At the far end of the meadow we discovered a dry creek bed which led upward through the dense spruce forest. “Where water has been, water may be again,” we argued and, leading the horses, picked our way among the trees and over fallen logs to a fairly open hill slope where we attempted to ride, but our animals were nearly done. After climbing a few feet they stood with heaving sides and trembling legs, the breath rasping through distended nostrils. We felt the altitude almost as badly as the horses for the meadow itself was twelve thousand feet above the level of the sea and the air was very thin.
There seemed to be no hope of finding even a suitable snow bank when it was slowly borne in upon us that the subdued roaring in our ears was the sound of water and not the effect of altitude as we both imagined. Above and to the left was a sheer cliff, hundreds of feet in height, and as we toiled upward and emerged beyond timber line we caught a glimpse of a silver ribbon streaming down its face. It came from a melting snow crater and we could follow its course with our eyes to where it swung downward along a rock wall not far from the upper end of the meadow. It was so hidden by the trees that had we not climbed above timber line, it never would have been discovered.
This solved the question of our camp and we looked about us happily. On the way through the forest we had noticed small mammal runways under almost every log and, when we stood above the tree limit, the grassy slope was cut by an intricate network of tiny tunnels. These were plainly the work of a meadow vole (Microtus) and at this altitude it certainly would prove to be a species new to our collection.
The sun had already dropped behind the mountain and the meadow was in shadow when we reached it again on our homeward way. By five o’clock we were in the temple eating a belated tiffin and making preparations for an early start. But our hopes were idle, for in the morning three of the mules had strayed, and we did not arrive at the meadow until two o’clock in the afternoon.
Our camp was made just at the edge of the spruce forest a few hundred yards from the snow stream. As soon as the tents were up we climbed to the grassy slope above timber line, with Heller, to set a string of traps in the vole runways and under logs and stumps in the forest.
The hunters made their camp beside a huge rock a short distance away and slept in their ragged clothes without a blanket or shelter of any kind. It was delightfully warm, even at this altitude, when the sun was out, but as soon as it disappeared we needed a fire and the nights were freezing cold; yet the natives did not seem to mind it in the slightest and refused our offer of a canvas tent fly.
We never will forget that first night on the Snow Mountain. As we sat at dinner about the campfire we could see the somber mass of the forest losing itself in the darkness, and felt the unseen presence of the mighty peaks standing guard about our mountain home. We slept, breathing the strong, sweet perfume of the spruce trees and dreamed that we two were wandering alone through the forest opening the treasure boxes of the Wild.