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January 26, 1861: Santa Ana Mountains

January 26, 2011

Looking over Orange County from Santiago Peak, 12-23-1974

Orange County from Santiago Peak, Santa Ana Mountains; photo courtesy of Orange County Archives

Camp 10

[Today] we were up and breakfasted at dawn, and as soon as it was light enough we started. Professor Whitney carried barometer, hammer and bag, and canteen of water; I, a compass and tripod, level, spyglass, provisions, and another canteen. We had heard such big stories of animals that, by the advice of all, each carried a heavy revolver loaded with slugs, and a heavy bowie, for emergencies. We carried some bread, a little meat, and some panoli. This last is made by the Indians here, and is pulverized roasted corn—when mixed with some water and with some sugar is very refreshing as a drink, sustaining one as hardly anything else will, as we found that day. These, with a few other small items made up our burdens.


Santiago Peak and Modjeska Peak, Santa Ana Mountains; by desearls, on Flickr

We struck up the canyon a short distance. The granite sides were generally inaccessible, but at last we took up a slope exceedingly steep, some thirty-three degrees (the roof of an ordinary house is but twenty-three degrees). Vigorous climbing in due time brought us on a ridge, where the rising sun greeted us, first gilding the snowy peaks in the distance, and then flooding the valley below us in light and casting dark shadows in the canyons of the Temescal Range opposite. Several very steep slopes were surmounted until we gained a ridge at 2,200 or 2,500 feet, which runs laterally from the central chain. Here we found a few pine and fir trees. The chaparral became more dense, but by following the ridge we found in places a trail worn by deer and other animals. Tracks of deer, wildcats, and coyotes (small wolves), with their other traces, were numerous. Here we reached the highest point I had climbed to three days before, and we made it in a little over two hours.

The sun came out hotter, thawing the frozen ground, making it slippery in places, and increasing our thirst—our canteens were often used. After another hour’s climbing I lost the plug to my canteen, so we stopped and mixed the water left in it with panoli, and after dispatching it and resting, felt decidedly refreshed and in fine climbing trim.

Now commenced the real hard work of our ascent. We had risen much over half the height to be gained, but in places we had to climb over cragged granite rocks, and then walk over a steep slippery slope of decomposing feldspar. The stones which were loosened by our feet went bounding away into the canyons sometimes hundreds of feet beneath. But the real difficulty was the chaparral, which in places seemed absolutely impenetrable—a tangled mass of stiff, interlaced, thorny shrubs. Sometimes we broke them down (our hatchet had been lost), sometimes tore through, sometimes crawled on our hands and knees a long distance. At one time nearly an hour was consumed in making probably sixty or eighty rods. I had rigged up an old pair of pants for the occasion, but they were “nowhere”—they were torn to shreds. My drawers “followed suit” and left my legs to the mercy of the thorns. I had to go ahead, as the Professor carried the barometer. His shirt fared as badly as my pants, but my shirt stood it with only a few tears.

At last, after over six hours of the most vigorous climbing, we reached the summit [Santiago Peak]. We had found snow for the last two hours of our climb, and a cold, piercing, raw wind fairly shrieked over the summit. We went about thirty feet below to hang the barometer in the bushes. After half an hour’s observations, eating our lunch, and drinking the rest of our panoli we put up the barometer, and planted our compass on the summit to get the bearings of the conspicuous objects around. It was so cold that I could scarcely write the bearings as read off.

But the view more than repaid us for all we had endured. It was one of the grandest I ever saw. Not less than ten or twelve thousand square miles were spread out in the field of vision; or, if we take the territory embraced within the extreme points—land and sea—more than twice that amount. We were on the highest point of the Santa Ana Range. To the west and south lay the sea, 150 miles of the coast in full view, from Point Duma to the islands off Lower California, Los Coronados. Table Mountain in Lower California was in full view on the horizon. The whole plain along the sea lay to the northwest: the plain of Los Angeles and beyond, some eighty or ninety miles to the Sierra Santa Monica, with the Santa Clara Mountains much farther still, the tops covered with snow, 125 or 150 miles distant (much more by road). We could see out on the Pacific a hundred miles from the coast, with the islands of Santa Barbara, San Miguel, etc., visible.

To the north lay the chain we were on, gradually growing lower, and at last sinking into the plain; beyond that the snow-covered Sierra Madre, the highest peaks nine thousand or more feet. A desert at the base, although eighteen or twenty miles across, seemed but a brown level field. In the northeast the great mass of San Bernardino with its many ridges shut out the farther view; it was probably fifty miles distant. A sort of plain stretches from its base to us, like the sea, with numerous rocky hills rising from it, like islands, some twenty or thirty miles in extent, but far beneath us. The scene in this direction, as well as to the southeast, was desolate in the extreme—dry, almost desert, broken into rough, rugged, rocky ridges, or dry valleys—no forests, no water or rivers to amount to anything—a country nature had not favored.

Time was short, we must hurry. We had to pass the same chaparral. Trying an easier way in one direction for a short distance, we found trails, but the traces of grizzlies grew so very numerous, that we took to the ridge again.

The sun set while we had a thousand feet still to descend. We saw it gild the snowy peaks on the horizon. Tired as we were, we were not too tired to admire the beauties of that sunset. It was just dark as we got back. Pete had shot some quail and rabbits, and had them served in their best style, and how that meal tasted! We cut a sorry figure as we came back—clothes torn, parts out, boots ruined, scratched, bleeding, bruised, dirty, and tired, I was nearer used up than I had been before; the Professor stood it better. But a hearty supper, early to bed, and late up in the morning, worked wonders. More quail for breakfast, then a most luxurious bath at the warm sulphur springs, and, save bruises and scratches, I was myself again. Our barometrical observations made the height of the peak 4,900 feet above camp and 5,675 above the sea.

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