A Stormy Fall Day on Spring Mountain
Photo by Kris Townsend, 4 October 2016
Winter seemed well under way by the sixteenth of September, when the expedition made a noontime stop on Spring Mountain to let their horses rest and graze on the last grass of the summer under the new-fallen snow. It was a welcome respite for all. In the surrounding forest the tree branches were bent low with snow that the horses and riders dislodged as they passed, and thoroughly drenched them by the end of the day. "I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life," Clark complained. "Indeed I was at one time fearfull my feet would freeze in the thin mockersons which I wore." (The conditions may have reminded him of the hunger and cold he had experienced on the trip he commanded on the Wabash River in midwinter, 1793-94, carrying clothing to troops at Fort Vincennes.)1 After lunch—called "dinner" in those days—Clark pushed on ahead for six miles to "a Small branch passing to the right," possibly Horseshoe Creek. There, at the place Whitehouse described as "a lonesome looking cove," he and the man accompanying him built fires to cheer and warm Lewis and the rest of the wet, weary, and undoubtedly hypothermic company.
However, the captains were not so distracted by the weather that they neglected their duties as explorers. They took time to observe the differences among the eight evergreen conifers they encountered along their way, although they didn't list any details.2 Those would come in due time.
Early Summer, 2001 (view north)
© 2001 Airphoto, Jim Wark. All rights reserved.
En route to this open ridge on June 27, 1806, the captains looked down toward the north on two drainages that they recognized as tributaries of the North Fork—their "Chopunnish River"—that are now named Moon and Howard Creeks. On the morning after their supper of roots boiled in bears' oil the men found that some of their gaunt horses had "straggled to a considersble distance" to feed on the new and still sparse grass. The sun on its daily progress northward from the equator had melted the snow from this generous opening, and brought forth a field of "the yellow lilly with reflected petals in blume"—The cheerful but modestly heads-down glacier lily, Erithroniium grandiflorum. By comparison, spring was arriving on today's Spring Mountain a full seven weeks after it had shown its colors on the plateaus above the Clearwater River.
1. Landon Y. Jones, William Clark and the Shaping of the West (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 73-74.
2. Lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, subalpine fir, Englemann spruce, whitebark pine, grand fir, and mountain hemlock.
Funded in part by a grant from the Idaho Governor's Lewis and Clark Trail Committee.