an old unsolved riddle of upheaval age, when over
to eastward a fervid, crimson light smote the vapor-bank and cleared a
bright pathway through to the peaks, and on to a pale sea-green sky.
Through this gateway of rolling gold and red cloud the summits seemed
infinitely high and far, their stone and snow hung in the sky with
lucent delicacy of hue, brilliant as gems yet soft as air,--a mosaic of
amethyst and opal transfigured with passionate light, as gloriously
above words as beyond art. Obsolete shell-fishes in the metamorphic were
promptly forgotten, and during those lingering moments, while peak after
peak flushed and faded back into recesses of the heavens, I forgot what
paleontological unworthiness was loading me down, becoming finally quite
jolly of heart. But for many days thereafter I did search and hope,
leaving no stone unturned, and usually going so far as to break them
open. Indeed, my third hammer and I were losing temper together, when
one noon I was tired and sat down to rest and lunch in the bottom of
Hell’s Hollow, a cañon whose profound uninterestingness is quite beyond
portrayal. Shut in by great, monotonous slopes and innumerable spurs,
each the exact fac-simile of the other; with no distance, no faintest
suggestion of a snow-peak, only a lofty chaparral ridge sweeping around,
cutting off all eastern lookout; with a few disordered bowlders tumbled
pell-mell into the bed of a feeble brooklet of bitter water,--it seemed
to me the place of places for a fossil. Here was nadir, the snow-capped
zenith of my heart banished even from sight. A swallow of tepid
alkaline water, with which I crowned the frugal and appropriate lunch,
burned my throat, and completed the misery of the occasion.

Jagged outcrops of slate cut through vulgar gold-dirt at my feet.
Picking up my hammer to turn homeward, I noticed in the rock an object
about the size and shape of a small cigar. It was the fossil, the object
for which science had searched and yearned and despaired! There he
reclined comfortably upon his side, half-bedded in luxuriously
fine-grained argillaceous material,--a plump, pampered belemnites (if it
is belemnites), whom the terrible ordeal of metamorphism had spared. I
knelt and observed the radiating structure as well as the characteristic
central cavity, and assured myself it was beyond doubt he. The age of
the gold-belt was discovered! I was at pains to chip my victim out
whole, and when he chose to break in two was easily consoled, reflecting
that he would do as well gummed together.

I knew this mollusk perfectly by sight, could remember how he looked on
half a dozen plates of fossils, but I failed exactly to recollect his
name. It troubled me that I could come so near uttering without ever
precisely hitting upon it. In ten or fifteen minutes I judged it full
time for my joy to begin.

Down the perspective of years I could see before me spectacled wise men
of some scientific society, and one who pronounced my obituary, ending
thus: “In summing up the character and labors of this fallen follower
of science, let it never be forgotten that he discovered the
belemnites;” and perhaps, I mused, they will put over me a slab of
fossil raindrops, those eternally embalmed tears of nature.

But all this came and went without the longed-for elation. There was no
doubt I was not so happy as I thought I should be.

Once in after years I met an aged German paleontologist, fresh from his
fatherland, where through threescore years and ten his soul had fattened
on Solenhofen limestone and effete shells from many and wide-spread
strata.

We were introduced.

“Ach!” he said, with a kindle of enthusiasm, “I have pleasure you to
meet, when it is you which the cephalopoda discovered has.”

Then turning to one who enacted the part of Ganymede, he remarked, “Zwei
lager.”

Now, with freed mind, I should say something of the foot-hills about our
camp as they looked in June. Once before, the reader may remember, I
pictured their autumn garb.

It has become a fixed habit with me to climb Mount Bullion whenever I
get a chance. My winter Sundays were many times spent there in a peace
and repose which Bear Valley village did not afford; for that hamlet
gave itself up, after the Saturday night’s sleep, to a day of hellish
jocularity. The town passed through a period of horse-racing, noisy,
quarrelsome drinking, and disorderly service of Satan; then an hour in
which the Spaniard loved and “treated” the “Americano.” Later the
Americano kicked the “damned Greaser” out of town. Manly forms slept
serenely under steps, and the few “gentlemen of the old school” steadied
themselves against the bar-room door-posts, and in ingenious language
told of the good old pandemonium of 1849.

Thus Mount Bullion came to mean for me a Sabbath retreat over which
heaven arched pure and blue, silent hours (marked by the slow sun)
passing sacredly by in presence of nature and of God.

So now in June I climbed on a Sunday morning to my old retreat, found
the same stone seat, with leaning oak-tree back, and wide, low canopy of
boughs. A little down to the left, welling among tufts of grass and
waving tulips, is the spring which Mrs. Fremont found for her
camp-ground. North and south for miles extends our ridge in gently
rising or falling outline, its top broadly round, and for the most part
an open oak-grove with grass carpet and mountain flowers in wayward
loveliness of growth. West, you overlook a wide panorama. Oak and pine
mottled foot-hills, with rusty groundwork and cloudings of green, wander
down in rolling lines to the ripe plain; beyond are plains, then coast
ranges, rising in peaks, or curved down in passes, through which gray
banks of fog drift in and vanish before the hot air of the plains. East,
the Sierra slope is rent and gashed in a wilderness of cañons, yawning
deep and savage. Miles of chaparral tangle in dense growth over walls
and spurs, covering with kindly olive-green the staring red of riven
mountain-side and gashed earth. Beyond this swells up the more refined
plateau and hill country made of granite and trimmed with pine, bold
domes rising above the green cover; and there the sharp, terrible front
of El Capitan, guarding Yosemite and looking down into its purple gulf.
Beyond, again, are the peaks, and among them one looms sharpest. It is
that Obelisk from which the great storm drove Cotter and me in 1864. We
were now bound to push there as soon as grass should grow among the
upper cañons.

The air around my Sunday mountain in June is dry, bland, and fragrant; a
full sunlight ripens it to a perfect temperature, giving you at once
stimulus and rest. You sleep in it without fear of dew, and no excess of
hot or cold breaks up the even flow of balmy delight. You see the wild
tulips open, and watch wind-ripples course over slopes of thick-standing
grass-blades. Birds, so rare on plains or pine-hills, here sing you
their fullest, and enjoy with you the soft, white light, or come to see
you in your chosen shadow and bathe in your spring.

Mountain oaks, less wonderful than great, straight pines, but altogether
domestic in their generous way of reaching out low, long boughs, roofing
in spots of shade, are the only trees on the Pacific slope which seem to
me at all allied to men; and these quiet foot-hill summits, these
islands of modest, lovely verdure floating in an ocean of sunlight,
lifted enough above San Joaquin plains to reach pure, high air and
thrill your blood and brain with mountain oxygen, are yet far enough
below the rugged wildness of pine and ice and rock to leave you in
peace, and not forever challenge you to combat. They are almost the only
places in the Sierras impressing me as rightly fitted for human company.
I cannot find in wholesale vineyards and ranches dotted along the Sierra
foot anything which savors of the eternal indigenous perfume of home.
They are scenes of speculation and thrift, of immense enterprise and
comfort, with no end of fences and square miles of grain, with here and
there astounding specimens of modern upholstery, to say nothing of
pianos with elaborate legs and always discordant keys; but they never
comfort the soul with that air of sacred household reserve, of simple
human poetry, which elsewhere greets you under plainer roofs, and broods
over your days and nights familiarly.

Here on these still summits the oaks lock their arms and gather in
groves around open slopes of natural park, and you are at home. A
cottage or a castle would seem in keeping, nor would the savage gorges
and snow-capped Sierras overcome the sober kindliness of these
affectionate trees. It is almost as hard now, as I write, to turn my
back on Mount Bullion and descend to camp again, as it was that
afternoon in 1866.

Evening and supper were at hand, Hoover having achieved a repast of
rabbit-pie, with salad from the Italian garden near at hand. It added no
little to my peace that two obese squaws from the neighboring rancheria
had come and squatted in silence on either side of our camp-fire, adding
their statuesque sobriety and fire-flushed bronze to the dusky,
druidical scene.

To be welcomed at White and Hatch’s next evening was reward for our
dusty ride, and over the next day’s familiar trail we hurried to
Clark’s, there again finding friends who took us by the hand. Another
day’s end found us within the Yosemite, and there for a week we walked
and rode, studied and looked, revisiting all our old points, lingering
hours here and half-days there, to complete within our minds the
conception of this place. My chief has written so fully in his charming
Yosemite book of all main facts and details that I would not, if I
could, rehearse them here.

What sentiment, what idea, does this wonder-valley leave upon the
earnest observer? What impression does it leave upon his heart?

From some up-surging crag upon its brink you look out over wide expanse
of granite swells, upon whose solid surface the firs climb and cluster,
and afar on the sky line only darken together in one deep green cover.
Upward heave the eastern ridges; above them looms a white rank of peaks.
Into this plateau is rent a chasm; the fresh-splintered granite falls
down, down, thousands of feet in sheer, blank faces or giant crags
broken in cleft and stair, gorge and bluff, down till they sink under
that winding ribbon of park with its flash of river among sunlit grass,
its darkness, where, within shadows of jutting wall, cloud-like gather
the pine companies, or, in summer opening, stand oak and cottonwood,
casting together their lengthening shadow over meadow and pool. The
falls, like torrents of snow, pour in white lines over purple precipice,
or, as the wind wills, float and drift in vanishing film of airy
lacework.

Two leading ideas are wrought here with a force hardly to be seen
elsewhere. First, the titanic power, the awful stress, which has rent
this solid table-land of granite in twain; secondly, the magical faculty
displayed by vegetation in redeeming the aspect of wreck and masking a
vast geological tragedy behind draperies of fresh and living green. I
can never cease marvelling how all this terrible crush and sundering is
made fair, even lovely, by meadow, by wandering groves, and by those
climbing files of pine which thread every gorge and camp in armies over
every brink; nor can I ever banish from memory another gorge and fall,
that of the Shoshone in Idaho, a sketch of which may help the reader to
see more vividly those peculiarities of color and sentiment that make
Yosemite so unique.

The Snake or Lewis’s Fork of the Columbia River drains an oval basin,
the extent of whose longer axis measures about four hundred miles
westward from the base of the Rocky Mountains across Idaho and into the
middle of Oregon, and whose breadth, in the direction of the meridian,
averages about seventy miles. Irregular chains of mountains bound it in
every direction, piling up in a few places to an elevation of nine
thousand feet. The surface of this basin is unbroken by any considerable
peak. Here and there, knobs, belonging to the earlier geological
formations, rise above its level; and, in a few instances, dome-like
mounds of volcanic rock are lifted from the expanse. It has an
inclination from east to west, and a quite perceptible sag along the
middle line.

In general outline the geology of the region is simple. Its bounding
ranges were chiefly blocked out at the period of Jurassic upheaval, when
the Sierra Nevada and Wahsatch Mountains were folded. Masses of upheaved
granite, with overlying slates and limestones, form the main materials
of the cordon of surrounding hills. During the Cretaceous and Tertiary
periods the entire basin, from the Rocky Mountains to the Blue Mountains
of Oregon, was a fresh-water lake, on whose bottom was deposited a
curious succession of sand and clay beds, including, near the surface, a
layer of white, infusorial silica. At the exposures of these rocks in
the cañon-walls of the present drainage system are found ample evidences
of the kind of life which flourished in the lake itself and lived upon
its borders. Savage fishes, of the garpike type, and vast numbers of
cyprinoids, together with mollusks, are among the prominent
water-fossils. Enough relics of the land vegetation remain to indicate a
flora of a sub-tropical climate; and among the land-fossils are numerous
bones of elephant, camel, horse, elk, and deer.

The _savant_ to whose tender mercies these _disjecta membra_ have been
committed, finds in the molluscan life the most recent types yet
discovered in the American Tertiaries,--forms closely allied to existing
Asiatic species. How and wherefore this lake dried up, and gave place to
the present barren wilderness of sand and sage, is one of those profound
conundrums of nature yet unguessed by geologists. From being a wide and
beautiful expanse of water, edged by winding mountain-shores, with
forest-clad slopes containing a fauna whose remains are now charming
those light-minded fellows, the paleontologists, the scene has entirely
changed, and a monotonous, blank desert spreads itself as far as the eye
can reach. Only here and there, near the snowy mountain-tops, a bit of
cool green contrasts refreshingly with the sterile uniformity of the
plain. During the period of desiccation, perhaps in a measure accounting
for it, a general flood of lava poured down from the mountains and
deluged nearly the whole Snake Basin. The chief sources of this lava lay
at the eastern edge, where subsequent erosion has failed to level
several commanding groups of volcanic peaks. The three buttes and three
tetons mark centres of flow. Remarkable features of the volcanic period
were the sheets of basaltic lava which closed the eruptive era, and in
thin, continuous layers overspread the plain for three hundred miles.
The earlier flows extended farthest to the west. The ragged, broken
terminations of the later sheets recede successively eastward, in a
broad, gradual stairway; so that the present topography of the basin is
a gently inclined field of basaltic lava, sinking to the west, and
finally, by a series of terraced steps, descending to the level of
lacustrine sand-rocks which mark the bottom of the ancient lake, and
cover the plain westward into Oregon.

The head-waters of the Snake River, gathering snow-drainage from a
considerable portion of the Rocky Mountains, find their way through a
series of upland valleys to the eastern margin of the Snake plain, and
there gathering in one main stream flow westward, occupying a gradually
deepening cañon; a narrow, dark gorge, water-worn through the thin
sheets of basalt, cutting down as it proceeds to the westward, until, in
longitude 114° 20´, it has worn seven hundred feet into the lava.
Several tributaries flowing through similar though less profound cañons
join the Snake both north and south. From the days of Lewis, for whom
this Snake or Shoshone River was originally named, up to the present
day, rumors have been current of cataracts in the Snake cañon. It is
curious to observe that all the earlier accounts estimate their height
as six hundred feet, which is exactly the figure given by the first
Jesuit observers of Niagara. That erratic amateur Indian, Catlin,
actually visited these falls; and his account of them, while it entirely
fails to give an adequate idea of their formation and grandeur, is
nevertheless, in the main, truthful. Since the mining development of
Idaho, several parties have visited and examined the Shoshone.

In October, 1868, with a small detachment of the United States
Geological Survey of the 40th Parallel, the writer crossed Goose Creek
Mountains, in northern Utah, and descended by the old Fort Boise road to
the level of the Snake plain. A gray, opaque haze hung close to the
ground, and shut out all distance. The monotony of sage-desert was
overpowering. We would have given anything for a good outlook; but for
three days the mist continued, and we were forced to amuse ourselves by
chasing occasional antelopes.

The evening we camped on Rock Creek was signalized by a fierce wind from
the northeast. It was a dry storm, which continued with tremendous fury
through the night, dying away at daybreak, leaving the heavens
brilliantly clear. We were breakfasting when the sun rose, and shortly
afterward, mounting into the saddle, headed toward the cañon of the
Shoshone. The air was cold and clear. The remotest mountain-peaks upon
the horizon could be distinctly seen, and the forlorn details of their
brown slopes stared at us as through a vacuum. A few miles in front the
smooth surface of the plain was broken by a ragged, zigzag line of
black, which marked the edge of the farther wall of the Snake cañon. A
dull, throbbing sound greeted us. Its pulsations were deep, and seemed
to proceed from the ground beneath our feet.

Leaving the cavalry to bring up the wagon, my two friends and I galloped
on, and were quickly upon the edge of the cañon-wall. We looked down
into a broad, circular excavation, three quarters of a mile in diameter,
and nearly seven hundred feet deep. East and north, over the edges of
the cañon, we looked across miles and miles of the Snake plain, far on
to the blue boundary mountains. The wall of the gorge opposite us, like
the cliff at our feet, sank in perpendicular bluffs nearly to the level
of the river, the broad excavation being covered by rough piles of black
lava and rounded domes of trachyte rock. We saw an horizon as level as
the sea; a circling wall, whose sharp edges were here and there
battlemented in huge, fortress-like masses; a broad river, smooth and
unruffled, flowing quietly into the middle of the scene, and then
plunging into a labyrinth of rocks, tumbling over a precipice two
hundred feet high, and moving westward in a still, deep current, to
disappear behind a black promontory. It was a strange, savage scene: a
monotony of pale blue sky, olive and gray stretches of desert, frowning
walls of jetty lava, deep beryl-green of river-stretches, reflecting,
here and there, the intense solemnity of the cliffs, and in the centre
a dazzling sheet of foam. In the early morning light the shadows of the
cliffs were cast over half the basin, defining themselves in sharp
outline here and there on the river. Upon the foam of the cataract one
point of the rock cast a cobalt-blue shadow. Where the river flowed
round the western promontory, it was wholly in shadow, and of a deep
sea-green. A scanty growth of coniferous trees fringed the brink of the
lower cliffs, overhanging the river. Dead barrenness is the whole
sentiment of the scene. The mere suggestion of trees clinging here and
there along the walls serves rather to heighten than to relieve the
forbidding gloom of the place. Nor does the flashing whiteness, where
the river tears itself among the rocky islands, or rolls in spray down
the cliff, brighten the aspect. In contrast with its brilliancy, the
rocks seem darker and more wild.

The descent of four hundred feet from our standpoint to the level of the
river above the falls has to be made by a narrow, winding path, among
rough ledges of lava. We were obliged to leave our wagon at the summit,
and pack down the camp equipment and photographic apparatus upon
carefully led mules. By midday we were comfortably camped on the margin
of the left bank, just above the brink of the falls. My tent was pitched
upon the edge of a cliff, directly overhanging the rapids. From my door
I looked over the cataract, and, whenever the veil of mist was blown
aside, could see for a mile down the river. The lower half of the cañon
is excavated in a gray, porphyritic trachyte. It is over this material
that the Snake falls. Above the brink the whole breadth of the river is
broken by a dozen small trachyte islands, which the water has carved
into fantastic forms, rounding some into low domes, sharpening others
into mere pillars, and now and then wearing out deep caves. At the very
brink of the fall a few twisted evergreens cling with their roots to the
rock, and lean over the abyss of foam with something of that air of
fatal fascination which is apt to take possession of men.

In plan the fall recurves up stream in a deep horseshoe, resembling the
outline of Niagara. The total breadth is about seven hundred feet, and
the greatest height of the single fall about one hundred and ninety.
Among the islands above the brink are several beautiful cascades, where
portions of the river pour over in lace-like forms. The whole mass of
cataract is one ever-varying sheet of spray. In the early spring, when
swollen by the rapidly melted snows, the river pours over with something
like the grand volume of Niagara, but at the time of my visit it was
wholly white foam. Here and there along the brink the underlying rock
shows through, and among the islands shallow, green pools disclose the
form of the underlying trachyte. Numberless rough shelves break the
fall, but the volume is so great that they are only discovered by the
glancing outward of the foam.

The river below the falls is very deep. The right bank sinks into the
water in a clear, sharp precipice, but on the left side a narrow, pebbly
beach extends along the foot of the cliff. From the top of the wall, at
a point a quarter of a mile below the falls, a stream has gradually worn
a little stairway: thick growths of evergreens have huddled together in
this ravine.

By careful climbing we descended to the level of the river. The
trachytes are very curiously worn in vertical forms. Here and there an
obelisk, either wholly or half detached from the cañon-wall, juts out
like a buttress. Farther down, these projecting masses stand like a row
of columns upon the left bank. Above them, a solid capping of black lava
reaches out to the edge, and overhangs the river in abrupt, black
precipices. Wherever large fields of basalt have overflowed an earlier
rock, and erosion has afterward laid it bare, there is found a strong
tendency to fracture in vertical lines. The immense expansion of the
upper surface from heat seems to cause deep fissures in the mass.

Under the influence of the cool shadow of cliffs and pine, and constant
percolating of surface-waters, a rare fertility is developed in the
ravines opening upon the cañon shore. A luxuriance of ferns and mosses,
an almost tropical wealth of green leaves and velvety carpeting, line
the banks. There are no rocks at the base of the fall. The sheet of foam
plunges almost vertically into a dark, beryl-green, lake-like expanse
of the river. Immense volumes of foam roll up from the cataract-base,
and, whirling about in the eddying winds, rise often a thousand feet in
the air. When the wind blows down the cañon a gray mist obscures the
river for half a mile; and when, as is usually the case in the
afternoon, the breezes blow eastward, the foam-cloud curls over the
brink of the fall, and hangs like a veil over the upper river. On what
conditions depends the height to which the foam-cloud rises from the
base of the fall it is apparently impossible to determine. Without the
slightest wind, the cloud of spray often rises several hundred feet
above the cañon-wall, and again, with apparently the same conditions of
river and atmosphere, it hardly reaches the brink. Incessant roar,
reinforced by a thousand echoes, fills the cañon. Out of this monotone,
from time to time, rise strange, wild sounds, and now and then may be
heard a slow, measured beat, not unlike the recurring fall of breakers.
From the white front of the cataract the eye constantly wanders up to
the black, frowning parapet of lava. Angular bastions rise sharply from
the general level of the wall, and here and there isolated blocks,
profiling upon their sky line, strikingly recall barbette batteries. To
goad one’s imagination up to the point of perpetually seeing
resemblances of everything else in the forms of rocks is the most vulgar
vice of travellers. To refuse to see the architectural suggestions upon
the Snake cañon, however, is to administer a flat snub to one’s fancy.
The whole edge of the cañon is deeply cleft in vertical crevasses. The
actual brink is usually formed of irregular blocks and prisms of lava,
poised upon their ends in an unstable equilibrium, ready to be tumbled
over at the first leverage of the frost. Hardly an hour passes without
the sudden boom of one of those rock-masses falling upon the ragged
_débris_ piles below.

Night is the true time to appreciate the full force of the scene. I lay
and watched it many hours. The broken rim of the basin profiled itself
upon a mass of drifting clouds where torn openings revealed gleams of
pale moonlight and bits of remote sky trembling with misty stars.
Intervals of light and blank darkness hurriedly followed each other. For
a moment the black gorge would be crowded with forms. Tall cliffs,
ramparts of lava, the rugged outlines of islands huddled together on the
cataract’s brink, faintly luminous foam breaking over black rapids, the
swift, white leap of the river, and a ghostly, formless mist through
which the cañon-walls and far reach of the lower river were veiled and
unveiled again and again. A moment of this strange picture, and then a
rush of black shadow, when nothing could be seen but the breaks in the
clouds, the basin-rim, and a vague, white centre in the general
darkness.

After sleeping on the nightmarish brink of the falls, it was no small
satisfaction to climb out of this Dantean gulf and find myself once more
upon a pleasantly prosaic foreground of sage. Nothing more effectually
banishes a melotragic state of the mind than the obtrusive ugliness and
abominable smell of this plant. From my feet a hundred miles of it
stretched eastward. A half-hour’s walk took me out of sight of the
cañon, and as the wind blew westward, only occasional indistinct
pulsations of the fall could be heard. The sky was bright and cloudless,
and arched in cheerful vacancy over the meaningless disk of the desert.

I walked for an hour, following an old Indian trail which occasionally
approached within seeing distance of the river, and then, apparently
quite satisfied, diverged again into the desert. When about four miles
from the Shoshone, it bent abruptly to the north, and led to the cañon
edge. Here again the narrow gorge widened into a broad theatre,
surrounded, as before, by black, vertical walls, and crowded over its
whole surface by rude piles and ridges of volcanic rock. The river
entered it from the east through a magnificent gateway of basalt, and,
having reached the middle, flowed on either side of a low, rocky island,
and plunged in two falls into a deep green basin. A very singular ridge
of the basalt projected like an arm almost across the river, enclosing
within its semi-circle a bowl three hundred feet in diameter and two
hundred feet deep. Within this the water was of the same peculiar
beryl-green, dappled here and there by masses of foam which swam around
and around with a spiral tendency toward the centre. To the left of the
island half the river plunged off an overhanging lip, and fell about one
hundred and fifty feet, the whole volume reaching the surface of the
basin many feet from the wall. The other half has worn away the edge,
and descends in a tumbling cascade at an angle of about forty-five
degrees. The river at this point has not yet worn through the fields of
basaltic lava which form the upper four hundred feet of the plain.
Between the two falls it cuts through the remaining beds of basalt, and
has eroded its channel a hundred feet into underlying porphyritic
trachyte. The trachyte erodes far more easily than the basalt, and its
resultant forms are quite unlike those of the black lava. The trachyte
islands and walls are excavated here and there in deep caves, leaving
island masses in the forms of mounds and towers. In general, spherical
outlines predominate, while the erosion of the basalt results always in
sharp, perpendicular cliffs, with a steeply inclined talus of ragged
_débris_.

The cliffs around the upper cataract are inferior to those of the
Shoshone. While the level of the upper plain remains nearly the same,
the river constantly deepens the channel in its westward course. In
returning from the upper fall, I attempted to climb along the very edge
of the cliff, in order to study carefully the habits of the basalt; but
I found myself in a labyrinth of side crevasses which were cut into the
plain from a hundred to a thousand feet back from the main wall. These
recesses were usually in the form of an amphitheatre, with black walls
two hundred feet high, and a bottom filled with immense fragments of
basalt rudely piled together.

By dint of hard climbing I reached the actual brink in a few places, and
saw the same general features each time: the cañon successively widening
and narrowing, its walls here and there approaching each other and
standing like pillars of a gateway; the river alternately flowing along
smooth, placid reaches of level, and rushing swiftly down rocky
cascades. Here and there along the cliff are disclosed mouths of black
caverns, where the lava seems to have been blown up in the form of a
great blister, as if the original flow had poured over some pool of
water, and, converted into steam by contact with the hot rock, had been
blown up bubble-like by its immense expansion.

I continued my excursions along the cañon west of the Shoshone. About a
mile below the fall a very fine promontory juts sharply out and projects
nearly to the middle of the cañon. Climbing with difficulty along its
toppling crest, I reached a point which I found composed of immense,
angular fragments piled up in dangerous poise. Eastward, the
battlemented rocks around the falls limited the view; but westward I
could see down long reaches of river, where islands of trachyte rose
above white cascades. A peculiar and fine effect is noticeable upon the
river during all the midday. The shadow of the southern cliff is cast
down here and there, completely darkening the river, but often defining
itself upon the water. The contrast between the rich, gem-like green of
the sunlit portions and the deep violet shadow of the cliff is of
extreme beauty. The Snake River, deriving its volume wholly from the
melting of the mountain snows, is a direct gauge of the annual advance
of the sun. In June and July it is a tremendous torrent, carrying a full
half of the Columbia. From the middle of July it constantly shrinks,
reaching its minimum in midwinter. At the lowest, it is a river equal to
the Sacramento or Connecticut.

After ten days devoted to walking around the neighborhood and studying
the falls and rocks, we climbed to our wagon, and rested for a farewell
look at the gorge. It was with great relief that we breathed the free
air of the plain, and turned from the rocky cañon where darkness, and
roar, and perpetual cliffs had bounded our senses, and headed southward,
across the noiseless plain. Far ahead rose a lofty, blue barrier, a
mountain-wall, marbled upon its summit by flecks of perpetual snow. A
deep notch in its profile opened a gateway. Toward this, for leagues
ahead of us, a white thread in the gray desert marked the winding of our
road. Those sensitively organized creatures, the mules, thrilled with
relief at their escape from the cañons, pressed forward with a vigor
that utterly silenced the customary poppings of the whip, and expurgated
the language of the driver from his usual breaking of the Third
Commandment.

The three great falls of America--Niagara, Shoshone, and Yosemite--all,
happily, bearing Indian names, are as characteristically different as
possible. There seems little left for a cataract to express.

Niagara rolls forward with something like the inexorable sway of a
natural law. It is force, power; forever banishing before its
irresistible rush all ideas of restraint.

No sheltering pine or mountain distance of up-piled Sierras guards the
approach to the Shoshone. You ride upon a waste,--the pale earth
stretched in desolation. Suddenly you stand upon a brink, as if the
earth had yawned. Black walls flank the abyss. Deep in the bed a great
river fights its way through labyrinths of blackened ruins, and plunges
in foaming whiteness over a cliff of lava. You turn from the brink as
from a frightful glimpse of the Inferno, and when you have gone a mile
the earth seems to have closed again; every trace of cañon has vanished,
and the stillness of the desert reigns.

As you stand at the base of those cool walls of granite that rise to the
clouds from the green floor of Yosemite, a beautiful park, carpeted with
verdure, expands from your feet. Vast and stately pines band with their
shadows the sunny reaches of the pure Merced. An arch of blue bridges
over from cliff to cliff. From the far summit of a wall of pearly
granite, over stains of purple and yellow,--leaping, as it were, from
the very cloud,--falls a silver scarf, light, lace-like, graceful,
luminous, swayed by the wind. The cliffs’ repose is undisturbed by the
silvery fall, whose endlessly varying forms of wind-tossed spray lend an
element of life to what would otherwise be masses of inanimate stone.
The Yosemite is a grace. It is an adornment. It is a ray of light on the
solid front of the precipice.

From Yosemite our course was bent toward the Merced Obelisk. An
afternoon in early July brought us to camp in the self-same spot where
Cotter and I had bivouacked in the storm more than two years before. I
remembered the crash and wail of those two dreary nights, the thunderous
fulness of tempest beating upon cliffs, and the stealthy, silent
snow-burial; and perhaps to the memory of that bitter experience was
added the contrasting force of to-day’s beauty.

A warm afternoon sun poured through cloudless skies into one rocky
amphitheatre. The little alpine meadow and full, arrowy brook were
flanked upon either side by broad, rounded masses of granite, and
margined by groups of vigorous upland trees: firs for the most part, but
watched over here and there by towering pines and great, aged junipers
whose massive red trunks seemed welded to the very stone.

It was altogether exhilarating; even Little Billy, the gray horse, found
it so, and devoted more time to practical jokes upon thick-headed mules
than to the rich and tempting verdure; nor did the high, cool air
banish from his tender heart a glowing Platonic affection for our brown
mare Sally.

To the ripened charms of middle age Sally united something more than the
memory of youth; she was remarkably plump and well-preserved; her figure
firm and elastic, and she did not hesitate to display it with many
little arts. In presence of her favored Billy she drew deep sighs, and
had quite an irresistible fashion of turning sadly aside and moving away
among trees alone, as if she had no one to love her--a wile never
failing to bring him to her side and elicit such attention as smoothing
her mane or even a pressure of lips upon her brow. And woe to the
emotional mule who ventured to cross our little meadow just to feel for
a moment the soft comfort of her presence. With the bitterness of a
rejected suit he always bore away shoe-prints of jealous Billy.

He led her quietly down to the brook, and never drank a drop until the
mare was done; then they paid a call at camp, nosing about among the
kettles with familiar freedom, nibbling playfully at dish-towel and
coffee-pot, and when we threw sticks at them trotted off as closely as
if they had been harnessed together. In quiet, moonlit hours, before I
went to bed, I saw them still side by side, her head leaning over his
withers; Billy at _qui vive_ staring dramatically with pointed ears into
forest depths, a true and watchful guardian.

A little reconnoitring had shown us the most direct way to the Obelisk,
whose sharp summit looked from the moraine to west of us as grand and
alluring as we had ever thought it.

There was in our hope of scaling this point something more than mere
desire to master a difficult peak. It was a station of great
topographical value, the apex of many triangles, and, more than all,
would command a grander view of the Merced region than any other summit.

July eleventh, about five o’clock in the afternoon, Gardiner and I
strapped packs upon our shoulders. My friend’s load consisted of the
Temple transit, his blanket, and a great tin cup; mine was made up of
field-glass, compass, level, blanket, and provisions for both, besides
the barometer, which, as usual, I slung over one shoulder.

For the first time that year we found ourselves slowly zigzagging to and
fro, following a grade with that peculiarly deliberate gait to which
mountaineering experience very soon confines one. Black firs and
thick-clustered pines covered in clumps all the lower slope, but,
ascending, we came more and more into open ground, walking on glacial
_débris_ among trains of huge bowlders and occasional thickets of
slender, delicate young trees. Emerging finally into open granite
country, we came full in sight of our goal, whose great western
precipice rose sheer and solid above us.

From the south base of the Obelisk a sharp mural ridge curves east,
surrounding an amphitheatre whose sloping, rugged sides were
picturesquely mottled in snow and stone. From the summit of this ridge
we knew we should look over into the upper Merced basin, a great,
billowy, granite depression lying between the Merced group and Mount
Lyell; the birthplace of all those ice rivers and deep-cañoned torrents
which join in the Little Yosemite and form the river Merced. Toward this
we pressed, hurrying rapidly, as the sun declined, in hopes of making
our point before darkness should obscure the _terra incognita_ beyond.

It put us at our best to hasten over the rough, rudely piled blocks and
up cracks among solid bluffs of granite, but with the sun fully half an
hour high we reached the Obelisk foot and looked from our ridge-top
eastward into the new land.

From our feet granite and ice in steep, roof-like curves fell abruptly
down to the Merced Cañon brink, and beyond, over the great gulf, rose
terraces and ridges of sculptured stone, dressed with snow-field, one
above another, up to the eastern rank of peaks whose sharp, solid forms
were still in full light.

From below, it is always a most interesting feature of the mountaineer’s
daily life to watch fading sunlight upon the summit-rocks and snow.
There is something peculiarly charming in the deep carmine flush and in
the pale gradations of violet and cool blue-purple into which it
successively fades. We were now in the very midst of this alpine glow.
Our rocky amphitheatre, opening directly to the sun, was crowded full of
this pure, red light; snow-fields warmed to deepest rose, gnarled stems
of dead pines were dark vermilion, the rocks yellow, and the vast body
of the Obelisk at our left one spire of gold piercing the sapphire
zenith. Eastward, far below us, the Illilluette basin lay in a
peculiarly mild haze, its deep carpet of forest warmed into faint
bronze, and the bare domes and rounded, granite ridges which everywhere
rise above the trees were yellow, of a soft, creamy tint. Farther down,
every foothill was perceptibly reddened under the level beams. Sunlight
reflecting from every object shot up to us, enriching the brightness of
our amphitheatre.

We drank and breathed the light, its mellow warmth permeating every
fibre. We spread our blankets under the lee of an overhanging rock,
sheltered from the keen east wind, and in full view of the broad western
horizon.

After a short half-hour of this wonderful light the sun rested for an
instant upon the Coast ranges, and sank, leaving our mountains suddenly
dead, as if the very breath of life had ebbed away, cold, gray shadows
covering their rigid bodies, and pale sheets of snow half shrouding
their forms.

For a full hour after the sun went down we did little else than study
the western sky, watching with greatest interest a wonderful permanence
and singular gradation of lingering light. Over two hundred miles of
horizon a low stratum of pure orange covered the sky for seven or eight
degrees; above that another narrow band of beryl-green, and then the
cool, dark evening blue.

I always notice, whenever one gets a very wide view of remote horizon
from some lofty mountain-top, the sky loses its high domed appearance,
the gradations reaching but a few degrees upward from the earth,
creating the general form of an inverted saucer. The orange and beryl
bands occupied only about fifteen degrees in altitude, but swept around
nearly from north to south. It was as if a wonderfully transparent and
brilliant rainbow had been stretched along the sky line. At eleven the
colors were still perceptible, and at midnight, when I rose to observe
the thermometer, they were gone, but a low faint zone of light still
lingered.

At gray dawn we were up and cooking our rasher of bacon, and soon had
shouldered our instruments and started for the top.

The Obelisk is flattened, and expands its base into two sharp, serrated
ridges, which form its north and south edges. The broad faces turned to
the east and west are solid and utterly inaccessible, the latter being
almost vertical, the former quite too steep to climb. We started,
therefore, to work our way up the south edge, and, having crossed a
little ravine from whose head we could look down eastward upon steep
thousand-foot _névé_, and westward along the forest-covered ridge up
which we had clambered, began in good earnest to mount rough blocks of
granite.

The edge here is made of immense, broken rocks poised on each other in
delicate balance, vast masses threatening to topple over at a touch.
This blade has from a distance a considerably smooth and even
appearance, but we found it composed of pinnacles often a hundred feet
high, separated from the main top by a deep, vertical cleft. More than
once, after struggling to the top of one of these pinnacles, we were
obliged to climb down the same way in order to avoid the notches.
Finally, when we had reached the brink of a vertical _cul-de-sac_, the
edge no longer afforded us even a foothold. There were left but the
smooth, impossible western face and the treacherous, cracked front of
the eastern precipice. We were driven out upon the latter, and here
forced to climb with the very greatest care, one of us always in advance
making sure of his foothold, the other passing up instruments by hand,
and then cautiously following.

In this way we spent nearly a full hour going from crack to crack,
clinging by the least protruding masses of stone, now and then looking
over our shoulders at the wreck of granite, the slopes of ice, and
frozen lake thousands of feet below, and then upward to gather courage
from the bold, red spike which still rose grandly above us.

At last we struggled up to what we had all along believed the summit,
and found ourselves only on a minor turret, the great needle still a
hundred feet above. From rock to rock and crevice to crevice we made our
way up a fractured edge until within fifty feet of the top, and here its
sharp angle rose smooth and vertical, the eastern precipice carved in a
flat face upon the one side, the western broken by a smoothly curved
recess like the corner of a room. No human being could scale the edge.
An arctic bluebird fluttered along the eastern slope in vain quest of a
foothold, and alighted, panting, at our feet. One step more and we stood
together on a little, detached pinnacle, where, by steadying ourselves
against the sharp, vertical Obelisk edge, we could rest, although the
keen sense of steepness below was not altogether pleasing.

About seven feet across the open head of a _cul-de-sac_ (a mere recess
in the west face) was a vertical crack riven into the granite not more
than three feet wide, but as much as eight feet deep; in it were wedged
a few loose bowlders; below, it opened out into space. At the head of
this crack a rough crevice led up to the summit.

Summoning nerve, I knew I could make the leap, but the life and death
question was whether the _débris_ would give way under my weight, and
leave me struggling in the smooth recess, sure to fall and be dashed to
atoms.

Two years we had longed to climb that peak, and now, within a few yards
of the summit, no weakheartedness could stop us. I thought, should the
_débris_ give way, by a very quick turn and powerful spring I could
regain our rock in safety.

There was no discussion, but, planting my foot on the brink, I sprang,
my side brushing the rough, projecting crag. While in the air I looked
down, and a picture stamped itself on my brain never to be forgotten.
The _débris_ crumbled and moved. I clutched both sides of the cleft,
relieving all possible weight from my feet. The rocks wedged themselves
again, and I was safe.

It was a delicate feat of balancing for us to bridge that chasm with a
transit and pass it across; the view it afforded down the abyss was
calculated to make a man cool and steady.

Barometer and knapsack were next passed over. I placed them all at the
crevice head, and flattened myself against the rock to make room for
Gardiner. I shall never forget the look in his eye as he caught a
glimpse of the abyss in his leap. It gave me such a chill as no amount
of danger, or even death, coming to myself could ever give. The _débris_
grated under his weight an instant and wedged themselves again.

We sprang up on the rocks like chamois, and stood on the top shouting
for joy.

Our summit was four feet across, not large enough for the transit
instrument and both of us; so I, whose duties were geological, descended
to a niche a few feet lower and sat down to my writing.

The sense of aërial isolation was thrilling. Away below, rocks, ridges,
crags, and fields of ice swell up in jostling confusion to make a base
from which springs the spire of stone 11,600 feet high. On all sides I
could look right down at the narrow pedestal. Eastward great ranks of
peaks, culminating in Mount Lyell, were in full, clear view; all streams
and cañons tributary to the Merced were beneath us in map-like
distinctness. Afar to the west lay the rolling plateau gashed with
cañons; there the white line of Yosemite Fall; and beyond, half
submerged in warm haze, my Sunday mountain.

The same little arctic bluebird came again and perched close by me,
pouring out his sweet, simple song with a gayety and freedom which
wholly charmed me.

During our four hours’ stay the thought that we must make that leap
again gradually intruded itself, and whether writing or studying the
country I could not altogether free myself from its pressure.

It was a relief when we packed up and descended to the horrible cleft to
actually meet our danger. We had now an unreliable footing to spring
from, and a mere block of rock to balance us after the jump.

We sprang strongly, struck firmly, and were safe. We worked patiently
down the east face, wound among blocks and pinnacles of the lower
descent, and hurried through moraines to camp, well pleased that the
Obelisk had not vanquished us.



X

CUT-OFF COPPLES’S

1870


One October day, as Kaweah and I travelled by ourselves over a lonely
foothill trail, I came to consider myself the friend of woodpeckers.
With rather more reserve as regards the bluejay, let me admit great
interest in his worldly wisdom. As an instance of co-operative living
the partnership of these two birds is rather more hopeful than most
mundane experiments. For many autumn and winter months such food as
their dainty taste chooses is so rare throughout the Sierras that in
default of any climatic temptation to migrate the birds get in harvests
with annual regularity and surprising labor. Oak and pine mingle in open
growth. Acorns from the one are their grain; the soft pine bark is
granary; and this the process:

Armies of woodpeckers drill small, round holes in the bark of standing
pine-trees, sometimes perforating it thickly up to twenty or thirty and
even forty feet above the ground; then about equal numbers of
woodpeckers and jays gather acorns, rejecting always the little cup, and
insert the gland tightly in the pine bark with its tender base outward
and exposed to the air.

A woodpecker, having drilled a hole, has its exact measure in mind, and
after examining a number of acorns makes his selection, and never fails
of a perfect fit. Not so the jolly, careless jay, who picks up any sound
acorn he finds, and, if it is too large for a hole, drops it in the most
off-hand way, as if it were an affair of no consequence; utters one of
his dry, chuckling squawks, and either tries another or loafs about,
lazily watching the hard-working woodpeckers.

Thus they live, amicably harvesting, and with this sequel: those acorns
in which grubs form become the sole property of woodpeckers, while all
sound ones fall to the jays. Ordinarily chances are in favor of
woodpeckers, and when there are absolutely no sound nuts the jays sell
short, so to speak, and go over to Nevada and speculate in
juniper-berries.

The monotony of hill and glade failing to interest me, and in default of
other diversion, I all day long watched the birds, recalling how many
gay and successful jays I knew who lived, as these, on the wit and
industry of less ostentatious woodpeckers; thinking, too, what naïvely
dogmatic and richly worded political economy Mr. Ruskin would phrase
from my feathered friends. Thus I came to Ruskin, wishing I might see
the work of his idol, and after that longing for some equal artist who
should arise and choose to paint our Sierras as they are with all their
color-glory, power of innumerable pine and countless pinnacle, gloom of
tempest, or splendor, where rushing light shatters itself upon granite
crag, or burns in dying rose upon far fields of snow.

Had I rubbed Aladdin’s lamp? A turn in the trail brought suddenly into
view a man who sat under shadow of oaks, painting upon a large canvas.

As I approached, the artist turned half round upon his stool, rested
palette and brushes upon one knee, and in familiar tone said, “Dern’d if
you ain’t just naturally ketched me at it! Get off and set down. You
ain’t going for no doctor, I know.”

My artist was of short, good-natured, butcher-boy make-up, dressed in
what had formerly been black broadcloth, with an enlivening show of red
flannel shirt about the throat, wrists, and a considerable display of
the same where his waistcoat might once have overlapped a strained but
as yet coherent waistband. The cut of these garments, by length of
coat-tail and voluminous leg, proudly asserted a “Bay” origin. His small
feet were squeezed into tight, short boots, with high, raking heels.

A round face, with small, full mouth, non-committal nose, and black,
protruding eyes, showed no more sign of the ideal temperament than did
the broad daub upon his square yard of canvas.

“Going to Copples’s?” inquired my friend.

That was my destination, and I answered, “Yes.”

“That’s me,” he ejaculated. “Right over there, down below those two
oaks! Ever there?”

“No.”

“My _studio_ ’s there now;” giving impressive accent to the word.

All the while these few words were passing he scrutinized me with
unconcealed curiosity, puzzled, as well he might be, by my dress and
equipment. Finally, after I had tied Kaweah to a tree and seated myself
by the easel, and after he had absently rubbed some raw sienna into his
little store of white, he softly ventured: “Was you looking out a
ditch?”

“No,” I replied.

He neatly rubbed up the white and sienna with his “blender,”
unconsciously adding a dash of Veronese green, gazed at my leggings,
then at the barometer, and again meeting my eye with a look as if he
feared I might be a disguised duke, said in slow tone, with hyphens of
silence between each two syllables, giving to his language all the
dignity of an unabridged Webster, “I would take pleasure in stating that
my name is Hank G. Smith, artist;” and, seeing me smile, he relaxed a
little, and, giving the blender another vigorous twist, added, “I would
request yours.”

Mr. Smith having learned my name, occupation, and that my home
was on the Hudson, near New York, quickly assumed a familiar
me-and-you-old-fel’ tone, and rattled on merrily about his winter in New
York spent in “going through the Academy,”--a period of deep moment to
one who before that painted only wagons for his livelihood.

Storing away canvas, stool, and easel in a deserted cabin close by, he
rejoined me, and, leading Kaweah by his lariat, I walked beside Smith
down the trail toward Copples’s.

He talked freely, and as if composing his own biography, beginning:

“California-born and mountain-raised, his nature soon drove him into a
painter’s career.” Then he reverted fondly to New York and his
experience there.

“Oh, no!” he mused in pleasant irony, “he never spread his napkin over
his legs and partook French victuals up to old Delmonico’s. ’Twasn’t H.
G. which took _her_ to the theatre.”

In a sort of stage-aside to me, he added, “_She_ was a _model_! Stood
for them sculptors, you know; perfectly virtuous, and built from the
ground up.” Then, as if words failed him, made an expressive gesture
with both hands over his shirt-bosom to indicate the topography of her
figure, and, sliding them down sharply against his waistband, he added,
“Anatomical torso!”

Mr. Smith found relief in meeting one so near himself, as he conceived
me to be, in habit and experience. The long-pent-up emotions and
ambitions of his life found ready utterance, and a willing listener.

I learned that his aim was to become a characteristically California
painter, with special designs for making himself famous as the
delineator of muletrains and ox-wagons; to be, as he expressed it, “the
Pacific Slope Bonheur.”

“There,” he said, “is old Eastman Johnson; he’s made the riffle on
barns, and that everlasting girl with the ears of corn; but it ain’t
_life_, it ain’t got the real git-up.

“If you want to see _the_ thing, just look at a Gérôme; his Arab folks
and Egyptian dancing-girls, they ain’t assuming a pleasant expression
and looking at spots while their likenesses is took.

“H. G. will discount Eastman yet.”

He avowed his great admiration of Church, which, with a little leaning
toward Mr. Gifford, seemed his only hearty approval.

“It’s all Bierstadt, and Bierstadt, and Bierstadt nowadays! What has he
done but twist and skew and distort and discolor and belittle and
be-pretty this whole dog-gonned country? Why, his mountains are too high
and too slim; they’d blow over in one of our fall winds.

“I’ve herded colts two summers in Yosemite, and honest now, when I stood
right up in front of his picture, I didn’t know it.

“He hasn’t what old Ruskin calls for.”

By this time the station buildings were in sight, and far down the
cañon, winding in even grade round spur after spur, outlined by a low,
clinging cloud of red dust, we could see the great Sierra
mule-train,--that industrial gulf-stream flowing from California plains
over into arid Nevada, carrying thither materials for life and luxury.
In a vast, perpetual caravan of heavy wagons, drawn by teams of from
eight to fourteen mules, all the supplies of many cities and villages
were hauled across the Sierra at an immense cost, and with such skill of
driving and generalship of mules as the world has never seen before.

Our trail descended toward the grade, quickly bringing us to a high bank
immediately overlooking the trains a few rods below the group of station
buildings.

I had by this time learned that Copples, the former station-proprietor,
had suffered amputation of the leg three times, receiving from the road
men, in consequence, the name of “Cut-off,” and that, while his doctors
disagreed as to whether they had better try a fourth, the kindly hand of
death had spared him that pain, and Mrs. Copples an added extortion in
the bill.

The dying “Cut-off” had made his wife promise she would stay by and
carry on the station until all his debts, which were many and heavy,
should be paid, and then do as she chose.

The poor woman, a New Englander of some refinement, lingered, sadly
fulfilling her task, though longing for liberty.

When Smith came to speak of Sarah Jane, her niece, a new light kindled
in my friend’s eye.

“You never saw Sarah Jane?” he inquired.

I shook my head.

He went on to tell me that he was living in hope of making her Mrs. H.
G., but that the bar-keeper also indulged a hope, and as this important
functionary was a man of ready cash, and of derringers and few words, it
became a delicate matter to avow open rivalry; but it was evident my
friend’s star was ascendant, and, learning that he considered himself
to possess the “dead-wood,” and to have “gaited” the bar-keeper, I was
more than amused, even comforted.

It was pleasure to sit there leaning against a vigorous old oak while
Smith opened his heart to me, in easy confidence, and, with quick eye
watching the passing mules, pencilled in a little sketch-book a leg, a
head, or such portions of body and harness as seemed to him useful for
future works.

“These are notes,” he said, “and I’ve pretty much made up my mind to
paint my great picture on a _gee-pull_. I’ll scumble in a sunset effect,
lighting up the dust, and striking across the backs of team and driver,
and I’ll paint a come-up-there-d’n-you look on the old teamster’s face,
and the mules will be just a-humping their little selves and laying down
to work like they’d expire. And the wagon! Don’t you see what fine
color-material there is in the heavy load and canvas-top with sunlight
and shadow in the folds? And that’s what’s the matter with H. G. Smith.

“Orders, sir, orders; that’s what I’ll get then, and I’ll take my little
old Sarah Jane and light out for New York, and you’ll see _Smith_ on a
studio doorplate, and folks’ll say, ‘Fine feeling for nature, has
Smith!’”

I let this singular man speak for himself in his own vernacular, pruning
nothing of its idiom or slang, as you shall choose to call it. In this
faithful transcript there are words I could have wished to expunge, but
they are his, not mine, and illustrate his mental construction.

The breath of most Californians is as unconsciously charged with slang
as an Italian’s of garlic, and the two, after all, have much the same
function; you touch the bowl or your language, but should never let
either be fairly recognized in salad or conversation. But Smith’s
English was the well undefiled when compared with what I every moment
heard from the current of teamsters which set constantly by us in the
direction of Copples’s.

Close in front came a huge wagon piled high with cases of freight, and
drawn along by a team of twelve mules, whose heavy breathing and
drenched skins showed them hard-worked and well tired out. The driver
looked anxiously ahead at a soft spot in the road, and on at the
station, as if calculating whether his team had courage left to haul
through.

He called kindly to them, cracked his black-snake whip, and all together
they strained bravely on.

The great van rocked, settled a little on the near side, and stuck fast.

With a look of despair the driver got off and laid the lash freely among
his team; they jumped and jerked, frantically tangled themselves up, and
at last all sulked and became stubbornly immovable. Meanwhile, a mile of
teams behind, unable to pass on the narrow grade, came to an unwilling
halt.

About five wagons back I noticed a tall Pike, dressed in checked shirt,
and pantaloons tucked into jack-boots. A soft felt hat, worn on the
back of his head, displayed long locks of flaxen hair, which hung freely
about a florid pink countenance, noticeable for its pair of violent
little blue eyes, and facial angle rendered acute by a sharp, long nose.

This fellow watched the stoppage with impatience, and at last, when it
was more than he could bear, walked up by the other teams with a look of
wrath absolutely devilish. One would have expected him to blow up with
rage; yet withal his gait and manner were cool and soft in the extreme.
In a bland, almost tender voice, he said to the unfortunate driver, “My
friend, perhaps I can help you;” and his gentle way of disentangling and
patting the leaders as he headed them round in the right direction would
have given him a high office under Mr. Bergh. He leisurely examined the
embedded wheel, and cast an eye along the road ahead. He then began in
rather excited manner to swear, pouring it out louder and more profane,
till he utterly eclipsed the most horrid blasphemies I ever heard,
piling them up thicker and more fiendish till it seemed as if the very
earth must open and engulf him.

I noticed one mule after another give a little squat, bringing their
breasts hard against the collars, and straining traces, till only one
old mule, with ears back and dangling chain, still held out. The Pike
walked up and yelled one gigantic oath; her ears sprang forward, she
squatted in terror, and the iron links grated under her strain. He then
stepped back and took the rein, every trembling mule looking out of the
corner of its eye and listening at _qui vive_.

With a peculiar air of deliberation and of childlike simplicity, he said
in every-day tones, “Come up there, mules!”

One quick strain, a slight rumble, and the wagon rolled on to Copples’s.

Smith and I followed, and as we neared the house he punched me
familiarly and said, as a brown petticoat disappeared in the station
door, “There’s Sarah Jane! When I see that girl I feel like I’d reach
out and gather her in;” then clasping her imaginary form as if she was
about to dance with him, he executed a couple of waltz turns, softly
intimating, “That’s what’s the matter with H. G.”

Kaweah being stabled, we betook ourselves to the office, which was of
course bar-room as well. As I entered, the unfortunate teamster was
about paying his liquid compliment to the florid Pike. Their glasses
were filled. “My respects,” said the little driver. The whiskey became
lost to view, and went eroding its way through the dust these poor
fellows had swallowed. He added, “Well, Billy, you _can_ swear.”

“Swear?” repeated the Pike in a tone of incredulous questioning. “Me
swear?” as if the compliment were greater than his modest desert. “No, I
can’t blaspheme worth a cuss. You’d jest orter hear Pete Green. _He can
exhort the impenitent mule._ I’ve known a ten-mule-team to renounce the
flesh and haul thirty-one thousand through a foot of clay mud under one
of his outpourings.”

As a hotel, Copples’s is on the Mongolian plan, which means that
dining-room and kitchen are given over to the mercies--never very
tender--of Chinamen; not such Chinamen as learned the art of
pig-roasting that they might be served up by Elia, but the average John,
and a sadly low average that John is. I grant him a certain general air
of thrift, admitting, too, that his lack of sobriety never makes itself
apparent in loud Celtic brawl. But he is, when all is said, and in spite
of timid and fawning obedience, a very poor servant.

Now and then at one friend’s house it has happened to me that I dined
upon artistic Chinese cookery, and all they who come home from living in
China smack their lips over the relishing _cuisine_. I wish they had sat
down that day at Copples’s. No; on second thought I would spare them.

John may go peacefully to North Adams and make shoes for us, but I shall
not solve the awful domestic problem by bringing him into my kitchen;
certainly so long as Howells’s “Mrs. Johnson” lives, nor even while I
can get an Irish lady to torment me, and offer the hospitality of my
home to her cousins.

After the warning bell, fifty or sixty teamsters inserted their dusty
heads in buckets of water, turned their once white neck-handkerchiefs
inside out, producing a sudden effect of clean linen, and made use of
the two mournful wrecks of combs which hung on strings at either side
the Copples’s mirror. Many went to the bar and partook of a
“dust-cutter.” There was then such clearing of throats, and such loud
and prolonged blowing of noses as may not often be heard upon this
globe.

In the calm which ensued, conversation sprang up on “lead harness,” the
“Stockton wagon that had went off the grade,” with here and there a
sentiment called out by two framed lithographic belles, who in great
richness of color and scantiness of raiment flanked the bar-mirror;--a
dazzling reflector, chiefly destined to portray the bar-keeper’s back
hair, which work of art involved much affectionate labor.

A second bell and rolling away of doors revealed a long dining-room,
with three parallel tables, cleanly set and watched over by Chinamen,
whose fresh, white clothes and bright, olive-buff skin made a contrast
of color which was always chief among my yearnings for the Nile.

While I loitered in the background every seat was taken, and I found
myself with a few dilatory teamsters destined to await a second table.

The dinner-room communicated with a kitchen beyond by means of two
square apertures cut in the partition wall. Through these portholes a
glare of red light poured, except when the square framed a Chinese
cook’s head, or discharged hundreds of little dishes.

The teamsters sat down in patience; a few of the more elegant sort
cleaned their nails with the three-tine forks, others picked their
teeth with them, and nearly all speared with this implement small
specimens from the dishes before them, securing a pickle or a square
inch of pie or even that luxury, a dried apple; a few, on tilted-back
chairs, drummed upon the bottom of their plates the latest tune of the
road.

When fairly under way the scene became active and animated beyond
belief. Waiters, balancing upon their arms twenty or thirty plates,
hurried along and shot them dexterously over the teamsters’ heads with
crash and spatter.

Beans swimming in fat, meats slimed with pale, ropy gravy, and over
everything a faint Mongol odor,--the flavor of moral degeneracy and of a
disintegrating race.

Sharks and wolves may no longer be figured as types of prandial haste.
My friends, the teamsters, stuffed and swallowed with a rapidity which
was alarming but for the dexterity they showed, and which could only
have come of long practice.

In fifteen minutes the room was empty, and those fellows who were not
feeding grain to their mules lighted cigars and lingered round the bar.

Just then my artist rushed in, seized me by the arm, and said in my ear,
“We’ll have _our_ supper over to Mrs. Copples’s. O no, I guess
not--Sarah Jane--arms peeled--cooking up stuff--old woman gone into the
milk-room with a skimmer.” He then added that if I wanted to see what I
had been spared, I might follow him.

We went round an angle of the building and came upon a high bank, where,
through wide-open windows, I could look into the Chinese kitchen.

By this time the second table of teamsters were under way, and the
waiters yelled their orders through to the three cooks.

This large, unpainted kitchen was lighted up by kerosene lamps. Through
clouds of smoke and steam dodged and sprang the cooks, dripping with
perspiration and grease, grabbing a steak in the hand and slapping it
down on the gridiron, slipping and sliding around on the damp floor,
dropping a card of biscuits and picking them up again in their fists,
which were garnished by the whole bill of fare. The red papers with
Chinese inscriptions, and little joss-sticks here and there pasted upon
each wall, the spry devils themselves, and that faint, sickening odor of
China which pervaded the room, combined to produce a sense of deep,
sober gratitude that I had not risked their fare.

“Now,” demanded Smith, “you see that there little white building
yonder?”

I did.

He struck a contemplative position, leaned against the house, extending
one hand after the manner of the minstrel sentimentalist, and softly
chanted:

    “‘’Tis, O, ’tis the cottage of me love;’

“and there’s where they’re getting up as nice a little supper as can be
found on this road or any other. Let’s go over!”

So we strolled across an open space where were two giant pines towering
sombre against the twilight, a little mountain brooklet, and a few quiet
cows.

“Stop,” said Smith, leaning his back against a pine, and encircling my
neck affectionately with an arm; “I told you, as regards Sarah Jane, how
my feelings stand. Well, now, you just bet she’s on the reciprocate!
When I told old woman Copples I’d like to invite you over,--Sarah Jane
she passed me in the doorway,--and said she, ‘Glad to see _your_
friends.’”

Then _sotto voce_, for we were very near, he sang again:

    “‘’Tis, O, ’tis the cottage of me love;’

“and C. K.,” he continued familiarly, “you’re a judge of wimmen,”
chucking his knuckles into my ribs, whereat I jumped; when he added,
“There, I knew you was. Well, Sarah Jane is a derned magnificent female;
number three boot, just the height for me. _Venus de_ Copples, I call
her, and would make the most touching artist’s wife in this planet. If I
design to paint a head, or a foot, or an arm, get my little old Sarah
Jane to peel the particular charm, and just whack her in on the canvas.”

We passed in through low doors, turned from a small, dark entry into the
family sitting-room, and were alone there in presence of a cheery log
fire, which good-naturedly bade us welcome, crackling freely and tossing
its sparks out upon floor of pine and coyote-skin rug. A few old framed
prints hung upon dark walls, their faces looking serenely down upon the
scanty, old-fashioned furniture and windows full of flowering plants. A
low-cushioned chair, not long since vacated, was drawn close by the
centre-table, whereon were a lamp and a large, open Bible, with a pair
of silver-bowed spectacles lying upon its lighted page.

Smith made a gesture of silence toward the door, touched the Bible, and
whispered, “_Here’s_ where old woman Copples lives, and it is a good
thing; I read it aloud to her evenings, and I can just feel the high,
local lights of it. It’ll fetch H. G. yet!”

At this juncture the door opened; a pale, thin, elderly woman entered,
and with tired smile greeted me. While her hard, labor-stiffened,
needle-roughened hand was in mine, I looked into her face and felt
something (it may be, it must be, but little, yet something) of the
sorrow of her life; that of a woman large in sympathy, deep in faith,
eternal in constancy, thrown away on a rough, worthless fellow. All
things she hoped for had failed her; the tenderness which never came,
the hopes years ago in ashes, the whole world of her yearnings long
buried, leaving only the duty of living and the hope of Heaven. As she
sat down, took up her spectacles and knitting, and closed the Bible, she
began pleasantly to talk to us of the warm, bright autumn nights, of
Smith’s work, and then of my own profession, and of her niece, Sarah
Jane. Her genuinely sweet spirit and natively gentle manner were very
beautiful, and far overbalanced all traces of rustic birth and mountain
life.

O, that unquenchable Christian fire, how pure the gold of its result! It
needs no practised elegance, no social greatness, for its success; only
the warm human heart, and out of it shall come a sacred calm and
gentleness, such as no power, no wealth, no culture may ever hope to
win.

No words of mine would outline the beauty of that plain, weary old
woman, the sad, sweet patience of those gray eyes, nor the spirit of
overflowing goodness which cheered and enlivened the half hour we spent
there.

H. G. might perhaps be pardoned for showing an alacrity when the door
again opened and Sarah Jane rolled--I might almost say trundled--in, and
was introduced to me.

Sarah Jane was an essentially Californian product, as much so as one of
those vast potatoes or massive pears; she had a suggestion of State-Fair
in the fulness of her physique, yet withal was pretty and modest.

If I could have rid myself of a fear that her buttons might sooner or
later burst off and go singing by my ear, I think I might have felt as
H. G. did, that she was a “magnificent female,” with her smooth,
brilliant skin and ropes of soft brown hair.

H. G., in presence of the ladies, lost something of his original flavor,
and rose into studied elegance, greatly to the comfort of Sarah, whose
glow of pride as his talk ran on came without show of restraint.

The supper was delicious.

But Sarah was quiet, quiet to H. G. and to me, until after tea, when the
old lady said, “You young folks will have to excuse me this evening,”
and withdrew to her chamber.

More logs were then piled on the sitting-room hearth, and we three
gathered in a semi-circle.

Presently H. G. took the poker and twisted it about among coals and
ashes, prying up the oak sticks, as he announced, in a measured, studied
way, “An artist’s wife, that is,” he explained, “an Academician’s wife
orter, well she’d orter _sabe_ the beautiful, and take her regular
æsthetics; and then again,” he continued in explanatory tone, “she’d
orter to know how to keep a hotel, derned if she hadn’t, for it’s rough
like furst off, ’fore a feller gets his name up. But then when he does,
tho’, she’s got a salubrious old time of it. It’s touch a little bell”
(he pressed the andiron-top to show us how the thing was done), “and
‘Brooks, the morning paper!’ Open your regular Herald:

       *       *       *       *       *

“‘ART NOTES.--Another of H. G. Smith’s tender works, entitled, “Off the
Grade,” so full of out-of-doors and subtle feeling of nature, is now on
exhibition at Goupil’s.’

“Look down a little further:

“‘ITALIAN OPERA.--Between the acts all eyes turned to the _distingué_
Mrs. H. G. Smith, who looked,’”--then turning to me, and waving his hand
at Sarah Jane, “I leave it to you if she don’t.”

Sarah Jane assumed the pleasing color of the sugar-beet, without seeming
inwardly unhappy.

“It’s only a question of time with H. G.,” continued my friend. “Art is
long, you know--derned long--and it may be a year before I paint my
great picture, but after that Smith works in lead harness.”

He used the poker freely, and more and more his flow of hopes turned a
shade of sentiment to Sarah Jane, who smiled broader and broader,
showing teeth of healthy whiteness.

At last I withdrew and sought my room, which was H. G.’s also, and his
studio. I had gone with a candle round the walls whereon were tacked
studies and sketches, finding here and there a bit of real merit among
the profusion of trash, when the door burst open and my friend entered,
kicked off his boots and trousers, and walked up and down at a sort of
quadrille step, singing:

    “‘Yes, it’s the cottage of me love;
      You bet, it’s the cottage of me love,’

“and, what’s more, H. G. has just had his genteel good-night kiss; and
when and where is the good old bar-keep?”

I checked his exuberance as best I might, knowing full well that the
quiet and elegant dispenser of neat and mixed beverages hearing this
inquiry would put in an appearance in person and offer a few remarks
designed to provoke ill-feeling. So I at last got Smith in bed and the
lamp out. All was quiet for a few moments, and when I had almost gotten
asleep I heard my room-mate in low tones say to himself,--

“Married, by the Rev. Gospel, our talented California artist, Mr. H. G.
Smith, to Miss Sarah Jane Copples. No cards.”

A pause, and then with more gentle utterance, “and that’s what’s the
matter with H. G.”

Slowly from this atmosphere of art I passed away into the tranquil land
of dreams.



XI

SHASTA

1870


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
fire-breath 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 from 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 photographic 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 choked 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!



XII

SHASTA FLANKS

1870


There are certain women, I am informed, who place men under their spell
without leaving them the melancholy satisfaction of understanding how
the thing was done. They may have absolutely repulsive features, and a
pretty permanent absence of mind; without that charm of cheerful grace
before which we are said to succumb. Yet they manage to assume command
of certain. It is thus with mules. I have heard them called awkward and
personally plain, nor is it denied that their disposition, though rich
in individuality, lacks some measure of qualities which should endear
them to humanity. Despite all this, and even more, they have a way of
tenderly getting the better of us, and, in the long run, absolutely
enthroning themselves in our affections. Mystery as it is, I confess to
its potent sway, long ago owning it beyond solution.

Live on the intimate terms of brother-explorer with your mule, be
thoughtful for his welfare, and you by-and-by take an emotional start
toward him which will surprise you. You look into that reserved face,
the embodiment of self-contained drollery, and begin to detect soft
thought and tender feeling; and sometimes, as you cinch your saddle a
little severely, the calm, reproachful visage will swing round and melt
you with a single look. Nothing is left but to rub the velvet nose and
loosen up the girth. When the mere brightness and gayety of mountain
life carries one away with their hilarious current, there is something
in the meek and humble air of a lot of pack animals altogether
chastening in its prompt effect.

My “‘69” was one of these insidious beings who within a week of our
first meeting asserted supremacy over my life, and formed a silent
partnership with my conscience. She was a chubby, black mule, so sleek
and rotund as distantly to suggest a pig on stilts. Upon the eye which
still remained, a cataract had begun to spread its dimming film. Her
make-up was also defective in a weak pair of hind legs, which gave way
suddenly in going up steep places. She was clumsy, and in rugged
pathways would squander much time in the selection of her foothold. At
these moments, when she deliberated, as I fancied, needlessly long, I
have very gently suggested with Spanish spur that it might be as well to
start; the serious face then turned upon me, its mild eye looking into
mine one long, earnest gaze, as much as to say, “I love and would spare
you; remember Balaam!” I yielded.

These animals are always of the opposition party; they reverse your
wishes, and from one year’s end to another defy your best judgment. Yet
I love them, and only in extreme moments “go for” them with a
fence-rail or theodolite-tripod. Nothing can be pleasanter than to ride
them through forest roads, chatting in a bright company, and catching
glimpses of far, quiet scenery framed by the long, furry ears.

So we thought on that sunny morning when we left Sisson’s, starting
ahead of wagons and pack animals, and riding out into the woodland on
our trip round Shasta; a march of a hundred miles, with many proposed
side-excursions into the mountain.

The California haze had again enveloped Shasta, this time nearly
obscuring it. In forest along the southeast base, we came upon the
stream flowing from McCloud Glacier, its cold waters milky white with
fine, sandy sediment. Such dense, impenetrable fields of chaparral cover
the south foothills that we were only able to fight our way through
limited parts, getting, however, a clear idea of lava flows and
topography. Farther east, the plains rise to seven thousand feet, and
fine wood ridges sweep down from Shasta, inviting approach.

While Munger and Watkins camped to make studies and negatives of the
peak, Fred Clark and I packed one mule with a week’s provisions, and,
mounting our saddle-animals, struck off into dark, silent forest.

It was a steep climb of eight or ten miles up tree-covered ridges and
among outcrops of gray trachyte, nearly every foot showing more or less
evidence of glacial action; long trains of morainal rocks upon which
large forest-trees seemed satisfied to grow; great, rough regions of
terminal rubbish, with enclosed patches of level earth commonly
grass-grown and picturesque. It was sunset before we came upon water,
and then it flowed a thousand feet below us in the bottom of a sharp,
narrow cañon, cut abruptly down in what seemed glacial _débris_. I
thought it unwise to take our mules down its steep wall if there were
any camp-spot high up in the opener head of the cañon, and went off on
foot to climb the wooded moraines still farther, hoping to come upon a
bit of alpine sward with icy pool, or even upon a spring. When up
between two and three hundred feet the trees became less and less
frequent, rugged trains of stone and glacier-scored rock in places
covering the spurs. I could now overlook the snow amphitheatre, which
opened vast and shadowy above. Not a sign of vegetation enlivened its
stony bed. The icy brook flowed between slopes of _débris_. At my feet a
trachyte ridge narrowed the stream with a tortuous bed, and led it to
the edge of a five-hundred-feet cliff, over which poured a graceful
cascade. Finding no camp-spot there, I turned northward and made a
detour through deep woods, by-and-by coming back to Clark. We faced the
necessity, and by dark were snugly camped in the wild cañon bottom. It
was one of the loneliest bivouacs of my life: shut in by high, dark
walls, a few clustered trees growing here and there, others which floods
had undermined lying prostrate, rough bowlders thrown about, an icy
stream hurrying by, and chilly winds coming down from the height,
against which our blankets only half defended us.

Our excursion next day was south and west, across high, scantily wooded
moraines, till we came to the deep cañon of the McCloud Glacier.

I describe this gorge, as it is one of several similar, all peculiar to
Shasta. We had climbed to a point about ten thousand feet above the sea,
and were upon the eastern edge of a cañon of eleven or twelve hundred
feet depth. From the very crest of the Shasta, with here and there a few
patches of snow, a long and remarkably even _débris_ slope swept down.
It seemed as if these small pieces of trachyte formed a great part of
the region, for to the very bottom our cañon walls were worked out of
it. A half mile below us the left bank was curiously eroded by side
streams, resulting in a family of pillars from one to seven hundred feet
high, each capped with some hard lava bowlder which had protected the
soft _débris_ beneath from weathering. From its lofty _névé_ the McCloud
Glacier descended over rugged slopes in one long cascade to a little
above our station, where it impinged against a great rock buttress and
turned sharply from the south wall toward us, rounding over in a great,
solid ice-dome eight or nine hundred feet high. For a mile farther a
huge accumulation looking like a river of _débris_ cumbered the bottom.
Here and there, on close scrutiny, we found it to be pierced with
caverns whose ice-walls showed that the glacier underlay all this vast
amount of stone. Bowlders rattled continually from the upper glacier
and down both cañon walls, increasing the already great burden. Along
both sides were evidences of motion in the lateral moraine embankments,
and a very perceptible rounding up of terminal ramparts, from which in
white torrent poured the sub-glacial brook.

It is instructive to consider what an amount of freighting labor this
shrunken ice-stream has to perform besides dragging its own vast weight
along. In descending Shasta we had found glacial ice which evidently for
a mile or more deeply underlaid a mass of rock similar to this. It is
one of the curiosities of Mount Shasta that such a great bulk of ice
should be buried, and in large part preserved, by loads of rock
fragments. Fine contrasts of color were afforded high up among the
_sérac_ by a combination of blue ice and red lavas. We hammered and
surveyed here for half the day, then descended to our mules, who bore us
eagerly back to their home, our weird little cañon camp.

A pleasant day’s march, altogether in woods and over glacial ridges,
during which not a half hour passed without opening views of the cone,
brought us high on the northern slope, at the upper forest limit, in a
region of barren avalanche tracks and immense moraines.

Between those great, straight ridges which jut almost parallel from the
volcano’s base are wide, shelving valleys, the pathways of extinct
glaciers; and here the forest, although it must once have obtained
foothold, has been uprooted and swept away before powerful avalanches,
crushed and up-piled trunks in sad wreck marking spots where the
snow-rush stopped.

Two brooks, separated by a wide, gently rounding zone of drift, flowed
down through the glacier valley which opened directly in front of our
camp.

Early next morning Clark and I made up a bag of lunch, shouldered our
instruments, and set out for a day on the glacier. Our slow, laborious
ascent of the valley was not altogether uninteresting. Constant views
obtained of moraines on either side gave us much pleasure and study. It
was instructive to observe that the bases of their structure were solid
floors of lava, upon which, in rude though secure masonry, were piled
embankments not less than half a mile wide and four hundred feet high.
Among the huge rocks which formed the upper structure the tree-forms
were peculiar. Apparently every tree had made an effort to fill some gap
and round out the smooth general surface. No matter how deeply twisted
between high bowlders, the branches spread themselves out in a
continuous, dense mat, stretching from stone to stone. It was only
rarely, and in the less elevated parts of the moraine, that we could see
a trunk. The whole effect was of a causeway of rock overgrown by some
dense, green vine.

Similar patches of stunted trees grew here and there over the bottom of
our broad amphitheatre. Oftentimes we threaded our way among dense
thickets of pines, never over six or eight feet in height, having
trunks often two and three feet in diameter, and more than once we
walked over their tops, our feet sinking but two or three inches into
the dense mat of foliage. Here and there, half buried in the drift, we
came across the tall, noble trunks of avalanche-killed trees. In
comparing their straight, symmetrical growth with the singularly matted
condition of the living-dwarfed trees, I find the indication of a great
climatic change. Not only are the present avalanches too great to permit
their growth, but the violent cold winds which drift over this region
bend down the young trees to such an extent that there are no longer
tall, normal specimens. Around the upper limits of aborescent vegetation
we passed some most enchanting spots; groves, not over eight feet in
height, of large trees whose white trunks and interwoven boughs formed a
colonnade, over which stretched thick, living thatch. Under these
strange galleries we walked upon soft, velvety turf and an elastic
cushion of pine-needles; nor could we resist the temptation of lying
down here to rest beneath the dense roof. As we looked back, charming
little vistas opened between the old and dwarfed stems. In one direction
we could see the moraine with its long, graded slope and variegated
green and brown surface; in another, the open pathway of the old glacier
worn deeper and deeper between lofty, forest-clad spurs; and up to the
great snow mass above us, with its slender peak in the heavens looking
down upon magnificent sweep of _névé_.

Only the strong desire for glaciers led us away from these delightful
groves. A short tramp over sand and bowlders brought us to the foot of a
broad, irregular, terminal moraine. Two or three milky cascades poured
out from under the great bowlder region and united to form two important
streams. We followed one of these in our climb up the moraine, and after
an hour’s hard work found ourselves upon an immense pile of lava blocks,
from which we could overlook the whole.

In irregular curve it continues not less than three miles around the end
of the glacier, and in no place that I saw was less than a half mile in
width. Where we had attacked it the width cannot be less than a mile,
and the portion over which we had climbed must reach a thickness of five
or six hundred feet.

About a half mile above us, though but little lifted from our level,
undulating hillocks of ice marked the division between glacier and
moraine; above that, it stretched in uninterrupted white fields. The
moraine in every direction extended in singularly abrupt hills,
separated by deep, irregular pits and basins of a hundred and more feet
deep.

As we climbed on, the footing became more and more insecure, piles of
rock giving way under our weight. Before long we came to a region of
circular, funnel-shaped craters, where evidently the underlying glacier
had melted out and a whole freight of bowlders fallen in with a rush.
Around the edges of these horrible traps we threaded our way with
extreme caution; now and then a bowlder, dislodging under our feet,
rolled down into these pits, and many tons would settle out of sight.
Altogether it was the most dangerous kind of climbing I have ever seen.
You were never sure of your foothold. More than once, when crossing a
comparatively smooth, level bowlder-field, the rocks began to sink under
us, and we sprang on from stone to stone while the great mass caved and
sank slowly behind us. At times, while making our way over solid-seeming
stretches, the sound of a deep, sub-glacial stream flowing far beneath
us came up faint and muffled through the chinks of the rock. This sort
of music is not encouraging to the nerves. To the siren babble of
mountain brook is added all the tragic nearness of death.

We looked far and wide in hope of some solid region which should lead us
up to the ice, but it was all alike, and we hurried on, the rocks
settling and sinking beneath our tread, until we made our way to the
edge, and climbed with relief upon the hard, white surface. After we had
gained the height of a hundred feet, climbing up a comparatively smooth
slope between brooks which flowed over it, a look back gave a more
correct idea of the general billowy character of our moraine; and here
and there in its deeper indentations we could detect the underlying ice.

It is, then, here as upon the McCloud Glacier. For at least a mile’s
width the whole lower zone is buried under accumulation of morainal
matter. Instead of ending like most Swiss glaciers, this ice wastes
chiefly in contact with the ground, and when considerable caverns are
formed the overlying moraine crushes its way through the rotten roof,
making the funnels we had seen.

Thankful that we had not assisted at one of these engulfments, we
scrambled on up the smooth, roof-like slope, steadying our ascent by the
tripod legs used as alpine stock. When we had climbed perhaps a thousand
feet the surface angle became somewhat gentler, and we were able to
overlook before us the whole broad incline up to the very peak. For a
mile or a mile and a half the sharp, blue edges of crevasses were
apparent here and there, yawning widely for the length of a thousand
feet, and at other places intersecting each other confusedly, resulting
in piled-up masses of shattered ice.

We were charmed to enter this wild region, and hurried to the edge of an
immense chasm. It could hardly have been less than a thousand or twelve
hundred feet in length. The solid, white wall of the opposite
side--sixty feet over--fell smooth and vertical for a hundred feet or
more, where rough wedged blocks and bridges of clear blue ice stretched
from wall to wall. From these and from numerous overhanging shelves hung
the long, crystal threads of icicles, and beyond, dark and impenetrable,
opened ice-caverns of unknown limit. We cautiously walked along this
brink, examining with deep interest all the lines of stratification and
veining, and the strange succession of views down into the fractured
regions below.

I had the greatest desire to be let down with a line and make my way
among these pillars and bridges of ice, but our little twenty feet of
slender rope forbade the attempt. Farther up, the crevasses walled us
about more and more. At last we got into a region where they cut into
one another, breaking the whole glacier body into a confused pile of ice
blocks. Here we had great difficulty in seeing our way for more than a
very few feet, and were constantly obliged to climb to the top of some
dangerous block to get an outlook, and before long, instead of a plain
with here and there a crevasse, we were in a mass of crevasses separated
only by thin and dangerous blades of ice.

We still pushed on, tied together with our short line, jumping over pits
and chasms, holding our breath over slender snow-ridges, and beginning
to think the work serious. We climbed an ice-crag together; all around
rose strange, sharp forms; below, in every direction, yawned narrow
cuts, caves trimmed with long stalactites of ice, walls ornamented with
crystal pilasters, and dark-blue grottoes opening down into deeper and
more gloomy chambers, as silent and cold as graves.

Far above, the summit rose white and symmetrical, its sky line sweeping
down sharp against the blue. Below, over ice-wreck and frozen waves,
opened the deep valley of our camp, leading our vision down to distant
forest slopes.

We were in the middle of a vast, convex glacier surface which embraced
the curve of Shasta for four miles around, and at least five on the
slope line, ice stretching in every direction and actually bounding the
view on all sides except where we looked down.

The idea of a mountain glacier formed from Swiss or Indian views is
always of a stream of ice walled in by more or less lofty ridges. Here a
great, curved cover of ice flows down the conical surface of a volcano
without lateral walls, a few lava pinnacles and inconspicuous piles of
_débris_ separating it from the next glacier, but they were unseen from
our point. Sharp, white profiles met the sky. It became evident we could
go no farther in the old direction, and we at once set about retracing
our steps, but in the labyrinth soon lost the barely discernible tracks
and never refound them. Whichever way we turned, impassable gulfs opened
before us, but just a little way to the right or left it seemed safe and
traversable.

At last I got provoked at the ill-luck, and suggested to Clark that we
might with advantage take a brief intermission for lunch, feeling that a
lately quieted stomach is the best defence for nerves. So when we got
into a pleasant, open spot, where the glacier became for a little way
smooth and level, we sat down, leisurely enjoying our repast. We saw a
possible way out of our difficulty, and sat some time chatting
pleasantly. When there was no more lunch we started again, and only
three steps away came upon a narrow crack edged by sharp ice-jaws. There
was something noticeable in the hollow, bottomless darkness seen through
it which arrested us, and when we had jumped across to the other side,
both knelt and looked into its depths. We saw a large, domed grotto
walled in with shattered ice and arched over by a roof of frozen snow so
thin that the light came through quite easily. The middle of this dome
overhung a terrible abyss. A block of ice thrown in fell from ledge to
ledge, echoing back its stroke fainter and fainter. We had unconsciously
sat for twenty minutes lunching and laughing on the thin roof, with only
a few inches of frozen snow to hold us up over that still, deep grave; a
noonday sun rapidly melting its surface, the warmth of our persons
slowly thawing it, and both of us playfully drumming the frail crest
with our tripod legs. We looked at one another, and agreed that we had
lost confidence in glaciers.

Splendid rifts now opened to north of us, with slant sunshine lighting
up one side in vivid contrast with the cold, shadowed wall. We greatly
enjoyed a tall precipice with a gaping crevasse at its base, and found
real pleasure in the north edge of the great ice-field, whither we now
turned. A low moraine, with here and there a mass of rock which might be
solid, flanked the glacier, but was separated from it by a deeply melted
crevasse, opening irregular caverns along the wall down under the very
glacier body. We were some time searching a point where this gulf might
be safely crossed. A thin tongue of ice, sharpened by melting to a mere
blade, jutted from the solid glacier over to the moraine, offering us a
passage of some danger and much interest. We edged our way along astride
its crest, until a good spring carried us over a final crevasse and up
upon the moraine, which we found to be dangerously built up of
honeycombed ice and bowlders. The same perilous sinks and holes
surrounded us, and alternated with hollow archways over subterranean
streams. It was a relief, after an hour’s labor, to find ourselves on
solid lava, although the ridge, which proved to be a chain of old
craters, was one of the most dreary reaches I have ever seen.

In the evidence of glacier motion there had seemed a form of life, but
here among silent, rigid crater rims and stark fields of volcanic sand
we walked upon ground lifeless and lonely beyond description: a frozen
desert at nine thousand feet altitude. Among the huge, rude forms of
lava we tramped along, happy when the tracks of mountain sheep suggested
former explorers, and pleased if a snow-bank under rock shadow gave
birth to spring or pool. But the severe impression of arctic dreariness
passed off when, reaching a rim, we looked over and down upon the
volcano’s north foot, a superb sweep of forest country waved with ridgy
flow of lava and gracefully curved moraines.

Afar off, the wide, sunny Shasta Valley, dotted with miniature
volcanoes, and checked with the yellow and green of grain and garden,
spread pleasantly away to the north, bounded by Clamath hills and
horizoned by the blue rank of Siskiyou Mountains. To our left the cone
slope stretched away to Sisson’s, the sharp form of the Black Cone
rising in the gap between Shasta and Scott Mountain.

Here again the tremendous contrast between lava and ice about us and
that lovely expanse of ranches and verdure impressed anew its peculiar
force.

We tramped on along the glacier edge, over rough ridges and slopes of
old moraine, rounding at last the ice terminus, and crossing the valley
to camp, where our three mules welcomed us with friendly discord.

A day’s march over forest-covered moraines and through open glades
brought us to the main camp at Sheep Rock, uniting us with our friends.
The heavier air of this lower level soothed us into a pleasant laziness
which lasted over Sunday, resting our strained muscles and opening the
heart anew to human and sacred influence. If we are sometimes at pain
when realizing within what narrow range of latitude mankind reaches
finer development, how short a step it is from tropical absence of
spiritual life to dull, boreal stupidity, it is added humiliation to
experience our marked limitation in altitude. At fourteen thousand feet
little is left me but bodily appetite and impression of sense. The habit
of scientific observation, which in time becomes one of the involuntary
processes, goes on as do heart-beat and breathing; a certain general awe
overshadows the mind; but on descending again to lowlands one after
another the whole riches of the human organization come back with
delicious freshness. Something of this must account for my delight in
finding the family of Preuxtemps (a half-Cherokee mountaineer known
hereabouts as Pro-tem) camped near us. Pro-tem was a barbarian by
choice, and united all the wilder instincts with a domestic passion
worthy his Caucasian ancestor, and quite charming in its childlike
manifestation.

Protem _mère_, an obese Digger squaw, so evidently avoided us that I
respected her feelings and never once visited their bivouac, although
the flutter of gaudy rags and that picturesque squalor of which she and
the camp-fire were centre and soul, sorely tempted me.

The old man and his four little barefoot girls, if not actually
familiar, were more than sociable, and spent much time with us. The
elder three, ranging from eight to twelve, were shy and timid as little
quails, dodging about and scampering off to some hiding-place when I
strove to introduce myself through the medium of such massive
sweet-cakes as our William produced. Not so the little six-year-old
Clarissa, who in all frankness met my advances and repaid me for the
cookies she silently devoured by gentlest and most fascinating smiles.

A stained and earth-hued flour-sack rudely gathered into a band was her
skirt, and confined the little, long-sleeved, pink calico sack. From out
a voluminous sun-bonnet with long cape shone the chubby face of my
little friend. For all she was so young and charmingly small, Clarissa
was woman rather than child. She took entire care of herself, and
prowled about in a self-contained way, making studies and observations
with ludicrous gravity. Early mornings she came with slow, matronly gait
down to the horse-trough, and, rolling up her sleeves, laid aside the
huge sun-bonnet, washed her face and hands, wiping them on her
petticoat, and arranged her jetty Indian hair with the quiet
unconsciousness of fifty years.

Her good-morning nod, with the reserved yet affectionate smile, put me
in happiness for the day, and when as I strolled about she overtook me
and placed her little hand in mine, looking up with fearless, quiet
confidence, I measured step with her, and we held sweet chats about
squirrels and field-mice. But I thought her most charming when she
brought her father down to our camp-fire after supper, and, alternately
on his knee or mine, listened to our stories and wound a soft little arm
about our necks. The twilight passed agreeably thus, Clarissa gradually
paying less and less attention to our yarns, till she pulled the skirts
of my cavalry coat over her, and curling up on my lap laid her dear
little head on my breast, smiled, gaped, rubbed with plump knuckles the
blinking eyes, dozed, and at last sank into a deep sleep.

I can even now see old Protem draw an explanatory map on the ground his
moccasin had smoothed, and go on with his story of bear fight or wolf
trap, illustrating by singularly apt gesture every trait and motion of
the animal he described, while firelight warmed the brown skin and ruddy
cheek of my little charge and flickered on her soft, black hair.

The last bear story of an evening being ended, Protem took from me
Clarissa, whose single yawn and pretty bewilderment subsided in a
second, leaving her sound asleep on the buckskin shoulder of her father.

About half way between Sheep Rock and the snow-line extensive eruptions
of basalt have occurred, deluging the lower slopes, and flowing in
gently inclined fields and streams down through Shasta Valley for many
miles. The surface of this basalt country is singularly diversified.
Rising above its general level are numerous domes, some of them smoothly
arched over with rock, others perforated at the top, and more broken in
circular parapets. The origin of these singular blisters is probably
simple. Overflowing former trachyte fields, the basalt swept down,
covering a series of pools and brooks. The water converted into steam
blew up the viscous rock in such forms as we find. Here and there the
basalt surface opens in circular orifices, into which you may look a
hundred feet or more.

In 1863, in company with Professor Brewer, I visited this very region,
and we were then shown an interesting tubular cavern lying directly
under the surface of a lava plain.

Mr. Palmer and I revisited the spot, and, having tied our mules,
descended through a circular hole to the cavern’s mouth. An archway of
black lava sixty feet wide by eighty high, with a floor of lava sand and
rough bowlders, led under the basalt in a northerly direction,
preserving an incline not more than the gentle slope of the country. Our
roof overhead could hardly have been more than twenty or thirty feet
thick. We followed the cavern, which was a comparatively regular tube,
for half or three-quarters of a mile. Now and then the roof would open
up in larger chambers, and the floor be cumbered with huge piles of
lava, over which we scrambled, sometimes nearly reaching the ceiling.
Fresh lava-froth and smooth blister-holes lined the sides. Innumerable
bats and owls on silent wing floated by our candles, fanning an air
singularly still and dense.

After a cautious scramble over a long pile of immense basalt blocks, we
came to the end of the cave, and sat down upon piles of _débris_. We
then repeated an experiment, formerly made by Brewer and myself, of
blowing out our candle to observe the intense darkness, then firing a
pistol that we might hear its dull, muffled explosion.

The formation of this cave, as explained in Professor Whitney’s
Geological Report, is this: “A basalt stream, flowing down from Shasta,
cooled and hardened upon the surface, while within the mass remained
molten and fluid. From simple pressure the lava burst out at the lower
end, and, flowing forth, left an empty tube. Wonderfully fresh and
recent the whole confused rock-walls appeared, and we felt, as we walked
and climbed back to the opening and to daylight, as if we had been
allowed to travel back into the volcano age.”

One more view of Shasta, obtained a few days later from Well’s ranch on
the Yreka road, seems worthy of mention. From here the cone and side
crater are in line, making a single symmetrical form with broad, broken
summit singularly like Cotopaxi.

You look over green meadows and cultivated fields; beyond is a chain of
little volcanoes girdling Shasta’s foot, for the most part bare and
yellow, but clouded in places with dark forest, which a little farther
up mantles the broad, grand cone, and sweeps up over ridge and cañon to
alpine heights of rock and ice.

Strange and splendid is the evening effect from here, when shadow over
base and light upon summit divide the vast pile into two zones of
blue-purple and red-gold. We watched the colors fade and the peak recede
farther and dimmer among darkness and stars.



XIII

MOUNT WHITNEY

1871


There lay between Carson and Mount Whitney a ride of two hundred and
eighty miles along the east base of the Sierra. Stage-driving, like
other exact professions, gathers among its followers certain types of
men and manners, either by some mode of natural selection, or else after
a Darwinian way developing one set of traits to the exclusion of others.
However interesting it might be to investigate the moulding power of
whip and reins, or to discover what measure of coachman there is latent
in every one of us, it cannot be questioned that the characters of
drivers do resemble one another in surprising degree. That ostentatious
silence and self-contained way of ignoring one’s presence on the box for
the first half hour, the tragi-comic, just-audible undertone in which
they remonstrate with the swing team, and such single refrain of
obsolete song as they drone and drone a hundred times, may be observed
on every coach from San Diego to Montana.

So I found it natural enough that the driver, my sole companion from
Carson to Aurora, should sit for the first hour in a silence etiquette
forbade me to violate. His team, by strict attention to their duties,
must have left his mind quite free, and I saw symptoms of suppressed
sociability within forty minutes of our departure.

The nine-mile house, if my memory serves, was his landmark for
taciturnity, for soon after passing it he began to skirmish along a sort
of picket line of conversation. To the wheel mares he remarked, “Hot,
gals; ain’t it, tho’?” and to his off leader, who strained wild eyes in
every direction for something to become excited about, “Look at him,
Dixie; wouldn’t you like a rabbit to shy at?”

With a true driver’s pride in reading men, he scanned me from boots to
barometer, and at last, to my immense delight, said, with the air of
throwing his hat into a ring, “What mountain was you going down to
measure?” Had he inquired after my grandfather by his first name, I
could not have been more surprised. At once I told him the plain truth,
and waited for further developments; but, like an indifferent shot who
drives centre on a first trial, he proposed not to endanger his
reputation for infallibility by other ventures, and withdrew again to
that conspicuous stupidity which coachmen and Buddhists alike delight
in.

Left to myself, I spent hours in looking out over the desert and up
along that bold front of Sierra which rose on our right from the sage
plains of Carson Valley up through ramparts of pine land to summits of
rock and ravines with sunken snow-banks.

So far as Aurora, I remember little worth describing. Sierras, or
outlying volcanic foot-hills, bound the west. About our road are desert
plains and rolling sage-clad hills, fresh, light olive at this June
season, and softly sloping in long _glacis_ down to wide, impressive
levels.

Green valleys and cultivated farms margin the Carson and Walker rivers.
Sierras are not lofty enough to be grand, desert too gentle and
overspread with sage to be terrible; yet the pale, high key of all its
colors, and singular aërial brilliancy lend an otherwise dreary enough
picture the charm,--as I once before said,--of water-color drawings.
There is no perspective under this fierce white light; in midday
intensely sharp reflections glare from hill and valley, except where the
shadow of passing cloud spreads cool and blue over olive slopes.

Alas for Aurora, once so active and bustling with silver mines and its
almost daily murder! Twenty-six whiskey hells and two Vigilance
Committees graced those days of prosperity and mirthful gallows, of
stock-board and the gay delirium of speculation. Now her sad streets are
lined with closed doors; a painful silence broods over quartz mills, and
through the whole deserted town one perceives that melancholy security
of human life which is hereabouts one of the pathetic symptoms of
bankruptcy. The “boys” have gone off to merrily shoot one another
somewhere else, leaving poor Aurora in the hands of a sort of coroner’s
jury who gather nightly at the one saloon and hold dreary inquests over
departed enterprise.

My landlord’s tread echoed through a large, empty hotel, and when I
responded to his call for lunch the silentest of girls became medium
between me and a Chinaman, who gazed sad-eyed through his kitchen door
as in pity for one who must choose between starving and his own cookery.
But I have always felt it unpardonable egotism for a traveller to force
the reader into sharing with him the inevitable miseries of roadside
food. Whatever merit there may be in locking this prandial grief fast
from public view, I feel myself entitled to in a high degree, for I hold
it in my power to describe the most revolting cuisine on the planet, yet
refrain.

From Aurora my road, still parallel with the mountains, though now
hidden from them by banks of volcanic hills, climbed a long, wearisome
slope from whose summit a glorious panorama of snowy Sierras lay before
us. From our feet, steep declivities fell two thousand feet to the level
of a wide desert basin, bounded upon the west by long ranks of high,
white peaks, and otherwise walled in by chains of volcanic hills, smooth
with dull sage flanks, and yet varied here and there by outcropping
formations of eruptive rocks and dusky cedar forests.

Just at the Sierra foot, surrounded by bare, gray volcanoes and reaches
of ashen plain, lies Mono lake, a broad oval darkened along its farther
shore by reflecting the shadowed mountains, and pale tranquil blue
where among light desert levels it mirrors the silken softness of sky
and cloud. Flocks of pelicans, high against the sky, floated in slow,
wheeling flight, reflecting the sun from white wings, and, turning, were
lost in the blue to gleam out again like flakes of snow.

The eye ranges over strange, forbidding hill-forms and leagues of
desert, from which no familiarity can ever banish suggestions of death.
Traced along boundary hills, straight terraces of an ancient beach
indicate former water-levels, and afar in the Sierra, great, empty
gorges, glacier-burnished and moraine-flanked, lead up to amphitheatres
of rock once white with _névé_.

I recognized the old familiar summits: Mount Ritter, Lyell, Dana, and
that firm peak with Titan strength and brow so square and solid it seems
altogether natural we should have named it for California’s statesman,
John Conness.

We rumbled down hill and out upon the desert, plodding until evening
through sand, and over rocky, cedar-wooded spurs, at last crossing adobe
meadows, where were settlements and a herd of Spanish cattle which had
escaped the drought of California, and now marched, northward bound, for
Montana.

Frowning volcanic hills flanked our road as evening wore on, lifting
dark forms against a sky singularly pale and luminous. Afar, we caught
glimpses of the dark, swelling Sierra wave thrusting up
“star-neighboring peaks,” and then, descending into hollows among lava
mounds, found ourselves shut completely in. A night at the Hot Springs
of Partzwick was notably free from anything which may be recounted.

Morning found me waiting alone on the hotel veranda, and I suppose the
luxuries of the establishment must have left a stamp of melancholy upon
my face, for the little, solemn driver who drew up his vehicle at the
door said in a tone of condolence, “The hearse is ready.”

Stages, drivers and teams had been successively worse as I journeyed
southward. This little old specimen, by whose side I sat from Partzwick
to Independence, ought to be excepted, and I should neglect a duty were
I not to portray one, at least, of his traits. He was a musical old
fellow, and given to chanting in low tones songs, sometimes pathetic,
often sentimental, but in every case preserved by him in most
fragmentary recollection. Such singing suffered, too, from the necessary
and frequent interruption of driving; the same breath quavering in
cracked melody, and tossing some neatly rounded oath or horse-phrase at
off or near wheeler, catching up an end of the refrain again in time to
satisfy his musical requirements.

All the morning he had warned me most impressively to count myself
favored if a certain bridge over Bishop’s Creek should not sink under us
and cast me upon wild waters. Rightly estimating my friend, I was not
surprised when we reached the spot to find a good, solid structure
bridging a narrow creek not more than four feet deep.

As we rolled on down Owen’s Valley, he sang, chatted and drove in a
manner which showed him capable of three distinct, yet simultaneous,
mental processes. I follow his words as nearly as memory serves.

“That creek, sir, was six feet deep.

    ‘Oh Lillie, sweet Lillie, dear Lillie Dale.’

What the devil are you shying at? You cursed mustang, come up out of
that;

... ‘little green grave.’

Yes, seven feet, and if we’d have fell in, swimming wouldn’t saved us.

“You, Balley, what are you a doin’ on?

    ‘’Neath the hill in the flowing vale.’

And what’s more, we couldn’t have crawled up that bank, nohow.

    ‘My own dear Lillie Dale.’

You’d like to kick over them traces, would you? Keep your doggoned neck
up snug against that collar, and take that.

“We’d drowned, sir; drowned sure as thunder.

    ‘In the place where the violets grow.’”

Desert hills, and low, mountain gateways, opening views of vast, sterile
plains, no longer formed our eastern outlook. The White Mountains, a
lofty, barren chain vying with the Sierras in altitude, rose in splendid
rank and stretched southeast, parallel with the great range. Down the
broad, intermediate trough flowed Owen’s River, alternately through
expanses of natural meadow and desolate reaches of sage.

The Sierra, as we travelled southward, became bolder and bolder, strong
granite spurs plunging steeply down into the desert; above, the mountain
sculpture grew grander and grander, until forms wild and rugged as the
Alps stretched on in dense ranks as far as the eye could reach. More and
more the granite came out in all its strength. Less and less soil
covered the slopes: groves of pine became rarer, and sharp, rugged
buttresses advanced boldly to the plain. Here and there a cañon-gate
between rough granite pyramids, and flanked by huge moraines, opened its
savage gallery back among peaks. Even around the summits there was but
little snow, and the streams which at short intervals flowed from the
mountain foot, traversing the plains, were sunken far below their
ordinary volume.

The mountain forms and mode of sculpture of the opposite ranges are
altogether different. The White and Inyo chains, formed chiefly of
uplifted sedimentary beds, are largely covered with soil, and wherever
the solid rock is exposed its easily traced strata plains and soft,
wooded surface combined in producing a general aspect of breadth and
smoothness; while the Sierra, here more than anywhere else, holds up a
front of solid stone, carved into most intricate and highly ornamental
forms: vast aiguilles, trimmed from summit to base with line of slender
minarets; huge, broad domes, deeply fluted and surmounted with tall
obelisks, and everywhere the greatest profusion of bristling points.

From the base of each range a long, sloping talus descends gently to the
river, and here and there, bursting up through Sierra foot-hills, rise
the red and black forms of recent volcanoes as regular and barren as if
cooled but yesterday.

I had reason for not regretting my departure from the Inyo House at
Independence next morning before sunrise; and when a young woman in an
elaborate brown calico, copied evidently from some imperial evening
toilet, pertly demanded my place by the driver, adding that she was not
one of the “inside kind,” I willingly yielded, and made myself contented
on the back seat alone. Presently, however, a companion came to me in
the person of a middle-aged Spanish doña, clad altogether in black, with
a shawl worn over her head after the manner of a mantilla. When it began
to rain violently and beat upon that brown calico, I made bold to offer
the young woman my sheltered place, but she gayly declined, averring
herself not made of sugar. So the doña and I shared my great coat across
our laps and established relations of civility, though she spoke no
English, and I only that little Spanish so much more embarrassing than
none.

In her smile, in the large, soft eyes, and that tinge of Castilian blood
which shone red-warm through olive cheek, I saw the signs of a race
blessed with sturdier health than ours. With snowy hair growing low on a
massive forehead, and just a glimpse now and then of large, gold beads,
through a white handkerchief about her throat, she seemed to me a
charming picture: though, perhaps, her fine looks gained something by
contrasting with the sickly girl in front, whose pallor and cough could
not have meant less than the pretubercular state.

Clouds covered the mountains on either hand, leaving me only ranches and
people to observe. May I be forgiven if I am wrong in accounting for the
late improvement of political tone in Tuolumne by the presence here of
so large a share of her most degraded citizens; people whose faces and
dress and life and manners are sadder than any possibilities held up to
us by Darwin.

My long ride ended in a few hours at Lone Pine, where, from the hotel
window, I watched a dark-blue mass of storm which covered and veiled the
region where I knew my goal, the Whitney summit, must stand.

For two days storm-curtains hung low about the Sierra base, their vapor
banks, dark with fringes of shower, at times drifting out over Lone Pine
and quenching a thirsty earth. On the third afternoon blue sky shone
through rifts overhead, and now and then a single peak, dashed with
broken sunshine, rose for a moment over rolling clouds which swelled
above it again like huge billows.

About an hour before sunset the storm began rapidly to sink into level
fold, over which, in clear, yellow light, emerged “cloud-compelling”
peaks. The liberated sun poured down shafts of light, piercing the mist
which now in locks of gold and gray blew about the mountain heads in
wonderful splendor.

How deep and solemn a blue filled the cañon depths! What passion of
light glowed around the summits! With delight I watched them one after
another fading till only the sharp, terrible crest of Whitney, still red
with reflected light from the long-sunken sun, showed bright and
glorious above the whole Sierra.

Upon observing the topography, I saw that one bold spur advanced from
Mount Whitney to the plain; on either side of it profound cañons opened
back to the summit. I remembered the impossibility of making a climb up
those northern precipices, and at once chose the more southern gorge.

Next morning we set out on horseback for the mountain base, twelve miles
across plains and through an outlying range of hills. My companion for
the trip was Paul Pinson, as tough and plucky a mountaineer as France
ever sent us, who consented readily to follow me. José, the
mild-mannered and grinning Mexican boy who rode with us, was to remain
in care of our animals at the foot-hills while we made the climb.

I left a Green barometer to be observed at Lone Pine, and carried my
short high-mountain instrument, by the same excellent maker.

Gauzy mists again enveloped the Sierra, leaving us free minds to enjoy a
ride, of which the very first mile supplied me food for days of thought.

The American residents of Lone Pine outskirts live in a homeless
fashion; sullen, almost arrogant, neglect stares out from the open
doors. There is no attempt at grace, no memory of comfort, no suggested
hope for improvement.

Not so the Spanish homes, their low, adobe, wide-roofed cabins neatly
enclosed with even, basket-work fence, and lining hedge of blooming
hollyhock.

We stopped to bow good-morning to my friend and stage companion, the
doña. She sat in the threshold of her open door, sewing; beyond her
stretched a bare floor, clean and white: the few chairs, the table
spread with snowy linen, everything, shone with an air of religious
spotlessness. Symmetry reigned in the precise, well-kept garden,
arranged in rows of pepper-plants and crisp heads of vernal lettuce.

I longed for a painter to catch her brilliant smile, and surround her on
canvas as she was here, with order and dignity. The same plain, black
dress clad her ample figure, and about the neck heavy, barbaric gold
beads served again as collar.

Under low eaves above her, and quite around the house, hung, in triple
row, festoons of flaming red peppers, in delicious contrast with the
rich adobe gray.

It was a study of order and true womanly repose, fitted to cheer us, and
a grouping of such splendid color as might tempt a painter to cross the
world.

A little farther on we passed an Indian ranchero where several willow
wickyups were built upon the bank of a cold brook. Half-naked children
played about here and there; a few old squaws bustled at household work;
but nearly all lay outstretched, dozing. A sort of tattered brilliancy
characterized the place. Gay, high-colored squalor reigned. There seemed
hardly more lack of thrift or sense of decorum than in the American
ranches, yet somehow the latter send a stab of horror through one, while
this quaint indolence and picturesque neglect seem aptly contrived to
set off the Indian genius for loafing, and leave you with a sort of
æsthetic satisfaction, rather than the sorrow their half development
should properly evoke.

Leaving all this behind us, our road led westward across a long sage
slope entering a narrow, tortuous pass through a low range of outlying
granite hills. Strangely weathered forms towered on either side, their
bare, brown surface contrasting pleasantly with the vivid ribbon of
willows which wove a green and silver cover over swift water.

The granite was riven with innumerable cracks, showing here and there a
strong tendency to concentric forms, and I judged the immense
spheroidal bowlders which lay on all sides, piled one upon another, to
be the kernels or nuclei of larger masses.

Quickly crossing this ridge, we came out upon the true Sierra
foot-slope, a broad, inclined plain stretching north and south as far as
we could see. Directly in front of us rose the rugged form of Mount
Whitney spur, a single mass of granite, rough-hewn, and darkened with
coniferous groves. The summits were lost in a cloud of almost indigo
hue.

Putting our horses at a trot, we quickly ascended the _glacis_, and at
the very foot of the rocks dismounted, and made up our packs. José, with
the horses, left us and went back half a mile to a mountain ranch, where
he was to await our return; and presently Pinson and I, with heavy
burdens upon our backs, began slowly to work our way up the granite spur
and toward the great cañon.

An hour’s climb brought us around upon the south wall of our spur, and
about a thousand feet above a stream which dashed and leaped along the
cañon bottom, through wild ravines and over granite bluffs. Our slope
was a rugged rock-face, giving foothold here and there to pine and
juniper trees, but for the greater part bare and bold.

Far above, at an elevation of ten thousand feet, a dark grove of alpine
pines gathered in the cañon bed. Thither we bent our steps, edging from
cleft to cleft, making constant, though insignificant, progress. At
length our wall became so wild and deeply cut with side cañons that we
found it impossible to follow it longer, and descended carefully to the
bottom.

Almost immediately, with heavy wind gusts and sound as of torrents, a
storm broke upon us, darkening the air and drenching us to the skin. The
three hours we toiled up over rocks, through dripping willow-brooks and
among trains of _débris_ were not noticeable for their cheerfulness.

The storm had ceased, but it was evening when, wet and exhausted, we at
length reached the alpine grove, and threw ourselves down for rest under
a huge, overhanging rock which offered its shelter for our bivouac.

Logs, soon brought in by Pinson, were kindled. The hot blaze seemed
pleasant to us, though I cannot claim to have enjoyed those two hours
spent in turning round and round before it while steaming and drying.
But the broiled beef, the toast, and those generous cups of tea to which
we devoted the hour between ten and eleven were quite satisfactory. So,
too, was the pleasant chat till midnight warned us to roll up in
overcoats and close our eyes to the fire, to the dark, sombre grove, and
far stars crowding the now cloudless heavens.

The sun rose and shone on us while we breakfasted. Through all the
visible sky not a cloud could be seen, and, thanks to yesterday’s rain,
the air was of crystal purity. Into it the granite summits above us
projected forms of sunlit gray.

Up the glacier valley above camp we slowly tramped through a forest of
noble Pinus Flexilis, the trunks of bright sienna contrasting richly
with deep bronze foliage.

Minor flutings of a medial moraine offered gentle grade and agreeable
footing for a mile and more, after which, by degrees, the woods gave way
to a wide, open amphitheatre surrounded with cliffs.

I can never enter one of these great, hollow mountain chambers without a
pause. There is a grandeur and spaciousness which expand and fit the
mind for yet larger sensations when you shall stand on the height above.

Velvet of alpine sward edging an icy brooklet, by whose margin we sat
down, reached to the right and left far enough to spread a narrow
foreground, over which we saw a chain of peaks swelling from either side
toward our amphitheatre’s head, where, springing splendidly over them
all, stood the sharp form of Whitney.

Precipices white with light and snow-fields of incandescent brilliance
grouped themselves along walls and slopes. All around us, in wild, huge
heaps, lay wrecks of glacier and avalanche.

We started again, passing the last tree, and began to climb painfully up
loose _débris_ and lodged blocks of the north wall. From here to the
very foot of that granite pyramid which crowns the mountain, we found
neither difficulty nor danger, only a long, tedious climb over footing
which, from time to time, gave way provokingly.

By this time mist floated around the brow of Mount Whitney, forming a
gray helmet, from which, now and then, the wind blew out long, waving
plumes. After a brief rest we began to scale the southeast ridge,
climbing from rock to rock, and making our way up steep fields of soft
snow. Precipices, sharp and severe, fell away to east and west of us,
but the rough pile above still afforded a way. We had to use extreme
caution, for many blocks hung ready to fall at a touch, and the snow,
where we were forced to work up it, often gave way, threatening to hurl
us down into cavernous hollows.

When within a hundred feet of the top I suddenly fell through, but,
supporting myself by my arms, looked down into a grotto of rock and ice,
and out through a sort of window, over the western bluffs, and down
thousands of feet to the far-away valley of the Kern.

I carefully and slowly worked my body out, and crept on hands and knees
up over steep and treacherous ice-crests, where a slide would have swept
me over a brink of the southern precipice.

We kept to the granite as much as possible, Pinson taking one train of
blocks and I another. Above us but thirty feet rose a crest, beyond
which we saw nothing. I dared not think it the summit till we stood
there and Mount Whitney was under our feet.

Close beside us a small mound of rock was piled upon the peak, and
solidly built into it an Indian arrow-shaft, pointing due west.

I climbed out to the southwest brink, and, looking down, could see that
fatal precipice which had prevented me seven years before. I strained my
eyes beyond, but already dense, impenetrable clouds had closed us in.

On the whole, this climb was far less dangerous than I had reason to
hope. Only at the very crest, where ice and rock are thrown together
insecurely, did we encounter any very trying work. The utter
unreliableness of that honeycomb and cavernous cliff was rather
uncomfortable, and might, at any moment, give the deathfall to one who
had not coolness and muscular power at instant command.

I hung my barometer from the mound of our Indian predecessor, nor did I
grudge his hunter pride the honor of first finding that one pathway to
the summit of the United States, fifteen thousand feet above two oceans.

While we lunched I engraved Pinson’s and my name upon a half dollar, and
placed it in a hollow of the crest. Clouds still hung motionless over
us, but in half an hour a west wind drew across, drifting the heavy
vapors along with it. Light poured in, reddening the clouds, which soon
rolled away, opening a grand view of the western Sierra ridge, and of
the whole system of the Kern.

Only here and there could blue sky be seen, but, fortunately, the sun
streamed through one of these windows in the storm, lighting up
splendidly the snowy rank from Kaweah to Mount Brewer.

There they rose as of old, firm and solid; even the great snow-fields,
though somewhat shrunken, lay as they had seven years before. I saw the
peaks and passes and amphitheatres dear old Cotter and I had climbed:
even that Mount Brewer pass where we looked back over the pathway of our
dangers, and up with regretful hearts to the very rock on which I sat.

Deep below flowed the Kern, its hundred, snow-fed branches gleaming out
amid rock and ice, or traced far away in the great glacier trough by
dark lines of pine. There, only twelve miles northwest, stretched that
ragged divide where Cotter and I came down the precipice with our rope.
Beyond, into the vague blue of King’s cañon, sloped the ice and rock of
Mount Brewer wall.

Sombre storm-clouds and their even gloomier shadows darkened the
northern sea of peaks. Only a few slant bars of sudden light flashed in
upon purple granite and fields of ice. The rocky tower of Mount Tyndall,
thrust up through rolling billows, caught for a moment the full light,
and then sank into darkness and mist.

When all else was buried in cloud we watched the great west range. Weird
and strange, it seemed shaded by some dark eclipse. Here and there
through its gaps and passes serpent-like streams of mist floated in and
crept slowly down the cañons of the hither slope, then all along the
crest, torn and rushing spray of clouds whirled about the peaks, and in
a moment a vast gray wave reared high, and broke, overwhelming all.

Just for a moment every trace of vapor cleared away from the east,
unveiling for the first time spurs and gorges and plains. I crept to a
brink and looked down into the Whitney Cañon, which was crowded with
light. Great, scarred and ice-hewn precipices reached down four thousand
feet, curving together like a ship, and holding in their granite bed a
thread of brook, the small sapphire gems of alpine lake, bronze dots of
pine, and here and there a fine enamelling of snow.

Beyond and below lay Owen’s Valley, walled in by the barren Inyo chain,
and afar, under a pale, sad sky, lengthened leagues and leagues of
lifeless desert.

The storm had even swept across Kern Cañon, and dashed high against the
peaks north and south of us. A few sharp needles and spikes struggled
above it for a moment, but it rolled over them and rushed in torrents
down the desert slope, burying everything in a dark, swift cloud.

We hastened to pack up our barometer and descend. A little way down the
ice crust gave way under Pinson, but he saved himself, and we hurried
on, reaching safely the cliff-base, leaving all dangerous ground above
us.

So dense was the cloud we could not see a hundred feet, but tramped
gayly down over rocks and sand, feeling quite assured of our direction,
until suddenly we came upon the brink of a precipice and strained our
eyes off into the mist. I threw a stone over and listened in vain for
the sound of its fall. Pinson and I both thought we had deviated too far
to the north, and were on the brink of Whitney Cañon, so we turned in
the opposite direction, thinking to cross the ridge, entering our old
amphitheatre, but in a few moments we again found ourselves upon the
verge. This time a stone we threw over answered with a faint, dull crash
from five hundred feet below. We were evidently upon a narrow blade. I
remembered no such place, and sat down to recall carefully every detail
of topography. At last I concluded that we had either strayed down upon
the Kern side, or were on one of the cliffs overhanging the head of our
true amphitheatre.

Feeling the necessity of keeping cool, I determined to ascend to the
foot of the snow and search for our tracks. So we slowly climbed there
again and took a new start.

By this time the wind howled fiercely, bearing a chill from
snow-crystals and sleet. We hurried on before it, and, after one or two
vain attempts, succeeded in finding our old trail down the amphitheatre
slope, descending very rapidly to its floor.

From here, an exhausting tramp of five hours through the pine forest to
our camp, and on down the rough, wearying slopes of the lower cañon,
brought us to the plain where José and the horses awaited us.

From Lone Pine that evening, and from the open carriage in which I rode
northward to Independence, I constantly looked back and up into the
storm, hoping to catch one more glimpse of Mount Whitney; but all the
range lay submerged in dark, rolling cloud, from which now and then a
sullen mutter of thunder reverberated.

For years our chief, Professor Whitney, has made brave campaigns into
the unknown realm of Nature. Against low prejudice and dull indifference
he has led the survey of California onward to success. There stand for
him two monuments--one a great report made by his own hand; another, the
loftiest peak in the Union, begun for him in the planet’s youth and
sculptured of enduring granite by the slow hand of Time.


1873

The preceding pages were written immediately after my return from Mount
Whitney, and without a shadow of suspicion that among the sea of peaks
half seen, half storm-hidden, I could have missed the true summit.

Professor Whitney alone possessed sufficiently studied data to apply the
annual corrections for barometric oscillation in the high Sierra, and to
his office I at once forwarded my observations noted upon the Mount
Whitney summit, together with the record of simultaneous readings at
Lone Pine, the station upon which I relied for a base. As I was about
mailing the chapter to our printer, from my camp in the Rocky Mountains,
I received from Professor Pettee, who had kindly made a computation, the
puzzling despatch that Mount Whitney only reached fourteen thousand six
hundred and ten feet in altitude. Realizing at once that this must be an
error, I attributed it to some great abnormal oscillation of pressure
due to storm, and decided not to publish the measurement.

Then for a moment a sense of doubt came over me lest I had been
mistaken; but on carefully studying the map it was reassuring to
establish beyond doubt the identity of the peak designated on the map of
the Geological Survey of California as Mount Whitney with the one I had
climbed. The reader will perhaps appreciate, then, my surprise and
disappointment when, travelling in the overland car to California in
September, 1873, I read and re-read a communication by Mr. W. A.
Goodyear, former Assistant of the Geological Survey, made to the
California Academy of Sciences, in which he points out with great
clearness that I had missed the real peak.

To explain most simply why Mr. Goodyear saw the true Mount Whitney when
he reached the summit of my peak of 1871, it is only necessary to state
that he had a clear day, and the evident fact stared him in the face. If
the reader kindly refers to the preceding part of the chapter,
descriptive of my 1871 climb, he will note that my visit was,
unfortunately, during a great storm, through whose billows of cloud and
eddying mists the landscape disclosed itself in fragmentary glimpses: to
repeat the expression of my notebook, “as through windows in the storm.”

My little granite island was incessantly beaten by breakers of vague,
impenetrable cloud, and never once did the true Mount Whitney unveil its
crest to my eager eyes. Only one glimpse, and I should have bent my
steps northward, restless till the peak was climbed. But, then, that
would have left nothing for Goodyear, whose paper shows such evident
relish in my mistake that I accept my ’71 ill-luck as providential. One
has in this dark world so few chances of conferring innocent, pure
delight.

It must always remain a bond between Goodyear and myself that in the
only paper he has written on the high Sierras it was his happy thought
to point both pleasantry and argument with that most grotesque and sober
of beasts, the mule; and, while my regard for all mules rises wellnigh
into the realm of sentiment, I cherish no less a feeling than profound
indebtedness toward the particular one who succeeded--with how great
effort only a fellow-climber can know--in getting Mr. Goodyear on the
now nameless peak, whence, like Moses from Pisgah, he beheld the
Promised Land.

My gratitude is not all directed to the mule, either; from that just
channel a stream is directed toward the clear, good judgment of my
friend, who resolutely turned his back on the alluring summit, and
promptly quitted the head of mule navigation to descend and hold me up
in my proper light. Pleasantry aside, and method being largely a matter
of taste, Mr. Goodyear deserves credit for having so clearly pointed out
my mistake--credit which I desire to bear honest tribute to, since his
discovery has already led several of us to climb the true peak, a labor
requiring little effort and rewarded by the most striking view in the
Sierra Nevada.

Of course I lost no time in directing my steps toward Mount Whitney,
animated with a lively delight which was quite unclouded by the fact
that two parties, who had three thousand miles the start of me, were
already _en route_, and certain to reach the goal before me.

Perhaps there is no element in the varied life of an explorer so full of
contemplative pleasure as the frequent and rapid passages he makes
between city life and home: by that I mean his true home, where the
flames of his bivouac fire light up trunks of sheltering pine and make
an island of light in the silent darkness of the primeval forest. The
crushing Juggernaut-car of modern life and the smothering struggle of
civilization are so far off that the wail of suffering comes not, nor
the din and dust of it all; and out of your very memory for a
time--alas! only for a time--fade those two indelible examples of the
shallowness of society, those terrible pictures of sorrow and wrong, and
that perennial artifice which wellnigh always chokes with its weedy
growth the rare, fine flowers of art.

All is forgotten: those murky clouds which in town life dispute the
serenity of one’s spiritual air drift beyond view, and over you broods
only the quiet sky of night, her white stars moving beyond fragrant
pine-tops or lost in the dim tangle of their feathery foliage. Such is
the mountaineer’s evening spent contemplatively before his fire; the
profound sense of Nature’s tranquillity filling his mind with its repose
till the flames give way to embers, and guardian pines spread dusky arms
over his sleep. Not less a contrast greets him when from simple field
life the doors of a city suddenly open, and the huddled complexity of
everything jostles him. Either way, and as often as one makes this
transit between civilization and the wilds, one prizes most the pure,
simple, strengthening joy of nature.

Thus, when, from the heat and pressure of town in September, 1873, I
suddenly plunged into the heart of the Sierra forest, a cool mountain
sky of holy blue and my well-beloved trees, calm and vigorous as ever,
communicated thrills of pleasure well worth my brief separation from
them. Day after day through the green forest I rode on, leaving the
mustang to choose his own gait, scarcely talking to my two campaign
companions, who with the plodding pack-animals followed noiselessly
behind. It was only when we ascended the east wall of the Kern Cañon on
the Hockett Trail, and reached the nebulous plateau where pine and
granite and cloud form the three elements of a severe picture, that I
felt myself filled to the brim with my long draught of nature, and
turned to my followers for society.

I was accompanied by Seaman and Knowles, two settlers of Tule River, who
had been good enough to take a thorough interest in my proposed trip.
One less used than I to the strong originality and remarkable histories
of frontiersmen might have marvelled at the rich chat of these two men;
for myself, however, I long ago learned to expect under the rough garb
and simple manners of Western plainsmen and mountaineers a wealth of
experience, with its resultant harvest of philosophy. Untrammelled by
the schools, these men strike out boldly and arrange the universe to
suit themselves. Not alone is this noticeable in matter of general
interest; in the most special subjects it will not do to assume an
ignorance at all in keeping with the primitive cut of their trousers or
their idiom, which show strong affinities with the flint period. As an
instance, volcanic action has of late years occupied much of my
thoughts, and so dry a subject, one would think, could not have fixed
the interest of many non-professional travellers. Judge of my feelings,
therefore, on the night we reached the Kern Plateau and camped with a
solitary shepherd, to hear without giving direction to it myself, the
conversation turn on volcanoes, and realized, as the group renewed our
fire and hours passed by, that my two companions had been in Iceland,
Hawaii, Java, and Ecuador, and that, as for the sheep herder, he had
rolled stones down nearly every prominent approachable crater on the
planet. I was reminded of a certain vaquero who astounded Professor
Brewer by launching out boldly in the Latin names of Mexican plants.

The Kern Plateau, so green and lovely on my former visit, in 1864, was
now a gray sea of rolling granite ridges, darkened at intervals by
forest, but no longer velveted with meadows and upland grasses. The
indefatigable shepherds have camped everywhere, leaving hardly a spear
of grass behind them.

To the sad annoyance of our hungry horses, we found this true until we
entered the rough, rocky cañon which leads down from the false Mount
Whitney, in whose depths, among glacier erratics and dark pines, we
selected a spot where a vocal brook and patches of carex meadow seemed
to welcome us. During a three days’ painful illness which overtook me
here I felt that I should never lose an opportunity to warn my
fellow-men against watermelon, which, after all, is only an ingenious
contrivance of nature to converge the waves of motion from the midsummer
sun, and, by the well-recognized principles of force conservation,
transmute them into so much potential colic.

Across from wall to wall of our deep glacier cañon the morning sky
stretched pure and blue, but without a trace of that infinite depth, so
dark and vacant, so alluringly profound, when the sun nears its
culmination. We arose early, and all three were marching up the gentle
acclivity of the valley bottom, when, from among the peaks darkly
profiled against the east, bold lances of light shot down through gloom
and shadow, touching with sudden brightness here a clump of feathery
fir, there a heap of glacier blocks, pencilling yellow lines across
meadow-patch or alpine tarn, and working out along the whole rocky
amphitheatre above us those splendid contrasts of gold and blue which
are the delight of mountaineers and the despair of painters.

Knowles, with the keen eye of an accomplished hunter, became conscious,
as we marched along, just how lately a mountain sheep had crossed our
way, and occasionally the whispered sound of light footfalls along the
crags overhead riveted his attention upon some gray mote on the granite,
and with the huntsman’s habitual quiet he would only ejaculate:
“Two-year-old buck,” or “Too thin for venison,” or some similar phrase,
indicating the marvellous acuteness of his senses.

Among the many serious losses man has suffered in passing from a life of
nature to one artificial is to be numbered the fatal blunting of all his
senses.

Step after step the cañon ascended, with great, vacant corridors opening
among the rocky buttresses on either side, till at last there were no
more firs, the alpine meadows became mere patches, and a chilly wind
drew down from among the snow-drifts.

Here savage rock-grandeur and splendid sunlight forever struggle for
mastery of effect. A cloud drifts over us, and the dark headlands of
granite loom up with impending mightiness, and seem to advance toward
each other from opposite ranks; about their feet the wreck of centuries
of avalanche, and above leaden vapors hurrying and whirling. All is
dimness and gloom. Then overhead the clouds are furled away, and there
is light--light joyous, pure, gloom-dispelling, before whose intense,
searching vividness shadows unfold and mystery vanishes.

Through such alternating sensations we wound our way round the
_débris_-cumbered margin of two lakes of deep, transparent,
beryl-colored water, and up to the very head of our amphitheatre,
reaching an elevation of about thirteen thousand feet. We had thus far
encountered very little snow, and absolutely no climbing. All along it
had seemed to us that from the cañon-head we might easily climb to the
dividing summit of the Sierras, and follow it along to Mount Whitney. I
had taken pains to diverge from my unsuccessful route of 1864, which lay
now to the east, and separated from us by a high wall, terminating in
fantastic spires.

Upon mounting the ridge-top we found it impossible to reach the true
summit of the range without first descending into a deep cañon, the
ancient bed of a tributary glacier of the Kern; the ice now replaced by
imposing slopes of granite _débris_, partly masked by snow, and plunging
down into a lake of startling vitriol color.

We toiled cautiously down over insecure wreck of granite, whose huge
blocks threatened constantly to topple us over or to rush out from under
foot and gather into an avalanche. A draught from the icy lake water, a
brief rest on the sunny side of a huge erratic, and we began the slow,
laborious ascent of the summit ridge. Unfortunately, the footing was
bad, being composed chiefly of granite gravel. Of every stone in place
and each snow spot we took advantage, making pauses for breath now and
then, until at last we reached the crest, here a thin ridge, and
hurriedly turned our eyes in the direction of Mount Whitney.

The sharp, dominating blade of granite rising a couple of miles
northwest of us, over a group of spiry pinnacles, was unmistakable. The
same severe, beautiful crest I had struggled for in 1864 rose proudly
into the blue, and, though near, seemed as inaccessible as ever.

In the opposite direction, about three miles away, in clear, uncolored
plainness, stood the peak where, in 1871, I had been led by the map, and
my error perpetuated by the clouds.

In full view of both peaks it seemed strange I could have mistaken one
for the other.

Infallibility in retrospect is one of the easiest conditions imaginable;
yet when the ever-fresh memory of those seething cloud-forms comes back
to me, when I see again the gloom made even wilder and darker by bolts
of sunlight and illumined gauzes of mist, when I realize that the
cloud-compelling peak itself never shone forth, I am free to confess
that I should make the mistake again.

In charging this error upon the map, I do not in any sense intend to
reflect on Mr. C. F. Hoffmann, the accomplished chief topographer of the
Survey, to whose skilful hand we owe the forthcoming map of Central
California. His location of Mount Whitney depended upon two compass
bearings only--his own from Mount Brewer, which proves to have been
unvitiated by local magnetic attraction, and mine from Mount Tyndall,
which evidently is in error.

It is most curious to discover that my bearings made from a station on
the northwest edge of Mount Tyndall, where I placed myself to observe on
the peaks lying in that direction, are, when corrected for variation,
true, while those taken from a block on the south edge of the summit not
sixty feet from the first station are abnormal. This reminds me of the
observations made by Professor Brewer during our hours of rest on the
top of Lassen’s Peak, where he found the summit block a local magnet.

Thus the map location on which Mr. Hoffmann relied, and of which, in
1871, I took copy, to identify the peak, was vitiated in a way neither
of us could have foreseen, and a serious error might have crept into
current geography but for the timely visit of Mr. Goodyear.

Mr. Hoffmann stands clear of blame in this matter. Upon my shoulders and
those of my _particeps criminis_, the storm and the local magnetic
attraction, it all rests.

We sat for some time in that silence which even the rudest natures pay
as an unconscious tribute to the august presence of a great mountain,
and then began again the march toward Mount Whitney. Seaman, who had
started ill, here felt so painfully the effect of altitude that we urged
him to struggle no further against dizziness and nausea, but to return,
which he did with reluctance. We parted at the very crown of the ridge,
on the verge of a gulf which plunges down from Mount Whitney to Owen’s
Valley. Knowles, who is a sort of chamois, kept his head splendidly, and
together we clambered round and up to the crest of a bold needle about
fourteen thousand four hundred feet high, from which the discouraging
truth dawned upon us that it was impossible to surmount the three sharp
pinnacles which lay between us and the delicately sculptured crest
beyond.

To the right and below, three thousand feet down from our tower, I could
trace the line of my attempted climb of 1864, to where it disappeared
around a projecting buttress at the foot of the great precipice, which
forms the eastern face of Mount Whitney and the subordinate pinnacles to
the south.

To the left, through crags and splintered monoliths, we could catch a
glimpse of a deep glacier basin lying west of Mount Whitney, enclosing
great sweeps of _débris_ and numerous vivid blue tarns.

Between the minarets we could also see portions of the southwest slope
of Mount Whitney, which was evidently a smooth, accessible face, and the
one of all others to attempt. But the day was already too far advanced
to leave us the remotest hope of even reaching the glacier basin west of
Mount Whitney, and we decided to return to camp.

Before beginning our wearisome march I sketched the outline of the Mount
Whitney group, which, so far as I know, differs from any other cluster
of peaks. The Sierra here is a bold wall with an almost perpendicular
front of about three thousand feet, which is crowned by sharp turrets,
having a tendency to lean out over the eastern gulf; these are properly
the crests of great, rib-like buttresses, which jut from the general
surface of the granite front.

Mount Whitney itself springs up and out like the prow of a sharp ocean
steamer. Southward along the summit my sketch is of a confused region of
rough-hewn granite obelisks and towers, all remarkable for the deep
shattering to which the rock has been subjected. It is a region which
may even yet suffer considerable perceptible change, since a single
winter’s frost and snow must dislodge numberless blocks from the crests
and flanks of the whole group. Indeed, at the time of my visit, notably
the period of least snow and frost, we often heard the sharp rattle of
falling _débris_.

We varied our course homeward by climbing along a lateral ridge, whence
we could look into the Mount Whitney basin, and here we were favored by
a fine view, chiefly pleasing to us because the whole accessible slope
of the peak came out, unobscured by intervening ridges.

It was evident that we must find a mule pass through the granite waves,
from our present camp round into the great glacier basin, or else plan
our next attempt with provisions and blankets on our backs and an
uncertain number of days’ clambering over the intervening cañons to the
foot of our peak.

The shades of twilight were darkening the amphitheatre as we plodded
homeward; ghostly cliffs and dim towers were hardly recognizable as
defined against the evening sky, in which already a few pale stars shone
tremulously.

I spare the reader the days of snow and sleet we spent under a temporary
shelter constructed of blankets. I pass over the elaborate system of
rivulets, which forever burrowed new channels and originated future
geography under our tent. These were quickly forgotten the morning of
the clear-up, as we quitted our camp under the shadow of the 1871 peak,
and marched southwestward down the bowlder-strewn valley of our brook.

A fine series of lateral moraines flank this cañon on the left, moraines
rising one above another in defined terraces, for the most part composed
of granite blocks, but here and there of solid rock _in situ_, where the
ridge throws out prominent spurs.

We ascended the north wall, zigzagging to and fro among pines, till,
having climbed a thousand feet, we found ourselves upon a plateau of
granite sand, among groves of _pinus flexilis_, which seemed (as to me
the sequoias always have) the relics of a past climatic condition, the
well-preserved octogenarians of the forest. Through open groves of these
giant trees, whose red, gnarled trunks and dark green foliage stood out
with artistic definition upon bare granite sand, we saw the deep cañon
of the Kern a few miles to our left, and beyond it, swelling in splendid
rank against the west, my old friends, the Kaweah peaks, their dark,
pyramidal summits here and there touched with flashing ice-banks.

The bottom of Kern Cañon was hidden from us; its craggy edges broken and
rounded by glacial action, and in part built upon by the fragments of
great moraines, were especially powerful; and as a master’s sketch
emphasizes the leading lines, so here each sharply carved ravine or
rock-rift is given force by lines of almost black pines. Startled bands
of deer looked timidly at us for a moment, and then bounded wildly away
through the woods. All else was silent and motionless.

At evening we entered the long-hoped-for cañon, and threaded our way up
among moraines and forest close to the foot of Mount Whitney, the peak
itself rising grandly across the amphitheatre’s head, every spire and
rocky crevice brought sharply out in the warm evening sunlight. With my
field-glass I could see that it was a simple, brief walk of a few hours
to the summit, and, all anxiety at rest, I lay down on my blankets to
watch the effects of light.

As often as one camps at twelve thousand feet in the Sierra, the charm
of crystally pure air, these cold, sparkling, gem-like tints of rock and
alpine lake, the fiery bronze of foliage, and luminous though deep-toned
sky, combine to produce an intellectual and even a spiritual elevation.
Deep and stirring feelings come naturally, the present falls back into
its true relation, one’s own wearying identity shrinks from the broad,
open foreground of the vision, and a calmness born of reverent
reflections encompasses the soul.

At eleven o’clock next morning Knowles and I stood together on the
topmost rock of Mount Whitney. We found there a monument of stones, and
records of the two parties who had preceded us,--the first, Messrs.
Hunter and Crapo, and afterward, that of Rabe of the Geological Survey.
The former were, save Indian hunters, the first, so far as we know, who
achieved this dominating summit. Mr. Rabe has the honor of the first
measurement by barometer. Our three visits were all within a month.

The day was cloudless, and the sky, milder than is common over these
extreme heights, warmed to a mellow glow and rested in softening beauty
over minaret and dome. Air and light seemed melted together; even the
wild rocks springing up all about us wore an aspect of aërial delicacy.
Around the wide panorama, half low desert, half rugged granite
mountains, each detail was observable, but a uniform, luminous medium
toned, without obscuring, the field of vision. That fearful sense of
wreck and desolation, of a world crushed into fragments, of the ice
chisel which, unseen, has wrought this strange mountain sculpture, all
the sensations of power and tragedy I had invariably felt before on high
peaks, were totally forgotten. It was the absolute reverse of the effect
on Mount Tyndall, where an unrelenting clearness discovered every object
in all its power and reality. Then we saw only unburied wreck of
geologic struggles, black with sudden shadow or white under searching
focus, as if the sun were a great burning-glass, gathering light from
all space, and hurling its fierce shafts upon spire and wall.

Now it was like an opal world, submerged in a sea of dreamy light, down
through whose motionless, transparent depths I became conscious of
sunken ranges, great hollows of undiscernible depth, reefs of pearly
granite as clear and delicate as the coral banks in a tropical ocean. It
was not like a haze in the lower world, which veils away distance in
softly vanishing perspective; there was no mist, no vagueness, no loss
of form nor fading of outline--only a strange harmonizing of earth and
air. Shadows were faint, yet defined, lights visible, but most
exquisitely modulated. The hollow blue which over Tyndall led the eye up
into vacant solitudes was here replaced by a sense of sheltering
nearness, a certain dove-colored obscurity in the atmosphere which
seemed to filter the sunlight of all its harsher properties. I do not
permit myself to describe details, for they have left no enduring
impression, nor am I insensible of how vain any attempt must be to
reproduce the harmony of such subtle aspects of nature--aspects most
rare and indescribable because producing their charm by negative means.

I suppose such an atmospheric effect is to be accounted for by a lower
stratum of pure, transparent air overlaid by an upper one so charged
with moisture (or perhaps one of those thus-far-unexplained dry mists
occasionally seen in the high Sierra) as to intercept the blue rays of
sunlight, and admit only softened yellow ones.

This is the true Mount Whitney, the one we named in 1864, and upon which
the name of our chief is forever to rest. It stands, not like white
Shasta, in a grandeur of solitude, but about it gather companies of crag
and spire, piercing the blue or wrapped in monkish raiment of snowstorm
and mist. Far below, laid out in ashen death, slumbers the desert.

Silence reigns on these icy heights, save when scream of Sierra eagle or
loud crescendo of avalanche interrupts the frozen stillness, or when in
symphonic fulness a storm rolls through vacant cañons with its stern
minor. It is hard not to invest these great, dominating peaks with
consciousness, difficult to realize that, sitting thus for ages in
presence of all nature can work of light-magic and color-beauty, no
inner spirit has kindled, nor throb of granite heart once responded, no
Buddhistic nirvana-life, even, has brooded in eternal calm within these
sphinx-like breasts of stone.

A week after my climb I lay on the desert sand at the foot of the Inyo
Range and looked up at Mount Whitney, realizing all its grand
individuality, and saw the drifting clouds interrupt a sun-brightened
serenity by frown after frown of moving shadow; and I entered for a
moment deeply and intimately into that strange realm where admiration
blends with superstition, that condition in which the savage feels
within him the greatness of a natural object, and forever after endows
it with consciousness and power. For a moment I was back in the Aryan
myth days, when they saw afar a snowy peak, and called it Dhavalagiri
(white elephant), and invested it with mystic power.

These peculiar moments, rare enough in the life of a scientific man,
when one trembles on the edge of myth-making, are of interest, as
unfolding the origin and manner of savage beliefs, and as awakening the
unperishing germ of primitive manhood which is buried within us all
under so much culture and science.

How generally the myth-maker has been extinguished in modern students of
mountains may be realized by examining the tone of Alpine literature,
which, once lifted above the fatiguing repetition of gymnastics, is
almost invariably scientific.

Ruskin alone among prose writers on the Alps re-echoes the dim past, in
ever-recurring myth-making, over cloud and peak and glacier; his is the
Rigveda’s idea of nature. The varying hues which mood and emotion
forever pass before his own mental vision mask with their illusive
mystery the simple realities of nature, until mountains and their bold,
natural facts are lost behind the cloudy poetry of the writer.

Ruskin helps us to know himself, not the Alps; his mountain chapters,
although essentially four thousand years old, are, however, no more an
anachronism than the dim primeval spark which smoulders in all of us;
their brilliancy _is_ that spark fanned into flame.

To follow a chapter of Ruskin by one of Tyndall is to bridge forty
centuries and realize the full contrast of archaic and modern thought.

This was the drift of my revery as I lay basking on the hot sands of
Inyo, realizing fully the geological history and hard, materialistic
reality of Mount Whitney, its mineral nature, its chemistry; yet archaic
impulse even then held me, and the gaunt, gray old Indian who came
slowly toward me must have subtly felt my condition, for he crouched
beside me and silently fixed his hawk eye upon the peak.

At last he drew an arrow, sighted along its straight shaft, bringing the
obsidian head to bear on Mount Whitney, and in strange fragments of
language told me that the peak was an old, old man, who watched this
valley and cared for the Indians, but who shook the country with
earthquakes to punish the whites for injustice toward his tribe.

I looked at his whitened hair and keen, black eye. I watched the spare,
bronze face, upon which was written the burden of a hundred dark and
gloomy superstitions; and as he trudged away across the sands I could
but feel the liberating power of modern culture, which unfetters us from
the more than iron bands of self-made myths. My mood vanished with the
savage, and I saw the great peak only as it really is--a splendid mass
of granite 14,887 feet high, ice-chiselled and storm-tinted; a great
monolith left standing amid the ruins of a bygone geological empire.



XIV

THE PEOPLE


If mankind were offspring of isothermal lines and topography, we might
arrive at a just criticism of Sierra Nevada people by that cheap and
rapid method so much in vogue nowadays among physical geographers. Their
practice of dragooning the free-agent with wet and dry bulb thermometers
would help us to predict the future of Sierra society but little more
securely than Madam Saint John, who also deals in coming events. I fear
we have no better than the old way of developing what lies ahead
logically from yesterday and to-day, adding large measure of sympathy
with human aspiration and faith in divine help.

Why all sorts and conditions of men from every race upon the planet
wanted gold, and twenty years ago came here to win it, I shall not
concern myself to ask. Nor can I formulate very accurately the
proportions of good, bad, and indifferent _dramatis personæ_ upon whom
the golden curtain of ’49 rolled up.

No venerated landmark or sacred restraint held those men in check. There
were no precedents for the acting, no play-book, no prompter, no
audience. “Anglo-Saxondom’s idee” reigned supreme, developing a plot of
riotous situation, and inconceivably sudden change. Wit and intellect
wrought a condition the most ambitious savages might regard with baffled
envy. History would not, if she could, parallel the state of society
here from ’49 to ’55, nor can we imagine to what height of horror it
might have reached had the Sierra drainage held unlimited gold. Those
were lively days. The penniless ’49er still looks back to them with
bleared eyes as the one period of his life. “Dust” was plenty and to be
had, if not for digging, at the modest price of a bullet.

To prove the soil’s fertility he tells you proudly how, in those years,
wild oats on every hill grew tall enough to be tied across your
saddle-bow. This irony of nature has passed away, but the cursed plant
ripens its hundredfold in life and manner.

No one familiar with society as it then was feels the least surprise
that Mr. Bret Harte should deal so largely in morbid anatomy, or appear
to search painfully for a single noble trait to redeem the common bad.
Yet not universal bad, for there were not wanting a few strong Christian
men who, amid all, kept their eyes on the one model, leading lives
blameless, if obscure.

Broadly, through all kinds and conditions, shone the virtue of generous,
if not self-denying, hospitality. A sort of open-handed fraternity
banded together the honest miners; they were shoulder to shoulder in
common quest of gold, in united effort to make the “camp” lively. The
“fraternity” too often emulated that of Cain, or wore a ghastly
likeness to the Commune. That those desperadoes, who, through the long
chain of mining towns, outnumbered respectable men, had so generally the
fixed habit of killing one another should rather be written down to
their credit; that they never married to hand down lawless traits seems
their crowning virtue.

For a few years the solemn pines looked down on a mad carnival of
godless license, a pandemonium in whose picturesque delirium human
character crumbled and vanished like dead leaves.

It was stirring and gay, but Melpomene’s pathetic face was always under
that laughing mask of comedy.

This is the unpromising origin of our Sierra civilization. It may be
instructive to note some early steps of improvement: a protest, first
silent, then loud, which went up against disorder and crime; and later,
the inauguration of justice, in form, if not in reality.

There occurs to me an incident illustrating these first essays in civil
law; it is vouched for by my friend, an unwilling actor in the affair.

Exactly why horse-stealing should have been so early recognized as a
heinous sin it is not easy to discover; however that might be, murderers
continued to notch the number of their victims on neatly kept hilts of
pistols or knives, in comparative security, long after the horse thief
began to meet his hempen fate.

Early in the fifties, on a still, hot summer’s afternoon, a certain man,
in a camp of the northern mines which shall be nameless, having tracked
his two donkeys and one horse a half-mile, and discovering that a man’s
track with spur-marks followed them, came back to town and told “the
boys,” who loitered about a popular saloon, that in his opinion “some
Mexican had stole the animals.”

Such news as this naturally demanded drinks all around. “Do you know,
gentlemen,” said one who assumed leadership, “that just naturally to
shoot these Greasers ain’t the best way. Give ’em a fair jury trial, and
rope ’em up with all the majesty of law. That’s the cure.”

Such words of moderation were well received, and they drank again to
“Here’s hoping we ketch that Greaser.”

As they loafed back to the veranda a Mexican walked over the hill brow,
jingling his spurs pleasantly in accord with a whistled waltz.

The advocate for law said in undertone, “That’s the cuss.”

A rush, a struggle, and the Mexican, bound hand and foot, lay on his
back in the bar-room. The camp turned out to a man.

Happily, such cries as “String him up!” “Burn the doggoned
‘lubricator’!” and other equally pleasant phrases fell unheeded upon his
Spanish ear.

A jury, upon which they forced my friend, was quickly gathered in the
street, and, despite refusals to serve, the crowd hurried them in behind
the bar.

A brief statement of the case was made by the _ci-devant_ advocate, and
they shoved the jury into a commodious poker-room, where were seats
grouped about neat, green tables. The noise outside in the bar-room by
and by died away into complete silence, but from afar down the cañon
came confused sounds as of disorderly cheering.

They came nearer, and again the light-hearted noise of human laughter
mingled with clinking glasses around the bar.

A low knock at the jury door; the lock burst in, and a dozen smiling
fellows asked the verdict.

A foreman promptly answered, “_Not guilty_.”

With volleyed oaths, and ominous laying of hands on pistol hilts, the
boys slammed the door with, “You’ll have to do better than that!”

In half an hour the advocate gently opened the door again.

“Your _opinion_, gentlemen?”

“Guilty!”

“Correct! You can come out. We hung him an hour ago.”

The jury took theirs “neat”; and when, after a few minutes, the pleasant
village returned to its former tranquillity, it was “allowed” at more
than one saloon that “Mexicans’ll know enough to let white men’s stock
alone after this.” One and another exchanged the belief that this sort
of thing was more sensible than “‘nipping’ em on sight.”

When, before sunset, the bar-keeper concluded to sweep some dust out of
his poker-room back-door, he felt a momentary surprise at finding the
missing horse dozing under the shadow of an oak, and the two lost
donkeys serenely masticating playing-cards, of which many bushels lay in
a dusty pile. He was reminded then that the animals had been there all
day.

During three or four years the battle between good and bad became more
and more determined, until all positive characters arrayed themselves
either for or against public order.

At length, on a sudden, the party for right organized those august mobs,
the Vigilance Committees, and quickly began to festoon their more
depraved fellow-men from tree to tree. Rogues of sufficient shrewdness
got themselves enrolled in the vigilance ranks, and were soon unable to
tell themselves from the most virtuous. Those quiet oaks, whose hundreds
of sunny years had been spent in lengthening out glorious branches, now
found themselves playing the part of public gibbet.

Let it be distinctly understood that I am not passing criticism on the
San Francisco organization, which I have never investigated, but on
“Committees” in the mountain towns, with whose performance I am
familiar.

The Vigilants quickly put out of existence a majority of the worst
desperadoes, and by their swift, merciless action struck such terror to
the rest that ever after the right has mainly controlled affairs.

This was, _perhaps_, well. With characteristic promptness they laid
down their power, and gave California over to the constituted
authorities. This was magnificent. They deserve the commendation due to
success. They have, however, such a frank, honest way of singing their
praise, such eternal, undisguised and virtuous self-laudation over the
whole matter, that no one else need interrupt them with fainter notes.

Although this generation has written its indorsement in full upon the
transaction, it may be doubted if history (how long is it before
dispassionate candor speaks?) will trace an altogether favorable verdict
upon her pages. Possibly, to fulfil the golden round of duty it is
needful to do right in the right way, and success may not be proven the
eternal test of merit.

That the Vigilance Committees grasped the moral power is undeniable;
that they used it for the public salvation is equally true; but the best
advocates are far from showing that with skill and moderation they might
not have thrown their weight into the scale _with_ law, and conquered,
by means of legislature, judge, and jury, a peace wholly free from the
stain of lawless blood.

An impartial future may possibly grant the plenary inspiration of
Vigilance Committees. Perhaps that better choice was in truth denied
them; it may be the hour demanded a sudden blow of self-defence. Whether
better or best, the act has not left unmixed blessing, although it now
seems as if the lawlessness, which even till these later years has from
time to time manifested itself, is gradually and surely dying out. Yet
to-day, as I write, State troops are encamped at Amador, to suppress a
spirit which has taken law in its own hand.

With the gradual decline of gold product, something like social
equilibrium asserted itself. By 1860 California had made the vast,
inspiring stride from barbarism to vulgarity.

In failing gold-industry, and the gradual abandonment of placer-ground
to Chinamen, there is abundant pathos. You see it in a hundred towns and
camps where empty buildings in disrepair stand in rows; no nailing up of
blinds or closing of doors hides the vacancy. The cheap squalor of
Chinese streets adds misery to the scene, besides scenting a pure
mountain air with odors of complete wretchedness. Pigs prowl the
streets. Every deserted cabin knows a story of brave, manly effort ended
in bitter failure, and the lingering, stranded men have a melancholy
look as of faint fish the ebb has left to die.

I recall one town into which our party rode at evening. A single family
alone remained, too desperately poor to leave their home; all the other
buildings--church, post-office, the half-dozen saloons, and many
dwellings--standing with wide-open doors, their cloth walls and ceilings
torn down to make squaws’ petticoats.

If our horses in the great, deserted livery stable were as comfortable
as we, who each made his bed on a billiard table, they did well.

With this slow decay the venturous, both good and bad, have drifted off
to other mining countries, leaving most often small cause to regret
them.

Pathos and comedy so tenderly blent can rarely be found as here.
Enterprise has shrunken away from its old belongings; a feeble rill of
trade trickles down the broad channel of former affluence. Those few
49ers who linger ought to be gently preserved for historic specimens,
as we used to care for that cannon-ball in the Boston bricks, or
whatever might remind this youthful country of a past. They are
altogether harmless now, possessing the peculiar charm of lions with
drawn teeth.

Behold this old-school relic, a type known as the real Virginia
gentleman, as of a mild summer twilight he walks along the quiet street,
clad in black broadcloth and spotless linen, a heavy cane hanging by its
curved handle from his wrist. He pauses by the “s’loon,” receiving
respectful salutation from a mild company of bummers who hold him in
awe, and call him nothing less than “Judge.” They omit their habitual
sugar-and-water, and are at pains to swallow as stiff a glass and as
“neat” as their hero.

The Judge is reminded of livelier days by certain unhealed bullet-holes
in ceiling and wall, and recounts for the hundredth time, in chaste
language, the whole affair; and in particular how three-fingered Jack
blew the top of Alabam’s head off, and that stopped it all.

“We buried the six,” the Judge continues, “side and side, and it wasn’t
a week before two of us found old Jack and his partner on the same
limb, and they made eight graves. The ball that made that hole went
through my hat, and I travelled after that for awhile, till the thing
sort of blew over.

“Ah! boys,” he winds up, in tones tremulous with tearful regret, “you
fellows will never see such lively times as we of the early days.”

His tall figure passes on with uncertain gait, stopping at garden fences
here and there to execute one or two old-school compliments for the
ladies who are spending their evenings under vine-draped porches; and
when he takes an easy-chair by invitation, and begins a story laid in
the spring of 50, the Judge is conscious in his heart that the full
saloon veranda is looking and saying, “The _wimmun_ always did like
him.”

The 49 rough, too, still stays in almost every camp. He evaded rope by
joining the “Vigilants,” and has become a safe and fangless wolf in
sheep’s clothing. He found early that he could sponge and swindle a
larger amount from any given community than could be plundered, to say
nothing of the advantages of personal security. But now all these
characters are, God be thanked! few and widely scattered. Our present
census enrolls a safe, honest, reputable population, who respect law and
personal rights, and who, besides, look into the future with a sense of
responsibility and resolve.

It is very much the habit of newly arrived people to link the past and
present too closely in their estimate of the existing status. That
dreadful nightmare of early years is unfortunately, not to say cruelly,
mixed up with to-day. I think this must in great measure account for the
virtuous horror of that saintly army of travellers who write about
California, taking pains to open fire (at sublimely long range) with
their very hottest shot upon the devoted dwellers here. Such bombardment
in large pica, with all the added severity of double-leading, does not
interrupt the Sierra tranquillity; they marry and are given in marriage,
as in the days of Noah, regardless of explosions of many literary
batteries. Nor is this peaceful state altogether because the projectiles
fall short. There are people here who read, and read thoroughly. Can we
think them hyper-sensitive if surprised when, after opening heart and
doors to scribbling visitors, they find themselves held up to ridicule
or execration in unimpeachable English and tasteful typography?

An equally false impression is spread by that considerable class of men
whose courage and energy were not enough to win in open contest there,
and who publicly shake off dust from departing feet, go East in ballast,
and make a virtue of burning their ships, forgetful that for one
waterlogged craft a hundred stanch keels will furrow the Golden Gate.

Between the cruelly superficial criticism of most Eastern writers and
dark predictions from those smug prophets, the physical geographers,
Californians have nothing left them but their own conscious power; not
the poorest reliance in practical business, like building futures, one
should say.

I am not going to deny that even yet there flickers up now and then a
lingering flame of that 49 Inferno. If I did, the lively and
picturesque _auto-da-fé_ of “Austrian George,” the other day, would be
moved to amend me.

We must admit the facts. California people are not living in a tranquil,
healthy, social _régime_. They are provincial,--never, however, in a
local way, but by reason of limited thought. Aspirations for wealth and
ease rise conspicuously above any thirst for intellectual culture and
moral peace. Energy and a glorious audacity are their leading traits.

To the charge of light-hearted gayety, so freely trumpeted by graver
home critics, I plead them guilty. There is nowhere that dull, weary
expression and rayless sedateness of face we of New England are fonder
of ascribing to our tender conscience than to east winds. So, too, are
wanting difficulties of bronchia and lungs, which might inferentially be
symptoms of original sin.

Is Californian cheerfulness due to wide-spread moral levity, or to
perpetual sunshine and green salads through the round year tempting weak
human nature to smile?

I believe it climatic, and humbly offer my tribute to the
thermometer-man, who among many ventures has this time probably stumbled
upon truth.

Let us not grieve because the writers and lecturers have not found
Californian society all their ideals demanded, for (saving always the
dry-bulb readers of past and future) their dictum is confined to
existing conditions. Have they forgotten that these are less potent
factors in development than the impulse, that what a man _is_, is of far
less consequence than what he is _becoming_?

Show these gloomy critics a bare stretch of vulgar Sierra earth, and
they will tell you how barren, how valueless it is, ignorant that the
art of any Californian can banish every grain of sand into the Pacific’s
bottom, and gather a residuum of solid gold. Out of the race of men whom
they have in the same shallow way called common, I believe Time shall
separate a noble race.

Travelling to-day in foot-hill Sierras, one may see the old, rude scars
of mining; trenches yawn, disordered heaps cumber the ground, yet they
are no longer bare. Time, with friendly rain, and wind, and flood,
slowly, surely, levels all, and a compassionate cover of innocent
verdure weaves fresh and cool from mile to mile. While Nature thus
gently heals the humble Earth, God, who is also Nature, moulds and
changes Man.

THE END.





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