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Literature of Mount Shasta

Northern California

From Picturesque America (1872), pages 422-424

By R.F. Garczynski

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Engraving by Swingford
Steel engraving of Mount Shasta and Black Butte by Robert Swain Gifford
D. Appelton & Co., YEAR

From the valley of the pitt the traveller rises, continually traversing woods covered with fair mountain-pines, until, through a notch to the northward, a glimpse can be caught of the huge summit of Shasta, which we illustrate by a steel-plate engraving. The tents are generally pitched at Sissons, which is surrounded by a cluster of ranches embowered in vineyards and orchards, that are trebly inviting to the eye after the weary tramp through the wilderness. The ground, where not cultivated, gives only a thin sward of grass, with tufts of the bitter-sage. Rising from the plain are hundreds of small volcanic hills, built up out of the lava, the mud, and scoria, thrown out from the crater above in other times. Beyond, there is what may be termed the base of the mountain, attaining an altitude of some two thousand feet, and throwing out spurs in every direction. Above this the cone of the mountain rises in one tremendous sweep to a sheer height of eleven thousand feet. The stupendous proportions of this great snow-peak would alone be sufficient to rivet the attention of every traveller. But to these must be added a most wonderful play of color. The lava forming the body of the mountain, which penetrates often through the snow-part, is of a pale rosy hue, and when the sun shines on this, it has a splendor which words are too weak to render adequately. The snow, with its pure, white, fleecy fields, is in many places diversified by great glaciers of ice and yawning crevasses, in whose depths are shadows of the most intense blue. Upon the veins of the ice the sunbeams fall with refracted glory, giving forth the most wonderful opalescent tints. Here, in some places, the hues are green as emerald; there, in others, there is a lurid purple, interstriated with a tender pink. In other spots, the prevailing tone is a rich cream-color, perfectly translucent. The snow, too, has its colors, but generally glows with an incandescent fire under the welcoming kisses of the solar rays. So beautiful, so varied, are the effects produced by the mingling colors of lava, of snow, and of ice-enamelling, that, for days, the beholder cannot consider other things. His eyes are ever strained upon the peak, and bent admiringly upon its lustrous hues and the deep, violet shadows that contrast them. He has but one thought--to watch the radiation of color at sunrisings and settings, and see the fiery rays slant and shoot across the great mass, working its parts up from the still white and steely gray of night to all the splendors of the northern lights. Sometimes, when the sun is at its greatest height, a thin, fleecy veil of vapor steals from the round rim of the topmost crater, and one cannot but feel a sudden contraction of the heart as the thought flashes upon the mind that Shasta is still active, and that that light, transparent cloudlet is smoke issuing from its inmost secrets. The imagination and the memory combine to tell how this might be, how volcanoes in Europe, notably Vesuvious, slept calmly, as if extinct and dead, for more than a thousand years, and then woke up to hurl death and destruction for leagues around. But, whether Shasta is dead in reality or only sleeping, it is certain that the vapor is not smoke, but is water collected in the crater at a sufficient depth to preserve it from congelation, which the sun's ardor has released in the form of cloud. It is pleasant to watch it wreathing softly around the royal giant's head, and to note the conduct of the stratus-clouds that, far below, come in contact with his breast. They sweep on, gliding gently in fair, straight lines, but, as soon as they touch him, begin to break up softly, and, having done their best to girdle him, are either converted into glittering snow-flakes, and lie softly upon his bosom, or appear as cirri, and float away into the upper air.

When the eye has been satiated with the radiant colors of Shasta, the mind begins to be impressed with its vast proportions. Its total elevation above the sea-line is fourteen thousand four hundred and forty feet, nearly the same height as Mont Blanc, the monarch of European mountains. But Mont Blanc is broken into a succession of peaks, which the eye cannot take in at the same time, except from, such a distance as to dwarf the grand effect. Not so with Shasta. Standing in front of Sissons, the eye is permitted to take the whole at one glance. There was no cumulative series of effects of Nature in building up this mountain, for it is a gigantic peak set simply upon a broad base that sweeps out far and wide in every direction. From the base the cone rises upward in one tremendous sweep of lava and ice. Very sheer and precipitous is it to the north and south, but east and west there are two grand slopes, from the plain right up to the rim of the crater. These are the buttresses of Nature's great chimney. One of these, being free from impediments of crevasses and glaciers, is generally chosen by travellers who wish to make the ascent, which is not difficult. This is in the direction of Strawberry Valley, a charming place, rightly named, belonging to a gentleman whose peaches are yearly reckoned by the thousand bushels, and his grapes by the ton. He has built an excellent turnpike-road outside of the valley, on which the toll is by no means light. From the tower-house, the view of the great Shasta is very pleasing, because one loses sight of the vulgar little mud-hills which, from Sissons, insist on adorning the foreground, and one gets a noble idea of the glorious girdle of forest which clothes the base. Beyond a well-defined line the ascent toils upward without a tree or shrub to cheer it on the way, retaining nothing save a little stunted herbage. This is soon replaced by the pale, roseate lava, and above that comes the deep blue of the snow in shadow. The road winds through Strawberry Valley, over a soil entirely of pumice-stone; and it is odd to see great sugar-pines, whose roots are firmly embedded in masses of this substance. Around Shasta this tree produces its most enormous cones, some of them being fully eighteen inches in length.


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