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Literature of Mount Shasta

Ascent of Mount Shasta

From Californian Pictures in Prose and Verse (1877), pages 152-190

By Benjamin Parke Avery

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Mount Shasta, From Castle Lake.  Drawn by Thomas Moran from a sketch by H.G. Bloomer.
Mount Shasta, From Castle Lake
Drawn by Thomas Moran from a sketch by H.G. Bloomer

Mounting horses accustomed to the trail, and taking along an extra animal, packed with blankets and provisions, our party-consisting of the writer and his wife, Sisson the guide, and one of his employés-leave Sisson's house in Strawberry Valley at nine o'clock in the morning, bound for the top of Mount Shasta. It is a warm September day, and the lower atmosphere is hazy and pungently odorous with the smoke of burning forests. We follow the stage-road a short distance northward, the Black Butte facing us, and then turn into the woods to the right, making directly for the peak. For two or three miles the trail, which we have to pursue in single file through tall thickets, leads across level ground, shaded by a noble forest of pine, fir, cedar, and spruce, differing little from the same growths at about the same elevation in all parts of the Sierra Nevada, except that the trees are more openly disposed, in park-like groves, and have little of the bright yellow moss on their trunks which is characteristic of the Sierra forests within the line of deep winter snow. The sugar pine remains the grandest tree, but the firs and yellow pines are also very straight, tall, and handsome. The underbrush consists of the wild rose ( growing here four to eight feet high), the ceanothus, the chestnut-like chincapin, a bright-leaved, fragrant laurel (locally known as the spice-bush), and more rarely the manzanita. There are also large patches of huckleberries. These thickets are often so dense that it would be hard work to follow the slight trail through them on foot; and, even on horseback, one must watch against entangling his stirrups. Hundreds of species of herbaceous plants occur, and nearly all the shrubs and plants are bloomers. When the rose thickets are in blossom, the air is delicious with their fragrance, and the honey-bee-which has become wild in these woods, as elsewhere in the Sierra-finds great stores of food. Late in the summer the balm of Gilead, which grows along the streams, distills from its leaves a sugary secretion, called honey-dew, on which the bees also feed. One swarm of bees in the valley, which was hived about the first of June, made from that time until September fifteenth,--say in three months and a half,-- no less than one hundred pounds of fine honey. It is pleasant to note the absence of the poison-oak, which nowhere in California flourishes within the snow-belt, giving out all along the Sierra at an elevation of between three thousand and four thousand feet. A little to the left of the trail, as we cross the valley toward the peak, at the foot of a ridge about one thousand five hundred feet high, which is one of the lower spurs of Shasta, leaps suddenly out of the earth a foaming torrent, clear and icy cold, whose two streams at once unite and form a good-sized creek. This is the source of the main Sacramento. To see the two mouths of its exit, it is necessary to push aside a tangled undergrowth, and to bend low. Between these vents is a large chalybeate spring, which seems to have a different origin, and stains the earth between the parted, snowy water a rusty red. There is a remarkable richness in the flora of this locality, embracing, among the bushes and small trees, species of the willow, alder, cornus (resembling the eastern dog-wood), birch, hazel, elder, black oak, yew, maple (Acer circinatum, probably), wild rose, chincapin, choke-cherry, black raspberry, gooseberry; and, among the smaller growths, the snow-ball, strawberry, pennyroyal, besides several vines and small herbaceous plants, ferns, mosses, and water plants. The springs that feed all this vegetation are undoubtedly the outpouring of a subterranean stream, originating in the melting snow and ice of Shasta, and drained through fissures and caverns of volcanic rock. One of the characteristics of this mountain is the disappearance of most of the torrents that have birth near its summit, through the broken rock and porous débris of its slopes above the timer line; and as it is well known that there are cavernous passages in the lava covering all the lower flanks and base of the mountain, nothing is more probable than that the lost streams of the peak reappear in the enormous springs of the valley. Wild animals of all kinds, including the bear and deer, at different seasons come to these springs to drink, and are especially fond of the salty water of the chalybeate spring. Riding through the forest on the lower flank of the mountain, which begins to rise from near this point, we met several deer, both going and returning, and higher up twice crossed fresh bear-tracks, and saw the recent wallow of his plantigrade lordship. There is a peculiar charm in following the trail of the various wild creatures of the Sierra woods, or catching glimpses of them in their privacy. Nothing is more fresh and graceful than the bounding movement of the deer, especially. At this season the does and fawns are seen alone, the antlered bucks having retired to more elevated places. The social twitter or anxious call of quails, hid in the thicket or trooping across a rocky open, is almost the only sound that mixes with the soughing of the trees, save the occasional heavy whirr of startled grouse, as they make a short flight for a place of concealment.

As we rise above the valley, at first by a gentle ascent, the character of the forest changes. The pines are less frequent, the firs are more so, and the undergrowth is less thick and varied. The ten or twelve species of conifers are reduced at last to three or four,--yellow pine, Douglas spruce, and a large fir. The surface becomes rough with broken masses of basalt and other lava rocks, part of the outflow of the slumbering volcanoes above. An unusually rugged field of this material, where vegetation is nearly exhausted, and where the horses bruise their pasterns at every step, is called by Sisson "The Devil's Garden." At an elevation of about seven thousand feet the pines give out entirely, and we go through a belt of silver-leaf firs (Picea nobilis), a very symmetrical, beautiful tree, with a juicy, greenish-tinted bark, foliage of a faint tea-green color at the tips, almost silvery in certain lights; the trunk small in diameter, but straight and taper as a mast, and reaching a height of one hundred and fifty feet. These handsome firs scent the air, while they shut out the rays of the sun and give the sky a darker color as seen through their dense capitals. The beauty of the trees on the lower flanks of Shasta has become known in Europe, where their seeds are in demand. Sisson has orders for forty to sixty pounds of coniferous seeds yearly, from Germany alone. As the small cones of the silver-fir grow at the very top of the tree, he has to climb one hundred and fifty feet to get the choicest. From the lower boughs of many of these trees hang long streamers of black moss, curiously like coarse human hair, and calling up fancies of Absalom caught by his tresses. On the upper edge of this belt of silver-firs we come upon the path of the avalanche. Vast snow-slides have mowed wide and long swaths through the timber, strewing the earth with broken trunks and branches, which are partly buried in ash-like débris. The boundary of these slides is often marked by a bright, little grove of young firs, more delicate in color than the adjoining forest. In this region of avalanches, also, the Pinus flexilis-last tree to maintain life in the upper Sierra--begins to appear as a shrub, becomes a small tree as the firs give out, and expires as a shrub again at the last limit of vegetation, save moss or lichen. The forest growths cease quite abruptly on Shasta at a height of about eight thousand feet, though the Pinus flexilis maintains a scattered and precarious life for a thousand feet higher. This pine, with its light-gray bark wrapping the twisted and gnarled trunk as tightly as a skin, with its contorted and depressed limbs bearing brush-like bunches of bright green needles, is a very characteristic production of great elevations in California. It roots itself in the very rock, and has the aspect of strenuous struggle with unfriendly elements. Its flattened top is often so compacted by the deep snows that a man can stand upon it, and when the bushes grow thickly together, he can almost walk from one to another. Where patches of it have died at last in sheer despair, it still stands in obstinate strength, white and weird, a stubborn ghost of a dwarf tree.

On a bold bluff overlooking a deep gorge on either side, and composed of red lava, broken and weathered, but still lying in the place of its flow, we reach at last a camping place, above the line of vegetation, as of perpetual snow, and between nine thousand and ten thousand feet above the sea. It is nearly four o'clock, and we have been almost seven hours making twelve miles of distance, and something over six thousand feet of elevation. Our horses are tired and lame, and we are glad enough to give them rest. In one of the gorges, a few hundred feet below our camp, there is a feeble growth of bunch grass, at the edge of a field of frozen snow, which they are led to pasture upon, after short rations of barley and a drink of snow-water. It was curious to see one or two of the animals tasting the snow, as they were driven across it to the drinking-pool formed by its melting during that day. Gathering branches of the dead Pinus flexilis, we made a fire against a mass of lava, spread our blankets within circular walls of lava rocks, piled up by previous climbers as a shelter against the cold winds, and prepared for supper. Within a cranny of one of these open bed-chambers we found vessels of tin and iron, for boiling and frying, stored there by the provident Sisson, who soon got ready a grateful meal. After tethering the horses near by, we were ready for night, intending to eat breakfast, and start on our foot-climb up the peak by day-break.

The scene about us was wild and desolate in the extreme. Our camping ground, as before stated, was a bluff bench of red lava and clinker, above the general surface of which were heaped at intervals huge detached masses of the same material, that had fallen down from above or become detached in place. The outer edge of this bench commanded a view of the whole southwestern slope of the mountain down to Strawberry and Shasta valleys, over six thousand feet below; across the valleys to Scott Mountain, overlooking the Black Butte, which, from this height, was diminished to a small mound; and thence southerly to the cañon of the main Sacramento, bounded by long and hazy ridges, and filled with smoke from forest fires, which obscured an otherwise magnificent view. The flank of Shasta itself was marked by trough-like grooves, evidently cut by the melting and sliding snow; the timber growing to the edges of these grooves and then giving suddenly out, except where it came in as an unbroken, solid belt lower down. A large meadow-like plain, four thousand feet below, we knew to be a thicket of tangled and thorny bushes, threaded only by deer. As the sun sank toward the crest of Scott Mountain, through dense strata of smoke, it became a blood-red globe, quite shorn of its beams, and more or less elongated, and could be looked at steadily. It was very strange to see this red ball dropping through one band of smoke after another, for the strata were of unequal density and width, and the sun seemed to be sinking behind bars that made it visible only occasionally and partly. Looking backward to Shasta, its highest peak was in clear sky, and rosy bright,--a massive cone of lava-blocks and snow. To the right and left were deep gorges putting down from the peak, their basins filled with snow and ice, their slopes partly covered with long, narrow bands of snow which led up to the top at a very steep angle. Numerous torrents pouring down the upper slopes gave forth a subdued roar, varied by the dull rumble of the rocky masses they detached, and which seemed, by the sound, to be constantly moving, although we could not see them. The red lava bed on which we stood extended for a mile or more, at a slight inclination, to the very base of the peaks, which it surrounded like a garment that had been pushed down, leaving the two cones of the summit standing clear above, of another color, their outlines drawn sharply against the sky,--preeminent, lonely heights, their tops as far above our exalted station as Mount Diablo or St. Helena above the sea, --literally, Pelion on Ossa. For we can now see plainly the true shape of this volcanic mountain. Its apex is divided into two craters. The one at the left hand, the lower of the two, is shaped like a sugar-loaf, with the top cut off; yet above the circular rim of this flat top rises a small pyramid, giving the whole mass a very peculiar appearance. The right hand and higher peak is less regular and formal in shape. Its northerly slope comes down to join the left hand cone in a sharp, clean line, the depression between being filled with a broad field of snow; but the southerly slope has a much reduced inclination, running to the timber line far below, and its knife-blade edge, composed of volcanic conglomerate, is broken into the most fantastic shapes, suggesting castellated structures at times, but oftener the forms of gnomes and demons. The Indians imagine these weird shapes to be, indeed, a kind of mountain sprites, which they call appetunes, and which appear in watchful and observant attitudes, as if on guard against mortal intrusion. The face of this peak, between the outlines, is a steep bluff, depressed below the wall-like upper edge of bright red breccia, and scarcely half covered at this season with long bands of snow. The summit has several sharp points, which rise above the basin of an ice-filled crater, invisible from below, as is the basin of the left hand crater. The lower peak-called distinctively "Crater Peak"-is a uniform chocolate-drab in color, viewed closely; while the higher point-called "The Main Peak"--diversifies this color with its bluff and ragged edges of red breccia, with a bank of black rock and beds of ashy débris. Late in the summer the snow is quite gone from the surface of Crater Peak upon the steep southern side, remaining always at the top, however, and in the depression between it and the other peak. The southern face of the Main Peak is never free from snow. As measured by the State Geological Survey, the outline of Crater Peak has an inclination of 36º; that of the Main Peak has an inclination of 27º to 28º on the shorter, and of 30º to 31º on the longer side. As we contemplate these outlines from below, the task of climbing either of them seems formidable enough, and it is certain that portions of the slope to be passed over are steeper than the measured outline. According to Professor Whitney's "Report," published in 1865, the Crater Peak had then never been ascended, and was "believed by many to be quite inaccessible." Its sides, he adds, "appear to be covered with loose volcanic materials, probably ashes, lying at the highest angle possible without sliding down." The steepness of this cone was not exaggerated, but it has since been frequently climbed, and has latterly been included on the route to the Main Peak by a few of the strongest and most resolute climbers. In 1871, Clarence King's party, which spent six weeks on and about the mountain, scaled up this side cone with instruments, including the photographic apparatus of Watkins. If the slopes were really formed of ashes, or other fine material, they could, indeed, hardly be climbed, as they would offer no secure footing at such a steep angle; but they are covered with angular blocks of trachyte, sometimes very large, formed by the breaking down of the crater walls above, and affording a footing in the steepest places. From our camp, these rough slopes looked smooth enough to be ash-beds, and the distance to the top, though several miles, and involving an ascent between three thousand and four thousand feet in perpendicular height, seemed to be very short in that clear, upper air. Nearly one third the atmosphere which men breathe was already below us, and the exertion of bringing wood and water to camp and spreading our blankets for the night made us pant. Thus the stratum of atmosphere above was thin and clear. The early stars as they came out were unusually large and lustrous, and later, when twilight was quite gone, the heavens seemed as populous with bright points, and as luminous, as in southern latitudes. After nightfall, the temperature of the air was at the freezing-point, and as the snow ceased to melt, the roar of the torrents stopped, and no sound broke the awful solitude of the mountain after we took to our blankets, except the occasional stamping of the horses on the clinking lava.

It was not easy to sleep in such a place, with that brilliant heaven above, and the massive front of the peak projected like a shadow against the eastern sky, save where its long streaks of snow gave it a ghostly pallor. We often woke, and gazed long at the glorious vision overhead, or on the severe outlines of the peak. At last Sisson arose, declared day was about to break, and began making a fire. It seemed impossible the night was so near gone; yet there in the east, right over the shoulder of the mountain, was a pale silvery glow that appeared to herald morning. It brightened, but with a brightness like that of the moon, and just then the planet Venus, large and lambent,--"like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear,"-rose above the fantastic outline of the mountain to the right. Attributing his mistake to the singular purity of the air at this altitude, Sisson was fain to seek another nap. It was not long until daybreak, however, and we had an early meal, shivering until warmed by the hot tea. This dispatched, we began the ascent of Crater Peak, wearing our thick woolen clothes, and carrying iron-shod and spiked alpenstocks, a tin flask of cold tea, and some food, a man remaining behind to care for the horses. Reaching a more elevated part of the red lava field, we could see the first light of the sun on the lofty crest of Scott Mountain in the west, Shasta before us being still in cold gray, its enormous cone preventing the light from falling on its own westerly side, and casting a sharply defined pyramid-shaped shadow thirty miles long over the valleys at its base and the mountain range beyond, all outside of this dark purple shadow being in sunlight as we looked wonderingly below. We met the first direct beams of the sun as we reached the foot of Crater Peak, and now began to realize the rocky roughness of its slopes. Going up these was like climbing very steep stone stairs, except that the steps were uneven and often unsteady,--one rock tipping on another, so that each planting of the foot had to be calculated to avoid slipping or toppling,--and that the placing of the alpenstock, which was an indispensable support, had also to be studied. Breathing became more and more difficult in the increasingly rare atmosphere, and but a few yards could be climbed without a rest. The beating of the heart was audible to each person, a pallor came over the face, and the eyes were strained in their sockets. As we looked upward from time to time, the rim of the flat top seemed no nearer. As we looked down, the large blocks we had overcome grew small, and the apparently fine débris ahead grew large when we reached it. The big snow-fields on either side of our camp shrunk into little patches; we could no longer distinguish the camp itself, nor the horses. The steep edge of the rounded cone on the northerly side was drawn down across the sky in one tremendous line of rock that seemed a jumping-off place into the nether air. We were insects crawling up a slanting steeple, far above the world. The view below was awful in its depth and extent, the still obscuring smoke giving it a character of mystery and indefiniteness. There seemed no bound to that blue, hazy gulf; and above, to the left as we climbed, was only the lofty sky-line of the cone, stretching up, up, up. An occasional field of fine débris, which slid under our weary limbs, made us glad to regain the securer blocks of trachyte. On the latter we could sit, as on benches of stone, panting, perspiring somewhat as the sun's heat was reflected from the bare, smooth rocks, but always enjoying the grand sensation that comes from being high above the world, on a narrow point of its crust. Under our feet, as we climbed, we heard constantly the gurgle and murmur of an unseen torrent, fed from the melting snow above and running deep below the thick-piled masses of rock over which we stepped. For two miles or more we climbed above the channel of this hidden stream, never once catching the slightest glimpse of the water. All around the mountain there are subterranean torrents like this, which go to form the great springs that leap into rivers at its foot,--"water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink," except that in the flask you carry.

At last we reached the rim of the flattened cone above, but not yet the top of Crater Peak. There was a narrow snow-field to cross, lying in a depression, and then a small pyramid of broken trachyte, about five hundred feet high, capped with a portion of the original crater wall, to clamber up. It was eleven o'clock before we reached the latter point, which presented itself as a perpendicular ledge about twenty feet high, but so creviced and broken that we got easy hand and foot hold, and so pulled up to the top, where there was just about room enough for our party of three to recline. This narrow ledge is the very summit of Crater Peak, and is nearly thirteen thousand feet above the sea. We found here the small monument left by Clarence King's party two years before. We had been five or six hours toiling for this mark, experiencing much difficulty in breathing, and even nausea, from the effects of the highly rarefied air. The weather was unusually warm for the locality, and no clouds obstructed the direct rays of the sun. The climb was, therefore, more fatiguing, and respiration more difficult, than they would have been had a cold air been blowing, or had the sun been overcast. Sometimes parties who make the ascent in the same month (September) encounter bitterly cold winds and storms of snow. Thomas Magee, who described his ascent in "Scribner's Monthly," found the cold so severe that it partly froze the tea in the tin canteen at his side. But warm or cold, the view at the summit amply repays all toil and hardship. Even if the lower country be hidden in smoke, as was partly the case in our experience, the mountain itself is a grand sight and an instructive study. Standing on the pinnacle of Crater Peak, its sides are seen to descend at a steep angle all around, and one has almost a dizzy sensation on realizing the immense depth into which he could plunge by a slight effort, or tumble by a reckless step. On the north side, immediately beneath the eye, lies the old crater,--a circular cavity a mile across and a thousand feet deep,--its bottom and part of its steep outer and inner slopes covered with snow and ice. The wall of the crater is broken, as one would break out the side of a bowl for a quarter of its circumference, on the northwestern side, above Shasta Valley. The edges of this break must be one thousand five hundred feet long, and through the enormous gap thus made one looks from the cliff above clear down to the valley at the base of the mountain, nearly nine thousand feet, the angle of the view being fearfully steep. Shasta Valley is seen to be dotted with small volcanic cones,--miniatures of the Black Butte,--and beyond, along the western sky, are the Scott and Siskiyou mountains; and beyond these again, if the air were clear, we could see the straight leaden line which marks the Pacific Ocean. On the southerly side of Crater Peak its slope descends to a wide gorge one thousand two hundred or one thousand five hundred feet deep, filled with frozen snow resting on a substratum of ice, beyond which rises the Main Peak, more than one thousand five hundred feet higher than the top of Crater Peak. Its northern slope is regular and abrupt, but its crest is broken into several craggy points, chief of which are three needle-like splinters rising above a large basin and forming part of the walls of a crater; while the southerly slope runs off in a long, curving, broken line, fantastically ragged on its sky-edge of highly colored breccia. On the summit are sulphur springs, hot enough to boil eggs, and considerable deposits of sulphur-the last relics of the former tremendous volcanic activity which covered with lava all the slopes and valley bases of Mount Shasta, for more than a hundred miles around. What remains of the crater on the Main Peak is filled with ice to a great depth, and from this source, through a cleft on the northeasterly side, descends the slow moving mass of the Whitney Glacier,--a genuine river of ice, half a mile wide and perhaps seven miles long,--the true character of which was first determined by Clarence King so recently as 1871. All the northerly flanks of the mountain are largely covered with snow and ice above an elevation of eight thousand or nine thousand feet, and on that side, also, there is another deep gorge between the two peaks. Leaving our perch above the lower crater, we crawl down the ledge toward this gorge, and cross a small pond of smooth blue ice at its base. It was on this level spot that Watkins pitched his field-tent for photographic work, and when he thought he had the light all shut off, found that enough still came through the ice floor to spoil his negatives, obliging him to cover that also. The surface of this ice, as of the large snow-field adjoining, was slightly melting. But the air was sensibly cooler on this side of the mountain, and it was a relief to be walking again on a comparatively level surface.

At the right of the crater there is a long dike of crumbling siliceous and sulphurous rock, which we traced half a mile in a direction nearly east and west, resembling one of the metalliferous lodes in its structure, having side walls of trachytic rock, and being filled for a width of two or three feet with a white pasty mass, which on exposure hardens to the appearance of silicate of soda, more or less discolored with sulphur, fumes of which still came up through this curious vent, scenting the air. Here we rested for half an hour, ate our luncheon, and gathered specimens. A slight descent brought us to the rim of the crater wall, sharp as the edge of a roof, and its snowy slopes descending on either side steeper than the angle of a roof. The melting crust on this rim was just wide enough for us to walk in single file, covering our eyes with gauze to protect them from danger of snow-blindness. The crust had been carved by alternate melting and freezing, aided by the wind, into furrows with knife-blade edges, which would make hard walking on cold days. But warm as the day was, it was interesting to observe how slightly its influence penetrated the frozen snow and ice. Even on the steep slopes of broken rock, where no snow was visible, we found that ice was spread everywhere at a slight depth below the surface; and as we laid down where this débris was finer than usual, it began to melt only with the heat of the body. Digging a little with the iron point of an alpenstock, we found ice where we had not before suspected its existence, and the surface-melting of these covered ice-beds was the cause of many of those hidden torrents which ceased to run and roar after night-fall.

Leaving the curving roof-line of the crater edge, and walking along the side of an abrupt incline of loose débris largely made up of such material as composed the curious dike above described, we came to a projecting point where we could look up and down the northerly slope of the Main Peak, and could plainly trace the course of the Whitney Glacier for five miles. The peak on this side is three-pronged, and the glacier heads up between two of the prongs. Beginning at an angle sharper than any previously noticed, it soon assumes a gentler incline, and finally reaches the lower slope of the mountain nearly on a level, broadening at this point to its widest dimensions. The head, and all the steeper part of the glacier, present a surface of clean, marble-like névé, marked with numerous transverse crevasses, which open very large cavities and expose walls of blue ice. The upper side of the first crevasse, near the head of the glacier, seemed to be quite sixty feet above the lower. The difference in elevation of the crevasse walls lessened, of course, with the reduced angle of the glacier's inclination, until these openings were simply even gaps across the ice. A mile or two below the summit the surface was burdened and partly hid with lateral moraines, which lower down completely hid the ice, save where the black débris was parted by an occasionally wide crevasse, or a portion of it had sunk bodily into the ice, leaving a cavity filled with blue water. The morainal matter had accumulated in one place to a height, apparently, of not less than fifty feet. Owing to the mildness of the preceding winter, when comparatively little snow fell, followed by a very long season of clear, warm weather through spring and summer, the surface of the névé was much reduced in thickness, and the line of recent glacial cutting along the banks of volcanic material was boldly exhibited. The northerly and easterly slopes of the mountain, which are bare of timber far below the timber-line on the other side, are composed of blocks of trachyte, lava, and pumice, succeeded by an extensive outflow, lower down, of basalt. Into this material the stream flowing from the Whitney Glacier sinks, disappearing under the mass of the terminal moraine.

Beyond this glacier, easterly, is a smaller one, named variously the McCloud and Mud Creek Glacier, which was partly visible from our last point of observation. We could hear the larger ice-stream constantly cracking, and at intervals heavy detonations succeeded to this sound. We could hear, also, the roar and rumble of torrents in half a dozen different directions. But Shasta bears on its easterly flank a still greater glacier,--one not less than three or four miles wide,--which was named by its discoverer, Clarence King, the Agassiz Glacier. A trip of sixty miles around the base of the mountain is necessary to approach it, so we caught no glimpse of it. Mr. King, in his fascinating record of "Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada," has described its appearance, and his perilous climb over it, with vivid power. One remark he makes with reference to it applies generally to the other glaciers on Shasta; it is this: "The idea of a mountain glacier, formed from Swiss or Indian views, is always of a stream of ice walled in by more or less lofty ridges. Here a great curved cover of ice flows down the conical surface of a volcano without lateral walls, a few lava pinnacles and inconspicuous piles of débris separating it from the next glacier." Except towards its head, the Whitney Glacier evenly fills the depression it occupies, much as the Sacramento River fills its channel on reaching the broad valley.

Apart from its isolation, the sudden uplift of nearly three fourths of its entire bulk, and its peculiar beauty of color, Mount Shasta is remarkable for being the only mountain in California whose flanks are burdened with living glaciers. The ice-field on Mount Lyell, in the Yosemite region, which has been described as a glacier, is asserted by Whitney and King not to deserve that title; although Mr. Muir, who has given the subject close study, declares that on Mount Lyell and on several companion peaks true glaciers exist, but of feeble vitality. The taller peak of Mount Whitney, five hundred miles south of Shasta, in a latitude where the snow-line extends much above the limit in northern California and Oregon, is without a glacier, as it is also without those singular fields of rock-covered ice which exist on the upper slopes of Shasta. With the exception of this beautiful California peak, no mountains in the United States bear true glaciers but Mount Hood, in Oregon, Mount Rainier and adjacent peaks, in Washington Territory, and the Arctic peaks of Alaska, whose glaciers push quite down to the sea and send off fleets of icebergs. The grand glacier on Mount Rainier, discovered, we believe, by officers of the United States Coast Survey, has been described to the writer as rivaling, if not surpassing, anything in the Alps. Considering how easily Shasta can be reached, and with what perfect safety it can be climbed and examined, except on the larger ice-fields, it is remarkable that it is not more sought by tourists. A knowledge of glacial phenomena is now universally acknowledged to be of leading importance in the study of the earth's superficial conformation, and much could be learned in this field of inquiry on Shasta, where not alone living but the track of extinct glaciers may be profitably observed, for in every direction around the mountain exist the evidences of former glacial action.

It was with great reluctance, in the middle of the afternoon, that we left our perch overlooking the Whitney Glacier to return to camp. It was hard work to climb up the slope of sliding débris we had just descended from Crater Peak, and our legs trembled when we reached the icy rim of the crater and faced its blinding glare. Resting again at the very top, we gazed lingeringly at the higher peak to the left, with its cascade of névé and ice plunging down so precipitously for thousands of feet; at the deep crater bowl to the right, almost under our feet; at the cone-dotted, yellow, hazy valley of Shasta, seen through the broken wall of the crater over a mile and a half below; at the violet crest of the Scott Mountain range beyond, and the dark cone of Black Butte thrust up in the trough between. But for the smoke, we should have seen to the northward the whole Klamath region, with its lakes and lava-beds, where the Modocs played their miserable tragedy; should have seen the snowy peaks of the Oregon Cascade Range; should have seen to the east the desert plateau of Nevada as far as the Utah line; should have seen to the south the trough-like valley of the Sacramento nearly to the mouth of that stream, with all the bold crest-line of the Sierra Nevada range on one side, and the softer swell of the Coast Range on the other, with a strip of the Pacific Ocean near Humboldt Bay. Mr. A. Roman, who was one of a small party that climbed Shasta in April, 1856,--a most perilous season,--told the writer that the atmosphere at that time was wonderfully clear, and the view simply stupendous. He declares that he saw distinctly all the high peaks, from the Washington group on the north to the Sierra peaks around Lake Tahoe, and the Coast Range peaks about San Francisco,--a distance on a direct line of nearly eight hundred miles! Within the limits of this view the Sacramento Valley and the topography of the Sierra Nevada were, he says, revealed with wonderful distinctness. The air was as if purged and filtered, and presented only a slight gray film between the eye and the most distant objects. There seemed no limit to the vision except the convexity of the earth's surface. Probably in very clear weather the view extends for quite five hundred miles. Mr. Roman's party, and himself in particular, suffered dreadfully from the cold on the summit. He took a thermometer from his clothes to observe the temperature, and as he held it in his hand the mercury speedily dropped to 12š below zero. How much lower it would have gone he could not tell, for his stiffened fingers lost their grip, the instrument fell from his numb hand and was broken. He was snow-blind and frost-bitten on returning to Yreka, and so altered in appearance that his own brother did not know him. Sisson told us that he had been up the mountain much later in the spring, or in early summer, when the winds were so cold and strong that he had to cling to the rocks with his hands, when scaling the summit of the Main Peak, to prevent being blown off and hurled to destruction. Yet as we had this talk the air was no cooler than that of a balmy winter day at San Francisco, and our thick woolen clothes, while we exercised, were almost burdensome. Mr. John Muir, who ascended the mountain alone in November, 1874, encountered a snowstorm on the very summit, but his hardy habits protected him from injury. Waking one morning after it subsided he saw a sublime spectacle, which he thus describes: "A boundless wilderness of storm-clouds of different age and ripeness were congregated over all the landscape for thousands of square miles, colored gray and purple, and pearl and glowing white, among which I seemed to be floating, while the cone of Shasta above and the sky was tranquil and full of the sun. It seemed not so much an ocean as a land of clouds, undulating hill and dale, smooth purple plains, and silvery mountains of cumuli, range over range, nobly diversified with peaks and domes, with cool shadows between, and with here and there a wide trunk cañon, smooth and rounded as if eroded by glaciers."

Resting on the top crag of Crater Peak before descending, we observed more closely the utter absence of vegetation for thousands of feet below. After leaving the Pinus flexilis at our camp on the lava, where there were sparse bunches of a hardy grass, and a few plants line portulacca growing in shady crevices, an occasional lichen was all that appeared and at the summit the lichens were no longer to be seen. On one snow-field there was a slight trace left of Tococcus nivalis ,--the "red snow," so called,--a very low form of vegetable life, which is sometimes so abundant on this mountain as to color the foot-prints in the snow blood-red. For three or four thousand feet below, the eye took in nothing but a wreck of rocky matter, of red and black lava-flow, of gray-colored scoriaceous débris , except where the snow and ice covered the surface and made it even more arctic and desolate. Yet animal life was not quite absent. Lifting a piece of loose rock near the surveyor's monument, we revealed a little colony of lady-bugs, of a dark cinnamon color, with many darker spots. The tiny creatures crawled away feebly, making no effort to fly. What they could live on there we could not conjecture. A few snow-birds were twittering a thousand or two thousand feet below, and nearly up to the very crest of the Main Peak we saw a solitary California vulture wheeling slowly around. Sisson says he once found a dead squirrel on that peak, which had probably been dropped there by a bird of prey, and at another time he saw there a living mouse. The large-horned mountain sheep, apparently the same species as that found in the Rocky Mountains, has occasionally been seen near the summit, and once an animal thought to be an ibex was observed.

Going down the rocky slope of Crater Peak, we heard again the gurgle of the hidden torrent. The descent was very tiresome, and a little hazardous to one's limbs, for a fall among the larger masses or a slide in the small débris might easily result in a fracture. Earlier in the year much labor is saved by sliding down on the snow. But we reached the base at last in safety, very weary, and glad to put foot again on the lava-flow that led to camp, where we arrived almost too weary to care for the red sunset through bars of clouds, which was repeated in the western sky, reminding us of the appearance of that luminary to Campbell's "last man." How sweet sleep was that night! No more deception with the morning star. Again at sunrise, however, we were off, this time mounted and bound homeward. Facing the west as we rode down the slope of the mountain, we saw once more the sharp cone of its shadow, lying far across the valleys at its foot, up the flank of Scott Mountain beyond, and across its snowy crest, the faint light trembling along its purple edges and gradually crawling into its place as the shadow of the great peak retreated. The trail down the mountain is steep and rough for horses, and very tiresome for riders. The comparative level of the forest-belt is welcome. In the black soil of the fir wood we often saw the fresh track of bears. Arrived at the only spring on the way down, we saw three deer. The graceful creatures moved off very slowly and safely, Sisson with his gun, fortunately for them, having turned into a side trail some distance back.

At the house in Strawberry Valley once more, after a journey of two and a half days, we turned to look at the grand peak with its twin cones-all its ruggedness gone, its long outlines and vast front smoothed by distance, and a sunny haze clothing it in tender beauty. Often since we have revisited it in dreams, and longed, on waking, for its restful solitude.

 

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