B. L. (Benjamin Lincoln) Ball.

Three days on the White Mountains; being the perilous adventure of Dr. B.L. Ball on Mount Washington, during October 25, 26, and 27, 1855 online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Lincoln) BallThree days on the White Mountains; being the perilous adventure of Dr. B.L. Ball on Mount Washington, during October 25, 26, and 27, 1855 → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"S* ^^ (\\\ ytK //h « ^_r> ^S i=J^ I itoJ* "^ Y^

VJA <*»•

V f " * °^ O


^^1^' /\. •.^•° ^^'\

4 o





^Ijf |n-i[aiis ^.^nttiu-i;



> .





OCTOBER 25, 2G, Ax\D 27, 1855.



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the j^ear 1856, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of :Slassachusetts.

Stereotyped fcj


New i:ug',aud Type aud btereoy pe FoiinJery,

bokto V.


The following narrative of mj trip to the White Moun-
tains is induced from the urgent desires of many friends,
as well as strangers, to see in print a detailed account for

This, irrespective of other reasons, would seem to justify
the decision to make a small book, and to preclude as
unnecessary any apology for intruding myself at this time
on the public.

With no claim to literary excellencCj I have simply

endeavored to narrate correctly the facts which I noted

down, as they each day recurred to my mind, during the

several months of my confinement to the house.

B. L. 13.





It was not from choice that I made my trip to the White
Mountains in the fall of the year, instead of in the summer.
A combination of circumstances seemed so to determine it.
Still, early autumn, when the first touches of frost are upon
the foliage, will be admitted by all to be an interesting sea-
son to visit this, one of the most attractive places of natural
beauty in our country.

Perhaps a few words of explanation will tend to make
my course better understood, and may not be out of place

This excursion I had fixed upon as early as midsummer
of 1854. I had then just returned from Europe, and was
desirous to compare some of the finest American scenery with
that, so highly vaunted, which I had seen abroad. Various
engagements, however, interfered ; the proper season passed,
and I gave up the intention till another year.

The summer of 1855 advanced, and I again looked for a
favorable opportunity to carry out my design. But much of
_ _


my time was employed in the preparation of my travels, —
" Rambles in Eastern Asia," — and week after week sped
away without affording me the desired opportunity. Still
later I was detained with the proofs and other matters
connected with the publication. Thus time wore away until
the month of October had arrived.

At this time I considered it too late, — thinking that the
autumnal scenery must have lost its peculiar attractiveness,
and that the chill of the weather on the Mountains would
render a visit quite undesirable. But, a short time after-
wards, in conversation with friends who had visited the
mountains, I learned that, although it was rather late, I
should probably be repaid for the journey, even should the
visit be postponed to the first of November. Accordingly,
i resolved to go as soon as it might be practicable.

Time passed ; the middle of the month arrived before I
found myself at liberty; but there were not sufficient indi-
cations of suitable weather, and I preferred not to start
until assured of, at least, a prospect of pleasant weather,
although then I could not be assured that it would extend
to the Mountains.

About this time two friends — Mr. W. Balfour, and Mr.
R. P. Napper, formerly travelling companions with me in the
Philippine Isles — started on a visit to the White Moun-
tains and Niagara Falls, at which places they proposed to
stop to take sketches. They intended to be at the Mountains
by the end of the week, and I partially arranged to meet
them there.

The twenty- third of October came (I had nearly given


up the idea of a trip this season), promising to be the
commencement of continued fair weather. The previous
evening, in making a call at the house of a friend, I met
Rev. T. Starr King, with whom I conversed respecting the
White Mountains at this season of the year. In speaking
of their grandeur and beauty, Mr. K. remarked, that, al-
though he had visited them several times, yet he should
like to view them in their gray costume of autumn, and in
their white robe of winter. I was agreeably impressed, dur-
ing the conversation, with his description of the scenery;
and I also perceived, when I left, that I had, as a conse-
quence, an additional motive in visiting the White Mountains
at this season.

In the afternoon of this day the sun shone clear, the air
was mild and warm, and I determined to make an expedi-
tious trip. I intended to return on the third day, to be
present at the Agricultural Fair, a part of which I wished
to attend. I called on my friend. Dr. A. B. Hall, who had
expressed a wish to join me in the excursion. His engage-
ments preventing his leaving for two or three days, I
returned to my room, and resolved to go alone. Taking a
small valise, which had been in readiness some weeks, and
making haste, I had barely time, without further informa-
tion to my friends, to reach the Eastern Railroad station
in season to take the half-past two P. m. train.

I had intended, on the way, either going or coming, to
visit some friends in Portsmouth; but, no convenient oppor-
tunity offering in the intervals of the trains, I continued
direct to Portland. On my arrival, which was a little after


dark, I was disappointed in finding no train in continuance
for Gorham before the next day, and I remained at the
Commercial House for the night.

The following morning I arose early to proceed on my
way. My disappointment, however, was still greater than
that of the previous night. On looking out of the door,
the rain was pouring fast, the air was cold, and thick with
fog, giving a dark and gloomy character to the prospect of
the day. Had I obeyed a first impulse, I should have
returned direct to Boston. But, with the thought that after
I was a couple of hours on the way the rain might cease
and the sun appear, I decided to proceed to Gorham, feeling
that if I should obtain a glimpse only of the Moun-
tains, I could return in the afternoon train better satisfied
with my trip.

At eight in the mornino; we left the station-house for
Gorham. During the passage I made the acquaintance of
Mr. L. D. Methoot, a young Canadian, the proprietor of a
tract of timber-land, and saw-mills, situated on the railroad
between Gorham and Montreal. Mr. M. told me that if
the weather cleared up, he would accompany me in the
excursion on the Mountains.

We arrived at Gorham about eleven a. m., and, the
weather proving still unpropitious, Mr. M. concluded to con-
tinue his journey.

At the Alpine House, as I entered with the conductor,
who makes a short stop there, I inquired,

"Where are the White Mountains?"

" 0," said he, pointing in the direction towards which


the hotel fronted, " they are off there seven or eight miles.
You will not be able to see them short of the Glen House,
unless this fog clears away. In bright weather they are
quite distinct and very pretty from here."

a Yery well," said I ; " I will go to them, and endeavor
to get some view of them ; " although I thought, before this,
that if I succeeded in seeing the Mountains from this place,
and the weather continued stormy, I should return home.

Engaging a horse, no carriages being at hand, I set oif
at twelve, on horseback, with my valise in front of me, and
my umbrella raised to shield me from the rain.

Following the only road, which wound along on the bank
of a pretty mountain stream, whose waters whirled rapidly
over a rocky bed, I very much enjoyed the ride, though it was
in the rain ; and, as my attention was occupied with the woods
on both sides, in which trees were lying in different direc-
tions, as they had fallen torn up by the roots, mingled with
large rocks standing in strange positions, the way seemed
not long or tedious.

Arriving at the Glen House, which is situated at the
base of the Mountains, I observed that the atmosphere was
a dense mass of fog. I disposed of the horse temporarily
at the stable, with the intention of making a stop of a
half hour, and then returning.

On entering the hotel, I met the proprietor, Mr. Thomp-
son, and, after inquiring for my two friends, and ascertain-
ing that they had not been here, as I dried my clothes
by the fire I engaged in conversation.

" The Mountains are not now to be seen, I presume ? "


"No, sir; you will not probably be able to see them
to-day. At all events, not till after the weather has cleared

"I am somewhat disappointed, as I came over from Gor-
ham with the belief that I might be able to get some kind
of a view ; but, after all, the prospect is that I shall have
to return without it."

"Why, sir, I cannot say how it may be to-morrow, but
to-day the prospect is very slight, I assui'e you."

" The weather is rather changeable here, is it not, sir ? "

" Yes, sir ; it is always more or less so ; and at this
season we expect many changes. Sometimes the Mountain
is clear for days, and then it is covered with clouds.
Again, one may observe that it is perfectly clear on the
summit, with the sun shining brightly, and in ten minutes
afterwards the clouds will have shut down and enshrouded
every part. Mount Washington is particularly subject to
this variableness, and little dependence can be placed on it
at any time."

" Is there no way, then, that I can contrive to get a
slight view of the Mountains before returning ? "

" None, that I am aware of, in this state of the weather.
It is as you see ; the Mountains are entirely excluded from
sight by the clouds and fog. This may last an hour, or

" Yes, sir ; I observed, as I came up to the house, there
was nothing to be seen beyond a short distance from the
house, which reminded me somewhat of a lone island in
the midst of a fog at sea."


"You might walk up on the new road a piece, if that
would be any satisfaction."

"The new road — what is that?"

" It is a carriage road, which is being built by a New
York company, so that people may ride all the way up, in
vehicles, on a smooth Macadamized road to the summit, and
with seats made level, which will remain the same in ascend-
ing or descending."

" Yes, sir ; I suppose I can follow the road easily
enough? "

" yes, there is no difficulty about that. You can see
it here from the window. There it is, just at the foot
of the hill, crossing that bridge, and entering the woods a
little beyond. You cannot discern it far. If there was no
fog it could be seen to the Camp House and the Ledge,
which is as far as it extends at present."

" What am I to understand by the Camp House ? The
Ledge, I presume, is a ledge of rocks ? "

"The Camp House is a small one-story building for the
use of the workmen on the road. It is about four miles from
here, or about half way to the summit, and is situated at the
foot of the Ledge. The Ledge is a kind of high bluff, with
a steep and somewhat precipitous face, covered with boulder-
like stones of different sizes. At one part a path leads
up and over the top. This is called the bridle-path, and
is the one used by visitors in making the ascent to the
summit either in walking or on horseback."

" Very well, sir ; I think I will take a walk up the
carriage road, and be satisfied with a survey of that."


To this Mr. Thompson answered : " You will find noth-
ing in your way there; but I would by no means attempt
to go to the summit. It is too late in the day, besides
you could see nothing for the clouds."

" 0, no ! " I answered, " I shall not wish to go further
than the Camp House, should I even go as far as that."

As the wind was yet blowing, by permission from Mr.
T. I exchanged my hat for a cloth cap, which I saw hang-
ing in the room ; and, as it continued to rain, I took my
umbrella and walked out.

Crossing the bridge a little below the house, I came upon
the new road, and soon lost all trace of the house in the
fog. The freshly broken stones were loose and untrodden as
they had been left by the workmen, and the walking was
rough and wet, but was tolerable, by selecting the path at
one side. The road uniformly takes a considerable rise in
the grade, and makes long sweeps, in a zigzag course, to
the right and left, and is enclosed on both sides by forests
of fir, beech, and other wood. On the way I noticed sev-
eral deserted and weather-beaten camp-houses, where, in an
emergency, a person might make a tolerable night's lodging.

Although the rain fell fast, the air here was pure, cold,
and invigorating, and I felt stimulated to continue my walk,
which seemed to produce scarcely any fatigue. From the
newness and novelty of the road, there was something on
either side to attract the eye, and the time passed almost
imperceptibly. I walked pretty fast, and in between one and
two hours I was surprised to find myself so soon at the
end of the road, and at the foot of the Ledge.


The Camp House I had passed, leaving it on my right
some fifty rods behind, and, by its proximity to the Ledge
and its nearness to the end of the road, I recognized it as
being the one spoken of by Mr. Thompson. Casting my
eyes to the top of the Ledge, and reflecting a few moments,
I concluded, as it was not very high, that I should not
be violating very much the advice of Mr. Thompson if I
went to the top.

Unable to discover a path, I clambered lightly and rapidly
over the rocks, not a little fearful that, if I loosened one,
the whole mass, from the highest to the lowest, would be
in motion beneath my feet. This was accomplished, however,
without much difficulty; but at the top I found the view
narrowly limited by the clouds, and quite unsatisfactory.
Perceiving higher land beyond, I started for it. The wind
was chilling, and the rain froze as it fell, forming a thickness
upon my clothes and umbrella, and a crust on the snow,
through which my feet broke at each step.

The snow was about twelve inches deep, and very fatigu-
ing to walk upon. Having continued for about an hour,
the distance seeming to be scarcely lessened, I turned to
retrace my steps. Darkness gathering around, I ran with
the best of my speed, and passed quickly over the ground,
with not unfrequent falls, from the accumulating weight of
ice, and the slippery stones hidden beneath the snow. The
darkness having rapidly increased, it was with difficulty that
I could discern my tracks; often I could only make my
way by feeling the indentures in the broken crust. At
last, as I had begun to fear I had lost my course, the


Ledge suddenly appeared at my feet below me. I descended
the rocks by sliding from one to the other, scarcely able
to see them, but without accident, further than several times
being caught by my feet, and obliged to pull myself up
and back again, in extricating myself from among the ice-
clad rocks.

Arriving at the door of the Camp House, I met the occu-
pant, Mr. J. D. Myers, and two others, and was at once
made welcome. I was completely encased with ice, and
chilled through with the cold. My coat being hung up to
dry, shoes taken off, stockings wrung out, and a dry pair
substituted, I sat down, and enjoyed the warmth of a blaz-
ing fire. Coffee was then made, and, with food, set before
me; it seemed as if the kind-hearted Mr. Myers could not
do enough for me. The evening being very dark, cold and
stormy with rain, I accepted the hospitable invitation to
remain until the next day.

A comfortable night was passed, though, with the wind
blowing hard, and a heavy, pelting rain falling upon the
roof and sides of the house, my mind was full of thoughts
that admitted not of sleep.



The morning dawned. Little did I contemplate, as the
first streaks of light peered through the window over my
couch, that the evening shadows of that day would close
around me, a lost and bewildered traveller, amid the terri-
fying solitude of the mountain-top, having for my shelter
only a lair of rocks and frozen snow, and there to pass
the night alone.

It was not, however, with any determination of attempt-
ing to climb the Mountain, that I arose and walked out
to view the prospect. The weather had softened ; the
clouds which yet hung over the Mountain now gave but
little rain, and seemed likely to break away. The bridle
path ascending the Ledge was pointed out to me in front
of the house, free of snow, and, no obstacles seeming to be
in the way, I could not resist the thought of making a
short trip over the Ledge. I remembered the conversation
with Rev. Mr. King the evening before my departure, and
his advice to take a guide, etc. But here there are no
guides, — none certainly within four miles, and perhaps not
so near as that. The rain of the last nisrht has freed the
path of snow. I can at least go on as far as I went
yesterday, and, if there is nothing in the way, I may be
able to continue on even to the summit. Besides, I am


already half way up the Mountain. It is only four miles
from here, and I should be able to return by noon even
from the summit; for it is called only four hours' ride up
and back from the Glen House, and this is but half the
distance. Keturning by noon, I can take the cars in Grorham
to Portland to-night, and be in Boston to-morrow forenoon,
a half day beyond my time. The difference will not be
great. I am already on the ground. A convenient oppor-
tunity may not present another season. The present time
is always the best.

Having regarded the subject in this light, I remarked to
Mr. Myers that I thought I would make a short trip
up the Mountain.

"Do you think so?" said he; "what, up to the summit?"
"As to that, I cannot say. I shall, no doubt, have to be
governed by circumstances there."

" Well, it is n't a very good time to go. You '11 find it
pretty cold up there. Still, there is a good path all the way,
if there is no snow. I don't know as there will be any
great difficulty. But I wouldn't stay to be out after dark.
You have heard of the lady who lost her way one day
last month on the summit, and died there, — she and her
party being out all night ? "

" Miss Bourne you refer to, I presume ? "
"Yes, Miss Bourne, from Kennebunk. She was a beau-
tiful lady. I saw the party when they passed here. They
were all in such good spirits, so lively, talking and laugh-
ing ! I knew it was too late in the afternoon for them to
go, and I tried to prevail upon them to stop here over


night, and then to proceed on in the morning ; but thcj
were determined to go. It was a sad sight when they
brought her over the Ledge, — the day before so full of ani-
mation, tripping along so gayly, and then to see her form
so lifeless, and all so changed and sorrowful ! I pitied the
whole party from the bottom of my heart. But I learned
she did not die from cold, but from fatigue and general
exhaustion, and without suffering. I believe they said she
had some difficulty of the chest. It seemed hard that
they could not find the Summit House when they were so
near, — but forty rods, — and the gentleman accompanying
them even went within twenty rods."

Mr. M. spoke so feelingly of the misfortune, that I could
not but realize a profound sympathy for them; and, with
my limited time, I could not delay as long as I should
like to have done.

I sat down to the table, with scarcely any appetite, and
drank a bowl of coffee, and eat a few mouthfuls of food,
which satisfied me. I then exchanged my shoes for a pair
of Mr. M.'s stout thick boots. These were much too large,
but I at last concluded to wear them rather than the shoes.
It continuing to sprinkle, I took my umbrella, and, thank-
ing Mr. Myers for his kindness, started out. Looking
around for a stick that would serve for a staff, Mr. M.
said : —

"Ah, here, take this cane. It is one I cut on Mount
Washington, and I '11 make you a present of it. Should you
see any bears in your way, let me know, and I will come
up with my gun."


^^ Bears!" said I; "you do PxOt mean to say that there
are bears at that height ? "

" Sometimes there are. "We frequently see their tracks

" Very well," said I ; "I hope not to meet a hungry one.
But if I see any I will endeavor to let you know."

Entering' upon the path, which was a rough and stony one, I
ascended the steep side with little fatigue, and in half an
hour reached the top of the Ledge. The view, however, was
but little more extensive than at the foot of the Ledge.

Beyond me, for the distance of a quarter of a mile, or a
little more, the ground gradually ascended. Its uneven sur-
face was covered with rocks, and patches of snow not wholly
carried away by the rain. Further than this the landscape
was obscured by misty clouds hanging close upon the earth.
I then turned around to obtain a view off and below the
Ledo;e. But not the Glen House, nor the road, nor a moun-
tain, could be seen ; only the Camp House, with a small thicket
of fire-killed trees and brush around. All else was screened
by fog.

Starting on again, I directly came to the path where I
recognized my footsteps of the night before. And my surprise
was not a little on perceiving the large footprints of a bear,
which had apparently followed along after me in the descent.
His enormous feet in many places had completely annihilated
my own tracks. I stepped back to the Ledge, to give the in-
formation to Mr. M., and succeeded in making my voice
heard at the Camp House, and then went on, observing the
animal's tracks for a mile, when they disappeared among the


rocks. I kept a good lookout, in case he or his companions
were hovering about. Several times I saw one some distance
ahead ; but, on coming up, it invariably proved to be a black

Here the path was no longer discernible, and so gradually
did it lose itself among the snow and rocks that I could not
detect its termination; but, on looking back, I could make it
out by the less buried stones at its sides. The surface now
was uniformly covered with snow to the depth of eight or ten
inches, and nothing to be seen but black rocks, of every size,
shape, and dimension, singly and in piles, scattered around on
all sides ; and I continued on, following the rise of the land.
I brought to mind that I had heard that the Mountain be-
tween the Camp House and summit was made up of four
eminences or peaks, called mountains, and that Mount Wash-
ington constituted the fourth and the last.

Having passed the first mountain, the way was more difficult
and wearisome. My feet broke through the crust at each
step, and gave much pain to my ankles. Sometimes they
were caught and held fast between the hidden rocks, and
required some labor to extricate them. I endeavored to select
the best course, and, wherever the way was impassable or dif-
ficult, T retraced my steps, or made circuits, trying at different
points until I succeeded in getting beyond them, although it
made much more travel than would have been necessary could
I have gone in a direct line or by the path. However, I did
not regard this as a real obstacle, and did not think of re-
turning, especially as I observed that the clouds occasionally
broke away, revealing the blue sky, which might at length


render the Mountain clear. I thought it very likely that I
might continue on to the summit, though I should have to
allow myself more time than would be consistent with my
getting back to the Camp House by noon.

It was between the second and third mountains that I
began to perceive the air disagreeably cold. The rain had
changed from sleet to hail, and lastly to snow. The wind had
increased, so that I closed my umbrella and used it as a walk-
ing-stick; and the snow fell fast, limiting the view to a
small extent around me.

Once, while disengaging my feet from among rocks in a
pit of snow, into which I had sunk deeper than before, the
difficulty that I experienced, together with the cold, suggested a
thought of returning. I was aware that, in the present state
of the weather, if I should reach the summit, it could be of
no advantage ; still, if I was there, I could make use of any

1 3 4 5

Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Lincoln) BallThree days on the White Mountains; being the perilous adventure of Dr. B.L. Ball on Mount Washington, during October 25, 26, and 27, 1855 → online text (page 1 of 5)