A Special to longcamp.com

A Hypothesis For the Five Frémont Expedition Routes in the Carson Pass Area
Peter Lathrop, Minden, NV

Frémont's second expedition spent most of February 1844 building a trail over what would become Carson Pass. During this time five trips were made to the Sierra Crest to view the way ahead to the goal of the Sacramento Valley. This paper is an attempt to locate these vista points. The hypothesizes presented here may go against some long held beliefs. As has been shown with the "sighting" of Mt. Diablo by Carson, mistakes can be passed on from author to author without being tested in the field. The location of each site in this work is based upon careful reading of the accounts of Frémont, Preuss, and Carson, which are so conveniently correlated in Bob Graham's The Crossing. This research was the basis of personal, onsite observations taking into consideration the logic and logistics of moving men, material, and weak horses over snow covered mountains. Each route to a vista site is only a hypothesis, ready to be overturned by a better argument or new evidence.

NOTE: New names of previously unnamed topographical features courtesy of Heather and Brittney Lathrop (left and center in this photo taken on Red Lake Peak). The sites and routes are numbered in chronological order.

Route I, Charity Valley to Butterfly Butte.
On February 6th a party including Frémont, Carson, and Fitzpatrick explored ahead of the rest of the company. The entire company later followed the trail this party laid out. Therefore the first part of the explorers' trail would have lead to Windy Ridge and the site of Long Camp. They would have then headed for the nearest peak that was higher than the pass, thus affording a view of the Valley and the Coastal Range. This peak is Butterfly Butte, at over 9000' elevation. It is the small peak shown in the center of the Preuss drawing from Long Camp (see below). On February 5th (I missed the 1844 date by one day) I climbed Butterfly Butte and had a great view of the Sacramento Valley and the Coast Range beyond. The trail up Butterfly Butte is easy to see from the east. From that direction Elephant Back (left of center in drawing) looks unassailable. Even from Butterfly Butte the possible route on the northwest side cannot be seen. Having seen into the Valley they had no need to go farther, not with a long return trip of ten miles to be made before dark. Furthermore, Butterfly Butte fits Frémont's description of "one of the peaks left of the pass": he didn't say one of the highest; in other entries Frémont always mentioned when he climbed the highest peak or summit. Butterfly Butte is therefore the logical site of Frémont's and Carson's first view of the Valley and the Coastal Range beyond. I have attempted the route from the butte to Elephant Back and have, so far, been unsuccessful this winter During milder winters a route up the northwest side of Elephant Back looked to be passable. This year, 2006, which seems to have fit the weather reported in 1844, I found the route to be covered with ice, offering little secure footing and the potential for a long, bumpy, and extremely rapid descent to the base of the mountain below.

go From Butterfly Butte: "There," Carson said, "is the little mountain." Did they see Mt. Diablo?
go See a large topographical map of the area from Topozone.com. The map center (+) is the Long Camp site. "Butterfly Butte" is the peak 9002' just due east of Frog Lake. "Windy Ridge," to where the horses were finally brought up from Markleeville, is marked 8256' just north of the Long Camp.
go See a detail from the Charles Preuss map with labels corresponding to the above map, and views from Red Lake Peak.

Editor's Note: Butterfly Butte is the small center peak in the Preuss drawing. It is an essential feature in locating the position of the Long Camp--the advance camp occupied by Frémont, Preuss, and a few others from February 10 through February 20. It cannot be seen in this relationship with Elephant back and Red lake Peak from any other place than from where Preuss made his picture.
go Locating Frémont's Long Camp

Lathrop continued:

Route II, Bernier and Godey to Elephant Back.
Bernier and Godey "had been sent to ascend a higher peak" and confirmed what had been seen before. They would have most likely followed the trail established two days before. That trail should have been easy to follow as the "reconnoitering party had trampled the snow as heavily" as they could with snow shoes. Frémont sent, i.e. ordered them to climb a higher peak. So the peak they climbed must have been one Frémont had seen on the 6th. It is also unlikely that they would have gone off in a new direction, and to where? Neither Markleville Peak nor The Nipple offer views to the west. Raymond and Reynolds would have required technical climbing. Deadwood Peak would give a view only to the southwest, is unobservable from Charity Valley, and the trip would take too long. Round Top (before 1890 called Alpine Peak) would also be a very difficult climb and as has been pointed out, would present a view of Lake Tahoe (William Brewer, 1863 survey note) and much more having a 360° view. Bernier and Godey most likely followed the trail toward Butterfly Butte and then found the relatively easier way around the west side of Elephant Back and climbed up the sunny, and much less steep, south slope of the mountain, making its first accent. Elephant Back is the peak shown to the center left in the Preuss drawing. They wouldn't have seen much new but would have been able to "confirm" what was seen from Butterfly Butte.

Route III, Charley Preuss goes for a look-see.
On February 12th Preuss probably followed the established trail first to Butterfly Butte. The view from Butterfly Butte is very accurately represented on his map, whereas Elephant Back is not. However there is the very slim possibility based on mileage that Preuss then followed Bernier and Godey's trail to the top of Elephant Back. On the 6th Frémont recorded that they traveled 10 miles one way. All of the distances he subsequently recorded to Long Camp add up to 8 1/2 miles. Preuss's 3 miles would give a total of 11 1/2miles. Elephant Back would be about 1 1/2miles farther on than Butterfly Butte. Unlike the prior adventurers, Preuss most likely did not have snowshoes. There are snow free paths up the steepest pitches and areas of deep snow to "work through" in between to the butte. "Walked to an elevation only 3 miles away" would be a Germanic way of describing what he would have accomplished that day. This is in keeping with the his character. When he was lost on the descent into the valley he expressed little worry at being lost or by himself, but complained a lot of being hungry. After his "walk" he had good reason to return "completely exhausted!"

Route IV. go Up Red Lake Peak and the discovery of Lake Tahoe.

Route V. go On to the Summit of Carson Pass.

go See Peter Lathrop's study of the preceeding Markleeville to Charity Valley route.
go And his look at the campsite on the East Carson River of January 31 to February 2, 1844--Frémont's gateway to the high mountains.
go The first descent camp, February 21, 1844.
go The route from Pyramid Lake to Bridgeport.
go Kit Carson to Frémont: "There," he said, "is the little mountain"
go Frémont's Route from Grovers to the Long Camp: the location of the campsites for February 4th through the 10th, 1844
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