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“Exploration of the Sierra Nevada” (1925)
by Francis P. Farquhar


Joseph N. Le Conte103

The third great explorer of the Sierra Club group was Joseph N. Le Conte, son of Joseph Le Conte whom connection with the Sierra has already been told. The younger Le Conte began his Sierra explorations in 1899 when he visited the upper regions of Yosemite with his father and ascended Mount Dana and Mount Lyell. From that time to the present day he has been active in Sierra exploration and has been the leading contributor to the knowledge of the High Sierra. Not content with exploring and making sketch-maps, Le Conte recognized the value of a truly Scientific exploration and early in his career began a series of observations to get accurate bearings, from the high peaks. Combining this scientific knowledge with the information furnished by Solomons, McClure, and other map-makers, Le Conte published through the Sierra Club a series of maps which were greatly appreciated by all visitors to the Sierra prior to the publication of the quadrangles of the United States Geological Survey. Le Conte supplemented his maps with the finest collection of photographs of the high mountain regions that has ever been brought together. Many of them pictures, taken twenty-five or thirty years ago, are still in demand as illustrations for publications on the mountains of California.

Some of Le Conte’s most notable excursions were: 1896, when with Miss Helen Marion Gompertz (later Mrs. Le Conte) and others, he climbed University Peak and Mount Brewer, and ascended Mount Gardner with Bolton Coit Brown; 1898, when with Clarence L. Cory he traversed the Sierra in search of a through route from Yosemite to Kings River Canyon; 1900, when he took his father on a memorable outing into the Kings River Canyon and up to Kearsarge Pass; 1902, when he explored the sources of the South Fork of Kings River after crossing from the Middle Fork by way of Cartridge Creek, ascended Split Mountain with Mrs. Le Conte, and completed the observations of Brown already mentioned; 1903, when with James S. Hutchinson and James K. Moffitt, he made first ascents of the North Palisade and Mount Sill and explored the basin of Palisade Creek; 1904, when he visited the Evolution Peaks with Grove Karl Gilbert and prospected a route from the head-waters of the South Fork of the San Joaquin to the Middle Fork of Kings River, later to be developed as Muir Pass; 1908, when with James S. Hutchinson and Duncan McDuffie, he made mother search for a high mountain route, this time keeping much closer to the main crest than anyone had hitherto attempted.

On the expedition of 1908, the party climbed several high peaks and crossed successfully from Evolution Basin to the Middle Fork of Kings River. This feat had been performed for the first time in the preceding year by a party of the United States Geological Survey under George R. Davis. The expedition of 1908 followed very nearly the ideal High Sierra route proposed later as the John Muir Trail. After Le Conte’s expedition, only one or two gaps in this route remained to be explored.

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103 Sierra Club Bulletin, numerous contributions.


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