by Robert Carriker & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & heir brief eastward passage along the Lolo Trail having ended in failure on June 17, 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition grimly retraced their steps down the ridge overlooking today's Lochsa River. The temporary camp they established on June 18 served them well until June 21. At that point, the captains wished to know if George Drouillard and George Shannon, the two men they had sent back to the Nez Perce village to locate a guide, had been successful. So the expedition retreated all the way back to Weippe Prairie, the place where they had camped earlier from June 10-15. On the way down, the expedition met two mounted Nez Perce men heading up the mountain. Meriwether Lewis arranged for these men to halt and wait for two days while the Euro-American explorers reassembled and returned.
It took some time for the Corps of Discovery to reconstitute itself. Not until June 23 did Drouillard and Shannon rejoin the main camp, bringing three Nez Perce men of "good Charrector" with them. Meantime, expedition hunters stalked deer and bear in the forest, often out of contact with the main camp. Lewis complicated matters by ordering a sergeant and five privates to return to the two Indians who were marking time on the Lolo Trail. Reassure them the Corps of Discovery was coming back, Lewis instructed his sergeant, but if the Indians refused to delay any longer, then two privates should stay back and the others should "accompany the Indians by whatever rout they might take to travellers rest and blaize the trees well as they proceeded."
The expedition began its second attempt at crossing the Bitterroots on the morning of June 24. About noon, the expedition reunited with two of the privates earlier sent on temporary duty. The rest of their detachment were reeled in by day's end. That evening, the five Nez Perce guides prayed for good weather by setting fir trees on fire, a ritual William Clark found entertaining. The trees "when Set on fire create a very Sudden and emmence blaize from bottom to top of those tail trees," Clark remarks, "they are a boutifull object in this Situation at night. this exhibition remide me of a display of firewoks."
Day after day, the travelers plodded forward through meadows, across creeks, and "along the Steep Sides of tremendious Mountains." On June 26, the expedition reached the spot where snowdrifts had terminated their progress 10 days earlier. Scars on the trees left by staggering pack animals on June 17 confirmed to Clark that the depth of the snow had reached higher than 10 feet. This day, he estimated the snow pack "had sunk to 7 feet tho' perfectly hard and firm." The baggage earlier cached in the trees remained undisturbed, but it took two hours to redistribute it into new packs. Another Nez Perce man joined the party that afternoon. Several times the captains recognized camp locations they had used in mid-September 1805 when the expedition followed the Lolo Trail going west. Even with their earlier experience, however, it would have been difficult -- maybe impossible -- for the explorers to follow the trail if not for their Indian guides.
That sobering thought hit Clark most directly on June 27, he wrote, when "we halted by the request of the Guides a fiew minits on an ellevated point and Smoked a pipe." At first, Clark's thoughts focused on the "extencive view of these Stupendeous Mountains principally Covered with Snow like that on which we Stood." Then he realized, he wrote, that "we were entirely Serounded by those mountains from which to one unacquainted with them it would have Seemed impossible ever to have escaped." Honestly, Clark admitted, "without the assistance of our guides, I doubt much whether we who had once passed them could find our way to Travellers rest... those indians are most admireable pilots." Still, Clark boasted in his journal, he viewed the scene before him as "Sufficient to have dampened the Spirits of any except Such hardy travellers as we have become."
Relentlessly the Corps marched on, looking somewhat like a procession. The trails were always snow-covered. "We find the travelling on the Snow not worse than without it," notes Lewis, "as the easy passage it gives us over rocks and fallen timber fully compensate for the inconvenience of sliping, certain it is that we travel considerably faster on the snow than without it." They accomplished 28 miles on June 27 without once "releiveing the horses from their packs or their haveing any food." Consequently, the next day, the expedition traveled only 13 miles "along the dividing ridge over knobs & amp; through deep hollows," but they quit at noon when they reached "an untimbered side of a mountain" sprouting an abundance of grass for the "much fatigued" horses.
NEXT WEEK: The Lewis and Clark Expedition reaches the end of the Lolo Trail.
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.