July 1, 1864: Brewer Creek
[Today] we came on by a still rougher way, about eleven miles. We crossed the south fork of Kings River, down over tremendous rocks and up again by as rough a way. We struck a ridge which is a gigantic moraine left by a former glacier, the largest I have ever seen or heard of. It is several miles long and a thousand feet high.
By a series of long zigzags we succeeded in leading our animals up the flank to the top of the north moraine, and here we found ourselves upon a forest-covered causeway, almost as smooth as a railroad embankment. Its fluted crest enclosed three separate pathways, each a hundred feet wide, divided from one another by roughly laid trains of rocks, showing it evidently to be a compound moraine. As we ascended toward the mountains, the causeway was more and more isolated from the cliff, until the depression between them widened to half a mile, and to at least five hundred feet deep.
Throughout nearly a whole day we rode comfortably along at a gentle grade, reaching at evening the region of the snow, where, among innumerable huge granite blocks, we threaded our way in search of a camp-ground. The mountain amphitheatre which gave rise to the King’s River opened to the east, a broad valley, into which we at length climbed; and, among scattered groves of alpine pines, and on patches of meadow, rode eastward till twilight, watching the high pyramidal peak which lay directly at the head of the gorge. By sunset we had gone as far as we could take the animals, and, in full view of our goal, camped for the night.
The form of the mountain at the head of our ravine was purely Gothic. A thousand upspringing spires and pinnacles pierce the sky in every direction, the cliffs and mountain-ridges are everywhere ornamented with countless needle-like turrets. Crowning the wall to the south of our camp were series of these jagged forms standing out against the sky like a procession of colossal statues. Whichever way we turned we were met by some extraordinary fulness of detail. Every mass seemed to have the highest possible ornamental finish. Along the lower flanks of the walls, tall, straight pines, the last of the forest, were relieved against the cliffs, and the same slender forms, although carved in granite, surmounted every ridge and peak.
Through this wide zone of forest we had now passed, and from its perpetual shadow had come out among the few black groves of fir into a brilliant alpine sunshine. The light, although surprisingly lively, was of a purity and refinement quite different from the strong glare of the plains.
We were working back toward high peaks, where we hoped to discover the sources of Kings, Kaweah, and Kern rivers, geographical problems of some considerable interest and importance. We got back as far as we could and camped at an altitude of 9,750 feet, by a rushing stream, but with poor feed. Wood was plenty, dry, from trees broken by avalanches in winter. A beautiful little lake was near us. About five miles east lay the high granite cone we hoped to reach—high and sharp, its sides bristling with sharp pinnacles.