Monday, August 18, 2014

Dismal Nitch

With Nancy J. Farrier

Looking across the Columbia River from Oregon
toward Dismal Nitch, Washington
Imagine that you have been traveling for months. You are out of fresh food. The clothes you have with you are falling off your back. You have a deadline, and if you don’t make the rendezvous you won’t be able to resupply—or to fulfill your mission.

These conditions are what Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, along with their Corps of Discovery, experienced in November of 1805. They were dispatched in 1803 by President Jefferson and had traveled hundreds of miles through uncharted territory. By late 1805 they were on the lower Columbia River, on the last leg of their destination to reach the Pacific Ocean, trying their best to meet the last of the trading ships before the winter weather became too severe. If they met the ship in time, they could send their journals and collected items home to the President. They would also have the chance to resupply using the letter of credit President Jefferson had given them before they departed. They could charge enough food and clothing to last them until they could return back east.

Looking across the Columbia River
What they didn’t count on was the fierce winter storm that moved in before they could meet the ship. Lashing rains and high winds made continuing on too precarious. The only place close to them, a steep, forested area that had a series of coves and nitches, provided meager protection. As the weather worsened,
they took shelter just upriver from the modern day Dismal Nitch.

Dismal Nitch Rest Area
That night they were battered by the weather. Soaked and freezing, the next day they faced thunder, lightning and hail. Clark wrote of their experience, "As our situation became Seriously dangerous, we took the advantage of a low tide & moved our Camp around a point a Short distance to a Small wet bottom at the mouth of a Small Creek (Megler Creek), which we had observed when we first came to this cove…"

The storm continued to batter the small party. They became discouraged with their circumstances and the possibility they would find no relief. Finally, on November 10th, Clark woke to calm weather. He describes their exodus in this way, "About 3 oClock the wind lulled and the river became calm, I had the canoes loaded in great haste and Set Out, from this dismal nitch where we have been confined for 6 days…"

Lewis and Clark, as we know, made it to the Pacific Ocean. Their journey is documented and they were hailed as some of the greatest of the early explorers. After they rendezvoused with the ship, only eleven of their men continued on with them to reach the ocean. Their forced stay at Dismal Nitch proved too disheartening for many of the party.

Bridge to Dismal Nitch
Today, there is a 4.1 mile bridge spanning the Columbia between Astoria, Oregon and the Dismal Nitch Rest Area on the Washington side of the river. The scenery is beautiful. Many people enjoy bird watching, hiking or observing the ships that run up and down the Columbia River. The Lewis and Clark National Park encompasses parts of both sides of the Columbia River.

Bridge Looking to Oregon Side
The day we came across the Dismal Nitch Rest Area, the weather was a bit dismal. Cold rain lashed the landscape, but didn’t detract from the beauty. However, we were in a car, protected from the elements. As I studied the story of Dismal Nitch, I thought about those men who spent days in miserable conditions. Their bravery and fortitude in the face of difficulty is to be commended.

Have you ever been discouraged by a trip going awry? Did you continue on? I recall a time when our five kids were pretty young and we went on a vacation only to have one thing after another go wrong. At one point, my husband and I stepped aside and considered giving up and going back home. We decided to continue on. I don’t recollect all the discouragements of that trip, but I do remember some of the delights. I’m very glad we didn’t give up.

Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and one grandson. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. I really enjoy following and reading about these historic trails. I've seen a couple of the Lew and Clark sites but want to see so many more on my next trip to the NW. following the Spanish Trail now through CO, NV, & NM on our current road trip, sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Sharon, this sounds like a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love the name, Dismal Nitch. I've never been to Washington or Oregon. Enjoyed the post, Nancy. I'm so glad I wasn't on the trial with Lewis and Clark. I've been on one too many trips gone awry but at least I was in a car. :)

    1. Jill, I thought our trip had become a bit dismal until I read about the Lewis and Clark difficulties. Hard to imagine going through all that.