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July 3, 1864: Brewer Creek

July 3, 2014

Lake 9735 06

Lake 9735 (near Camp 171); by Tom Hilton, on Flickr


Camp 171

[Today], we lay until late. On calculating the height of the peak, finding it so much higher than we expected, and knowing there were still higher peaks back, we were, of course, excited. Here there is the highest and grandest group of the Sierra—in fact, the grandest in the United States—not so high as Mount Shasta, but a great assemblage of high peaks.

Clarence King: These snowy crests bounding our view at the eastward we had all along taken to be the summits of the Sierra, and Brewer had supposed himself to be climbing a dominant peak, from which he might look eastward over Owen’s Valley and out upon leagues of desert. Instead of this, a vast wall of mountains, lifted still higher than his peak, rose beyond a tremendous cañon which lay like a trough between the two parallel ranks of peaks. Hoffman showed us on his sketch-book the profile of this new range, and I instantly recognized the peaks which I had seen from Mariposa, whose great white pile had led me to believe them the highest points of California.

King is enthusiastic, is wonderfully tough, has the greatest endurance I have ever seen, and is withal very muscular. He is a most perfect specimen of health. He begged me to let him and Dick try to reach them on foot. I feared them inaccessible, but at last gave in to their importunities and gave my consent.

Clarence King:
Brewer and Hoffman were old climbers, and their verdict of impossible oppressed me as I lay awake thinking of it; but early [this] morning I had made up my mind, and, taking Cotter aside, I asked him in an easy manner whether he would like to penetrate the Terra Incognita with me at the risk of our necks, provided Brewer should consent. In a frank, courageous tone he answered after his usual mode, “Why not?”

….It was a trying moment for Brewer when we found him and volunteered to attempt a campaign for the top of California, because he felt a certain fatherly responsibility over our youth, a natural desire that we should not deposit our triturated remains in some undiscoverable hole among the feldspathic granites; but, like a true disciple of science, this was at last overbalanced by his intense desire to know more of the unexplored region. He freely confessed that he believed the plan madness, and Hoffman, too, told us we might as well attempt to get on a cloud as to try the peak. As Brewer gradually yielded his consent, I saw by his conversation that there was a possibility of success; so we spent the rest of the day in making preparations.

Our walking-shoes were in excellent condition, the hobnails firm and new. We laid out a barometer, a compass, a pocket-level, a set of wet and dry thermometers, note-books, with bread, cooked beans, and venison enough to last a week, rolled them all in blankets, making two knapsack-shaped packs strapped firmly together, with loops for the arms, which, by Brewer’s estimate, weighed forty pounds apiece.

Gardiner declared he would accompany us to the summit of the first range to look over into the gulf we were to cross, and at last Brewer and Hoffman also concluded to go up with us.

Quite too early for our profit we all betook ourselves to bed, vainly hoping to get a long, refreshing sleep from which we should arise ready for our tramp.

They made their preparations [today], anxious for a trip fraught with so much interest, hardship, and danger.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2014 9:07 am

    I love the back-and-forth between Brewer and King. If I do my math correctly, Brewer was just about to turn 36 at this point, while King was 22. To me they both seem young, so it is amusing to hear King describe Brewer as an “old climber”. And, given the sorts of feats that Brewer routinely performed, it is great praise for him to describe King as having “the greatest endurance I have ever seen”.

    • William H. Brewer permalink*
      July 8, 2014 6:33 am

      Yes, indeed. I suppose it’s all relative…to a 22 year old, 36 might well seem ancient.

      When I was 36, I probably wished I had the stamina I had at 22. Now I wish I had the stamina I had at 36…

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