Here to return to
THE CANYON OF LODORE
JUNE 8. — We enter the cañon, and, until noon, find a succession of rapids, over which our boats have to be taken.
Here I must explain our method of proceeding at such places. The Emma Dean goes in advance; the other boats follow, in obedience to signals. When we approach a rapid, or what, on other rivers, would often be called a fall, I stand on deck to examine it, while the oarsmen back water, and we drift on as slowly as possible. If I can see a clear chute between the rocks, away we go; but if the channel is beset entirely across, we signal the other boats, pull to land, and I walk along the shore for closer examination. If this reveals no clear channel, hard work begins. We drop the boats to the very head of the dangerous place, and let them over by lines, or make a portage, frequently carrying both boats and cargoes over the rocks, or, perhaps, only the cargoes, if it is safe to let the boats down.
The waves caused by such falls in a river differ much from the waves of the sea. The water of an ocean wave merely rises and falls; the form only passes on, and form chases form unceasingly. A body floating on such waves merely rises and sinks — does not progress unless impelled by wind or some other power. But here, the water of the wave passes on, while the form remains. The waters plunge down ten or twenty feet, to the foot of a fall; spring up again in a great wave; then down and up, in a series of billows, that gradually disappear in the more quiet waters below; but these waves are always there, and you can stand above and count them.
A boat riding such, leaps and plunges along with great velocity. Now, the difficulty in riding over these falls, when the rocks are out of the way, is in the first wave at the foot. This will sometimes gather for a moment, heaping up higher and higher, until it breaks back. If the boat strikes it the instant after it breaks, she cuts through, and the mad breaker dashes its spray over the boat, and would wash us overboard did we not cling tight. If the boat, in going over the falls, chances to get caught in some side current, and is turned from its course, so as to strike the wave “broadside on,” and the wave breaks at the same instant, the boat is capsized. Still, we must cling to her, for, the water tight compartments acting as buoys, she cannot sink; and so we go, dragged through the waves, until still waters are reached. We then right the boat, and climb aboard. We have several such experiences to-day.
At night, we camp on the right bank, on a little shelving rock, between the river and the foot of the cliff; and with night comes gloom into these great depths.
After supper, we sit by our camp fire, made of drift wood caught by the rocks, and tell stories of wild life; for the men have seen such in the mountains, or on the plains, and on the battle fields of the South. It is late before we spread our blankets on the beach.
Lying down, we look up through the cañon, and see that only a little of the blue heaven appears overhead — a crescent of blue sky, with two or three constellations peering down upon us.
I do not sleep for some time, as the excitement of the day has not worn off. Soon I see a bright star, that appears to rest on the very verge of the cliff overhead to the east. Slowly it seems to float from its resting place on the rock over the cañon. At first, it appears like a jewel set on the Brink of the cliff; but, as it moves out from the rock, I almost wonder that it does not fall. In fact, it does seem to descend in a gentle curve, as though the bright sky in which the stars are set was spread across the cañon, resting on either wall, and swayed down by its own weight. The stars appear to be in the cañon. I soon discover that it is the bright star Vega, so it occurs to me to designate this part of the wall as the “Cliff of the Harp.”
June 9. — One of the party suggests that we call this the Cañon of Lodore, and the name is adopted. Very slowly we make our way, often climbing on the rocks at the edge of the water for a few hundred yards, to examine the channel before running it.
During the afternoon, we come to a place where it is necessary to make a portage. The little boat is landed, and the others are signaled to come up.
When these rapids or broken falls occur, usually the channel is suddenly narrowed by rocks which have been tumbled from the cliffs or have been washed in by lateral streams. Immediately above the narrow, rocky channel, on one or both sides, there is often a bay of quiet water, in which we can land with ease. Sometimes the water descends with a smooth, unruffled surface, from the broad, quiet spread above, into the narrow, angry channel below, by a semicircular sag. Great care must be taken not to pass over the brink into this deceptive pit, but above it we can row with safety. I walk along the bank to examine the ground, leaving one of my men with a flag to guide the other boats to the landing-place. I soon see one of the boats make shore all right and feel no more concern; but a minute after, I hear a shout, and looking around, see one of the boats shooting down the center of the sag. It is the No Name, with Captain Howland, his brother, and Goodman. I feel that its going over is inevitable, and run to save the third boat. A minute more, and she turns the point and heads for the shore. Then I turn down stream again, and scramble along to look for the boat that has gone over. The first fall is not great, only ten or twelve feet, and we often run such; but below, the river tumbles down again for forty or fifty feet, in a channel filled with dangerous rocks that break the waves into whirlpools and beat them into foam. I pass around a great crag just in time to see the boat strike a rock, and, rebounding from the shock, careen and fill the open compartment with water. Two of the men lose their oars; she swings around, and is carried down at a rapid rate, broadside on, for a few yards, and strikes amidships on another rock with great force, is broken quite in two, and the men are thrown into the river; the larger part of the boat floating buoyantly, they soon seize it, and down the river they drift, past the rocks for a few hundred yards to a second rapid, filled with huge boulders, where the boat strikes again, and is dashed to pieces, and the men and fragments are soon carried beyond my sight. Running along, I turn a bend, and see a man’s head above the water, washed about in a whirlpool below a great rock.
It is Frank Goodman, clinging to it with a grip upon which life depends. Coming opposite, I see Howland trying to go to his aid from an island on which he has been washed. Soon, he comes near enough to reach Frank with a pole, which he extends toward him. The latter lets go the rock, grasps the pole, and is pulled ashore. Seneca Howland is washed farther down the island, and is caught by some rocks, and, though somewhat bruised, manages to get ashore in safety. This seems a long time, as I tell it, but it is quickly done.
And now the three men are on an island, with a swift, dangerous river on either side, and a fall below. The Emma Dean is soon brought down, and Sumner, starting above as far as possible, pushes out. Right skillfully he plies the oars, and a few strokes set him on the island at the proper point. Then they all pull the boat up stream, as far as they are able, until they stand in water up to their necks. One sits on a rock, and holds the boat until the others are ready to pull, then gives the boat a push, clings to it with his hands, and climbs in as they pull for mainland, which they reach in safety. We are as glad to shake hands with them as though they had been on a voyage around the world, and wrecked on a distant coast.
Down the river half a mile we find that the after cabin of the wrecked boat, with a part of the bottom, ragged and splintered, has floated against a rock, and stranded. There are valuable articles in the cabin; but, on examination, we determine that life should not be risked to save them. Of course, the cargo of rations, instruments, and clothing is gone.
We return to the boats, and make camp for the night. No sleep comes to me in all those dark hours. The rations, instruments, and clothing have been divided among the boats, anticipating such an accident as this; and we started with duplicates of everything that was deemed necessary to success. But, in the distribution, there was one exception to this precaution, and the barometers were all placed in one boat, and they are lost. There is a possibility that they are in the cabin lodged against the rock, for that is where they were kept. But, then, how to reach them! The river is rising. Will they be there to-morrow? Can I go out to Salt Lake City, and obtain barometers from New York?
June 10. — I have determined to get the barometers from the wreck, if they are there. After breakfast, while the men make the portage, I go down again for another examination. There the cabin lies, only carried fifty or sixty feet farther on.
Carefully looking over the ground, I am satisfied that it can be reached with safety, and return to tell the men my conclusion. Sumner and Dunn volunteer to take the little boat and make the attempt. They start, reach it, and out come the barometers; and now the boys set up a shout, and I join them, pleased that they should be as glad to save the instruments as myself. When the boat lands on our side, I find that the only things saved from the wreck were the barometers, a package of thermometers, and a three gallon keg of whisky, which is what the men were shouting about. They had taken it aboard, unknown to me, and now I am glad they did, for they think it will do them good, as they are drenched every day by the melting snow, which runs down the summits of the Rocky Mountains.
Now we come back to our work at the portage. We find that it is necessary to carry our rations over the rocks for nearly a mile, and let our boats down with lines, except at a few points, where they also must be carried.
Between the river and the eastern wall of the cañon there is an immense talus of broken rocks. These have tumbled down from the cliffs above, and constitute a vast pile of huge angular fragments. On these we build a path for a quarter of a mile, to a small sand beach covered with drift-wood, through which we clear a way for several hundred yards, then continue the trail on over another pile Of rocks, nearly half a mile farther down, to a little bay. The greater part of the day is spent in this work. Then we carry our cargoes down to the beach and camp for the night.
While the men are building the camp fire, we discover an iron bake oven, several tin plates, a part of a boat, and many other fragments, which denote that this is the place where Ashley’s party was wrecked.
June 11. — This day is spent in carrying our rations down to the bay — no small task to climb over the rocks with sacks of flour or bacon. We carry them by stages of about 500 yards each, and when night comes, and the last sack is on the beach, we are tired, bruised, and glad to sleep.
June 12. — To-day we take the boats down to the bay. While at this work, we discover three sacks of flour from the wrecked boat, that have lodged in the rocks. We carry them above high-water mark, and leave them, as our cargoes are already too heavy for the three remaining boats. We also find two or three oars, which we place with them.
As Ashley and his party were wrecked here, and as we have lost one of our boats at the same place, we adopt the name Disaster Falls for the scene of so much peril and loss.
Though some of his companions were drowned, Ashley and one other survived the wreck, climbed the cañon wall, and found their way across the Wasatch Mountains to Salt Lake City, living chiefly on berries, as they wandered through an unknown and difficult country. When they arrived at Salt Lake, they were almost destitute of clothing, and nearly starved. The Mormon people gave them food and clothing, and employed them to work on the foundation of the Temple, until they had earned sufficient to enable them to leave the country. Of their subsequent history, I have no knowledge. It is possible they returned to the scene of the disaster, as a little creek entering the river below is known as Ashley’s Creek, and it is reported that he built a cabin and trapped on this river for one or two winters; but this may have been before the disaster.
June 13. — Still rocks, rapids, and portages.
We camp to-night at the foot of the left wall on a little patch of flood-plain covered with a dense growth of box-elders, stopping early in order to spread the clothing and rations to dry. Everything is wet and spoiling.
June 14. — Howland and I climb the wall, on the west side of the cañon, to an altitude of 2,000 feet. Standing above, and looking to the west, we discover a large park, five or six miles wide and twenty or thirty long. The cliff we have climbed forms a wall between the cañon and the park, for it is 800 feet, down the western side, to the valley. A creek comes winding down, 1,200 feet above the river, and, entering the intervening wall by a cañon, it plunges down, more than a thousand feet, by a broken cascade, into the river below.
June 15. — To-day, while we make another portage, a peak, standing on the east wall, is climbed by two of the men, and found to be 2,700 feet above the river. On the east side Of the cañon, a vast amphitheater has been cut, with massive buttresses, and deep, dark alcoves, in which grow beautiful mosses and delicate ferns, while springs burst out from the further recesses, and wind, in silver threads, over floors of sand rock. Here we have three falls in close succession. At the first, the water is compressed into a very narrow channel, against the right-hand cliff, and falls fifteen feet in ten yards; at the second, we have a broad sheet of water, tumbling down twenty feet over a group of rocks that thrust their dark heads through the foaming waters. The third is a broken fall, or short, abrupt rapid, where the water makes a descent of more than twenty feet among huge, fallen fragments Of the cliff. We name the group Triplet Falls.
We make a portage around the first; past the second and third we let down with lines. During the afternoon, Dunn and Howland, having returned from their climb, we run down, three-quarters of a mile, on quiet water, and land at the head of another fall. On examination, we find that there is an abrupt plunge of a few feet, and then the river tumbles, for half a mile, with a descent of a hundred feet, in a channel beset with great numbers of huge boulders. This stretch of the river is named Hell’s Half-Mile.
The remaining portion of the day is occupied in making a trail among the rocks to the foot of the rapid.
June 16. — Our first work this morning is to carry our cargoes to the foot of the falls, Then we commence letting down the boats. We take two of them down in safety, but not without great difficulty; for, where such a vast body of water, rolling down an inclined plane, is broken into eddies and cross currents by rocks projecting from the cliffs and piles of boulders in the channel, it requires excessive labor and much care to prevent their being dashed against the rocks or breaking away. Sometimes we are compelled to hold the boat against a rock, above a chute, until a second line, attached to the stem, is carried to some point below, and, when all is ready, the first line is detached, and the boat given to the current, when she shoots down, and the men below swing her into some eddy.
At such a place, we are letting down the last boat, and, as she is set free, a wave turns her broadside down the stream, with the stem, to which the line is attached, from shore, and a little up. They haul on the line to bring the boat in, but the power of the current, striking obliquely against her, shoots her out into the middle of the river. The men have their hands burned with the friction of the passing line; the boat breaks away, and speeds, with great velocity, down the stream.
The Maid of the Cañon is lost, so it seems; but she drifts some distance, and swings into an eddy, in which she spins about, until we arrive with the small boat, and rescue her.
Soon we are on our way again, and stop at the mouth of a little brook, on the right, for a late dinner. This brook comes down from the distant mountains, in a deep side cañon. We set out to explore it, but are soon cut off from farther progress up the gorge by a high rock, over which the brook glides in a smooth sheet. The rock is not quite vertical, and the water does not plunge over in a fall.
Then we climb up to the left for an hour, and are a thousand feet above the river, and six hundred above the brook. Just before us, the cañon divides, a little stream coming down on the right, and another on the left, and we can look away up either of these cañons, through an ascending vista, to cliffs and crags and towers, a mile back, and two thousand feet overhead. To the right, a dozen gleaming cascades are seen. Pines and firs stand on the rocks and aspens overhang the brooks. The rocks below are red and brown, set in deep shadows, but above, they are buff and vermilion, and stand in the sunshine. The light above, made more brilliant by the bright-tinted rocks, and the shadows below more gloomy by the somber hues of the brown walls, increase the apparent depths of the cañons, and it seems a long way up to the world of sunshine and open sky, and a long way down to the bottom of the cañon glooms. Never before have I received such an impression of the vast heights of these cañon walls; not even at the Cliff of the Harp, where the very heavens seemed to rest on their summits.
We sit on some overhanging rocks, and enjoy the scene for a time, listening to the music of falling waters away up the cañons. We name this Rippling Brook.
Late in the afternoon we make a short run to the mouth of another little creek, coming down from the left into an alcove filled with luxuriant vegetation. Here camp is made with a group of cedars on one side and a dense mass of box-elders and dead willows on the other.
I go up to explore the alcove. While away a whirlwind comes, scattering the fire among the dead willows and cedar-spray, and soon there is a conflagration. The men rush for the boats, leaving all they cannot readily seize at the moment, and even then they have their clothing burned and hair singed, and Bradley has his ears scorched. The cook fills his arms with the mess-kit, and, jumping into a boat, stumbles and falls, and away go our cooking utensils into the river. Our plates are gone; our spoons are gone; our knives and forks are gone. “Water catch ‘em; h-e-a-p catch ‘em.”
When on the boats, the men are compelled to cut loose, as the flames, running out on the overhanging willows, are scorching them. Loose on the stream, they must go down, for the water is too swift to make headway against it. Just below is a rapid, filled with rocks. On they shoot, no channel explored, no signal to guide them. Just at this juncture I chance to see them, but have not yet discovered the fire, and the strange movements of the men fill me with astonishment. Down the rocks I clamber, and run to the bank. When I arrive, they have landed. Then we all go back to the late camp to see if anything left behind can be saved. Some of the clothing and bedding taken out of the boats is found, also a few tin cups, basins, and a camp kettle, and this is all the mess kit we now have. Yet we do just as well as ever.
June 17. — We run down to the mouth of Yampa River. This has been a chapter of disasters and toils, notwithstanding which the Cañon of Lodore was not devoid of scenic interest, even beyond the power of pen to tell. The roar of its waters was heard unceasingly from the hour we entered it until we landed here. No quiet in all that time. But its walls and cliffs, its peaks and crags, its amphitheaters and alcoves, tell a story of beauty and grandeur that I hear yet — and shall hear.
The Cañon of Lodore is twenty and three-quarter miles in length. It starts abruptly at what we have called the Gate of Lodore, with walls nearly two thousand feet high, and they are never lower than this until we reach Alcove Brook, about three miles above the foot. They are very irregular, standing in vertical or overhanging cliffs in places, terraced in others, or receding in steep slopes, and are broken by many side gulches and cañons. The highest point on the wall is at Dunn’s Cliff, near Triplet Falls, where the rocks reach an altitude of 2,700 feet, but the peaks a little way back rise nearly a thousand feet higher. Yellow pines, nut pines, firs, and cedars stand in extensive forests on the Uinta Mountains, and, clinging to the rocks and growing in the crevices, come down the walls to the water’s edge from Flaming Gorge to Echo Park. The red sandstones are lichened over; delicate mosses grow in the moist places, and ferns festoon the walls.