Chapter IV. Other Climbs

For ten days we hunted and fished. When the opportunity offered, we made a goat-survey of a new place. Finally, as time grew short, we realized that we must concentrate our energies in one effort if we were to get specimens of this most desirable of all American big game. Therefore Fisher, Frank, Harry, and I, leaving our other two companions and the majority of the horses at the base camp, packed a few days' provisions and started in for the highest peaks of all.

We journeyed up an unknown canon eighteen miles long, heavily wooded in the bottoms, with great mountains overhanging, and with a beautiful clear trout stream singing down its bed. The first day we travelled ten hours. One man was always in front cutting out windfalls or other obstructions. I should be afraid to guess how many trees we chopped through that day. Another man scouted ahead for the best route amid difficulties. The other two performed the soul-destroying task of getting the horses to follow the appointed way. After three o'clock we began to hope for horse feed. At dark we reluctantly gave it up. The forest remained unbroken. We had to tie the poor, unfed horses to trees, while we ourselves searched diligently and with only partial success for tiny spots level enough and clear enough for our beds. It was very cold that night; and nobody was comfortable; the horses least of all.

Next morning we were out and away by daylight. If we could not find horse feed inside of four hours, we would be forced to retreat. Three hours of the four went by. Then Harry and I held the horses while our companions scouted ahead rapidly. We nearly froze, for in that deep valley the sun did not rise until nearly noon. Through an opening we could see back to a tremendous sheer butte rising more than three thousand feet by a series of very narrow terraced ledges. We named it the Citadel, so like was it to an ancient proud fortress.

Fisher reported first. He had climbed a tree, but had seen no feed. Ten minutes later Frank returned. He had found the track of an ancient avalanche close under the mountain, and in that track grew coarse grasses. We pushed on, and there made camp.

It was a queer enough camp. Our beds we spread in the various little spots among the roots and hummocks we imagined to look the most even. The fire we had to build in quite another place. All around us the lodge-pole pines, firs, and larches grew close and dark and damp. Only to the west the snow ranges showed among the treetops like great, looming white clouds.

For two days we lived high among the glaciers and snow crags, taking tremendous tramps, seeing wonderful peaks, frozen lakes, sheer cliffs, the tracks of grizzlies in numbers, the tiny sources of great streams, and the infinity of upper spaces. But no goats; and no tracks of goats. Little by little we eliminated the possibilities of the country accessible to us. Leagues in all directions, as far as the eye could reach, was plenty of other country, all equally good for goats; but it was not within reach of us from this canon; and our time was up. Finally, we dropped back and made camp at the last feed; a mile or so below the Citadel. Two ranges at right angles here converged, and the Citadel rose like a tower at the corner. Here was our last chance.