THE BIG ADVENTURE
Came at last the day to start west. In spite of warnings, we found that our irreducible minimum of luggage filled five wardrobe-trunks. In vain we went over our lists and cast out such bulky things as extra handkerchiefs and silk socks and fancy neckties and toilet-silver. We started with all five. It was boiling hot; the sun beat in at the windows of the transcontinental train and stifled us. Over the prairies, dust blew in great clouds, covering the window-sills with white. The Big Boy and the Middle Boy and the Little Boy referred scornfully to the flannels and sweaters on which I had been so insistent. The Head slept across the continent. The Little Boy counted prairie-dogs.
Then, almost suddenly, we were in the mountains--for the Rockies seem to rise out of a great plain. The air was stimulating. There had been a great deal of snow last winter, and the wind from the ice-capped peaks overhead blew down and chilled us. We threw back our heads and breathed.
Before going to Belton for our trip with the pack-outfit, we rode again for two weeks with the Howard Eaton party through the east side of the park, crossing again those great passes, for each one of which, like the Indians, the traveler counts a coup--Mount Morgan, a mile high and the width of an army-mule on top; old Piegan, under the shadow of the Garden Wall; Mount Henry, where the wind blows always a steady gale. We had scaled Dawson with the aid of ropes, since snowslides covered the trail, and crossed the Cut Bank in a hailstorm. Like the noble Duke of York, Howard Eaton had led us "up a hill one day and led us down again." Only, he did it every day.
Once, in my notebook, I wrote on top of a mountain my definition of a mountain pass. I have used it before, but because it was written with shaking fingers and was torn from my very soul, I cannot better it. This is what I wrote:--
A pass is a blood-curdling spot up which one's horse climbs like a goat and down the other side of which it slides as you lead it, trampling ever and anon on a tender part of your foot. A pass is the highest place between two peaks. A pass is not an opening, but a barrier which you climb with chills and descend with prayer. A pass is a thing which you try to forget at the time, and which you boast about when you get back home.
At last came the day when we crossed the Gunsight Pass and, under Sperry Glacier, looked down and across to the north and west. It was sunset and cold. The day had been a long and trying one. We had ridden across an ice-field which sloped gently off--into China, I dare say. I did not look over. Our horses were weary, and we were saddle-sore and hungry.
Pete, our big guide, whose name is really not Pete at all, waved an airy hand toward the massed peaks beyond--the land of our dreams.
"Well," he said, "there it is!"
And there it was.
* * * * * * *
Getting a pack-outfit ready for a long trip into the wilderness is a serious matter. We were taking thirty-one horses, guides, packers, and a cook. But we were doing more than that--we were taking two boats! This was Bob's idea. Any highly original idea, such as taking boats where not even tourists had gone before, or putting eggs on a bucking horse, or carrying grapefruit for breakfast into the wilderness, was Bob's idea.
"You see, I figure it out like this," he said, when, on our arrival at Belton, we found the boats among our equipment: "If we can get those boats up to the Canadian line and come down the Flathead rapids all the way, it will only take about four days on the river. It's a stunt that's never been pulled off."
"Do you mean," I said, "that we are going to run four days of rapids that have never been run?"
I looked around. There, in a group, were the Head and the Big Boy and the Middle Boy and the Little Boy. And a fortune-teller at Atlantic City had told me to beware of water!
"At the worst places," the Optimist continued, "we can send Joe ahead in one boat with the 'movie' outfit, and get you as you come along."
"I dare say," I observed, with some bitterness. "Of course we may upset. But if we do, I'll try to go down for the third time in front of the camera."
But even then the boats were being hoisted into a wagon-bed filled with hay. And I knew that I was going to run four days of rapids. It was written.
It was a bright morning. In a corral, the horses were waiting to be packed. Rolls of blankets, crates of food, and camping-utensils lay everywhere. The Big Boy marshaled the fishing-tackle. Bill, the cook, was searching the town for the top of an old stove to bake on. We had provided two reflector ovens, but he regarded them with suspicion. They would, he suspected, not do justice to his specialty, the corn-meal saddle-bag, a sort of sublimated hot cake.
I strolled to the corral and cast a horsewoman's eye on my mount.
"He looks like a very nice horse," I said. "He's quite handsome."
Pete tightened up the cinch.
"Yes," he observed; "he's all right. He's a pretty good mare."
The Head was wandering around with lists in his hand. His conversation ran something like this:--
"Pocket-flashes, chocolate, jam, medicine-case, reels, landing-nets, cigarettes, tooth-powder, slickers, matches."
He was always accumulating matches. One moment, a box of matches would be in plain sight and the next it had disappeared. He became a sort of match-magazine, so that if anybody had struck him violently, in almost any spot, he would have exploded.
Hours went by. The sun was getting high and hot. The crowd which had been watching gradually disappeared about its business. The two boats--big, sturdy river-boats they were--had rumbled along toward the wilderness, one on top of the other, with George Locke and Mike Shannon as pilots, watching for breakers ahead. In the corral, our supplies were being packed on the horses, Bill Shea and Pete, Tom Sullivan and Tom Farmer and their assistants working against time. In crates were our cooking-utensils, ham, bacon, canned salmon, jam, flour, corn-meal, eggs, baking-powder, flies, rods, and reels, reflector ovens, sunburn lotion, coffee, cocoa, and so on. Cocoa is the cowboy's friend. Innumerable blankets, "tarp" beds, and war-sacks lay rolled ready for the pack-saddles. The cook was declaiming loudly that some one had opened his pack and taken out his cleaver.
For a pack-outfit, the west side of Glacier Park is ideal. The east side is much the best so far for those who wish to make short trips along the trails into the mountains, although as yet only a small part, comparatively, of the eastern wonderland is open. There, one may spend a day, or several days, in the midst of the wildest possible country and yet return at night to excellent hotels.
On the west side, however, a pack-outfit is necessary. There is but one hotel, Lewis's, on Lake McDonald. To get to the Canadian line, there must be camping facilities for at least eight days if there are no stop-overs. And not to stop over is to lose the joy of the trip. It is an ideal two to three weeks' jaunt with a pack-train. A woman who can sit a horse--and every one can ride in a Western saddle--a woman can make the land trip not only with comfort but with joy. That is, a woman who likes the outdoors.
What did we wear, that bright morning when, all ready at last, the cook on the chuck-wagon, the boats ambling ahead, with Bill Hossick, the teamster, driving the long line of heavily packed horses and our own saddlers lined up for the adventure, we moved out on to the trail?
Well, the men wore khaki riding-trousers and flannel shirts, broad-brimmed felt hats, army socks drawn up over the cuff of the breeches, and pack-shoes. A pack-shoe is one in which the leather of the upper part makes the sole also, without a seam. On to this soft sole is sewed a heavy leather one. The pack-shoe has a fastened tongue and is waterproof.
And I? I had not counted on the "movie"-man, and I was dressed for comfort in the woods. I had buckskin riding-breeches and high boots, and over my thin riding-shirt I wore a cloth coat. I had packed in my warbag a divided skirt also, and a linen suit, for hot days, of breeches and coat. But of this latter the least said the better. It betrayed me and, in portions, deserted me.
All of us carried tin drinking-cups, which vied with the bells on the pack-animals for jingle. Most of us had sweaters or leather wind-jammers. The guides wore "chaps" of many colors, boots with high heels, which put our practical packs in the shade, and gay silk handkerchiefs.
Joe was to be a detachable unit. As a matter of fact, he became detached rather early in the game, having been accidentally given a bucker. It was on the second day, I think, that his horse buried his head between his fore legs, and dramatized one of the best bits of the trip when Joe was totally unable to photograph it.
He had his own guide and extra horse for the camera. It had been our expectation that, at the most hazardous parts of the journey, he would perch on some crag and show us courageously risking our necks to have a good time. But on the really bad places he had his own life to save, and he never fully trusted Maud, I think, after the first day. Maud was his horse.
Besides, when he did climb to some aerie, and photographed me, for instance, in a sort of Napoleon-crossing-the-Alps attitude, sitting my horse on the brink of eternity and being reassured from safety by the Optimist--outside the picture, of course--the developed film flattened out the landscape. So that, although I was on the edge of a caņon a mile deep, I might as well have been posing on the bank of the Ohio River.
On the east side of the Park I had ridden Highball. It is not particularly significant that I started the summer on Highball and ended it on Budweiser. Now I had Angel, a huge white mare with a pink nose, a loving disposition, and a gait that kept me swallowing my tongue for fear I would bite the end off it. The Little Boy had Prince, a small pony which ran exactly like an Airedale dog, and in every canter beat out the entire string. The Head had H----, and considered him well indicated. One bronco was called "Bronchitis." The top horse of the string was Bill Shea's Dynamite, according to Bill Shea. There were Dusty, Shorty, Sally Goodwin, Buffalo Tom, Chalk-Eye, Comet, and Swapping Tater--Swapping Tater being a pacer who, when he hit the ground, swapped feet. Bob had Sister Sarah.
At last, everything was ready. The pack-train got slowly under way. We leaped into our saddles--"leaped" being a figurative term which grew more and more figurative as time went on and we grew saddle-weary and stiff--and, passing the pack-train on a canter, led off for the wilderness.
All that first day we rode, now in the sun, now in deep forest. Luncheon-time came, but the pack-train was far behind. We waited, but we could not hear so much as the tinkle of its bells. So we munched cakes of chocolate from the pockets of our riding-coats and went grimly on.
The wagon with the boats had made good time. It was several miles along the wagon-trail before we caught up with it. It had found a quiet harbor beside the road, and the boatmen were demanding food. We tossed them what was left of the chocolate and went on.
The presence of a wagon-trail in that empty land, unvisited and unknown, requires explanation. In the first place, it was not really a road. It was a trail, and in places barely that. But, sixteen years before, a road had been cleared through the forest by some people who believed there was oil near the Canadian line. They cut down trees and built corduroy bridges. But in sixteen years it has not been used. No wheels have worn it smooth. It takes its leisurely way, now through wilderness, now through burnt country where the trees stand stark and dead, now through prairie or creek-bottom, now up, now down, always with the range rising abruptly to the east, and with the Flathead River somewhere to the west.
It will not take much expenditure to make that old wagon-trail into a good road. It has its faults. It goes down steep slopes--on the second day out, the chuck-wagon got away, and, fetching up at the bottom, threw out Bill the cook and nearly broke his neck. It climbs like a cat after a young robin. It is rocky or muddy or both. But it is, potentially, a road.
The Rocky Mountains run northwest and southeast, and in numerous basins, fed by melting glaciers and snow-fields, are deep and quiet lakes. These lakes, on the west side, discharge their overflow through roaring and precipitous streams to the Flathead, which flows south and east. While our general direction was north, it was our intention to turn off east and camp at the different lakes, coming back again to the wagon-trail to resume our journey.
Therefore, it became necessary, day after day, to take our boats off the wagon-road and haul them along foot-trails none too good. The log of the two boats is in itself a thrilling story. There were days and days when the wagon was mired, when it stuck in the fords of streams or in soft places on the trail. It was a land flotilla by day, and, with its straw, a couch at night. And there came, toward the end of the journey, that one nerve-racking day when, over a sixty-foot cliff down a foot-trail, it was necessary to rope wagon, boats, and all, to get the boats into the Flathead River.
But all this was before us then. We only knew it was summer, that the days were warm and the nights cool, that the streams were full of trout, that such things as telegraphs and telephones were falling far in our rear, and that before us was the Big Adventure.