[Today] Gardner and Hoffmann went on a peak about twelve thousand feet, which commands a comprehensive view of all the ground we have been over lately; while two soldiers, Dick, and I explored ahead for a trail. We were unsuccessful, but we got on a ridge over eleven thousand feet high that commands a stupendous view. The deep canyons on all sides, the barren granite slopes, clear little lakes that occupy the beds of ancient glaciers, the sharp ridges, the high peaks, some of them rising to above fourteen thousand feet, like huge granite spires—all lay around, forming a scene of indescribable sublimity.
We killed a rattlesnake at ten thousand feet. I have never before seen them so high in the mountains. Dick also killed a grouse, a fine bird nearly as large as a big hen, and splendid eating.
[A] soldier had explored another canyon, and reported that we could get out to the north that way, so [today] we started, and came to this camp. It was worse than any of our other trails. We are not over 4 1/2 or 5 miles from our last camp, and have come up over four thousand feet!
It was heavy for our animals. Twice we had very steep slopes for a thousand feet together, where it seemed at first that no animal could get up with a pack. Once our pack horse fell, turned a complete somersault over a bowlder, and landed below squarely on his feet, when he kept on his way as if nothing had happened. His pack remained firm and he was not hurt in the least. Fortunately it was not so steep there. There were places where if an animal had once started he would have rolled several hundred feet, but all went safely over. We camped at a little over nine thousand feet where we are now, by a meadow on the hillside where we have a grand view of the peaks in front and the canyon beneath us.
[Today] we started in different directions. Hoffmann and Gardner climbed the cliffs on the south side. They got up two thousand feet by hard climbing, only to find walls a thousand feet above them which they could not scale. I explored a side canyon, to the [north], where the Indian foot trail ran, to see if we could get out that way with our animals. I had a grand climb, but found the way entirely inaccessible for horses. I followed up a canyon, the sides grand precipices, with here and there a fine waterfall or series of cascades, making a line of foam down the cliffs. I climbed over bowlders and through brush, got up above two very fine waterfalls, one of which is the finest that I have seen in this state outside of Yosemite. I had a hard day’s work.
We left there [this] morning and worked up the valley about ten miles. Next to Yosemite this is the grandest canyon I have ever seen. It much resembles Yosemite and almost rivals it. A pretty valley or flat half a mile wide lies along the river, in places rough and strewn with bowlders, and in others level and covered with trees. On both sides rise tremendous granite precipices, of every shape, often nearly perpendicular, rising from 2,500 feet to above 4,000 feet. They did not form a continuous wall, but rose in high points, with canyons coming down here and there, and with fissures, gashes, and gorges. The whole scene was sublime—the valley below, the swift river roaring by, the stupendous cliffs standing against a sky of intensest blue, the forests through which we rode. We would look up through the branches and see the clear sky and grand rocks, or occasionally, as we crossed an open space, we would get more comprehensive views.We camped at the head of this valley by a fine grassy meadow where the stream forked. On both sides rose grand walls of granite about three thousand feet high, while between the forks was a stupendous rock, bare and rugged, over four thousand feet high. We luxuriated on trout for the next two meals. The rattlesnakes were thick—four were killed this day.
[Today] we continued, and in about four miles came on a camp of half a dozen men, prospectors, who had crossed the mountains from Owens Valley and had worked their way thus far. Never before were so many white men in this solitude. Three of them were going back, and luckily for us, showed us the way into the canyon of Kings River.
Thomas Keough:It was a horrible trail. Once, while we were working along the steep, rocky side of a hill, where it was very steep and very rough, old Nell, our pack-mule, fell and rolled over and over down the bank upward of a hundred and fifty feet. Of course, we thought her killed. She rolled against a log which stopped her, but a part of her pack went farther. Strangely, she was not seriously hurt. We got her back to the trail, put on her pack, and she has packed it since. A bag of flour went rolling down the hill, burst, and we lost a part of it.
On July 4, 1864, eleven of us started from Independence on a prospecting trip through the Sierras. Our first task was to build a trail up Little Pine Creek on the east cliff of the mountains….We called the pass “Little Pine Pass,” after Little Pine Creek, which heads near the pass. It was a rough trail we built, but it sufficed for our purposes and we got our animals up over it….When we got up over the pass five decided to return, leaving six of us to go on.
We went westerly down the South Fork of the King’s River until the cañon became impassable. In the cañon we met a number of scientists headed by Professor Brewer. They named Mt. Brewer after him. Prof. Brewer was trying to find a way across the mountains, and we told him how to get into Owen’s Valley over the pass by the trail we had just built.
We sank into the canyon of the main South Fork of Kings River, a tremendous canyon. We wound down the steep side of the hill, for over three thousand feet, often just as steep as animals could get down….We got into the canyon of the South Fork of Kings River, and forded the stream, which is quite a river where we crossed, and camped at a fine meadow in the valley. It [is] a very picturesque camp, granite precipices rising on both sides to immense height. The river swarm[s] with trout; I never saw them thicker. The boys went to fishing and soon caught about forty, while the soldiers caught about as many more.
Hoffmann and Gardner had been to Thomas’ Mill and had obtained the provisions we had there. We were now ready, and [today] we started and came on about seven miles. There are seven soldiers with us, fine fellows, who are right glad to get out of the hot camp at Visalia. They are mounted, armed with Sharp’s carbines and revolvers, and have a month’s rations on three pack mules. We made quite a cavalcade—eleven men and sixteen animals—and left quite a trail. We followed back on an old Indian foot trail, a hard trail. Once, one of their pack-mules upset and tumbled down some rocks. He was bruised and cut, but not seriously injured. We camped at a fine meadow. The boys saw a bear, but he got away.
I got back to the Big Meadows [this] afternoon.