June 9, 1862: Mount Oso
[Today] I was up early and, with Hoffmann, started for Mount Oso. Averill was left in camp to observe station barometer, and Gabb was sent back to the last camp with another barometer to get the difference of altitude for obtaining the height of the mountain. We crossed a table-land, furrowed by canyons, to Hospital Canyon, then up that. It is a wild canyon, which breaks through from behind Mount Oso. Here we met another solitary herder, who anxiously inquired the news from the outer world. The news we gave was fresh to him, although we have heard none for over two weeks.
We rode up the canyon two or three miles, often with high walls of rocks on both sides. Occasionally it widened out into little valleys, surrounded by steep hills, where scanty grasses, now dry, support the sheep. A few cottonwoods grow along the creek, and in them hundreds of cranes have built their nests—great awkward birds, with their maltese-colored plumage, long slim necks, and longer slimmer legs.1 At the sight of us they would fly out in flocks, squawking and screaming, but some, more tame, would stand their ground and look down on us with dignity. Great numbers of other species of birds also congregate in these canyons. They are marvelously tame, for they have never learned to fear man—he is too rarely seen.
We tied up our mules and climbed the ridge. It was steep and long, but the summit was gained. We found the mountain to be 3,400 feet high. The view was magnificent. Back of the treeless hills that lie along the San Joaquin plain, there rises a labyrinth of ridges, furrowed and separated by deep canyons. These ridges rise 3,200 to 4,000 feet high, with scattered trees over them, sometimes, but not often, with some chaparral. This region is twenty-five to thirty miles wide and extends far to the southeast—I know not how far, but perhaps two hundred miles. It is almost a terra-incognita. No map represents it, no explorers touch it; a few hunters know something of it, and all unite in giving it a hard name. Two different ones, one a companion of old Grizzly Adams, have described it to us as “a hell of a country,” and so far as our observations go they were not far from correct. We got into the margin of it on the west last summer, from the San Jose Valley, and were now peeping into it from the east.
We found Mount Oso rightly named—Bear Mountain, of the Spaniards—for the whole summit had been dug over by bears for roots. Many tracks were seen, and trees scratched and broken, but we saw no bears, much to the surprise of the herder in the canyon below, for he had never been up the canyon without seeing some, but we kept on the ridges and thus avoided them. Only one rattlesnake was seen, making six seen this trip so far. We were back safely at sundown, and, tired enough, were in our blankets early.