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Chapter 12

CLOUDY PASS AND THE AGNES CREEK VALLEY

I think I have said that one of the purposes of our expedition was to hunt. We were to spend a day or two at Lyman Lake, and the sportsmen were busy by the camp-fire that evening, getting rifles and shotguns in order and preparing fishing-tackle.

At dawn the next morning, which was at four o'clock, one of the packers roused the Big Boy with the information that there were wild ducks on the lake. He was wakened with extreme difficulty, put on his bedroom slippers, picked up his shotgun, and, still in his sleeping-garments, walked some ten feet from the mouth of his tent. There he yawned, discharged both barrels of his gun in the general direction of the ducks, yawned again, and went back to bed.

I myself went on a hunting-excursion on the second day at Lyman Lake. Now, theoretically, I am a mighty hunter. I have always expected to shoot something worth while and be photographed with my foot on it, and a "bearer"--whatever that may be--holding my gun in the background. So when Mr. Fred proposed an early start and a search along the side of Chiwawa Mountain for anything from sheep to goats, including a grizzly if possible, my imagination was roused. So jealous were we that the first game should be ours that the party was kept a profound secret. Mr. Fred and Mrs. Fred, the Head, and I planned it ourselves.

We would rise early, and, armed to the teeth, would stalk the skulking bear to his den.

Rising early is also a theory of mine. I approve of it. But I do not consider it rising early to get up at three o'clock in the morning. Three o'clock in the morning is late at night. The moon was still up. It was frightfully cold. My shoes were damp and refused to go on. I could not find any hairpins. And I recalled a number of stories of the extreme disagreeableness of bears when not shot in a vital spot.

With all our hurry, it was four o'clock when we were ready to start. No sun was in sight, but already a faint rose-colored tint was on the tops of the mountains. Whiskers raised a sleepy head and looked at us from Dan's bed. We tiptoed through the camp and started.

We climbed. Then we climbed some more. Then we kept on climbing. Mr. Fred led the way. He had the energy of a high-powered car and the hopefulness of a pacifist. From ledge to ledge he scrambled, turning now and then to wave an encouraging hand. It was not long before I ceased to have strength to wave back. Hours went on. Five hundred feet, one thousand feet, fifteen hundred feet above the lake. I confided to the Head, between gasps, that I was dying. We had seen no living thing; we continued to see no living thing. Two thousand feet, twenty-five hundred feet. There was not enough air in the world to fill my collapsed lungs.

Once Mr. Fred found a track, and scurried off in a new direction. Still no result. The sun was up by that time, and I judged that it was about noon. It was only six-thirty.

A sort of desperation took possession of us all. We would keep up with Mr. Fred or die trying. And then, suddenly, we were on the very roof of the world, on the top of Cloudy Pass. All the kingdoms of the earth lay stretched out around us, and all the kingdoms of the earth were empty.

Now, the usual way to climb Cloudy Pass is to take a good businesslike horse and sit on his back. Then, by devious and circuitous routes, with frequent rests, the horse takes you up. When there is a place the horse cannot manage, you get off and hold his tail, and he pulls you. Even at that, it is a long business and a painful one. But it is better--oh, far, far better!--than the way we had taken.

Have you ever reached a point where you fix your starting eyes on a shrub or a rock ten feet ahead and struggle for it? And, having achieved it, fix on another five feet farther on, and almost fail to get it? Because, if you have not, you know nothing of this agony of tearing lungs and hammering heart and throbbing muscles that is the mountain-climber's price for achievement.

And then, after all, while resting on the top of the world with our feet hanging over, discussing dilated hearts, because I knew mine would never go back to normal, to see a ptarmigan, and have Mr. Fred miss it because he wanted to shoot its head neatly off!

Strange birds, those ptarmigan. Quite fearless of man, because they know him not or his evil works, on alarm they have the faculty of almost instantly obliterating themselves. I have seen a mother bird and her babies, on an alarm, so hide themselves on a bare mountain-side that not so much as a bit of feather could be seen. But unless frightened, they will wander almost under the hunter's feet.

I dare say they do not know how very delicious they are, especially after a diet of salt meat.

As we sat panting on Cloudy Pass, the sun rose over the cliff of the great granite bowl. The peaks turned from red to yellow. It was absolutely silent. No trees rustled in the morning air. There were no trees. Only, here and there, a few stunted evergreens, two or three feet high, had rooted on the rock and clung there, gnarled and twisted from their winter struggles.

Ears that had grown tired of the noises of cities grew rested. But our ears were more rested than our bodies.

I have always believed that it is easier to go downhill than to go up. This is not true. I say it with the deepest earnestness. After the first five hundred feet of descent, progress down became agonizing. The something that had gone wrong with my knees became terribly wrong; they showed a tendency to bend backward; they shook and quivered.

The last mile of that four-mile descent was one of the most dreadful experiences of my life. A broken thing, I crept into camp and tendered mute apologies to Budweiser, my horse, called familiarly "Buddy." (Although he was not the sort of horse one really became familiar with.)

The remainder of that day, Mrs. Fred and I lay under a mosquito-canopy, played solitaire, and rested our aching bodies. The Forest Supervisor climbed Lyman Glacier. The Head and the Little Boy made the circuit of the lake, and had to be roped across the rushing river which is its outlet. And the horses rested for the real hardship of the trip, which was about to commence.

One thing should be a part of the equipment of every one who intends to camp in the mountains near the snow-fields. This is a mosquito-tent. Ours was brought by that experienced woodsman and mountaineer, Mr. Hilligoss, and was made with a light-muslin top three feet long by the width of double-width muslin. To this was sewed sides of cheese-cloth, with double seams and reinforced corners. At the bottom it had an extra piece of netting two feet wide, to prevent the insects from crawling under.

Erecting such a shelter is very simple. Four stakes, five feet high, were driven into the ground and the mosquito-canopy simply hung over them.

We had no face-masks, except the red netting, but, for such a trip, a mask is simple to make and occasionally most acceptable. The best one I know--and it, too, is the Woodsman's invention--consists of a four-inch band of wire netting; above it, whipped on, a foot of light muslin to be tied round the hat, and, below, a border of cheese-cloth two feet deep, with a rubber band. Such a mask does not stick to the face. Through the wire netting, it is possible to shoot with accuracy. The rubber band round the neck allows it to be lifted with ease.

I do not wish to give the impression that there were mosquitoes everywhere. But when there were mosquitoes, there was nothing clandestine about it.

The next day we crossed Cloudy Pass and started down the Agnes Creek Valley. It was to be a forced march of twenty-five miles over a trail which no one was sure existed. There had, at one time, been a trail, but avalanches have a way, in these mountain valleys, of destroying all landmarks, and rock-slides come down from the great cliffs, fill creek-beds, and form swamps. Whether we could get down at all or not was a question. To the eternal credit of our guides, we made it. For the upper five miles below Cloudy Pass it was touch and go. Even with the sharp hatchet of the Woodsman ahead, with his blazes on the trees where the trail had been obliterated, it was the hardest kind of going.

Here were ditches that the horses leaped; here were rushing streams where they could hardly keep their footing. Again, a long mile or two of swamp and almost impenetrable jungle, where only the Woodsman's axe-marks gave us courage to go on. We were mired at times, and again there were long stretches over rock-slides, where the horses scrambled like cats.

But with every mile there came a sense of exhilaration. We were making progress.

There was little or no life to be seen. The Woodsman, going ahead of us, encountered a brown bear reaching up for a cluster of salmon-berries. He ambled away, quite unconcerned, and happily ignorant of that desperate trio of junior Rineharts, bearing down on him with almost the entire contents of the best gun shop in Spokane.

It should have been a great place for bears, that Agnes Creek Valley. There were ripe huckleberries, service-berries, salmon-and manzanita-berries. There were plenty of places where, if I had been a bear, I should have been entirely happy--caves and great rocks, and good, cold water. And I believe they were there. But thirty-one horses and a sort of family tendency to see if there is an echo anywhere about, and such loud inquiries as, "Are you all right, mother?" and "Who the dickens has any matches?"--these things are fatal to seeing wild life.

Indeed, the next time I am overcome by one of my mad desires to see a bear, I shall go to the zoo.

It was fifteen years, I believe, since Dan Devore had seen the Agnes Creek Valley. From the condition of the trail, I am inclined to think that Dan was the last man who had ever used it. And such a wonderland as it is! Such marvels of flowers as we descended, such wild tiger-lilies and columbines and Mariposa lilies! What berries and queen's-cup and chalice-cup and bird's-bill! There was trillium, too, although it was not in bloom, and devil's-club, a plant which stings and sets up a painful swelling. There were yew trees, those trees which the Indians use for making their bows, wild white rhododendron and spirea, cottonwood, white pine, hemlock, Douglas spruce, and white fir. Everywhere there was mountain-ash, the berries beloved of bears. And high up on the mountain there was always heather, beautiful to look at but slippery, uncertain footing for horse and man.

Twenty-five miles, broken with canter and trot, is not more than I have frequently taken on a brisk sunny morning at home. But twenty-five miles at a slow walk, now in a creek-bed, now on the edge of a cliff, is a different matter. The last five miles of the Agnes Creek trip were a long despair. We found and located new muscles that the anatomists have overlooked.--A really first-class anatomist ought never to make a chart without first climbing a high mountain and riding all day on the creature alluded to in this song of Bob's, which gained a certain popularity among the male members of the party.

"A sailor's life is bold and free. He lives upon the bright blue sea. He has to work like h----, of course, But he doesn't have to ride on a darned old horse."

It was dark when we reached our camp-ground at the foot of the valley. A hundred feet below, in a gorge, ran the Stehekin River, a noisy and turbulent stream full of trout. We groped through the darkness for our tents that night and fell into bed more dead than alive. But at three o'clock the next morning, the junior Rineharts, following Mr. Fred, were off for bear, reappearing at ten, after breakfast was over, with an excited story of having seen one very close but having unaccountably missed it.

There was no water for the horses at camp that night, and none for them in the morning. There was no way to get them down to the river, and the poor animals were almost desperate with thirst. They were having little enough to eat even then, at the beginning of the trip, and it was hard to see them without water, too.


Mary Roberts Rinehart

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