Contact USGS

  • About
  • Observatories
  • Activity
  • Education
  • Publications

Volcanoes and History
Cascade Range Volcanoes - "Volcanoes and History"

Joel Palmer

Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier, during the years 1845 and 1846,
including a journey around the south flank of Mount Hood

Excerpt from:
Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains to the mouth of the Columbia River, made during the years 1845 and 1846, by Joel Palmer, first printed in 1847, reprinted in Thwaites, R.G., Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, published 1906.

Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier

[September 15, 1845, p.110]     ... This day we traveled about nine miles, over the main ridge of the Blue Mountains. It is mostly a timbered country through which we passed; the scenery is delightful, resembling in grandeur that presented on yesterday's travel. We had a fine view of the Cascade Mountains to the west. Mount Hood, the loftiest of these, was plain to the view. It was some one hundred and fifty miles distant, and being covered with snow, appeared as a white cloud rising above those surroundings it. To the north of Mount Hood, and north of the Columbia, is seen Mount Saint Helen. ...

[1846, p.213]     ... There are two peaks upon the north side of the river, which remain covered with snow the whole year round. One is called Mount St. Helen, and stands north east of Fort Vancouver, and distant perhaps forty-five or fifty miles. The other is Mount Regnier, and stands some thirty-five miles from St. Helen, in a northerly direction. This is said to be a volcano. ...

Journey around Mount Hood
October 11-12, 1845

[October 11, 1845, p.130-132]     ... The last eight miles of our course had been nearly north -- a high mountain putting down between the branch and main fork. Where we struck the trail, it turned west into a wide, sandy and stony plain, of several miles in width, extending up to Mount Hood, about seven or eight miles distant, and in plain view.

I had never before looked upon a sight so nobly grand. We had previously seen only the top of it, but now we had a view of the whole mountain. No pen can give an adequate description of this scene. The bottom which we were ascending, had a rise of about three feet to the rod. A perfect mass of rock and gravel had been washed down from the mountain. In one part of the bottom was standing a grove of dead trees, the top of which could be seen; from the appearance, the surface had been filled up seventy-five or eighty feet about them. The water came tumbling down, through a little channel, in torrents. Near the upper end of the bottom, the mountains upon either side narrowed in until they left a deep chasm or gulf, where it emerged from the rocky cliffs above.

Stretching away to the south, was a range of mountain, which from the bottom appeared to be connected with the mountain on our left. It appeared to be covered with grass; then a space of more than a mile destitute of vegetation; then commenced the snow, and continued rising until the eye was pained in looking to the top. To our right was a high range, which connected with Mount Hood, covered with timber. The timber near the snow was dead.

We followed this trail for five or six miles, when it would up a grassy ridge to the left -- followed it up to where it connected with the main ridge; this we followed up for a mile, when the grass disappeared, and we came to a ridge entirely destitute of vegetation. It appeared to be sand and gravel, or rather, decomposed material from sandstone crumbled to pieces. Before reaching this barren ridge, we met a party of those who had started with the loose cattle, hunting for some which had strayed off ...

Soon after ascending and winding round this barren ridge, we crossed a ravine, one or two rods in width, upon the snow, which terminated a short distance below the trail, and extended up to the top of Mount Hood. We then went around the mountain for about two miles, crossing several strips of snow, until we came to a deep canyon or gulf, cut out by the wash from the mountain above us. A precipitate cliff of rocks, at the head, prevented a passage around it. The hills were of the same material as that we had been traveling over, and were very steep.

I judged the ravine to be three thousand feet deep. The manner of descending is to turn directly to the right, go zigzag for about one hundred yards, then turn short round, and go zigzag until you come under the place where you started from; then to the right, and so on, until you reach the base. In the bottom is a rapid stream, filled with sand. After crossing, we ascended in the same manner, went round the point of a ridge, where we struck another ravine; the sides of this were covered with grass and whortleberry bushes. In this ravine we found the camp of our friends. We reached them about dark; the wind blew a gale, and it was quite cold. ...

[October 12, 1845, p.132-133]     ... After taking some refreshment, we ascended the mountain, intending to head the deep ravine, in order to ascertain whether there was any gap in the mountain south of us, which would admit of a pass. From this peak, we overlooked the whole of the mountains. We followed up the grassy ridge for one miles and a half, when it became barren. My two friends began to lag behind, and show signs of fatigue; they finally stopped, and contended that we could not get round the head of the ravine, and that it was useless to attempt an ascent. But I was of a different opinion, and wished to go on. They consented, and followed for half a mile, when they sat down, and requested me to go up to the ledge, and, if we could effect a passage up and get round it, to give them a signal. I did so, and found that by climbing up a cliff of snow and ice, for about forty feet, but not so steep but that by getting upon one cliff, and cutting holes to stand in and hold on by, it could be ascended. I gave the signal, and they came up. In the mean time, I had cut and carved my way up the cliff, and when up to the top was forced to admit that it was something of an undertaking; but as I had arrived safely at the top of the cliff, I doubted not but they could accomplish the same task, and as my moccasins were worn out, and the soles of my feet exposed to the snow, I was disposed to be traveling, and so left them to get up the best way they could. After proceeding about one mile upon the snow, continually winding up, I began to despair of seeing my companions. I came to where a few detached pieces of rock had fallen form the ledge above and rolled down upon the ice and snow, (for the whole mass is more like ice than snow;) I clambered upon one of these, and waited half an hour. I then rolled stones down the mountain for half an hour; but as I could see nothing of my two friends, I began to suspect that they had gone back, and crossed in the trail. I then went round to the south-east side, continually ascending, and taking an observation of the country south, and was fully of the opinion that we could find a passage through.

[Palmer's later note: The opinion heretofore entertained, that this peak could not be ascended to its summit, I found to be erroneous. I, however, did not arrive at the highest peak, but went sufficiently near to prove its practicability. I judge the diameter of this peak, at the point where the snow remains the year round, to be about three miles. At the head of many of he ravines, are perpendicular cliffs of rocks, apparently several thousand feet high; and in some places those cliffs rise so precipitately to the summit, that a passage around is impracticable. I think the southern side affords the easiest ascent. The dark strips observable from a distance, are occasioned by blackish rock so precipitous as not to admit of the snow lying upon it. The upper strata are of gray sandstone, and seems to be of original formation. There is no doubt, but any of the snow peaks upon this range can be ascended to the summit.]

The waters of this deep ravine, and of numerous ravines to the north-west, as well as the south-west, form the heads of Big Sandy and Quicksand rivers

[Thwaites note: This should read Big Sandy or Quicksand River. Lewis and Clark gave it the latter name. It is usually known as the Sandy, and in many branches drains the western slope of Mount Hood, flowing northwest into the Columbia, in Multnomah County.],

which empty into the Columbia, about twenty-five or thirty miles below the Cascade Falls. I could see down this stream some twelve or fifteen miles, where the view was obstructed by a high range coming round from the north-west side, connecting by a low gap with some of the spurs from this peak. All these streams were running through such deep chasms, that it was impossible to pass them with teams. To the south, were two ranges of mountains, connecting by a low gap with this peak, and winding round until they terminated near Big Sandy. I observed that a stream, heading near the base of this peak and running south-east for several miles, there appeared to turn to the west. This I judged to be the head waters of Clackamis, which empties into the Willamette, near Oregon city; but the view was hid by a high range of mountains putting down in that direction. A low gap seemed to connect this stream, or some other, heading in this high range, with the low bottoms immediately under the base of this peak. I was of the opinion that a pass might be found between this peak and the first range of mountains, by digging down some of the gravel hills; and if not, there would be a chance of passing between the first and second ranges, through this gap to the branch of Clackamis; or, by taking some of the ranges of mountains and following them down, could reach the open ground near the Willamette, as there appeared to be spurs extending in that direction. I could also see a low gap in the direction from where we crossed the small branch, coming up the creek on the 11th, towards several small prairies south of us. It appeared, that if we could get a road opened to that place, our cattle could range about these prairies until we could find a passage for the remainder of the way.

The day was getting far advanced, and we had no provisions, save each of us a small biscuit; and knowing that we had at least twenty-five miles to travel, before reaching those working on the road, I hastened down the mountain. I had no difficulty in finding a passage down; but I saw some deep ravines and crevices in the ice which alarmed me, as I was compelled to travel over them. The snow and ice had melted underneath, and in many places had left but a thin shell upon the surface; some of them had fallen in and presented hideous looking caverns. I was soon out of danger, and upon the east side of the deep ravine I saw my two friends slowing winding their way up the mountain. ...

Saddle Mountain and Mount Rainier

[p.195-196]     ... The country about Cape Lookout is inhabited by a tribe of Indians called the Kilamooks. ... They have a tradition among them that a long time ago the Great Spirit became angry with them, set the mountain on fire, destroyed their towns, turned their tiye (chief) and tilicums (people) into stone, and cast them in the ocean outside of Cape Lookout; that the Great Spirit becoming appeased, removed the fire to Saddle Mountain, and subsequently to the Sawhle Illahe (high mountain,) or Mount Regnier, as it is called by the whites, on the north side of the Columbia river.

In the ocean about a mile west of Cape Lookout, is to be seen at high water a solitary rock, which they call Kilamook's Head, after the chief of the tribe. Around this rock for half a mile in every direction may be seen at low water divers of other rocks, which are called the tilicums, (people) of the tribe. At low water is to be seen a cavity passing quite through the Kilamook's Head, giving the rock the appearance of a solid stone arch.

In support of this tradition, the appearance of the promontory of Cape Lookout indicates that it may be the remains of an extinct volcano; and on Saddle Mountain there is an ancient crater, several hundred feet deep; while Mount Regnier is still a volcano.

Digital version of the publication was found at the
Google Books website, 2010.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lewis A. McArthur, 1982, Oregon Geographic Names, published by Western Imprints, The Press of the Oregon Historical Society, 5th edition, 839p.

Palmer Glacier, Mount Hood, Oregon

Palmer Glacier, Clackamas County. There was an unusually light snowfall in the winter of 1923-24 and as a result of this a new glacier was discovered on Mount Hood in the summer of 1924. This glacier is west of White River Glacier. Because it drained into Salmon River it was decided to name it Salmon River Glacier. The name was not satisfactory but was eventually adopted by the USBGN. At the suggestion of the compiler of these notes and with the approval of the Mazamas and other interested organizations the USBGN changed the name on February 3, 1926, to Palmer Glacier, in honor of General Joel Palmer, who may have been the first white man to attempt to climb Mount Hood. That was in 1845. ... In a letter printed in OHQ, volume VI, page 390, Archibald McDonald says that David Douglas attempted to climb Mount Hood in 1833. The compiler has been unable to get any facts about this attempt.

Palmer Peak, Multnomah County. Palmer Peak is a high point in the northeastern part of Multnomah County not far from the cliffs above the Columbia River. It has an elevation of 4010 feet and was named for General Joel Palmer, a pioneer of 1845, and a noted character in Oregon history. ... He came to Oregon from Indiana, and helped Samuel K. Barlow build the Barlow Road. He made an attempt to climb Mount Hood on October 12, 1845, and while he did not reach the top, his diary indicates that he climbed well up on the mountain, and assured himself that the summit could be reached. ...


If you have questions or comments please contact:
2008 - 2011, Lyn Topinka
Return to: Volcanoes and History | CVO Home Page