By Walter Mow
June 14 – The party spends most of the day drying out equipment, rations and clothing; Major Powell and Captain Howell conduct some geologic work while admiring the landscapes, the mixture of high mountains, meadows and canyons with the Green River far below.
June 15, — To-day, while we make another portage, a peak, standing on the east wall, is climbed by two of the men and found to 2,700 feet above the river. Here we have three falls in close succession. Here we have three falls in close succession.
At the first the water is compressed into a very narrow channel against the right-hand cliff, and falls 15 feet in 10 yards. At the second we have a broad sheet of water tumbling down 20 feet over a group of rocks that thrust their dark heads above the foam. The third is a broken fall, or a short, abrupt rapid, where the water makes a descent of more than 20 feet among huge, fallen fragments of the cliff. We name the group Triplet Falls. We make a portage around the first; past the second and the third we let down with lines”.
“During the afternoon, Dunn and Howland having returned from their climb, we run down three quarters of a mile on quiet waters and land at the head of another fall. On examination, we find that for a half mile with a descent of a hundred feet, in a channel beset with great numbers of huge boulders. This stretch of the river is named Hells Half Mile”. The remaining portion of the day is occupied in making a trail among the rocks at the foot of the rapid”.
NOTE: Trail making is necessary when the river bank is a talus slope. You have to remove enough rocks and debris to allow for good footing when making a portage.
June 16, — “Our first work this morning is to carry our cargoes to the foot of the falls. Then we commence letting down the boats. We take two of them down in safety, but not without difficulty; for, where such a vast body of water, rolling down an inclined plane, is broken into eddies and cross-currents by rocks projecting from the cliffs and piles of boulders in the channel, it requires excessive labor and much care to prevent the boats from being dashed against the rocks or breaking away. Sometimes we are compelled to hold the boat against a rock above a chute until a second line, attached to the stern, is carried to some point below, and when all is ready the first line is detached and the boat given to then, when she shoots down and the men below swing her into some eddy”.
“At such a place we are letting down the last boat, and as she is set free a wave turns her broadside down the stream, with the stem, to which the line is attached, from the shore and a little up. They haul on the line to bring the boat in, but the power of the current, striking obliquely against her, shoots her out into the middle of the river. The men have their hands burned with the friction of the passing line; the boat breaks away and speeds with great velocity down the stream. The “Maid of the Canyon” is lost! So it seems; but she drifts some distance and swings into an eddy; in which she spins about until we arrive with the small boat and rescue her”.
“Soon we are on our way again, and stop at the mouth of a little brook on the right for a late dinner.”
Powell accompanied by an unnamed companion climb to a vantage point 1,000 feet above the river. From here he can look up two canyons that intersect the river at right angles to the river.
“The rocks below are red and brown, set in deep shadows, but above they are buff and vermillion and stand in the sunshine. The light above, made more brilliant by the bright-tinted rocks, and the shadows below, more gloomy by reason of the somber hues of the brown walls, increase the apparent depths of the canyons, and it seems a long way up to the world of sunshine and open sky, and a long way down to the bottom of the canyon glooms. Never before have I received such an impression of the vast heights of these canyon walls, not even at the Cliff of the Harp, where the very heavens seemed to rest on their summits”.
Some of the near vertical canyon walls reach 2,500 feet above the river.
“Late in the afternoon we make a short run to the mouth of another little creek, coming down from the left into an alcove filled with luxuriant vegetation. Here camp is made, with a group of cedars on one side and a dense mass of box elders and dead willows on the other”.
“I go up to explore the alcove. While away a whirlwind comes and scatters the fire among the dead willows and the cedar spray, and soon there is a conflagration. The men rush for the boats, leaving all they cannot readily seize at the moment, and even then they have their clothing burned and hair singed, and Bradley has his ears scorched. The cook fills his arms with the mess-kit, and jumping into a boat, stumbles and falls, and away go our cooking utensils into the river. Our plates are gone; our spoons are gone; our knives and forks are gone”.
” When on the boats, the men are compelled to cut loose, as the flames, running out on the overhanging willows, are scorching them. Loose on the stream, they must go down, for the water is too swift to make headway against it. Just below is a rapid, filled with rocks. On the shoot, no channel explored, no signal to guide them! Just at this juncture I chance to see them, but have not yet discovered the fire, and the strange movements of the men fill me with astonishment. Down the rocks I clamber, and run to the bank. When I arrive they have landed. Then we all go back to the late camp to see if anything left behind can be saved. Some of the clothing and bedding taken out of the boats is found, also a few tin cups, basins, and a camp kettle; and this is all the mess-kit we now have. Yet we do just as well as ever”.
Lodore Canyon has been hard on Powell’s expedition; the loss of a boat and supplies; a fire that creates such havoc as to lose part of their mess-kit; and now the remaining boats must accommodate more weight as they redistribute the rations, equipment and men.
The rapids in the Canyon of Lodore are rated as class III and class IV these can be difficult and are dangerous, especially for wood boats. The modern rafters use rubber inflatables that can strike a rock and bounce off unharmed, Powell’s wooden boats could not.
June 17, — “We run down to the mouth of Yampa River. This has been a chapter of disasters and toils, notwithstanding which the Canyon of Lodore was not void of scenic interest, even beyond the power of pen to tell. The roar of its waters was heard unceasingly from the hour we entered it until we landed here. No quiet in all that time. But its walls and cliffs, its peaks and crags, its amphitheaters and alcoves, tell a story of beauty and grandeur that I hear yet – and shall hear”.
Powell’s notes relate that the canyon walls of Lodore, beginning at the Gate of Lodore averaged 2,000 feet high throughout the canyons length with the highest at Dunn’s Cliff measuring 2,700 feet above the river.
“The Yampa enters the Green from the east. At a point opposite its mouth the Green runs to the south, at the foot of a rock about 700 feet high and a mile long, and then turns sharply around the rock to the right and runs back in a northerly course parallel to its former direction for nearly another mile, thus having the opposite sides of a long narrow rock for its bank. The tongue so formed is a peninsular precipice with a mural escarpment along its whole course on the east, but broken down at places on the west”.
“On the east side of the river, opposite the rock and below the Yampa, there is a little park; there are three river entrance s to this park: one down the Yampa; one below , by coming up the Green; and another down the Green. There is also a land entrance down a lateral canyon. Elsewhere the park is inaccessible”.”Great hollow domes are seen in the eastern side of the rock, against which the Green sweeps; willows border the river; clumps of box-elder are seen; and a few cottonwoods stand at the lower end. Standing opposite the rock, our words are repeated with startling clearness, but in a soft, mellow tone, that transforms them into magical music. Scarcely can one believe it is the echo of his own voice”.
“During the afternoon Bradley and I climb some cliffs to the north. Mountain sheep are seen above us, and the stand out on the rocks and eye us intently, not seeming to move”.
A ram beats a warning with his hoof, “and they bound away together, leaping over rocks and chasms and climbing walls where no man can follow, and this with an ease and grace most wonderful”.
“At night we return to our camp under the box-elders by the river side. Here we are to spend two or three days, making a series of astronomic observations for latitude and longitude”.
June 18, – We have named the long peninsular rock on the other side ‘Echo Rock’. Desiring to climb it, Bradley and I take the little boat and pull upstream as far as possible, for it cannot be climbed directly opposite. We land on a talus of rocks at the upper end in order to reach a place where it seems practicable to make the ascent; but we find we must go still farther up the river. So we scramble along until we reach a place where the river sweeps against the wall. Here we find a shelf along which we can pass, and now are ready for the climb”.
“We start up a gulch; then pass to the left on a bench along the wall; then up again over broken rocks; then we reach more benches, along which walk, until we find more broken rocks and crevices, by which we climb; still up until we have ascended 600 to 800 feet, when we are met by a sheer precipice. Looking about, we find a place where it seems possible to climb”.
“I go ahead; Bradley hands the barometer to me, and follows. So we proceed, stage by stage, until we are nearly to the summit. Here, by making a spring, I gain a foothold in a little crevice, and grasp an angle of the rock overhead. I find I can get up no farther and cannot step back, for I dare not let go with my hand and cannot reach foothold below without”.
“I call to Bradley for help. He finds a way by which he can get to the top of the rock over my head, but cannot reach me. Then he looks around for some stick or limb of a tree, but finds none. Then he suggests that he would better help me with the barometer case, but I fear I cannot hold on to it. The moment is critical. Standing on my toes, my muscles begin to treble. It is sixty to eighty feet to the foot of the precipice. If I lose my hold I shall fall to the bottom and then perhaps roll over the bench and tumble farther down the cliff. At this instant it occurs to Bradley to take off his drawers, which he does and swings them down to me. I hug close to the rock, let go with me hand, seize the dangling legs, and with his assistance am enabled to gain the top”.
“Then we walk out on the peninsular rock, make the necessary observations for determining its altitude above camp, and return, finding an easy way down”.
June 19, — “To-day, Howland, Bradley, and I take the ‘Emma Dean’ and start up the Yampa River. The stream is much swollen, the current swift, and we are able to make but slow progress against it. When we have rowed until we are quite tired we stop and take advantage of one of the broken places to climb out of the canyon. When above, we can look up the Yampa for a distance of several miles”.
“From the summit of the immediate walls of the canyon the rocks rise gently back for a distance of a mile or two, having the appearance of a valley with an irregular and rounded sandstone floor and in the center a gorge, which is the canyon. The rim of this valley on the north, is from 2,500 to 3,000 feet above the river; on the south it is not so high. A number of peaks stand on this northern rim, the highest of which has received the name Mount Dawes”.
“Late in the afternoon we descend to our boat and return to camp in Echo Park, gliding down in twenty minutes on the rapid river, a distance of four or five miles, which was made up stream only by several hours’ hard rowing in the morning”.
June 20, — “This morning two of the men take me up the Yampa for a short distance, and I go out to climb. Having reached the top of the canyon, I walk over stretches of naked sandstone, crossing gulches now and then, and by noon reach the summit of Mount Dawes. From this point I can look away to the north and see dim in the distance the Sweetwater and Wind River mountains, more than 100 miles away. To the northwest the Wasatch Mountains are in view, and peaks of the Uintah. To the east I can see the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, more than 150 miles distant. The air is singularly clear to-day; mountains and buttes stand in sharp outline, valleys stretch out in perspective, and I can look down into the deep canyon gorges and see gleaming waters”.
“Descending, I cross to a ridge near the brink of the Canyon of Lodore, the highest point of which is nearly as high as the last mentioned mountain. Late in the afternoon I stand on this elevated point and discover a monument that has evidently been built by human hands. This line of peaks, the eastern extension of the Uintah Mountains, has received the name of Sierra Escalante, in honor of a Spanish priest who traveled in this region of country nearly a century ago. Perchance the reverend father built this monument”.
“Now I return to the river and discharge my gun, as a signal for the boat to come take me down to camp. While we have been in the park the men have succeeded in catching a number of fish and we have an abundant supply. This is a delightful addition to our menu”.