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August 15, 1861: New Almaden

August 15, 2011

Camp 46

[Today], we were up before four, ate our breakfast by the light of the stars, and at five were on hand at the rendezvous, punctual, as we always are. Our aneroid had not arrived the previous evening by express, as was expected, but we found the expressman—he had it—returned to camp, unpacked it, got our other barometer, got back—the rest not ready. Two long hours were consumed before we got the party off, eight persons instead of five—Averill, Hoffmann, and I, of our party, Mr. Day, Wilson (a young Englishman who had never climbed a mountain), a Doctor Cobb, a Mr. Reed, and our guide. Mrs. Day insisted on putting up our lunch, so we could not well carry along any other. We were to ride to the foot of the chaparral, about 1,500 feet above camp, leave our horses by a spring—then, two hours’ climb to the summit, 2,000 feet above. A single gallon canteen was to be amply sufficient for the ascent—since there was such a fine spring on the summit! To be sure, none of the party had ever been there, but we had the minutest directions.

Well, we reached the water, unsaddled, found good water but very scanty; it took an hour to get enough for our horses and mules. I hung up my barometer for observations, when we found the aneroid smashed—a total wreck. I had not examined it in the morning; Averill had carried it, and it must have been broken in the express on the way from San Francisco.

It was ten o’clock when we started from there, the time we were to have been at the summit, at the very latest. Our visitors “pitched in” vigorously on the start. I remonstrated, told them they never could stand it. It was hot, the hill steep. Mr. Day had once or twice said he “knew more about mountain traveling than any of us.” Five hundred feet were gained, some began to lag, the perspiration streamed, our green climbers pitched into the water, scarce as it was, rested, pushed on, some fell behind, and before we had ascended a thousand feet the intense heat, dense chaparral, and hard climbing told so fearfully that two gave out, drank up part of the water, rested, then went back. Averill went back with them, foreseeing a hard time, and fearing he would give out. The rest of us pushed on exultingly—hotter, more chaparral, greenies hotter, so they drank up the water.

At last the summit of Mount Choual, 3,400 feet, is reached. All are terribly thirsty, it is most intensely hot, all pant, all are dry. Here we lunch, for it is noon, in the heat, in the sun, of 136°, and no shade, no air, no water—and our lunch such as was fitting for a picnic. The butter had melted and streamed over everything—of course, we stood the best chance, being used to all kinds of fare.

Here two more gave out, as the hardest of the work was still ahead. Mr. Day’s “knowledge of mountain climbing” was hardly sufficient; he lay panting under the bushes and I feared for his safety. Four of us pushed on, intensely thirsty, but water lay ahead at the summit. We descended a few hundred feet through bad chaparral, then over a knob four or five hundred feet high, then descended again as much more. Here we got into a terrible chaparral. We toiled, tugged, worked, and lucky were those without instruments. We got so tired that, finding a shady spot under the dense brush, we lay down and rested or slept half an hour—quite refreshing. Strange, all dreamed of water. Our guide was hardy—he stood it well. Poor Wilson vowed that a “pleasure trip” would never get him on a mountain again. Our last ascent was a toilsome one, but soon after three o’clock we stood on the summit, 3,800 feet high, as nearly used up a set of men as you ever saw.

Water would have readily brought five dollars a quart, and sherry cobblers would have been above price—but there was no spring, no water. We must return; some feared they never could get back. I have not suffered so before with thirst—it was terrific. It was half past three when we got the instruments set; no one admired the landscape. One who gave out behind, pushed on and gained the summit; but, finding no water, all started back except Hoffmann and I, who stayed until after four o’clock taking our observations. Hoffmann’s eyes looked as sunken, his visage as haggard, as if he had been on hard fare for two weeks. I suspect I looked worse, for I had carried the barometer, level, etc. He carried the compass, tripod, and sketch book—but the fine view was left unsketched—only the topographical bearings and barometrical observations were taken. As before remarked, the rest started back, and straggled to the spring, one by one, haggard, used up, faint—some staggering, so faint—disgusted in general with mountain climbing.

Hoffmann and I took it back more slowly, often lying down to rest, and it was after sunset when we got back to the spring. Averill came up a few hundred feet and met us with a canteen of water. We soon drained the gallon between us, and were quite fresh when we reached the others. We soon saddled up, rode back by the bright light of the moon, and at half past nine were in camp. Supper, drink—two bottles of wine—and we sat and sang until eleven o’clock in the clear light of the moon, for it was Averill’s last night with us. I sent him to Monterey today to join Doctor Cooper, our naturalist.

Thus ended our trip. Had we the management of it all the suffering would have been avoided; as it was, it was a day of intense suffering. Today I am in camp, writing, packing specimens, etc.

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