Tales from the Tread: “Thrilling ride on snowshoes”
July 21, 2016
Editor's Note: The Tread of Pioneers Museum received this article from Kathleen James, the editor of Skiing History, the bimonthly journal of the International Skiing History Association skiinghistory.org. ISHA is interested in learning more about this adventure story, which was allegedly written in 1890 by a Steamboat Springs resident who was pursued by a pack of ravenous wolves on Storm Mountain (Storm Peak) while skiing after dark. Tall tale or truth? Send your thoughts to Candice Bannister, executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum, at email@example.com. A correspondent of the Chicago Inter Ocean writes from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, under date of June 10.
On the 17th of February (1890) last, I started from my cabin at the foot of Storm Mountain to make a trip to the top to see if the fur-bearing animals were still out. It is only about 10 miles to the top, and I reckoned that I could easily make it there and back in a day. Packing a slight lunch, I tied it in my belt and started. Slowly and painfully, I worked my way up by "tacking," as it is impossible to travel straight up a steep incline on snowshoes (skis). Noon came, and I sat down in the shelter of a rock to eat my lunch. I saw it would be late when I reached the top, but that did not alarm me, for I have come from the top of Storm Mountain to my cabin in 12 minutes.
When I reached the top and looked it over I was surprised to find the sun just going down. Darkness falls very suddenly in this country after sundown, and I concluded to wait the rising of the moon, which I knew would rise soon after dark, as it would be dangerous snowshoeing down the mountain side in the dark, as one could not keep the trail and would be liable to rush headlong against a tree or go plunging over a precipice. Darkness fell as I had never seen it before. Everything was obliterated. I sat on my snowshoes at the head of the trail, waiting for the light of the moon. The silence was oppressive. All around me, I could see the dim outlines of the snow-capped peaks, dark and somber, rearing their heads toward the sky. I must have fallen asleep, but I woke with a start at the cry of a panther coming from a path of green timber a short distance to the left. This was followed by the cry of a timber wolf, which was answered by another and another, until the hills resounded with their weird howls. Soon, gaunt shadows flitted from tree to tree all around me. Then, the awful thought burst upon me that I was surrounded by wolves, which, at this season of the year, are very hungry and fierce.
If I could keep them at bay until the moon rose, I was safe, as I could easily keep away from them. As one came close I did a very foolish thing. Pulling my revolver, I shot him through the body. With a fearful yell he started to run, the blood pouring from the wound in a stream. He was pounced upon in a second and torn to pieces by his companions. Crazed by a taste of blood, the whole yelping pack charged upon me. It was growing light in the east, where the moon would soon rise, but was still too dark to travel with safety, but I tarried not. Hastily slipping my feet in the leathers of my snowshoes I started down the steep incline as if shot from a catapult. Down, down, down into the darkness, I rushed at a headlong rate. A gaunt brute crouching near a tree sprang at my throat, but he had not calculated on my rate of speed and passed harmlessly through the air 10 feet behind me. On came the pack, but their cries became fainter and fainter, and I soon began to ride my pole and slacken my rate of speed, as I was passing close to the brink of a precipice and soon had a turn to make, which one cannot easily do with showshoes 12 feet long. I stopped at the turn to wait the rising of the moon, which soon came up, making it light as day.
I believed that the wolves had left to hunt some slower game, but that delusion soon suffered a rude shock. Soon the yelps began with redoubled fury as they scented me and came closer and closer. I got on my shoes and waited, nothing loath to show them again how easy it was to give them the slip. On they came, and as they got close, I started out once more, but was horrified to find that, at this place, the decline was not great enough for the shoes to run themselves. I had forgotten until this time about this place. There was a bench about 500 yards long, and from there, the trail veered to the right and, for half a mile, descended very nearly at an angle of 45 degrees; then, the angle was not quite so much, but still very steep, down a trail as straight as a string to my cabin, 7 miles below.
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On came the howling pack, and knowing it was life or death to get to the steep decline before my pursuers, I bent every energy to reach it. Every time I shoved a foot ahead, I would give a push with my pole sending myself along about five feet each time. As I reached the turn, I could hear their yelps right behind me and could even hear their heavy breathing. While I was turning my shoes, one big brute, in advance of the rest, reached me and, with a fearful snarl, sprang at my head. I stopped, and as he went over me, I straightened myself on my shoes and started down the steep hill.
I plunged down with a speed that no steam could give. Trees flew by like specters. Looking down the narrow path, it seemed like a plunge to destruction. On, on I went, riding my pole for dear life, trying vainly to check my speed. My pole snapped like a pipe stem under a heavy strain, and I bounded forward with increased speed. The world swam before my eyes, trees reeled back from my course with a horrible nightmare weirdness.
I don't exactly remember what the next sensation was, but I tried to peep out from under the brim of my hat, and it was all a blur — trees, rocks, landscapes were all blended together in an undistinguishable mass. It seemed an age, but it was, in fact, but a few moments, until my speed began to decrease. The momentum was speeding me out onto the "mesa" (Indian for valley). I saw my cabin close by, but, having no pole, I could not stop, so I disengaged my feet from my snowshoes and pulled off into a draft and let them go on. I found them the next day, nearly a mile from there.
If I should live a thousand years I would never forget that wild night ride nor the (undesirable) feeling of excitement, fear and pleasure as I plunged madly down the narrow path from old Storm Mountain.
This article was published on the front page of The Star-Herald, the community newspaper of Presque Isle, Maine, on Sept. 18, 1890. The article was submitted to Skiing History by Larry Smith, of Boulder, who found it while researching his family history.