This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
September 1st. Hardly knowing what may be the duties of the day, I conclude to be up before the sun, and " prospect" a little, as that seems to be a significant word here; I also find others of the same mind, and the ascent of Pike's Peak determined upon. It is usually made by the use of ponies, which are small sized horses, and mules; occasionally some stalwart individual with plenty of muscular development and more pride of purpose, sets out to make the journey on foot; of our party there are two of this character, and with knapsacks supplied with provisions, etc, at five o'clock they turn their backs upon the hotel, and face the mountain path; an hour later two more take the road, mounted, thinking perhaps the day will be short for the work to be performed. The ascent is usually made without a guide, and as fourteen persons have decided to go, these are thought to be all sufficient in our case; but that some one should have the oversight of the party seems essential, accordingly the invitation has been extended to myself to perform that office, I having had the experience of leading a party of twice the present number over the Téte Noire Pass of the Alps, in Switzerland, in the Summer of 1874. The position of leader secures to me the choice of the stable, and I make the selection without delay.
An early breakfast has been ordered, and all are expected to be in the saddles ready for the ascent at half-past seven o'clock. 'Tis a glorious morning; not a cloud obscures the sun, or makes a shadow on the mountain side, a gentle breeze moves the foliage in the valley, but perhaps that will soon die away. The countenances of the party show to the full anticipated joy; four of our company are ladies, who have sufficient strength of purpose, nerve and will, to attempt the height. Each person is supplied with lunch, and a sufficient quantity of clothing, should the atmosphere prove to be cold ere we reach the top. The appointed hour finds us ready, and we wave adieus to those we leave behind, and seek the trail. This year, as I am informed, is the first time the ascent has been made by the course we take; the trail thus being a new one is reported to be in good condition, and somewhat shorter than the route of former years; yet fourteen miles is the distance we are expected to travel ere we reach the United States Signal Station, on the top of the Peak. The road leads us into Engelman's Canon, and I am indeed much pleased to find it so, that I may have an opportunity to see the beauties and the grandeur of its ways.
Again do I call in-service the experience of my friend Meehan, for he was the first white man that ever explored its fastnesses, set foot upon its rocks, or drank of its crystal floods; 'twas he who, as its first explorer, gave it the name of Engelman's Canon, in honor of the great botanist of St. Louis, for the reason, as he informs me, that he found Pines and Spruces growing far up the Canon in great profusion, and immense in size, beautiful anywhere, but much more attractive here in their native elements; and every student of the vegetable kingdom well knows, that we are indebted to Dr. Engleman more than to any other person, for much of the knowledge we possess of the coniferous trees of North America, he having recently added to his previous publications several monographs of various sections. For about a mile the road is broad and well made, suitable for wagon travel. There are many residences on the hill-sides, which in the early morning look fresh and home-like. Along the stream are several camping parties, who have come to spend a fortnight or more in a quiet way, apart from the tumult of a busy world; some of these in true traveling style partake of the morning meal, while others are not yet astir, but have left the faithful watch dog as guardian of the realm whilst they sleep; we disturb them not, nor envy their repast, for at present ours are higer aims, and we even cast no longing, lingering look behind, so intent are we upon the beauties before.
Close by the rapid stream our pathway leads; the Poplars and the Willows arching overhead, make a romantic ride. My mind is fully alive to these surroundings, and though I may fail to make intelligible the record with my pen, to those for whom I write, there is not a doubt but that from the first hands I have received a full, a realizing sense of all there is to see. Two miles on our way we halt at the toll house, fori have learned that 'tis not alone on broad, smooth highways through the country that a tax is laid. The assessment is one dollar and fifty cents for each horse, and its collection is about sufficient to keep the trail in repair; each pays the duty, and forward we move again. Now the ascent is fairly begun, and a winding circuitous up hill way it is; we have taken the left hand side of the mountain stream, and it seems to have been selected as being best suited for the purpose. The name given to this stream is the Foimtaine-qui-Bouille, and 'tis well named; we hear the boiling, rumbling sound as its waters dash against the rocks, we see now and then, amongst the trees far in the depths below, its foam and splash, as a plunge is made into cavernous recesses, or as it reappears from beneath an arching rock; the volume of water is considerable, and when the discoverer of Engleman's Canon announced to the world that he had seen therein a tempestuous, roaring mountain stream, a wild and foaming cataract, a torrent dashing headlong down among the boulders and the rocks, he only did what I have here essayed, tried to give a faint conception of the truth.
Flowers in great profusion bloom close to the water's edge, and some find their way far up among the rocks. The Maple and the Willow, the Poplar and the Birch are growing side by side, but chief among the host, and altogether lovely, is the towering Pine; such specimens as I have nowhere else beheld, with Firs and Spruce of equal beauty. The botanists who have visited these mountains years ago, have distributed among the nurserymen in the East, seeds of most of the species that occur here, and these have introduced them into the parks and lawns about our cities and among the residences of well to do country folk, so that they are not entirely unknown; but the stateli-ness of figure, symmetry of form, and harmonious surroundings, fail not to impress the lover of the beautiful, that in their homes and not in ours, is to be seen their full glory and beauty. These are the Rocky Mountains, - and if it is because of granite boulders everywhere abounding, rocks so large that one cannot form a conception of their size or weight, then the name is appropriate; so close upon our path they come that many have been blasted or broken to make the way, and where a mis-step or a slipping stone could not bring anything.short of instant death, by dashing over precipices hundreds of feet.
Several times we cross the seething flood, the slender bridge of logs bending and quivering under the horses' weight; we pass to the right, then to the left, and make such sharp turns, that the way before us is oftimes not visible ten yards in advance; so we rise the mountain side some thousands of feet, reaching at last a charming spot known as Sheltered Falls, where we rest our horses, and regale ourselves with draughts from the crystal flood that comes from underneath the sheltered rock; this with the Naiad's Grotto, just above, is enough to pay for all our toil, if we should find nothing more attractive beyond; but even these fairy scenes we cannot always know, and so we turn our backs on this, only to have opened a grander, a more extended sight, for here the valle}- opens in full view, the length of miles we have already come; the sloping mountain side, with its coverings of green, the sentinel rocks on Cameron's cone, the rushing flood pausing not, but winding when it reaches the valley, and there like whitened specks the houses of Manitou appear in the sunlight.
Not long the time allowed to take in a scene like this; again we cross the boiling-flood, and along a stretch of open mountain side with only here and there a pine, and these not the same species as we saw farther down the Canon, for every certain distance more or less, according to the shelter or the slope, the species change as higher altitudes are reached. Cross-ing again the stream, which by this time is much reduced in size, we enter a level meadow hundreds of acres in extent; here is a remarkable growth of Aspen, in some places so close together as scarcely to admit the passage of a person among them; the ground is well covered with tall grass and and abundance of blooming flowers, Gentians, Blue Bells, Potentillas, several species of Pedicularis, Pentstemon, and Gilias, wild Dandelions, Rudbeckias, and a kind of Thistle not seen before; passing through this we come upon the Pine and Spruce again but still of different species. Over a crest of rock our horses move with steady pace and slow, and the Lake House comes in view a short distance farther on. A beautiful sheet of water is here, and the house is close by the shore.
Those who wish to commence the ascent in the afternoon, make this the stopping place for the night, but from all the show of comfort that we behold, I would as leave take a blanket and make my bed beneath a spreading tree, with the blue sky the canopy over head. Here we overtake the pedestrians that left Manitou two hours and a half in advance of us; they are still looking top-ward, but their slackened pace tells the story of tired feet and aching limbs. On the march again, ere all our party get together, for some cannot ride so fast as the leader, and have lagged far behind. "We are now at an elevation of 10, 175 feet and I notice a rapidly increasing change as we mount higher; the growth of timber, nearly all Pine, becoming less dense, though many of the trees are still of large size; there is but little of it young, and much of the old is dead, and dying ; the sweeping winds of "Winter have prostrated many of these, which makes a picture of desolation indeed, though curiously interesting. The ascent is becoming more and more steep, but fewer rocks, consequently less winding is the path.
At 12, 000 feet elevation, another kind of Pine is seen, and soon we pass beyond the " timber line, " into the open world again; the open world, how natural the expression, for it is open in the fullest sense; we are so far above many of the other mountain summits, that we seem to look down on a vast sea of peaks, which lose individuality as they fade away in the dim distance, but still the "timber line"is discernable, curving up and down, according to the sheltered location. The flora has completely changed, and assumed its Alpine character, dwarf Blue Bells, the yellow Senecio, some species of Saxifrage, a blue Forget-me-not, so limited in range, as not to extend more than ten yards up and down, with a few of the pink tribe, a beautiful Gentian which opens its whitish petals in the sun, some grass and sedges, all of which gradually become smaller in size as we mount higher. We pass those who left the hotel at 6 o'clock and pursue our way now in advance of all. W. H. H. Russel, of St. Louis, is the only one of our party who keeps close beside me, the others falling farther and farther behind, as the ascent becomes more and more rugged.
The unclouded sky of the early morning is now changed and I fear the forebodings of a storm is apparent; the sun is obscured most of the time, a chilly feeling is in the atmosphere, and I remark to my companion, a storm cloud is gathering fast. Just as we reach the limit of vegetation, except the lichens on the rocks, a slight rain sets in, soon changing to sleet, then to snow and hail.
"We are now among the rocks, and scarcely can we discern the trail; faster and faster falls the snow, not large in size, perhaps not larger than peas are the hail stones, but in numbers, there are no means of measurement; our horses shake their heads and stop. "We hold a hurried consultation. Shall we turn back ? for doubtless danger lies in the way before us, and we know not how much farther we have yet to go ere the top is reached. Onward and upward, is our conclusion, and we urge the horses forward. The difficulty of breathing is now sensibly felt. So steep and rocky has become the ascent that not a dozen yards can we advance without our horses stop to draw full breaths. The severity of the storm increases; our coats are buttoned tight to keep out the driving hail, we hang our heads in silence, not a sound reaches our ears but the wind as it rushes past. So winding has become the path that we have lost sight of those who kept nearest us, so filled the atmosphere, that the depths below, the heights above, indeed the rocks are no longer discernable. Our horses evidently know the way, and on them we rely. I have known and experienced furious storms before but never aught like this. Minutes seem like lengthened periods, and we are making headway slowly.
Longfellow could not have written a truer picture when he penned " Excelsior" had he been through these conditions himself. A tingling sensation in our ears, distended viens upon the forehead, bodies becoming wet and chilled, hands benumbed with cold, and yet, and yet no end. A line of telegraph wires stretched across the rocks is now in sight and courage is renewed, for we may be nearing the top, but on, on, on, the storm not sensibly abating for an instant. Around a sharp promontory of rock we slowly work our way, and then the signal station comes in view; never sight of land to the mariner has been hailed with greater joy than this by us just now; the fatigues and dangers of the ascent are forgotten for the moment, and with shouts of triumph we hail the approach to the longed-for spot. The station is one story in height and built of rocks; a portion is for shelter for the ponies used in bringing up provisions, but not being now occupied by them, our horses find a place to shield or protect them from the furious storm. Knocking at the door we hear a voice from within saying "come in, " and we enter.
The sight of a human being in a place like this, and under conditions like these is a joyous one, and soon we are seated by a comfortable fire enjoying the hospitality of one of the United States signal service corps. The thermometer registers 35°, no wonder we were feeling the effect of the chilling atmosphere. By glancing over the record of observations, I find this is the coldest day for some weeks past, the weather having been fine for sometime with only partial cloudiness. From conversation with the observer, I learn that the record is taken regularly three times a day and transmitted by telegraph at once to the department at "Washington, and that this is the highest "outlook" for " Old Probabilities " in the country. The observers are changed once a month during the Summer, or while the trail is open, and then is laid in a supply of wood and provisions sufficient to last through the Winter. About a month later the trail will be closed, and all communications cut off, except by telegraph, until Summer comes again; methinks I would not fancy living in such a place, although there is a library of fifty or more volumes which may furnish food for many an hour, but the days would pass " wearily and slow, " and nights fearful and cold, come and go, many times repeated through weeks and months of watching.
(Concluded in next number.)