July 1, 1863: Lyell Canyon
[Today], early, Professor Whitney started for Big Oak Flat, taking John and one pack-mule for supplies, while Hoffmann and I packed the other mule and started up the Tuolumne River to see more of that mass of high mountains observed there and explore the country generally. No trail led up the valley, but we made our way up about ten and a half miles, and camped at the head of the valley, at the altitude of about 9,200 feet. Here there is a grassy flat half a mile wide, which terminates just above in a grand rocky amphitheater. Sharp granite peaks rise behind to about thirteen thousand feet, with great slopes of snow, and pinnacles of granite coming up through, projected sharply against the deep blue sky. It was most picturesque, wild, and grand. And what an experience! Two of us alone, at least sixty miles from civilization on either side, among the grandest chain of mountains in the United States, whose peaks tower above us—we sleeping in the open air, although a thousand feet higher than the celebrated Hospice of the Great St. Bernard, the frost falling white and thick on our blankets every night. The high granite walls of the valley, the alpine aspect of the vegetation, all conspired to make an impressive scene. Just opposite camp a large stream of snow water came over the rocks—a series of cascades for 1,000 or 1,500 feet in height—a line of spray and foam. By our side a little rill supplied us with the purest of cold water. Such was our camp—picturesque, romantic; but prosy truth bids me to say that mosquitoes swarmed in myriads, with not one-tenth the fear but with twice the ferocity of a southern Secessionist. We “turned in” early; the bright moon lit up the snowy peaks grandly above the great rocky amphitheater, while the music of waterfalls lulled us to sleep.