In April 1805, the expedition’s boat, a canoe, and 12 men returned to St. Louis loaded with reports, maps, dried plants, animal skins, Indian artifacts, and crates of other material collected by the explorers.
Lewis and Clark and the rest of the men continued west. Lewis was astounded at the size, strength, and ferocity of the grizzly bear, which often required several shots to be killed. “I had rather fight two Indians than one bear,” he observed.
By late May, the expedition had traveled more than 2,000 miles, and some of the men wondered whether the Missouri River would ever end. But on May 26, Lewis glimpsed the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the distance.
After another two months, the expedition reached the headwaters of the Missouri River, country inhabited by the Shoshone. But the men found only empty, abandoned Indian camps. The Shoshone, apparently terrified by the visitors, had gone into hiding. Finally, Lewis surprised three Indian women and convinced them he was friendly. When the Shoshone chief, Cameahwait, arrived at the white man’s camp,
Sacajawea burst into tears and embraced him. The chief was her brother. When the expedition left the Shoshone in late August, the tribe provided it with 29 horses and a new guide named Toby, though Sacajawea continued to travel with the expedition.
For three weeks in September 1805, the party struggled through the Bitterroot Mountains. The terrain was treacherous with thick forest covering steep, rocky slopes. Food supplies ran desperately low. Worse, snow came down in sheets, making the party miserable.
Clark recalled being “wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life.” They finally reached a Nez Perce Indian village, where the expedition rested and built the canoes for the last leg of the journey.
The rivers now all flowed west to the Pacific, and Lewis and Clark led the party down the Columbia River into a land of rain forests and thick fog. On November 7, 1805, they paddled into Gray Bay, where they could hear the roar of ocean waves pounding on the shore. “Ocean in view! Oh! The joy!” wrote Clark.