Clark appreciated that "our party exolted with the idea of once more proceeding on towards their friends and Country." Too bad, then, that one of the Indians informed him that "we could not cross the mountains untill the full of the next moon, or about the 1st of July ... this information is disagreeable to us." The plan of Lewis and Clark had been to begin the Lolo Trail in the middle of June, not two weeks later. "The river has been falling for several days and is now lower by near six feet than it has been; this we view as a strong evidence that the great body of snow has left the mountains ... a few days will dry the roads and will also improve the grass." Accordingly, on June 10, the Corps of Discovery took their leave of Long Camp and pointed themselves in the direction of Weippe Prairie, the spot where the Lewis and Clark Expedition had first met the Nez Perce in the fall of 1805.
The 12-mile trek to the eastern edge of "quawmash flatts" went smoothly enough, writes Lewis, inasmuch as each man rode a horse and led another lightly packed animal. Feeling confident that his command was now "perfectly equiped for the mountains," Lewis allowed himself the luxury of returning to his role as the expedition's botanist. Among the trees identified by Lewis were several species of fir, the Engelmann spruce, Ponderosa pine, mountain larch and the alder. In the undergrowth, he observed chokecherry, redroot, serviceberry, gooseberry, poison sumac and poison ivy. His collection of a specimen of syringa, now the state flower of Idaho, encouraged scientists to subsequently name the plant Philadelphus lewisi.
Weippe Prairie abounded in camas, an edible plant with onion-sized bulbs that the Indians commonly roasted, or dried and pounded into flour. Sergeant Patrick Gass, who estimated the prairie at 2,000 acres, comments that the camas "looks beautiful, being in full bloom with flowers of a pale blue colour." Lewis agreed, adding that "the quawmash is now in blume and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water, so complete is this deseption that on first sight I could have swoarn it was water." Beautiful as the sight may have been, Clark did not forget that "this root is palateable but disagrees with us in every shape we have ever used it. ... when we first arrived at the Chopunnish last fall at this place our men who were half Starved made So free a use of this root that it made them all Sick for Several days after."
William Clark confessed his concerns about returning to the Lolo Trail when he wrote his journal entry for June 14. In the morning, the expedition would move in earnest, he scribbled, "over those snowey tremendious mountains which has detained us near five weeks in this neighbourhood waiting for the Snows to melt." He could not help but "Shudder with the expectation," knowing from past experience the "great dificuelties in passing those Mountains, from the debth of snow." Meriwether Lewis penned a similar entry: "I am still apprehensive that the snow and want of food for our horses will prove a serious imbarrassment to us." Still, "every body seems anxious to be in motion, convinced that we have not now any time to delay if the calculation is to reach the United States this season."
Next week: The Corps of Discovery fails in its attempt to re-cross the Bitterroot Mountains.
Robert Carriker has directed eight National Endowment for the Humanities seminars on the Lewis and Clark expedition and is author of Ocian in View! O! the Joy. When he's not out retracing the steps of the Corps of Discovery, he teaches history at Gonzaga University.