In his book, The Lifeline of the Oregon Country, James Gibson has this to say about the Athabasca Pass, a place that is covered in this blog posting:
"Under the HBC, the express -- usually three boats, each with nine or ten men, plus a few passengers -- took longer.
"The spring (York) express left Fort Vancouver in the middle of March with mail ("paper trunks," containing letters, reports, journals) and servants who had resigned or retired or who had been furloughed or relocated -- and made York Factory in late June or early July; it left Hudson Bay as the fall (Vancouver) express in late July with mail and recruits or veterans and made the lowermost Columbia in late October or early November.
"The principal impediment was the Athabasca Portage, which stretched 120 miles through the Rockies between Jasper's House on the headwaters of the Athabasca River and the Boat Encampment on the "Big Bend" of the Columbia River, where a tributary, the Canoe River, was "celebrated among North Westers for the quality of the birch bark."
"At the Boat Encampment, where the painter Paul Kane "found the scenery the most beautiful that I have ever seen in any country," the Columbia boats were "hauled up" and a cache of supplies and equipment made, from there snowshoes and horses were used as far as Jasper's House, where boats were waiting.
"The portage impressed even the peripatetic Simpson in 1825: "The scenery here is wild and majestic beyond description, the track in many places nearly impassible; and it appears extraordinary how any human being should have stumbled on a pass through such a formidable barrier which nature seems to have placed here for the purpose of interdicting all communication between the East and West sides of the Continent."
Even the continental divide, however, did not slow the express much."
As you will see: Let us continue our journey with the various York Factory expresses, from the Boat Encampment on the Columbia River, to Jasper's House.
York Factory Express Journal, 1827, by Edward Ermatinger:
Friday 27th [April]. Our tent being dry, strike and pack it up dry the main line as well as we can first by the sun and afterwards by the fire. Take an acct. of everything to be left en cache; kill 1 goose.
Saturday 28th. Morning sharp frost, day fine and warm. People commence arranging and strapping their loads at 4pm. Cross over the property to be left and put en cache. Return and haul up the boat and then start about 7 o'clock course easterly. Our road lies first thro' woods and swamps along the banks of the river (Wood River) and then we cross the 1st point of woods and encamp having travelled about 9 miles. We found in the woods snow knee deep occasionally which caused us to put on our Pas d'ours. Two of our Iroquois who would not have carried snow shoes from the Boat Encampment, had I not insisted upon them having them, now found them very useful and were glad to put them on. A wolverine hovers about our camp and Mr. [David] Douglas wounds him, but he escapes.
Sunday, 29th. Fine clear weather. Resume our journey at 4am. Our track commences on the Battures (gravel bars) on which we travel about 10 miles, having forded the Columbia [he means the Wood River] main river in that space 13 times, the depth of water never exceeding 3 feet. Enter the 2nd Point of Woods about 9 o'clock and travel near 3 miles and encamp at noon, the snow having become too soft for us to continue further this day. The road thro' these woods is very bad and difficult to be found not being distinctly marked as was the case in the point we passed yesterday. This causes much additional labour to the people and often leads them out of their way not one of them knowing the road properly. If the person returning with the horses in the fall and best acquainted with the proper track were desired to mark the trees sufficiently high not to be hidden by the snow it would be a great relief to the people going out in the spring. The snow shoes or Pas d'ours we traded from the Indians are very bad and too small and break often. I would therefore suggest that in future sufficiency for the Express people might be made at Fort Colvile, a little larger than the 2 pairs we got from there this spring, as it would render the travelling much easier and prevent the uncertainty of obtaining them from Indians. See gees kill a partridge.
Monday, 30th. Sharp frost in the morning fine day. Course north start at 4am. Continue thro' the woods about 1/4 mile and fall upon the river then travel upon the battures about 9 miles having forded the main stream 7 miles and arrive at the foot of the Grand Cote at 8 o'clock. Ascend it for about 2 miles and encamp at 11 am. Experienced some difficulty in finding the proper track.
May, Tuesday 1st. Fine weather. Start at 1/2 past 4 am. Snow not less than between 4 and 5 feet deep. Continue to descend the Grand Cote by very short stages for about 2 miles till we meet the Rocky Hills on the right at 8 am., when we incline to the left a little and having journeyed I should say between 3 and 5 miles encamp nearly a mile on this side of the height of land (Athabasca Pass) at noon. We experienced again much difficulty in finding and keeping our road. In fact we could not ascend 50 yards before the people were wandering in every direction in search of the track. What few marks have been made to point out the way I conceive are concealed by the depth of snow. Kill a partridge.
Wednesday 2nd. Fine weather. Resume our journey at 3 am. in order to avail ourselves of the crust on the snow. Course north east. Travel at a good pace for about 17 miles [down the Whirlpool River, a branch of the Athabasca], and stop at 11 am. to breakfast and give the people a rest during the heat of the day. Two thirds of the distance across the grand batture. Hang up our snowshoes on a tree, there appearing no need of them further. Since passing the height of land the snow has very rapidly diminished. At our last encampment it was 5 feet deep and here there is only a little remaining on the ice on the banks of the River. What is left still smoothens our road which passes often over rough rocks. We however had to use our snow shoes occasionally thro' the small points of woods. Being here informed by the people that it is customary to send somebody ahead to meet the man with the horses and advertize him of our approach I send off Roy light for that purpose. Make a fresh start ourselves at 2pm and continue over Battures and thro' woods and swamps between 6 and 7 miles and encamp at 1/2 past 6. One of the camps entirely frozen over. Traversed the Atha[basca] 6 times today, twice knee deep; current strong. We went out of our road a little in the last part of the day's march and got into very bad woods. Roy returns after dark to our camp on horseback having found J. Cardinalle at Campment d'Orignal with 9 horses. Send him back on foot to desire Cardinalle to bring up the horses as soon as possible in the morning.
Thursday 3rd. Fine warm weather. Load the horse Roy brought last night and proceed forward with the rest of our baggage at 1/2 past 3 am. Shortly after meet Pacquan with 3 more horses. Arrive at Campment d'Orignal at 7 o'clock having travelled 5 miles thro' very bad woods. Breakfast. Understanding that there is a canoe at the Grand traverse which is likely to be wanted below, send off three men to repair and take it down to the end of the Portage. then having loaded 2 horses with our baggage, give the rest for the men to mount and continue our journey at 8 am. Ford the Grand traverse about noon. Proceed to Campt. des Vaches [now Buffalo Prairie] where arrive about 3 pm. The greatest part of the road hither thro' thick woods much encumbered with fallen wood. Ice and snow thick on the banks of the River. Terminate our journey across the mountains at 6 pm. The canoe arrives before us. The men are employed repairing another which we find here, in order to proceed to Jasper's House to morrow morning.
Friday 4th. Fine weather. It being necessary to take down both the canoes, I divide the men including Jacques, who leaves his horses here for the present, 4 into each and embark at 1/2 past 4 am. Arrive at the 2nd Lake where Jasper's House stands. We are regaled here with some most excellent white fish. The freemen not having arrived I am unable to explain and arrange their accts for them according to C.F. Rowand's request, my instructions not authorizing me to make any further delay. However in case the Iroquois should come, I intend leaving Mr. Rowand's 2 men at this place and 1 of the Columbia men with a canoe to wait here 4 days, as I am informed they have near 300 Beaver which it is desirable should be taken out.
Express Journal, Spring, 1828, by Edward Ermatinger:
May 1st. Fine weather. Having put up the Boats and other property en cache, we commence our journey across the mountains at 7 am. the 14 men being loaded with the following baggage &c.
1 paper trunks; 2 beds; 1 portmandeau; 1 case; 2 kegs liquor; 3 pactons sundries; Provs. for the Messrs &c.
Get through the first point of woods by 1/2 past 10 o'clock found no snow and less water in the swamps than last year -- took breakfast and allowed the men to rest till 1 pm. and then resumed our route over the Battures. Water high in the River -- at one place the River was too deep to ford with safety and therefore we take to the woods for a short distance. Encamp about 1/2 way between the two points of woods.
May, 2nd. Fine weather. Start at 4 am. Gained the 2nd point of woods by 6 o'clock. Got thro' these woods before 9 -- take breakfast and rest till 1/2 past 11. Then proceed over the Battures to the foot of the Grand Cote where we camp at 2 pm. We met with a few patches of snow to-day, but have not yet had occasion to put on snow shoes. The traverses to-day were deep and the current strong which obliged us to ford hand in hand for personal safety.
Saturday, 3rd. Fine weather. Start at 1/2 past 4 am. Find little snow till we get half way up the hill. We are then obliged to put on the snow shoes -- take breakfast on top of the Hill between 9 and 10 -- resume at noon and proceed to within 4 miles of the Height of Land and encamp at 1/2 past 3 pm. Send Pierre ahead to advise Cardinalle of our approach.
Sunday, 4th. Rained and snowing during the whole of last night -- day fine but cold. Start at half past 4 am. Pass the height of land at 6. Proceed on deep snow near to Campment de fusil -- take breakfast. Afterwards snow diminishes fast. Meet Cardinalle on the Grand batture [14 miles from the summit of Athabaska Pass] at 1 pm. with 14 horses relieve our people of their loads and continue our route to the Campment d'Orignal and encamp.
5th. Cold with snow in morning -- day fine. Start at 1/2 past 4 am. Breakfast at the trou [Whirlpool R] at 8. Proceed at 10 and arrive at the canoes by 5 pm. People immediately set about repairing the canoes -- one of which has got much broken thro' the timbers not having been sufficiently loosened last fall.
6th. Fine weather. Having patched up the two canoes by 10 o'clock we embark. Sent four men by the horses, the water in the River being too low to admit of embarking the whole -- get over many shoals with difficulty. Arrive at Jasper's at 6 pm.
7th. Fine weather. Remain this day repairing our canoes.
Did you realize in that last journal entry that you learned something new about birchbark canoes?
I believe Ermatinger is saying that if the fur traders stored the canoes over the winter, they loosened the fibres or wapeter that held the canoe together.
James Douglas, Diary of a Journey from Fort Vancouver in 1835:
Monday 13 [April]. First Point Woods.
Tues. 14. Entrance of 2nd point of woods. Weather mild, and the snow melting fast. The sandy flats are generally covered with snow to the depth of from 20 inches to 2 feet. It is very remarkable that from the head of the Upper Lake nearly to the Boat Encampment there was a continued depth of 36 to 40 inches of snow everywhere along the river. And contrary to all former experience the nearer we approached the mountains the quantity of snow evidently diminished.
Wed. 15. The weather still continues mild and unfavourable which compels us to use the snow shoe constantly. Encampment at the Commencement of the Big Hill.
Thurs. 16. Snow frequently during the day. Encamped on the height of land.
Fri. 17. Encamped at the Grande Bature where we laid aside our snow shoes and had the satisfaction of treading once more on Terra Firma.
Sat. 18. The Horses from Klynes reached us this morning at 9 o'clock and we continued our journey with them to the Lower Moose Encampement where we put up for the night.
Sun. 19. Encamped at Larocque's House.
Mon. 19. Reached Klynes. [Klyne's House was Jasper's House].
Well, that journal was short and sweet, at least in this section where he had to work so hard in climbing the mountain! James Douglas was an office man, and probably not in as good shape as the other men who were on this express.
This next express journal entry is not so short and it is a delightful read!
Journal of a Voyage from Fort Vancouver, Columbia, to York Factory, Hudson's Bay, 1841, by George Traill Allan
Tuesday the 4th of May... we slept there [Boat Encampment] and arranged every thing next morning, Wednesday 5th, for our journey on foot and snow shoes. We now started about 10 o'clock am; not finding any snow for the first few miles, we walked in Moccasins, otherwise called Indian shoes, along the banks of the Columbia when we entered the woods & found ourselves in a swamp the water reaching above the Knees, our road leading that way, it was of course, unavoidable, we therefore trudged along in no very comfortable trim for about two miles when we again entered the woods and finding deep snow had recourse to the snow shoes. -- The Doctor [Dr. W.F. Tolmie] and I were light, but the men were heavily loaded, and many of them having never seen a snow shoe, many and great were the falls they had. The snow shoes has a very admirable and peculiar quality, when one falls down it is no easy matter to get up again, and although I felt for the poor men yet I could not altogether command my risibility though it was however sometimes my misfortune to share the same fate & Dr. Tolmie keeping me in countenance, we did not fail upon such occasions to laugh heartily at each other. The Canadians of all nations possess perhaps the best qualities for voyaging (at least in the Indian Country) where we have to undergo, to use of of their own words, so much misere, however harassing their labour may have been during the day, they no sooner arrive at the encampment for the night then having supplied themselves with an excellent fire and good supper, they commence joking each other -- with the greatest good humour upon the mishaps of the past day & having now a tolerable knowledge of their language I really enjoyed them, and now and then put in a word by way of encouragement, to keep up their spirits. I had almost forgot to mention that my friend, Dr. Tolmie, is not only a temperance man but a Teetotaler, so that during our voyage from Vancouver to the Boat Encampment, I had no one to join me in a glass of wine or half a one of Brandy, & having a good stock of each I took a little now and then by way of not allowing Teetotalism to carry the day; for although a temperance man, I shall never become a Teetotaler, there is something so very unsocial in the very name, besides the idea of a mans not being able to restrain himself without an oath is absurd. Let me, however, state here, that any one acquainted with Dr. Tolmie need not be informed that he joined the society from the purest & most disinterested motives, &, God knows, not from any idea of his not being able to refrain from Spirituous Liquors.
I must now return to the woods where I left some of our men struggling amongst the snow, we at last, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, managed to emerge and were fortunate enough to find along the River a small spot clear of snow where we encamped for the night. The Doctor and myself having by our walk procured excellent appetites, we made us an excellent a supper [sic] -- after which I generally regale myself with a pipe and enjoy the jokes of the men. I must not neglect here to mention that I was now, for the time being, obliged to join the ranks of teetotalism, we having left all our luxuries, tea and sugar excepted, in concealment near the Boat Encampment.
Having slept soundly until 3 o'clock in the morning, the voice of our Guide an Iroquois, calling out lever lever, (get up get up), put us once more upon our legs.
Tuesday 6th. Everything being now ready and the men loaded we started at 4. It having frozen hard during the night we found that we could travel without snow shoes, our route laying along the River. We soon found, however, that though enabled to dispense for a time with the snow shoes that we had a more disagreeable task to perform. We had scarcely walked a mile when we were obliged to plunge into the River which we crossed seven times and found the water exceedingly cold. At last, about 8 am. we once more reached the woods and lost no time in consoling ourselves with a substantial breakfast for the hardships of the morning. Having rested the men and ourselves for three hours we again buckled on our armour (the snowshoes) and marched to the attack when we encountered greater disasters than we had done the day before, the snow not being sufficiently shallow to admit of our throwing off the snow shoes, and too deep and soft to permit our walking without them. About 3 o'clock pm. we got once more clear of the woods & encamped at the foot of a tree which we found free from snow.
Friday 7th. The weather clear and cold at 3 am. we started & proceeding along the River without the snow shoes had nearly the same kind of route as the proceeding day, only we were obliged to cross the River more frequently and found as we approached the mountain the water still colder, so much so, that upon gaining the bank our leggens were stiff with ice, but a smart walk and a good breakfast at the base of the mountain, which we had now reached, soon banished all remembrance of misere.
The Country through which we had travelled for the last three days has nothing in its appearance to recommend it to the eye of the traveller, the River is upon both sides bound in by rather high mountains, wooded to the summits, which confine the view to the River alone. We now betook ourselves to the snow shoes and commenced the ascent which we found very steep. We managed, however, to scramble up about half way, when we encamped. Soon afterwards one of our Indians rambling about fell in with two Porcupines and came back for a gun which having received and being joined by his companion they went off and soon returned with their prize. Having made the Indians roast the Porcupines after their own fashion the Doctor and I tasted them & made the remainder over to the men. When in good order, they are excellent eating, but at this season they happened to be poor, & very tasteless.
Saturday 8th. On raising camp this morning we found the fire had entirely disappeared, having sunk during the night almost to the ground and the snow was at least ten feet deep; -- cold morning with snow; -- again commenced the ascent which increased in steepness as we proceeded and obliged us often to crawl upon all fours.
The Doctor & myself took each our turn in marching ahead not only in the mountain but throughout the whole journey -- a task by no means easy as the snow-shoe sinks much deeper before the track is formed & returns upon it a great quantity of snow (when it has as in the present case lately fallen) which forces the foot dreadfully in a long journey & often occasions the mal de racquette or snowshoe sickness which is exceedingly painful. We were both, however, fortunate enough to escape it and about 6 o'clock am. we gained the top of the mountain & did not certainly feel regret upon the achievement. The guide soon joining us we made a large fire long ere the men arrived almost worn out with their hard journey, which did not however prevent them quozzing [?] each other as usual & many were the tales of misfortune recounted. We had hitherto been fortunate enough to procure water for our tea; at this place we were obliged to content ourselves with melted snow as a substitute; the difference is but trifling. Having refreshed ourselves we again set out, -- snowing fast & from about fifteen to twenty feet of snow upon the ground; towards 4pm. we reached two small lakes and encamped. This place is called the Height of Land, the Columbia River taking its rise from one of the Lakes and winding its course to the Pacific; -- the River Athabasca from the other & emptying itself into the Atlantic Ocean. The Lakes as I stated, are three, but at the season we passed invisible, from the great quantity of snow. We had so far followed the course of the Columbia & had been ascending. We now took that of the Athabasca and began to descend. Dr. Tolmie tried the height at this encampment & found it 7000 feet above the level of the sea.
Sunday 9th May. We set out at the usual hour & walked until 7 o'clock when we breakfasted, the walk of this morning we found equal to the toil of climbing the mountain from the great depth and softness of the snow; & the Doctor and myself going ahead as usual to beat the road for the men, we found the task anything but an easy one. To-day I saw a couple of white Partridges & went in pursuit of them but without success; we now found, as we descended, the snow to get less deep, and consequently the walking less fagging, our route laying sometimes upon the River & at others through the woods. At 12 o'clock noon after a march of five hours, upon emerging from a point of the wood, we fall upon the sands of the River; no snow -- to the men a joyful sight; and at the distance of two miles we expected to find the Horses which are always sent from Jasper's House to meet the Express and relieve the men of their loads. We now cast off the snow shoes for good & all and bid them goodbye with pleasure, although they had greatly befriended us. Upon our arrival at the place where we had expected to find the Horses we met with a sad disappointment: none were there! We found the horse Keepers Lodge, or Hut, the remains of the fire, and the fresh tracks of the Horses, so that he must have decamped not two hours previous to our arrival -- Upon examining his hut very narrowly we discovered a piece of wood upon which he had managed to draw with charcoal the figure of a Moose Deer and marked sixteen strikes upon which, after various conjectures, we understood that he had been waiting for us sixteen days & there being a scarcity of food for the Horses he was obliged to return to the next encampment which is called the Moose Deer Encampment; the men, poor fellows, were rather cast down on arriving, as well they might -- but soon recovered their spirits, on my informing them that next morning very early the Doctor, the Guide & myself would start ahead and send them the Horses; in the mean time we consoled ourselves by taking possession for the night of the hut and found it very comfortable.
Monday 10th. We started at one o'clock this morning I having left orders with the men the night before to get underway about the usual hour and follow us at their leisure, after a very harassing walk of four hours (during which the grass did not grow under feet) through a very rugged country, leading chiefly through thick woods, at one time up to the knees in water, at another in snow -- we arrived at the Moose Deer Encampment but could find no Horses; however, as we proceeded on, looking anxiously from side to side we heard the report of a gun; we also fired a shot, to which another immediately responded -- and in about ten minutes afterwards a man and a Boy met us on horseback and conducted us to their hut where we found the rest of the Horses and a fine fat Goose, whose death had occasioned the report of the first gun we had heard. The Hunter, a halfbreed of the Country, in about ten minutes had the goose spitted on a piece of wood & roasting before the fire a la fashion savage. It was then served up upon a pine branch & certainly I never tasted anything of the goose tribe so good -- but a long walk, such as we had had that morning, is excellent sauce -- so good that we never once thought of salt, & Bread, of course, was entirely out of the question. Immediately after breakfast I dispatched the horse keeper with his boy & all the horses to meet the men & relieve them of their loads. Being joined by the party, we continued our route and in the evening encamped along the Athabasca River.
Tuesday 11th. This morning betimes the Hunter called me saying it was time to start. I immediately ordered the men to get the Horses ready, a task they set about with great alacrity rejoicing at the idea of their loads being transferred from their own backs to those of the horses. About 8 o'clock we called a halt and had breakfast -- our store of eatables being now so much reduced, that having finished that meal, there only remained a few Biscuits & some tea & sugar -- & not being able to reach Jasper's House before next day it did not require a great logician to prove that unless we picked up something betwixt that place and the encampment we should make but a sorry supper of it. I therefore before starting got Dr. Tolmie to make over the remainder of the ammunition to the Hunter -- whose prowess as a sportsman we had so lately experienced in the aforesaid goose (which by the bye he had killed with ball) telling him at the same time if he wished something for supper he would not spare his exertions. He had no sooner received order than off he started a-head of the party accompanied by the Doctor & myself, (we being, as my readily be supposes, parties interested [sic]) during a ride of five hours to the place of encampment our hunter shot three partridges, a Duck, and a Pigeon, so that we made an excellent supper. It was soon after that meal, when setting down to regale myself with a pipe after the fatigues of the day, a circumstance took place which caused great mirth amongst the men. The man, whose duty it was to attend upon me during the voyage, a Canadian, came up to Dr. Tolmie and making a very polite obeisance, announced himself as a chasseur or sportsman -- tho' I believe he had scarcely ever fired a shot in his life -- and requested the loan of his gun; the Doctor very good naturedly granted his request, telling him at the same time that he must load the gun, which he immediately did and started upon his hunt -- and I by way of joke called out to the rest of the men to have their kettles in readiness for a renouned hunter had just gone forth and might be expected very soon to return with a sheep, abundance of which frequent the surrounding mountains. In about half an hour our sportsman returned, not with a sheep, but with the important information that he had discovered a partridge and had burnt priming at it & that the bird still awaited him. The Doctor, suspecting that all was not right, drew the charge, and found that the gun was only loaded with shot, no powder; the discovery being made in the presence of all hands, caused great laughter at the expense of our noble hunter; and of the men in allusion to his having said that the partridge awaited him requested he would extend his powers of attraction to a flock of geese just passing over head, as his provisions were getting rather low; numberless were the jokes cracked upon the occasion -- and they ended in my naming the place, Le Campment sans poudre, Encampment without powder; and I have no doubt it will retain that name.
The Scenery for the last two days had much improved; we travelled to day through a very pretty country & numbers of little plains, & being principally upon high ground, they commanded an extensive view of the adjacent country.
Wednesday 12th. Fine pleasant weather; had the Horses caught at 3 o'clock this morning, and seeing all ready, I set out ahead accompanied by Dr. Tolmie and the Guide-- and after a smart ride of four hours we arrived at the tent of a fisherman and his family, situated in a most romantic spot upon the side of a beautiful lake, its water so clear that I could see from the hill where I stood, the bottom of the Lake all over. On enquiring at the Fisherman what success, he informed me that the preceding night he had killed with the spear one hundred white fish, part of which I desired him to send to Jasper's house, now distant only two miles. Upon our arrival there we received a regular Highland welcome from the person in charge, Colin Fraser, formerly Piper to Governor Simpson, but now promoted to the charge of Jasper's House, Colin lost no time in asking us what we would have for breakfast at the same time presenting his bill of fare which consisted of Moose Deers and Sheeps meat & White fish; to travellers like ourselves who had the night before been obliged to hunt for a supper, there could be no choice, the whitefish, however, being just caught, carried the day, and such a hearty breakfast did we make of it as would not have disgraced Richard Coeur de Leon, when he fell foul of the Pastry set before him by the fat Friar.
Thursday 13th. We remained to day at Jasper's House arranging the Boats. Colin could scarcely, had he searched the whole Indian Country, have found a spot to resemble more his own native Highlands -- surrounded upon all sides by high mountains -- frequented, if not by tame, at least by wild sheep -- & at some distance a large Lake which yields most excellent Trout.
Did you realize this is not a journal you have seen before? I have sneaked it in, and will catch you up on what he has had to say previous to this, of his experiences on the upriver voyage to Boat Encampment.
Journal of a Trip from Vancouver to York Factory, Spring 1847, by Thomas Lowe, in charge of party:
Sunday 2nd [May] -- Set the people to cook provisions to take them across the mountains and got the loads arranged. Took 4 men from the boats to assist to carry until we meet the horses, and hired two Indians we found here to assist us also in carrying. One of the men who was to go out (Abraham Charbonneau) had to be left behind, being unable to walk. Started at 3pm. and crossed the swamp. Encamped a little beyond in the woods. There is less snow in the mountain this year than usual.
Monday 3rd -- Started at daylight, and walked through the woods on snow shoes until breakfast time, when we reached the Battures, where there was no snow. Walked through the battures until 3 pm. then entered the woods, walked on snow shoes about 2 hours, and encamped.
Tuesday 4th -- Walked all day through the woods & battures and encamped at 4 pm. half way up the Grand Cote. A fall of snow in the afternoon.
Wednesday 5th -- Very cold, and a slight fall of snow in the forenoon. Got to the top of the Grand Cote and breakfasted about 2 miles farther on. Passed the height of land at noon, and having measured the depth of snow, found only 2 1/2 feet on the surface of the Lake. Got as far as the Campement de Fusil.
Thursday 6th -- Started very early and breakfasted at the Grande Batture, where we found the horses that had been sent from Jasper's House for us. There were 14, enough for all hands, so that all were mounted. Sent Michel and Bte. McKay ahead to Jasper's House to have the boat gummed. Mr. Burke also accompanied them. I then went on with the remainder of the party, leaving the 4 man and the Indians whom we brought from the Boat Encampment to return with Mr. John Charles and two... whom we found here with the Packet for the Columbia. The horses had been waiting for us a week. We camped before sundown almost 5 miles beyond the Campement d'Original.
Friday 7th -- Passed the Grande Traverse about 11 am. and breakfasted at the Campement de Vache. Started again at 2 pm. and encamped at the Rocher du Bon Homme, about 4 miles beyond Larocque's Prairie. Beautiful day.
Saturday 8th -- Started early, and reached Jasper's House at 9 am. Mr. Burke arrived yesterday forenoon, but Michel had been able to do but little to the boat. Got it caulked & gummed today, all ready to start tomorrow.
Journal from Vancouver to York Factory with Express, Spring 1848, by Thomas Lowe:
Thursday 4th [May] -- Got one of our boats hauled up to be left here until the Autumn. Gave the men their loads & provisions, and started about 2 pm. There are 9 of our men who carry and 10 Indians. Joe Onowaneron & Louis Owetaronguash are left at the Boat Encampment to wait for the Indians who accompany us, and who are to be sent back with letters when we meet the horses from Jaspers' House. Crossed the swamp, and camped a short distance up the first hill.
Friday 5th -- Fine weather. Started from our encampment early and breakfasted at the end of the hill. Walked on snow shoes in the battures all day. There is a good deal of snow this year, and the River is rather high. Got through the first set of battures, and encamped a short distance in the woods.
Saturday 6th -- Beautiful day. Got through the remainder of the point of woods early, and crossed the second range of battures without snow shoes, and took breakfast before entering into the woods. Got up the Grand Cote without difficulty, and encamped at the end of the swamp on the other side, which is an uncommonly long days journey as the snow was hard.
Sunday 7th -- Snowing most of the day, but had not [now?] to use snow shoes, and consequently made good progress. We got nearly as far as the Campment de Fusil to breakfast, and carried on afterwards to the Grand Batture, where we expected to meet the horses from Jasper's House, but they had not yet arrived, and we had to send ahead for them. They were found at the Campment d'Original in charge of two men, and reached us in the evening, 14 in all. I rec'd the Packet of letters from the E. side.
Monday. Fine day. Sent back the Indians who had accompanied us across the mountains, and gave them the East side packet in charge to be delivered to Joe at the Boat Encampment. I then started ahead with Michel the Guide, and Jacques Pahetsaronsari to have the boat repaired before the others come up. Found a good deal of snow between the Grand Batture and the Campment d'Original, but beyond that the ground was clear. Took dinner at the Grand Traverse, and camped at Larocques' Plain.
Tuesday 9th -- Warm weather. Arrived at Jasper's House about 10 am. and found Mr. Colin Fraser and family all well. Had the boat put in the water, to swell the wood previous to having it gummed and caulked.
And in the last posting, you also learned something new about the wooden boats they used to travel the Athabasca River; they were put into the water to swell before gumming.
I will have to tell you about gumming the boats in a future post; right now I can tell you that young James Anderson, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, watched as the men gummed their boats:
"During the afternoon I witnessed for the first time, the removing of all extraneous matter, splinters, etc., by fire much to my consternation believing that our crews were veritably burning their boats behind them."
Perhaps burning the splinters was a part of the process of gumming the boats; more likely twelve-year old James Anderson did not see the men apply gum to the seams of their boat.
Journal of the Columbia Express Party, 1849, by John Charles:
4th, Friday [May]. Arrived at the Boat Encampment about 8 am. Had one of the boats taken up the bank above high water mark. Having taken breakfast and arranged everything requisite for our trip across the mountains we commenced our march, the party consisting of 6 men and myself. Camped in the first mountain at the end of the long swamp.
5th, Saturday. Took breakfast at the foot of the first mountain. Walked to the end of the first Bature without the use of snowshoes. Camped about the middle of the second mountain. Fine weather.
6th, Sunday. Left our encampment at broad day light. Camped about three miles, east side of the "Grand Cote."
7th, Monday. Took breakfast before leaving our encampment as we would otherwise have lost time in making a fire place on the snow. About two feet of snow fell last night and the walking to day was consequently very heavy. Met Ignace the horseguard of Jaspers House at the Grand Bature with twelve horses.
8th, Tuesday. We all got on horseback after breakfast. Camped at the Prairie de Vache. Stormy weather.
9th, Wednesday. Continued on our route after breakfast and reached Jasper's House two or three hours before sunset. Cloudy towards evening. The Athabasca River appears to be very low and Mr. Colin Fraser is apprehensive that we will meet with ice on our way down to Assinaboine.
10th, Thursday. Had the boat well repaired and put in the water so as to be in readiness to start tomorrow.
In 1842, Alexander Caulfield Anderson led out the York Factory express, with two boats between Walla Walla and Fort Colvile.
In his Notes, Anderson wrote of "crossing the Rocky Mountains by the elevated pass of Mount Hooker," -- that was the name the fur traders gave Athabasca Pass at that time -- "early in May 1842, the depth of snow at the summit was very great. Reaching the Grande Batture on the verge of the Jasper Valley ... all vestige of snow had disappeared from the lower levels. We here found people awaiting the arrival of our party, with a number of horses, fresh from the pastures, in prime condition. Near Jasper's House the Aspens were already partly in leaf (12th May), far more advanced than we found them as we descended the Athabasca towards Assineboine; or than they were even at Edmonton, when we reached it a week afterwards."
The melting snow and early leafing of the Aspen is the effect of the Chinook wind from the west, that melts the snow through Athabasca Pass and Jasper, and all the way to modern-day Hinton, Alberta.
It is the same effect that the warm Chinook wind has on today's Calgary, Alberta.
It has been said that my great grandfather, James Birnie, so named the warm west wind because it came from the land of the Chinookian tribes on the coast.
I wonder if that is true.....