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Chapter 11

LAKE CHELAN TO LYMAN LAKE


Now, as to where we were--those long days of fording rivers and beating our way through jungle or of dizzy climbs up to the snow, those short nights, so cold that six blankets hardly kept us warm, while our tired horses wandered far, searching for such bits of grass as grew among the shale.

In the north-central part of the State of Washington, Nature has done a curious thing. She has built a great lake in the eastern shoulders of the Cascade Mountains. Lake Chelan, more than fifty miles long and averaging a mile and a half in width, is ten hundred and seventy-five feet above sea-level, while its bottom is four hundred feet below the level of the ocean. It is almost completely surrounded by granite walls and peaks which reach more than a mile and a half into the air.

The region back from the lake is practically unknown. A small part of it has never been touched by the Geological Survey, and, in one or two instances, we were able to check up errors on our maps. Thus, a lake shown on our map as belonging at the head of McAllister Creek really belongs at the head of Rainbow Creek, while McAllister Lake is not shown at all. Mr. Coulter, a forester who was with us for a time, last year discovered three lakes at the head of Rainbow Creek which have never been mapped, and, so far as could be learned, had never been seen by a white man before. Yet Lake Chelan itself is well known in the Northwest. It is easily reached, its gateway being the famous Wenatchee Valley, celebrated for its apples.

It was from Chelan that we were to make our start. Long before we arrived, Dan Devore and the packers were getting the outfit ready.

Yet the first glimpse of Chelan was not attractive. We had motored half a day through that curious, semi-arid country, which, when irrigated, proves the greatest of all soils in the world for fruit-raising. The August sun had baked the soil into yellow dust which covered everything. Arid hillsides without a leaf of green but dotted thickly with gray sagebrush, eroded valleys, rocks and gullies--all shone a dusty yellow in the heat. The dust penetrated everything. Wherever water could be utilized were orchards, little trees planted in geometrical rows and only waiting the touch of irrigation to make their owners wealthy beyond dreams.

The lower end of Lake Chelan was surrounded by these bleak hillsides, desert without the great spaces of the desert. Yet unquestionably, in a few years from now, these bleak hillsides will be orchard land. Only the lower part, however, is bleak--only an end, indeed. There is nothing more beautiful and impressive than the upper part of that strangely deep and quiet lake lying at the foot of its enormous cliffs.

By devious stages we reached the head of Lake Chelan, and there for four days the outfitting went on. Horses were being brought in, saddles fitted; provisions in great cases were arriving. To outfit a party of our size for two weeks means labor and generous outlay. And we were going to be comfortable. We were willing to travel hard and sleep hard. But we meant to have plenty of food. I think we may claim the unique distinction of being the only people who ever had grapefruit regularly for breakfast on the top of that portion of the Cascade Range.

While we waited, we learned something about the country. It is volcanic ash, disintegrated basalt, this great fruit-country to the right of the range. And three things, apparently, are responsible for its marvelous fruit-growing properties. First, the soil itself, which needs only water to prove marvelously fertile; second, the length of the growing-season, which around Lake Chelan is one hundred and ninety-two days in the year. And this just south of the Canadian border! There is a third reason, too: the valleys are sheltered from frost. Even if a frost comes,--and I believe it is almost unknown,--the high mountains surrounding these valleys protect the blossoms so that the frost has evaporated before the sun strikes the trees. There is no such thing known as a killing frost.

But it is irrigation on a virgin and fertile soil that is primarily responsible. They run the water to the orchards in conduits, and then dig little trenches, running parallel among the trees. Then they turn it on, and the tree-roots are bathed, soaked. And out of the desert spring such trees of laden fruit that each branch must be supported by wires!

So we ate such apples as I had never dreamed of, and waited. Joe got his films together. The boys practiced shooting. I rested and sharpened lead-pencils. Bob had found a way to fold his soft hat into what he fondly called the "Jennings do," which means a plait in the crown to shed the rain, and which turned an amiable ensemble into something savage and extremely flat on top. The Head played croquet.

And then into our complacency came, one night, a bit of tragedy.

A man staggered into the little hotel at the head of the lake, carrying another man on his back. He had carried him for forty hours, lowering him down, bit by bit, from that mountain highland where he had been hurt--forty hours of superhuman effort and heart-breaking going, over cliffs and through wilderness.

The injured man was a sheep-herder. He had cut his leg with his wood-axe, and blood-poisoning had set in. I do not know the rest of that story. The sheep-herder was taken to a hospital the next day, traveling a very long way. But whether he traveled still farther, to the land of the Great Shepherd, I do not know. Only this I do know: that this Western country I love is full of such stories, and of such men as the hero of this one.

At last we were ready. Some of the horses were sent by boat the day before, for this strange lake has little or no shore-line. Granite mountains slope stark and sheer to the water's edge, and drop from there to frightful depths below. There are, at the upper end, no roads, no trails or paths that border it. So the horses and all of us went by boat to the mouth of Railroad Creek,--so called, I suppose, because the nearest railroad is more than forty miles away,--up which led the trail to the great unknown. All around and above us were the cliffs, towering seven thousand feet over the lake. And beyond those cliffs lay adventure.

For it was adventure. Even Dan Devore, experienced mountaineer and guide that he was, had only been to Cascade Pass once, and that was sixteen years before. He had never been across the divide. "Silent Lawrie" Lindsley, the naturalist, had been only part-way down the Agnes Creek Valley, which we intended to follow. Only in a general way had we any itinerary at all.

Now a National Forest is a happy hunting-ground. Whereas in the National Parks game is faithfully preserved, hunting is permitted in the forests. To this end, we took with us a complete arsenal. The naturalist carried a Colt's revolver; the Big Boy had a twelve-gauge hammerless, called a "howitzer." We had two twenty-four-gauge shotguns in case we met an elephant or anything similarly large and heavy, and the Little Boy proudly carried, strapped to his saddle, a twenty-two high-power rifle, shooting a steel-jacketed, soft-nose bullet, an express-rifle of high velocity and great alarm to mothers. In addition to this, we had a Savage repeater and two Winchester thirties, and the Forest Supervisor carried his own Winchester thirty-eight. We were entirely prepared to meet the whole German army.

It is rather sad to relate that, with all this preparation, we killed nothing whatever. Although it is not true that, on the day we encountered a large bear, and the three junior members of the family were allowed to turn the artillery loose on him, at the end of the firing the bear pulled out a flag and waved it, thinking it was the Fourth of July.

As we started, that August midday, for the long, dusty ride up the Railroad Creek Trail, I am sure that the three junior Rineharts had nothing less in mind than two or three bearskins apiece for school bedrooms. They deserved better luck than they had. Night after night, sitting in the comparative safety of the camp-fire, I have seen my three sons, the Big, the Middle, and the Little Boy, starting off, armed to the teeth with deadly weapons, to sleep out under the stars and catch the first unwary bear on his way to breakfast in the morning.

Morning after morning, I have sat breakfastless and shaken until the weary procession of young America toiled into camp, hungry and bearless, but, thank Heaven, whole of skin save where mosquitoes and black flies had taken their toll of them. They would trudge five miles, sleep three hours, hunt, walk five miles back, and then ride all day.

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The first day was the least pleasant. We were still in the Railroad Creek Valley; the trail was dusty; packs slipped on the sweating horses and had to be replaced. The bucking horse of the outfit had, as usual, been given the eggs, and, burying his head between his fore legs, threw off about a million dollars' worth before he had been on the trail an hour.

On that first part of the trip, we had three dogs with us--Chubb and Doc, as well as Whiskers. They ran in the dust with their tongues out, and lay panting under bushes at each stop. Here and there we found the track of sheep driven into the mountain to graze. For a hundred or two hundred feet in width, it was eaten completely clean, for sheep have a way of tearing up even the roots of the grass so that nothing green lives behind them. They carry blight into a country like this.

Then, at last, we found the first arrow of the journey, and turned off the trail to camp.

On that first evening, the arrow landed us in a great spruce grove where the trees averaged a hundred and twenty-five feet in height. Below, the ground was cleared and level and covered with fine moss. The great gray trunks rose to Gothic arches of green. It was a churchly place. And running through it were little streams living with trout.

And in this saintly spot, quiet and peaceful, its only noise the babbling of little rivers, dwelt billions on billions of mosquitoes that were for the first time learning the delights of the human frame as food.

There was no getting away from them. Open our mouths and we inhaled them. They hung in dense clouds about us and fought over the best locations. They held loud and noisy conversations about us, and got in our ears and up our nostrils and into our coffee. They went trout-fishing with us and put up the tents with us; dined with us and on us. But they let us alone at night.

It is a curious thing about the mountain mosquito as I know him. He is a lazy insect. He retires at sundown and does not begin to get in any active work until eight o'clock the following morning. He keeps union hours.

Something of this we had anticipated, and I had ordered mosquito-netting, to be worn as veils. When it was unrolled, it proved to be a brilliant scarlet, a scarlet which faded in hot weather on to necks and faces and turned us suddenly red and hideous.

Although it was late in the afternoon when we reached that first camp, Camp Romany, two or three of us caught more than a hundred trout before sundown. We should have done better had it not been necessary to stop and scratch every thirty seconds.

That night, the Woodsman built a great bonfire. We huddled about it, glad of its warmth, for although the days were hot, the nights, with the wind from the snow-covered peaks overhead, were very cold. The tall, unbranching gray spruce-trunks rose round it like the pillars of a colonnade. The forester blew up his air bed. In front of the supper-fire, the shadowy figures of the cooks moved back and forward. From a near-by glacier came an occasional crack, followed by a roar which told of ice dropping into cavernous depths below. The Little Boy cleaned his gun and dreamed of mighty exploits.

We rested all the next day at Camp Romany--rested and fished, while three of the more adventurous spirits climbed a near-by mountain. Late in the afternoon they rode in, bringing in their midst Joe, who had, at the risk of his life, slid a distance which varied in the reports from one hundred yards to a mile and a half down a snow-field, and had hung fastened on the brink of eternity until he was rescued.

Very white was Joe that evening, white and bruised. It was twenty-four hours before he began to regret that the camera had not been turned on him at the time.

Not until we left Camp Romany did we feel that we were really off for the trip. And yet that first day out from Romany was not agreeable going. The trail was poor, although there came a time when we looked back on it as superlative. The sun was hot, and there was no shade. Years ago, prospectors hunting for minerals had started forest-fires to level the ridges. The result was the burning-over of perhaps a hundred square miles of magnificent forest. The second growth which has come up is scrubby, a wilderness of young trees and chaparral, through which progress was difficult and uninteresting.

Up the bottom of the great glacier-basin toward the mountain at its head, we made our slow and painful way. More dust, more mosquitoes. Even the beauty of the snow-capped peaks overhead could not atone for the ugliness of that destroyed region. Yet, although it was not lovely, it was vastly impressive. Literally, hundreds of waterfalls cascaded down the mountain wall from hidden lakes and glaciers above, and towering before us was the mountain wall which we were to climb later that day.

We had seen no human creature since leaving the lake, but as we halted for luncheon by a steep little river, we suddenly found that we were not alone. Standing beside the trail was an Italian bandit with a knife two feet long in his hands.

Ha! Come adventure! Come romance! Come rifles and pistols and all the arsenal, including the Little Boy, with pure joy writ large over him! A bandit, armed to the teeth!

But this is a disappointing world. He was the cook from a mine--strange, the way we met cooks, floating around loose in a world that seems to be growing gradually cookless. And he carried with him his knife and his bread-pan, which was, even then, hanging to a branch of a tree.

We fed him, and he offered to sing. The Optimist nudged me.

"Now, listen," he said; "these fellows can sing. Be quiet, everybody!"

The bandit twisted up his mustachios, smiled beatifically, and took up a position in the trail, feet apart, eyes upturned.

And then--he stopped.

"I start a leetle high," he said; "I start again."

So he started again, and the woods receded from around us, and the rushing of the river died away, and nothing was heard in that lonely valley but the most hideous sounds that ever broke a primeval silence into rags and tatters.

When, at last, he stopped, we got on our horses and rode on, a bitter and disillusioned party of adventurers whose first bubble of enthusiasm had been pricked.

It was four o'clock when we began the ascent of the switchback at the top of the valley. Up and up we went, dismounting here and there, going slowly but eagerly. For, once over the wall, we were beyond the reach of civilization. So strange a thing is the human mind! We who were for most of the year most civilized, most dependent on our kind and the comforts it has wrought out of a primitive world, now we were savagely resentful of it. We wanted neither men nor houses. Stirring in us had commenced that primeval call that comes to all now and then, the longing to be alone with Mother Earth, savage, tender, calm old Mother Earth.

And yet we were still in touch with the world. For even here man had intruded. Hanging to the cliff were the few buildings of a small mine which sends out its ore by pack-pony. I had already begun to feel the aloofness of the quiet places, so it was rather disconcerting to have a miner with a patch over one eye come to the doorway of one of the buildings and remark that he had read some of my political articles and agreed with them most thoroughly.

That was a long day. We traveled from early morning until long after late sundown. Up the switchback to a green plateau we went, meeting our first ice there, and here again that miracle of the mountains, meadow flowers and snow side by side.

Far behind us strung the pack-outfit, plodding doggedly along. From the rim we could look back down that fire-swept valley toward Heart Lake and the camp we had left. But there was little time for looking back. Somewhere ahead was a brawling river descending in great leaps from Lyman Lake, which lay in a basin above and beyond. Our camp, that night, was to be on the shore of Lyman Lake, at the foot of Lyman Glacier. And we had still far to go.

Mr. Hilligoss met us on the trail. He had found a camp-site by the lake and had seen a bear and a deer. There were wild ducks also.

Now and then there are scenes in the mountains that defy the written word. The view from Cloudy Pass is one; the outlook from Cascade Pass is another. But for sheer loveliness there are few things that surpass Lyman Lake at sunset, its great glacier turned to pink, the towering granite cliffs which surround it dark purple below, bright rose at the summits. And lying there, still with the stillness of the ages, the quiet lake.

There was, as a matter of fact, nothing to disturb its quiet. Not a fish, so far as we could discover, lived in its opalescent water, cloudy as is all glacial water. It is only good to look at, is Lyman Lake, and there are no people to look at it.

Set in its encircling, snow-covered mountains, it lies fifty-five hundred feet above sea-level. We had come up in two days from eleven hundred feet, a considerable climb. That night, for the first time, we saw the northern lights--at first, one band like a cold finger set across the sky, then others, shooting ribbons of cold fire, now bright, now dim, covering the northern horizon and throwing into silhouette the peaks over our heads.


Mary Roberts Rinehart

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