The endurance of the species is shown by its wandering occasionally out over the lava plains with the Yellow Pine, and climbing moraineless mountain-sides with the Dwarf Pine, clinging to any chance support in rifts and crevices of storm-beaten rocks—always, however, showing the effects of such hardships in every feature.
Down in sheltered lake hollows, on beds of rich alluvium, it varies so far from the common form as frequently to be taken for a distinct species. Here it grows in dense sods, like grasses, from forty to eighty feet high, bending all together to the breeze and whirling in eddying gusts more lithely than any other tree in the woods. I have frequently found specimens fifty feet high less than five inches in diameter. Being thus slender, and at the same time well clad with leafy boughs, it is oftentimes bent to the ground when laden with soft snow, forming beautiful arches in endless variety, some of which last until the melting of the snow in spring.
The Mountain Pine is king of the alpine woods, brave, hardy, and long-lived, towering grandly above its companions, and becoming stronger and more imposing just where other species begin to crouch and disappear. At its best it is usually about ninety feet high and five or six in diameter, though a specimen is often met considerably larger than this. The trunk is as massive and as suggestive of enduring strength as that of an oak. About two thirds of the trunk is commonly free of limbs, but close, fringy tufts of sprays occur all the way down, like those which adorn the colossal shafts of Sequoia. The bark is deep reddish-brown upon trees that occupy exposed situations near its upper limit, and furrowed rather deeply, the main furrows running nearly parallel with each other, and connected by conspicuous cross furrows, which, with one exception, are, as far as I have noticed, peculiar to this species.
The cones are from four to eight inches long, slender, cylindrical, and somewhat curved, resembling those of the common White Pine of the Atlantic coast. They grow in clusters of about from three to six or seven, becoming pendulous as they increase in weight, chiefly by the bending of the branches.
This species is nearly related to the Sugar Pine, and, though not half so tall, it constantly suggests its noble relative in the way that it extends its long arms and in general habit. The Mountain Pine is first met on the upper margin of the fir zone, growing singly in a subdued, inconspicuous form, in what appear as chance situations, without making much impression on the general forest. Continuing up through the Two-leaved Pines in the same scattered growth, it begins to show its character, and at an elevation of about 10,000 feet attains its noblest development near the middle of the range, tossing its tough arms in the frosty air, welcoming storms and feeding on them, and reaching the grand old age of 1000 years.