Travels In Alaska Essay, Research Paper
Travels In Alaska
Travels in Alaska takes readers on a trip to Alaska through the vivid descriptions of the author, John Muir. The book is based on journals Muir wrote during his visits to Alaska in 1879, 1880, and 1890. These chronicles of his journey relate his observations of nature, glaciers, and the many people he met. Traveling on foot, by canoe, and dogsled Muir experienced excitement discovering unfamiliar types of lands and animals. Each summer Muir and his new found Presbyterian missionary friend S. Hall Young accompanied by Tlingit Indian guides launched extensive voyages of discovery in a thirty foot canoe. John Muir was a naturalists who loved to go to wild places and experience the wonders of nature.
Chapter One of Travels In Alaska is inspired by the beautiful scenery Muir writes in his boat in route to Puget Sound. He describes the scenery, weather, and hospitality shown to him by the individuals he met during his journey through the Alexander Archipelago to Fort Wrangell and Sitka. Also, a man named Mr. Vanderbilt offered John a room and a place at his table. The Vanderbilt family occupied the best house in the fort and this is where he found a real home; with the chance to go on all sorts of excursions as opportunity offered.
Muir’s steamer goes first to Sitka, then on to Wrangell. The Klondike gold rush was yet to begin, but John heard of twenty-eight miners who had just gone from Sitka into the Yukon to prospect. The next summer he came across and interviewed a number of the original twenty-eight miners in S.E. Alaska in Sum Dum Bay. While in Wrangell Muir was adopted by the Stickeen
tribe, and given an Indian name (Ancoutahan) that means adopted chief. Being adopted by the Stickeens was a excellent safeguard while John was on his travels among the different tribes of the archipelago. No one belonging to the other tribes would attack him, knowing that the Stickeens would hold them accountable. Muir also describes feasting and dancing at Chief Shakes blockhouse, and experiencing the most beautiful sunset he had ever seen.
The 350 mile Stickeen river was the beginning of the route to the Cassiar and MacKenzie gold fields. Steamers could navigate the first 150 miles to Glenora and old Hudson’s Bay trading post; and sometimes another 15 miles to Telegraph Creek. Muir describes the river by its superb canyon, magnificent cliffs, and mountains with glaciers and waterfalls. John explains the failed attempt to sail the steamship Cassiar to visit the Chilcat tribe. However, he did some glacier walking after the Cassiar had to turn around and describes the glacier thoroughly. Nevertheless, John embarks on a second trip up the Stickeen River. John hikes far into the interior with a partner named Le Claire who told him many stories of his adventurous life with Indians, bears, wolves, snow, and hunger. On John’s return trip he met several groups of Indians on the move, going north to hunt. Furthermore, Muir enjoyed his inland side trip.
Muir sets out from Glenora to climb Glenora Peak and describes the sweeping views of the almost infinite space of the Coast Range. During the exploration of the Stickeen Glaciers, Muir does extensive glacier walking making many scientific and artistic observances. John Muir was determined to go as far north as possible, to see what he could. On October 14, 1879, John Muir and Mr. Young left Wrangell. Using Vancouver’s chart, they generated a journey more than eight hundred miles long. Muir and Young stopped at many villages and camps along he way. With one or two exceptions, all the villages expressed their willingness to receive them. After
visiting the village of Hoonah Muir and Young crossed Icy Strait into Glacier Bay. Camping on the beaches of the Grand Pacific Glacier he describes the sunrise against that Fairweather Range. Vancouver’s chart showed no trace of Glacier Bay that they had discovered. The Chilcats are the most influential of the Thlinkit tribes. While with the Chilcats, Muir and Young had five meetings, each of them delivering speeches. They began to feel quite at home in the big block house with their hospitable Chilcat friends. However, due to the dawn of winter and other worries they decided to start back on the journey home at once. While paddling down the east shore of the Lynn Canal, Muir and Young visited the Auk tribe in the Juneau area and refused the chief’s offer to construct the village for them. They proceeded to Taku Inlet and Sum Dum Bay, but the closeness of winter prevented exploration. The next season, 1880, the Silver Bow Gold discovery was made in the Juneau area. John Muir describes the Alaskan Indians as very different from the typical American Indian of the interior of this continent. Muir says, “They were doubtless derived from the Mongol stock. Their down slanting oval eyes, wide cheek bones, and rather thick, outstanding upper lips at once suggest their connection with the Chinese or Japanese.”
Muir arrived back in Wrangell on August 8, 1880 on the steamer California to continue his explorations northward which were terminated by winter the past November. He left Fort Wrangell in a canoe on August 16, 1880, accompanied by Mr. Young, two Stickeen Indians, and a half-breed named Smart Billy. They sailed up the coast of Sum Dum Bay, where Muir began his studies where he left off the previous November. Next, they extended their journey from Taku River to Taylor Bay. The Taku River is a large stream, nearly a mile wide at the mouth. Like the Stickeen, Chilcat, and Chilcoot, the Taku River draws its sources from far inland and draining a multitude of glaciers on its way. Canoeing on to Taylor Bay, Muir, his ice ax, and Young’s dog
go for an extensive trek on Taylor Bay Glacier. Going into Glacier Bay, they went directly to the Muir Glacier, camping a safe distance from the massive face. However, Muir created a closer observation camp where he could watch the ice bergs at night. Traveling the glacier’s surface and climbing the surrounding mountains he finally appreciated the immense size.
On June 14, 1890 on the steamer City of Pueblo he begins his fourth trip to Alaska. His third trip, in 1881, included northern and western Alaska, as far as Unalaska and Pt. Barrow and the northeastern coast of Siberia. Transferring to the Queen in Port Townsend with 180 fellow passengers he arrives in Wrangell. Steaming northward they arrive at Juneau where there is a village furnished with stores, churches, etc. Moving northward up the Lynn Canal Muir notes, “The mountains on either hand and at the head of the canal are strikingly beautiful at any time of the year.” Venturing next into Glacier Bay the Queen sails to the front of Muir Glacier where some passengers hike the area and watch the beautiful blue of the icebergs. On July 1, 1890 the steamer George W. Elder arrives at the face of the Muir Glacier with many tourists and Professor Harry Fielding accompanied by six or eight young students who came well prepared to study the glacier. John finds that the face of the glacier has receded more than a mile during his ten year absence.
With a three foot long sled John Muir set out to explore the Muir Glacier on July 11, 1890. Then, on July 18, he notices, “I have been sketching, though my eyes are much inflamed and I can scarce see. All the lines I make appear double. I fear I shall not be able to make a few more sketches I want tomorrow, but I must try.” The next day he writes, “Nearly blind. The light is intolerable and I fear I may be long unfitted for work.” He then falls into a crevass which is luckily filled with water. Finally, on July 21 John is seen by some of his companions and
they transport him over to the main camp where he had a good sleep and relaxation. A few days later John set out with Professor Reid’s party to survey some of the other large glaciers that may have changed since October 1879. During this trip, Muir observed sensational auroras for several nights in a row. The most intense display was an unwavering, luminous “silver rainbow” arching across the sky, enhanced by an endless swarm of “electric aurora fairies” dancing in an continuous vertical sequence from east to west. John lost all his thoughts of sleep and ran back to his cabin, carried out blankets, and laid down on the ground to continue surveillance until daybreak.
Travels In Alaska is essential reading material for anyone traveling to Southeast Alaska or anyone wanting to learn more about glaciers. For example, if an individual was taking a trip to Alaska, this book would be a great guide to aid in the location of Glaciers and rivers. The vivid descriptions provided in these journals provide individuals with “mental pictures” of Alaska and its outdoor qualities. The reader will get the impression that John Muir was a great man who was liked by everyone that he interacted with. This is by far the most descriptive novel that I have ever read. However, the addition of maps showing the routes of Muir’s travels would be a benefit. I have not read any other writings by John Muir or any other novels on Alaska. So therefore, I can not accurately appraise or dispraise this book.