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August 26, 1861: Mount Hamilton

August 26, 2011

Mt Hamilton 01

Mount Hamilton summit area; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 48

Joseph Grant 02

Hall Valley; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Nearly east of San Jose, some distance in the mountains, is a high peak1 we wished to reach, being the highest in that part of the Diablo Range. As near as we could judge from our maps, we supposed it nine miles distant in a straight line. It proved over fifteen. Mr. Hamilton went with us. A ride of six miles across the plain brought us to the foot of the ridge. All this is enclosed, in farms, and under good cultivation. Farmhouses, orchards, etc., give it an American look. We then struck the ridge, and on rising, had a capital chance to see this part of the Santa Clara Valley. It is perhaps twelve or fourteen miles wide at San Jose, an almost perfect plain, very fertile, a perfect garden, and much of it in higher cultivation than any other part of California.

Joseph Grant 04

Mount Hamilton from the ridge east of Hall Valley; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

This first ridge was about 1,000 or 1,500 feet high. Then we crossed a wide valley2, then up another ridge. We had attained an altitude of nearly three thousand feet, when we came upon another deep and steep canyon3 cutting us off from the peak. Here we left our mules and proceeded on foot about three miles and reached the peak after 4 P.M. The view was very extensive and the day very clear. It was about 4,000 feet high—we made it 4,200 feet—but that is doubtless too high. We could see various portions of the Coast Range, from far above San Francisco to below Monterey, probably 140 to 150 miles between the points, and the Diablo Range for about a hundred miles.

Mt Hamilton 02

Lick Observatory; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

It was five o’clock before we left and after sundown before we got on our mules, with at least fifteen miles to ride. Night closed on us among a labyrinth of hills and canyons twelve miles from camp and at least six from any road. We gave our mules the bridle and let them find the way back, which they did with a sagacity beyond belief, over steep hills, along ridges, through canyons, to the road at the foot of the hills at the edge of the plain. It was near midnight when we reached camp. It is at such times that I realize how healthy we are in camp. While others must bundle up and put on extra clothes for fear of catching cold, we never have colds. Not anticipating any such delay we were without either coats or vests. We were wet with the perspiration of a six mile walk and climb, the last three miles very vigorous, then a ride of that distance in the cool night air, much of the way against a chilly wind—yet no cold or symptoms of any. Averill writes me, “Since I have taken to living in a house, full of rats and fleas, haunted by tom cats (or the devil), I have taken an abominable cold.” He never had a cold in camp.

1Mount Hamilton, site of the Lick Observatory (begun 15 years after Brewer’s visit to the peak)
2Hall Valley, core of present-day Joseph D. Grant County Park
3Smith Creek canyon

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