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September 10, 1862: Mount Shasta City

September 10, 2012


Mount Shasta, CA; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 98

From what has been written from time to time, you have seen that the ascent of Mount Shasta was an item of “Great Expectations”—it seemed indeed the grand goal of this trip. How we had barometers made a year and a half ago to measure it, how our summer’s work was planned to bring us here in August but deferred so late by sickness of the party, how we had come prepared and had collected information on the subject from all possible sources, you know already.

Here let me say that Mount Shasta is the highest point in the state, that it has long been an object of admiration and wonder, that it has been ascended by a number of persons, and yet absolutely nothing was known of it except its existence—of its geology and structure not a word can be found anywhere; of its height, matters were nearly as vague.

Lieutenant Williamson and Colonel Frémont guessed that it was seventeen thousand feet high, and hence it went thus into all the maps and authorities. But many doubted that it was so high, and last year a man got on top with a barometer and gave its height as less than fourteen thousand feet—but he had a poor instrument and, moreover, had no good facilities for measuring the mountain.

We inquired of everybody who might possibly know anything about the matter, about getting up. The stories we heard would fill an amusing volume. Mr. A tells us that the ascent is easy, that all creation can be seen from there, that he has been up and never will forget the day. We inquire on certain particulars, find that he doesn’t know on which side he went up, the appearance of the top, nothing. We doubt if he has ever seen it. Mr. B says he got nearly to the top, but that no living man has ever reached the summit—that long before reaching the top a man’s breath gives out, his nose bleeds, his head aches, etc.—and that no man could possibly make the ascent of the last cone. In fact, many told us that it was an impossibility to reach the highest summit—some on account of ice, some because of sulphurous vapors, some because of its steepness, etc.

On our road here the stories became more divergent. One man told us that it was a common trip, that more than five hundred persons had made it the present year. We were elated. But that evening we camped at Mr. Sim Southern’s (long be his name remembered), only twenty-two miles from here, and he told us that the first eight miles were easy, a good road, he had drawn a ton of hay up to the camping ground once! Whew, how easy! (The camping ground is only reached by a trail, in places steep as the roof of a house for a thousand feet together, and in others through thick chaparral.) He said that he had nearly reached the top, but an impassable glacier had stopped every person from going farther. Such were the stories, which would fill a volume—a few grains of truth, and an abundance of pure fiction—so, as I write facts, I will pass them….

[Today] we spent in camp, making preparations. Apparatus was tested, provisions got ready, guide found—not a professional guide, but a Mr. Frame, who was up once, plain, unostentatious; he says it is practicable, that he has been on the top, that he will show us the way, but we must furnish our own muscle. Two other men came up from the Soda Springs, eight miles distant, to make the ascent with us—Perry and Campbell, both capital men.

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