Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Pass

Book: The Pass
Author: Stewart Edward White
Edition: pdf from Google Play Book, copied from Stanford Library
Read: October 3, 2015
195  pages
Rated: 3 1/2 out of 5
Genre:   Biography

White, his wife Billy (Elizabeth) and a hand named Wes travel through the Roaring River drainage, seeking a way to the Kaweah River. The result was about a month long trip. While not inherently dangerous, it is exciting because at this time, there was no established trails so we explore this unexplored area through the eyes of White, his wife, his friend, his dogs and pack horses--all of which are part of the story.


The Big Meadow Trail
No mere corral could adequately have exercised these lusty young mountaineers.Talks about a group of young men building a coral and "over engineering" it. White is impressed with the enthusiasm of these young men. He notes that no horse could jump over it or force it because of the depth the lumber was sunk and the height of the trees used. I think White uses this as a metaphor for the energy which are in the mountains making men alive.

The Forest Ranger

The material he gathered in the lowland he digested and ruminated in the high lands. The forest ranger would need to pick up odd jobs in the Valley because the government would not pay enough to make a go of. But this unnamed ranger did not count the time in the Valley as wasted, but picked up things to ponder. And the mountains give you time to ponder and meditate.  We lead a much too rushed lives when we are around others. A person needs time to himself just to walk with his thoughts, if he has any thoughts worth while thinking.

I made up my mind some time ago that I would rather have a horse weak in his hoof than a boy weak in his intellect.   This is Forest Ranger talking. Too bad we do not bring up our children in a way they can learn from their mistakes.  'I would rather have a boy on one sober leg than two drunken ones,' and that is about right, I do believe." We also protect our children. So they do not know how to live. So they resort to other means to feel alive.

I know many who spend a large part of their wages in the improvement of their districts, and each and every one lives in the high hope that some day the service will get its desert of attention and compensation. With a strong and able leader these men would go far. When was Pinchot chief ranger? Looks like he was just starting to be Chief Ranger when this book was written. When you read Pinchot's writings (The Training of a Forester and The Fight for Conservation) and other histories of this time, there is similar complaints.

I think she knew that we would never turn back once we had tasted the adventure of a first repulse. The "she" is Bille, White's wife. This statement is so true. Once I see a task it is hard to turn away. Once you set a course, it is hard to back down.

Roaring River
Evening, always big and fearsome in the mountains, hovered imminent, ready to swoop in its swift California fashion. I just liked this description. Depending on which way the canyon, valley or basin is turned, the sun can either linger for ever or it can get dark and cold at 5 in the afternoon.

Bloody Pass
I went over it once to find the easiest route, then set myself vigorously to rolling boulders aside, and to " chinking the worst holes. This was rather good fun. The big stones went bounding and jumping away like living things, Once again, just liking the way White put these words. To me he shows the fun he enjoys is the simple fun of rolling boulders down  a slope.

Finally we did gain the saddle, and looking back with deep breaths of relief named this Bloody Pass. Not an official name, just the recognition of the effort the people and horses took to get up this saddle, and the literal blood some of the horses spilled. But this was for naught as when they got to the top, they needed to go back the way they came as there was not a good passage to the Kaweah.

We Fall Back
In climbing a mountain at a high elevation you start out comfortably enough. The first symptom of trouble is a shortening of your breath, the next a violent pounding of your heart ; then come sensations of heavy weights attached to your feet, ringings of your ears, blurring of your eyes, perhaps a slight giddiness. It is now time to stop. After a moment the landscape steadies, the symptoms subside. You are ready for another little spurt. The moment you stop, or strike level ground, you are all right ; but at the highest elevations, even a slight incline or a light burden will bring you immediate distress. At just what elevation this dis tress becomes acute depends on your individual make-up. Some people cannot stand even six or seven thousand feet. When I read this, there was a silent Amen. He accurately describes how you feel at elevation and the effort it takes until one gets used to it.

The Permanent Camp
You stretch luxuriously, and extend your legs, and an unwonted feeling of satisfaction steals over you. You wonder why. The reason comes in due time. It is this: a whole glorious woodland day lies before you, and in it is no question of pack rope, horse or trail. You can do just exactly as much or as little as you please.  I do not take enough rest days! In this chapter White talks about having to take ten days off to have a horse recover from a leg wound. After reading this passage, it was an inspiration not only to hike but to sit back and enjoy as well.

During a fairly extended experience in snake countries I have made it a point to proffer that inquiry, and up to date I have found just three men in whose veracity I had confidence who claim to have seen a man dead of snake bite. Hundreds could prove cases by the next fellow... I am not a fan of being in rattlesnake country. But I think White is right, while deadly, the rattlesnake probably holds no more danger than crossing a street in a crosswalk. I am also nervous about that as well.

It is astonishing how instantaneously the human nerves react to the shrill buzz. A man who has never heard it before, recognizes it at once. And the moment the sound vibration strikes his ear-drum — long before it has had a chance of interpretation by the brain — his muscles have accomplished for him a record-breaking broad jump. I can validate this. I was once crossing a log which two other people had crossed. Saw a rattlesnake under the log and got hit by brush at the same time. My first step was five feet in the air and five yards down the trail.

There is a finality about the abandonment of a permanent camp to be experienced in no other household removal.

This is a fatal practice. Just as soon as you begin to make up your mind that you will catch some trout, or do the washing, or some thing of that sort before supper, the trail is sure to lose itself, or develop unexpected difficulties, so that at the end you must cook by firelight. An inch on the map is a mighty deceiving thing. 

The Side Hill Camp
marmot (ground bears). His relating of the interchange between some marmots and his dogs is hilarious. Worth reading the chapter just for this. Also learned that a ground bear is a marmot.

[Old miners] must save his own self-respect, and, be sides, the game is interesting — and shoot a deer or so, and smoke a lot of strong, rank tobacco, and concoct wonderful things with onions in a covered and for midable frying pan, and just have a good time. They are engaging conspirators, and I advise you never to pass by one of their camps. Conjures up images of a pleasant evening sharing stories, some of which are even true.

...we acquired gradually the feeling that we were living out in the air, away from the solid earth that most people inhabit — as a man might feel who lived on a scaffold above a city.   I live another life when I am in the mountains. It seems like you are living on another plain, the place which we were meant to live in.

Again, we early fell under the illusion that somehow more sunshine, more day light, was allotted to us than to less fortunate mortals.  There is a tendency to be more optimistic when out in the Sierra's. Even though they can be deadly,  there is still the feeling of being blessed when you are up there.

The Ledge
Picking a way is good fun. You must first scout ahead in general. Then you determine more carefully just where each hoof is to fall. I love walking cross-country. You see the country side so much differently, more as a navigator than a tourist. You see the terrain and the brush. In essence, it is not one foot in front of the other hiking, but hiking with your eyes wide open, and your senses open for adventure.

On re-reading the chapters of The Pass it has occurred to me that some might imagine that we consider the opening of Elizabeth Pass an extraordinary feat. This is not true. Anybody could have done it. I have attempted merely to show how such things are undertaken, and to tell of the joys and petty 'but real difficulties to be met with on such an expedition. I hope the reader will take this account in that spirit. Amen Stewart Edward White! When I write in my journal, it is not because of something special I am doing, but because I feel the specialness of what I am hiking through.

I have a hard time evaluating this book. Mostly because what is magically about this story for me will not be for most people. The writing is ok, reads more like a journal and personal story, and as such it is not exceptional. But for me I enjoyed his writing because I have been to many of the places he talks about Big Meadows, Cloud(y) Canyon, Roaring River. When I read about his travels in 1906, I can see the area, whats more I want to visit the parts I have not been to-Deadman Canyon and Elizabeth Pass-the pass the book is named after. Some of the stories there is a touch of humor-read the story about ground bears(marmots) and you will chuckle. But if you are not a hiker you may not appreciate this book.

New Words:
  • imbecility (Chp We Fall Back):  utter foolishness; also :  futility or  something that is foolish or nonsensical
  • tunate (Chp The Side Hill Camp):

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: We had already been out about two months, Billy and Wes and I, and were getting short of grub.
  • Last Line: For this was the Trail.
  •  Men who work for the love of it are too scarce to lose. chp The Forest Ranger
  •  I wish I had a dog's vivid interest in mere living. Chp We Fall Back 
  • There is a joy in the clean, accurate labor — a pleasure in stretching your muscles. Chp: The Permanent Camp.
  • The moment your back is turned, the forest begins her task of resolving it to its original elements.  Chp: The Permanent Camp.  
  • An inch on the map is a mighty deceiving thing.  Chp:The Permanent Camp.

Table of Contents:
  • The Big Meadow Trail
  • The Forest Ranger
  • Roaring River
  • Dead man's Canon
  • Cloudy Canon
  • Bloody Pass
  • We Fall Back
  • The Permanent Camp
  • The Side Hill Camp
  • The Ledge
  • Appendix
  • Field
  • Notes


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