Rambles and Mountain Climbs in Various Parts of the World
Walter D. Wilcox
THE writer has been asked to compose an article on his various mountain climbs and adventures, omitting any reference to the Canadian Rockies, his favorite and most cherished part of the world and with which incidentally he is most familiar.
It was anticipated that the gathering of old memories and writings and the study of photographs, time-worn and faded through the lapse of years, would yield a poor and scanty harvest. Much to the contrary and likewise much to my surprise, the mere hasty reading of old diaries, letters and possibly some former magazine articles often brought a greater thrill than the original adventure.
1. The Awakening
From both parents I inherited a keen interest in nature and the great world of outdoors. My father was born in the town of Stockbridge, Mass., and my mother came from Braintree of the same state. Horace Greeley’s advice: “Go West young man,” was followed by my father who moved to Chicago in the early days. Here he laid out all the West Side Parks and Boulevards, the nearest approach to nature in a large and growing city.
My father’s library was a constant and inspiring delight. Books by the great navigators, explorers and lovers of nature made up the greater part of it. One child’s book called Chatterbox had in it an illustration entitled “The Mountain,” that held me spell-bound hour after hour. It was an ordinary forest-covered mountain with a bare rocky summit but I could, in imagination, find my way through every twist and turn to the summit and then try to imagine what distant horizons might be seen from that lofty viewpoint. How many times have I repeated this day-dream in after life !
My mother, unduly anxious as are many mothers, got the idea that I was somewhat of a weakling and did everything possible to overcome this failing. At five years old I must needs take a daily walk of a mile or two and increase this amount one mile for each year of my age. I finally got the record up to 35 miles in a day, which I thought enough at the time, and do so yet.
The needs of a broader education and contact with a wider acquaintance led my parents to send me to Racine College Grammar School, 60 miles N. of Chicago, when I was eleven years old. The school buildings were located on high land overlooking the lake. This bluff rising out of the water was about 50 ft. high and was formed of a hard, blue clay in the lower half and a loose sand in the upper part. Constant erosion by the beating waves caused frequent landslides and, as there was a graveyard just south of the school buildings, it was no uncommon sight to see skulls and bones rolling down the slope as some ancient worthy moved his last resting place to a new home.
While the standard of manners and social customs amongst the pupils probably averaged as high as other schools, there were occasional examples to the contrary. One day, while lost in admiration of the vast expanse of Lake Michigan, the slow moving sailing ships, the seagulls and the breaking surf, some evil-minded Wisconsin farmer’s son sneaked up behind me, unseen and unheard, and gave me a violent push that sent me bouncing all the way down the bluff to the water’s edge. This was my first glissade, but I managed to stay upright though I never discovered the miscreant who perpetrated the deed.
Up to the time when I was twelve years old I had never seen a mountain nor could I form any proper idea of one except by pictures and photographs. No chance could have been more propitious and soul-inspiring than my first view of a real mountain. It came about in this manner. My father and mother being nature-lovers themselves, as the reader may imagine, took me to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We arrived in heavy fog and rain. In late afternoon the sun broke through the clouds, the bushes sparkled with diamonds as sunlight hit the rain-drops, and my father suggested a walk through the woods, now fragrant with the perfume of evergreens.
As we were walking along by a rushing torrent a strange feeling of an approaching surprise and pleasure overcame me, and looking upwards, I saw the “Great Stone Face” so beautifully described by Hawthorne, on the very summit of Profile Mountain. It was wreathed in mist and slowly moving clouds and no doubt nothing in his life so much touched my nature-loving father as to see this trait revealed in his son.
Next day we went for a long walk through the woods and after some time we came to an Indian encampment, where they were selling beaded ornaments, baskets and other trinkets. One of the Indians, tall and straight, and of such nobility that he might well have been a chief, took a great fancy to my father and talked considerably with him. And this leads up to one of those mysteries and chances of life for which there is no explanation. He was fascinated with a fine and heavy gold watch which my father was wearing and examined it for a long time. Then, at last, he took the watch in hand, assumed a serious expression and speaking slowly said : “This watch very good. Very heavy. Me see deep, deep water. Very cold. One day this watch take you down, down !”
Two years later my father, while on a fishing trip at Lake Superior, the largest and coldest fresh-water sea in the world, was overturned in a canoe, while wearing the same watch, and his body sank in those icy waters that rarely or never give up their dead.
2. Walks in the Alps
Passing now to a period a few years later, while I was still very much of a youngster, I went in company with my mother to Switzerland where a Swiss guide named Pius Reichenbach was engaged to take me on long walks, some of them very long, over such passes as the Gemmi which we did two or three times and also the St. Bernard, where we spent a night amongst the monks, the dogs, and the fleas.
Guide Pius was a good old soul and he wore the regular Swiss walking costume and carried the usual tourist alpenstock with a curved chamois horn at the top. I had always imagined that this horn was not merely an ornament but was used to reach up and snag a root or crag of some kind and so help to support the weary climber from one high point to another still higher; but it seems that the chamois horn only being set in with mucilage or glue, was not of much avail under strain and its chief office was to increase morale while having your picture taken. Guide Pius was noted for selecting the most nearly level routes through the mountains and stopping at each and every wayside stand where Limonade and various other drinks were furnished for the weary traveller. No doubt he more or less surreptitiously slipped in some fortifying element when I was not looking that added much to his speed and good humor. Anyway we got on famously and after two or three weeks I came back good and strong to my mother, who felt that she had made an excellent investment.
3. Adventures in the Hawaiian Islands
During the time that I was at Yale, that is from 1889 to 1893, there were quite a few students from the Hawaiian Islands. This was natural, as Yale had sent the first missionaries to the islands in previous years and there was a common bond of interest and gratitude between them. Amongst the so-called “Islanders” I found many friends and was often invited to their special dinners where unusual items such as poi, the mashed-up and half fermented root of the taro plant were served. It is said to be exceptionally nourishing and even a tasty food, which, after years of practice, may be the case.
My interest having been aroused in the islands by so many friendly gatherings, I took the first opportunity after graduation to visit them, and landed in Honolulu in 1893 and subsequently was royally entertained by my college friends.
The islands are a paradise for the mountaineer, the explorer and the nature lover whether it be in the line of geology or botany or even the gentle art of photography. Both geological and botanical research prove that the islands rose from the sea, and an excessively deep sea, in a line of weakness in the earth’s crust running S. E. from Kauai to Hawaii, the largest island. Here is the great mountain of Mauna Loa (13,675 ft.), the largest volcano in the world, its base 75 miles from N. to S. and 50 miles from E. to W. To the N.N.E. it merges with Mauna Kea (13,825 ft.), the latter the highest island mountain in the world, and in a real sense the highest of all mountains, starting as it does from a great plain 18,000 ft. below sea level and rising to nearly 32,000 ft.
On Mauna Loa’s E. slope is the crater of Kilauea, the largest active crater in the world, with an area of four square miles and walls 400 ft. in height.
One of the first of my college friends that I ran up against was Willow Baldwin, in the northeasterly island of Kauai, the botanist’s paradise and delight of the artist and photographer. Unfortunately, prohibition being in power, we had to pull down the shades and lock the door in order to enjoy a glass of beer. I took a walk of many miles along the high-level trail that traverses the N. shore of the island. This is not only a long walk but a series of mountain climbs as well. Every time one has opportunity to look down 1000-1500 ft. to the raging Pacific far below, some torrent or mountain stream compels a descent to sea-level. Then ensues another climb, and so successively till the weary traveller can endure no more.
But Hawaii, the largest and most southerly island, was in some respects my favorite, perhaps due to the lovely little settlement called Hilo on the S. E. corner of the island. This is a place to stir the heart of the ambitious photographer, with its reed-bordered lagoons, the Chinese fisherman hauling their seines on the white sandy shores and the out-rigger canoes far at sea and returning with their cargoes of fish freshly caught. But to reach it one must needs take a coastwise steamer along the rocky and storm-beaten shores of the great island of Maui. Here there are practically no ports along the stormy and rock-lined coast, but the passenger must be lowered in the darkness of night and seize, if he can, the propitious moment in which to jump into the arms of the sailors in the boat far below, rather than into the hungry maw of a shark which has been waiting for one all day. Even so, you are far from shore. The pale glimmer of distant lights leads the way through the narrow channel in the reef, breakers white in foam threaten on either side, and one prays that the sailors may have the good luck and skill to reach the safe harbor.
But the danger is far less than the terrified traveller imagines. Of all peoples of the earth probably, the Hawaiians have longest been acquainted with the sea. Their ancestors, many centuries ago, came in canoes hundreds of leagues across the sea from Samoa, and the Samoans in turn, from Java while some imaginative writers believe that the Javanese trace back to the lost tribes of Judah.
While at Hilo, entirely engrossed in the pleasant work of photographing the many unusual and picturesques scenes available on every side, a large delegation of U. S. Congressmen arrived and proceeded at once to the crater of Kilauea, where by a freak of fortune that might not be repeated in the next 10,000 years, the volcano suddenly broke out in an eruption on the fourth of July.
And here it was that I made one of the four or five hundred inexcusable mistakes of my life. Thinking that the matter of eruptions was one of long delay and equally long duration I dallied around Hilo to finish up some special shots that I had reserved as a climax of my work. The very day I reached Kilauea the fires went out, the lava turned to stone and I had lost the chance of a lifetime to witness one of the world’s greatest and most spectacular wonders.
While the island of Hawaii has its special features, Maui to the N. W. has one, that in some respects equals or even excels, all the others. This is the great crater of Haleakala (House of everlasting fire), the largest in the world and only exceeded by some of those on the moon, which unfortunately we cannot visit. It is 20 miles in circumference, nearly 2000 ft. deep and its rim in some places rises to 10,000 ft. above sea level.
Some of the Baldwin boys, sons of Judge Baldwin of Honolulu, and other friends arranged a trip to the great crater for me. The Baldwin family have immense holdings of sugar-cane lands on Maui, and one can ride for hours through the vast and almost endless fields of cane in every stage of growth and beauty.
Our trip on horseback involved a long and sometimes tedious climb, first through the lowlands, then the upper cane fields and at last bare rocky slopes and semi-barrenness as we neared the topmost edge of the crater. As one stands for the first time on the sharp crest of the crater the impression is, at first, not so much of wonder, but rather a kind of admiration mingled with terror. No such view, possibly, may be obtained elsewhere on our globe. But we were to see it in still more awe-inspiring circumstances. We had little time to spare before nightfall to arrange the interior of the stone hut in which we were to pass the night. Firewood had to be split, shavings prepared by some, while others sliced the ham, put on the soup and arranged the beds. It was bitterly cold and we were to endure a still colder night, for the stones in the walls were so full of holes that there was almost more space for ventilation than protection. All night long some one was prowling around, trying in vain to light the fire, take a smoke or asking questions as to why they had come on such a party. But every night has an ending and the view at dawn was worth all our labor.
While the previous day had ended amid calm and a clear, blue sky, we now could look out over the vast crater, and in the opposite direction towards the sea, at an endless procession of weaving clouds sweeping in the trade-wind towards us, and but little above our heads, out and over the black basin of the aged and worn-out volcano and perhaps the entire island of Maui. But the aweinspiring cloud bank was no warning of foul weather, and shortly after breakfast the blue sky appeared here and there till at last the whole crater was in full sunshine.
There is little of color throughout the whole vast extent of Haleakala. A reddish-yellow tone prevails here and there, but the greater part of the view is almost black. In the middle of the crater is a small volcanic cone perhaps 1000-1500 ft. in height. Not far from it one can, with patience, make out the form of an ancient volcano partially submerged by lava flows and cinders. But we were anxious to get nearer views of these wonders. We were to camp for two or three days down in the depths of the crater and have time to rest and to explore. No one can safely visit the depths of the crater unless he has knowledge of the so-called “water- holes” in the mountain side, where rain water in previous storms has collected in shallow or fairly deep pockets and sometimes remains indefinitely. Water is needed in quantities, for cooking, washing and more than all for the horses, which have suffered more than they deserved in the long hot ascent of the mountain.
We spent three days in the crater depths and had time to explore various wonders in the way of strange lava formations, miniature craters and incidentally enjoy some attempts at Alpine work in the well-nigh perpendicular walls of the crater.
Of vegetation there is little of variety or abundance, but some strange and unusual species of cactus and drought-enduring plants may be found here and there. One exceedingly rare plant, related to the lily family and growing five or six feet high is said to have no relatives in all the world except on the west coast of Ecuador in South America. One could spend a lifetime speculating on how this lonely plant may have travelled so far from home to find here just as bad an environment as it had enjoyed or rather suffered in its native land.
4. An Ascent of Mt. Hood
In the course of travels in our far western states, I took great interest in the long line of inspiring volcanic cones, Rainier, Hood, Adams, Shasta and the lesser peak of St. Helens, which form a majestic line running southward from Washington to California, parallel to the coast but at some distance from it. All of these peaks are more or less surrounded by dense coniferous forests and all of them rise up to the realms of perpetual snow.
One peak in particular has a special interest due to the fact that it still shows evidence of the ancient volcanic fires which raised it so far above the sea in past ages. This is Mt. Hood.
In the summer of 1890 I was returning from a trip to Alaska and California, and a side digression to Mt. Hood seemed to be a tempting and very reasonable possibility and one well worth proving. In those days it was no easy matter to reach the mountain’s base, involving as it did a long railroad ride and a still longer and more tiresome carriage ride over roads deep in sand till, at length, the little Cloud Cap Inn on the E. side of the mountain is reached. This name is appropriate and is used in many similar places in various parts of the world. In front of the inn, to the S. and E. was a broad and open expanse of gravel washes and sharp-ridged moraines, leading the eye to the snow-fields and glaciers of the highest peak of Mt. Hood.
Among the guests at the time of my visit there were several young college students, and a young, attractive girl, whom I suspected might be the sweetheart of the manager. This subsequently proved to be the case. After two or three days and when everyone had become acquainted, the proposal was made to climb the mountain. The manager of the inn, a skilled mountaineer, was to be our guide.
A little before dawn of the appointed day and in costumes more appropriate to miners or timber-cutters than mountaineers, we made ready for departure amidst a last minute scramble to find leggings that matched, shoes that were properly nailed, and such other articles as are never missed until one arrives on the mountainside amidst icy winds and showers of hail or snow.
There was little of order or discipline during the first hour or so, our guide wisely deciding to let the youngsters go their own pace where there was no danger and eventually calm down when there was need of caution. The amount of energy expended in dislodging great boulders and make them roll down the steep moraines to burst into a thousand pieces as they hit the bottom was keenly regretted when we got 5000 ft. higher.
Several hours later we began to ascend steep snow slopes as we drew near the summit and here we roped up, our guide leading, “Sweetheart” next, and the three men, of whom I was last. Not far from the summit we came to a steep snow couloir which descended between two rock walls from the point where we stood some 3500 ft. to the flats near the inn which appeared like a pin-point in the distance. It must have been a terrifying sight to the inexperienced girl in our company even though the guide cut very deep and well-made steps to give her courage.
At the most critical point our positions were as follows. The guide was on the far side of the couloir as the young lady reached the very deepest and central angle of the couloir ; then on the other side were the two college boys and myself last. As the reader may possibly imagine this was the crucial moment when with a scream “Sweetheart’s” feet flew out from under her and she started towards the valley far below. “Hang on, hang on,” shouted our guide, anxiety and terror in every feature. Needless advice. One might as well have tried to throw a cat down a cistern as to get that girl to let go the rope, which in any case was safely looped around her waist. Shortly after, we were through the perilous moment, and scaling a steep snow slope that led to the final crest.
The view from the summit is one that must be studied with care and in quiet contemplation. Perhaps from no other mountain peak in the world can be seen such a vast expanse of dense and continuous forest. The State of Oregon produces more lumber than any other State and fully half of all the Pacific States of Washington, Oregon and California. Veiled in the ever-present blue haze of forest fires, the distant horizon carries the eyes to . what the imaginative climber may imagine, or at least hope, may be the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The almost unique feature of Mt. Hood’s highest peak is the presence of steam vents here and there among the black rocks and perpetual snow, reminders of the ancient volcanic fires that raised the peak so far above the sea.
When half-way down our mountain and with the moon’s last- quarter crescent rising in the eastern sky, our guide asked me to go ahead and advise the cook and maid to prepare dinner against our speedy arrival. Years of practice in similar glacial terrain, requiring only patient care, soon brought me near the inn. It was about three in the morning when I was near enough to give a shout and proclaim to the maid and cook that our party was safe and sound. Expecting them to throw their arms about me in their relief and joy at my safe arrival, they gave instead, one shriek of terror and dashing back into the building, bolted and locked the door.
I had completely overlooked the fact that all during the day I had smeared my face with vaseline and lamp-black as a protection against sunburn, and this wearing off in spots, and showing white pallor of fatigue beneath, made me look like something long since buried and dug up. Only persuasive words and gentle tone of voice gained me entrance at last.
We had our dinner at breakfast time, and our breakfast at lunch time next day, but it was a happy and congenial group that gathered around the table. Some time I hope to go back and have Sweetheart’s son guide me up Mt. Hood and have another look at that fearsome couloir and the vast panorama that was a reward for conquering it.
5. Rambles in the Pyrenees
One of the unforgettable triumphs of my childhood days was when, as a youngster of five or six, the teacher of our geography class asked the question, “What range of mountain forms the boundary between Spain and France?” No one could answer till the question came to me at the bottom of the class, my customary place. “The Pyrenees,” said I. “Right. Go to the head of the class!” I have always loved the Pyrenees ever since. The name itself is worthy of a place among those sonorous and musical names such as the Dalles of the Columbia, the burning Ghats of Benares, the Steppes of Russia, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Dey of Algiers, and a hundred others.
In 1901 or 1902 I was appointed one of a committee of three to represent the National Geographic Society at the great Geographical Congress held in Paris. Besides myself, Professor Heilprin was a member and there was a third representative who was never seen or heard of, so far I know, in the duration of the Congress.
All day long, and far into the night, at various halls and assembly rooms, lectures were given and papers read on all manner of subjects more or less remotely allied to geography. For instance, there would be arguments as to the maximum temperature at the center of the earth, water pressure at the greatest depth of the sea, and other subjects so uplifting in nature that perhaps only two or three, possibly four, savants in all the world knew what they were talking about, nor would they dare to express an opinion, except to claim that all the others were completely and undeniably wrong.
As an offset to this, life after five was one mad whirl of gayety and entertainment at the homes of Dukes, Princes, and renowned savants. Hospitality reigned everywhere, and throughout the late afternoon and evening untold quantities of champagne and rarest wines were consumed amidst the compliments of the hosts and the gratitude of their guests.
But, all the time, there lurked a pleasant dream of my youth— the Pyrenees! Here I was in the very country bounded by the Pyrenees in the most intriguing season of the year when all nature was decked out in the blues and reds of the sky and the quaint farm houses, amidst the more subtle colors of the vineyards and Lombardy poplars. Moreover at this time the Lumière Company had recently completed and perfected their wonderful color process by which nature could be correctly and beautifully portrayed in the camera.
Without delay I repaired to the Lumière Company and met Professor Foubert, the director, and learned the more important requirements of their process at first hand. Having purchased several dozen 6½ × 8½'' plates, I was on my way by train and speeding southwards by the first of October, stopping off a day to photograph the Pont du Gard, that magnificent viaduct and aqueduct, nearly as perfect now as when built by Julius Caesar 2000 years ago. Then there was Avignon and the quaint little city of Carcassonne, on whose vine-covered and crenellated outer walls, one can almost make the entire circuit of the city. The last part of the trip was made by bus in order to study the country in a more leisurely manner and get better acquainted with the peasant life.
At Pau there was a magnificent and luxurious hotel, from the verandahs of which one could view the long and serrated line of the Pyrenees to the S., shrouded, unfortunately, for the first week in clouds and showers. With the coming of sunshine I was oft" to the mountains and engaged a guide to take me to the higher passes, waterfalls and other scenic points. Of lakes there is remarkable scarcity in the Pyrenees due to the narrow, deep valleys and steep slopes. Conversely, waterfalls of beauty and grandeur are to be found almost everywhere.
The guide situation was a flat failure. They were always too impatient to get off to their families and their suppers. Nor could they understand why anyone should want to wait two or three hours to have the sun come out in order to take a picture. So after the first day I braved the wilderness alone in spite of wolves and bandits. Long previous experience in the wildest mountain regions gave confidence and peace of mind.
Besides the wilder uplands there were fascinating little villages here and there, among them the tiny hamlet of Gedre and perhaps more interesting, Lourdes, where the limping and footsore pilgrims were cured overnight by a single glance at the Cross and figure of the Saviour, and so left their canes and crutches as a token of their faith.
I found the peasants cordial and willing to help, by posing in doorways or by their wheat shocks, in the fields and appreciative of the smallest pourboire. Nor could I forget the fortunate time of year at which I had arrived when the supreme beauty of autumn, the golden wheat fields, the fruit-trees glowing with rosy apples and the intensely blue sky reflected from the slate-tiled roofs, gave me a bewildering supply of subjects on every side.
The climax of the trip was, of course, the Cirque of Gavarnie, one of the highest and most spectacular in the world. The falls of Gavarnie the highest in Europe (1385 ft.) drops in one leap from valley crest to bottom and is only equalled by a few falls in the Yosemite and one in New Zealand. In the way of motion there are two sublime marvels in all the world, one, of course, the wild sea, in storm, breaking on a rock-bound coast ; the other a waterfall of great height, where one may watch the unending sequence of leaps and pauses down to the valley bottom ; where the wild cataract blows chill and moist drafts over the heated traveller.
I arrived in Paris near noon of a Saturday and at once called on Prof. Foubert at the Lumière Co. and tried to make an engagement for him to develop all my autochromes that afternoon, as I was booked for a steamer on Monday. To my great disappointment he had an engagement for lunch with the Comte de Chablis, or some such name, but he would develop two or three plates before leaving. The Professor never arrived at the Count’s party. After the first two or three plates came out of the fixing bath he said: “No. I have change ze mind. I do not go to see ze Conte de Chablis. You come vit me to Café Voissin, poulet supreme, champagne, ooh, la la! Zen we come back and develop all ze pictchair. Mon Dieu, zees air ze triomph of ze Lumière Compagnie!”
Many of these old Lumières I still possess and delight to gaze at from time to time. In my opinion they are not surpassed by any of the modern color processes, but the great disadvantage is that, being on glass, some one always knocks the best plate onto the floor and so, year by year, they are broken and lost forever. Some readers may recall an exhibition of these pictures at the Alpine Club meeting in New York in 1922, when some 30 or 40 autochromes were shown, including the Pyrenean views.
6. Mt. Baboquivari
In the spring of 1936 I received an appointment to the Division of Motion Pictures in the Department of the Interior. The title is somewhat misleading in view of the fact that much important work in almost all other lines of photography is done in that Division.
In the beginning of summer I received orders to proceed to the West and visit the more important Indian Reservations of the northern tier of States bordering on Canada from the Chippewayans of Wisconsin and Minnesota to the Crows, Blackeet, Nez Percés and other tribes of the Pacific Coast. The purpose was the acquisition of photographs to be used by lecturers, authors and the Government itself, in the propagation of information on this very interesting subject.
For the better accomplishment of these purposes I was supplied with an excellent enclosed truck, large enough to carry a complete outfit of cameras, lenses, films, extra tires, and identification cards by which gas and all other requirements could be obtained in any state in the Union, by the mere signing of a receipt. The trip was intensely interesting though, at times, requiring very long drives, up to 400 miles in a day, and the enduring of occasional discomfort in our primitive western hotels when accommodations at the Indian Reservations were not available.
After having covered the entire northern tier of states I followed the declining sun of approaching winter southwards, through California, Nevada and Utah to the reservation of the Papago Indians in southern Arizona. The headquarters of the reservation is at Sels some 40 miles W. of Tucson, the great rodeo center and home of the broncho buster.
The Papago Indians as a race are rather low grade compared with our splendid northern tribes such as the Crows and Blackfeet. However these Indians have all the advantages enjoyed by other tribes, in excellent hospitals, lecture halls, playgrounds, and opportunity to grow up as educated and healthy American citizens.
The outstanding feature in all the landscape of that region and one that attracted my attention from the first moment, was a magnificent peak that rose to a height of more than 5000 ft. above the surrounding plain and that could be seen for 150 miles, in every direction. The upper 2000 ft. were almost vertical precipices, giving an outline to the peak resembling in a way that of the Matterhorn. Slowly but surely, and day by day, came the urge to climb the noble and inspiring mountain.
I was entirely out of condition after riding long hours by day and developing pictures far into the night, often with little rest. So I made up my mind to go into training, especially as not only one, but two, of my doctors advised me to be careful of my heart at my age. My method was as follows : Two or three times a week I would climb one or more of the little hills which are to be found almost everywhere on the reservation. They ran from 50 or 75 ft. high, to 200 or 250 ft. To the mountaineer this sounds like rather unimportant ground in which to train an athlete. However, when he understands the ever present obstacles to be overcome in the dry and friable soil, filled with cobblestones and entirely covered with dense growths of spiny cactus trees, vines and intertwining branches, he will change his mind. Every possible size and sharpness of thorn and spine serves to protect them from grazing cattle and other enemies in the race for self-perpetuation. Other species have tiny tufts of hairlike spines which penetrate the skin and remain there for days, and meanwhile, among all the vast variety, there are some species so rare and so beautiful that the botanists willingly pay several thousand dollars for a single specimen.
After a month or six weeks of this more or less monotonous work I changed my ground to the very base of Baboquivari. The mountain was 20 miles from Sels but a level dirt road led almost to the base of the peak, or rather its lower spurs. So every Sunday I spent the day on the highly interesting small peaks and ridges to the N. E. of Baboquivari. There I found endless views and fantastic compositions of scenery, giant cacti of many varieties, and the dark, vertical cliffs of Baboquivari’s foot, that like sprawling claws reached out over the landscape as if they were guardians of its safety and welfare. No landscape has ever intrigued me more. The Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the marvellous colors of the Yellowstone Canyon can rarely or ever be looked upon in solitude. One is forever surrounded by the babble of iuappreciative, and often commonplace, people that distract the attention, disturb one’s dreams and drive one to near madness. But here I was the sole and only owner of all this majesty of nature.
Came the final day for my prospective climb. Like most all others it was cool with a faint, bluish haze that only slightly dulled the most distant horizon. The 30-mile ride seemed all too short. Hiding my car in a secluded part of a small grove near the base of the mountain, I slung my rucksack over my shoulders and was on my way. Fortunately a well-made foot path led directly from the location of my car, ever rising in gentle grade around the S. E. foot of Baboquivari. I carried out a carefully made plan for the trip. Twenty minutes of slow walking, a rest of ten minutes, then 25 minutes of a slightly greater speed and 20 minutes rest and so on for the first two hours, never exceeding 180 heart beats to the minute, or three a second. This may sound very high, but let the reader climb a staircase of three or four floors and count his pulse. He will be surprised.
The air was crisp and inspiring. There was absolutely no danger of wild beasts or human enemies. Bears are not known in this region. Mountain lions were scarce and rarely attack the traveller. If the reader will credit the statement, the only possible cause of worry might be from the droves of peccaries, the wild pigs of Mexico which roam in herds of several hundred and by sheer numbers can overcome a man or even larger enemies. One might, of course, seek temporary refuge in a tree, but the situation could become monotonous after the second or third day.
Twenty minutes steady walk and five minutes rest, twenty minutes more and a similar rest even though not in the slightest fatigued. This was not merely a pleasure trip—it was to be a conquest or a failure. Through the blue haze I could now see more than 100 miles in every direction except that part to my left cut off by the mountain side.
After three hours the trail ended abruptly against the vertical cliff of Baboquivari’s highest peak. I estimated that there were as yet 3000 ft. more climbing to be done to reach the summit and this would be the really interesting part. Massive blocks of stone, some of them thirty or forty feet in length and ten or twelve feet thick lay piled in confusion at the base of a vertical cliff that rose 1500 ft. above me. Fortunately the actual slope of the mountain was here not very steep, so that the only difficulty was in climbing and traversing the enormous blocks of stone that had fallen from the overhanging cliffs in past ages. This place would have been a paradise for rattlesnakes in summer, but fortunately they were now enjoying their long winter’s nap. At length the slope turned to the right and brought me out on the N. side of the mountain which was steep enough to carry a scanty and thin growth of upland forest trees.
To all appearances the mountain was mine. After my long preparation my hopes and my aspirations it looked as if a reward was near if not actually in hand. Unwarranted desires and hope! Little did I know what serious obstacles lay before me! Where everything pointed to immediate triumph one of those unexpected and unimagined incidents came near to turning success into miserable failure !
The summit was now no more than 200-300 ft. above me. I almost imagined I could dimly see it through the thin and scanty forest now buried in snow when I came suddenly to a steep cliff, far too steep apparently to climb, covered with ice!
After all these days and weeks spent in preparation it seemed far too severe a blow of fate to meet with failure at the very goal of success. With an ice-axe I could have cut out a safe passage over this dangerous cliff in short order, but the only weapon I had was a pocket knife, of little more value than with which to sharpen a lead pencil. It had a three-inch blade to be sure and I went to work. At first all was well but when I got 15-20 ft. above the base of the cliff, with all those nubby and rounded lumps of ice made by smoothly flowing water, and as many more above me the prospect of a night in the woods with a broken ankle did not seem assuring. However, never looking down but always upward, I finally reached the soft deep snow and low bushes near the summit. After that it was only a quarter hour before I stood on the summit, entered the little hut and signed my name just below that of one of the Roosevelt family, a visitor of some three years before !
One could hardly imagine, without seeing it, the vast panorama that lay before me with all of southern Arizona and parts of Mexico within the limits of vision.
When I reached the trail, some 3000 ft. below the summit, two Government officials met me and asked how long it would take to climb the mountain. I told them that if they started at once they might well reach it by morning.
When I got back to Washington at the end of my trip I consulted one of the doctors who had previously examined my heart and he said it was in fine shape. The other doctor was dead.