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Gates of the Rocky Mountains

Friday, July 19, 1805

Early in the morning, and soon passed the remains of several Indian camps formed of willowbrush, which seemed to have been deserted this spring. At the same time he observed that the pine trees had been stripped of their bark about the same season, which our Indian women says her countrymen do in order to obtain the sap and soft parts of the wood and bark for food. About eleven o’clock he emt a herd of elk and killed two of them; but such was the want of wood in the neighborhood that he was unable to procure enough to make a fire, and was therefore obliged to substitute the dung of the buffalo, with which he cooked his breakfast. They then resumed their course along an old Indian road. In the afternoon they reached a handsome valley, watered by a large creek, both of which extended a considerable distance into the mountain. This they crossed, and during the evening traveled over a mountainous country covered with sharp fragments of flint rock; these bruised and cut their feet very much, but were scarcely less troublesome than the prickly-pear of the open plains, which have now become so abundant that it is impossible to avoid them, and the thorns are so strong that they pierce a double sole of dressed deer-skin; the best resource against them is a sole of buffalo-hide in parchment. At night they reached the river much fatigued, having passed two mountains in the course of the day, and traveled 30 miles. Captain Clark’s first employment, on lighting a fire, was to extract from his feet the briars, which he found 17 in number.

In the meantime we proceeded very well, though the water appears to increase in rapidity as we advance. The current has indeed been strong during the day, and obstructed by some rapids, which are not, however, much broken by rocks, and are perfectly safe. the river is deep; its general width is from 100 to 150 yards. For more than 13 miles we went along the numerous bends of the river, and then reached two small islands; 3 3/4 miles beyond which is a small creek in the bend to the left, above a small island on the right side of the river. We were regaled about 10 p.m. with a thunderstorm of rain and hail, which lasted for an hour. During the day, in this confinded valley through which we are passing, the heat is almost insupportable; yet, whenever we obtain a glimpse of the lofty tops of the mountins, we are tantalized with a view of the snow. These mountains have their sides ans summits partially varied with little copses of pine, cedar, and balsam-fir.

A mile and a half beyond this creek, the rocks approach the river on both sides, forming a most sublime and extraordinary spectacle. For 5 3/4 miles these rocksrise perpendicularly from the waters edge, to the height of nearly 1,200 feet. They are composed of a black granite near the base, but from their colour above, and from the fragments, we suppose the upper part to be flint, of a yellowish-brown and cream color. Nothing can be imagined more tremendous than the frowning darkness of these rocks, which project over the river and menace us with destruction. The river, of 150 yards in width, seems to have forced its channel down this solid mass; but so reluctantly has the rock given way that, during the whole distance, the water is very deep even at the edges, and for the first three miles there is not a spot, except one of a few yards, in which a man could stand between the water and the towering perpendicular of the mountain. The convulsion of the passage must have been terrible, since at its outlet are vast columns of rock, torn from the mountain, which are strewn on both sides of the river – the trophies, as it were, of a victory. Several fine springs burst out from the chasms of the rock, and contribute to increase the river, which has now a strong current; but very fortunately we are able to overcome it with our oars, since it would be impossible to use either the cord or the pole. We are obliged to go on some time after dark; not being able to find a spot large enough to camp on; but at length, about two miles above a small island in the middle of the river, we met with a spot on on the left side, we procured plenty of light wood and pitch-pine. This extraordinary range of rocks we called the Gates of the Rocky mountains.

We had made 22 miles; and 4 1/4 miles from the entrance of the Gates. The mountains are higher today than they were yesterday. We saw some bighorns, a few antelopes and beaver, but since entering the mountains have found no buffalo; the otter are, however, in great plenty; the mosquitoes have become less troublesome than they were.