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July 8, 1864: Roaring River

July 8, 2014

Roaring River Country 01

Roaring River drainage from Big Brewer Lake; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr


Camp 175

Just before night the joyful shouts of Dick and King–they were successful. Climbed the peak they started for, found that it was not the highest. Had a terribly rough time. Camped at 12,000 feet. Climbed heavy precipices…we are relieved that they are safely back….

Clarence King:
The morning of our fifth and last day’s tramp must have dawned cheerfully; at least, so I suppose from its aspect when we first came back to consciousness, surprised to find the sun risen from the eastern mountain-wall, and the whole gorge flooded with its direct light. Rising as good as new from our mattress of pine twigs, we hastened to take breakfast, and started up the long, broken slope of the Mount Brewer wall. To reach the pass where we had parted from our friends required seven hours of slow, laborious climbing, in which we took advantage of every outcropping spine of granite and every level expanse of ice to hasten at the top of our speed. Cotter’s feet were severely cut; his tracks upon the snow were marked by stains of blood, yet he kept on with undiminished spirit, never once complaining. The perfect success of our journey so inspired us with happiness that we forgot danger and fatigue, and chatted in liveliest strain.

It was about two o’clock when we reached the summit, and rested a moment to look back over our new Alps, which were hard and distinct under direct, unpoetic light; yet with all their dense gray and white reality, their long, sculptured ranks, and cold, still summits, we gave them a lingering, farewell look, which was not without its deep fulness of emotion, then turned our backs and hurried down the débris slope into the rocky amphitheatre at the foot of Mount Brewer, and by five o’clock had reached our old camp-ground. We found here a note pinned to a tree, informing us that the party had gone down into the lower cañon, five miles below, that they might camp in better pasturage.

The wind had scattered the ashes of our old campfire, and banished from it the last sentiment of home. We hurried on, climbing among the rocks which reached down to the crest of the great lateral moraine, and then on in rapid stride along its smooth crest, riveting our eyes upon the valley below, where we knew the party must be camped.

At last, faintly curling above the sea of green treetops, a few faint clouds of smoke wafted upward into the air. We saw them with a burst of strong emotion, and ran down the steep flank of the moraine at the top of our speed. Our shouts were instantly answered by the three voices of our friends, who welcomed us to their camp-fire with tremendous hugs.

After we had outlined for them the experience of our days, and as we lay outstretched at our ease, warm in the blaze of the glorious camp-fire, Brewer said to me: “King, you have relieved me of a dreadful task. For the last three days I have been composing a letter to your family, but somehow I did not get beyond, ‘It becomes my painful duty to inform you.’”

They got on a peak nearly as high as Mount Shasta, or some 14,360 feet, and saw five more peaks still higher. They slept among the rocks and snow one night at an altitude of twelve thousand feet, crossed canyons, and climbed tremendous precipices, where they had to let each other down with a rope that they carried along. It was by far the greatest feat of strength and endurance that has yet been performed on the Survey. The climbing of Mount Shasta was not equal to it. Dick got his boots torn off and came back with an old flour sack tied around his feet.

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