From the rim of the canyon, between Flattop and Hallett, I viewed the spot where I had blundered over the edge of the snow-cornice on the way to the dance. Beneath lay Tyndall glacier, its greenish ice exposed by the summer thaw. I circled the head of the canyon and climbed to the top of Hallett. From my eerie height, I got an eagle's view of the world below—a hazy, hushed world where the birds called faintly, the brooks murmured quietly and even the wind spoke in whispers. From near by came the crash of glacier ice; falling rocks that thundered down the cliffs.
All the afternoon I traveled along the crest of the Divide, wandering southward, away from familiar country into a new maze of peaks and glaciers, deep canyons and abrupt precipices. Suddenly a gale of wind struck me, blinded me with penetrating snow. In that instant, without preliminary or warning, summer changed to winter, and forced me off the heights. It was impossible to thread my way back over the route I had come; for it twisted in and out, around up-flung crags and cliffs.
My compass showed that the wind was driving eastward, the direction in which I wanted to go; so I headed down wind, secure in the thought that I would soon be off the roof of the world. Lightning and heavy thunder accompanied the snowstorm, the clouds came down and blotted out the day; twilight descended upon the earth.
A band of mountain sheep started up from their shelter behind an upthrust rock and ran ahead of me. I followed them, partly because they ran in the direction I was going, and partly because they are apt to select the safest way down the cliffs.
But they turned aside the moment they were out of the wind, swung up on a protected ledge and there halted to wait out the storm. My compass had gone crazy. A dozen times I tried it out. It would point a different direction whenever I moved a few steps. However, the compass mattered little; the chief thing that concerned me was getting down off the roof of the world.
Snow swirled down the cliffs, plastering rocks and ledges until both footholds and handholds were hidden. Still I had to go down, there was nothing else to do. The hardy sheep, with their heavy coats, could wait out the storm. But night, with numbing cold, and treacherous darkness in which I'd dare not move, would soon o'ertake and vanquish me.
For an hour the ledges provided footing. By turning about, twisting and doubling, there was always a way down. Of a sudden the clouds parted; a long bar of sunshine touched the green forest far below me, focused for a moment upon a single treetop, then vanished as though the shutter of a celestial camera has snapped shut.
At last I came to a ledge beneath which the sheer cliff dropped away into unfathomable snowy depths. After short excursions to right and left I discovered that a section of the cliff had split off and dropped into the canyon, leaving only sheer rock walls that offered nothing in the way of footholds. Irresolutely, I faced back the way I had come. Overhead the wind roared deafeningly; the snow came piling down. No hope of retracing my steps. I was tired; that upward climb would be slow and tortuous, would require great strength and endurance. I faced about and began a thorough, desperate search for a downward route. I stood marooned in the canyon wall shaped like a crude horseshoe. At its toe water had leaped down and eroded a slight groove in the solid rock. This was my only chance. It was not inviting, but I had no alternative. It led me down a hundred feet, then tightened into a sort of chimney. Just below I could see the swaying top of a big tree. Firewood must be near at hand! Wider ledges must lay close beneath!
Fifty feet down the chimney, just as it deepened into a comfortable groove with rough, gripable sides, I came to a sudden halt, for the rock was broken away; the cleft bottom of the chute overhung the cliff below. Sweat streamed down my face, in spite of the cold wind. Visions of a leaping campfire died out of my mind.
The Engelmann spruce swayed toward me encouragingly, as though offering to help me down. But its top was many feet from the wall. There was an abandoned bird's nest in it; a little below that was a dead limb with a woodpecker's incision at its base. By leaning out I could see, a hundred feet or more below the bottom of the swaying tree.
In my extremity I shouted, even as I had done in the glacier crevasse, though there was no one to hear. The echo came back sharply. "There must be another wall angling this one," I thought.
"It's got to be done, there's no other way." I spoke the words out loud to boost my courage.
The tip of the old spruce rose to almost my level; but there was that intervening gulf between it and the rock on which I stood. How wide was that gulf, I wondered. Five feet? Ten? Too far!
A score of times I surveyed the tree-top, tried to estimate the distance, sought a foothold in the cramped rock chute, and worked into position for the leap.
No sharpshooter ever aligned his sights more carefully than I did my feet. My coat was buttoned tightly, cap pulled down. When at last I was all set, I hesitated, postponed the jump and cowered back against the wall. A dozen times I made ready, filled my lungs with deep breaths, stretched each leg out to make sure it was in working order, but every time my courage failed me.
Suddenly resolute, not giving myself chance to think, I tensed, filled my lungs, leaned away from the rock, and launched headlong.
As my body crashed into the treetop my fingers clutched like talons, my arms clasped the limbs as steel bands. I was safe in the arms of that centuries-old spruce.
Never since that day have I taken such a chance. The thought of it, even now, sends cold, prickly chills along my spine.
That time trouble came out of a clear sky, but sometimes a bit of innocent curiosity betrays one. Thus one day, with sunshine overhead and peaceful murmurs below, I stood upon a rock spire upthrust from the slope of Mount Chapin, watching a band of Bighorn sheep above timberline. The Fall River road now runs past the spot where they were feeding. When I climbed up toward them, they gathered close together, some of them scrambling up rocks for vantage points, all watching me interestedly. They were not excited. They moved away slowly at my near approach, stopping now and then to watch me or to feed. For several hours I kept my position below them; sometimes edging close to one of them, keeping in sight at all times, and being careful not to move quickly.
The band worked its way to the foot of the steeper slopes, above the tree line, hesitated, eyed me, then started up a narrow little passage that led up between two cliffs. A rock-slide cluttered this granite stair. Stable footholds were impossible for the loose rocks slipped and slid, rolled from beneath the sheep's feet and bounded down the slope.
Of a sudden something frightened the Bighorn, just what I had no time to learn. Instantly every one of those nineteen sheep was in full flight up the rock-slide. They bounded right and left, tacked across it, turned, scrambled up, slipped back, tumbled, somersaulted, but always regained their balance and made steady headway.
They seemed to have lost their wits, for they scattered, each selecting his own route, all striving with great exertion to make speed up the steep slope.
A barrage of stones fell all about me. Dust-puffs dotted the slide. Then the whole thing seemed to move downward, like the rapids of a river, dashing rock spray everywhere. The air was filled with flying granite, as hurtling rocks struck and exploded into smoky fragments. Bits, the size of wine-saps, scattered like birdshot; larger pieces, the size of bushel baskets and barrels, bounded and danced, leaped away from the slope, out into space, and dropped like plummets. Huge bowlders (sleeping Titans that they were) stirred, roused themselves, and came crashing down, plowing through the forest below, furrowing the earth and cutting a swath through the trees as clean as a scythe through grass. What was first merely the metallic clink of rolling stones changed to a steady bombardment, and then into a sullen, ominous roar as the giant bowlders got under way.
For me the scene had changed abruptly; a moment since I had been following the wild sheep with ready camera, stalking them, entertaining them with antics, occasionally hiding for a moment to excite them. Now pandemonium reigned. The first few stones I dodged; then they came too thick to be avoided. I dived headlong behind a bowlder, partly buried in the slide. Like a rabbit I hid there, clinging as the stones hailed about me, afraid to lift my head. Rocks struck close, filling my eyes with gritty dust, choking me. Then a giant slab came grinding downward. I could hear it coming, its slow thunder drowned out all other sounds. The whole mountain heaved. My rock fort shook, flinging me backward amidst a deluge of smaller stones. Over and over I rolled, with the loosened rocks, fighting frantically every instant.
Inside a few short, busy seconds the giant slab shot past, my bowlder had halted it for only a second. As I leaped aside I was pelted by a score of stones, battered, bruised, knocked half unconscious, eyes filled with sharp, cutting grit. At last I gained the outer edge of the whirlpool, where the movement was less rapid, where only the smaller stones trickled down. Dazed, bleeding and breathless, I was flung aside, too blinded to see and too stunned to avoid the projectiles shooting my way.
The slide lessened; its roar diminished; only occasional rocks came down. Then came silence, vast, still and awesome after the uproar. But it was broken by the belated descent of tardy stones, loath to be left behind. Miniature slides started, hesitated and scattered.
Like a battered bark I lay half submerged at the edge of the slide. My cap was gone, my camera lost, my clothes torn; in a score of places I was scratched or bruised. I crawled farther from the danger line, found a trickle of water below a melting snowbank, where I drank and laved my bruises. At length I started down the mountain, safe, but not sound; somewhat wiser, thrilled tremendously at the experience that had come unannounced.
It is always thus in mountain climbing—the unexpected is the rule!
The habit of estimating time by the number of miles to be traveled goes by the board in mountain work. A mile stood on end ceases to be a mile and becomes a nightmare. Trail miles, or those that stretch across the mountain tops, are not even related to the miles of straight, smooth highway of the lower levels. A new unit of measurement should be created for alpine climbers, to conform to the haughty attitude of the mountains. At times, upon the crest of the Continental Divide, and at an altitude of from ten to twelve thousand feet, I have covered from three to five miles in an hour. And again, while breaking a snow trail, creeping up treacherous glacier ice, or edging along the ledges, I have often reversed the digits, taking several hours to gain a single mile.
Then, too, no trip is taken twice under the same conditions. The mountains are never the same: the weather, the wind, snow or rain conditions may alter decidedly the footing upon their slopes. Thus a climb that was accomplished on the first of June in one year without serious obstacles may, on the same date another year, be found to be impossible. Experienced mountaineers intuitively know when to proceed, or to turn back; and though they may not be able to explain why they abandon or continue a trip, they "feel" their actions imperative.
So climbing tests a man's judgment, his physical endurance, and tries his soul. It brings out his true character. The veneer of convention wears through inside a few miles of trail work and reveals the individual precisely as he is, often to his shame but usually to his glory. Thus a silent, backward boy one day became a hero by diving headlong across smooth ice to rescue a trio of climbers who had lost their footing and had started to slide across a glacier. Again, upon a certain climb, two husky men who gave promise of conquering the ascent without trouble, turned out to be the weakest of weaklings, abusing all the party, demanding all the guide's help for themselves.
"You can't never tell how fur a toad'll jump!" the Parson said disgustedly as he heard the tale of these two huskies who had turned babies; "nor which way neither."
One of the things which I have found most helpful on hard climbs, is mental preparation. If there are certain, lurking dangers to be overcome, I have found it a decided help to admit the facts freely before attempting the climb; picturing as far as it can be done the situations that may arise. In this way it is possible, to a certain degree, to anticipate emergencies before they happen and to prepare for them. It also helps one to act with imperative promptness.
It is less easy to prescribe for physical preparation. Equipment must vary with needs and these are as varied as the climbers themselves. However, I have found that it is well to dress lightly, for this permits freedom of movement. Personally I prefer light, low shoes that reach just above the ankle, the soles studded with soft-headed hob nails, not the iron ones. A change of socks is sometimes a life-saver, for frequently the footing leads through ice water or soft snow. Numb feet are always clumsy and slow, and dangerous besides. I have found it best to wear medium-weight wool underclothes and just enough outer garments to keep one warm. A staff is a handicap on rockwork, but helpful on glaciers or other ice climbing.
On the mountain tops, as well as upon the highways, speed is dangerous. Haste on a mountain brings grief of various kinds, nausea, needless exhaustion, injuries. Never sprint! Climb slowly, steadily, like a sober old packhorse. You will make better time, and reach the summit in condition to enjoy your achievement.
I came to distrust, and to test out, every rung in my rocky ladders. I found that even the most secure-appearing "stepping stones" were often rotten and treacherous, weathered by the continual freezing and thawing of the moisture in its seams. Often a mere touch was sufficient to shatter them, but sometimes it was not until I put my weight upon them, holding to a shrub or an earth-buried bowlder the while, that they gave way.
I learned, too, that the wise selection of a route up and down is the crucial test of a good guide. In such selection there are no rules; for every climb presents problems particularly its own, and what worked out well on the last climb may turn out to be dangerous on the next. Thus, on one ascent of the cliffs of Black Canyon, my companion suggested that we follow a "chimney," a water-worn crack that offered convenient toe-holds. We ascended by the selected route without difficulty. But an hour later, when a similar ascent confronted us, we selected the same sort of route and came to grief, finding our way blocked by an overhanging wall impossible to surmount.
The actual climbing of difficult places becomes a habit, so far as the physical effort is concerned, leaving one free to inspect the precipices above, and to feel out, instinctively, the possible routes to the top.
The selection of a way up difficult places calls for the sixth sense, instinct, which cannot always be acquired by experience. Wild animals possess this "instinct" to a great degree; but human beings are not so unerring. One man may be blest with it, but another, with equal experience, will be unreliable. There is no accounting for the wide difference in their accuracy, it exists—that is all we know.
There are times when even with this guiding instinct, one comes to grief; though I have noted that grief came to me most often when I was tired, less alert, and more prone to take chances or needless risks. Sometimes, under stress of haste to get off a dangerous place before darkness overtook me, I have had to leap without looking. No climber may expect to survive many such reckless steps. It is the rule of the mountains that you look—then do not leap. In most of life's experiences we may make a mistake and, if wise, profit by it. But in mountain climbing the first mistake is liable to be the last.
Mountain climbing is a game, a big game; divided as are other sports into minor and major divisions. The minor climbs include the lesser peaks, safe, well-marked trails that lead to comfortable night camps: the major division includes almost everything from peeping into an active volcano to getting imprisoned in a glacier crevasse.
Colorado offers wide variety of experience in both divisions. It has forty-odd peaks above fourteen thousand feet, with hundreds of others almost as high, yet unknown and unmapped. The peaks that are most widely known, and most often climbed are Pike's Peak near Colorado Springs and Long's Peak in the Rocky Mountain National (Estes) Park. Pike's has long been easily accessible by way of the famous cog road, and more recently an automobile road has reached its top. But Long's has no royal road to its summit. Only a foot trail partly encircles it.
There are many other than these two peaks to challenge the climber. The Flattops, in western Colorado, are not necessarily low or smooth, though flat. The San Juan Mountains are extremely rough and rugged. The Sangre de Christo Range is at once rarely beautiful and forbidding. The Never-summer and Rabbit Ear ranges invite exploration, and the great Continental Divide has no peers.
Every mountain offers its peculiar attractions and difficulties. All mountains entice the brave-hearted and the adventurous. Occasionally men lose their lives in conquering them and not infrequently women die heroically scaling their slopes.
Long's Peak was early the objective of experienced mountain climbers. For a number of years it defied all efforts to scale it. From 1864 to 1868 a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach the top failed. In the summer of 1868 a party in charge of W. N. Byers, who had led the first unsuccessful party, reached the top. Since that time each year has seen an increasing number of successful climbers. Most climbers go in small parties, for large ones (more than five) are dangerous. Dogs are dangerous companions on a climb, because they start rock-slides.
As a boy I lived at the foot of this forbidding Sphinx, climbed it every month in the year, and thus came to know its mighty moods, the terrific fury of its storms, the glory of its outlook.
Miss Carrie J. Welton lost her life upon the Peak in 1884. She gave out near the top and her guide, Carlyle Lamb, son of the Parson, made heroic efforts to save her. But he, too, became exhausted and had to leave her alone while he went for help.
But when help arrived, Miss Welton was dead, having perished from exhaustion and cold.
Other casualties have occurred on this towering mountain. A boy left his parents in camp at the foot of the Peak and disappeared. Late in the summer, as the snowbanks diminished, his body was found, lying at the base of the three-thousand-foot precipice. One man was killed by the accidental discharge of a pistol. A doctor was killed by lightning. In January, 1925, occurred a double tragedy. Miss Agnes Vaille perished near the spot where Miss Welton lost her life, and under similar conditions. Herbert Sortland, member of the rescue party, became lost and perished in the storm that was raging over the heights. His body was found many weeks afterward within a few minutes' walk of home.
Back on the farm of my childhood, the names of Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Buffalo Bill and other renowned frontiersmen were ever on the lips of my parents. Their reckless bravery that took no thought of self, their diplomatic cunning that cleverly kept the Indians friendly, their unlimited resourcefulness, equal to the most unprecedented emergencies, were the subjects of many a heroic tale. When I came West, no matter how far I penetrated into remote regions, if there were trapper or prospector about, I found the immortal fame of these intrepid pathfinders had traveled into those mountain-guarded wildernesses.
They became the heroes of my boyish dreams, the patterns of my conduct, the inspiration of my ideals. I seized upon every written word concerning them and plowed through thick, poorly-printed volumes on the frontier for one brief sentence about these gallant scouts. I longed to emulate their fearless, immortal deeds. They left an indelible impress upon my character, even as they had upon the romantic annals of their country.
My growing familiarity with the Rocky Mountain region opened up one trail in which I could follow their footsteps. Tourists were finding out the country, guides were in demand. In the early days, before the creation of the National Park, guides were unlicensed. Any experienced old-timer or climber could take parties up the Peak or on other alpine trips. I began guiding by taking occasional visitors up Long's. I furnished my horse, and on most trips, supplies, wrangled the pack-horses, made camp, cooked the meals, and gave invaluable advice and "first aid" all for the munificent wage of five dollars a day! That sum made the replacement of climb-shattered cameras, the purchasing of a few coarse, cheap garments, and the acquiring of a Montgomery Ward library, all such riches, possible.
The work afforded none of the opportunities for fame and glory that had lurked in the trails of my heroes; I did not creep stealthily from a wagon train in the dead of night to thwart the redmen in a fiendish massacre; I was not compelled to kill game to furnish food for my charges; I did not have to find fords across wide, deep and treacherous unknown rivers, and steer panic-stricken cattle or heavily laden oxen across them. But even though the work lacked the glamour of the pioneers' primitive, golden day, it was not without engrossing interests. It was filled with drama, relieved by comedy, sometimes fraught with tragedy.
Yes; styles in guides have changed since Bill Cody scouted the plains, even as they have changed since I piloted my first party up Long's Peak. A new breed has sprung up since the people have made such wide use of their National Parks. Not only the modern guides outwit the savage elements, but, under the National Park administration, they are required to have a fund of general information, especially nature lore, to be able to identify the thousands of varieties of wild flowers, the birds, animals and trees; to conduct field classes in geology, and to explain every phenomenon of weather and climate. Such a guide must have the patience to answer numberless questions. All this in addition to watching his charges, as a nurse watches her patients, feeling their pulses, so to speak, and taking their physical and moral temperatures. He must keep up their morale with entertaining yarns, he must restrain their too ambitious experience, must protect them from their own foolhardiness. He must have the charity to forbear deriding their stupidity. He must be as courageous and resourceful as the old-time guides, though his trials may not be so spectacular. A guide soon plumbs a man's character and fathoms its weakness and its strength.
As a boy guide I trailed far into the wilds with hunting parties, and camped through the summers with fishermen, geologists, explorers and mountain climbers. The reaction of individuals to the open spaces has ever been interesting to me. I have seen voluble women silent before the awesome beauty. I have seen phlegmatic business men moved to tears. There was no way of anticipating people's reactions.
Nearly all climbers dread the altitude of the high country. It is the "Old Man of the Sea" to most "tenderfeet." It has as many forms as the clouds and changes them as readily. It pounces upon the innocent but not unsuspicious wayfarer in the form of nosebleed, short wind, earache, balky watches, digestive troubles, sleeplessness and oversleeping.
As guide one day for the wife of a well-known geologist, I secured a new idea regarding altitude. We were to spend the day above timberline, where we hoped to identify the distant mountain ranges, observe the wild life close at hand and collect flower specimens. We left the valley at dawn, let our horses pick their way slowly upward. We halted occasionally to watch a scampering chipmunk or to explain our harmless errand to a scolding squirrel.
Near the timberline we emerged into a little grassy glade beside a rushing stream. Far above and deep below us grew a dense forest of Engelmann spruce. In the glade stood a detached grove of perhaps a dozen trees, dead and stripped almost bare of limbs and bark.
My lady stopped abruptly and stared at these. She shook her head sadly, murmuring to herself. At last she spoke:
"Isn't it too bad?" she grieved.
I agreed sympathetically, then peered about to learn the cause of our sudden sadness.
The lady pointed to the dead trees, wagged her head, and said:
"Isn't it too bad the altitude killed them?"
There were green trees a mile farther up the mountain above the dead ones in the glade. Yet my lady insisted that the altitude had singled out and killed the little grove in the midst of the forest—so we let it go at that.
Of course, some persons really are affected by altitude, but weariness, lack of muscular as well as mental control, often creates altitudinous illusion. Of this condition I had an example while guiding a party of three women and one man to the top of Long's Peak. We climbed above timberline, headed through Storm Pass, and finally reached Keyhole without a single incident to mar the perfect day. The ladies were new, but plucky, climbers; the man rather blustery, but harmless.
Beyond Keyhole lies rough going, smooth, sloping rocks and the "Trough" with its endless rock-slides that move like giant treadmills beneath the climber's feet. The pace I set was very slow. The man wanted to go faster, but I called attention to Glacier Gorge below, the color of the lakes in the canyon, in short, employed many tactics to divert him from his purpose.
My refusal to travel faster excited him, he became extremely nervous and made slighting remarks regarding my guiding ability that ruffled me and embarrassed the ladies. Hoping to convince him of his error, I speeded up. He remonstrated at once, but when I slowed down to our customary pace he still objected, saying we'd never reach the top before dark.
Suddenly he developed a new notion. Climbing out upon a ledge he lifted his arms and poised, as though to dive off the cliff.
"Guide," he called, his voice breaking, "I must jump."
After some confusion we were on our way again, the man within clutch of my hand. All progressed without further trouble until we reached the top of the trough, where we halted to rest and to look down into Wild Basin, memorable scene of my first camp! My charge craftily escaped my clutches, walked out on a promontory, and again threatened to jump. Secretly I hoped he would carry out his threat.
Before we began scaling the home stretch, I tried to persuade the erratic idiot to remain behind, but he refused. However, we all made the top safely. He relapsed into glum silence, which I hoped would last until we were safely off the peak. But as we stood near the brink of the three-thousand-foot precipice overlooking Chasm Lake, we were startled to hear his voice once more, raised to high pitch.
"I must jump over, I've got to jump," he screamed.
He waved his arms wildly, as though trying to fly. The ladies begged me not to approach him lest he totter from his precarious perch. Summoning all the authority I could command, I ordered him to come down off the rock. My commandment unheeded, next I humored him and tried to coax him back upon the pretext of showing him something of special interest. But he stood firm, mentally at least, if not physically.
Pushing the ladies ahead, I hurried on toward the trail. As I started, I waved good-by, and shouted:
"Go on, jump. Get it over with, coward!"
He turned back from the edge, swearing vengeance against me. In abusing me, however, he forgot his obsession to jump.
During the summer of my experience with the man who wanted to jump, I guided a party of three men who behaved in a totally different, but in quite as unexpected, manner. They were three gentlemen from New York, who wished to make a night climb up Long's Peak. It was a beautiful moonlight night. Our party left the hotel at the foot of the Peak at eleven o'clock. Proceeding upward through the shadowy, moon-flecked forest, we sang songs, shouted, listened to the far-away calls of the coyotes in the valley below, and from timberline saw the distant lights of Denver. At one o'clock we reached the end of the horse trail. In two hours the horses had covered five miles and had climbed up thirty-five hundred feet. We were on schedule time. Though the sun would gild the summit of the Peak soon after four in the morning, we would arrive sufficiently ahead of it, to watch it rise.
All at once my troubles began. The three men wanted to race across bowlderfield. It was sheer folly and I told them so, and why, but failed to convince them. They raced. They kidded me for being slow, dared me to race them, and gibingly assured me that they would wait for me on top and command the sun not to rise until I got there.
They would have their little joke. They waited for me at Keyhole and we moved slowly along the shelf trail beyond. On that they raced again, but not far, for the steep slope of the trough with its slippery stones stood just beyond. Right there they insisted on eating their lunch, an untimely lunch hour for there was hard climbing yet to do. Not satisfied with emptying their lunch bags, they drank freely of some ice water that trickled out from beneath a snowbank.
I got them going at last and we had gone only a short way when two of them fell ill. They felt they just had to lie down, and did so, and became thoroughly chilled, which added to their pangs of nausea. After awhile we proceeded very slowly. No longer their song echoed against the cliffs. They broke their pained silence only to grumble at one another.
Midway of the rock-slide of the trough, they stopped, and like balky mules, refused to go forward or turn back. In vain I urged them to start down, assuring them the lower altitude would bring relief. The sick men didn't care what happened; they craved instant relief by death or any other instantaneous method, as seasick persons always do. Their more fortunate friend looked at them in disgust, as those who have escaped the consequences of their deeds often look at those who have not. He upbraided me for not keeping them from making fools of themselves. I knew argument with him would be futile in his quarrelsome frame of mind. I kept still. His sick companions crawled beneath an overhanging rock, and lay shivering and shaking, too miserable to sleep. Presently he joined them, sputtering at me as the author of all their troubles. His sputterings grew intermittent, ceased. He was audibly asleep.
After a long time one of his pals demanded.
"Who in the —— proposed this —— trip anyway?"
The conduct of these men was not unique. Most climbers start out exuberantly, burn up more energy than they can spare for the first part of the trip, and find themselves physically bankrupt before they've reached their goal. The rarefied air of the high country seems to make them lightheaded! The most disagreeable character to have in a party, as in other situations, is the bully, or know-it-all, who spoils everyone's fun. A guide is a trifle handicapped in handling such people, in that his civilized inhibitions restrain him from pushing them off the cliffs or entombing them in a crevasse. I was too small to do them physical violence anyway, so I had to resort to more subtle weapons, the most effective being ridicule. If a joke could be turned on the disturber he generally subsided. The rest of the crowd were profuse in their expressions of gratitude to me for such service rendered.
Such an individual was once a member of a fishing party I guided to Bear Lake. The trip was made on horseback and we hadn't gone a mile before he urged his horse out of line and raced ahead, calling to some kindred spirit to follow. They missed the turn and delayed the whole party more than an hour while being rounded up.
"Lanky," as the party dubbed him out of disrespect, blamed me for their getting lost, but dropped behind when he saw the half-suppressed mirth of the others. Along the way were many inviting pools, and occasionally we saw a fisherman. "Lanky" soon raised the question of trying out the stream, but was outvoted by the others. He was inclined to argue the matter, but we rode up the trail, leaving him to follow or fish as he desired.
At Bear Lake at that time was a canvas boat, cached twenty steps due west of a certain large bowlder that lay south of the outlet. The boat was small, would safely hold but two persons. As it was being carried to the water, "Lanky" appeared and insisted on having the first turn in it. To this the others agreed, much against my wishes. To save the others from the annoyance of the fellow, I went out with him in the boat.
The trout were too well fed to be interested in our flies, though "Lanky" and I paddled around and across, and tempted them with a dozen lures.
My passenger became abusive and blamed me for wasting a good fishing day by bringing the party to the lake. In the midst of his tirade the boat tilted strangely. For a few minutes he shamefully neglected me while he gave his whole attention to righting it.
By sundown the party had caught a few small fish, and were ready to quit. They had gladly let "Lanky" monopolize the boat so as to be spared his society. To "Lanky's" disgust we had caught only two six-inch fish. Just as we started for the shore he made a farewell cast.
Something struck his spinner; his reel sang, his rod bent, and he stood up in the boat, yelling instructions at me. The rest of the party quit fishing to watch him land the fish. The trout was a big one, and game, but we were in deep water with plenty of room. From the shore came excited directions: "Give him more line!" "Reel him in!" "Don't let him get under the boat!" "Head him toward the shore!" "Lanky" turned a superior deaf ear.
After a tussle of ten minutes a two-pound trout lay in the boat, and "Lanky" raised an exultant yell in which the cliffs of Hallett joined. Now, indeed, was justice gone astray, when the one disagreeable member of the party had the only luck.
When the last triumphant echo died away, I picked up his prize, inspected it critically, held it aloft for the others to witness. "I'm a deputy warden," I snapped at him disgustedly, "and you don't keep small ones while I'm around." With that I tossed the trout into the lake.
Just as I finished, the boat mysteriously upset, and "Lanky" and I followed the fish.
The early trips I made with parties were mostly short ones for game or fish, but as more and more visitors came each succeeding summer, longer trips became popular. From fishing, the summer guests turned to trail trips, camping en route and remaining out from five to ten days. To cross the Continental Divide was the great achievement. Everyone wanted to tell his stay-at-home neighbors about trailing over the crest of the continent, and snowballing in the summer.
The route commonly chosen was the Flattop trail to Grand Lake, where camp was pitched for a day or two; then up the North Fork of the Grand River (known farther south as the Colorado River) to Poudre Lake, where another camp was made. From here they made a visit to Specimen, a mountain of volcanic formation which rises from the lake shore. This peak has ever been the home of mountain sheep. One can always count on seeing them there, sometimes just a few stragglers, but often bands of a hundred or more.
However interesting the day's experience had been, the climax came after camp was made, supper served and cleared away, when a big bonfire was lighted and all sat about it talking over the happenings of the day, singing and putting on stunts. In the tourists' minds the guide and the grizzly were classed together; both were wild, strange and somewhat of a curiosity. Nothing delighted them more than to get the guide to talking about his life in the wilds. Most of them looked upon him as a sort of vaudeville artist.
When several parties were out on the same trip they all assembled around a common campfire. The guides were given the floor, or ground, and they made the most of the occasion. Such competition as there was! Each, of course, felt obliged to uphold the honor of his party and out-yarn his fellows. Their stories grew in the telling, each more lurid than the last. There were thrilling tales of bear fights; of battles with arctic storms above timberline; of finding rich gold-strikes and losing them again.
At first the guides stuck to authentic experiences. But as the demand outgrew their supply, they were forced to invention. They had no mean imaginations and entranced their tenderfoot audiences with their thrilling tales. Around the campfires of primitive peoples have started the folklore of races. These guides were more sophisticated than their rustic mien hinted, the points of their yarns more subtle than the city dwellers suspected.
One evening I reached the Poudre Lake camp at dusk, to find two other parties ahead of mine. The others had finished supper and were gathered around the campfire, with North Park Ned the center of attraction.
"I was camped over on Troublesome crick, an' havin' a busy time with cookin', wranglin' the hosses and doin' all the camp work. The fellers, they was all men, were too plumb loco to help, everything they touched spelt trouble. They admired to have flapjacks, same as we et, for supper, an' they watched jest how I made 'em, an' flipped 'em in the frypan. Then they wanted to do the flippin'."
Ned chuckled quietly to himself and went on:
"I hadn't realized afore that a tenderfoot with a pan of hot, smeary flapjacks is as dangerous as he is with a gun. He's liable to cut loose in any direction. He ain't safe nowhere. One of them I had out was called Doctor Chance; guess he got his name cause other folks took chances havin' him round. Well, Chance was the first flipper. I'd showed him the trick of rotatin' the frypan to loosen the jacks so't they wouldn't stick an' cause trouble. The doctor got the hang of flippin' 'em 'an did a good job 'til he wanted to do it fancy. The plain ordinary flip wasn't good enough for him, no siree. He wanted to do it extra fancy. Instead of a little flip so's they'd light batter side down, the doctor'd give 'em a double turn an' they'd come down in the pan with a splash. He got away with it two or three times; then he got careless—flipped a panful without loosen'n 'em proper—them jacks stuck at one edge, flopped over and come down on doc's hands. We had to stop cookin' and doctor the doctor.
"Then another one of 'em thought he'd learnt how from watchin' the doc, so I set back an' let 'im have all the rope he wanted. It was their party, an' they could go the limit so far as I was concerned. But the new guy slung 'em high, wide an' crooked as a sunfishin' bronc. First thing I knowed there was a shower of sizzlin' flapjacks rainin' where I set, an' I had to make a quick getaway to keep from bein' branded for life. Then he heaved a batch so high they hit a dead limb over the fire an' wrapped aroun' it.
"It was then the next feller's turn, and he started in, while Number Two shinned up the tree to get the jacks off en the limb. Number Four hadn't came to bat yet, so the performance was due to last some time. I got up on a big rock, outta range.
"Number Two was in the tree; Number Three flippin'; Number Four was a rollin' up his sleeves an' gettin' ready for his turn. The third chef was sure fancy! He juggled them cakes just like a vodeville artist does. Of a sudden he cuts loose a batch that sailed up high an' han'some, turned over an' cum down on the back of Four's neck—him bein' entertained at the time by the feller in the tree."
Ned had acquitted himself well, his story had the tang of reality in it, and he told it with rare enthusiasm. He was so clever, in fact, that the younger guides, including myself, decided not to enter the story contest that night. But there was one in camp who did not hesitate; Andrews was his name. I had not seen this man on the trail before, so listened as eagerly as the others to what he had to offer.
"Remember the mountain sheep we saw on Flattop?" Ed recalled as he put aside his pipe. "Well, them wild sheep always has interested me. They're plumb human some ways, I reckon. They sure got a whale of a bump of curiosity, an' they beat country kids in town when it comes to starin' at strange sights. Reckon there ain't nuthin' short of a neighbor that's got more curiosity than them sheep. The old rams git so wise they live two or three times as long as the foolish ones that don't never seem to learn nothin'.
"Ole Curiosity, up in back on Specimen, is the biggest ram I ever saw. He's sure curious, an' smart along with it. If trouble shows up around Specimen, why Old Curiosity just ain't home, that's all, but hid away somewheres in the cliffs. An' once when there was shootin' he went over to another mountain till the hunters was gone. That there ole ram got so famous that the fellers used to devil the life outta him. They'd make a show of takin' their gun up the mountain jest ter see the old feller hide out.
"One day I was guidin' a party up toward Lulu Pass. We was down in a deep gully, with high walls. All to onct I looked up an' saw a bunch of sheep. They hadn't seen us yet on account of our bein' in the aspens. I flagged the party an' told 'em to watch.
"Guess some one was after the sheep, for they was in a hurry to git across the gully. One at a time they jumped off the cliff an' landed in the sand along the river. Must have been fifty feet anyhow, maybe more; but that didn't phase 'em. Of a sudden out walked Ole Curiosity, lookin' as big as a house, with circlin' horns three feet long. The ole feller jumped last; and jest as he jumped I rode out of the woods."
Ed eyed the circle of eager faces; his listeners tensed and leaned forward breathlessly. Then he continued:
"When the ole ram was about halfway down he seen me. An' what do you reckon he did?"
His hypnotized audience were too spellbound to hazard a guess.
"He turned aroun' and went back."
The story of the ram that turned back is still told around the campfires of the Rockies, and it has not grown leaner in the repetitions. But the old-time guides are giving way to younger ones, more scientific but not so entertaining. The Indians who have turned guides are unexcelled when it comes to following trails that are dim, or in tracking down runaway horses. Indians have a subtle sense of humor, even during the most serious situations. "Injun not lost, trail lost," one said when adrift in the woods.
To prevent "trails from getting lost," the Park Service requires all to pass examinations on packing, making camp, handling horses, first aid, familiarity of the region and general aptness for the calling before granting them a license entitling them to conduct parties on the peaks and trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. When the first superintendent was giving these examinations he invited me to assist him.
In order to focus the attention of the would-be guides upon certain important essentials, the questions started out by asking:
"What is the first consideration of a guide?"
"What is the second consideration of a guide?"
The answer expected to the first, of course, was the safety of the party, and to the second the comfort of the party.
The superintendent and I strolled about the room where a dozen or more young fellows were laboriously writing out their answers. One chap in particular attracted my attention, for he was from the woods, a big strapping fellow with clear eyes, and an eager, honest face.
I peeped over his shoulder. Beneath "What is the first consideration of a guide?" he had written in unmistakable brevity: "HAM." Beneath "What is the second consideration of a guide?" in a clear, legible hand was the kindred word: "BACON."
OFF THE TRAIL
That same youthful ambition to emulate the early explorers and discover new worlds which had led me West also tempted my boyish feet off the beaten, man-made trails. I was told that trails were the safe, the sure routes into and out of the wilds, but their very existence proclaimed that other men had been there before me. I was not the first on those narrow, winding high roads. I preferred the game trails to them, but I liked better still to push beyond even those faint guides, into the unmarked, untracked wilderness. There I found the last frontier, as primitive as when bold Columbus dared the unknown seas, and my young heart thrilled at such high adventure.
Late one fall, I climbed high above timberline on the Long's Peak trail, and, following my adventurous impulse, left the cairn-marked pathway and swung over to the big moraine that lay south. From its top I peeped into the chasm that lies between it and the Peak, then angled down its abrupt slope to a sparkling waterfall, and, following along the swift, icy stream above it, was climbing toward Chasm Lake, when an eerie wail rose from the gorge below. Somewhere down there a coyote was protesting the crimes committed against his race. His yammering notes rose and fell, ascending and descending the full run of the scale, swelled into a throaty howl and broke into jerky, wailing yaps like a chorus of satyrs. The uninitiated could never have believed all those sounds came from one wolfish throat; it seemed that it must be that the entire pack, or at least half a dozen animals, raised that woeful lamentation.
Facing, first one way and then another, I tried to locate the brokenhearted mourner. But Long's sheer, precipitous face and the lofty cliffs around me formed a vast amphitheater about which echoes raced, crossing and recrossing, intermingling. For a full minute the coyote howled, his sharp staccato notes rising higher and higher, the echoes returning from all directions, first sharply, then blurred, faint, fainter. The higher the sounds climbed the gorge the longer were the intervals between echoes, for the canyon walls sloped back and were wider apart toward the top. I counted seven distant echoes of a single sharp bark before it trailed off into numberless indistinguishable echoes. The varying angles and heights of the walls altered their tones, but just as they reached the top they came in uniform volume, and then overflowed the lower north rim and were lost.
For ten minutes that coyote howled, and I tried to locate him by the sound. I knew it would be impossible to sight him for his dun-colored coat blended perfectly with the surrounding bowlders. At last I decided he was due west of me. Cautiously I started toward him, but as soon as I moved he materialized from the jumbled pile of slide rock a hundred feet north of where I stood. The echoes had fooled me completely. I wondered then, and many times since, why he howled with me so near. He surely saw me. Was lie familiar with the echoes of the gorge? Did he know their trickery? Did he lift his voice there to confound me? He is somewhat of a ventriloquist anywhere, perhaps he liked to howl from that spot because the abetting echoes deluded him into thinking his talent was increasing and he excelled all his rivals in the mysterious art! Or perhaps like some singers I have known, he enjoyed the multitudinous repetition of the sound of his own voice! After more than a score of years I am no nearer a solution of the riddle.
Twenty miles from the spot where the music-fond coyote sang, near the headwaters of the Poudre River, I rode one day in pursuit of a pair of marauding wolves. As soon as they discovered me tracking them, they took to an old game trail that climbed several thousand feet in ten miles distance and headed toward the timberline. From their tracks I could tell the country was strange to them, for animals, like men, are uneasy in unfamiliar surroundings.
Somewhere a prospector set off a blast. The sound rolled around and echoed from all about. The wolves were startled at the repeated reports, as they thought them, and at sea as to the direction from which they came; so they hid away in a dense new growth of Engelmann spruce. When I rode in sight with rifle ready across my saddle, they lay low, no doubt fearing to blunder into an ambush if they took flight.
A campbird sailed silently into the tops of the young trees and peered curiously downward. Its mate winged in and together they hopped from limb to limb, descending toward the concealed animals, and conversing in low tones of their discovery.
My horse stopped at my low command; I raised my rifle and fired into the undergrowth beneath the trees. The wolves sprang out at a run, with lightning bounds, crossed a small opening and disappeared into the heavy forest beyond. I continued firing at them, without effect. Just before they vanished into the spruces, I fired a final salute. To my astonishment, they turned tail and came racing back, straight toward me, but glancing back fearfully as they came. For a foolish instant I thought they meant to attack, then the reason for their action dawned on me. A sharp echo of each shot had been flung back by a cliff beyond the grove. The fleeing animals on nearing the cliff had mistaken these echoes for another pursuer. They feared the unseen gun more than the gun in the open.
I killed them from the saddle. An echo had betrayed them. But they were in unfamiliar country. I doubt if they would have been misled at home, for animals are commonly familiar with every sight, sound and scent of their home range, and wolves are uncannily shrewd.
Thus I learned that the same phenomenon that had confounded me deceived the animals. Echoes make an interesting study and add mystery to the mountains. But animals, and most woodsmen, have a sixth sense upon which they rely, an intuitive faculty we call instinct. It is more infallible than their conscious reasoning or physical senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. It leads them unerringly through unblazened forests, during blinding storms or in the darkness of night. It helps them solve the enigma of echoes, and sometimes when the vagrant breezes trick their sensitive noses, and bring scents to them from the opposite direction of their sources, it senses the deception, and, setting them on the right path, delivers them from their enemies.
I suppose I must have had this instinct to some degree or I would surely have been lost in those mountain mazes. Not that anticipation of such a possibility would have deterred me—it would really have added allurement to the adventure. As it was, I did get lost, but always succeeded in finding my way home again.
But even with this instinct, people are often lost in the high country of the Rockies. Mountain trails twist and turn, tack and loop around unscalable cliffs. Let a stranger step off a trail for a moment to pick a flower blooming in the shade of the surrounding woods, and, unless he be an outdoor man, he is liable to be confused as to the trail's location when he tries to return to it. The sudden changing weather of high altitudes also causes the climber to lose his way. A sky which at sunrise is as innocently blue as a baby's eyes, may be overcast by lowering clouds by noon, or even sooner. A fog may settle below the summits of the peaks, and cloak all objects more than a few yards distant, distorting and magnifying those mistily discernible. A turn or a detour to survey the vicinity and attempt to get one's bearings almost invariably brings disaster. A fall that dazes one even for a few minutes is liable to befuddle one as to direction and cause one to lose one's way.
Few persons lost in the mountains travel in a circle. The typography of the country prevents them, high ridges confine them to limited areas. They are as apt to travel in one direction as in the opposite, but they may usually be looked for and found in a shut-in valley or canyon.
I was lost one day within a mile of home, almost in sight of the home buildings, upon a slope I knew well. It came about through my following a band of deer on my skis. The day was windy the snow blowing about in smothering clouds. I came upon the deer in a cedar thicket. At my approach they retreated to a gully and started up the slope. The snow grew so deep that after floundering in it a few yards, they deserted the gully, tacked back close to me, and cut around the slope about level with my position. I gave chase on skis, which almost enabled me to keep up with them. When they altered their direction and headed down hill, I easily outran them. Soon I was in their midst, but had difficulty in keeping my balance.
All at once the animals indulged in queer antics. One lay upside down, his feet flailing the air; another stood on his head in space; two does on my left whirled round and round as though dancing with a phonograph record for a floor. The next instant I joined their troupe. In the flash that followed I remembered seeing the tops of small trees beneath me, remembered my skis whipping across in front of my face.
In their panic to escape me, the deer's instinct had deserted them, and they had dashed full speed across a slope where a spring overflowed and froze, and the ice was coated with snow.
When I regained my feet I was lost. Everything was unfamiliar. I set my course toward a prominent thumb of rock, but when I reached it, it had either changed its shape or moved. The whole valley was strange.
After skiing for several hours, I topped an utterly foreign ridge. Below me were houses. I coasted down to the nearest that had smoke rising from its chimney. A neighbor, living just a mile from home, came to the door. Then I realized where I was, and recognized the "strange" valley, the "unfamiliar" ridge and my neighbors' houses. I had traveled in a ten-mile circle. The fall with the deer hadn't exactly dazed me—I wasn't unconscious—but it had jarred shut the window of my memory, and though almost at my own door, there was "nobody home."
The best example of storm causing one to lose one's way is the experience of Miss Victoria Broughm, the first woman to climb Long's Peak alone. She started one September morning from a hotel at the foot of the Peak, taking a dog as her companion. She tethered her horse at bowlderfield, where horses are usually left, and without difficulty, or delay, made the summit. Just as she reached the top, a storm struck the mountain and, inside of a few minutes, hid the trail. Pluckily Miss Broughm worked her way down, tacking back and forth, mistaking the way but making progress. She was afraid to trust the dog to guide her. Late in the evening she descended the trough, a steep rock-filled gully that extends far below the timberline. The trail goes only part way down this slide, then tacks across to Keyhole. In the storm she could not distinguish the cairns that marked the turn-off, and continued on down the trough far below the trail and was lost.
That evening when she did not return to the hotel, a searching party set out to find her. But a terrific hundred-mile gale was raging upon the heights. The searching party found it almost impossible to battle their way above the timberline and after many ineffectual attempts, they returned, nearly frozen, without tidings of the lost girl.
William S. Copper, Carl Piltz and myself set out at midnight for the Peak. The wind that met us at the timberline halted our horses, even jolted them off the trail. Just above the timberline my horse pricked his ears toward a sheltered cove and gave a little whinny. We hurried forward hoping to find Miss Broughm. But only her horse was there, dragging its picket rope. We proceeded to bowlderfield.
The night was moonless and half cloudy. The wind shrieked among the rim rocks and boomed against the cliffs. Our lantern would not stay lighted. Time and again we crept beneath a rock slab and relighted it only to have it snuffed out the instant we emerged into the wind. Across the rocks we crept, crouching like wary wrestlers. When sudden blasts knocked us off our feet, we dropped flat and clung to the rocks. But even with all our caution we were toppled headlong at times, or bowled over backward as the wind struck us.
It was after three in the morning when we reached Keyhole, the pass in the knifelike ridge that separates bowlderfield from Glacier Gorge. The wind forced up the slope from below tore through Keyhole like water through a fire hose. One at a time we attempted to crawl through, but it hurled us back. Together, each holding to his fellow, we braced against the side walls, clung to little nubs on the floor, and edged forward an inch at a time. Even so we were blown back like so much chaff.
We dropped back down below Keyhole and, creeping beneath some rocks, waited for daylight. No matter how far we crawled beneath the jumbled slabs the wind found us out. We shivered, all huddled together for warmth, and waited for dawn to light our way and to calm the hurricane.
At daybreak we managed to get through Keyhole and made our way to the trough, where we separated, Cooper and Piltz following the trail to the top while I descended the trough toward Glacier Gorge. We had agreed to watch for silent signals, since it was impossible to hear even the loudest calls more than a few feet.
In a little patch of sand not much larger than my hand, I discovered a human footprint, with a dog's track imposed upon it. I wigwagged to my companions, received their answering signal, and went on down the trough, whistling to the dog and shouting his name though I could not hope he would hear me above that gale. I searched beneath every likely slab as I went.
Suddenly the dog appeared atop a huge rock. He howled in answer to my call; the wind blew him off his post and he disappeared. I hastened forward; then paused. What would I find beneath the rock? Resolutely I started to crawl beneath it—and met Miss Broughm coming out. She was cold, her lips were blue and cracked, but she had not given up hopes or lost her courage. With her hair blowing like the frayed remnants of a flag, she stood beside the bowlder and smiled a brave if twisted smile. She was too cold to walk unaided, so as soon as the others came up, we all supported her and started upon the return trip. We reached the hotel between ten and eleven o'clock in the morning with our lost lady still smiling wanly but rapidly recovering the use of her limbs. She retired for a few hours and reappeared in time for luncheon, little the worse for her night out on top of the world.
A compass is limited in its usefulness partly because it is sometimes, though rarely, affected by mineral deposits and goes wrong, but mostly because a lost person seldom thinks he is lost and traveling in the wrong direction, but instead doubts the accuracy of the compass. At most he will admit he is off the trail, but he does not think that is synonymous with being lost. His tracks will record the uncertainty of his mind, wavering, haphazard, indefinite, but he will not admit, even to himself, that he is lost.
There are a few general rules followed by searchers for lost people. If the proposed destination or general direction in which they disappeared is known, the rescuers take the trail and track them. Every trail, even across windswept bare rocks high above the timberline, as is the Long's Peak trail, has occasional deposits of soft sand in which footprints may be imprinted. And as I have said before, the area which must be searched is restricted by confining cliffs and ridges. A lost person who cannot find his way back over the trail he has come, shows wisdom in following down a stream which will eventually bring him to habitations in the valley below.
Whether or not searching parties start out at once for the unfortunate climber depends on the character of the country he was bound for. If his goal is the summit of a high, bleak peak like Long's; or a glacier, it is imperative to start at once as the temperature above the timberline is often below freezing, even during the summer months. But if the country is not so menacing, the searchers delay, hoping the lost person, like Bo Peep's sheep, will come home unsought, as indeed he generally does.
Most of the lost are found, but a few persons have vanished never to be seen again. The Reverend Sampson disappeared supposedly somewhere along the Continental Divide between Estes Park and Grand Lake, and though parties made up of guides, rangers and settlers searched for more than a week, they found no trace of the missing man. I was in the town of Walden, North Park, late one fall when a woodsman came down from the mountains west of the Park with some human bones he had found near the top of the Divide. By the marks on its barrel, the rusty rifle lying near the bones was identified as one belonging to a man who had been lost while on a hunting trip thirty years before.
One moonlight night I had an extraordinary and ludicrous experience with a lost person, though at the time it seemed only exasperating. I had stepped outside my cabin to drink in the "moonshine" on my superb outlook. Across the valley, as clearly as in daylight. Long's Peak and its neighbors stood out. The little meadow brook shimmered like a silver ribbon. I walked out to Cabin Rock, a thousand feet above the valley, and sat down. Coyotes yip-yipped their salutations to the sailing moon. The murmur of the little brooks rose to my ears, subdued, distant. I listened for each familiar night sound as one does for the voices of old friends. I sat entranced, intoxicated with the beauty of the hour, refreshing my soul, at peace, content.
A strange cry startled me from my reverie, a human cry, faint, as though far off.
"Help!" Then a pause. "H-e-l-p!" Then more urgently: "H-E-L-P!"
For a few minutes I sat still upon my crag, puzzling. Some one has stumbled into a bear trap, I thought, or been injured in a fall. After marking the locality from which the calls came, I ran down my zigzag trail, and hastened down the valley toward the spot whence the cries had come. Whenever I came to the open, parklike clearings, I stopped to listen. The floor of the wide valley had been burned over scores of years before, and a new growth of lodge-pole pines covered it. These trees were of nearly uniform height, about fifteen feet, and in places too dense to permit of passage.
Three miles were covered in record time. Then, thinking that I must be close to the spot from which the calls had come, I climbed an upthrust of rock, searched the openings among the trees near by, and listened intently. I shouted; no reply. For perhaps ten minutes I waited. Then from far up the valley, close below my cabin, the distressing calls were repeated.
"He's certainly not crippled," I thought. "He's traveled nearly as far as I."
I set off at a run, for I know every little angle of the woods in the vicinity. But when I arrived, breathless and panting, there was no answer to my shouts. I gave up the chase in disgust, and started up the trail toward my cabin. I decided some one was having fun with me.
Midway up the trail to my cabin, I heard the cries again, agonized, fearful. They came from across the valley, toward the west. Heading for the peaks! I must stop him! It certainly sounded serious. I'd have to see it through.
I hurried across the valley, shouting at intervals, stopping to listen and to look for the person in distress. There was no answer, no one in sight. As I reached the steep slope, leading upward to the high peaks, I heard terrified, heart-rending cries, southward, toward the spot from which the first call had come. It was strange, and maddening, that I could hear him so distinctly, yet he could not hear me. He was certainly deaf or very stupid, for he continued calling for help, when help was pursuing him and yelling at the top of its lungs.
Again calls. This time straight south of my position. It was a riddle; annoying, yet interesting. Never in my mountain experience had I encountered such a mystifying situation. However, with grim determination, but little enthusiasm, I turned south. My curiosity was aroused. I wanted to see what sort of fool ran around in dizzy circles yelling for help, yet not waiting for an answer to his supplications, nor acknowledging my answering shouts.
I was in prime condition, and well warmed up with ten miles of travel. My endurance was too much for the will-o'-the-wisp. As, for the second time, I neared the spot from which he had first called, he shattered the silence with lusty appeals, then broke cover within a hundred yards of where I followed, hot on his trail. He looked able-bodied and goodness knows he'd been active, so I withdrew into the shadows of a thicket to watch what he would do.
After his outcry, he kept mumbling to himself—his words were inaudible—lost his voice—don't wonder! Some rooter he'd make at a football game while he lasted! After muttering a minute, he stopped and listened intently, as though expecting an answer. Good heavens! He thinks he can be heard! He moved on, staggering crazily, stumbling, stopping to look at the shining peaks; then going on aimlessly. "Loco," I decided.
I circled ahead of him and concealed myself behind an old stump. I wanted to hear what he was saying. Twice he had crossed the road that ran down the valley, the only road in that vicinity. From Cabin Rock I had seen a tent beside it.
As he came toward me, I stepped from behind the stump.
"What in time ails you?" I roared.
He stared at me and walked completely around me before saying a word.
"Huh," he grunted then. "Where'd you come from?"
I explained with considerable emphasis that I had come from almost every point of the compass.
"Will you tell me why in Sam Hill you are yelling for help when it's as light as day?" I demanded hotly.
"I'm lost," he said meekly.
"Lost!" I yelled.
He nodded shamefacedly.
"Went fishing and couldn't find my camp again," he confessed.
I recalled the tent beside the road, I'd seen from Cabin Rock. It was the only camp, on the only road in the vicinity.
"Why in thunder didn't you follow the road?"
"Didn't know which way to go," he defended.
"There's the Peak!" I gibed, pointing upward; "plain as day. Your camp is straight east of it—didn't you know that?"
He winced, but did not answer.
"Couldn't you see the Peak?" I insisted. "You couldn't help but recognize it."
"Yes," he admitted. "I saw the Peak, but I thought it was in the wrong place."
DREAMERS OF GOLDEN DREAMS
What with my hunting, trapping, exploring, cabin-building and guiding, my boyish dreams of striking it rich and sending home trainloads of glittering nuggets to my parents, who had been frustrated by illness in their trek across the plains to the golden mountains of Colorado, began to fade into the background. I was engrossed in getting acquainted with my wild neighbors, in learning their habits and customs, and in trying to photograph them in their natural habitat. Moreover there was no rich gold ore in the vicinity of my cabin. Though I was greatly disappointed in this fact at the time, I have since become reconciled to it. After seeing the naked, desolate, scarred-up country around Central City, Cripple Creek, Ouray and other mining localities, I am thankful that no such madness will ever tempt men to despoil the beauties of the region around Estes Park.
But if there was no paying gold in the vicinity, there were plenty of prospectors. The slopes above the Parson's ranch were "gophered" all over by them. There were miles of outcrop showing and all bore traces of gold. Every summer some wanderer came probing among the countless holes sure he'd find riches where others had failed. The most persistent one was called "Old Mac" who returned repeatedly. Late one fall he took up his quarters in a log cabin belonging to a mining company. The cabin stood near Long's Peak trail, at an altitude of about ten thousand feet. There they had cached some left-over supplies. Old Mac, forever dreaming, stumbled on to the cache and decided to take up his residence there.
Through October and November I saw Old Mac frequently as he pottered about the mine or picked up ore samples from the dump. He staked half a dozen claims, marked their locations, and dug some new holes to test the mineral. In December, when deep snows came, I left the region.
When I returned in the spring the snow lay deep and undisturbed about the old cabin. Evidently Old Mac had got out before winter set in. However, I shouted his name, more in the spirit of talking to myself than of expecting a reply. I was surprised to hear a faint reply. From inside the cabin came a creaking as though some one were getting out of bed. Then the door opened and the old man, blinking owlishly, stood before me. His long white hair was unkempt and tangled. He yawned and stretched like a bear emerging from its winter hibernation.
"Came up to bring them papers?" he asked, expectantly. I recalled then, when I last saw him in December, that he had asked to borrow some Denver papers that contained information about the Reno gold rush. I had forgotten about them. I explained and apologized.
"What sort of a winter have you put in?" I asked by way of diverting him.
He looked at me in a sort of maze.
"Winter?" he mumbled perplexed. "It's sure settin' in like it meant business. But I'm plannin' to start a tunnel—got a rich vein I want to uncover—think come spring I'll have her where somebody'll want to build a mill an'——"
"But you told me you were going to Reno," I recalled.
"Yep; I am, come spring," he earnestly assured me.
"Do you know the date?" I shot at him.
He looked at me sheepishly.
"No-o-o, don't reckon I do," he admitted, scratching his head and eying me quizzically.
"Must be about Christmas, ain't it?" he guessed at length.
It was the eighth of May!
Old Mac was a typical prospector. They are all queer, picturesque characters, living in a world of golden dreams, oblivious to everything but the hole they are digging, the gold they are sure to find. They have a fanatical, unshakable, perennial faith in every prospect hole they open, no matter how many have been false leads. They are incorrigible optimists, the world's champion hopers. Unkempt, unhurried, dreaming, confiding, trustful, superstitious, they wander the length of the Rockies, seeking the materialization of their golden visions. They are seekers, far more concerned with finding gold than with digging it out. Like hunting dogs, their interest ceases with the capture of their quarry.
They do not care whether the region they propose to search has been scientifically tested and thought to contain gold. They adhere to the miner's adage, "Gold is where you find it"; and they seem to have some occult power of divination for they have uncovered fabulous fortunes in regions which, like Cripple Creek, had been declared "barren of gold." Yet, as the old settlers say, "Prospectors never get anything out of their finds." Having struck it rich, they take to the trail again, to search endlessly, to probe ceaselessly, with patient faith, the inscrutable hills.
In addition to their seemingly occult power of divining the location of earth's hidden treasure, these rugged old men of the mountains possess a mysterious means of learning news of gold strikes. Let a bonanza strike be made and every prospector in the region will be on his way to the new camp within a few hours.
"How did you know that gold had been struck at Caribou?" I asked an old man whom I met on the trail, driving his pack burro ahead of him, hurrying considerably for a prospector.
He looked at me, scratched his head, spanked the burro and started on. No doubt regretting his discourteous silence, he turned, "I knowed they was agoin' to," he told me.
Nearly every prospector has a little pack burro, that seems to absorb all the patient philosophy of its master. To his shaggy burden-bearer, he gives his last flapjack, tells his golden dreams, confides the location of rich veins of ore, and turns for comfort when the false lead plays out. The knowing animal provides that rarest of companionship, a sympathetic, silent, attentive listener.
Most of the prospectors I have met on the trails were old men, working alone, but two do sometimes cast their lot together, and become partners.
The story I heard told once around a campfire, of two old prospectors who were always quarreling, is characteristic. Many times they separated, each to go his own way; sometimes they merely set up separate camps a few yards apart, refusing to speak or to take any notice of each other. Thus they bickered, fought and made up, close to forty years. They staked claims wherever they discovered promising outcrop. They were familiar with a hundred miles of ragged mountain ranges.
After all those years, old and failing, they fell out over some trivial thing and separated for good. One traveled north, the other south. Both struck fine mineral that promised to make their dreams come true. But neither was content. Each wanted the other's companionship and yet each feared that pride would keep his poor partner from accepting his advances. They grew morose, and finally both blew up their holdings to conceal their riches and headed back along the Divide to meet, face to face, the partner they had deserted.
Prospectors are philosophers, without hurry or worry. They meet each situation as it arises calmly, and let to-morrow take care of its own. When food and dynamite give out, they make a pilgrimage to the foothill towns and with alluring tales of leads, lodes and veins of hidden treasure soon to be revealed—just as soon as they have time to do a little more development work—they secure another grub stake and are on their way to high country again. They always find willing listeners, for the heart of many a less daring, conservative business man is in the hills. The listeners are easily inveigled into staking these old beggars, hypnotized and hypnotizing with dreams, and do it again and again, gambling on the next strike being a lucky one. The man who furnishes a grub stake shares half and half with the prospector he equips.
No matter how little they have, prospectors will share with anyone who comes their way. Their hospitality is genuine, though perforce limited. They invite you first, and learn who you are and what your business may be later.
One day I was picking my way down the bogs and marshes of Forest Canyon. All at once it narrowed, boxing up between high walls. To go on I had either to climb the walls or back-track for some distance. I elected to climb. After the struggle up the face of the rock I sat down to rest.
"No one within miles," I panted as I sat down.
"Don't look like there's ever been anyone here," I added as I recalled the way I had come.
"What ya take me fur?"
Ten feet away, standing motionless beside an old stump, stood a cadaverous fellow whose rags suggested the moss that hung from the trees.
"Hungry?" he shot at me before I recovered from my surprise. "Camp's right hyar."
He led the way with all the poise of a gentleman.
But his camp! Beside an old tunnel that plunged beneath the side wall of the canyon was a lean-to. Upon green boughs were spread a single pair of ragged blankets. His campfire still smoldered. Upon its coals were his only culinary utensils, an old tin bucket, in which simmered his left-over coffee, and a gold pan containing a stew. The pan had seen better days—and worse ones, too, for one side of its rim was gone, and the bottom had been cleverly turned up to form a new one, making it semi-circular with a straight side.
"Prospectin'?" my host ventured, eying me dreamily.
"No, lookin'," I told him.
"Humph." Then, "Hope you find it."
But his curiosity ended there.
"Say, if you're wantin' ter see sum'thin' good, looka that."
He tossed over a piece of quartz.
"Got er whole mountain uf it," he jerked his head toward the tunnel. He lowered his voice, glanced around, beckoned me to follow, and led the way inside his mine.
At the edge of the darkness he halted, returned to the entrance and peered about. Then he leaned close that none might hear, and whispered the secret; the old, old secret no prospector ever keeps. Not that prospectors have anything to keep!
Another time, in the rough region west of Ypsilon Mountain, I came upon a lean, wiry little old man leading a burro. He jerked at the lead rope in vain attempt to hurry the phlegmatic animal.
"Com' on, durn ye," he squeaked as he tugged at the rope. "Don't ye know we're tracin' the float? Lead's right close now."
But the burro was of little faith. He had lost his youthful enthusiasm. He carried all his master's possessions (except his golden dreams) on his back, but his pack was light.
So engrossed was the old man that he passed within fifty yards of where I sat without seeing me. He was oblivious to everything but what might lie hidden on the mountainside. The float would lead to a bonanza strike, a mill would be built to handle the ore, a town would spring up—his town, named in his honor as the discoverer of the lead! He mumbled of these things as he worked. Sometimes he paused, looking abstractedly at the peaks above, without apparently seeing them at all. He babbled incoherently of leads, floats, lodes and veins.
His actions were like those of a dog puzzling out the faint trail of a rabbit that had crossed and crisscrossed its own trail until nothing could track it down. Somewhere on the mountain above was the source of the float. The old man edged up the slope, tacking back and forth across the line of scattered quartz. He located the vein at last by trenching through a carpet of spruce needles.
He set up camp and started digging, so I dropped down the canyon towards the Poudre River. But a week later, upon my return, he was still there. He had located his claim and staked his corner. His location notice, laboriously written with a blunt pencil, was fastened to a tree. The burro lay in philosophical contemplation in the grass beside the stream; while his master sat beside the shallow hole that perhaps marked the beginning of a mine. His pose was that of a sentinel. He watched the hole with an expectant air, as though from it something important would presently emerge, and he was waiting to pounce upon it.
Years later when I passed that way again, the hole was no deeper, but the frayed remnants of the location notice flapped in the breeze.
Only once in a quarter of a century have I seen a prospector hurry. It was while I was guiding a party of Eastern folks across the Rabbit Ear range that we met a gangling fellow named "Shorty," by way of contrast. I say he was hurrying, because he held a straight course across the mountains without paying heed to numberless diverting leads he ordinarily would have "sampled."
Shorty was heading for Central City, where mining had been in full blast for forty years. He had no burro, he had cached his tools at the scene of his last camp. He had had a dream that revealed to him the location of a rich vein, right in the midst of miles of mines, but unsuspected and undiscovered. Every prospector has dreams by day as well as by night.
My party "loaned" Shorty some grub and watched him disappear toward the Mecca of his dreams. Just before he left, Shorty confided to us that his dream vein lay just below a big bowlder and above some tall trees; that he knew the vein was right there—and it was.
To my cabin one day, came Slide-Rock Pete, who dwelt in a realm of unreality. Pete was superstitious after the manner of his tribe. He knew all the luck signs, all the charms (good or bad), and he had conjured up counter-charms against ill omens. As he approached my cabin a visiting cat, a black one, crossed his path. Pete promptly turned around three times in the opposite direction to that in which the cat had gone and calmly entered, secure in his belief that he had broken pussy's dark spell. He was afflicted with rheumatism, which prevented him from prospecting. At length he figured out the cause of his trouble and a cure for it. It wasn't dampness, or rainy weather, he told me, but came from camping near mineral deposits. If he chanced to pitch his camp near mineral, especially iron, it caused his "rheumatics" to "come on."
For protection he bought a compass with which we went over proposed camp sites. If the compass showed variation or disturbance, he abandoned the site. And once when the compass was out of order, he camped, unconsciously, at a spot where there was iron. Then as his rheumatism developed he found that his watch had stopped. Later when his aches at last left him, his watch started ticking of its own accord. His watch was so sympathetic that it couldn't bear to run when he couldn't walk! But when he felt good, it was so joyous it ran ahead to make up for lost time. Then he set it right by squinting at the sun!
No matter what queer beliefs prospectors have they are never disgruntled.
I had camped near the old Flattop trail at a spot where, sometime before, I had cached some food supplies. It was early in September. No wind reached the bottom of the canyon where I slept beside my fire. I awoke at the sound of a voice and sleepily I opened my eyes. No one would be traveling at night—surely I had been dreaming. But no—there was movement.
"If I kin git the hole ten feet deeper before snow flies, I'll have something to show that ole skinflint at the lake."
I sat up wondering. Then I remembered the voice. It was old Sutton, a prospector I had known for many years—one of the typical, plodding, babbling old fellows who live only in their dreams.
My camp was in the shelter of small spruces while my visitor stood in the open. Playfully I picked up an empty tin can and tossed it into the air, that it might fall close beside him. At the fall of the can, the man spun around suddenly, and, walking over to it, prodded it with the stick he carried.
"Gosh dern!" he exclaimed; "funny how things happen."
He stood in silence, looking down at the can.
Then I dropped another close to him. He muttered something unintelligible. The third and fourth cans made him hop around like a surprised robin beneath an apple tree, with fruit pelting the ground near it. At length he hobbled off, talking to himself about a new lead he had found, without solving the mystery of the tin cans dropping from a clear night sky.
THE CITY OF SILENCE
For days I had been on the trail, or, rather, off it, for there were no trails in the high country through which I was traveling, excepting those made by game. I was hungry. The region lacked charm. It is difficult for a boy to appreciate scenery on a two-day-old empty stomach, which he has been urging up mountains and joggling down valleys. Had the bunnies been more accommodating and gone into their holes so I could snare them or smoke them out, or the grouse had been less flighty when I flushed them, and remained near enough so I could reach them with my stones, I might have stretched my food supply over the extended time of my unexpectedly prolonged travels. But no such good luck attended me on that excursion. The very first day I slipped off a foot-log while crossing a saucy little mountain brook and bruised my shin, tore my trousers and injured my camera. Like most small boys, I regretted that gratuitous bath. I began to wonder if Slide-Rock Pete was so crazy after all.
Now the clouds were pinning themselves up to dry on the pointed summits of the peaks, and were already beginning to drip on the world below. Darkness threatened to set in early. I knew I ought to stop and make camp while it was still light enough to see, but I kept on going, hoping something might turn up. My empty stomach growled its disapproval, but I stubbornly ignored its protests. While my better judgment, my stomach and myself were all three arguing, I thought I glimpsed a building, far down on the slope below. Too excited to say "I told you so" to my companions, I quickened my steps and headed toward it. "A prospector! If he has any grub at all he'll share it, and I'll be protected from this downpour." By that time the celestial laundresses were emptying out their wash tubs and sloshing water all over the earth.
When I drew near the shack, I discovered it was one of a group of straggling houses scattered along the sides and bottom of the gulch. A settlement! It was dark by then, yet not a light could I see. "Must go to bed with the chickens," I mused. "I hope they won't mind being gotten up to give a wayfarer shelter and a bite to eat."
On my way down the slope, I passed two or three log cabins but these were silent, apparently empty, and I hastened on to the main group which faced on the single, grass-grown road that ran along the bottom of the gulch, intending to knock at the first which showed signs of life. I walked the length of the sprawling road, looking sharply at each house, listening for voices, a chance word or a peal of laughter. Not a sound greeted my ears except the thud of rain upon sod roofs, the drip of water through stunted, scraggly trees.
Here was something queer; I thought of Slide-Rock Pete and his luck charms. I regretted more than ever that I had not got a single bunny. I felt the need of a rabbit's foot.
Shaking myself to shed rain and forebodings, I crossed the street and knocked boldly upon the door of the nearest house. There was no response. Again I knocked, louder and more insistently. My raps came echoing back emptily. I knocked again. A door, creaking on rusty hinges, swung slowly inward, but no one peered out, inviting me to enter. I backed away from the yawning cavern, blacker than the starless night, into the open road. A little saw-whet owl, seeking, as I was, supper, swooped by on muffled wings, and sawed wood, saying nothing. I jeered back at him, and felt my courage rising. I stepped up resolutely to the next house and beat upon its door. There was instant commotion, a rattling of pans, the clink of dishes as though some one hurried to the door. Straightening up and facing the door expectantly, I smiled in anticipation of a hospitable welcome. Then the sounds ceased. My courage oozed away—an unreasonable fear crept over me. I lost my desire for food and rest—I would as soon have rested in a grave.
Once more I stood in the rutted street, searching its brief length for a human form. I had the feeling that the inhabitants of the town were somewhere about, that they had just stepped out, leaving their doors unlocked against their early return. Perhaps there was a dance or a celebration of some sort in the neighboring village. Strange some one didn't stay behind.
The sudden eerie notes of a coyote caused my hair to lift—why couldn't the brute respect the silence? The wind stirred uneasily, doors banged about me. The uncanny spell of the place overcame my last shred of courage—my feet started down the road of their own volition. I found myself breathing hard, running fast. I jerked to a standstill, laughing sheepishly at my fears—ashamed. Then I faced about, determined to stay.
Something touched my elbows. I sprang ten feet and whirled, on the defensive. A dark, horned form stood before me. My muscles tensed for another sprint, I held my breath. The thing moved; I made out the outline of a burro. I breathed again, relieved. Here at last was something alive, something natural in this desert of silence. I wished the animal would bray, but he only nosed my pockets suggestively. I laid my hand upon him gratefully, and found he too was in sore straits, his coat as ragged as my own, his sides corrugated like a huge washboard. My spirits rose, my forebodings were forgotten. "Hello," I called joyfully. "What are you doing here?"
Again he smelled my pockets, wagging his great ears the while, then waited expectantly.
"Sorry, pal," I apologized.
The little beggar's attitude expressed such dejection I laughed.
"Never mind, old fellow. We'll go find something. There must be somebody here."
I started out to renew my search and he followed at my heels. So, together, we wandered down the street on a tour of investigation. His coat was so black that often I could not distinguish him from the darker shadows that filled the street. At every door he crowded forward expectantly, focusing his long ears as though to catch the first longed-for salutation.
Nearly every door was ajar. The log cabins were small, two or three rooms at the most, and easily searched. Their owners had apparently taken only their most portable and necessary possessions, for nearly every cabin contained something of value, bed springs, bunks, suspended by wire from the rafters, tables, chairs, dishes, cooking utensils, even miners' tools. One had a row of books upon its stone mantel. When we came to the one where sounds had answered my knocking, I paused before the door, hesitating to intrude. That first creepy feeling stole over me. I put my hand on the burro's neck. I jerked the latchstring and pushed open the door. The room was dark and silent. When I struck a match, there was a rapid scurrying of rats, darting for shelter.
My burly bodyguard never once left my side. He waited patiently for my report, when I emerged from each cabin, and accepted with philosophical resignation my decision to postpone further search till daylight.
Early next morning I was up and out, further to explore the village. No one had returned home, there was no doubt now that it was deserted. In one of the cabins I found some salt which I divided with the burro. Another yielded a little flour. I prepared a sticky mixture of flour and water, seasoned with salt, and cooked it in one of the fireplaces. When baked, it had the firmness of granite, but my appetite had a cutting edge, and the burro, no more particular, accepted the hardtack, and crunched it greedily.
After breaking our fast, to say nothing of our teeth, we continued our—yes, excavations; for out of the dust and neglect of years of desertion, we dug the history of a buried past, of a forgotten civilization, where men had worked, women had loved and sacrificed, and little children had laughed and played.
One of the houses had evidently held the post office, for in it was a small cabinet holding a few pieces of uncalled-for mail addressed to various persons. There were unopened letters and papers, bearing the postmarks of towns back East; there were packages, showing marks of long journeys, still intact, their cords still tightly knotted. Many of the letters had been forwarded from other Western post offices, and had followed the men to whom they were addressed to this, then alive, town named Teller.
The postmaster had apparently been a notary public. His book of records lay dusty on the shelf, near what had been the post office. Upon it, too, were filed copies of mining claims. "The Grizzly King," "Decoration Day," "Lady Forty," "Queen Victoria," "Tom Boy," "Last Chance," "Deep Water," "Black Mule," "Hope Ever," fantastic, picturesque names, suggesting many a tale of romance and adventure, revealing the hopes and fears of daring hearts.
Something of these was hinted at in an open letter lying on the floor of one of the cabins. It was worn thin where it had been creased, as though its owner had long carried it around in his pocket, the better to read and reread it. The wind had pried into it, leaving it spread open for the next intruder's convenience. Somehow, I felt those frank spirits would not mind my reading it:
Hope you strike it rich in Teller, the new town you wrote about. Most anything out there would beat what we have here. Corn is all dried up in Iowa, and there's little to live on. Quite a lot of the neighbors have "pulled up stakes" and moved to Kansas. Ten wagons left last week, following the road west which so many have taken for better or worse.
The last and smallest cabin in the town was as clean and tidy as though its owner might have been gone but a few days. Upon the table was a worn and frayed little book, weighted down by a rough piece of ore, a sort of diary, and yet it seemed to be written to some one. I copied extracts from it into my own notebook:
My dear Katherine—I believe I've struck it rich at last. There was a rush up here three months ago, and I came in soon as the news reached Cheyenne. Must have been several hundred in the race to get here first—about twenty of us won out. I filed on several claims and tried to hire men to help me do assessment work; but no one would work for wages. Everyone is raving crazy, bound to strike it rich, and working double shift to hold as many claims as possible.
Katy, dear, it's been a month since I started this letter. Things have settled down here now, and the fly-by-nights have vanished. But there's a few of us sticking to our holes with the notion if we go deep enough they'll pan out rich. But there's no way of...
They came for me to help with a poor fellow who got hurt when his tunnel caved in on him. Guess he'll make a die of it too. Seems terrible, just when he thought he had struck a bonanza, to be killed that way. Makes me lonesome to think how things turned out for him.
I've got a secret cache straight west of my cabin, forty-eight steps. Under a big rock I've hid a buckskin sack with the golddust another fellow and I panned from a bar in the Colorado river. It's not so very much; but it'll help out in a pinch.
Kate, this camp's played out. I'm quitting, disgusted. After all the hard work here there's nothing rich; just low-grade stuff that won't pay freighting charges. Maybe if we had a mill—but there's no use talking mill, when every fellow here is in the same fix—on his last legs. We got to get out or starve; we're all living on deer and wild sheep, but its getting so we can hardly swallow it much longer. I'll let you know as soon...
It was unfinished.
The sides of the gulch were "gophered" with prospect holes, most of them very shallow, with little mounds of dirt beside them, like the graves of dead hopes. Occasionally a deeper hole had picked samples from the ore vein it followed piled near its opening. Likewise, outside, some of the cabin doors were little heaps of choice ore which hopeful owners had brought in against the time when shipments would be made, or an ore mill set up near by.
I had chanced upon an abandoned mining town, left forever as casually as though its residents had gone to call upon a neighbor. There are many such in the mountains of Colorado. During the early gold rushes, when strikes were made, mining towns sprang up overnight, and later when leads played out or failed to pan out profitably, or rumor of a richer strike reached the inhabitants, they deserted them to try their luck in new fields of promise. Often they were eager to be the first ones in on the new finds and left without preparation or notice, trailing across mountains and through canyons, afoot, each anxious to be the first man on the ground, to have his choice of location, to stake his claim first. They could not carry all their household goods on their shoulders, nor pack them on a burro's back, and to freight them over a hundred miles of mountain trails cost more than the purchase of new goods in the new town. So they departed with only such necessities as they could carry, and abandoned the rest to pack rats and chance wanderers such as I.