The Rocky Mountain Wonderland Part 1

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The Rocky Mountain Wonderland.

by Enos A. Mills.


Colorado has one thousand peaks that rise more than two miles into the sky. About one hundred and fifty of these reach up beyond thirteen thousand feet in alt.i.tude. There are more than twice as many peaks of fourteen thousand feet in Colorado as in all the other States of the Union. An enormous area is entirely above the limits of tree-growth; but these heights above the timber-line are far from being barren and lifeless. Covering these mountains with robes of beauty are forests, lakes, meadows, brilliant flowers, moorlands, and vine-like streams that cling to the very summits. This entire mountain realm is delightfully rich in plant and animal life, from the lowest meadows to the summits of the highest peaks.

Each year the State is colored with more than three thousand varieties of wild flowers, cheered by more than four hundred species of birds, and enlivened with a numerous array of other wild life. Well has it been called the "Playground of America." It is an enormous and splendid hanging wild garden.

This mountain State of the Union has always appealed to the imagination and has called forth many graphic expressions. Thus Colorado sought statehood from Congress under the name of Tahosa,--"Dwellers of the Mountain-Tops." Even more of poetic suggestiveness has the name given by an invading Indian tribe to the Arapahoes of the Continental Divide,--"Men of the Blue Sky."

I have visited on foot every part of Colorado and have made scores of happy excursions through these mountains. These outings were in every season of the year and they brought me into contact with the wild life of the heights in every kind of weather. High peaks by the score have been climbed and hundreds of miles covered on snowshoes. I have even followed the trail by night, and by moonlight have enjoyed the solemn forests, the silent lakes, the white cascades, and the summits of the high peaks.

The greater part of this book deals with nature and with my own experiences in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Some of the chapters in slightly different form have been printed in various publications.

The Evening Post_ published "The Grizzly Bear," "Wild Folk of the Mountain-Summits," "Wild Mountain Sheep," "a.s.sociating with Snow-Slides," "The Forest Frontier," "Bringing back the Forest," and "Going to the Top." _Country Life in America_ published "A Mountain Pony"; _The Youth's Companion_, "Some Forest History"; _Recreation_, "Drought in Beaver World"; and _Our Dumb Animals_, "My Chipmunk Callers." The editors of these publications have kindly consented to the publis.h.i.+ng of these papers in this volume.

E. A. M.


Going to the Top

The seven football-players who engaged me to guide them to the top of Long's Peak did not reveal their ident.i.ty until we were on the way.

Long's Peak, high, ma.s.sive, and wildly rugged, is the king of the Rocky Mountains, and there were five thousand feet of alt.i.tude and seven steeply inclined miles between our starting-point and the granite-piled summit.

We set out on foot. The climbers yelled, threw stones, and wrestled.

They were so occupied with themselves during the first mile that I managed to keep them from running over me. Presently they discovered me and gave a cheer, and then proceeded energetically with the evident intention of killing me off.

It was fortunate for me that the experience of more than a hundred guiding trips to the summit was a part of my equipment. In addition to the valuable lessons that had been dearly learned in guiding, I had made dozens of trips to the summit before offering my services as guide. I had made climbs in every kind of weather to familiarize myself thoroughly with the way to the top. These trips--always alone--were first made on clear days, then on stormy ones, and finally at night. When I was satisfied that I could find the trail under the worst conditions, endurance tests were made. One of these consisted in making a quick round trip, then, after only a few minutes' rest, shouldering thirty or forty pounds of supplies and hastening to the rescue of an imaginary climber ill on the summit.

Besides two seasons of this preliminary experience, the rocks, glacial records, birds, trees, and flowers along the trail were studied, other peaks climbed, and books concerning mountain-climbing diligently read.

But long before my two hundred and fifty-seven guiding trips were completed, I found myself ignorant of one of the most important factors in guiding, and perhaps, too, in life,--and that is human nature.

Several climbs had been made simply to learn the swiftest pace I could maintain from bottom to summit without a rest. Thus ably coached by experience, I steadied to the work when my noisy football-players started to run away from me. Each player in turn briefly set a hot pace, and in a short time they were ahead of me. Even though they guyed me unmercifully, I refused to be hurried and held to the swiftest pace that I knew could be maintained. Two hours raised us through thirty-five hundred feet of alt.i.tude and advanced us five miles. We were above the timber-line, and, though some distance behind the boys, I could tell they were tiring. Presently the guide was again in the lead!

By-and-by one of the boys began to pale, and presently he turned green around the mouth. He tried desperately to bluff it off, but ill he was. In a few minutes he had to quit, overcome with nausea. A moment later another long-haired brave tumbled down. On the others went, but three more were dropped along the trail, and only two of those husky, well-trained athletes reached the summit! That evening, when those sad fellows saw me start off to guide another party up by moonlight, they concluded that I must be a wonder; but as a matter of fact, being an invalid, I had learned something of conservation. This experience fixed in my mind the importance of climbing slowly.

Hurriedly climbing a rugged peak is a dangerous pastime. Trail hurry frequently produces sickness. A brief dash may keep a climber agitated for an hour. During this time he will waste his strength doing things the wrong way,--often, too, annoying or endangering the others.

Finding a way to get climbers to go slowly was a problem that took me time to solve. Early in the guiding game the solution was made impossible by trying to guide large parties and by not knowing human nature. Once accomplished, slow going on the trail noticeably decreased the cases of mountain-sickness, greatly reduced the number of quarrels, and enabled almost all starters to gain the height desired. Slow climbing added pleasure to the trip and enabled every one to return in good form and with splendid pictures in his mind.

To keep the party together,--for the tendency of climbers is to scatter, some traveling rapidly and others slowly,--it became my practice to stop occasionally and tell a story, comment on a bit of scenery, or relate an incident that had occurred near by. As I spoke in a low tone, the climbers ahead shouting "Hurry up!" and the ones behind calling "Wait!" could not hear me. This method kept down friction and usually held the party together. With a large party, however, confusion sometimes arose despite my efforts to antic.i.p.ate it.

Hoping to get valuable climbing suggestions, I told my experiences one day to a gentleman who I thought might help me; but he simply repeated the remark of Trampas that in every party of six there is a fool! It is almost impossible for a numerous party, even though every one of them may be well-meaning, to travel along a steep trail without friction.

My most unpleasant climb was with a fateful six,--three loving young couples. Two college professors about to be married formed one of the couples. He, the son of wealthy parents, had been sent West to mend his health and manners; he met a young school-ma'am who reformed him.

They attended the same college and became professors in a State school. They were to be married at the end of this outing; but on this climb they quarreled. Each married another! Sweethearts for years was the story of the second couple. They, too, quarreled on the trail, but made up again. The story of the third couple is interestingly complicated. He was rich, young, and impetuous; she, handsome and musical. For years she had received his ardent attentions indifferently. As we approached the top of the peak, he became extremely impatient with her. As though to make confusion worse confounded, after years of indifference the young lady became infatuated with her escort. He tried to avoid her, but she feigned a sprained ankle to insure his comforting closeness. They are both single to this day. Meantime the six had a general row among themselves, and at the close of it united to "roast" me! Whether imp or alt.i.tude was to blame for this deviltry matters not; the guide had to suffer for it.

Early in guiding I conceived it to be my duty to start for the top with any one who cared to try it, and I felt bound also to get the climber to the top if possible. This was poor theory and bad practice.

After a few exasperating and exhausting experiences I learned the folly of dragging people to the top who were likely to be too weak to come back. One day a party of four went up. Not one of them was accustomed to walking, and all had apparently lived to eat. After eight hard hours we reached the summit, where all four collapsed. A storm came on, and we were just leaving the top when daylight faded.

It rained at intervals all night long, with the temperature a trifle below freezing. We would climb down a short distance, then huddle s.h.i.+vering together for a while. At times every one was suffering from nausea. We got down to timber-line at one o'clock in the morning. Here a rest by a rousing camp-fire enabled all to go on down. We arrived at the starting-place just twenty-four hours after we had left it!

Mountain-climbing is not a good line of activity for an invalid or for one who s.h.i.+es at the edge of a precipice, or for any one, either, who worries over the possible fate of his family while he is on a narrow ledge. Alt.i.tude, the great bugbear to many, is the scapegoat for a mult.i.tude of sins. "Feeling the alt.i.tude" would often be more correctly expressed as feeling the effects of high living! The ill effects of alt.i.tude are mostly imaginary. True, climbing high into a brighter, finer atmosphere diminishes the elastic clasp--the pressure of the air--and causes physiological changes. These usually are beneficial. Climbers who become ill through mountain-climbing would also become ill in hill-climbing. In the overwhelming number of cases the lowland visitor is permanently benefited by a visit to the mountains and especially by a climb in the heights.

Mountain-sickness, with its nausea, first comes to those who are bilious, or to those who are hurrying or exerting themselves more than usual. A slight stomach disorder invites this nausea, and on the heights those who have not been careful of diet, or those who celebrated the climb the evening before it was made, are pretty certain to find out just how mountain-sickness afflicts. Alt.i.tude has, I think, but little to do with bringing on so-called mountain-sickness. It is almost identical with sea-sickness, and just as quickly forces the conclusion that life is not worth living!

Usually a hot drink, rest, and warmth will cure it in a short time.

Clarence King in his "Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada" says concerning the effects of alt.i.tude, "All the while I made my instrumental observations the fascination of the view so held me that I felt no surprise at seeing water boiling over our little f.a.ggot blaze at a temperature of one hundred and ninety-two degrees F., nor in observing the barometrical column stand at 17.99 inches; and it was not till a week or so after that I realized we had felt none of the conventional sensations of nausea, headache, and I don't know what all, that people are supposed to suffer at extreme alt.i.tudes; but these things go with guides and porters, I believe."

Alt.i.tude commonly stimulates the slow tongue, and in the heights many reserved people become talkative and even confiding. This, along with the natural sociability of such a trip, the scenery, and the many excitements, usually ripens acquaintances with amazing rapidity.

Lifelong friends.h.i.+ps have commenced on the trail, and many a lovely romance, too. One day two young people met for the first time in one of my climbing parties. Thirty days afterward they were married, and they have lived happily to date.

In one climb a chaperon gave out and promptly demanded that two young sweethearts turn back. As we moved on without the chaperon, she called down upon my head the curses of all the G.o.ds at once! In order to save the day it is sometimes necessary for the guide to become an autocrat.

Occasionally a climber is not susceptible to suggestion and will obey only the imperative mood. A guide is sometimes compelled to stop rock-rolling, or to say "No!" to a plucky but sick climber who is eager to go on. A terrible tongue-las.h.i.+ng came to me one day from a young lady because of my refusal to go farther after she had fainted.

She went forward alone for half an hour while I sat watching from a commanding crag. Presently she came to a narrow unbanistered ledge that overhung eternity. She at once retreated and came back with a smile, saying that the spot where she had turned back would enable any one to comprehend the laws of falling bodies.

Occasionally a climber became hysterical and I had my hands full keeping the afflicted within bounds. Mountain ledges are not good places for hysterical performances. One day, when a reverend gentleman and his two daughters were nearing the top, the young ladies and myself came out upon the Narrows a few lengths ahead of their father.

The ladies were almost exhausted and were climbing on sheer nerve. The stupendous view revealed from the Narrows overwhelmed them, and both became hysterical at once. It was no place for ceremony; and as it was rather cramped for two performances at once, I pushed the feet from beneath one young lady, tripped the other on top of her,--and sat down on both! They struggled, laughed, and cried, and had just calmed down when the father came round the rocks upon us. His face vividly and swiftly expressed three or four kinds of anger before he grasped the situation. Fearing that he might jump on me in turn, or that he might "get them" too, I watched him without a word. Finally he took in the entire situation, and said with a smile, "Well, I don't know whether it's my move or not!"

Twice, while guiding, I broke my lifelong rule never to take a tip.

One tip had with it a surprise to redeem the taking. It came from the gentleman who had organized the party. On the way up he begged leave to set the pace and to lead the party to the top. He appeared sensible, but I made a blunder by consenting to the arrangement, for his pace was too rapid, and at Keyhole he was attacked by nausea. He pluckily insisted that we go on to the summit and leave him behind. It was five hours before we returned to him. For two hours he had lain helpless in a cold rain and was badly chilled. He was so limp and loose-jointed that it was difficult to carry him across the moraine called Boulderfield. At the Inn the following morning he was completely restored. I was still so exhausted from getting him down that when he insisted that he be allowed to give me a tip in addition to the guiding fee I agreed to accept it. The instant I had consented it occurred to me that a tip from a millionaire for the saving of his life would be worth while. I was startled when, with a satisfied expression, he handed me twenty-five cents!

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE NARROWS, LONG'S PEAK TRAIL (Figures of climbers can be made out on the trail)]

Early one season, before the ice had melted, one of my five climbers met with an accident in one of the most dangerous places along the way. We were descending, and I was in front, watching each one closely as he crossed a narrow and extremely steep tongue of ice. The gentleman who brought up the rear was a good climber when not talking; but this time he was chattering away and failed to notice me when I signaled him for silence while each climber, in turn, carefully crossed the steep ice in the footholds chopped for that purpose. Still talking, he stepped out on the ice without looking and missed the foothold! Both feet shot from beneath him, and down the smooth, deadly steep he plunged.

Early in guiding I had considered the dangerous places and planned just where to stand while the climbers pa.s.sed them and just what to do in case of accident. When an accident actually occurred, it was a simple matter to go through a ticklish grand-stand performance that had been practiced dozens of times, and which for years I had been ready to put into effect. The instant he slipped, I made a quick leap for a point of rock that barely pierced the steep ice-tongue. This ice was steeper than half pitch. He shot down, clawing desperately and helplessly, with momentum sufficient to knock over half a dozen men.

There was just time to grab him by the coat as he shot by the rock.

Bracing with all my might to hold him for a fraction of a second so as to divert him and point him at an angle off the ice, I jumped upward as the violent jerk came. We went off as it were on a tangent, and landed in a heap upon the stones, several yards below the spot from which I had leaped to the rescue. His life was saved.

The last season of my guiding career was a full one. Thirty-two ascents were made during the thirty-one days of August. Half a dozen of these were by moonlight. In addition to these climbs a daily round trip was made to Estes Park, eight miles distant and fifteen hundred feet down the mountain. These Estes Park trips commonly were made on horseback, though a few were by wagon. My busiest day was crowded with two wagon trips and one horseback trip to Estes Park, then a moonlight climb to the summit. In a sixty-hour stretch I did not have any sleep or take any food. Being in condition for the work and doing it easily, I was in excellent shape when the guiding ended.

The happiest one of my two hundred and fifty-seven guiding experiences on the rugged granite trail of this peak was with Harriet Peters, a little eight-year-old girl, the youngest child who has made the climb.

She was alert and obedient, enjoyed the experience, and reached the top without a slip or a stumble, and with but little a.s.sistance from me. It was pleasant to be with her on the summit, listening to her comments and hearing her childlike questions. I have told the whole story of this climb in "Wild Life on the Rockies."

Thoughtfulness and deliberation are essentials of mountain-climbing.

Climb slowly. Look before stepping. Ease down off boulders; a jump may jar or sprain. Enjoy the scenery and do most of your talking while at rest. Think of the fellow lower down. A careful diet and training beforehand will make the climb easier and far more enjoyable.

Tyndall has said that a few days of mountain-climbing will burn all the effete matter out of the system. In climbing, the stagnant blood is circulated and refined, the lungs are exercised, every cell is cleansed, and all parts are disinfected by the pure air. Climbing a high peak occasionally will not only postpone death but will give continuous intensity to the joy of living. Every one might well climb at least one high peak, and for those leaving high school or college, the post-graduate work of climbing a rugged peak might be a more informative experience or a more helpful test for living than any examination or the writing of a thesis.

Scenery, like music, is thought-compelling and gives one a rare combination of practical and poetical inspiration. Along with mountain-climbing, scenery shakes us free from ourselves and the world. From new grand heights one often has the strange feeling that he has looked upon these wondrous scenes before; and on the crest one realizes the full meaning of John Muir's exhortation to "climb the mountains and get their good tidings!"

The Rocky Mountain Wonderland Part 1

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The Rocky Mountain Wonderland Part 1 summary

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