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The noise made by each fragment in its passage through the air increased rapidly in pitch, thus indicating that they were approaching us; but they always fell short of our camp. The bombardment from above was most active just after the shadows fell on the cliffs, showing that the stones were loosened by the freezing of the water in the interstices of the rock.
The next day, August 20, Stamy and Lindsley went back to Camp 16 for more rations, while Kerr and I remained at Camp 18 nursing our eyes and resting. The day passed without anything worthy of note, except the almost constant thunder of avalanches on the mountains. About sunset a dense fog spread over the wintry landscape and threatened to delay the return of the men. When the sun went down, however, the temperature. fell several degrees, the mist vanished, and a few stars came out clear and bright. Just as we were about to despair of seeing the men that night we heard a distant shout announcing their return. We had a cup of hot coffee for them when they reached the tent, which they drank with eagerness; but they were too tired to partake of food. Rolling themselves in their blankets, they were asleep in a few minutes.
CAMP ON THE NEWTON GLACIER.
On August 21 we climbed the cliff above Camp 18 by means of the rope already placed there, and found the snow above greatly crevassed. We traveled upward along the steep slope bordering the glacier, but soon came to a deep crevasse which forbade further progress in that direction. Returning to a lower level, we undertook to smooth off an extremely narrow snowbridge so as to make it wide enough to cross, but found the undertaking so hazardous that we abandoned it. By this time it was midday, and we prepared a cup of hot coffee before renewing our attack on the cliffs. After luncheon and a short rest, feeling very much refreshed, we began to cut a series of steps in a bluff of snow about fifty feet high, and made rapid progress in the undertaking. After an hour's hard work one of us reached the top and, planting an alpenstock deep in the snow, lowered a rope to those below. The packs were drawn up one at a time and we were soon ready to advance again.
We found ourselves in a vast amphitheatre bounded on all sides excepting that from which we had come with rugged, snow
covered precipices. The plain was crossed by huge crevasses, some of which were fully a mile in length; but by traveling around their ends or crossing snow-bridges we slowly worked our way onward toward St. Elias. Threading our way through the labyrinth of yawning gulfs, we at last, after the sun had gone down behind the great pyramid toward the west, found a convenient place on the snow, near a blue pond of water, on which to pass the night. Everything was snow-covered in the vast landscape except the most precipitous cliffs, and these were dangerous to approach, owing to the avalanches that frequently fell from them. The weather continued fine. The night was clear and the stars were unusually brilliant. Everything seemed favorable for pushing on. The way ahead presented such even snow-slopes and seemed so free from crevasses that we decided to leave our tent and blankets in the morning and, taking with us as little as possible of impedimenta, endeavor to reach the summit of St. Elias.
HIGHEST POINT REACHED.
Rising at three o'clock on the morning of August 22, we started for the summit of St. Elias, taking with us only our water-proof coats, some food, and the necessary instruments. The higher mountain summits were no longer clearly defined, but in the early light it was impossible to tell whether or not the day was to be fair. From the highest and sharpest peaks, cloud banners were streaming off towards the southeast, showing that the higher air currents were in rapid movement. Vapor banks in the east were flushed with long streamers of light as the sun rose, but soon faded to a dull ashen gray, while the cloud banners between us and the sun became brilliant like the halo seen around the moon when the sky is covered with fleecy clouds. This was the first time in my experience that I had seen colored banners waving from the mountain tops.
We found the snow-surface hard, and made rapid headway up the glacier. Our only difficulty was the uncertainty of the early light, which rendered it impossible to tell the slope of the uneven snow-surfaces. The light was so evenly diffused that there were no shadows. The rare beauty of that silent, wintry landscape, so delicate in its pearly half tones and so softly lighted, was unreal and fairy-like. The winds were still; but
strange forebodings of coming changes filled the air. Long, waving threads of vapor were woven in lace-work across the sky; the white-robed mountains were partially concealed by cloudmasses drifting like spirits along their mighty battlements; and far, far above, from the topmost pinnacles, irised banners were signaling the coming of a storm.
We made rapid progress, but early in the day came to the base of a heavy cloud bank which enshrouded all the upper part of St. Elias. Then snow began to fall, and it was evident that to proceed farther would be rash and without promise of success. After twenty days of fatigue and hardship since leaving Blossom island, with our goal almost reached, we were obliged to turn back. Hoping to be able to renew the attempt after the storm had passed, Mr. Kerr left his instruments on the snow between two huge crevasses and we returned to our tent, where we passed the remainder of the day and the night following. The snow continued to fall throughout the day, and the storm increased in force as night came on.
When we awoke in the morning the tempest was still raging. We were in the midst of the stormcloud; the dense vapor and the fine drifting snow-crystals swept along by the wind obscured everything from view; the white snow surface could not be distinguished from the vapor-filled air; there was no earth and no sky; we seemed to be suspended in a white, translucent medium which surrounded us like a shroud. The snow was already more than three feet deep about our tent, and to remain longer with the short supply of provisions on hand was exceedingly hazardous, as there seemed no limit to the duration of the storm. A can of rations had been left at Rope cliff, and we decided to return to that place if possible. Resuming our packs, we roped ourselves together and began to descend through the blinding mist and snow which rendered the atmosphere so dense that a man could not be distinguished at a distance of a hundred feet. With only an occasional glimpse of the white cliff around to guide us, we worked our way downward over snow-bridges and between the crevasses. Our ascent through this dangerous region had been slow and difficult, but our descent was still more tedious. All day long we continued to creep slowly along through the blinding storm, and as night approached believed ourselves near the steps cut in a snow-cliff during the ascent, but darkness came before we reached them. Shoveling the snow away as best we could with our hands and
Second Attempt to scale St. Elias.
basins, we cleared a place down to the old snow large enough for our tent and went into camp.
In the morning, August 24, the storm had spent its force and left the mountains with an immaculate covering, but still partially veiled by shreds of storm-clouds. We found ourselves on one of the many tables of snow, bounded on all sides by crevasses of great depth, but not far from the snow-cliff where we had cut steps. The steps were obliterated by the new snow, but by means of a rope and alpenstocks we made the descent without much difficulty. The last man to go down, not having the help of the rope, used two alpenstocks, and descended by first planting one firmly in the snow and lowering himself as far as he could, still retaining a firm hold, and then planting the other in the snow at a lower level and removing the higher one. By slowly and carefully repeating this operation he descended the cliff safely and rejoined his companions. Passing on beneath the cliffs, dangerous on account of avalanches, we reached in safety the precipice where we had left our rope. A heavy avalanche had swept down from the heights above during our absence and sent its spray over the precipice we had to descend. The cliff of ice towering above the place where our rope was fastened had become greatly melted and honey-combed, and threatened every moment to crash down and destroy any one who chanced to be beneath. To stand above the precipice in the shadow of the treacherous snow-cliffs while the men were descending the rope was exceedingly trying to one's nerves; but the avalanches did not come, and the previous camping place below Rope cliff was reached with safety.
The following day, August 25, after some consultation, it was decided to once more attempt to reach the top of Mount St. Elias. Lindsley and Stamy, who had shared without complaint our privations in the snow, volunteered to descend to a lower camp for additional rations, while Kerr and myself returned to the higher camp in the hope that we might be able to ascend the peak before the men returned, and, if not, to have sufficient rations when they did rejoin us to continue the attack. The men departed on their difficult errand, while Kerr and I, with blankets, tents, oil-stoves, and what rations remained, once more scaled the cliff where we had placed a rope, and returned on the trail made the day previously. About noon we reached the excavation in the snow where we had bivouacked in the storm,
and there prepared a lunch. It was then discovered that we had been mistaken as to the quantity of oil in our cans; we found scarcely enough to cook a single meal. To attempt to remain several days in the snow with this small supply of fuel seemed hazardous, and Mr. Kerr volunteered to descend and overtake the men at the lower camp, procure some oil, and return the following day. We then separated, Mr. Kerr starting down the mountain, leaving me with a double load, weighing between sixty and seventy pounds, to carry through the deep snow to the high camp previously occupied.
ALONE IN THE HIGHEST CAMP.
Trudging wearily on, I reached the high camp at sunset, and pitched my tent in the excavation previously occupied. An alpenstock was used for one tent-pole, and snow saturated with water, piled up in a column, for the other; the snow froze in a few minutes, and held the tent securely. The ends of the ridgerope were then stamped into the snow, and water was poured over them; the edges of the tent were treated in a similar manner, and my shelter was ready for occupation. After cooking some supper over the oil-stove, I rolled myself in a blanket and slept the sleep of the weary. I was awakened in the morning by snow drifting into my tent, and on looking out discovered that I was again caught in a blinding storm or mist of snow. The storm raged all day and all night, and continued without interruption until the evening of the second day. The coal oil becoming exhausted, a can was filled with bacon grease, in which a cotton rag was placed for a wick; and over this "witch lamp' I did my cooking during the remainder of my stay. The snow, falling steadily, soon buried my tent, already surrounded on three sides by an icy wall higher than my head, and it was only by almost constant exertion that it was kept from being crushed in. With a pint basin for a shovel I cleared the tent as best I could, and several times during the day re-excavated the hole leading down to the pond, which had long since disappeared beneath the level plain of white. The excavation of a tunnel in the snow was also begun in the expectation that the tent would become uninhabitable. The following night it became impossible to keep the tent clear in spite of energetic efforts, and early in the morning it was crushed in by a great weight of snow,