July 2, 1864: Mount Brewer
[Today] we were up at dawn, and Hoffmann and I climbed this cone, which I had believed to be the highest of this part of the Sierra.
Morning dawned brightly upon our bivouac among a cluster of dark firs in the mountain corridor opened by an ancient glacier of King’s River into the heart of the Sierras. It dawned a trifle sooner than we could have wished, but Professor Brewer and Hoffman had breakfasted before sunrise, and were off with barometer and theodolite upon their shoulders, purposing to ascend our amphitheatre to its head and climb a great pyramidal peak which swelled up against the eastern sky, closing the view in that direction.
We had a rough time, made two unsuccessful attempts to reach the summit, climbing up terribly steep rocks, and at last, after eight hours of very hard climbing, reached the top.
We who remained in camp spent the day in overhauling campaign materials and preparing for a grand assault upon the summits. For a couple of hours we could descry our friends through the field-glasses, their minute, black forms moving slowly on among piles of giant débris; now and then lost, again coming to view, and at last disappearing altogether.
The view was yet wilder than we have ever seen before. We were not on the highest peak, although we were a thousand feet higher than we anticipated any peaks were. We had not supposed there were any over 12,000 or 12,500 feet, while we were actually up over 13,600, and there were a dozen peaks in sight beyond as high or higher!Such a landscape! A hundred peaks in sight over thirteen thousand feet—many very sharp—deep canyons, cliffs in every direction almost rivaling Yosemite, sharp ridges almost inaccessible to man, on which human foot has never trod—all combined to produce a view the sublimity of which is rarely equaled, one which few are privileged to behold.
There is not so much snow as in the mountains farther north, not so much falls in winter, the whole region is drier, but all the higher points, above 12,000 feet are streaked with it, and patches occur as low as 10,500 feet. The last trees disappear at 11,500 feet—above this desolate bare rocks and snow. Several small lakes were in sight, some of them frozen over.
The view extended north eighty to ninety miles, south nearly as far—east we caught glimpses of the desert mountains east of Owens Valley—west to the Coast Range, 130 or more miles distant.
On our return we slid down a slope of snow perhaps eight hundred feet. We came down in two minutes the height that we had been over three hours in climbing. We got back very tired, but a cup of good tea and a fine venison soup restored us.
It was twilight of evening, and almost eight o’clock, when they came back to camp, Brewer leading the way, Hoffman following; and as they sat down by our fire without uttering a word, we read upon their faces terrible fatigue. So we hastened to give them supper of coffee and soup, bread and venison, which resulted, after a time, in our getting in return the story of the day. For eight whole hours they had worked up over granite and snow, mounting ridge after ridge, till the summit was made about two o’clock.