September 8, 1862: Sims Flat
Camp 97 [Today] we were up again at dawn. We crossed the Sacramento Fork by ferry, and all day followed up that stream, making twenty-one miles. It was certainly, together with the next day’s ride, the most picturesque road I have traveled in this state—in fact, I think that I ever traveled. Sometimes down to the level of the river—then crossing ridges, sinking into ravines—sometimes a narrow way where two wagons cannot pass for half a mile at a stretch, the steep mountain on one side and the swift stream hundreds of feet below on the other. None of your magnificent roads, such as one sees in Switzerland, where at such places a parapet guards from all danger; but rough, sidling, the outer wheel uncomfortably near the soft shelving edge—bridges, without rail, made by laying poles or split timber on the beams, spanning deep ravines, where the mules went over trembling with fear. The road is pretty well engineered. The fifty miles that we passed over, rough as it is, cost, we were told, $40,000, and our tolls up and back were $25.50.
The valley ran nearly straight toward Mount Shasta, and at times we got most glorious views of that peak. Its snow-covered head rose magnificently far above everything else—with what wonder and awe we regarded it, the goal of our trip! The many stories we heard of the terrors of ascending it—many declaring that no man ever had succeeded in reaching the highest summit, although many had nearly succeeded—were fiction, as we shall see farther on.When within a mile of our camping place for the night I came on a patch of a very curious and rare plant, the darlingtonia, a sort of pitcher plant, as yet found in no other locality, the wonder and admiration of botanists. It is needless to say that I stopped and filled my box while the rest went on—my mule expressing great indignation thereat, hardly being restrained by the rope with which I tied her to a tree, making the woods hideous with her braying and awakening the echoes of the rocks with her remonstrances. Professor Whitney rode my mule, so I had old Blanco again, my mule of last year.
We [have] a beautiful camp [tonight] among the pines and first at Sim Southern’s. He entertained us with some most marvelous stories of his attempted ascent of Mount Shasta—marvelous indeed to hear, but received with some allowance, and more so after we had been on the ground. In fact, popular testimony was that with him “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Specimens collected: Darlingtonia californica.