September 11, 1862: Mount Shasta
[Today] we started for the “camping ground.” This is at the upper limit of the timber, just where the snow begins this year. We are the only persons who have been up this year, and it was doubtful before we started if it could be ascended—the quantity of snow is greater, and the snow line is lower.
We start, all on foot, our three friends with their baggage packed on two horses, we with ours on three mules. Two of the mules, Jim and Nell, carry the blankets and provisions, while Kate carries a very miscellaneous collection of bags, containing instruments, canteens of water, botanical box, etc. Hoffmann, Professor Whitney, and I each carry a barometer, Averill a tripod. We walk and lead the mules—first across a meadow, swampy—Nell sinks to her belly in the bog, is released and is repacked, but she looks disgusted enough.
We soon take to the woods and follow a trail directly toward the mountain—the first four miles up a very gentle slope, among trees that must be seen to be at all appreciated—pines, firs, and cedars, all of species peculiar to the region west of the Rocky Mountains. Cedars over 100 feet high and 4 to 6 feet in diameter, firs 200 feet high, sugar pines often 200 and even 250 feet high, possibly even more. Fire had been through the woods and hundreds of trees had fallen, some this year, but more in past years. I had the curiosity to measure one prostrate tree. It was about 7 feet diameter at the base and lay along the ground for 225 feet, and was then burned off where it was still 9 inches in diameter. The burnt tip must have been 40 feet longer. These gigantic trees, straight as arrows, formed a magnificent forest.
The last four miles was up a very steep slope, nearly a thousand feet per mile—part of the way through the pines, part through thick chaparral of manzanita. Blocks and ledges of lava are the only rocks seen, and dry, dusty soil—no springs, no streams, until we reach the camping ground, where there is a small stream that runs from the snow but sinks soon into the porous lava that forms the mass of the mountain. Mount Shasta is an extinct volcano, and this will explain what I have to tell of its appearance.
Camp 99 was here, at the upper edge of the timber, streaks of snow coming down below this level. It is about 7,400 feet altitude. Here the trees are still numerous, although scarcely forming a “forest.” They are of only one species, a grand fir, picea nobilis, many of the trees over four feet in diameter—one near camp is six feet—yet they cease entirely but a few hundred feet higher. Above this timber, for at least six thousand feet, the cone rises naked, bleak, and desolate. Here we camped at 2 P.M. and spent the rest of the afternoon about there. All are in our blankets right early, although we have a big camp fire, for we must be off early.
In bed early, to be sure, but scarcely to sleep; all are too much excited—the mules bray, the dogs that came along bark, the wind howls, it is cold, yet sleep is a duty.