The post of the Rocky Mountains, in English, Rocky Mountains House, is situated on the shore of the little lake I have mentioned, in the midst of a wood, and is surrounded, except on the water side, by steep rocks, inhabited only by the mountain sheep and goat. Here is seen in the west the chain of the Rocky Mountains, whose summits are covered with perpetual snow. On the lake side, Millet’s Rock, of which I have spoken above, is in full view, of an immense height, and resembles the front of a huge church seen in perspective. The post was under the charge of a Mr. Decoigne. He does not procure many furs for the company, which has only established the house as a provision depot, with the view of facilitating the passage of the mountains to those of its employes who are repairing to, or returning from, the Columbia.
People speak so often of the Rocky Mountains, and appear to know so little about them, that the reader will naturally desire me to say here a word on that subject. If we are to credit travellers, and the most recent maps, these mountains extend nearly in a straight line, from the 35th or 36th degree of north latitude, to the mouth of the Unjighah, or M’Kenzie’s river, in the Arctic ocean, in latitude 65 deg. or 66 deg. N. This distance of thirty degrees of latitude, or seven hundred and fifty leagues, equivalent to two thousand two hundred and fifty English miles or thereabouts, is, however, only the mean side of a right-angled triangle, the base of which occupies twenty-six degrees of longitude, in latitude 35 deg. or 36 deg., that is to say, is about sixteen hundred miles long, while the chain of mountains forms the hypotenuse; so that the real, and as it were diagonal, length of the chain, across the continent, must be very near three thousand miles from S.E. to N.W. In such a vast extent of mountains, the perpendicular height and width of base must necessarily be very unequal. We were about eight days in crossing them; whence I conclude, from our daily rate of travel, that they may have, at this point, i.e., about latitude 54 deg., a base of two hundred miles.
The geographer Pinkerton is assuredly mistaken, when he gives these mountains an elevation of but three thousand feet above the level of the sea; from my own observations I would not hesitate to give them six thousand; we attained, in crossing them, an elevation probably of fifteen hundred feet above the valleys, and were not, perhaps, nearer than half way of their total height, while the valleys themselves must be considerably elevated above the level of the Pacific, considering the prodigious number of rapids and falls which are met in the Columbia, from the first falls to Canoe river. Be that as it may, if these mountains yield to the Andes in elevation and extent, they very much surpass in both respects the Apalachian chain, regarded until recently as the principal mountains of North America: they give rise, accordingly, to an infinity of streams, and to the greatest rivers of the continent.[AF]