1. Packer Meadows to Wendover Ridge

Clark's Map, September 13-14, 1805
From Moulton, Atlas, Maps 69, 70.
Pass cursor over image to read details.

Packer Meadows to Wendover Ridge

Clark's Maps of K'useyneiskit

Clark named only eight of the more than 200 streams he drew on his maps between Packer Meadow and Canoe Camp. He simply noted the number of "dreans" – drainages – or watercourses to the right or left of their line of travel. A typical daily record from his courses and distances, for September 17, 1805, reads: "S. 50° W. 10 miles over high Knobs of the Mountn. emincely dificuelt, passed 3 dreans to our right to one which passes to our left on the top of a high Mountain, passing on a divide ridge."1

The purpose in applying modern names to the streams on Clark's map is to show that he did not randomly insert wiggly lines merely to hint at the topography around K'useyneiskit. By comparing his sketches with a modern USGS map we can make reasonably good guesses as to what drainages he actually saw. Hour by hour he was grasping with his mind the shape of the land in related patterns of hydrographic units.

A singular characteristic of these maps, compared with his charts of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, is the absence of any attempt to graphically represent the daily courses (compass bearings), or the relative distances traveled on each bearing. In fact, he estimated straight-line distances in only one or two courses per day for the entire traverse. At one point he estimated that the actual distance traveled on the "windings" was at least twice his straight-line figure. Clark estimated the total mileage, westbound, between the Bitterroot Divide (Packer Meadows) and Weippe Prairie at 128 miles. The eastbound mileage log totalled 118 miles between the same two points. The unintentional detour down to the Lochsa fishing site on September 14-15, 1805, would partly account for the difference.

Names

Names on maps are the rich placer lodes of oral history. They're mostly dust, buried deeply beneath the weight of time and events. But now and then a small nugget of true adventure is found. The details of those names' stories are often left, at best, to the authority of anyone old enough, and familiar enough with the place or the person, to win credibility on those accounts alone. At worst, their meanings are left to anyone with a vivid imagination and a gullible audience, which would include miners, trappers, packers, rangers, firefighters, sheepherders, hunters – or anyone who says he or she knows an old miner, trapper, ranger, and so on – who. . . .

But except for a few that have spawned good campfire tales, those names are just like bails without buckets – handy, but holding nothing. Nevertheless, placenames become as unassailable as scripture. They usually serve only, although quite sufficiently, to enable a person to tell someone else where he or she is, or has been, or would like to be. But every name on every map is a more or less secret, tightly encapsulated story.

Take Packer Meadows. One old-timer claimed that a trapper called Packer (was that his first, last, or nick?) who once (but when?) planned to homestead there. He built a cabin, it is rumored, but didn't stay long. On the other hand, a photograph taken in 1969 proves that two brothers named Anderson did in fact build a log cabin on the edge of the meadows around 1914. They moved out (no one knows when or why), leaving their rough-hewn domicile to molder into the forest floor, and taking their full names and their tales with them into obscurity. Perhaps the name Packer Meadows merely signified that travelers used that "pretty little plain" to rest and feed their livestock before, or after, traversing those dreadful mountain ridges, saddles and peaks to the west.

The history of the early fur trade, which ended with the last Green River Rendezvous in 1840, is a rich romance that has become legendary. But it was a summer idyll compared with the next era of fur trapping, which drew upon high-country creatures such as mink, marten, bobcat, and bear, that could only be harvested in the dead of winter, when their fur was dense and long. It began in the 1850s and lasted until the early 1940s.

Unfortunately, the story of the latter-day breed of trappers is richer than the biographies of its participants. In 1905, trapper Charley Powell, perhaps then in his fifties, and almost a "senior citizen" by the measurements of that day, set up camp on the flat at the confluence of Clark's Killed Colt Creek and the Brushy Fork, near the fish weirs Lewis and Clark had seen on September 13 a hundred years before. Sometime during that era another trapper built a cabin at the place near the Indians' fish weir a few miles farther down the Lochsa, where the Corps turned north to climb out of the Lochsa canyon. The cabin has long since rotted away, but its builder's last name, at least, is still on the map – Wendover. Bert Wendover, an Oregonian whose doctor had estimated in about 1913 that he had only five years left to live. Bert decided to spend them alone beside the wild and beautiful Lochsa River, deep in the Bitterroot Mountains, living a long-cherished dream of his. Twenty years later he left his cabin, still strong and still in good health.2

-- 1805 –

Glade Creek and Killed Colt Camps

The only noteworthy fact about the September 13 campsite, which was two miles down Glade Creek from Packer Meadows, was that, as Whitehouse tells us, there was good grazing for their horses. The next day they crossed a "high mountain" between Brushy Fork and Crooked Fork, crossed the latter to its south side, then climbed over "a verry high Steep mountain for 9 miles" to the confluence of Crooked Fork and White Sand Creek. The latter creek they commemorated with their fast, carry-out menu of the evening, as "Colt-Killed Creek." That day the hunters killed only a few grouse, "on which, without a miracle it was impossible to feed 30 hungry men and upwards, besides some Indians," Patrick Gass complained. Captain Lewis offered the hungry men some portable soup, which was actually a seasoned beef or pork broth similar to bouillon, and correspondingly of limited nutritional worth. The obvious recourse to kill one of the colts they had purchased from Indians, "which they immediately did," Gass added, "and set about roasting it; and which appeared to me to be good eating." They must have restrained their appetites that night, for they had enough meat left over for breakfast the next morning. The party numbered 32 souls plus seven-month-old Jean Baptiste, who would have still have been nursing at Sacagawea's breast, plus Old Toby and his two sons, and Lewis's dog, Seaman.

Easy Way

Looking westward at the exact place where the Lolo Trail crossed Crooked Fork. There was another flat on the west side (now hidden by trees) that was also used for camping. This shallow rocky crossing is described by several travelers who used it after Lewis and Clark. -- Steve Russell

The horses didn't fare as well, for recent Indian encampments in the vicinity had consumed the last good grass of the season. The men put the horses on the island for the night, perhaps partly to discourage them from wandering off in search of food, even though the eating probably wasn't much better over there.

It had been the roughest day to date. "The Mountains which we passed to day much worst than yesterday," wrote Clark, "the last excessively bad & Thickly Strowed with falling timber . . . Steep & Stoney    our men and horses much fatigued." The obstacles notwithstanding, historian Ralph Space found evidence that the trail from the divide down to the Lochsa as far as Wendover Ridge had been used more than the rest of K'useyneiskit, by Indians from east of the divide in quest of salmon and steelhead trout.

Sept. 14, 1805, Clark: "we Crossd. Glade Creek [he must have meat Brushy Fork, of which Glade Creek is a tributary] above its mouth, at a place the Tushepaws or Flat head Indians have made 2 wears [weirs] across to Catch Sammon and have but latterly left the place I could see no fish, and the grass entirely eaten out by the horses, we proceeded on 2 miles & Encamped opposit a Small Island at the mouth of a branch on the right side of the river which is at this place 80 yards wide, Swift and Stoney."

Rough Water

An unnamed Class II rapid on the Lochsa

Why didn't the Corps of Discovery just carve dugouts at their camp of September 14, 1805, and float down the river? We don't know why they didn't. If the idea even came up, none of the journalists mentioned it. Or if it did, maybe their Shoshone guide dismissed it with an emphatic shake of his head, and Clark had learned enough from him over on the Salmon River to trust his judgment. Today, the answer can be read from the highway (U.S. 12) that follows the Lochsa's narrow north bank for 63 miles between the mouth of the Brushy Fork and the entrance of the Selway River, where the two form the Middle Fork of the Clearwater. Here are the cold facts.

First, the riverbed is steep, so the water flows fast. It drops 1,960 feet in 64 miles, for an average of 31 feet per mile.3 Second, at high-water time in May and June there are 63 rapids rated above Class II by experienced river-rafters. Forty-four of those are rated as major rapids in the range of Class III-IV,4 and 40 of those – including "Snag, the Grim Reaper" and "Killer Fang Falls" – are in the central 24 miles of the river. It's equally dangerous In late summer and early fall, when the river is at its lowest. The jagged rocks that produce the white water that some floaters find thrilling, can fray the best fiberglass kayak or shred the toughest rubber raft. Until the present highway was finished in the mid-1900s, there were many places where portages would have been impossible. Third, whereas most popular floaters' rivers have long placid pools between rapids, this one often allows little recovery time between its thrills. The upper 23 miles, for example, has only about a dozen Class II-III rapids, with practically no intervening pools at all; that entire stretch is, in effect, one continuous rapid. Finally, there is the matter of water temperature, which in June through early July ranges between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, making hypothermia an immediate threat to anyone who falls in.

Countless Indian generations ago the people who knew this river gave it a simple name. Lewis and Clark, who first called it "Flathead River" and later "Koos koos ke," apparently never heard it; maybe Toby hadn't, either. Who knows? Coyote might have made it up. Factually true, yet tinged with the irony of understatement, it was Lochsa – say lock-saw.

It means "rough water."

– 1806 –

"Thick from the hollars"

Abundant grass for their tired, hungry horses brought the party to an early halt on June 28, having covered only 13 miles over deep but sturdy snow since leaving their Spring Mountain bivouac. They struck camp early the next morning, and, while "the fog rose up thick from the hollars" according to Sgt. Ordway, the Corps "pursued the hights of the ridge on which we have been passing for several days." Five miles and a couple of hours later they reached its eastern terminus at 6.208 feet above sea level, today suitably named Rocky Point. Understandably, they crossed over the peak without pausing for one last view of "those tremendious mountanes . . . in passing of which," Clark would assert two days later, "we have experienced Cold and hunger of which I shall ever remember." They had seen more than enough of the Bitterroots for one lifetime. Today, the view from the fire lookout tower is unquestionably the most comprehensive from any single point on K'useyneiskit.

With imaginable but unspoken satisfaction the party "bid adieu to the snow" and hurried down the east ridge of the mountain to the Crookwed Fork (their "North Fork") of the Lochsa. There they hastily nourished themselves on the flesh of a deer that the hunters had left for them, and dashed up a "very steep acclivity of a mountain" toward the Bitterroot Divide.

"A pretty little plain"

At noon on June 29, the Corps arrived back at the familiar "quamas flatts," on the ridge that divides the Clearwater River basin from that of the Clark Fork River. Lewis acknowledged it was "a pretty little plain of about 50 acres plentifully stocked with quawmash." Furthermore, he saw ample evidence that this was "one of the principal stages or encampments of the indians who pass the mountains on this road." That evening they camped at the hot springs, just seven miles north of the meadows.

Blossom Time in Packer Meadows

Looking eastward at the Camas blooms in Packer Meadows while standing in the tread of the old Nez Perce Trail.--Steve Russell


1. See Moulton, Journals, 5:237-40; 9:231-32; Atlas maps 69-71. Clark named Glade (today, Pack) Creek, Killed Colt Creek, Hungery Creek, Collins (Lolo) Creek, Village (Jim Ford) Creek, Rock Dam (Orofino) Creek, Cho-pun-nish (North Fork of the Clearwater) River, and Koos-koos-ke (Clearwater-Lochsa) River.

2. Bud Moore, The Lochsa Story: Land Ethics in the Bitterroot Mountains (Missoula, MT: Mountain Press, 1996), 76.

3. Before the first dam was built on the mainstem of the Missouri River, it dropped approximately 3,532 feet in 2546 miles, an average of 1.4 feet per mile.

4. There are six general classifications of river conditions, from a recreational perspective. Class I allows a placid, mostly hands-free drift; Class II, with occasional waves that may be as much as 3 or 4 feet high, requires firm and persistent control of the water craft; Class III requires a boatman who can cope with rocks, holes, eddies, and sudden drops, in unpredictable size and sequence; Class IV rapids are real soakers, representing the upper level on the "fun scale"; Class V is scary for the best boater because of turbulent currents, treacherous waves, holes and hidden obstacles; Class VI is off the charts, even for the experts, except during favorable river levels, which rarely occur. Generally, Class III and above are considered major rapids requiring intermediate to advanced whitewater floating experience and skill. These classifications, especially the higher ones, are subjective. Conditons may change within days or even hours. The descriptions of the recreational characteristics of this river have been drawn from Whitewater Floating Management Plan: Lochsa River, USDA Forest Service, Clearwater National Forest, c. 1984.

Map callouts reviewed by Norm Steadman.
Aerial photographs by Jim Wark, using waypoints
supplied by Steve L. Russell.

Funded in part by a grant from the Idaho Governor's
Lewis and Clark Trail Committee.