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In the Heart of the Sierras by James M. Hutchings (1888)



If thou art worn and hard beset
With sorrows, that thou would’st forget;
If thou would’st read a lesson that will keep
Thy heart from fainting, and thy soul from sleep
Go to the woods and hills.
The traveled mind is the catholic mind educated from exclusiveness and egotism.
Alcott’s Table Talk.
Travel makes all men country men, makes people noblemen and kings, every man tasting of liberty and dominion.
Alcott’s Concord Days.

The reader knows as well as I do that it is of little consequence, in point of fact, whether a spirit of romance, the love of the grand and beautiful in scenery, the suggestions or promptings of a fascinating woman—be she friend, sweetheart, or wife—the desire for change, the want of recreation, or the necessity for a restoration and recuperation of an overtasked physical or mental organization, or both—whatever may be the instrumentality that first gives birth to the wish for, or the love of, travel; when the mind is thoroughly made up, and the committee of ways and means reports itself financially prepared to undertake the pleasurable task—in order to enjoy it with luxurious zest, we must resolve upon four things: first, to leave the “peck of troubles,” and a few thrown in, entirely behind us; second, to have none but good, suitable, and genial-hearted companions; third, a sufficient supply of personal patience, good humor, forbearance, and creature comforts for all emergencies; and, fourth, when it is possible, not to be in a hurry. To these both one and all, who have ever visited the Yo Semite Valley and the Big Trees, I know will say—Amen.

According to the unimpeached testimony of nearly every traveler, there is not a country on earth, known to civilization, that possesses more of the beautiful and wildly picturesque than California. Her towering and pine-covered mountains; her widespread valleys, carpeted with flowers; her leaping water-falls; her foaming cataracts; her rushing livers; her placid lakes; her ever green and densely timbered forests; her gently rolling hills, covered with blooming shrubs and trees, and wild flowers, give a voiceless invitation to the traveler to look upon her and admire.

The difficulties that generally beset the stranger are to learn how those that are the most noteworthy can be seen to the best advantage. This shall be the exclusive aim and object of this work. And at the outset I wish it to be distinctly understood that all route rivalry, or expressed preference, will be utterly ignored, my object being to present the most salient and attractive features of each and all routes, and leave it to the intelligent visitor to select for himself the one best calculated to give him the largest return of pleasure. Then, as tastes vary in different individuals, that which would be most enjoyable to one might prove altogether the reverse in another. It is true there may arise reasons, occasionally, in the interests of the traveling public, why suggestions, born of experience, should be freely offered, even though they should conflict somewhat with the interests and plans of private individuals, or companies; and, however this might be regretted, they will be fearlessly presented, and the results allowed to take care of themselves.

As many lovers of the sublime and beautiful will doubtlessly desire to visit the remarkable scenes that await their appreciative admiration in the High Sierra, and as I cannot in this brief outline present all the various routes thereto from every village, town, and city in the State—for they are almost as numerous as the different roads that Christians seem to take to their expected heaven, and the multitudinous creeds about the way and manner of getting there—I shall content myself with giving the principal ones, and after reciting the following quaint and unanswerable argument of a celebrated divine, to the querulous and uncharitably disposed members of his flock, proceed at once to delineate their principal characteristics:—

“There was once a Christian brother—a Presbyterian—who walked up to the gate of the New Jerusalem, and knocked for admittance, when an angel who was in charge, looked down from above and inquired what he wanted. ‘To come in,’ was the answer. ‘Who and what are you? ‘A Presbyterian.’ ‘Sit on that seat there.’ This was on the outside of the gate; and the good man feared that he had been refused admittance. Presently arrived an Episcopalian, then a Baptist, then a Methodist, and so on, until a representative of every Christian sect had made his appearance; and each alike ordered to take a seat outside. Before they had long been there,” continued the good man, “a loud and familiar anthem broke forth, rolling and swelling upon the air from the choir within; when those outside immediately joined in the chorus. ‘Oh!’ said the angel as he opened wide the gate, ‘I did not know you by your names, but you have all learned one song—come in! come in! The name you bear, or the way by which you came, is of little consequence compared with your being here at all.’ As you, my brethren,” the godly man went on—”as you expect to live peaceably and lovingly together in heaven, you had better begin to practice it on earth. I have done.” As this allegorical advice needs no words of application either to the traveler or to the Christian, in the hope that the latter will take the admonition of Captain Cuttle, “and make a note on’t,” and an apology to the reader for this digression, I will at once enter upon my pleasing task.


All of which can now be traveled by rail and coach to the doors of each hotel there, spring principally from one main or trunk route, like branches from a young tree. This is the Central Pacific Railroad from San Francisco to Lathrop. It is true, however, that two of the seven routes mentioned, being from Stockton, can be reached by steamboat. The seven branches, each of which is to be hereafter briefly described—and they will be given in the order determined by allotment, to avoid even the semblance of favoritism—are as follows:—

First: The “Milton and Calaveras Big Tree Route.” This is from Lathrop to Stockton, by rail (or from San Francisco by steamboat), thence to Milton, by rail;* [* There is also a narrow-gauge railroad in course of construction from Brack’s Landing on the Mokelumne River, to the Calaveras Grove—already completed to Valley Springs, and running from Lodi on the C. P. R. R. to that point.] thence via Murphy’s, Calaveras Big Tree Groves, Sonora, and Chinese Camp to Valley, by coach.

Second: The “Berenda Route via Grant’s Sulphur Springs.” From Lathrop to Berenda (S. P. R. R.), thence to Raymond by rail; thence to Gambetta Gold Mines, Grant’s Sulphur Springs, Wawona, and Mariposa Big Tree Groves, to Valley, by coach.

Third: The “Madera Route via Fresno Flats.” From Madera (S. P. R. R.) via Fresno Flats, Fish Springs, Wawona, and Mariposa Big Trees Groves, to Valley, by coach.

Fourth: The “Coulterville Route via Modesto.” From Lathrop to Modesto (S. R R. R.), by rail; thence via La Grange, Coulterville, Dudley’s, Bower Cave, and Merced Grove of Big Trees, to Valley, by coach.

Fifth: The “Coulterville Route via Merced.” From Lathrop to Merced (S. P. R. R.), by rail; thence via Snellings, Merced Falls, Coulterville, and Merced Grove of Big Trees, to Valley, by coach.

Sixth: The “Mariposa Route.” From Lathrop to Merced (S. P, R. R.), by rail; thence via Hornitos, Princeton, Mariposa, Wawona, and Mariposa Big Tree Groves, to Valley, by coach.

Seventh: The “Milton and Big Oak Flat Route.” From Lathrop to Stockton (C. P. R. R.), by rail, or by steamboat; thence to Milton (S. & C. R. R.), by rail; thence via Copperopolis, Chinese Camp, Moffitt’s Bridge, Priests, Big Oak Flat, Crockers, and Tuolumne Grove of BigTrees, to Valley, by coach.

Each of these will be briefly outlined, and the different points of interest noted, in separate chapters, accompanied by a map that will indicate the diverging and connecting lines of each particular route—which, please consult—so as to enable visitors to travel understandingly, and, it is hoped, enjoyably, by whatsoever route they may elect to take. But, to make a journey thoroughly pleasurable, and its close a delightful memory, a limited amount of business caution should precede the start, and more or less accompany the traveler to the end.

Of course I will, if you please, assume that the object of the trip is at least twofold,—intellectual and physical gratification, and the gathering of impressions and facts that may be of use hereafter. With a desire to subserve such laudable purposes, permit me to make a few preliminary suggestions, tending somewhat to insure these results:—

First: Go in by one route, and out by another—remembering that all routes are picturesque and interesting while being equally safe. Should any one advise you to the contrary, you may be sure that he has some unworthy business “ax to grind;” therefore, heed him not.

Second: Having thoroughly made up your mind about the route that you prefer, see that your ticket, upon its face, exactly represents your wishes. Oral explanations are not always conveniently at hand, when they are perhaps most needed; and memory sometimes may be at fault, but written or printed testimony is always to the point, if presentable.

Third: Never be induced to leave a trunk, or a hat-box, or valise, or fish-rod, or rifle, or anything else, in any way calculated to compel you to return by that or any other route, contrary to your well-considered plans and intentions.

If, after what you read below, you have been induced to take something you do not need, either carry it along with you, or leave it at, or conveniently near, some juncture of the two roads.


This, you will allow, is a difficult matter for me to determine, and one that will require your generous forbearance and assistance. These questions settled, I will suppose that your good sense (no flattery is intended) will suggest at the start that all Saratoga trunks should be eschewed, even if their dimensions do not exceed those of an ordinary cottage or two. If you have one of moderate pretensions, be sure and carefully examine its contents with the view of laying aside everything that you know will not be wanted. Next, turn over your effects again, and reject everything you feel that you could conscientiously do without.

Now, if health and comfort are studied, gentlemen will see that they have one extra of each of the following articles: One pair of good serviceable boots (not necessarily very heavy) that have been broken to the feet; one complete outfit of underclothing; one woolen overshirt; three or four pairs of hose (woolen should be preferred); one suit of strong clothes (old ones, if not too easily torn, would be the best, as they will be good for nothing after your return); pocket-handkerchiefs, and a few other necessary articles; remembering that there are laundries in the Valley. Ladies would do well by taking some of the hints thrown out to gentlemen—in providing themselves with woolen dresses of suitable length, color, and texture, made in the Bloomer or other similar style, as such would be found to possess both comfort and adaptability; durable linen riding habit; boots that were made for wear more than for ornament; a warm shawl; and by making choice of such other articles as will best meet their wants, wishes, and tastes, without further enumeration from me. These should all be packed in as small a valise as possible; or, if an extended trip into the mountains is intended, in a pair of saddle-bags.

At best it will be difficult to give advice that will accord with every variety of condition and of circumstance. By way of illustration, we may mention that an estimable and intelligent lady correspondent of a San Francisco paper visited Yo Semite early in May; and, finding the weather cool, advised every lady to go there warmly clad. Other ladies, later in the season, taking that advice, and finding the climate pleasantly warm, remarked, “How could Mrs. H—— recommend us to come in such warm clothing? when we return we will tell all our lady friends to choose none but light summer dresses!”

Always look out for your baggage, and see that every piece is surely placed upon the conveyance you are about to take before leaving the hotel door. Careful attention to the above suggestions will, believe me, preserve you from many detracting annoyances in the future of your journey.


Supposing that you have wisely chosen your companions, of both sexes, from those you know possess kindred tastes and dispositions, each of whom expects to assume, cheerfully, his or her full share of all the duties appertaining to camp life—whether in song, a good story, recitation, or in the somewhat exacting attentions of the cuisine—you will then be in a position to consider how the enjoyments of the trip can be best subserved. Here permit me to make a few suggestions which origin ated in the laboratory of experience:—

Eagle Peak, 3,818 feet above the valley.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
Eagle Peak, 3,818 Feet above the Valley.
From Upper Iron Bridge, near Barnard’s.


Let it consist, mainly, as follows: A light yet strong coach, sufficiently capacious to accommodate your party comfortably, especially if the weather is, like Bob Sawyer’s apple (see Pickwick Papers), unpleasantly warm; horses that are known to be, not only true to the harness, but of about the same size and weight, and equal to every reasonable emergency of both load and road; bearing in mind that there are not less than from five to six thousand feet of altitude to be overcome, between the plains and Yo Semite, or Big Trees, the grade being heavy in some places. Do not overload with stores, for two reasons: First, it saps away the strength and spirit of your horses (to say nothing of your own), and consequently retards both speed and progress. Second, because every kind of article, almost, from a needle to a saw-horse, can be obtained upon arrival, and generally at fairly reasonable prices, considering their distance from the market. Still, enough should be taken for the necessities of the road. Provide a flattish sheet-iron, bottomless, cook-stove, of reasonably heavy iron, having two or four holes on top, and one length of stove-pipe, snugly fitted to the stove; a nest of camp-kettles (four or five) that fit into each other; baking, bread, and dish pans (one of the matrons of the party should select all such articles); frying-pan, bake-oven, coffee and teapots, granite-ware plates and cups; tea and table-spoons, and one large batter spoon; knives and forks, including a couple of good butcher knives; salt, pepper, sugar, tea and coffee bags, with extra ones for time of need. Then to these do not forget to add a whetstone, towels, soap, brooms, needles and thread, scissors, buttons, matches and candles, writing-paper, pens, ink, envelopes, postage stamps, etc. Then to these add three pairs of blankets for each couple, and as many for each one who prefers to sleep alone.


Suitable tents should always be provided for the ladies, and one long tent for general use, open at the front for its entire length, and consisting of one sheet of strong chilling, say three yards in width by five in length, with ends, resembling those of an old-fashioned Dutch-oven, as illustrated below. This, with the lower back edge fastened to the ground (suitable holes having been worked into the

Outline Plan of an Open Tent for Camping.
sheet for picket-pins) is supported in front by a light pole-post, set under it at each front corner; over which a small cord (running the whole length of, and well sewed to, the sheet) is drawn tight, and fastened to a pin driven in the ground, in advance of the front line of the tent, by which the whole is made secure. A similar sheet, to form a kind of carpet, should be spread upon the ground, or over the improvised bedding of leaves, hay, pine needles, etc., to keep the blankets clean. These sheets, when carefully shaken, and folded once, make an excellent wrap for the blankets, sheets, pillows, and other articles requiring to be kept clean, especially if well tied up, to keep out the dust.

Contrivances like these add largely to the comfort of a party, by providing a place of shelter for themselves, and outfit, in all weathers, as well as a compartment for general rendezvous, and for social pleasures at all times. (Eleven of us—six ladies and five gentlemen—enjoyably occupied one of these in our mountain wanderings, for over three months.) In the Sierra Nevadas the summer winds generally blow from the east at night, and the open tent should be so pitched as to have the back of it towards that quarter; then the wind not only sweeps over it, but carries away all the camp-fire smoke, instead of driving it into the tent. For rainy weather in California it should be pitched towards the south, and the front open to the north. If the purposes of sight-seeing, or an outlook towards the horses, or wagon, can be subserved by changing its direction a little, that can be done without interfering with any of its protective provisions. Be sure and select a dry place, as convenient as possible to wood and water, for your camp-ground. Now, although fine weather is the rule among the mountains of California, during summer, it should be borne in mind that nearly every rule has its exceptions, and this is one; therefore, it behooves every camping-party to be prepared for storms, should they come. Timely provision should accordingly be made for these, in order to avoid discomfort, and, possibly, severe colds. The old saying that “one ounce of prevention is better than pounds of antidotes,” will, believe me, be found serviceable here, as elsewhere.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management