Saturday, March 28, 2009


The hardest time I've had with the expedition is translating the description of their travels to a map. I realize they didn't have a map beyond a general one - the first topographic map was produced until 1915 - of Mount Rainier and the area. All they had was a visual interpretation of the landscape to use, which in 1896 was vague at best.

Anyway, I'm trying to translate the trip from the Philo Falls camp to the new camp on the west side of Winthrop Glacier. They wrote the following.

"Taking heavy packs on our backs on the morning of July 21, we descended the steep broken surface of the most recent moraine bordering Carbon Glacier in its middle course, some idea of which is conveyed by Pl. LXXIV, and reached the solid blue ice below. Our course led us directly across the glacier, along the lower border of the rapidly melting covering of winter snow. The glacier is there about a mile across. Its central part is higher than its border, and for the most part the ice is concealed by dirt and stones. Just below the névé, however, we found a space about half a mile long in which melting had not led to the concentration of sufficient débris to make traveling difficult. Farther down the glacier, where surface melting was more advanced, the entire glacier, with the exception of a few lanes of clear ice between the ill-defined medial moraines, was completely concealed beneath a desolate sheet of angular stones. On reaching the east side of the glacier we were confronted with a wall of clay and stones, the inner slope of a moraine similar in all respects to the one we had descended to reach the west border of the glacier. A little search revealed a locality where a tongue of ice in a slight embayment projected some distance up the wall of morainal material, and a steep climb of 50 or 60 feet brought us to the summit. The glacier has recently shrunk—that is, its surface has been lowered from 80 to 100 feet by melting."

"On the east side of the glacier we found several steep, sharp-crested ridges, clothed with forest trees, with narrow, grassy, and flower-strewn dells between, in which banks of snow still lingered. The ridges are composed of bowlders and angular stones of a great variety of sizes and shapes, and are plainly lateral moraines abandoned by the shrinking of the glacier. Choosing a way up one of the narrow lanes, bordered on each side by steep slopes densely covered with trees and shrubs, we found secure footing in the hard granular snow, and soon reached a more open, parklike area, covered with mossy bosses of turf; on which grew a great profusion of brilliant flowers. Before us rose the great cliffs which partially inclose the amphitheater in which Carbon Glacier has its source. These precipices, as already stated, have a height of about 4,000 feet, and are so steep that the snow does not cling to them, but descends in avalanches. Above the cliffs, where the inclination is less precipitous, the snow lies in thick layers, the edges of which are exposed in a vertical precipice rising above the avalanche swept rock-slope below. Far above, and always the central object in the wild scenery surrounding us, rose the brilliant white Liberty Cap, one of the pinnacles on the rim of the great summit crater. Our way then turned eastward, following the side of the mountain, and led us through a region just above the timber line, which commands far reaching views to the wild and rugged mountains to the northeast. This open tract, heading down to groves of spruce trees and diversified by charming lakelets, bears abundant evidence of having formerly been ice-covered, and is known its Moraine Park."

"In order to retain our elevation we crossed diagonally the steep snow slopes in the upper portion of the Moraine Park. Midway over the snow we rested at a sharp crest of rock, and found that it is composed of light-colored granite. Later we found that much of the area between the Carbon and Winthrop glaciers is composed of this same kind of rock. Granite forms a portion of the border of the valley through which flow the glaciers just named, and furnished them with much granitic débris, which is carried away as moraines and later worked over into well-rounded bowlders by the streams flowing from the ice. The presence of granite pebbles in the courses of Carbon and White rivers far below the glaciers, is thus accounted for."

"A weary tramp of about 4 miles from the camp we had left brought us to the border of Winthrop Glacier. In the highest grove of trees, which are bent down and frequently lie prone on the ground, although still hiving, we selected a well-sheltered camping place. Balsam boughs furnished luxuriant beds, and the trees killed by winter storms enabled us to have a roaming camp fire. Fresh trail of mountain goats and their but recently abandoned bed showed that this is a favorite resort for those hardy animals. Marmots were also abundant, and frequently awakened the echoes with their shrill, whistling cries. The elevation of our camp was about 8,000 feet."

Well, I can trace them across the Carbon Glacier and likely up to Moraine Park. But from there I don't have a clue, except they get to their new camp on the west side of Winthrop Glacier. I'm also guessing the estimate of the elevation of the camp is off by about 1,000 feet since there are no trees above the 7,000 foot level around Mount Rainier. Or as told to me by some of the backcountry rangers.

I've read this description over and over with the map, and it simply doesn't make sense to track. And none of the other documents have any additional information which helps. So, if you have ideas for waypoints on this part of their trip, I'm listening. You can enter a comment or send me e-mail. In the meantime I'll keep reading.

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