On Wednesday, September 27th, we again took the field, with two Cossacks, a Korak interpreter, eight or ten men, and fourteen horses. A little snow fell on the day previous to our departure, but it did not materially affect the road, and only served as a warning to us that winter was at hand, and we should not expect much more pleasant weather. We made our way as rapidly as possible along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, partly on the beach under the cliffs, and partly over low wooded hills and valleys, extending down to the coast from the central mountain range. We passed the settlements of Amanina (ah-man'-in-ah), Vaempolka (vah-yem'-pol-kah), Kakhtana (kakh'-tan-ah'), and Polan (po-lahn'), changing horses and men at every village and finally, on the 3d of October, reached Lesnoi - the last Kamchadal settlement in the peninsula. Lesnoi was situated, as nearly as we could ascertain, in lat. 59 deg. 20', long. 160 deg. 25', about a hundred and fifty versts south of the Korak steppes, and nearly two hundred miles in an air line from the settlement of Gizhiga, which for the present was our objective point.

We had hitherto experienced little difficulty in making our way through the peninsula, as we had been especially favoured by weather, and there had been few natural obstacles to stop or delay our progress. Now, however, we were about to enter a wilderness which was entirely uninhabited, and little known even to our Kamchadal guides. North of Lesnoi the great central range of the Kamchatka mountains broke off abruptly into the Okhotsk Sea, in a long line of tremendous precipices, and interposed a great rugged wall between us and the steppes of the Wandering Koraks. This mountain range was very difficult to pass with horses, even in midsummer, and was of course infinitely worse now, when the mountain streams were swollen by the fall rains into foaming torrents, and the storms which herald the approach of winter might be at any moment expected. The Kamchadals at Lesnoi declared positively that it was of no use to attempt to cross this range until the rivers should freeze over and snow enough fall to permit the use of dog-sledges, and that they were not willing to risk fifteen or twenty horses, to say nothing of their own lives, in any such adventure. The Major told them, in language more expressive than polite, that he didn't believe a word of any such yarn; that the mountains had to be crossed, and that go they must and should. They had evidently never had to deal before with any such determined, self-willed individual as the Major proved to be, and, after some consultation among themselves, they agreed to make the attempt with eight unloaded horses, leaving all our baggage and heavy equipage at Lesnoi. This the Major at first would not listen to; but after thinking the situation over he decided to divide our small force into two parties - one to go around the mountains by water with the whale-boat and heavy baggage, and one over them with twenty unloaded horses. The road over the mountains was supposed to lie near the seacoast, so that the land party would be most of the time within signalling distance of the whale-boat, and in case either party met with any accident or found its progress stopped by unforeseen obstacles the other could come to its assistance. Near the middle of the mountainous tract, just west of the principal ridge, there was said to be a small river called the Samanka (sa-mahn'-kah), and the mouth of this river was agreed upon as a rendezvous for the two parties in case they lost sight of each other during storms or foggy weather. The Major decided to go with Dodd in the whale-boat, and gave me command of the land party, consisting of our best Cossack, Viushin, six Kamchadals, and twenty light horses. Flags were made, a code of signals was agreed upon, the heavy baggage was transferred to the whale-boat and a large sealskin canoe, and early on the morning of October 4th I bade the Major and Dodd good-bye at the beach, and they pushed off. We started up our train of horses as the boats disappeared around a projecting bluff, and cantered away briskly across the valley toward a gap in the mountains, through which we entered the "wilderness." The road for the first ten or fifteen versts was very good; but I was surprised to find that, instead of leading us along the seashore, it went directly back into the mountains away from the sea, and I began to fear that our arrangements for cooperation would be of little avail. Thinking that the whale-boat would not probably get far the first day under oars and without wind, we encamped early in a narrow valley between two parallel ranges of mountains. I tried, by climbing a low mountain back of our tent, to get a sight of the sea; but we were at least fifteen versts from the coast, and the view was limited by an intervening range of rugged peaks, many of which reach the altitude of perpetual snow. It was rather lonely to camp that night without seeing Dodd's cheerful face by the fireside, and I missed more than I thought I should the lively sallies, comical stories and good-humoured pleasantry which had hitherto brightened the long hours of camp life. If Dodd could have read my thoughts that evening, as I sat in solitary majesty by the fireside, he would have been satisfied that his society was not unappreciated, nor his absence unfelt. Viushin took especial pains with the preparation of my supper, and did the best he could, poor fellow, to enliven the solitary meal with stories and funny reminiscences of Kamchatkan travel; but the venison cutlets had lost somehow their usual savour, and the Russian jokes and stories I could not understand. After supper I lay down upon my bearskins in the tent, and fell asleep watching the round moon rise over a ragged volcanic peak east of the valley.

On the second day we travelled through a narrow tortuous valley among the mountains, over spongy swamps of moss, and across deep narrow creeks, until we reached a ruined subterranean hut nearly half way from Lesnoi to the Samanka River. Here we ate a lunch of dried fish and hardbread, and started again up the valley in a heavy rain-storm, surrounded on all sides by rocks, snow-capped mountains, and extinct volcanic peaks. The road momentarily grew worse. The valley narrowed gradually to a wild rocky canon, a hundred and fifty feet in depth, at the bottom of which ran a swollen mountain torrent, foaming around sharp black rocks, and falling over ledges of lava in magnificent cascades. Along the black precipitous sides of this "Devil's Pass" there did not seem to be footing for a chamois; but our guide said that he had been through it many times before, and dismounting from his horse he cautiously led the way along a narrow rocky ledge in the face of the cliff which I had not before noticed. Over this we carefully made our way, now descending nearly to the water's edge, and then rising again until the roaring stream was fifty feet below, and we could drop stones from our outstretched arms directly into the boiling, foaming waters. Presuming too much upon the sagacity of a sure-footed horse, I carelessly attempted the passage of the ravine without dismounting, and came near paying the penalty of my rashness by a violent death. About half way through, where the trail was only eight or ten feet above the bed of the torrent, the ledge, or a portion of it, gave way under my horse's feet, and we went down together in a struggling mass upon the rocks in the channel of the stream. I had taken the precaution to disengage my feet from the treacherous iron stirrups, and as we fell I threw myself toward the face of the cliff so as to avoid being crushed by my horse. The fall was not a very long one, and I came down uppermost, but narrowly escaped having my head broken by my animal's hoofs as he struggled to regain his feet. He was somewhat cut and bruised, but not seriously hurt, and tightening the saddle-girth I waded along through the water, leading him after me until I was able to regain the path. Then climbing into the saddle again, with dripping clothes and somewhat shaken nerves, I rode on.

Just before dark we reached a point where further progress in that direction seemed to be absolutely cut off by a range of high mountains which ran directly across the valley. It was the central ridge of the Samanka Mountains. I looked around with a glance of inquiring surprise at the guide, who pointed directly over the range, and said that there lay our road. A forest of birch extended about half way up the mountain side, and was succeeded by low evergreen bushes, trailing-pine, and finally by bare black rocks rising high over all, where not even the hardy reindeer-moss could find soil enough to bury its roots. I no longer wondered at the positive declaration of the Kamchadals, that with loaded horses it would be impossible to cross, and began to doubt whether it could be done even with light horses. It looked very dubious to me, accustomed as I was to rough climbing and mountain roads. I decided to camp at once where we were, and obtain as much rest as possible, so that we and our horses would be fresh for the hard day's work which evidently lay before us. Night closed in early and gloomily, the rain still falling in torrents, so that we had no opportunity of drying our wet clothes. I longed for a drink of brandy to warm my chilled blood, but my pocket flask had been forgotten in the hurry of our departure from Lesnoi, and I was obliged to content myself with the milder stimulus of hot tea. My bedding, having been wrapped up in an oilcloth blanket, was fortunately dry, and crawling feet first, wet as I was, into my bearskin bag, and covering up warmly with heavy blankets, I slept in comparative comfort.

Viushin waked me early in the morning with the announcement that it was snowing. I rose hastily and putting aside the canvas of the tent looked out. That which I most dreaded had happened. A driving snowstorm was sweeping down the valley, and Nature had assumed suddenly the stern aspect and white pitiless garb of winter. Snow had already fallen to a depth of three inches in the valley, and on the mountains, of course, it would be deep, soft, and drifted. I hesitated for a moment about attempting to cross the rugged range in such weather; but my orders were imperative to go on at least to the Samanka River, and a failure to do so might defeat the object of the whole expedition. Previous experience convinced me that the Major would not let a storm interfere with the execution of his plans; and if he should succeed in reaching the Samanka River and I should not, I never could recover from the mortification of the failure, nor be able to convince him that Anglo-Saxon blood was as good as Slavonic. I reluctantly gave the order therefore to break camp, and as soon as the horses could be collected and saddled we started for the base of the mountain range. Hardly had we ascended two hundred feet out of the shelter of the valley before we were met by a hurricane of wind from the northeast, which swept blinding, suffocating clouds of snow down the slope into our faces until earth and sky seemed mingled and lost in a great white whirling mist. The ascent soon became so steep and rocky that we could no longer ride our horses up it. We therefore dismounted, and wading laboriously through deep soft drifts, and climbing painfully over sharp jagged rocks, which cut open our sealskin boots, we dragged our horses slowly upward. We had ascended wearily in this way perhaps a thousand feet, when I became so exhausted that I was compelled to lie down. The snow in many places was drifted as high as my waist, and my horse refused to take a step until he was absolutely dragged to it. After a rest of a few moments we pushed on, and after another hour of hard work we succeeded in gaining what seemed to be the crest of the mountain, perhaps 2000 feet above the sea. Here the fury of the wind was almost irresistible. Dense clouds of driving snow hid everything from sight at a distance of a few steps, and we seemed to be standing on a fragment of a wrecked world enveloped in a whirling tempest of stinging snowflakes. Now and then a black volcanic crag, inaccessible as the peak of the Matterhorn, would loom out in the white mist far above our heads, as if suspended in mid-air, giving a startling momentary wildness to the scene; then it would disappear again in flying snow, and leave us staring blindly into vacancy. A long fringe of icicles hung round the visor of my cap, and my clothes, drenched with the heavy rain of the previous day, froze into a stiff crackling armour of ice upon my body. Blinded by the snow, with benumbed limbs and chattering teeth, I mounted my horse and let him go where he would, only entreating the guide to hurry and get down somewhere off from this exposed position. He tried in vain to compel his horse to face the storm. Neither shouts nor blows could force him to turn round, and he was obliged finally to ride along the crest of the mountain to the eastward. We went down into a comparatively sheltered valley, up again upon another ridge higher than the first, around the side of a conical peak where the wind blew with great force, down into another deep ravine and up still another ridge, until I lost entirely the direction of our route and the points of the compass, and had not the slightest idea where we were going. I only knew that we were half frozen and in a perfect wilderness of mountains.

I had noticed several times within half an hour that our guide was holding frequent and anxious consultations with the other Kamchadals about our road, and that he seemed to be confused and in doubt as to the direction in which we ought to go. He now came to me with a gloomy face, and confessed that we were lost. I could not blame the poor fellow for losing the road in such a storm, but I told him to go on in what he believed to be the direction of the Samanka River, and if we succeeded in finding somewhere a sheltered valley we would camp and wait for better weather. I wished to caution him also against riding accidentally over the edges of precipices in the blinding snow, but I could not speak Russian enough to make myself understood.

We wandered on aimlessly for two hours, over ridges, up peaks, and down into shallow valleys, getting deeper and deeper apparently into the heart of the mountains but finding no shelter from the storm. It became evident that something must be done, or we should all freeze to death. I finally called the guide, told him I would take the lead myself, and opening my little pocket compass, showed him the direction of the sea-coast. In that direction I determined to go until we should come out somewhere. He looked in stupid wonder for a moment at the little brass box with its trembling needle, and then cried out despairingly, "Oh, Barin! How does the come-pass know anything about these accursed mountains? The come-pass never has been over this road before. I've travelled here all my life, and, God forgive me, I don't know where the sea is!" Hungry, anxious, and half frozen as I was, I could not help smiling at our guide's idea of an inexperienced compass which had never travelled in Kamchatka, and could not therefore know anything about the road. I assured him confidently that the "come-pass" was a great expert at finding the sea in a storm; but he shook his head mournfully, as if he had little faith in its abilities, and refused to go in the direction that I indicated. Finding it impossible to make my horse face the wind, I dismounted, and, compass in hand, led him away in the direction of the sea, followed by Viushin, who, with an enormous bearskin wrapped around his head, looked like some wild animal. The guide, seeing that we were determined to trust in the compass, finally concluded to go with us. Our progress was necessarily very slow, as the snow was deep, our limbs chilled and stiffened by their icy covering, and a hurricane of wind blowing in our faces. About the middle of the afternoon, however, we came suddenly out upon the very brink of a storm-swept precipice a hundred and fifty feet in depth, against the base of which the sea was hurling tremendous green breakers with a roar that drowned the rushing noise of the wind. I had never imagined so wild and lonely a scene. Behind and around us lay a wilderness of white, desolate peaks, crowded together under a grey, pitiless sky, with here and there a patch of trailing-pine, or a black pinnacle of trap-rock, to intensify by contrast the ghastly whiteness and desolation of the weird snowy mountains. In front, but far below, was the troubled sea, rolling mysteriously out of a grey mist of snowflakes, breaking in thick sheets of clotted froth against the black cliff, and making long reverberations, and hollow, gurgling noises in the subterranean caverns which it had hollowed out. Snow, water, and mountains, and in the foreground a little group of ice-covered men and shaggy horses, staring at the sea from the summit of a mighty cliff! It was a simple picture, but it was full of cheerless, mournful suggestions. Our guide, after looking eagerly up and down the gloomy precipitous coast in search of some familiar landmark, finally turned to me with a brighter face, and asked to see the compass. I unscrewed the cover and showed him the blue quivering needle still pointing to the north. He examined it curiously, but with evident respect for its mysterious powers, and at last said that it was truly a "great master," and wanted to know if it always pointed toward the sea! I tried to explain to him its nature and use, but I could not make him understand, and he walked away firmly believing that there was something uncanny and supernatural about a little brass box that could point out the road to the sea in a country where it had never before been!

We pushed on to the northward throughout the afternoon, keeping as near the coast as possible, winding around among the thickly scattered peaks and crossing no less than nine low ridges of the mountain range.

I noticed throughout the day the peculiar phenomenon of which I had read in Tyndall's Glaciers of the Alps - the blue light which seemed to fill every footprint and little crevice in the snow. The hole made by a long slender stick was fairly luminous with what appeared to be deep blue vapour. I never saw this singular phenomenon so marked at any other time during nearly three years of northern travel.

About an hour after dark we rode down into a deep lonely valley, which came out, our guide said, upon the sea beach near the mouth of the Samanka River. Here no snow had fallen, but it was raining heavily. I thought it hardly possible that the Major and Dodd could have reached the appointed rendezvous in such a storm; but I directed the men to pitch the tent, while Viushin and I rode on to the mouth of the river to ascertain whether the whale-boat had arrived or not. It was too dark to see anything distinctly, but we found no evidence that human beings had ever been there, and returned disappointed to camp. We were never more glad to get under a tent, eat supper, and crawl into our bearskin sleeping-bags, than after that exhausting day's work. Our clothes had been either wet or frozen for nearly forty-eight hours, and we had been fourteen hours on foot and in the saddle, without warm food or rest.