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Which peak did Frémont climb in the Wind River Range in 1842
David Roberts, A Newer World; Kit Carson, John C. Fremont And The Claiming of the American West, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Although I am not quite sure that author and climber David Roberts makes a clear distinction between a route through Titcomb Valley for the failed attempt of the peak on the 14th, and the route of the successful climb on the 15th through Indian Basin, he does determine that the peak climbed was indeed Fremont Peak.
And this based solely on his read of the narrative descriptions.
The photograph, from the book, shows the author on the summit of Fremont Peak, Fremont Glacier below.

Frémont: "I sprang upon the summit, and another step would have precipitated me to an immense snow field five hundred feet below.

David Roberts
A Newer World
left: Author on Fremont Peak, Fremont Glacier below. From Book.

excerpts page 26-49

p26: The best guess of modern historians as to where Frémont entered the Wind Rivers is at Boulder Lake...

p27: Ten miles in, the trail skirts Seneca Lake. The odds are good that Frémont's party passed by here, for it lies on the direct route to Titcomb Basin, southeast of Fremont Peak...The evening of August 13, on the north side of a sizable lake with a rocky island in the middle of it, the team prepared for a second bivouac. Island Lake, as Frémont named the site of their nocturnal vigil, is the first point on the party's mountain itinerary where the modern traveler can be sure of walking in their 1842 footprints. The lake lies close to timberline, at 10,346 feet-3,400 feet of attitude and three miles as the hawk soars beneath the summit of Fremont Peak...On a broad flat rock, the men stretched their weary bones in hopes of sleep. They had nothing to eat, and not even their coats to cover themselves...

p43: Stiff and hungry after their bedrock bivouac at timberline, the dozen-odd men in the advance party (neither Frémont nor Preuss gives the exact number) set out early on the morning of August 14 to climb the peak. Carson, forgiven by his commander for the fault of walking too fast the day before, was put in the lead once more. The mountain man guided the party out of the valley that led to the upper lakes and, as Frémont would write, "took to the ridges again; which we found extremely broken, and where we were again involved among precipices."

Soon all semblance of an orderly ascent disintegrated; the mountaineers ran into a series of permanent snowfields...The climb, for which Frémont had originally allotted only two days from Boulder Lake all the way to the top and back, was already in its third day; though the lieutenant never mentions the dozen men left guarding camp on the fringe of the range, they must have been growing anxious...

p45: So the grand alpine campaign of August 14 degenerated into something like farce-though in all truth the party was lucky not to sustain a serious injury during its every-man,for-himself assault. Severally the climbers stumbled back to Island Lake; Preuss found himself "quite exhausted" on reaching treeline...But the eternally stubborn Frémont had not yet thrown in the towel. Even before regaining Island Lake, he had sent his favorite man, Basil Lajeunesse, off on a Herculean errand: to return all the way to the Camp of the Mules and bring back blankets, food, and mounts, preferably before nightfall. The next morning, altitude-sick or not, the lieutenant would lead a second attempt on the mountain of his dreams.

p46: From Island Lake, most hikers follow the trail north into Titcomb Basin, where three turquoise lakes strung end-to-end fill a craggy chasm: on the right, the west face of Fremont Peak rises more than 3,000 feet in less than a mile. A careful reading of Preuss suggests, however, that on August 15 the climbers veered east, climbing to a high cirque now called Indian Basin. Gaining this cirque, the team would have stood a mile and a half directly south of Fremont Peak...Directly north, Fremont Peak dominates the basin. The southwest shoulder, self-evidently the route by which to climb the mountain, rises in a single, clean sweep from lower left to the sharp summit...

p.47: Frémont had learned his lesson from the chaos of the preceding day. Now the six men climbed methodically upward together. By late morning, they were among the cliffs and ledges of the southwest shoulder. The party traveled light, "having divested ourselves of every unnecessary encumbrance." Frémont insisted that the six men stick together, and that whenever someone got winded, the whole team stop for a breather. Among the cliffs, the lieutenant donned a light pair of leather moccasins, "as now the use of our toes became necessary to a further advance." He was pleased to discover that "with the exception of a slight disposition to headache, I felt no remains of yesterday's illness."

For the modern mountaineer, the southwest shoulder of Fremont Peak is a straightforward scramble. Small cliffs bar the way here and there, but they are easily turned. So vaguely defined is the broad crest of the ridge that perhaps half a dozen different lines offer nontechnical routes to the summit. But for the nervy explorers in 1842, this high waste of rock and snow teemed with terrors none of them had previously countenanced.

p.47: Frémont's report is full of harrowing obstacles that the modern climber is hard put to locate: "a sort of comb of the mountain, which stood against the wall like a buttress"; an overhang that had to be circumvented; "a vertical precipice of several hundred feet"; and what one would call today the crux of the route, a crack that Frémont conquered only by "putting hands and feet in the crevices between the blocks."

Sometime after 1 Pm., as Frémont later wrote, "I sprang upon the summit, and another step would have precipitated me into an immense snow field five hundred feet below." As he had hoped and schemed, the lieutenant became the first human being to set foot on what he believed to be the apex of the Rocky Mountains. So precarious did Frémont find the summit block ("which it seemed a breath would hurl into the abyss below") that he allowed his partners to ascend it only one at a time. In turn, Charles Preuss, Basil Lajeunesse, Johnny Janisse, Clement Lambert, and the shadowy Descoteaux clambered up to the highest point.

p48: Frémont unfurled his American flag, which he would later give to Jessie as a memento of his conquest. The men fired off pistols and shouted "hurrah" several times. Then they settled down to make observations with the compass, while they stared at the Tetons in the northwest, the endless plains far to the east: "Around us the whole scene had one main striking feature, which was that of terrible convulsion."

p49:

Fremont Peak, it turns out, ranks only third in height in Wyoming, after Gannett and the Grand Teton. It does not come close to being the highest peak in the American Rockies, which the Hayden Survey would prove to be Colorado's Mount Elbert, at 14,431 feet. In Colorado alone, there are 126 summits higher than Fremont Peak.

Nonetheless, for its time, Frémont's ascent was a bold feat of exploration, the hardest climb yet performed by Americans in the West. His conquest on August 15, 1842, must have seemed to Frémont a mere youthful harbinger of a glorious career to come. Yet in a sense, he would never surpass that moment of unalloyed triumph. Never again would he reach a pinnacle of accomplishment with quite so untroubled a spirit, so blithely beyond the reach of critics and second-guessers.

The ultimate curse of being a national hero
is that once the fires of acclaim go out, only the ashes of criticism remain.
This was the fate of John Charles Frémont,
for he climbed the peaks of glory to endure the deserts of despair.
Ferol Egan, Frémont: Explorer for a Restless Nation

go Frémont Peak--the whole story, with other opinions.
go My own views on the peak climbed, with route maps and barometrical observations

go Frémont and Charles Preuss climb Red Lake Peak in the Sierra Nevada on February 14, 1844 to look for the Sacramento Valley and discover Lake Tahoe.

A history of Frémont 's training in mathematics, navigation, and mapmaking.
The mountain barometer.


©1999, 2007
Bob Graham