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Chapter 5

TO KINTLA LAKE


We had washed at dawn in the cold lake. The rain had turned to snow in the night, and the mountains were covered with a fresh white coating. And then, at last, we were off, the wagons first, although we were soon to pass them. We had lifted the boats out of the water and put them lovingly in their straw again. And Mike and George formed the crew. The guides were ready with facetious comments.

"Put up a sail!" they called. "Never give up the ship!" was another favorite. The Head, who has a secret conviction that he should have had his voice trained, warbled joyously:--

"I'll stick to the ship, lads; You save your lives. I've no one to love me; You've children and wives."

And so, still in the cool of the morning, our long procession mounted the rise which some great glacier deposited ages ago at the foot of what is now Bowman Lake. We turned longing eyes back as we left the lake to its winter ice and quiet. For never again, probably, will it be ours. We have given its secret to the world.

At two o'clock we found a ranger's cabin and rode into its enclosure for luncheon. Breakfast had been early, and we were very hungry. We had gone long miles through the thick and silent forest, and now we wanted food. We wanted food more than we wanted anything else in the world. We sat in a circle on the ground and talked about food.

And, at last, the chuck-wagon drove in. It had had a long, slow trip. We stood up and gave a hungry cheer, and then--Bill was gone! Some miles back he had halted the wagon, got out, taken his bed on his back, and started toward civilization afoot. We stared blankly at the teamster.

"Well," we said; "what did he say?"

"All he said to me was, 'So long,'" said the teamster.

And that was all there was to it. So there we were in the wilderness, far, far from a cook. The hub of our universe had departed. Or, to make the figure modern, we had blown out a tire. And we had no spare one.

I made my declaration of independence at once. I could cook; but I would not cook for that outfit. There were too many; they were too hungry. Besides, I had come on a pleasure-trip, and the idea of cooking for fifteen men and thirty-one horses was too much for me. I made some cocoa and grumbled while I made it. We lunched out of tins and in savage silence. When we spoke, it was to impose horrible punishments on the defaulting cook. We hoped he would enjoy his long walk back to civilization without food.

"Food!" answered one of the boys. "He's got plenty cached in that bed of his, all right. What you should have done," he said to the teamster, "was to take his bed from him and let him starve."

In silence we finished our luncheon; in silence, mounted our horses. In black and hopeless silence we rode on north, farther and farther from cooks and hotels and tables-d'hte.

We rode for an hour--two hours. And, at last, sitting in a cleared spot, we saw a man beside the trail. He was the first man we had seen in days. He was sitting there quite idly. Probably that man to-day thinks that he took himself there on his own feet, of his own volition. We know better. He was directed there for our happiness. It was a direct act of Providence. For we rode up to him and said:--

"Do you know of any place where we can find a cook?"

And this man, who had dropped from heaven, replied:

"I am a cook."

So we put him on our extra saddle-horse and took him with us. He cooked for us with might and main, day and night, until the trip was over. And if you don't believe this story, write to Norman Lee, Kintla, Montana, and ask him if it is true. What is more, Norman Lee could cook. He could cook on his knees, bending over, and backward. He had been in Cuba, in the Philippines, in the Boxer Rebellion in China, and was now a trapper; is now a trapper, for, as I write this, Norman Lee is trapping marten and lynx on the upper left-hand corner of Montana, in one of the empty spaces of the world.

We were very happy. We caracoled--whatever that may be. We sang and whistled, and we rode. How we rode! We rode, and rode, and rode, and rode, and rode, and rode, and rode. And, at last, just when the end of endurance had come, we reached our night camp.

Here and there upon the west side of Glacier Park are curious, sharply defined treeless places, surrounded by a border of forest. On Round Prairie, that night, we pitched our tents and slept the sleep of the weary, our heads pillowed on war-bags in which the heel of a slipper, the edge of a razor-case, a bottle of sunburn lotion, and the tooth-end of a comb made sleeping an adventure.

It was cold. It was always cold at night. But, in the morning, we wakened to brilliant sunlight, to the new cook's breakfast, and to another day in the saddle. We were roused at dawn by a shrill yell.

Startled, every one leaped to the opening of his tent and stared out. It proved, however, not to be a mountain-lion, and was, indeed, nothing more than one of the packers struggling to get into a wet pair of socks, and giving vent to his irritation in a wild fury of wrath.

As Pete and Bill Shea and Tom Farmer threw the diamond hitch over the packs that morning, they explained to me that all camp cooks are of two kinds--the good cooks, who are evil of disposition, and the tin-can cooks, who only need a can-opener to be happy. But I lived to be able to refute that. Norman Lee was a cook, and he was also amiable.

But that morning, in spite of the bright sunlight, started ill. For seven horses were missing, and before they were rounded up, the guides had ridden a good forty miles of forest and trail. But, at last, the wanderers were brought in and we were ready to pack.

On a pack-horse there are two sets of rope. There is a sling-rope, twenty or twenty-five feet long, and a lash-rope, which should be thirty-five feet long. The sling-rope holds the side pack; the top pack is held by the lash-rope and the diamond hitch. When a cow-puncher on a bronco yells for a diamond, he does not refer to a jewel. He means a lash-rope. When the diamond is finally thrown, the packer puts his foot against the horse's face and pulls. The packer pulls, and the horse grunts. If the packer pulls a shade too much, the horse bucks, and there is an exciting time in which everybody clears and the horse has the field--every one, that is, but Joe, whose duty it was to be on the spot in dangerous moments. Generally, however, by the time he got his camera set up and everything ready, the bucker was feeding placidly and the excitement was over.

We rather stole away from Round Prairie that morning. A settler had taken advantage of a clearing some miles away to sow a little grain. When our seven truants were found that brilliant morning, they had eaten up practically the grain-field and were lying gorged in the center of it.

So "we folded our tents like the Arabs, and as silently stole away." (This has to be used in every camping-story, and this seems to be a good place for it.)

We had come out on to the foothills again on our way to Kintla Lake. Again we were near the Flathead, and beyond it lay the blue and purple of the Kootenai Hills. The Kootenais on the left, the Rockies on the right, we were traveling north in a great flat basin.

The meadow-lands were full of flowers. There was rather less Indian paint-brush than on the east side of the park. We were too low for much bear-grass. But there were masses everywhere of June roses, true forget-me-nots, and larkspur. And everywhere in the burnt areas was the fireweed, that phoenix plant that springs up from the ashes of dead trees.

There were, indeed, trees, flowers, birds, fish--everything but fresh meat. We had had no fresh meat since the first day out. And now my soul revolted at the sight of bacon. I loathed all ham with a deadly loathing. I had eaten canned salmon until I never wanted to see it again. And our provisions were getting low.

Just to the north, where we intended to camp, was Starvation Ridge. It seemed to be an ominous name.

Norman Lee knew a man somewhere within a radius of one hundred miles--they have no idea of distance there--who would kill a forty-pound calf if we would send him word. But it seemed rather too much veal. We passed it up.

On and on, a hot day, a beautiful trail, but no water. No little rivulets crossing the path, no icy lakes, no rolling cataracts from the mountains. We were tanned a blackish purple. We were saddle-sore. One of the guides had a bottle of liniment for saddle-gall and suggested rubbing it on the saddle. Packs slipped and were tightened. The mountain panorama unrolled slowly to our right. And all day long the boatmen struggled with the most serious problem yet, for the wagon-trail was now hardly good enough for horses.

Where the trail turned off toward the mountains and Kintla Lake, we met a solitary horseman. He had ridden sixty miles down and sixty miles back to get his mail. There is a sort of R.F.D. in this corner of the world, but it is not what I should call in active operation. It was then August, and there had been just two mails since the previous Christmas!

Aside from the Geological Survey, very few people, except an occasional trapper, have ever seen Kintla Lake. It lies, like Bowman Lake, in a recess in the mountains. We took some photographs of Kintla Peak, taking our boats to the upper end of the lake for the work. They are, so far as I can discover, the only photographs ever taken of this great mountain which towers, like Rainbow, a mile or so above the lake.

Across from Kintla, there is a magnificent range of peaks without any name whatever. The imagination of the Geological Survey seemed to die after Starvation Ridge; at least, they stopped there. Kintla is a curious lemon-yellow color, a great, flat wall tapering to a point and frequently hidden under a cap of clouds.

But Kintla Lake is a disappointment to the fisherman. With the exception of one of the guides, who caught a four-pound bull-trout there, repeated whippings of the lake with the united rods and energies of the entire party failed to bring a single rise. No fish leaped of an evening; none lay in the shallows along the bank. It appeared to be a dead lake. I have a strong suspicion that that guide took away Kintla's only fish, and left it without hope of posterity.

We rested at Kintla,--for a strenuous time was before us,--rested and fasted. For supplies were now very low. Starvation Ridge loomed over us, and starvation stared us in the face. We had counted on trout, and there were no trout. That night, we supped off our last potatoes and off cakes made of canned salmon browned in butter. Breakfast would have to be a repetition minus the potatoes. We were just a little low in our minds.

The last thing I saw that night was the cook's shadowy figure as he crouched working over his camp-fire.

And we wakened in the morning to catastrophe. In spite of the fact that we had starved our horses the day before, in order to keep them grazing near camp that night, they had wandered. Eleven were missing, and eleven remained missing. Up the mountain-slopes and through the woods the wranglers rode like madmen, only to come in on dejected horses with failure written large all over them. One half of the saddlers were gone; my Angel had taken wings and flown away.

We sat dejectedly on the bank and fished those dead waters. We wrangled among ourselves. Around us was the forest, thick and close save for the tiny clearing, perhaps forty feet by forty feet. There was no open space, no place to walk, nothing to do but sit and wait.

At last, some of us in the saddle and some afoot, we started. It looked as though the walkers might have a long hike. But sometime about midday there was a sound of wild cheering behind us, and the wranglers rode up with the truants. They had been far up on the mountain-side.

It is curious how certain comparatively unimportant things stand out about such a trip as this. Of Kintla itself, I have no very vivid memories. But standing out very sharply is that figure of the cook crouched over his dying fire, with the black forest all about him. There is a picture, too, of a wild deer that came down to the edge of the lake to drink as we sat in the first boat that had ever been on Kintla Lake, whipping a quiet pool. And there is a clear memory of the assistant cook, the college boy who was taking his vacation in the wilds, whistling the Dvo[vr]k "Humoresque" as he dried the dishes on a piece of clean sacking.


Mary Roberts Rinehart

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