California - The Mountains
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
UNDER THE STARS AT CROCKER'S
THE differences between camping in Easter woods and Western are great and must b borne in mind by all who attempt an outdoor life California. In the East even in summer the campe must be prepared for stormy days, sudden showers hot waves and cool snaps, gnats and mosquitoes damp ground and malaria. In California woods while the long rainless summer and the equable climate make it needless to consider these particular matters, there are other things to be provide against: thought must be had for the water supply good springs being much less frequent than in th East; unremitting care must be exercised agains firing the forest, which by midsummer has become a veritable tinderbox of dryness; and in some localities where the inexperienced Easterner would loo for pleasant coolness on account of elevation o other feature of situation, there is an excessive d heat which is a bar to camping with any comfort.
All things considered, however, the California forest is a paradise for camping, and it is not necessary that one have any great store of money o strength to make a success of it; but some judgment and good advice are needful in the selection of a site. No more charming spot for a summer camp can be found than the neighborhood of Crocker's Station on the Big Oak Flat Stage route, Tuolumne County, among the sugar pines of the Sierra mid-region. From this point as a base-it lies' at an altitude of forty-five hundred feet above sea level -numerous trips may be taken: to the small grove of Tuolumne Big Trees, six miles ; to the Yosemite, twenty-three miles ; to the Hetch Hetchy, a less known but almost equally beautiful Yosemite upon a smaller scale, about seventeen miles ; or along the old Tioga Road fifty-six miles to the Tioga mine, or further by trail and pack animals across the High Sierra, snow-clad even in midsummer, and down the eastern slope to the Mono country-an alluring land of desert, extinct volcanoes, lost mines and Flute Indians.
This is the land of the pedestrian and the mountain climber; and all summer long parties big and little and of both sexes, their blankets and camp kits slung upon their backs, come gaily up from the cities of the coast and the plain, from the schools and counting houses and shops, living Arcadian days and weeks in shady cañons by never-failing waters, and sleeping beneath the sky. The prose poet who has written this region into enduring literature is John Muir, and to go mountaineering through the Sierra country with his "Mountains of California" or "Our National Parks" in one's satchel is liberal education.
Stopping at such a place as Crocker's for a few weeks, one has an opportunity to make the acquaintance of men of national reputation—writers, scientists, college professors, artists—as they call an linger here in outing garb on their way in. and o t of the higher mountains ; to say nothing of others of lesser note, men and women of culture and know edge of the great world. This makes the homelike hostelry a peculiarly pleasant abiding place f r those who like their scenery mixed with well-bred human companionship and intelligent talk.
There is a railroad that starts in at Oakdale nn the Southern Pacific, and climbs the lower slop s of the Sierra, passing close to Columbia where Br t Halle taught school, and Tuttletown where Ma k Twain "tended store." It has stations at Angel's and Jimtown, and puffs along within hailing di twice of Murphy's, all of which classic spots a e still as much alive as when "The Luck of Roaring Camp" was written, though their modern life flows with a more subdued current than in the fitful da s of the Gold Fever. Those who want to get the m st out of the mountains, may start in at Chinese Camp on this same railroad, and follow the old stage ro d as it winds through a corner of Bret Harte's country from the bare and gullied foothills honeycombed with the exhausted pockets left by oldtime gold miners, upward through belts of pale-leaved Digger pines and mossy-holed black oaks, corky-barked and hung with mistletoe, into the majestic sugar pines amid which is Crocker's, forty miles from Chinese. There are numerous stopping places scattered along these forty miles, so one may do as he chooses about carrying a camp outfit, unless he in-tends to essay the High Sierra. Then, as it is pure wilderness beyond Crocker's, he will need to fit out either there or at Chinese with everything requisite, including a burro or two to carry the packs.
So much for the class of restless campers, who are ever on the move; but to him who wishes rest and quiet, who has papers to write or drawings to make, or who would spend the summer in study absolutely uninterrupted and untrammeled, the Sierras offer an ideal situation, too. Establish your camp, as we did, sufficiently near a spring, high enough upon a hillside to have some outlook and daily view of the sunset glow and the blush of dawn if you can get it, deep enough in the woods to be shaded from the ardors of the midday sun; and not too far from some place where provisions may be bought. Crocker's afforded us all these desiderata.
Home people wrote to us inquiring with anxiety as to bugs and snakes. They referred tremulously to the bears and wildcats which in their mind's eye, were ever ready to spring upon us. Devoted relatives shuddered to think of the consequences to us of a thunderstorm striking those giant trees. Indeed the mere fact of our lonely camp in that dark and gloomy forest (as it seemed to their conventional fancies, three thousand miles away) caused distress enough to these tender hearts. The truth about the sugar-pine belt however, is this :
Except for about half an hour near sunset, there are no mosquitoes, and then for only part of the summer, and there are no flies at all. Snakes of any, kind are practically never seen, bears and wild-cats are too timid to venture so near human habitations, and though one may occasionally catch a glimpse of a coyote or a little gray fox, such are more afraid of the camper than he of them. Thunder storms there are none at this altitude, but one may spend many a happy summer hour watching the massing of the cumulus clouds over the distant High Sierras, where indeed at ten to thirteen thousand feet above the sea, electric storms are frequent, the muttering of their thunder being heard as far down as Crocker's. Instead of darkness and gloom under the mighty trees, sunlight floods the forest, whose floor is gemmed with myriads of wild flowers and relatively free of under-brush. The trees are set well apart, their trunks rising fifty, seventy-five or a hundred feet before a branch puts out, the blue of heaven showing among their tops. The ever-present sunlight sending cheerfulness into every nook of the great woodlands, makes an effect of brightness quite unthinkable to one who knows only the half-light of the very different forest of the damper East. And the nights ! nights of the gods, indeed. Our camp was on a dewless knoll, and as we lay in our blankets under the open sky, we looked up at stars like jewels set in the crowns of the gigantic pines and cedars over us, or tipping the branches like candle flames upon titantic Christmas trees. Occasionally a gentle breeze passed through the forest stirring the leaves to music; but oftener the nights were absolutely still, save occasionally for the faraway yap-yap-yap of coyotes, or the crashing downward of an enormous dry cone from a sugar pine.
As we are not of the physical make-up that makes a camp equipment pared down to a cotton comfortable and a frying pan endurable, the practical details of our forest menage may be of value to those nature lovers, who like ourselves delight in life in the open and in meals taken under green boughs, but require somewhat of the comforts of home therewith.
Our tent is of the sort pointed at the top and round at the bottom like an Indian tepee, and known as a miner's tent. There being but two of us, we find the size, which is twelve feet in diameter at bottom, answers our purposes. In the rainless summer of California, we use it chiefly for storage and as a dressing-room, sleeping being pleasanter in the open air. A small wall-tent of the same content would in some ways be better. To sleep on, we use two army canvas cots which are so strong that one can thoroughly relax upon them without fear of collapse. When not in use or when they are to be transported, they are capable of being folded into a compass not much greater than a closed cot-ton umbrella. With a bed of pine needles spread upon the cots—newspapers over and under the needles to keep out the cold—Navajo blankets laid over all, and the bed covers on top of these, there is nearly the comfort of a "real city bed." We use light-weight all-wool blankets and an old down-quilt. We take also with us a few muslin sheets, for on mild summer nights no words can tell the comfort to a sensitive skin of not being sandwiched directly between the woolly blankets that are so delightful in really cold weather. If the camp is to be for many weeks, it pays to carry a few brown linen pillow cases to save washing, as the dust of the woods shows very promptly on white ones.
"And what about chairs?" asked the Professor, when we were packing our things in Pasadena for our first trip of this kind, the Professor too is a believer in comfort in camping.
We thought we could knock up a rustic thing or two in the woods, I modestly observed. I rather pride myself on my skill in rustic carpentry.
"Rustic fiddlesticks," the Professor replied, and then instructed us to buy a couple of easy chairs with high, generous, canvas backs like steamer chairs, and canvas seats, the whole folding snugly up into an insignificant compass when packed for transporting. Any campers' supply store keeps them. We obeyed the Professor and have blessed him because of them, as often as the day. For week in and week out of a protracted camp, the only repose you get when not stretched out on your cot, is in a chair, and to have one in which you can relax even while cleaning fish or taking stitches, is in-valuable.
The main place, however, where comfort in camping comes in is in the kitchen department. The camp stove to begin with, must be good. Maybe you are thinking of the poetic camp-fire as good enough for you ; but it is not, in any camp of over a week's duration. For the permanent camp, it is absolutely necessary to comfort to have a sheet iron cook stove. The right sort to meet the case can be bought of any camp outfitter and is light, cheap and compact, so as to be readily transported either in a trunk or on burro back. We use one with two holes and an oven, and it answers all practical purposes, if you understand cooking. And it may be said here, never attempt to camp at all, unless some one of your number understands how to cook and thoroughly enjoys the art.
The stove-pipe should be in two sections so that the smoke may escape at a point high enough not to blow in your eyes when at work. If the stove is low, have it placed on a box sufficiently high, so that you will not have to stoop. Maintain in addition to the stove a camp-fire where water may be heated, and where green corn, apples and eggs, if you are in reach of such luxuries, may be roasted in the ashes. A stone fireplace such as is de-scribed in another chapter,* will be found more satisfactory than an open camp-fire, unless you are in a region where large logs are obtainable.
In a settled camp, too, an immense amount of time and trouble may be saved by making what is known as a hay-box—a small box tightly packed with hay, straw or even newspaper if you can get nothing else, a hole being left in the center of the packing for a small, tightly covered kettle. The principle is that of the fireless cooker, the article to be cooked being brought thoroughly to a boil on the stove, then placed in the hay box with the lid of the kettle tightly fastened to ensure no escape of steam. A hay pillow is laid on top, and the box closed with a tightly fitting lid. This will save time and fuel in preparing dishes which are improved by long steaming.
It is well to take as many cooking utensils as you can pack into the space allotted to such matters. Working with too few, one spends an endless amount of time washing and rewashing these few, and- the results after all are poor. For a two-months' camp we have found useful the Dish pan, soup kettle, muffin-pans, teapot, coffee pot, tea-kettle, pitcher, six small tin plates, six large tin plates, ten or twelve tin lids of different sizes, cake griddle, cake turner, dish mop, two milk pans, kitchen spoons and forks, whisk broom for brushing around stove, six jelly tumblers with tops for packing butter, a water bucket, and some cheese-cloth bags for enclosing meat.
Of course this list could be greatly condensed if needful; one can bake cakes in the frying-pan and dispense with the griddle, live without muffins and keep milk in the soup-kettle if need be, but since we are dealing with comfort in camping, such economies of space do not enter into our present considerations.
All utensils ought to be of granite or aluminum and of the best quality; you have to work with them yourself, and must save time and strength. The tin lids are constantly needed for the covering of all cooked articles, as the outdoor air cools hot things very quickly; and the tin plates are invaluable, as hot pans from the stove can be placed on them and carried to the tables with no danger of soil from the smoky bottoms, and an immense amount of labor saved by serving direct from the pan.
For table-dishes we use the German white enamel ware edged with blue, which may now be found at any house furnishing store. It is charming in its cleanly, dainty appearance, yet as unbreakable as the conventional camp tin plate, and it can be put upon the stove or in the hottest oven to reheat without harm—no small consideration on a cold day when the wind chills your soup quickly. Take several extra plates, cups and saucers, besides the number allotted each person.
We always take our own silver spoons and forks, and a few table napkins ; they are restful to use, and thoroughly pay for the little extra trouble. Besides they furnish such excellent texts for the Bohemian camp visitor to lecture from, that we should miss a great deal of instruction and entertainment were these left behind "Silver in camping!" says the visitor. "Why, my dear woman, you don't know how to camp at all ! Let me give you some of the main points, so that you will not burden yourself with all these foolish traps another time. f course being from the East you don't know, bu here you want to be really comfortable fortable in camp; just an old tin pan or kettle or iron spoon or any old thing to cook with and eat with, and throw it away afterward—no trouble at all!"
Vainly do we explain that this entire outfit is the result of months of camp experience; that weeks on the pitiless desert were rendered to a frail physique possible and even delightful by these very comforts; that we see no reason for leaving silver with our servants and eating with tin ourselves for three painful months. Our visitor continues firmly to en. lighten us, and, failing to convince, moves on to the next camp, whence come fragments of sentences descriptive of a curious form of tenderfoot snob.
Unless you are willing to wash out your table napkins occasionally for the sake of the comfort they afford—and in most summer camps there will be enough unescapable washing without this—an ample supply of Japanese paper ones may be laid in. Table cloths are not to be recommended in any case; white ones soil too quickly, and the conventional red cloth becomes painfully unattractive after some days of use. A pretty green and white oilcloth, which can be kept spotlessly clean, has been a great comfort in our camp life. Take rather more than you will use on the table, as extra covers and mats are sometimes useful.
After the kitchen comforts, those most needed are camp furniture. This means rude tables, rough chairs, shelves nailed to trees, boxes on legs for holding provisions which must be kept from the dampness of the ground, and any articles that the men of the camp will knock together. These can be made of packing boxes, tree branches or old boards; and should be put together as quickly as possible after you go into camp, bringing thereby unlimited comfort without delay into the commissary department.
For the making of such things, it will be needful to take with you a small saw, a hatchet, spade, small axe, nails, wire and pincers. Take also a number of old gunny-sacks or pieces of burlap for spreading upon the ground, or using as a floor covering if you have no wooden floor for the tent. If the ground is dusty or at all damp you will be very glad to have these.
In a warm country, boxes sunk in the ground for keeping meat, butter, eggs and milk (if you can get these luxuries), are most valuable.
Concerning comfortable clothing for camping, while we wear outfits perfectly satisfactory to our-selves, it has never seemed necessary to secure this comfort by looking like "freaks." Hobnailed boots, skirts to one's knees, bloomers and a general soiled air of wildness may mean comfort to some women campers, but they certainly do not to all. In the wildest and most remote haunts of Nature, a woman, unless a professional mountain climber, rarely has need for any heavier shoes than the average stout walking boot, nor for a skirt above the ankles; but this should be full and light, well fastened to the shoulders, and every garment should be loose and comfortably adjusted. Soft colors that will not frighten the birds and small animals about camp, will add to their comfort and your own pleasure; and plainly made linen-colored waists with pretty collars, will be found welcome. A man can well make camp-life the occasion to use up his old clothes; and will find leather or canvas leggins, a soft hat, an outing shirt and a handkerchief about the neck instead of a collar, the only changes necessary from his ordinary dress.
It may be said, in passing, that the wearing of clothes reasonably clean and neat and devoid of freakishness, combined with a generous supply of baggage, will cause you invariably to be set down as a tenderfoot. This, however, you will find to have distinct advantages ; people will be constantly giving you points and entertaining you with facts and fancies which otherwise you would not hear of, for the average Californian is somewhat reticent about volunteering information to one who, he thinks, may know as much as he himself knows. Then there is this further advantage in keeping the outward appearance of a lady or a gentleman it frequently secures you the entrée to desirable places irrevocably closed to those whose gentle breeding is not apparent.
As a final word in the interests of comfort in camp, establish the habit of doing as little complaining as possible even to your dearest and most comprehending friend. For some inscrutable reason, a sensitive nature is apt to feel itself to blame for most of the hardships and untoward developments of a trip; and to have these dwelt upon by the person whom one most desires to relieve of discomfort, makes the situation doubly hard. It is not necessary to ignore with drawing-room politeness ills that are perfectly patent; but neither is it needful to take too seriously what cannot be helped. Nowhere is the common, everyday virtue of cheerfulness more appreciated than in camp life. Being out for a good time, have it !