OFF FOR CASCADE PASS
How many secrets the mountains hold! They have forgotten things we shall never know. And they are cruel, savagely cruel. What they want, they take. They reach out a thousand clutching hands. They attack with avalanche, starvation, loneliness, precipice. They lure on with green valleys and high flowering meadows where mountain-sheep move sedately, with sunlit peaks and hidden lakes, with silence for tired ears and peace for weary souls. And then--they kill.
Because man is a fighting animal, he obeys their call, his wit against their wisdom of the ages, his strength against their solidity, his courage against their cunning. And too often he loses.
I am afraid of the mountains. I have always the feeling that they are lying in wait. At night, their very silence is ominous. The crack of ice as a bit of slow-moving glacier is dislodged, lightning, and the roar of thunder somewhere below where I lie--these are the artillery of the range, and from them I am safe. I am too small for their heavy guns. But a shelving trail on the verge of a chasm, a slip on an ice-field, a rolling stone under a horse's foot--these are the weapons I fear above the timber-line.
Even below there is danger--swamps and rushing rivers, but above all the forest. In mountain valleys it grows thick on the bodies of dead forests beneath. It crowds. There is barely room for a tent. And all through the night the trees protest. They creak and groan and sigh, and sometimes they burn. In a cul-de-sac, with only frowning cliffs about, the forest becomes ominous, a thing of dreadful beauty. On nights when, through the crevices of the green roof, there are stars hung in the sky, the weight lifts. But there are other nights when the trees close in like ranks of hostile men and take the spirit prisoner.
The peace of the wilderness is not peace. It is waiting.
On the Glacier Park trip, there had been one subject which came up for discussion night after night round the camp-fire. It resolved itself, briefly, into this: Should we or should we not get out in time to go over to the State of Washington and there perform the thrilling feat which Bob, the Optimist, had in mind?
This was nothing more nor less than the organization of a second pack-outfit and the crossing of the Cascade Mountains on horseback by a virgin route. The Head, Bob, and Joe had many discussions about it. I do not recall that my advice was ever asked. It is generally taken for granted in these wilderness-trips of ours that I will be there, ready to get a story when the opportunity presents itself.
Owing to the speed with which the North Fork of the Flathead River descends from the Canadian border to civilization, we had made very good time. And, at last, the decision was made to try this new adventure.
"It will be a bully story," said the Optimist, "and you can be dead sure of this: it's never been done before."
So, at last, it was determined, and we set out on that wonderful harebrain excursion of which the very memory gives me a thrill. Yet, now that I know it can be done, I may try it again some day. It paid for itself over and over in scenery, in health, and in thrills. But there were several times when it seemed to me impossible that we could all get over the range alive.
We took through thirty-one horses and nineteen people. When we got out, our horses had had nothing to eat, not a blade of grass or a handful of grain, for thirty-six hours, and they had had very little for five days.
On the last morning, the Head gave his horse for breakfast one rain-soaked biscuit, an apple, two lumps of sugar, and a raw egg. The other horses had nothing.
We dropped three pack-horses over cliffs in two days, but got them again, cut and bruised, and we took out our outfit complete, after two weeks of the most arduous going I have ever known anything about. When the news that we had got over the pass penetrated to the settlements, a pack-outfit started over Cascade Pass in our footsteps to take supplies to a miner. They killed three horses on that same trail, and I believe gave it up in the end.
Doubtless, by next year, a passable trail will have been built up to Doubtful Lake and another one up that eight-hundred-foot mountain-wall above the lake, where, when one reaches the top, there is but room to look down again on the other side. Perhaps, too, there will be a trail down the Agnes Creek Valley, so that parties can get through easily. When that is done,--and it is promised by the Forest Supervisor,--one of the most magnificent horseback trips in the country will be opened for the first time to the traveler.
Most emphatically, the trip across the Cascades at Doubtful Lake and Cascade Pass is not a trip for a woman in the present condition of things, although any woman who can ride can cross Cloudy Pass and get down Agnes Creek way. But perhaps before this is published, the Chelan National Forest will have been made a National Park. It ought to be. It is superb. There is no other word for it. And it ought not to be called a forest, because it seems to have everything but trees. Rocks and rivers and glaciers--more in one county than in all Switzerland, they claim--and granite peaks and hair-raising precipices and lakes filled with ice in midsummer. But not many trees, until, at Cascade Pass, one reaches the boundaries of the Washington National Forest and begins to descend the Pacific slope.
The personnel of our party was slightly changed. Of the original one, there remained the Head, the Big, the Middle, and the Little Boy, Joe, Bob, and myself. To these we added at the beginning six persons besides our guides and packers. Two of them did not cross the pass, however--the Forest Pathologist from Washington, who travels all over the country watching for tree-diseases and tree-epidemics and who left us after a few days, and the Supervisor of Chelan Forest, who had but just come from Oregon and was making his first trip over his new territory.
We were fortunate, indeed, in having four forest-men with us, men whose lives are spent in the big timber, who know the every mood and tense of the wilderness. For besides these two, the Pathologist and the Forest Supervisor, there was "Silent Lawrie" Lindsley, naturalist, photographer, and lover of all that is wild, a young man who has spent years wandering through the mountains around Chelan, camera and gun at hand, the gun never raised against the wild creatures, but used to shoot away tree-branches that interfere with pictures, or, more frequently, to trim a tree into such outlines as fit it into the photograph.
And then there was the Man Who Went Ahead. For forty years this man, Mr. Hilligoss, has lived in the forest. Hardly a big timber-deal in the Northwest but was passed by him. Hardly a tree in that vast wilderness but he knew it. He knew everything about the forest but fear--fear and fatigue. And, with an axe and a gun, he went ahead, clearing trail, blazing trees, and marking the détours to camp-sites by an arrow made of bark and thrust through a slash in a tree.
Hour after hour we would struggle on, seeing everywhere evidences of his skill on the trail, to find, just as endurance had reached its limit, the arrow that meant camp and rest.
And--there was Dan Devore and his dog, Whiskers. Dan Devore was our chief guide and outfitter, a soft voiced, bearded, big souled man, neither very large nor very young. All soul and courage was Dan Devore, and one of the proud moments of my life was when it was all over and he told me I had done well. I wanted most awfully to have Dan Devore think I had done well.
He was sitting on a stone at the time, I remember, and Whiskers, his old Airedale, had his head on Dan's knee. All of his thirteen years, Whiskers had wandered through the mountains with Dan Devore, always within call. To see Dan was to see Whiskers; to see Whiskers was to see Dan.
He slept on Dan's tarp bed at night, and in the daytime led our long and winding procession. Indomitable spirit that he was, he traveled three miles to our one, saved us from the furious onslaughts of many a marmot and mountain-squirrel, and, in the absence of fresh meat, ate his salt pork and scraps with the zest of a hungry traveler.
Then there were Mr. and Mrs. Fred. I call them Mr. and Mrs. Fred, because, like Joe, that was a part of their name. I will be frank about Mrs. Fred. I was worried about her before I knew her. I was accustomed to roughing it; but how about another woman? Would she be putting up her hair in curlers every night, and whimpering when, as sometimes happens, the slow gait of her horse became intolerable? Little did I know Mrs. Fred. She was a natural wanderer, a follower of the trail, a fine and sound and sporting traveling companion. And I like to think that she is typical of the women of that Western country which bred her, feminine to the core, but strong and sweet still.
Both the Freds were great additions. Was it not after Mr. Fred that we trailed on that famous game-hunt of ours, of which a spirited account is coming later? Was it not Mr. Fred who, night after night, took the junior Rineharts away from an anxious mother into the depths of the forest or the bleakness of mountain-slopes, there to lie, armed to the teeth, and wait for the first bears to start out for breakfast?
Now you have us, I think, except the men of the outfit, and they deserve space I cannot give them. They were a splendid lot, and it was by their incessant labor that we got over.
Try to see us, then, filing along through deep valleys, climbing cliffs, stumbling, struggling, not talking much, a long line of horses and riders. First, far ahead, Mr. Hilligoss. Then the riders, led by "Silent Lawrie," with me just behind him, because of photographs. Then, at the head of the pack-horses, Dan Devore. Then the long line of pack-ponies, sturdy and willing, and piled high with our food, our bedding, and our tents. And here, there, and everywhere, Joe, with the moving-picture camera.
We were determined, this time, to have no repetition of the Glacier Park fiasco, where Bill, our cook, had deserted us at a bad time--although it is always a bad time when the cook leaves. So now we had two cooks. Much as I love the mountains and the woods, the purple of evening valleys, the faint pink of sunrise on snow-covered peaks, the most really thrilling sight of a camping-trip is two cooks bending over an iron grating above a fire, one frying trout and the other turning flapjacks.
Our trail led us through one of the few remaining unknown portions of the United States. It cannot long remain unknown. It is too superb, too wonderful. And it has mineral in it, silver and copper and probably coal. The Middle Boy, who is by way of being a chemist and has systematically blown himself up with home-made explosives for years--the Middle Boy found at least a dozen silver mines of fabulous value, although the men in the party insisted that his specimens were iron pyrites and other unromantic minerals.