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August 8, 1863: Hermit Valley

August 8, 2013

Hermit Valley 02

Hermit Valley; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

[Today] we were off early and started on our return. In about six miles we struck the old emigrant wagon road, where I left the party and went up on the summit to measure the height of that pass, the rest going on. I got back to Hermit Valley that night, and stopped at a house there. The house is a mere cabin, although now a “hotel.” Twelve men slept in the little garret, where there were ten bunks, called “beds.” Two men have wintered here, and in the winter have killed several rare animals—two gluttons, stone martens, silver-gray foxes (so rare that their skins are worth fifty dollars each), large gray wolf, etc.

Hermit Valley 03

Hermit Valley; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

In winter the climate is truly arctic. A smooth pole in front of the house is marked with black rings and numbers to indicate the depth of snow. The deepest last winter was eighteen feet, but it falls much deeper at a greater elevation in the vicinity. And herein consists the marvel of this alpine region—the immense depth of snow in the winter (on the Placerville Pass the winter of 1861-62 the aggregate depth of snow was fifty feet at an altitude of seven thousand feet) and the little rain in summer, so the snow melts under the clear sky even where fifty or sixty feet fall nearly every winter. Stranger still, trees flourish, of several species, all of large size—there are at least five species of cone-bearing trees that grow where the snow lies abundantly for seven or eight months each year and it freezes nearly every night of the summer; and four of these species grow to trees four feet or more in diameter even under these conditions.

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Clintonia uniflora; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

In winter the only way of getting about is on snowshoes, not the great broad Canadian ones that we see sometimes at home, but the Norwegian ones—a strip of light elastic wood, three or four inches wide and seven to ten feet long, slightly turned up at the front end, with an arrangement near the center to fasten it to the foot. With these they go everywhere, no matter how deep the snow is, and down hill they go with frightful velocity. At a race on snowshoes at an upper town last winter the papers announced that the time made by the winner was half a mile in thirty-seven seconds! And many men tell of going a mile in less than two minutes.

Specimens collected: Spiraea densiflora; Sorbus californica; Clintonia uniflora; Listera convallarioides.

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