by J. K. Laski
Reprinted from the Bangor Courier September 1847 in the Maine Naturalist June 1927
Without a desire to be foremost in giving to the public an account of the Exploring Expedition, or pretending to be thoroughly qualified for the objects in view, yet as the writing of the Narrative has been assigned to me, I cheerfully give such information respecting our journey as I am able to. The objects and developments must of course, be made in a Report to the State by Dr. Young, State Botanist, and which I trust will receive the attention that the subject deserves.
The State having granted an appropriation, and authorized Dr. Young of this city, an accomplished Botanist, and ardently devoted to the natural sciences, to make a Botanical Survey of the State, he deemed it most important to make the first tour to Mount Katahdin. This mountain, the second in height of the New England mountains and owing to its distance into the interior of Maine, and the difficulties attending to its ascent, is rarely visited, and had never been explored by a practical Botanist. J. W. Bailey, Prof. of Chemistry at West Point, made the ascent on the 13th of August 1836, and Dr. Charles T Jackson, State Geologist, made the next in the following year on the 22nd of September - both under very unfavorable circumstances, the first in the midst of a drizzling mist and rain, and the latter, when he partially accomplished the ascent was overtaken by a storm of snow and sleet, which prevented him from making that minute examination which he otherwise would have done. Prof. Bailey from the fatigue of the journey, and from the continuation of the mist and rain, was unable to gain the highest point on the mountain and this was accomplished by Mr. Barnes, one of his party.
We commenced our journey on the 18th of August from this city, the party consisting of Dr. Young, Rev. A P Chute of Harrison in this state, an accomplished scholar and botanist. Dr. Thurber of Providence, an excellent botanist and a young gentleman of fine talents and education, Mr. John Emerson of Glenburn, a great enthusiast in botany and late a pupil of Dr. Young, Mr. George Emerson of this city, as marksman and bar killer, Mr. James Cown, also of Bangor, who was employed as a guide and whose team Dr. Young chartered to carry the party and their baggage, and myself, seven persons in all.
We left Bangor about 9 o’clock A.M. and during that day proceeded as far up the Penobscot at Passadumkeag, where we raised our tents in the field of Mr. Orcutt, keeper of one of the inns, who kindly allowed us the privilege, and furnished the material for making a comfortable straw bed. We gathered up a little wood, cooked our supper by frying some pork and boiling a kettle of water - ate it with a good appetite, “washed the dishes”, got out blankets, “turned in,” and should have had a delicious and continuous sleep, but a shower or two discomfited us a little, though our tents were waterproof. But the situation was exposed, and the rain was accompanied with wind, it drove under the tents and awoke us.
However we awoke in the morning by sunrise, tolerably well satisfied with this first experiment of camping out, prepared our breakfast, and resumed our journey by 6 o’clock.
The next day we dined at the tavern of Mr. Fish in Lincoln village, a beautiful thriving place, situated near the mouth of the Mattanawcook River. Never having passed through this town during the summer season, we were really disappointed in its appearance.
It is beautifully situated on the East, or rather the Southeast side of the Penobscot, has the largest population of any place above Oldtown; and we saw some well cultivated farms, as much so, as any we remember to have seen east of the Kennebec. The River bounding this town on the Northwest is much less rapid than both above and farther down the Penobscot, it passing through a long extent of intervale land, of considerable width which appeared to be excellent grass land, and rich in vegetable deposits. Here and there were beautiful islands, and some of them quite extensive, formed doubtless by diluvial and alluvial agency; and with their open growth of large elms, whose branches made a continued shade from tree to tree, formed really a picturesque and charming appearance. One a little conversant with the history of the Penobscot Indians, while contemplating these lovely islands readily recalls to mind the days of their bygone freedom and prosperity ere the European had visited their waters, and made a dwelling in their wilderness - scenes of innocence and content forever departed, and nothing is left of them but the places which they haunted and their rivers and lakes which time slowly changes and a degenerate few, who waning in numbers like the days of their years, must soon disappear forever.
In Lincoln Village the younger “branch” of our party raised the tents, near the stable of Mr. Fish, but as our situation was exposed to the gaze of passers-by, Dr. Young thought it best to dispense with cooking today, and dine at Mr. Fish’s. The tents were borrowed of the Bangor Rifle Company, and had B.R.C marked on them, and when all spread and in proper “trim” presented quite a unique appearance. I did not enter the village with the company, but went round by the shore and passed into the road above the village, and passing down saw the tents erected and a number of the citizens about them, but nothing of our party. Feeling the spirit of mischief, I walked up to the tents, as a stranger, who had never seen the like of them before and enquired what was going on - if they had a caravan in the exhibition - “Oh no,” said one, and explained the matter. I observed that it looked like a caravan as it had B.R.C on the canvas which stood for Bangor Royal Caravan, and if so should like to see the lion . One of the citizens, a “knowing one” observed that the lion was not to be seen, but I could see the “elephant” - I declined that sight, replying I might have an opportunity in a few days!
This day we got as far as Mattawamkeage Point, where we encamped again, and here Dr. Young took a barometrical observation, and I would notice en passant that he did not let an opportunity slip repeating his observations two or three times a day, deeming this course practicably important, and to serve as a sort of a Barometrical correspondence with the observances of other places.
On the 20th at 10 o’clock we entered the Aroostock road, leading off from the Military road, in a Northwesterly direction, which we pursued about 17 miles - as far as Mr. John Cram’s, in township No. 3 the 3rd range, 85 miles from Bangor. Here we stopped for the night and all excepting Dr. Young and Mr. Chute, who were urgently invited by Mrs. Cram to lodge at her house, slept in the barn of Mr. Joseph Perry, an old veteran of Mount Katahdin, who with a party from a different section of the state ascended the Mountain in 1804, the first white men who ever trod the summit, the tour of which is mentioned in Williamson’s History of Maine. During the afternoon of the 20th, while passing through the unincorporated township of Benedicta, purchased by the late Bishop Fenwick for the site of a Catholic College, we got a glimpse of Katahdin, the eternal guardian of the primeval and perpetual woods, who reared his form in majesty far above the surrounding hills, and reminded me as I gazed upon it, of the tower of Babel, and the Pyramid of Cheops; but here the contrast failed - the first were of human hands and covered but a few acres: but the latter is the gigantic work of nature, and covers with its base over a hundred thousand.
We expected when we arrived at that point of the Aroostook road, which is left in pursuing the route to the East Branch of the Penobscot, we should be able to continue our travel with the carriage 10 miles further, to Mr. William H. Hunt’s on the arm of the main river, just mentioned; but owing to the badness of the road we were compelled to leave it and one horse behind; and therefore on Saturday morning the 21st, we may be said to have begun our “line of march” for Katahdin. One of the horses was “chartered” with reams of paper for the plants, two large tin boxes in which to preserve the botanical specimens of the mountain; Mr. Cowan took one of the tents and some essentials, the others their own baggage, provisions, and camp utensils - a catalogue of the sine qua non of which - were hard bread, clear pork, two hams, two or three dozen of smoked herrings, tea, coffee, sugar, etc. A few things of smaller import I shall omit to name, but which were very useful, nevertheless. And I would observe that Dr. Young seemed to have spared no pains to prepare for his party and make them comfortable and happy; and it seemed to me on seeing our baggage overhauled that he must have had all the experience of an age in travelling out of the pale of civilization, to conjure up so many little things which one unaccustomed to forest life, would think useless, but which with us, we found really needful.
We found the first five miles of the road to Mr. Hunt’s residence, extremely bad, and although we had been traveling four hours, accomplished only this short distance. Here at the house of Mr. Stacy we halted to rest ourselves a little. This gentleman removed with his family from Sangerville on the Piscataquis river to this region some eight or ten years ago, when the Aroostook country was considered by many what the “far west” is at the present day, a country with the best soil for growing wheat and the best facilities for growing rich. The land unquestionably is excellent and if it had the climate of New York, no better country could be found in the Atlantic states. The soil along the most of our way from the entrance of the Aroostook road, and on Mr. Stacy’s farm is principally covered with a splendid growth of Sugar Maple; and one would think from its extent, sugar might be made in this region, enough to supply all the demand of the state of Maine.
We again resumed our march, and in the afternoon about three o’clock, arrived at the farm of Mr. Hunt. Here we “ground arms” - and glad enough to get rid of them, as we had rather a tedious introduction to the anticipated pleasure of a trip to Katahdin, still the party were in good spirits and cheerful, though hungry and fatigued, as we did not stop to prepare on our way, a dinner, nor to rest ourselves for any length of time. It being now late in the day, and no facilities at hand for crossing the river, Dr. Young decided on remaining here over the Sabbath. Mr. Hunt has made himself here a productive farm. He removed from the western part of this state, some ten or twelve years since, in the wilderness here, poor and with quite a family of children, the most of whom were too small to render him much assistance in making a new farm. In a few years however, with much toil and privation, he was able to maintain his family; and by laying down most of the land he had cleared up to grass, he opened a sure way to prosperity, - the hay at this time in the immediate neighborhood of lumbering operations, commanded a much higher price than it could have done in any market town in the state. His oats and other grain obtained also a corresponding price; and thus in a few years he was enabled to overcome all difficulties in making a good farm, and to possess all conveniences of our best farmers.
He has erected a very large barn, clapboarded, and finished in the best style, suitable for the accommodation of a host of teams.
He erected also, a comfortable story and a half house, and convenient out-houses, etc. The most of the boards for those buildings were sawed on the ground by two men with a “whip-saw” as we remember seeing in other parts of the country some twenty years ago - very laborious to be sure, and expensive building by such means; but this was his only alternative - and necessity is the mother of perseverance as well as of invention. In the winter Mr. Hunt opens his house to travellers, as there is a good deal of passing to and fro on this route during this season of the year.
He has now a farm of 175 acres, 100 of it cleared, and he cut this year 75 tons of hay which he sells readily at $12.
Mr. Hunt is a shrewd business man - and like all Yankee farmers knows how to keep as well as get, money, and for his honest industry and economy, deserves a fortune. Mrs. Hunt is an amiable woman; and seemed to feel very much the privations of society; schools, and especially religious privileges. The visit of a clergyman in these wilds is indeed like angel’s visits, few and far between. Mr. Chute by Mr. Hunt’s request, exercised his vocation in the afternoon, of the Sabbath, and presented an excellent sermon from those interesting words of our Savior, -”As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up.” To be sure he had not a large congregation, but they were attentive and interested. I would here observe that Mr. Chute, constantly, night and morning, by Dr. Young’s request called us together and offered prayers to the throne of Mercy. There was something peculiarly interesting in these exercises. We were in the wilderness among the deep wild recesses of nature, the forest of ages, where prayer probably had never before been made; and I often asked myself, could it be that in these haunts of the wild beasts of the forest, “the desert shall blossom as the rose” and here shall prayer and supplication be made to the God of heaven”
On Monday morning the 23rd, we crossed the East Branch of the Penobscot, opposite Mr. Hunt’s house, and followed the road made to a cleared field a mile distant. Mr. Cowan turned his horse out to pasture here; and crossing the Wassataquoik nearby, we immediately struck into an old “supply” road, which pursues its route nearly parallel with this river, and quite to its source. On the North bank of this river Dr. Young found Swertia in abundance, the only place we saw it on our journey.
After resting here a few minutes, we resumed our march: and travelling all day, heavily laden with our various provisions and baggage, sometimes climbing over fallen trees, across our path, or wading a wide stream, or leaping a ditch, we halted at an old camp, temporarily erected probably by the river-drivers. We estimated the distance of our travel this day, about 18 miles - equal to 30 on a good turnpike. The next day by 3 1/2 o’clock we crossed again the Wassataquoik, having travelled about 12 miles this day.
Thus making the distance from Mr. Hunt’s to this point of the stream, which here runs close to the Northern base of Katahdin, 30 miles, 15 farther than we had supposed, and some part of the way a wretched road, even for an old deserted one. During these two days we were almost constantly in view of the Wassataquoik, and when 14 miles from Hunt’s we met gigantic granite boulders, swept from the Mountain, probably in a Northeasterly direction. The bed of the river in some places was full of them, and on these enormous rocks, high and dry, sometimes ten or fifteen feet above the water, were mill logs which had been cut five or six years ago. Mr. Cowan, who was in this region at the time this lumber was cut, told us there were nearly $10,000 worth in this river and that during the highwater, for every season since attempts were made to get them down; and it seemed to us a helpless task, but this river having its source among the hills near Katahdin, and being fed by brooks from the mountains, which on a sudden, swell into deep and rapid streams, the main receptacle of these waters must of course be governed by them - suddenly arise and ebb with as much rapidity. It must have been a losing business: and how Yankee could ever imagine that so terribly a rocky stream could be profitably driven, was to me a mystery. We on this route frequently met with fresh tracks of moose, deer and bear, but saw none of them, no game of any kind but a few partridges which our skillful Nimrod soon gave us possession of. Before crossing the Wassataquoik, Dr. Young took a barometrical observation near the level of the stream, in order to measure the altitude of the highest point of the Mountain above the base. Having done this we nerved ourselves for the herculeum - there I’ve made a word - (difficulties which belong to Hercules), of ascending Katahdin, the all absorbing desire of the party, and the only fear of the same gentlemen; and began the ascent on the Northeast side of the Mountain (mag. notes probably Russell Mountain). Mr. Cowan having ascended once before from this position, knew something of the difficulties; and we believe chose the best possible angle for gaining the summit. A part of our way was clambering up over rocks, one upon another, which every moment, from the detached situation seemed to threaten the death of all hands; but we persevered, and worked our way anward (sic) like true hardy pioneers, resting every ten or fifteen minutes, the growth which we passed for the first hours being maple, white birch, spruce, fir, and occasionally beech. By 7 o’clock in the evening having attained a height of 2,000 feet above the Wassataquoik, and come into a suitable place for encampment, and having searched in vain for water, Dr. Young thought it not prudent to proceed any further. We made up a rousing fire to warm ourselves, the air at this altitude being quite chilly, constructed a temporary covering overhead with poles and boughs, made a bed of fir boughs, ready for camping. Our guide thinking we should without doubt, meet with water on the Mountain, we entirely neglected to bring any in our canteens from the river; and now excessively fatigued and hungry, and above all / feverishly thirsty, we were obliged to give up the idea of a supper, as we supposed that eating hard bread and salt pork, would only increase our thirst.
For my part, I determined to have a supper, let the case terminate as it would, and about it I set myself. I cut off an interesting slice of ham, and fried it, and got out a few crackers to keep it company, and on this dish being served up by myself for myself, I thought it would be well enough to have a cup of coffee to moisten it down. I went to the knapsack, like a true Irishman, as I am, for the coffee, thinking coffee would be coffee, boiled or roasted; but on pondering a long time upon the question, finally arrived at the conclusion that coffee could not be genuine coffee, without a little water to go with it. I ate my supper, solitary and alone, some of the party taking a peep at me occasionally, with a I-am-half-a-mind-to-play-at-that-game sort of look, and finally like a turtle withdrew their heads into their “boxes,” which consisted of blankets and a spread made of the tent; and probably musing awhile upon their very comfortable situation, and the realization of all their anticipations, fell asleep to dream of the delicious streams of the wilderness and the glory of Mount Katahdin. After I had disposed of this “refreshment” and cut down a tree or two for fuel, and made a good fire, I thought it now my chance for a nap. It was now ten o’clock, cloudless, and starlight, and the sky was filled with the glorious effulgence of a full moon. I cleared away a little nest before the fire, put Mr. Cowan’s boot under my head for a pillow, took a squint at what was going on among the stars, thanked the moon for her kindness, and was gone into the land of Nod - very different from that of Eden, as I found, in the course of an hour or two.
I had no blanket over me and like the rest of my companions, was dreaming of cold water, and plenty of it, without being able to get a taste thereof. For my part I felt like the thirsty behemoth in the Book of Job, who trusted that he could draw up Jordan at a draught. But ‘twas no use; I had to grin and bear it, and after an hour or two, amusing myself with impromptu soliloquies, in which I made Drs. Young and Thurber, the latter especially a great sport maker, and lover of fun, take an imaginary part, I turned again towards the boots, and tried my hand at another doze. I succeeded a little better this time, and when I awoke, the unclouded sun was pouring his golden light over the mountain and valley - and I was about to add water, but I was not so sure of this; as there was none in view, nor any likelihood of being any very soon.
All hands were now “piped”, the grave looking State Botanist, and myself, especially so, as our pipes, (not our vocal ones, they were dry and husky), were now filled and in active operation. We were a forlorn, hungry, fatherless looking set of fellows, as ever slept a thousand miles away from water and civilization, and had every sort of a broken down appearance, but that which sailors call “water logged” - that was not our particular condition. We quizzed each other over a little to sound our notions of our excellent supper on the previous night, of bread, butter, tea, rich cakes and pies and other things too numerous to mention; but “ ‘twas no go,” all acted as though they had never tasted such things; I couldn’t see as any one felt as if he had “seen the elephant,” but like Paddy’s owl, I have no doubt, though they said little, yet kept up a terrible thinking.
The growth here was terribly dense, principally of soft wood, and not averaging in height over forty feet, I should think. Here and a little farther down, we saw where both moose and bears had been and from this circumstance, were led to suppose we should find water enough for need.
We soon again got under way; and now our thoughts were not so much bent on prosecuting the ascent, as upon the discovery of water, and in thinking of our suppers, - I mean the rest of the party.
I felt tolerably satisfied on that point. We started about six o’clock, or a little after, and traveled till 8, through stinted growths of fir, spruce and white birch, when the guide, some distance ahead, who doubtless must have smelt the drink, gave a joyful cry of water! and water, water! passed from front to rear of our company. It was indeed a joyful announcement which those cannot fully appreciate, who have never been similarly situated.
Like camels in a sandy desert, when thirsty and approaching the true aqua vitae, we scampered onward for the prize; and I probably describe the indulgences of the whole, when I do my own.
I detached a small tin dipper from my belt, and before I could quench my extreme thirst for water I had drunk ten dippers full of this icy cold water; and then principally because I began to consider, if I continued that practice much longer, I should have no room for a hearty breakfast which I was intending to take care of.
Here we cooked our breakfast, and “honor to whom honor is due,” I will say that the entire party “did justice to the subject” when it was presented to them. It was a “feast of fat things.” especially the fried pork, which was uncommonly fat even to the eye of a “buck eye”. Here Dr. Young and his assistant botanist searched for rare plants and was successful. He found here the pyrola uniflora, - the one flowered pirola, a beautiful little thing three inches high, concealing its leaves in the moss, but just modest enough to run its beautiful little blossom on a slender stem an inch or two long, to greet with a smile the morning sunlight, and to bask in his effulgent beams. We saw here in the greatest abundance, the mountain ash - (common round wood), some of which were quite seven inches in diameter. The sugar pear (mag note Amelanchier Bartramianu) growing in bushes from three to ten feet high, we frequently met with, the berries were very delicious, - particularly so to us before we discovered water.
Having spent an hour here, we continued the ascent, still on the Northeast side of the mountain. The place of our encampment on the previous night, and where we breakfasted, is not properly the main mountain, but a spur running off from the main body in a northeasterly direction. one of the party now climbed a tree, and having seen what he supposed to be the summit of Katahdin, reported it, when giving the points of the compass now set for the purpose, south about one and a half miles. We in a few minutes were again on the move. We now found it more difficult to proceed, on account of the stunted and almost impenetrable growth of spruce. They were now not more than seven feet high, very scrubby; but one would suppose from their decayed bark, limbs, and the thousand tangled vines, not very well “scrubbed”. From all appearances, as I examined with the glass many parts of the mountain below where vegetation may almost be said to cease, I mean the ranker kind of vegetable production, I should suppose the mountain entirely belted with a growth of this nature. It was the pinus nigra , commonly known as black spruce. We were now probably 3000 feet above the river previously mentioned. We in our ascent so far had met with but a few of the pine. At this altitude almost the entire growth was that of evergreen. It occurred to my mind a hundred times, though troublesome enough the reality, and it was a beautiful thought, that here so high above the surrounding country, often exposed to the clouds which sometimes seem a part of the mountain to bleak winds, and snows which come early in the fall and are loth to depart, even when the valleys are clothed with renewed verdure and flowers, - the forest never changes its appearance, a dark green hue sits forever on the trees - the change of decay which the forest usually assumes during the autumn -time, comes not here among the branches of these evergreens.
This morning soon after our departure, we met with an abundance of Solidagos, those plants which grow from one foot to seven in height, of which there are a great variety of species, all bearing bright yellow flowers. We were now in a position, to see what we supposed was “Old Pomola,” (footnote _ Mr. Laski applied this name to Monument Peak. See 1862, Hitchcock 2nd Rept. Scient. Surv.. p.348) and started forward without any further particular need of a guide. At once the difficult growth just mentioned diminished in height and the difficulty of getting thro’ it, notwithstanding our path was yet over rocks, sometimes high and dangerous to climb; but in an hour we found ourselves at the “Monument” of which we had heard so much on our journey, but which we understood was on the highest part of the mountain.
This is a mere rockheap, composed perhaps of two or three tons of small rocks erected by State Surveyors, I believe in 1820, who ran a line from the monument at the head of St. Croix rive, due West to Katahdin, in order to fix a permanent base line for dividing all surveys of townships North of this line. It was now about 10 1/2 o’clock, thus making the ascent from the base to this monument, about 3,500 feet above Wassataquoik, in seven hours of the most fatiguing labor.
Here we left our baggage, not having seen any water since that where we breakfasted. We very strangely, indeed soon found ourselves in another “pickle” and it did seem to me, till I got sight of water, about 2 o’clock, as I was thoroughly salted, but in no ways saved from another tormenting thirst. We supposed the pinnacle on the north to be the highest part of Katahdin, and nothing was now to do but ascend it, get what plants the altitude afforded, see and enjoy what was to be seen, and return, by one or two o’clock and prepare our dinner.
We took no sort of food with us, and by a mere accident two canteens, which I suppose we brought by mistake in our haste to reach the mountain, were the only means of preventing a repetition of the tragica farce (force??) enacted on the previous night, and in the morning. We very fortunately about the middle of the afternoon found water deposited by storms, in the hollows of boulders, and after quenching our thirst at these places, filled our canteens and carefully kept them, lest we should be without it again, during the night. Drs. Young and Thurber, Mr. Chute, and myself at length reached the summit we had before seen, the others had proceeded on before us. To our surprise another still further off appeared the higher. We at once proceeded thither; and at this peak (First North Peak) Dr. Young suspended his barometer, which did not indicate an altitude Dr. Jackson had given the mountain. It was one o’clock, and in the shade the thermometer stood seventy-five degrees! - and of course, all idea of cold or snow was much less than moonshine . Another peak appeared to the southwest, but from our position, we did not suppose it higher than the one just mentioned.
We immediately started to ascend it; in our passage, we descended into quite a valley (Saddle), level at the bottom, an immense table-land, opening to the Northeast and Southwest. It had a small inclination to the Southwest, and the bottom was tolerably clear of loose rocks, but along the side towards the East, there are loose rocks for more than a mile, enough if placed on one of our Western prairies to make a mountain of themselves. Some of these are very large and lay in places half a dozen upon each other.
Not having read what Jackson says of Katahdin, I involuntarily took all these to be boulders. but how did they get up the mountain is a question, which everyone must answer themselves. Of course a granite mountain like this - so large, so much so, that surveyors have estimated its base to occupy the area of four entire townships - must be of great age. and the mighty flood whose force is here seen and will, long after time has changed the surrounding wilderness into fruitful fields, must be the remotest ages, far beyond that of Noah’s. Dr. Jackson observes. they were boulders, and Prof. Bailey says he saw evidences of it as far up as he ascended. Floods more or less like this have made the beds of our rivers, and have brought the smooth stones and rocks of lakes and inland seas for hundreds of miles, in some places, and have often deposited them by acres. (See such places in this city [Bangor}. near the court-house, and also west of Mr. P.P. Pearson’s store.)
It was with considerable difficulty we gained this peak, the genuine “Pomola” of Indian tradition. After resting ourselves here a while, and a few minutes before I left, Dr. Young suspended his barometer at the sheltered side of the monument erected by former visitors, and in a few moments, observed the altitude of the mercurial column to be a fraction above 25 inches - the thermometer 61 degrees, - thus confirming without doubt, Dr. Jackson’s observations made in 1837, and who has undoubtedly, correctly estimated the altitude of Katahdin to be more than a mile in perpendicular height. Here beside the monument we found beautiful mosses and flowers - the flowers short lived to be sure, and so is man who has the vast globe for his realm; but one sweet little flower only lived here because it was nearer heaven - as it seemed, to gaze freely at the stars, and catch the first glance at the sun’s golden eye. It was the Arenaria Groenlandica, called Greenland Sandwort.
It is only found on high altitudes, such as on Mount Washington, & c,, and grows about three inches high, with a thousand little stems in tufted masses, and crowned with beautiful white flowers, and how charming the thought that even here on the desolate heights of Katahdin, were such delicate little flowers!
There is no rock, or stream, or foot of land on the globe, but is connected with some kind of organic life, reminding us of home, of what we have seen or felt - calling u some remembrance of departed times which we love to muse upon and cherish.
The flowers and various plants growing on Katahdin are essentially Alpine - similar to those found on Mount Washington. To the eye of those unacquainted with botany, the mere summit of Katahdin would possess very little of interest; but the botanist sees these shattered rocks, and bleak regions, everywhere covered with attractive vegetation of some sort, - something which possesses even in its self, a peculiar interest. Dr. Young, though much fatigued, enjoyed this rare opportunity for gathering Alpine plants, and was constantly seeing and getting something which he had not had the pleasure of gathering before. He found some plants which had neither flower nor fruit, he was unable to tell whether they were unknown or not, but which by comparison he will soon ascertain.
Dr. Young was constantly busy, noting where he found every rare plant, and constantly seeking for something new. Both he and his assistants felt that it was an opportunity, all things considered, seldom indeed to be enjoyed, and most heartily improved it - none more so than Mr. John Emerson; and the most I regretted was that he had not wings to convey him from peak to peak, and from mountain to mountain.
Of the scenery around Katahdin, - the transcendent panorama of hills, forest, lakes and sunlight, it is almost useless for me to say much, though I could write a week upon it. The grandeur of the mountains, the grandeur of your own position, and the glorious beauty around you, described by my pen can give you but a faint idea of the reality.
There was not a cloud in the sky, nor a breeze of wind upon the mountain, and the whole heaven was filled with warm gorgeous sunlight. The eye could not be withdrawn from the scene till the soul was filled with the transporting images of beauty around . The tallest trees were like grass in the distance and the lakes - Chesuncook, Moosehead and a hundred I cannot name, were glowing like burnished silver in the noontide effulgence.
I thought of many similes, - but can give the best idea of it when I say that the scene reminded me of that represented by a splendid mirror broken into a thousand fragments and widely scattered over the grass, reflecting the full blaze of the sun. Be it recollected that Mount Katahdin is the very center of all the head waters of the Penobscot, and that almost seven-tenths of the lakes of the state can be seen from its summit. We saw with the glass and the naked eye, Mars Hill, and might have seen the Atlantic Ocean had not the southern horizon been overcast with haze, or fog. To the west and northwest, stretching as far as the eye could extend were the White Hills; while the south, east, and northeast, we could see only here and there one. It seemed to us that the area of the whole state was in view.
Glorious indeed was the view, and richly rewarded us for all our toil and sufferings. We could not have had a more desirable day; sunlight, calmness, and an entire cloudless sky all conspired to assist us in enjoying the beauty and sublimity of the whole scene. There was no difference in our feelings, amongst us, from the oldest to the youngest, from the liberally educated to those who had not devoted the mind to intellectual studies, all felt intensely the glory of the scene - not forced poetic feeling, but nature spoke out from the depths of our souls and bade us see her works, enjoy her works, and adore her God, the infinite author of all. No, the recollection never can pass away. I have sat by hours by Niagara where I could look upon his beauty, majesty, and terror, and have been hundreds of miles from any land, at sea, in a terrible storm and tempest; but oh! Your whole soul and spirit seem captivated with the beauty, - when the objects of beauty almost like the shades and lights of the picture of a master hand, gradually and imperceptibly run into scenes of loftiness and the highest sublimity. No! the recollection of these glorious scenes can never fade away from the soul. She will treasure them up in her store house forever, long after our toils, fatigues and sufferings shall have been forgotten. A day on the mountain! - how can we forget it! And then the night! We were belated - owing to the ground we had wandered over and the time Dr. Young spent in examining the plants and various objects without believing the baggage could be so far distant.
I stood alone - no one within a mile of me, on the highest northern point - phrenologically speaking, on the very firmness of the mountain whose nose like that of a great man’s was uncommonly long - being turned towards the south; here I say, upon his very “firmness’ - and (tremendously large I found it - over 7’)
I stood alone and saw the sun go down in the West, to sleep as it seemed, for he was surrounded with golden clouds that appeared as curtains about his couch. His light was spread far over the west, till by and by the dim twilight was diffused over the earth, and the appearance of the lakes, forests, streams and mountains changed and grew less distinct. But the moon had already risen above the horizon, full and cloudless, and looked as it seemed to me, for the first time, and with astonishment upon these wild scenes of nature.
Soon the stars came out from their hiding places, and as the moon continued to mount the sky, another glorious brightness, or moonlight and starlight filled the heavens, and was poured over forest, mountain and lake. But here I must stop: it is impossible to give an adequate idea of the charm. Ladies of Bangor! and elsewhere - and gentlemen, too - how I wish you could leave your homes on the morning of such a day as we passed here, in a kind of air-cars, and come directly to the summit of Mount Katahdin, and enjoy a sunlight, and moonlight, and starlight panorama of nature’s charms as we enjoyed.
I have ascended several mountains in different parts of the country but for the extent and charm of prospect, they were far inferior to Katahdin. I know nothing of the route to this mountain, up the West branch of the Penobscot, and therefore am unable to say which route is preferable.
Of the extent of the summit of this mountain, every one who visits it for the first time, is greatly deceived. We estimated the distance from “old Pomola” to that point on the north, by the time we occupied in travelling, which was about two hours without stopping by the way, to be nearly five miles. There must be over one thousand acres of table land on the summit; and after making due calculations, not much less than sixteen thousand of surface reckoning above where the scrubby spruce ceases its belt-like appearance.
To calculate from the center of the mountain where all points should be taken, the highest point, “old Pomola” is nearly in a southern direction; and the two monuments therefore, range North and South.
The brow where the famous slide took place some years since, dealing destruction to the trees and consternation to the moose, and shaking the ground like an earthquake for miles around, is on the west, and the crater (i.e. The Great or Southern Basin) almost directly opposite on the east. To fully describe this, the most interesting of any place, would occupy a column; I must almost silently pass it over. It is nearly in the form of a horse-shoe, with sharp high pinnacles on the eastern ridge, and from the valley (i.e. The Saddle) over which we passed in ascending the highest summit, opens wide and full to the Northeast. From the highest points on each side of this tremendous valley frowned on eternally by scornful brows of granite - in a straight line across, the distance is not less than a mile, and certainly not less than a thousand feet of perpendicular descent. In the bottom of this valley are two lakes, perhaps from three to eight acres surface in each. From these points on the eastern Ridge (i.e. Pomola) of the crater if you please), rocks might be rolled into the lake nearest (Chimney Pond). With the glass is seemed reposing just under the base of those angry pinnacles. The walls were perfectly smooth in some places, so that even a man might for many hundred feet, slide down without losing a tolerably upright position. I did not care about doing the latter, but longed to try the first, and want of time only prevented the experiment. I had the pleasure of rolling down rocks from the opposite side - the western part of the valley.
Can any one judge of distance by the descent of rocks in such places? Then it was twenty thousand feet, and could be likened to nothing but the “bottomless pit,” in idea of depth.
I rolled one rock as large as I could start, and in its descent it carried others with it, and away they went like so many fiends, jumping, howling, now leaping almost off at right angles, then again falling in a perpendicular position, and again thrown off in a counter direction scattering before their paths the small trees that presented themselves, and filling the whole valley with the thunders of the concussion.
I left the monument on the South a few minutes after 5 o’clock P.M. and Dr. Young and three others loitered behind some minutes. I called to the Doctor, saying that we had better make all possible speed for the other monument, as night would certainly overtake us, and soon left them behind me, travelling with all the rapidity I could make. I reached the Northern peak, as already stated, in about two hours. Here for the first time since I left Dr. Young, I halted for a few minutes to see the sun go down behind the mountain; and on descending, being surrounded on the west side of this height with a thick twilight, I was rather doubtful of the locality of the monument, somewhere to the north of me. I involuntarily called to the guide, not supposing him within hearing; and to my delight he answered my call, when I requested him to make a fire, that those behind me might be guided by it to our baggage. After some difficulty in my descent from this prominence, I reached the fire, hungry, tired, and chilly, as the night was growing cold very rapidly, and the wind increasing in strength.
I crept close to the leeward side of a rock, and anxiously awaited the return of the rest of the party. I did not receive much benefit from the fire, as the wind blew the blaze almost flat to the ground. The fuel was of old dry bushes, spruce and birch which had grown on this part of Katahdin: - they were no more than a foot high - of all shapes - the most of which the wildest imagination might vainly try to form a corkscrew-like, crab-like, snail-like, knot-like and every sort of like. This work, of course was the freaks of the wind - the storm-spirit of the north, who in his crazy waltzes had kicked the bushes about in this manner. I had almost forgotten to mention that on our ascending this part of the mountain just spoken of, in the forenoon, in the company with Drs. Young and Thurber, and Mr. Chute, we saw on the very top a little red squirrel, about half grown. As he seemed quite frightened - at the appearance I suppose, of the doctors, as all animals are supposed naturally to dread psychic - I ran towards him, half expecting to catch him. The poor little thing actually came part way to meet me, but on hearing one of the doctors speak, scampered off at the top of its speed, and we saw it no more.
Our party now came up, and glad we were one and all to get together again. We now made for our baggage, about one-third of a mile distant. We sat down on a rock, somewhat in the spirit of poor shipwrecked sailors, on a rock pile.
We put the knapsack of crackers in our midst, examined our canteens, and found there was about one quart of water amongst so many hungry and thirsty fellows. The Doctor thought it best to diminish our hydraulic powers a little, and so stinted us to one swig of water for a cracker. This was rather a choking business, to be sure, but the “powers that” have been , so determined it, and there was no use in grumbling. The next thing to be considered was, where were we to stow ourselves for the night? No wood at hand, very cold, no water, and we on the west side of the mountain, where it was quite dark - and nearly 10 o’clock to boot! As for water, I could see more than we could drink, there being nearly fifty lakes within sight - but alas! too far away to be reached with our hands.
How provoking! The determinate council soon decided that it was best
to try to find water that night. I had as one, no very particular objection
to our removing from this cold place, but as to our descending the mountain
some four or five hundred feet after ten o’clock at night, and some of
the way through that troublesome growth of spruce already mentioned, in search
of water was more than ordinary wild-goose chase, but forward! march! was given
and the “Army of Occupation” was on the move. Appropriately might
the traditionary nondescripts of the mountain have sung -
“I see them on their winding way
about their packs the moonbeams play!”
Fortunately in about one hour and a quarter we halted and mirabile dictu! we came upon the same brook we so fortunately found in the morning. Our joy was great and sincere, I assure you.
I would however state that though the same little rivulet, it was nearly a mile farther up the mountain than we struck it in the morning. I made up a fire, and though every one was nearly exhausted with hunger and fatigue yet all turned to and did a mutual part towards making a camp and preparing supper. It was indeed, very strange how we descended so far in the night, over rocks, some six or seven feet above foothold and through the confounded scrubby growth, without meeting any accident.
We owe much of our safety to Mr. Cowan, who seemed to know like a native of these mountains just where to go and find water, and good camping ground, without a candle in his fist. By the time we had eaten our suppers it was twelve o’clock. We soon turned in to sleep, and I can speak for myself, when I say that I slept without interruption, till 7 o’clock in the morning.
After breakfast, Dr. Young examined his plants obtained on the previous day; and was extremely gratified to find that he had such a treasure - nearly all out of the vast mass he procured, proving to be essentially Alpine plants. Having taken an early dinner, we bid adieu to Katahdin and started for the entire descent.
We in our route, passed over to the east of the northern and northeastern spur, where we encamped on the previous night, and descending it struck upon the Katahdin stream about 3 1/2 o’clock.
(The editor of the 1927 Journal commented in a footnote about the following
reference to the lakes that “much of this statement is incorrect”)
This stream takes its rise in those lakes mentioned as lying in the “crater” and running northeast, falls into the Wassataquoik about seven or eight miles below where we crossed it the day preceding. The descent was far more difficult than it would have been on the opposite side, where we ascended. We crossed the stream twice, and had a fine opportunity of seeing its splendid cascades, some of which fell over rocks of more than one hundred feet descent, but not unbroken, and more beautiful on this account. I counted five on our route, and no doubt but that there were many more.
The valley was very deep and the bold, dark bluffs, and overhanging crags that bounded this valley of magnificence (shall I name it?) on either side, were awe inspiring to the most ordinary spectator. These ridges or spurs, seemed a continuation of those on the east and west of the “crater”, but this we were unable to determine. The voices of these cascades filled the valley with their eternal echoes - a glorious, unceasing hymn of praise to the God of all. We pursued this streamlet till 7 o’clock when we raised our tent on its western bank, a very beautiful spot close to the water. We had now accomplished the descent, and were very tired. But supper revived us somewhat and with the splendor of the scene that was gradually surrounding us, put us in good spirits not only with ourselves, but with the world in general, and our wretched journey in particular.
Of the Doctor I can say “Richard was himself again.” All enjoyed the splendid evening. How could it be otherwise! The time, the place, the objects around us, the ten thousand stars, a Harvest Moon in the sky, cloudless and queen-like, as she journeyed upward through the constellations, the dark form of Katahdin, half revealed through the falling mists slowly gathering about his locks, and appearing like the guardian of these pathless forests - were all too mighty in their influence not to arouse our better feelings, and to wake up the soul to gaze upon and admire the scene around us. At ten o’clock we laid down, but could not sleep, for thinking of the beauty and magnificence of the night. I arose about eleven, and gathered up some dry stuff to make a fire, and sat down alone with my feet just over the water to contemplate the scene. I did not count the hours, but when the morning began to dawn I still found “food for meditation”. (At this point is introduced a poem of 18 verses which he had written during the night of August 26 and “dedicated to Dr. George Thurber” and entitled “Katahdin Stream.” - The Journal does not offer this poem and we don’t know if it still exists.)
We got breakfast in good season on the morning of the 27th and started down the stream, in order to find the Wassataquoik, and take the same road on our return which we followed in our journey to the mountain. We crossed this river about 8 1/2 o’clock and in a few minutes after struck the supply road which by some mysterious influence, probably, our packs became at least a third lighter. Joy lit up every countenance as all seemed tickled with the idea of being homeward bound, without a broken bone or the loss of a drop of bad blood thus far . Well the Caravan did well that day - that is, as long as their march continued.
A heavy shower of rain fell in the afternoon; and after getting uncomfortably wet from the dripping bushes by which the road was overgrown in places, Dr. Young decided on camping, which we did in an old deserted logging camp. We found materials for a good fire, and soon one was in full blast - too much for the general welfare of the house and its inhabitants. We curtailed its power a little, and drying and cooking processes went off a little more regularly. Supper was at length served up, the tea and meat as usual, but the bread was an experiment - made of rice and Indian meal - and the whole party, excepting one, were loud in the praises of the inventor. We soon turned into our berths, and had a thorough-going sleep. We got breakfast earlier than usual in the morning, as we were all anxious to reach Mr. Hunt’s that day, which we did about 3 o’clock P.M. Here we stopped till the next morning, as that day was too far gone to allow us to reach Mr. Cram’s. On the following morning we started out early, as we all were anxious to return to Bangor by Tuesday night. We arrived at Mr. Cram’s where we left our carriage, about noon and after having recruited ourselves a little after our hurried march over this bad road from the East Branch to the Aroostook Road, and dined on the best things our larder afforded - all prepared by Mrs. Cram, a most excellent woman, who used us like old friends rather than as strangers - (and a long life and uninterrupted happiness to both her and her husband!) - we departed in our carriage for Bangor.
It was the sabbath and Dr. Young was averse to traveling on this day, now especially as it was well understood along our route that he was accompanied by a clergyman. But it was necessary for him so to do. We were short of provisions; Dr. Thurber was very anxious to get home to meet an important engagement; and the sky had the appearance of an approaching storm. Dr. Young having consulted with the Rev. Mr. Chute about the expediency of proceeding on our return, resulted in directions to Mr. Cowan to have the carriage in readiness. It now began to rain moderately, and as the team was ready for the party we started forward - first spreading one of the tents on poles over the wagon to shelter us. The rain did not continue long; and during the afternoon and evening till 10 o’clock, we shortened our journey by 17 miles.
The next day we came down the Penobscot River as far as Mr. Lawton’s, one mile and a half below Passadumkeag village. At his house we cooked our supper and breakfast, and had the house and barn at our disposal for the night, Mr. Chuet very properly lodging in the house, the rest retired to the barn, as we had everything to make us comfortable. A most excellent sleep we had too.
For all the trouble we occasioned Mr. Lawton would not take any compensation. The next day about five o’clock we arrived in the city, being absent 14 days.
Notwithstanding the camping out life was new to most of the party, all the while exposed to the dense and cool night airs, yet none of us took any cold, neither were we in the least degree sick during the entire expedition. Finer weather we could not have had. Though our journey was excessively fatiguing it was a pleasurable one to all - and satisfactory in the highest degree to Dr. Young and the excellent botanists who accompanied him.
To science generally it will be of much importance. No one study of the intellect is of more importance to the human family than this, considered in all its relations. To science, it is important to know what plants are found upon Katahdin, and the height at which they grow. We should have passed several days upon the mountain, had not our provisions failed us. It is very difficult to carry provisions either from Mr. Hunt’s, or the West Branch, up the mountain, to last more than a day or two. We could now profit by the journey we made, and make a much more easy one, even by way of the Aroostook Road. As to personalities, it is necessary for your “understanding” to be firm and perfect. Stout cowhide boots are needed - all other kinds are not worth a fig, as our party can well testify. Mine were completely lacerated, to use a surgeon’s phrase; Dr Young’s had the “spinal complaint” in its worst stages, and as a remedy, prescribed a seton, which, however, like many prescriptions in the world, did not effect an entire cure. Mr. Cowan’s pantaloons had the appearance of having lived ages from Egyptian antiquities - (not Antiquarians), as they were well covered with hieroglyphics on the knees. The coat of one member of the party, was certainly a most sorrowful looking object - resembling a pilgrim of the Holy Land, and the owner doubtless thanking Providence that he got out of the woods with any coat at all. This route like one made in any other way to Katahdin, must be expensive, and the Expedition of Dr. Young, therefore so thorough as it was, was not made without considerable expense. I would here answer for once a question asked by a hundred people since our return from Katahdin: “How are they getting on at the Iron Works up there?”
I answer, admirably! admirably! so far as we could see them - I should think the ore about Katahdin nearly exhausted! To be serious, good reader, Katahdin Iron Works are nearly 75 miles southward of Katahdin Mountain. It bears about the same relation to the Iron Works, as Mt. Washington does to the Iron Works of Pittsfield.
And some few persons - and pretty intelligent for all that, have asked me, “what is the use of this survey - what is the use of the study of Botany?” I answer of the first importance to the State - and as of the highest utility to mankind.
One may have an idea of the importance it is considered to be to New York when the state has appropriated over the sum of one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars for the Nat. Hist. Survey, and its publication - and Massachusetts a sum corresponding with the surface of its country, to this of the Empire State.
You might with far less propriety ask of what us is Astronomy, - of what use is the ten thousand dollar telescope of Cincinnati - of what use is the Museum of Antiquities of Paris, on which so many hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lavished, and which has excited the admiration of all Europe - of what use is Geology - or of what use is the bread and butter which you eat?
Botany is the study of the entire vegetable world, in all its affinities to soil, climate and exposure; of their peculiar natures, and of their relations to animal life. A soil composed of the disintegration of rocks only, would be poor indeed; thus all the rich soil of the globe is owing to the process of vegetable life and decomposition. On some bare rock, is deposited the minute seed of a lichen carried there perhaps from a far distant country; and by the means with which the Creator hath invested it, attaches itself and becomes a plant, the roots absorb an alkali from the rock, which assists in decomposing that body, and its other remaining food it derives from the atmosphere. Its wants are few, but unlike an animal on two legs, with a cigar in its mouth, and head thrown back - it answers an important part in creation, an important part in the production of plants. By and by it dies, and from the thin layer left on the rocks by its own decomposition, there is nourishment enough for a moss, which flourishes awhile, dies also, and is succeeded by others of a different kind; and so on from rank to rank till the noble trees are formed.
In this way a soil is made, which sustains all animal life upon the face of the globe. They purify the atmosphere of its gases unhealthy to human life. No element of beauty is so completely managed as that of the vegetable world - each plant and tree has its own time of flowering, its own shape, its own color in endless variety. These considerations with many others, rank the study as a science - a science as wonderful as that of anatomy.
It found interest enough for the whole life of Linneus; and will ever find interest enough for the greatest minds.
All text and images ©1998 - 2018 R & F Newman TagYerit.com except where noted.
All rights reserved.