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Katahdin ho! — The Shadow of a Tragedy. — A Ghastly Omen. — Mr. Bowditch’s Spotted Path. —
Up the “Great Slide.” — Grand Scenery. — A Cowberry-Fire. — On to the Main Peak. — The Chimney. — Perennial Snow.
I WAKED quite early the next morning, — before sunrise considerably. Cluey was up, however; so was Raed. They were talking. Cluey was telling him that we should find the ascent of Katahdin a very difficult task, a great under taking, and all that sort of thing. In short, he thought it was too much for us, and was advising Raed to give it up, — not to think of it.
Of course such advice was all thrown away on Raed. I heard him tell Cluey that he would be on the summit in four days if he lived and the weather was pleasant. The old man said no more.
“Shall you take up with our offer to go with us?” Raed asked.
I expected he was going to refuse. Consider ably to my surprise, he said, —
“Wal, yer offer is a good ‘un anough. I’ve gut mer hay all cut an’ stecked: an’ ef yer bound ter go, — why, I’ll go with ye, pay or no pay; fer I ruther expect you’ll need me.”
“Good on your old head!” exclaimed Raed. “You shall have your pay, not only for your time, but for all your grub that we are eating up here.”
He said this so loud, that it waked Wash and Wade.
Somehow Cluey seemed much more of a man this morning than he had the previous evening, — a circumstance which again recalled Raed’s suspicion concerning the “green bottle.” Another circumstance struck me as rather confirmatory of the same suspicion. The green bottle, as it stood on the table-shelf, seemed to be wholly or nearly empty. It was hardly probable that Cluey had brought an empty glass-bottle all the way from Mattawamkeag: he was no such a man.
Cluey got breakfast.
Raed thought we had best set out immediately.
We paid Cluey five dollars for what we had eaten and destroyed. He did not ask it; but Raed gave it to him. We also purchased of him, from his supplies, thirty-five pounds of corn-meal, — as nearly as we could guess at it, — three pounds of coffee, four of sugar, and twenty of beef; all for five dollars. Raed also paid him for fifteen days in advance, — in all, forty dollars; which he concealed, for safe keeping during his absence, in an old stump a few rods from the shanty. His reason for not leaving it in the shanty was, “Sumbuddy mout cum along ter stay all night, an’ git the old thing afire.” We appreciated that.
As we had two guns, Cluey did not think it best to take his own; a very heavy rifle of the old stamp. He merely took his knife, — a large, sharp jack-knife, serviceable as a butcher-knife, a bowie-knife, or a dirk. We also engaged the services of his veteran coffee-pot. By nine o’clock we were ready for a start; and, turning the button on the shanty-door, filed off to ward the river-bank. Cluey carried the meal in a bag he had furnished for it; Raed came next, with the meat in one of the buckets; Wash next, with the coffee and sugar in the other bucket; after him Wade, with the guns, hatchet, and blankets; and finally the narrator, closing the file, with the old kettle, mosquito-bar, ammunition, coffee-pot, etc.
Cluey had come up the river in a small bateau he owned, — a flat-bottomed skiff about fifteen feet by three and a half. In this we embarked, and proceeded to pole across to the opposite bank.
The current of the West Branch is too swift to admit of the use of paddles in ascending the stream. Boatmen use poles altogether in going up. In coming down, however, the paddle is used to guide the canoe, as well as the wooden bateaux. Coming down is an easy job, provided the steersman possesses sufficient skill to shoot the rapids in safety.
At the point where we were crossing the channel was not more than twelve or fifteen rods wide. Running the boat in upon the pebbles on the bank, we jumped out and unloaded our cargo.
“Will you leave the bateau here?” asked Raed.
“I don’t jest like ter du that,” said Cluey. “A gang o’ tham river-driver fellars may cum along an’ tuk it off with ‘um: we ken pull it up among that ar clump uv alders, though,” pointing to where these bushes fringed the bank a few rods below.
So, getting in again, we let the boat drop down opposite the bushes, then poled it in under them. It was at a place where the current, or a part of it, from the main channel, set in strongly to ward the shore, and gouged under the bank. The water was deep up to the very roots of the alders. Tiny whirlpools were forming; and a drift of yellow-white froth had lodged against the shore, mingled with which were chunks of driftwood.
The bank shook as we jumped out upon it, making the froth wave back. Cluey took hold of the nose of the bateau to draw it up: the rest of us stood ready to catch hold on each side as soon as he had drawn it out of the water. Suddenly Wade started back.
“Good God!” he exclaimed; “see there!” pointing to the foam which had parted a little from the bank.
It was a ghastly spectacle. Bobbing up with the wavelets was the face of a man!* — a corpse floating on its back! The foam clung round the pallid face, and wreathed the streaming hair; and, horrible! where the body had lain against the black earth of the bank, a host of slimy snails had fastened to the cheek and clothes. The drenched garments still held around the body, though rent and torn to tatters, which, streaming up, mingled with the froth and floating dirt. Cluey let go the canoe. We all stared, and grew sick at the sight.
“Drowndid!” exclaimed the old man solemnly, — “drowndid, an’ washed ashore!”
“Pull up the boat,” said Raed in a low voice. “Let’s pull the boat up; then we must try to get the body out.”
The bateau was drawn back among the bushes.
Raed then took a stick, and gently drew the corpse up to the bank.
“Come, boys,” said he; for we shrank back despite ourselves. “It’s our duty. We should any of us wish the same thing done for us if we had been thus unfortunate; and we may be.”
With averted faces we lifted the dripping corpse out upon the bank, and then, getting the board-seats out of the boat, laid it across them, and carried it back through the alders to a dry knoll. Wash brought water in an old tin bumper, which Cluey kept in the bateau to bail it with; and we rinsed the foam and dirt from the face of the dead. The body had evidently been lying in the water for some time. The skin was worn off in many places. One boot was gone. The coat and pants were in rags. Yet it seemed to have been a young man. The hair had quite recently been “shingled,” and the beard shaven; all save the mustache, which was of a light-brown color. On the left little finger was a small seal- ring. There were no marks of violence, unless a bruise on the head could be thus construed. Raed, at first, thought this looked as if there had been foul play; but Cluey thought it might full as likely have been received in coming over the rapids above from striking against the rocks. On the whole, this appeared most probable, especially as, on examining the inner vest-pocket, we found a pocket-book containing forty-seven dollars in greenbacks. The fragment of a watch- guard hung from a button-hole of the vest. The watch itself had probably dropped from the pocket, and broken away. In the coat were several bits of wet paper: one, the envelope of a letter, had borne a direction and address; but the water had dissolved it out save the post mark, — Portland, June 3. This was all the clew there remained on the body to establish its identity.
“This ere’s a very sad affa’r,” muttered Cluey. “Poor yonker! Went up by way o’ Moosehead proberly. Undertuk ter cum down the West Branch ‘ere in er cunno. Gut oversot an’ drowndid.”
“The question now arises,” said Raed, “what ought we to do?”
“At home,” replied Wash, “the way would be to notify the authorities, so as to have a coroner’s inquest.”
“Yes; but, in order to notify the authorities here, we should have to go forty or fifty miles,” said Raed. “Ought we to do it?”
“No,” said Wade.
“No,” said Wash.
“It wud luke like axin a leettle tu much,” remarked Cluey, “we bein’ mere strairngers tu ‘im.”
“But think of the anxiety of his friends!” said Raed.
“How do you know he had any?” asked Wade. “Besides, we can’t be expected to assume such responsibilities.”
“Well, we can at least bury him,” said Raed. “It would be unchristian not to do that,” said Wash.
“Must barry ‘im uv coorse,” put in Cluey.
“But where shall we bury him?” I asked. “We might take him over to your clearing, Mr. Robbins,” said Raed.
Cluey looked a little disconcerted.
“I don’t b’l’eve in ghosts or any think o’ that sort,” he began: “still, ‘twouldn’t be jest cheery ter hey a dead corpse barried thar, me livin’ alone so.”
“Then why not bury him here?” asked Wade. “One place is as good as another, I suppose.”
We carried him along the bank to a place where it was dry and sandy. Wash sharpened off the two boards at the ends, and chamfered them down so as roughly to resemble shovels. With these we dug a grave in the sand about three feet in depth. Raed had cut off a quantity of hemlock-boughs from the low shrubs standing near. With these we lined the grave. Cluey and Wade then laid in the body, and we all stood round it with uncovered heads for a space of fully five minutes. Raed then laid in more boughs, entirely covering the body with them. This done, Wash and I filled in the sand, and Wade drove down the boards with the hatchet, — one at the head, the other at the foot, of the rude grave.
“Is not this a rather ghastly omen for us, — just setting out into the same wilds, — to have this corpse coming floating down to meet us?” said Wash, with a certain seriousness in his tones.
“I hope you are not foolish enough to suppose this accident has any thing to do with our affairs,” replied Raed.
“What’s to be done with this money?” asked Wade, pointing to the pocket-book with its little roll of drenched bills, which had been laid down on the sand, together with the ring.
“It must be kept for his friends,” replied Raed, “if they can be ascertained. We shall be obliged to take them with us, I suppose, for the present.”
“That might be awkward in the event of much public suspicion relative to this affair,” remarked Wade.
“What do you mean?” asked Raed.
“Why, our having this money and this ring in our possession,” replied Wade. “Persons have been convicted of murder on no better evidence.”
“That’s so!” exclaimed Wash.
Raed seemed a little staggered.
“Tell ye what, yonkers,” said Cluey, “I’ve ben a-thinkin’ as ‘ow it mont be a good plan ter put up a notiss on a pole ‘ere. Its orfen done. Parties of loggers is goin’ up an’ down the river ‘ere ev’ry few weeks. Put up a notiss on a conspikerous pole, statin’ jest ‘ow it war; also ‘ow much money war found on the buddy, an’ whar the frens uv the dizeased ken h’ar on’t.”
“That’s the idea exactly!” exclaimed Raed. “Cut a pole, Kit: I’ll write a statement.”
I cut and trimmed a long alder-pole, and made a cleft in the top end, in which Raed inserted the following statement, written on a small sheet of paper from his diary: —
AUGUST, 186 — .
“The body of an unknown man, apparently about twenty-five years old, was this day found in the river at this place, and buried in the sand ten feet back of this pole, by the following persons (here Raed gave all our names in full.)
“There were found on the body one small seal-ring, worn on the left little finger, and the sum of forty-seven dollars in greenbacks, which may be applied for after the first day of October next, at No. — , Tremont Street, Boston, Mass.
“Will the finder of this slip please forward it, with particulars, to either the Bangor or Boston papers?”
The pole was then set up in the sand, and a strip from Raed’s handkerchief tied just below the paper as an additional signal.
(It may here be added, that, up to November of the same year, no application had been made for the ring or the money; though a party of lumber-men saw the notice, and carried it down to Bangor, where it was published in several papers, and copied into many others.)
I have often reflected concerning this mysterious incident since, and wondered whether we did the right thing under the circumstances. It seems to me that it was all I could have expected a similar party to have done by my own body, if found in the same way; and then again, when I think of some fond mother or anxious father watching and waiting for the return of the one who fills that shallow grave in the wildwood sands, I fear we have not made sufficient effort to set the fact of his death before the public. Raed has written to ask whether it would not be advisable to spend the whole sum found on the body in advertisements, which may possibly reach the eye of some relative of the unfortunate young man, who may, at least, be able to claim the ring.
It was afternoon before we had finished these miserable rites and were ready to go on. Cluey asked if we should have dinner before starting. But none of us could have eaten there. We took up our luggage, and started off over the rising ground toward Katahdin. The event had cast a damper on us. Despite Raed’s sarcastic remark, I could not help thinking, with Wash, that it was “a rather ghastly omen.”
Katahdin, looming grandly to the north-east, invited us on. For about two miles from the West Branch the land is open, having at some not long past time been burned over. There were many grassy patches. Blueberry-bushes abound, and, at this season, were loaded with their tempting fruit. There were also plenty of choke-cherries, pear-plums, and wild red cherries. This open belt is succeeded by a growth of young evergreens. Here, under Cluey’s pilotage, we were so fortunate as to strike the path spotted by Mr. Bowditch on his tour to the mountains a number of years ago. It was lucky that we did so: it facilitates the course very much. Parties ascending the mountain will do well to look for this path.
A tramp of three hours and a half from the river took us to the foot of the “Great Slide,” a distance of about six miles.
The “Great Slide,” as it is called, is one of those bare faces of the mountain where all the trees have been swept off by an avalanche of bowlders and earth from the top. The angle of elevation is, we thought, not far from forty degrees. It can only be climbed by a determined effort. The whole incline is strewn, from top to bottom, with bowlders often a dozen feet square., It had, at first sight, a very disheartening, perilous aspect, coming as near our ideal of “Jacob’s ladder” as we ever expect to realize in this world.
It was now towards four o’clock. As we had not yet eaten dinner, and were in poor plight to attempt the slide, Raed decided to camp here for the night. We accordingly built our fire among the low firs which grew along the foot of the slide, just at the point where the mass of loose rocks and broken wood marks the base of the steep mountain-wall. Wade set the aneroid, and reported the height at twenty-three hundred and seventy feet above the sea. We had forgotten to take the elevation at the West Branch* on starting in the morning, as had been intended. After finding the body, it had slipped our minds. The height of the foot of the slide, above the West Branch, will therefore have to be left to some future and more careful explorers.
Cluey set up a lug-pole on two crotched stakes over the fire, and proceeded to boil meat, make a pudding, and get up a “dish of coffee.” It was rather nice to sit resting ourselves while this was going on.
We were already up high enough to look off over the forest below. The view, even from the foot of the slide, is fine.
Though six miles distant, the West Branch can be distinctly seen threading its silvery path through the woods down from the foot of Lake Chesuncook, the lower end of which could be discerned past the side of the ridge. During the evening we heard the cry of martens from the rocks above us, and for a long time sat watching the stars of the slowly-wheeling Dipper, four of which were visible over the dark brow of the slide: the other three were hidden behind it. Just as we were going to sleep, a hare gave us something of a fright. I think the little creature must have been pursued; for it came leaping up to our very feet, making a great stamping for so small an animal. We had lain down; but, hearing the tramping, jumped hastily up; at which the timid creature went leaping off.
“Nothin’ but a fatty,” said Cluey.
Ding-bat gave chase; and, for several minutes, the rocks resounded to his best vocal efforts: but he soon came back lolling.
“Wal, ye didn’t ketch ‘im, did ye?” cried Cluey derisively. “Haf ter buy a rater an’ latherin’ box, an’ shave a while, afore ye ken ketch Yankee animuls.”
Wash complained of bad dreams; but the rest of us slept well all night. One ought to sleep well in this clear mountain-air.
By seven o’clock we had breakfast out of the way, and were ready for a start.
“Now, thar air two ways o’ gittin’ up on ter this ‘ere mountin,” explained Cluey. “One is ter climb right straight up this slide ‘ere: t’other is ter foller along the ‘spotted line’ ter the foot of the wast spur, an’ then climb up thar whar ‘tain’t ser steep. Ye ken take yer chice uv um.”
“Which is farthest?” asked Wash.
“Oh! it’s furderest out round the spur. It’s ‘bout two mile too, or two an’ a harf, out ter the foot of the spur. Then frum thar ter the top it’s nigh on ter five mile. But, ter go right straight up this ‘ere slide, ‘tain’t more’n three an’ a half or four mile ter the top.”
“Do you think it is safe going up the slide?” Raed asked.
“Wal,” replied the old man, “that’s all the argermunt thar is fer goin’ out round by the spur. It’s pasky steep, ye see; an’ now an’ then a big rock comes tumblin’ down, ‘spashally in the spring o’ the year, when the frost is comin’ out. The stuns is apt ter guv way under yer foot, lyin’ luse as they du. Haf ter be keerful whar yer a-steppin’. Ye ken see jest ‘ow it looks, all raggid and luse like. Still I ain’t afeerd ter resk it; an’ I shudn’t s’pose thar need ter be any great dairnger fer active yonkers like you. I shudn’t advise ter try it in the spring o’ the year, p’r’aps; but, ser late as ‘tis now. I don’t think thar’ll be any diffikilty. Yer ken du as yer ‘a’ mind to, though.”
“What do you hay, fellows?” asked Raed, turning to us.
We all thought best to try the slide.
“Up the slide it is, then,” said Raed.
“Forward, all!” cried Wade.
Cluey threw the meal-bag over his shoulder, and, climbing up over the rick of stones and logs, began the ascent. The rest of us followed, each with his portion of the luggage. It did not take long to start the sweat. Climbing up an incline of loose stones and broken shrubs as steep as a medium staircase with a heavy bucket in one’s hand is very much like work. On went Cluey, never once looking behind him. He had secured a start of thirty or forty yards; and kept it, de spite our efforts to close up. These thirty or forty yards amounted to some twenty or thirty feet dead height over our heads. He climbed very gingerly, however; and was continually dropping down advice to us.
“Now luk out fer this ‘ere ticklish un;” indicating, with hand or foot, the rock he deemed treacherous.
And, a moment later, —
“Tuk keer o’ that ar rotten log.”
“Mind ‘ow ye step inter this luse dirt: ‘twon’t ‘old yer foot.”
“Steer cl’ar o’ this ‘ere hole ‘tween these ‘ere raggid stuns: bad place fer yer laigs in thar.”
And so on, upward, for four or five hundred feet. We were all thoroughly out of breath when the old man finally faced about on the upper side of a huge bowlder of red granite, and removed his fur cap to wipe his brow. We toiled up beside him, and, panting, turned to look down. The view from where we stood would be apt to make a nervous person feel skittish. It had a right-up and-down seeming, that made me grow giddy for a moment. Our footing on the steep side appeared altogether too slight for safety against the clutch of gravitation: this, at least, was the first impression given.
“Gracious!” exclaimed Wash, glancing apprehensively down, and then up. “This is rather scarey, isn’t it? Makes a fellow feel as if he was going to topple over and roll down.”
“Not a very nice place to roll, either,” remarked Wade, fixing his feet a little more firmly.
“Might illustrate it,” said Raed, going a little way along the side, and giving a loose stone a. push with his foot. The fragment, which was about the size of one of the buckets, rolled off, and then went tearing downward, throwing up jets of dust, and setting other stones in motion, till it plunged among the evergreens at the base of the slide.
These four or five hundred feet had greatly enlarged and heightened the prospect. Moosehead Lake, thirty miles to the south-west, was already beginning to come into view over the wooded hills. Chesuncook and little Ripogenus had come up much nearer.
“Wal,” said Cluey (he always prefixed all important remarks with this preliminary “Wal”), “wot say fer anuther hitch-up?”
“Go ahead!” replied Wash.
“I would suggest that we climb a little more moderately,” said Raed. “You gave us some thing of a sweat this first time.”
“Did I, though?” said Cluey very innocently, and as if such a thing had been farthest from his intention. “Wal, slower then.”
Cluey entertained but a very slight opinion of city-bred muscle. It always gave him a sort of mischievous delight to see Raed and Wash pant well in an attempt to keep up with his sturdy trudge.
During this next “hitch” we got up four or five hundred feet higher, the view opening grandly. As the hills and mountain-ridges to the southward and southwestward sank, the ponds and streams in the valley rose to sight, from our second resting-place Wade counted seventeen ponds and lakes. There was very little haze; and the sun shone brightly. It was not uncomfortably warm, however: on the contrary, the air seemed rather cool; a fact we attributed to the increasing elevation. Just as we were starting for a third hitch, Wash had the ill luck to upset the sugar-bucket. The paper containing the precious “white sand” fell out, and, striking on a rock, burst. Before we could jump to the rescue, nearly half the contents ran out, and sifted down among the stones. It is always aggravating to lose sugar. One can view the spilling of salt, or even meal, with tolerable calmness; but to see sugar spilled upsets all a fellow’s forbearance. We all jawed him.
The slide is no steeper toward the top than at the foot, if so steep. The climbing, too, is less difficult. There are fewer loose stones and bowlders. The foothold is less uncertain. We accomplished the last seven hundred feet with much less fatigue and perspiration than we had feared at our first halt. Nor did we feel as giddy on looking down from any of the upper stages as at the first downward glance, when not more than five hundred feet from the base: so much depends on getting used to a thing.
But the incline proved longer, considerably, than it had looked to be from the bottom. The line of ledges at the top had receded as we climbed toward them. It was not till half-past ten that Cluey gave the welcome assurance that “one hitch more’d fetch it.” A pretty long hitch it turned out; but we made it, and, at five minutes before eleven, sprang upon the brink of the slide, which here drops down from a sort of table-land that from this place stretches off toward the high peak of the Katahdin ridge. We threw ourselves on the mossy rocks, and lay for a long time, resting.
The view is wonderfully grand. Of itself it is sufficient to reward all the hard toil of the ascent. The whole country is at your feet. All the hills and mountains have sunk into a mighty plain, stretching off into distant haze. It looks as if one might fall into the West Branch by merely jumping over the crest. The valley wears a soft bluish tint. The forest seems like a grass-plat. Moosehead has come up much nearer. Far beyond it there are mountain-peaks, which, I presume, are those of the boundary range between Maine and Canada.
We sat for over an hour — one of the most pleasurable of my life — drinking in the great scene; and even then it seemed too bad of Raed to sing out, —
“Well, fellows, what say for dinner?”
Though, come to think of it, we were hungry as bears.
“Where’s the wood to come from?” inquired Wade, looking back over the table-land.
This seemed likely to be a pretty difficult question.
On the elevated plateau none but the hardiest plants were to be seen. The trailing alpine bear berry here and there clothed the bare ledges, and mossy lichens filled the hollows. Farther down, toward the crest of the west spur, there were small patches of cowberry-shrubs. Cluey had told us that he knew of a spring at some distance across the table-land. Unpacking one of the buckets, he now started off to find it. Raed began to construct an arch of stones wherein to set the kettle; while Wash and Wade and myself went off down the plateau to gather cowberry-twigs. They were none of them larger than a pipe-stem. Rather small fuel, certainly! We broke off and pulled up each an armful, and got back just as Cluey, with about half a bucket of water, was coming in from the opposite direction.
“‘Twas all the thing’d give,” said the old man. “I squeezed it dry. But I’ve cl’ar’d it out. Gass it’ll guv some more by night.”
What there was of the water was rather rily. It was tolerably cool, however.
After considerable “fussin’,” owing to the scantiness of the fuel, a pudding was made, and coffee boiled. Not a very sumptuous repast: it needed only the relish of a good appetite, though, — a relish we always had with us while on the Katahdin ridge.
After dinner, Wade set the aneroid several times at different points along the plateau. The height, as nearly as we could average it, was forty-seven hundred and thirty feet. The known height of the mountain, as calculated by the State survey, is fifty-three hundred and eighty-five feet. This would make our position at the top of the slide six hundred and fifty-five feet below the main peak. I may as well add here, however, that, on ascending the peak (which we did next day), our aneroid persisted in giving the altitude at fifty-four hundred and ninety feet, — about that. So that, making a corresponding deduction, our camp near the top of the slide was only about forty-six hundred and thirty feet above the sea.
As we were very tired, we decided to camp here for the night. The sun shone brightly all the afternoon; but at no time was it uncomfortably warm, and, by five o’clock, had grown so chilly, that we were glad to “try races” to keep from shivering. This was the 8th of August, it must be borne in mind. On the 9th of September we saw, from Lake Chesuncook, these same peaks white with snow. There was nothing of incident in our night spent on this hoary, lichen-clad ledge: yet I recall it more distinctly than any other of our sojourn in this wild region; it seemed so high up, — so far above the world we had thus far dwelt in. We were, therefore, not a little astonished, on waking in the morning, to find our selves enveloped in what appeared to be a thick fog. The blankets which we had snuggled around us were dampened as by a dense mist. It soon passed off, however, seeming to drift away over the great valley to the southward. I think it was a cloud. When the sun came up, the whole plateau glittered as if drenched with dew. The mist passed in time to allow us to see the sun rise. The point on the horizon above which the sun’s disk first made its appearance could hardly have been less than seventy-five miles distant. We were surprised to see how far off this caused the sun to seem at its rising, when viewed beyond so great an extent of country.
Building a fire — enough to cook a breakfast — out of damp cowberry-bushes was decidedly a work of time, and patience to boot. I regret to record that Cluey did not retain the latter virtue (vartew as he would have said) in excess on this occasion. Wade remarked, that, if Cluey had been a Catholic, his priest would have had a big job on hand after this cowberry-fire.
It was nine o’clock before we were ready to start on. An hour and a half brought us to the summit of the main peak. The prospect from the highest rocks at this point was grander, I suppose, in that it was loftier, than from any other. Still, to my mind, it lacked the beauty and clearness of the view from the brink of the slide. Taken together, the prospect from Katahdin is superior to that from Mount Washington, both in beauty and general impressiveness. There are no neighboring mountains of any thing like equal size. The landscape is consequently less roughened and wild than that to be seen from the Tip-top House. A view so grand and sombre as this can hardly fail to attract tourists as soon as a road to the mountain shall be built. I wonder that some enterprising Yankee with plenty of money has not guessed that a hotel on the West Branch, with a road leading up thither, would prove a “paying investment.”
Seen from the top of the main peak, the mountain-ridge seems to form the arc of a circle, with its concave side fronting to the south-east nearly. The west and north-west sides are not nearly so steep.
Descending from the highest point, we made our way laboriously along the ridge toward the north-east. For a considerable distance this ridge was very narrow, and difficult to follow. At one place we were glad to get on our hands and knees, and creep very cautiously and humbly, lest a single misstep should send us headlong over the precipices on either side. About half a mile beyond we came to an almost vertical descent of seventy or eighty feet, which Cluey called the “chimney.” We had to lower each other from rock to rock, and use the greatest caution lest our provision-buckets should be upset or let fall over the ledges. Cluey told us that the vast hollow embraced by the southern concave side is locally known as the “basin.” Some idea of the scenery from the ridge at this point may be gained, per haps, when I state that the side of this basin falls off three thousand feet over precipices far too steep to be descended in safety. The sight is awe- inspiring. We instinctively shrank back from the brink of so vast a gulf. I do not believe that it can be matched east of the Sierra Nevadas. There is nothing about Mount Washington worthy to be compared with it in point of abrupt depth and grandeur. Directly under the place where we were standing at the foot of the “chimney,” there is a small pond in the basin, called Chimney Pond. It seemed possible to throw a stone into this pond three thousand feet below. We threw several; but, owing to the great depth, it was impossible to tell where they struck. Far down under the shadow of the ridge we espied a snow-drift, which, Cluey informed us, remained there all the year round.
It struck us as a rather curious fact, that while the granite along the “slides” and lower parts of the mountain is of a light-gray color, some times even approaching whiteness, that at the summit and along the top of the ridge should be red. Yet thus curiously has Nature crested the head of Katahdin. The savages believed that the rocks took this red and flinty hue beneath the feet of Pomoola, in his restless pacings to and fro along the mountain’s sullen brow. A little farther on, the descent is less precipitous; and, at a depth of four or five hundred feet, small black spruces appear along the shelf of the ledges.
It was now after two o’clock. We decided to descend far enough to procure fuel, and encamp for the remainder of the day. But even here it required caution to make our way down to where the evergreens began.
Spruce, however, is a great improvement on cowberry for culinary purposes: so, at least, Cluey found it. He contrived to cook beef, make “pudding,” and boil coffee: so that, by seven p.m., we dined in savage profusion. I should hardly dare to call to mind, much less inform the public, how many gill dipperfuls of very strong, very sweet coffee we drank apiece that evening. We apologized for each other by continually calling to mind that it takes four gills to make a pint.
Our bed was on a little shelf along the top of a ledge; and I recollect that we had some doubts as to the safety of going to sleep, lest we should roll off, and bring up on the rocks some hundred feet below. But, taking the precaution to put Wash in the middle (he being “the man what gets up in his sleep”), we concluded to risk it; and slept very soundly. Climbing over ledges all day will make anybody sleep. Many persons — especially those who kick about on their spring mattresses — are apt to think that they never could close their eyes or get a wink of sleep if obliged to camp out and lie on a “shake-down” of boughs. All a mistake. Get them up into this exhilarating mountain-air, and race them about all day over the rough rocks and ridges, and they will sleep like tops, with nothing save a blanket on a mossy ledge; nor will they feel the stiffer, nor much the older, for it._______________________
*A full account of this melancholy incident was published in the Bangor papers shortly after.
* Eight hundred and fifty feet.