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July 26, 1861: Panoche Pass

July 26, 2011

Panoche Road 07

Abandoned house, Panoche Road east of Panoche Pass; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 40

[Today] was another hot day. It was impossible to move Sleepy, so after breakfast the rest of the party went on, leaving Hoffmann, Guirado, and me with him, the rest taking all the baggage to the next camp, fifteen miles distant, at Booker’s.

Leaving Guirado with the mule, Hoffmann and I started to visit some hills in the vicinity. We toiled up—temperature 98° to 102° all the time—crossed a ridge, then a deep canyon, then on to another ridge, where we found a worse canyon between us and the peak we desired to scale. But, oh, how hot it was! At times there was a wind more scorching than the still air.

One observation will explain. You all know that evaporation produces cold. If we take two thermometers and keep the bulb of one wet it will sink below the other, the drier the air the more the difference between the wet and dry bulb. In our eastern climate a difference of ten degrees F. is considered very high. I think it is very rarely as much as that in our driest times. I had a thermometer along, and when it had stood at 99° or 100° (the latter heat was observed at the time of the experiment), by merely wetting it with saliva from my tongue, it sank in a few seconds to 64°—or, it sank thirty-five degrees F. I dare say, an ordinary “wet bulb,” where the bulb is covered with cotton and wet with water, would have sunk much lower. Such is that climate! The deserts of Africa are not hotter nor drier than this region at this season, the difference being that here there is rain in the winter. You cannot conceive the thirst that this dry air rapidly creates.

We were very dry, but it was desirable that we scale the peak, so we pushed on. I began to regret that we had attempted to make the peak, when we suddenly and unexpectedly came upon a little spring; the only one, we afterwards learned, within several miles, and this will be dry soon. We stopped there half an hour, and then, refreshed, started on and soon planted our barometer and compass on the peak. It commanded a magnificent view as regards extent, but a desolate one. It was about 2,000 feet above camp, and 3,500 or 4,000 feet above the sea, yet the thermometer stood 98° and 99°, at times 100°, on the summit, and in the breeze!

We were back to camp at three or four o’clock, took our dinner of bread, out of which all moisture had dried, and fat bacon, which we roasted by holding slices on a stick over the fire, and washed the whole down with water neither very pure nor cool—not a luxurious meal, but our appetites proved a good sauce.

We sent Guirado on to the camp where the rest were. We stayed. We had only one saddle blanket, which was insufficient, and the gravel on the rocky ground made a poorer bed than usual. But how clear the sky was at that height! The myriad stars shone with more than the splendor of a winter’s night, and at midnight the moon came up and lit up the scene. We were out of food, but the man who herded the sheep most hospitably offered us his fare, which we thankfully partook of—fried beans, dry bread, and poor coffee without sugar, but it was sufficient.

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