Meriwether Lewis

William Clark


In August of 1805, after 16 months of arduous travel, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and the Corps of Discovery were encamped near the Shoshone Indians along the Lemhi River south of today's Salmon, Idaho. They were bartering for horses and guidance westward over the Bitterroot Mountains. Clark reconnoitered the Salmon River route, apparently as far as present day Shoup, Idaho, and found it to be impassable beyond because of steep canyon walls and a rapid, rocky river.

Their Indian guide, "Old Toby", apparently unaware of a trail out of the Salmon River canyon leading over Horse Creek Pass, missed an opportunity to follow an easier and more direct passage to the West -- the southern Nez Perce Trail. Instead Toby led the Corps of Discovery up the north fork of the Salmon River, a more difficult and dangerous route, over Lost Trail Pass and down into the Bitterroot Valley. Steven Ambrose, in Undaunted Courage describes "Country so remote and rugged that nearly two full centuries later it remains basically uninhabited".  Lewis & Clark were obliged to travel a hundred miles further north -  all the while viewing, in the words of Sergeant Patrick Gass, "The most terrible mountains I ever beheld".  Lewis wrote of "Those unknown formidable snow clad mountains".  Said William Clark, "I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life."  At the northern end of the valley they crossed today's Lolo Pass, (then the northern Nez Perce Pass) traveling 160 dangerous, grueling miles in 11 days to emerge, at long last, west of the Rocky Mountains.

If they had chosen a shorter, easier southern route (see map) over the Bitterroot Crest at Horse Creek Pass, the trail would have taken them down the Bitterroot River's West Fork (through present day's Alta Meadow Ranch) --over the Nez Perce Pass and down to the headwaters of the Clearwater River. The Clearwater flows into the Snake River at Lewiston, Idaho, and the Snake leads to the Columbia - their passage to the Pacific.  The southern Nez Perce Pass, only a few miles north of Alta Meadow Ranch, now leads to the historic Magruder Road Corridor, traversing between the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

With Alta Meadow Ranch as your "base camp", you can trace the footsteps of Lewis and Clark as they faced the most daunting challenges of their remarkable journey. A circular day trip though this ruggedly beautiful country will take you over Lost Trail Pass and Horse Creek Pass. Along the way you will pass Ross' Hole, where the Corps of Discovery encountered a band of 400 Salish Indians. They were friendly and generous; the expedition acquired more horses and food for their approaching ordeal.  As Lewis and Clark descended into the Bitterroot Valley, the first of those "formidable snow clad mountains", now called Trapper Peak, appeared to the west.  It's no wonder they were worried.


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