My First Thrill on the Brink of Crater Lake – 04



In October of the year 1873, at Fort Klamath, occurred the execution of Captain Jack, the Modoc chief, and three other persons connected with his activities, Black Jim, John Sconchin and Boston Charley.

I was present at the execution and, on the day following that event, in company with five others, started on my first trip to Crater Lake. We had secured directions from the officers at the Post, who had been there, and easily identified the place where they directed us to camp by the Rogue River, nearest to our destination. Here we camped for the night and early the next morning turned to the northeast, as we were directed, and commenced our climb of five miles over logs, through brush, heavy timber and occasional glades. There were no roads nor trails, and even the existence of the lake was a mooted question with many. Not many white people had seen it and their accounts were considered exaggerations. Some of our party wanted to turn back when fatigue commenced to tell and thirst to annoy tis. Nothing could be seen but the steep slope ahead and the tangled brush about us. We toiled on, however, and( finally came into a glade from which we could see material changes in the topography. We were evidently nearing the summit and could see, crags an(l peaks ahead and to the right and left. Scoria and pumice were scattered about and we became enthused with the thought that our destination was near, and we pushed on. All at once, we were aware that ahead of us was an opening, beyond which was the blue expanse of sky. A new impulse was given to tired limbs and, with a shout and a rush, we climbed the few remaining rods and stood, breathless and silent, on the brink of this wonderful caldera.

When we come upon things that are new or startling because of some unusual grandeur, or stature, we cudgel our brains for some gauge or standard by which to measure them. But here was something for which we had no standard, nor gauge. In such moments we can only silently drink it in. For the first time in my life I became aware of the meaning of the words, “awe-inspiring.” First, there was a feeling of disappointment. It did not seem deep enough nor great enough in area! My picture had been drawn from what I thought were exaggerations and my inclination seemed to be to justify an effort to verify the truth of exaggeration. But as we stood silent, wrapped in a sentiment that was new, transformation seemed to take place; the dis tance to the water seemed to be silently increasing, the walls seemed to be moving away, the pinnacles growing higher until the whole wonder expanded beyond the exaggerations that we thought had been imposed on us. We were consciously “coming into i correspondence with our environment.” It became evident that we were looking into a gigantic volcanic crater, one of the great wonders. Then imagination began to work and I tried to visualize it in action. I tried to think of it as a mountain peak greater than Shasta that stood out yonder on the southern horizon; tried to imagine it belching fire .t and smoke with torrents of lava.

No one now gets the thrills we got. When I stood there for the first time no pictures had been taken, no descriptions written; there were no roads, nor buildings, nor people outside of our own small crowd of adventurers. The superstitious Indians or were afraid to talk about it, or visit it. It was surrounded with mystery and we called it “Lake Mystery.” Its towering pinnacles had stood for ages silent sentinels guarding it from the approaches of the natives, who needed nothing more than their superstitious fear to prevent any trespass. When I returned home I undertook to write a description of it, the first attempt at that ambitious task that was ever made; being young and still absorbed with my thrills, I exhausted my store of adjectives and then postponed its completion for another season.

The next year-1874-1 visited the lake again with a small party. It was snowing when we reached the brink. We could not see the water and the snow did not fall in the orderly way that it should; in fact, it did not fall at all, but was hurled at us from below as though afraid to get too high above the slope of the mountain.

I wanted to go (down to the water, and there being no other member of the party so inclined, I went alone and made the descent just west of what we now know as Victor Rock. I do not know that any other person has ever since ventured down that way. I did not stay long and breathed more easily when I had joined my comrades at the top. The snow- squall had ceased, the clouds had sailed away and though the boughs and branches were clad in gowns of white, the sun beamed in rosy gladness, with a light that gave a new glory to the scene, and

Around this lonely Crater Lake

There lingered not a breeze to break

The mirror which its waters make.

My wife, her sister and mother were with me and, so far as I know, were the first women who ever stood upon the brink of Crater Lake, as I believe I am the only man who ever went alone to the water of this abyss in a snowstorm so long ago.

[The description of Crater Lake referred to by the writer in the above article may be found in the archives of the Oregon Historical Association in a bound volume of the Resources of Oregon and Washington, a magazine published in Portland by W. G. Steel and his brother David in 1882.]