Guest Writer George O Shields
“Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery.” ~John Ruskin
FOR anyone who has the courage, the hardihood, and the physical strength to endure the exercise, there is no form of recreation or amusement known to mankind that can yield such grand results as mountain climbing. I mean from a mental as well as from a physical standpoint; and, in fact, it is the mind that receives the greater benefit. The exertion of the muscular forces in climbing a high mountain is necessarily severe; in fact, it is more than most persons unused to it can readily endure; and were it not for the inspiration which the mind derives from the experience when the ascent is made, it would be better that the subject should essay some milder form of exercise. But if one’s strength be sufficient to endure the labor of ascending a grand mountain peak, that extends to or above timber line, to the regions of perpetual snow and ice, or even to a height that gives a general view of the surrounding country, the compensation must be ample if one has an eye for the beauties of nature, or any appreciation of the grandeur of the Creator’s greatest works.
Vain, self-loving man is wont to consider himself the noblest work of God, but let him go to the top of one of these lofty mountains, surrounded by other towering peaks; and if he be a sane man, he will soon be convinced that his place in the scale of creation is far from the top. Let him stand, for instance, on the summit of Mount Hood, Mount Tacoma [Rainier], or Mount Baker, thousands of feet above all surrounding peaks, hills, and valleys, where he may gaze into space hundreds of miles in every direction, with naught to obstruct his view, face to face with his Creator, and if he have aught of the love of nature in his soul, or of appreciation of the sublime in his mental composition, he will be moved to exclaim with the [psalmist], “What is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him?” [Psalm 8:4]. He will feel his littleness, his insignificance, his utter lack of importance, more forcibly perhaps than ever before.
It seems almost incredible that there should be men in the world who could care so little for the grandest, the sublimest sights their native land affords, as to be unwilling to perform the labor necessary to see them to the best possible advantage; and yet it is so, for I have frequently heard them say: “I should like very much to see these grand sights you describe, but I never could afford to climb those high mountains for that pleasure; it is too hard work for me.”
The benefits to be derived from mountain climbing are not wholly of an intellectual character; the physical system may be benefited by it as well. It is a kind of exercise that, in turn, brings into use almost every muscle in the body, those of the legs being of course taxed most severely, but those of the back do their full share of the work, while the arms are called into action almost constantly, as the climber grasps bushes or rocks by which to aid himself in the ascent. The lungs expand and contract like bellows as they inhale and exhale the rarified atmosphere, and the heart beats like a trip-hammer as it pumps the invigorated blood through the system. The liver is shaken loose from the ribs to which it has perchance grown fast, and the stomach is aroused to such a state of activity as it has probably not experienced for years. Let any man, especially one of sedentary habits, climb a mountain 5,000 feet high, on a bright, pleasant day …. There let him breathe the rare, pure atmosphere, fresh from the portals of heaven, and, my word for it, he will have a better appetite, will eat heartier, sleep sounder, and awake next morning feeling more refreshed than since the days of his boyhood.
Although the labor be severe, it can and should be modulated to the strength and capabilities of the person undertaking the task. No one should climb faster than is compatible with his strength, and halts should be made every five or ten minutes, if need be, to allow the system ample rest. In this manner a vast amount of work may be accomplished in a day, even by one who has had no previous experience in climbing ….
EACH succeeding autumn, for years past, has found me in some range of mountains, camping, hunting, fishing, climbing, and taking views. The benefits I have derived from these expeditions, in the way of health, strength, and vigor, are incalculable, and the pleasures inexpressible. My last outing was in the Cascade Range, in Oregon and Washington Territory, where I spent a month in these delightful occupations ….
The Cascade Range of mountains extends from Southern Oregon through Washington Territory, away to the northward in British Columbia. In width, from east to west, it varies from fifty to one hundred miles. It is the most densely-timbered range on the continent, and yet is one of the highest and most rugged. It may not possess so many ragged, shapeless crags and dark cañons [canyons] as the Rocky Range, and yet everyone who has ever traversed both accords to the Cascades the distinction of being the equal, in picturesqueness and grandeur, of the Rockies, or, in fact, of any other range in the country.
As continental landmarks, Mounts Pitt, Union, Thielson, Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St Helens, Tacoma, Baker, Stuart, Chiam, Douglass, and others are unsurpassed. Their hoary crests tower to such majestic heights as to be visible, in some instances, hundreds of miles, and their many glaciers feed mighty rivers upon whose bosoms the commerce of nations is borne. Mount Jefferson is 9,020 feet high; Mount Adams, 9,570; Mount St Helens, 9,750; Mount Baker, 10,800, Mount Hood, 11,025, and Mount Tacoma, 14,444. There are many other peaks that rise to altitudes of 7,000 to 9,000 feet, and from these figures one may readily form something of an idea of the general height and beauty of the Cascade Range.
The foot-hills are generally high, rolling, and picturesque, and so heavily timbered that in many places one cannot see a hundred yards in any direction. Higher up the range, however, this heavy timber is replaced by smaller trees, that stand farther apart, and the growth of underbrush is not so dense; consequently, the labor of travel is lightened and the range of vision is extended. The geological formation in the Cascades is varied. Igneous rock abounds; extensive basaltic cliffs and large bodies of granite, limestone, sandstone, etc, are frequently met with, and nearly all the table-lands, in and about the foot-hills, are composed of gravel drift, covered with vegetable mold. The Cascades may be explored with comfort later in the fall than the Rockies or other more eastern ranges, the winter setting in on the former much later than on the latter, although the winter rains usually come in November. September and October are the most pleasant months for an outing in the Cascades.
It was late in October when my wife and I started from Chicago for a tour of a month among the bristling peaks of the Cascades and the picturesque islands of Puget Sound. A pleasant ride of fifteen hours on the Wisconsin Central Railroad to St Paul, and another of three days and nights on the grand old Northern Pacific, brought us face to face with the glittering crests and beetling cliffs that were the objects of our pilgrimage. As the tourist goes west, the first view of the range is obtained at the Dalles of the Columbia River, from whence old Mount Hood, thirty-five miles distant, rears its majestic head high into the ethereal vault of heaven, and neighboring peaks, of lesser magnitude, unfold themselves to the enraptured vision …. No one can know how beautiful some of these towers and cliffs are until he has seen them.
The train arrived at Portland, that old and far-famed metropolis of the North Pacific coast, at half past ten o’clock in the morning, and after twenty-four hours pleasantly spent in viewing its many points of interest and the snow-covered mountains thereabouts, we again boarded the Northern Pacific train and sped toward Tacoma, where we arrived at six o’clock in the evening. Here we passed another day in looking over a booming Western city, whose future prosperity and greatness have been assured by its having been chosen as the tidewater terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway.
Tacoma is situated on Commencement Bay, an arm of Puget Sound, and has a harbor navigable for the largest ocean steamships. The vast forests of pine, fir, and cedar, with which it is surrounded, give Tacoma great commercial importance as a lumbering town, and the rich agricultural valleys thereabout assure home production of breadstuffs, vegetables, meats, etc, sufficient to feed its army of workingmen. Rich coal fields, in the immediate neighborhood, furnish fuel for domestic and manufacturing purposes at merely nominal prices. All the waters hereabouts abound in salmon, several varieties of trout and other food-fishes, while in the woods and mountains adjacent, elk, deer, and bears are numerous; so the place will always be a popular resort for the sportsman and the tourist. The chief attraction of the city, however, for the traveler, will always be the fine view it affords of Mount Tacoma. This grand old pinnacle of the Cascade Range, forty-five miles distant, lifts its snow-mantled form far above its neighbors, which are themselves great mountains, while its glacier-crowned summit rises, towers, and struggles aloft … and its crown is almost lost in the limitless regions of the deep blue sky.
From the verandas of the Tacoma House one may view Mount Tacoma until wearied with gazing. The Northern Pacific Railway runs within fifteen miles of the base of it, and from the nearest point a trail has been made, at a cost of some thousands of dollars, by which tourists may ascend the mountain on horseback, to an altitude of about 10,000 feet, with comparative comfort; but he who goes above that height must work his passage ….
From the point gained by the trail … the tourist may look down upon the glaciers of the North Fork of the Puyallup River, 3,000 feet below, while on the other hand, the glaciers of the cañon of the Carbon may be seen 4,000 feet beneath him. Away to the north, glimmering and glinting under the effulgent rays of the noonday sun, stretches that labyrinth of waters known as Puget Sound … while the many islands therein, draped in their evergreen foliage, look like emeralds set in a sheet of silver. Many prominent landmarks in British Columbia are seen, while to the north and south stretches the Cascade Range, to the west the Olympic, and to the southwest the Coast Range. All these are spread out before the eye of the tourist in a grand panorama unsurpassed for loveliness.
Crater Lake forms one of the mysteries of Mount Tacoma. About its ragged, ice-bound and rock-ribbed shores are many dark caverns …. An explorer says of one of these chambers: “Its roof is a dome of brilliant green, with long icicles pendant therefrom; while its floor is composed of the rocks and débris that formed the side of the crater, worn smooth by the action of water and heated by a natural register, from which issue clouds of steam.”
The grand cañon of the Puyallup is two and a half miles wide, and from its head may be seen the great glacier, 300 feet in thickness, which supplies the great volume of water that flows through the Puyallup river. From here no less than nine different waterfalls, varying in height from 500 to 1,500 feet, are visible; and visitors are sometimes thrilled with the magnificent spectacle of an avalanche of thousands of tons of overhanging ice falling with an overwhelming crash into the cañon, roaring and reverberating in a way that almost makes the great mountain tremble. Fed by the lake, torrents pour over the edge of the cliff, and the foaming waters, forming a perpetual veil of seemingly silver lace, fall with a fearful leap into the arms of the surging waves below. Mount Tacoma will be the future resort of the continent, and many of its wondrous beauties yet remain to be explored.
“I live not in myself, but I become portion of that around me; and to me high mountains are a feeling, but the hum of human cities torture.” ~George Gordon Lord Bryon
Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee
* George O Shields, Cruisings in the Cascades / A Narrative of Travel, Exploration, Amateur Photography, / Hunting, and Fishing (Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally, 1889), chapters 1 and 2. Photos, some quotes added.