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Reminiscences of Alaska by Capt. Thomas J. Maher, C&GS

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The season was drawing to a close. Cold rain, fog and mist reduced visibility, so very little could be accomplished and the ship headed south to Seattle. In March or April of the following year (1908) Captain Derickson relieved Captain Dickins and the up triangulation across Dixon Entrance, where the British Ship "Egeria," Captain Learmouth commanding, had worked during the preceding year. The lines ranged in length from twenty to fifty miles.

Mt. Lazaroo on Duke Island was one of the important points. Its elevation is only 1778 feet and its ascent presented no particular difficulty, but a fire had recently swept the slopes of the mountain and it was covered with charred tree trunks and fallen trees. There was no trail. A party was put ashore consisting of Dr. Mahone, the ship's doctor, two seamen, a Japanese boy and myself. A senior officer who should have had this job suffered from a heart ailment and for him mountain climbing was TABOO. He was over seventy when he passed away. For a good long life, get a heart attack when in the twenties. Having dumped our gear ashore, the skipper said, "There is your mountain, get your party up there and start observing." The ship immediately got under way. Food might be missing, but never an instrument, or record books. The Executive Officer checked those items. We back packed in relays toward the peak our instruments, provisions, tents, tarpaulins, cots, blankets, signal building material, etc. The ground was water-soaked. About 10 p.m. we came to a dry, flat outcropping rock and spread our tarpaulins. We had some hot coffee and beans, then lay down and in less than ten minutes all were asleep. About 2 a.m. it started to rain and it rained for ten days. Everything except the instruments were water-soaked. The next day we pitched our tents near the summit.

Dr. Mahone insisted on taking his mattress when he left the ship. He had to pack it and it soaked water like a sponge. We were wet to the skin and filthy from climbing over burnt timber. There was much cussing. We were on an island and hadn't any boat to get away. There were no freight trains. If there had been any way of getting off, Captain Derickson, upon his return, would have found a sign nailed to a tree reading, "Not looking for glory. We have gone and we won't be back!"

Next morning, Doc and I climbed to the summit, where we saw what looked like a small white rooster. He resented our encroaching on his domain by cussing us in rooster language. Doc said, "Must be a farm here somewhere. Let us look around and see if it is safe to get that bird." There wasn't any sign of a farm, so we started shooting with small Colt automatics. That just seemed to irritate the rooster. After wasting ten shots I picked up a rock and missed him by about one foot. Well, that wasn't playing fair, so he went away. That was our first experience with ptarmigan. At that time they hadn't shed their white coats for the spring and summer gray.

Our tempers were not improved when the Japanese boy prepared the first meal. Never before nor since have I tasted anything like it. We asked him what it was; he didn't know. He said, "I never cook before; I peel potatoes and wash dishes in the galley." A cook, in those days, was never sent ashore with a camp party. The substitute was sometimes a mess boy, the second cook (dishwasher and potato peeler), or just a sailor who said he could cook (a dodge to avoid mountain climbing). However, the digestions of youngsters who hiked and climbed mountains for eight to ten hours each day and slept in the open or in tents at night, were very good.

The ship was storm-bound and was a week late in returning to our station. In the meantime we were short of chow. Medico was a crack shot with a rifle and got a large gray gander. Fortunately he shot off the bird's head. If he hit it elsewhere there would have been nothing but feathers. The rifle was an old Army gun, 45-70. There really was no danger of going hungry, as there were geese, ducks, ptarmigan, deer and shellfish. During this storm Quartermaster Gunderson was thrown overboard from the bridge of the "Gedney" in Dixon Entrance. He was an excellent seaman, in his early twenties. He was born in Heligoland. His body was not recovered. Upon completion of the work on Mt. Lazaroo, the party was shifted to Cape Muzon.

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