Lewis & Clark - Northern Passage

Apr 2019
2
Shanghai, China
Does anyone know why Lewis & Clark took the northern route to the Pacific Oceana dn not a southern route?
 
Aug 2011
208
The Castle Anthrax
There were a lot of practical reasons. The scarcity of water, hostile natives, hostile terrain, Mexico's claim to territory to name a few. Travel in that part of the world is difficult east to west or versa vice. Most of the established routes in that area were more north/south running, as are the rivers. Looking at a map, its a no brainer to follow the Missouri all the way from St. Louis to the continental divide, trek to the Snake River, then ride it all the way to the Columbia and out to sea. Having no such map, they had to piece together intelligence gathered from natives that explained the same route. The route worked well enough that they followed the same basic route back.
 
Apr 2019
2
Shanghai, China
Okay, but what about the challeneg of the mountains in the north. Was the southern route really more challenging than climbing a mountain?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,995
Dispargum
They were exploring the Louisiana Purchase. The western edge of the Louisiana Purchase most closely approaches the Pacific in the north, not in the south.

At about the same time there were other, less famous, expeditions also exploring the western reaches of the Purchase. Zebulon Pike explored the Arkansas River. Steven Long explored the Platte River. Both of them ended up in Colorado where they named peaks after themselves.

I don't know if it was known in the US at the time that the southern mountains are easier to cross. It may have been assumed that there was a continuous belt of high mountains from Canada to South America.
 
Aug 2011
208
The Castle Anthrax
Okay, but what about the challeneg of the mountains in the north. Was the southern route really more challenging than climbing a mountain?
It's actually not that bad of a route over the divide in Montana. From the east, approaches can be made from the high prairie directly to the base of the continental divide. Of course it is a climb, about 3500" up and over at most passes. Then the Clark Fork leads through the bitterroots to the Rathdrum Prairie which very nearly adjoins the Camas Prairie, which is bordered by the Snake River. Water is plentiful. Game is plentiful. During the warm months, it's not a difficult route to travel. The major difficulty is finding the route among the sea of mountains.
 
May 2017
61
florida
Better water route , Mississippi River to Missouri River . Most trappers knew that the Missouri went very far west >
 

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,790
Eastern PA
The Lewis and Clark expedition was authorized by President Jefferson in 1804 to explore the lands of the Louisiana Purchase that was completed the previous year.

The first step of the expedition started with the collection of supplies at Harper's Ferry which were transported down the Ohio River on a keel boat to the Mississippi. Supplies and manpower were accumulated there and the keel boat traveled up the Mississippi to the Missouri River. After traveling up the Missouri river as far as possible, the northern route the expedition took to the Pacific was essentially a given.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,995
Dispargum
Expanding on my earlier comment that Americans just didn't know about the mountain passes - as late as 1848 the US negotiated the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo to end the Mexican War without knowledge of the best passage through the mountains. Shortly after the treaty was ratified the US further negotiated the Gadsden Purchase to secure the Gila River route across what is now New Mexico and Arizona. So in 1804, I'm even more certain that they just didn't know about the southern passes through or over the Rockies.
 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,092
I just noticed this thread. The mountain passes mentioned most probably were known to the tribes of the various regions, and were disclosed to and followed by the L & C expedition. The native Americans knew from long experience the shortest and most efficient routes to take, and the Whites well understood this about them. That had been learned since the first movements westward by Europeans. They were not always the easiest routes, but very many were workable.

In many places modern roadways follow fairly closely the similar routes of Indian trails. Many of the rivers of North America are like a system of highways. The major part of the expedition's route was by water - from Pittsburgh to Montana as far as the Missouri River was navigable. Member Phalo has mentioned the route over the Continental Divide. The route through the mountains had been known to the Indian tribes. According to the Wiki, Lewis recorded that there was a "large and plain Indian road" over the pass which took the expedition across the Divide.

I am not familiar with the distances to the western rivers so there may have been a considerable amount of portage to get the expedition to its water route to the Pacific. Maybe others know more about that.
 
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