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December 31, 1860: San Gabriel Mountains

December 31, 2010

LA from Mt Wilson by Danny McL, on Flickr

Camp 4

To the east of us lay a very precipitous chain of mountains. I had before been in a canyon in them and had climbed a few hundred feet. We now determined to ascend. We four, chief men of the Survey, drew cuts to see who should stay in camp to observe the station barometer, as one must stay, and all were anxious to go. The lot fell on me, but Averill most generously yielded his right, and I went in his place. No one had been on the highest peak, but a native agreed to pilot us to the second highest point.

We arose…and breakfasted before dawn, then waited over an hour for our guide. We rode to the base, and into a canyon about five or six miles from camp, tied our mules, and after a barometrical observation, commenced to climb. It was the steepest and hardest climb I have ever had by far. We carried up barometer, compass, and botanical box. The chaparral became almost impenetrable. It was terribly hard to climb. As we crossed from one peak to another on a very narrow ridge, the third hour, Ashburner gave out. I took his load and we left him behind. In four and a half hours’ climbing we found it impossible to make the highest peak, so we planted our tripod and put up compass and barometer. We had risen 4,200 feet above camp and 5,000 feet above the sea. Another peak rose 1,500 feet, at least, above us yet. The view was magnificent. I will attempt no lengthy description. All the lower hills to the west sank into the plain that was spread out beneath us to the very sea, and we could see a great distance, probably fifty or sixty miles, out to sea. Los Angeles, with its vineyards and all, was a mere speck on the landscape.

A little snow lay around us, and the summits above were very white. We built a fire, melted snow in my botanical box for drinking, ate our lunch, took the bearings of the most important points, and descended. All the region to the north and east was very mountainous, yet it was hard to realize that I was nearly as high as Mount Washington, and higher than the celebrated Rigi. We carried down my box full of snow for the ladies at the ranch. It was a great curiosity—the younger ones had never seen it before. One man went off in ecstasies on tasting it; he had not had snow in his hand since leaving Europe fifteen years ago.

It was long after dark when we got back. A hearty supper so much refreshed me that I spent the evening, New Year’s Eve, at Mr. Wilson’s, and spent it very pleasantly. He has a large family; there are several ladies there.

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