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



Acuse not Nature, she hath done her part;
Do thou but thine.
Milton’s Paradise Lost, Bk. VIII, Line 561.
The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts, and the great art of life is to have as many of them as possible.
Bovee’s Summaries of Thought.
Beauty was lent to nature as the type
Of Heaven’s unspeakable and holy joy,
Where all perfection makes the sum of bliss.
S. J. Hale.

Supposing that we are not over-fatigued, and that the champagne atmosphere we are drinking daily is becoming to us the fabled fountain of perpetual youth, let us attempt the ascent of the Glacier Point Trail, to Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome, and look upon the imperishable grandeur there portrayed.

Seeking the entrance to the horse-path at the back of the little chapel, we commence the ascent. Formerly, the glorious scenes we are about to witness were denied to the many on account of the difficulty, danger, and fatigue attending the climb; as it had to be made on foot, and up a trailless mountain-side, where rocky points had to be carefully surmounted, and dense masses of shrubbery defiantly overcome. Still, with all the numerous obstacles impeding the journey, it was occasionally accomplished. Now, however, through the enterprise and perseverance of Mr. James McCauley, a wide, safe, easy graded, and remarkably picturesque trail, zigzags the mountain from base to summit.

The Agassiz Column.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
The Agassiz Column.
(See page 468.)

At almost every turning new and enchantingly picturesque scenes are revealed between, or over, the tops of trees and shrubs that margin our way, until we arrive at


And an elevation of two thousand three hundred and thirty-five feet above the Valley. Here let us dismount, and while our horses are resting and breathing, enjoy the wonderful sight. It will be seen that now we are on an elevated flat or table, formed by nature, on the edge of the mountain from whence the whole panorama of the lower end and middle of the Yo Semite is visible. The Sentinel, Cathedral Spires, El Capitan, Eagle Point, Yo Semite Falls, and other points of interest, with all the serpentine windings of the Merced River, are strikingly seen.


Near the trail at Union Point there is a rock standing on end, like a huge ten-pin, some thirty feet in height, and ten in thickness. It looks as though a good strong breeze would blow it over, but which has thus far successfully withstood all storms and earthquakes. It is known as the Agassiz Column. From Union Point we make a detour to the eastward, on a foot-trail, to


Whence the whole upper end of the Valley, with all its sublime scenes, can be witnessed to excellent advantage. The great Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, North Dome, Mirror Lake, the Ten-ie-ya Cañon, and many other views, are here before us. Remounting our now rested steeds, we steadily climb, filled with admiring wonder at every step as we advance, until, at last, we are at


Here let me introduce you to its proprietor, Mr. James McCauley, a stalwart son of Erin, whose every feature bespeaks progressive energy and irrepressible determination. It is to him, and to those qualities, that we are indebted for the Glacier Point Trail. He was its architect and builder; and its proprietor until it was purchased by the State. Mr. McCauley is the fortunate possessor of an excellent wife, and two healthy sons, twins, and the first ever born of white parents in Yo Semite. Mrs. McCauley, among other good qualities, is an excellent cook; and prepares for guests as nice, clean, and relishable a meal as could be obtained at any first-class city hotel. Try it. But, while lunch is preparing, let us seek


The broad sweep of the great chain of the High Sierra is directly before us; and, apparently, so boldly near that one feels he could hold converse with any adventurous climber that might be seen upon either of their crests. A glance at the accompanying engraving will give but a faint impression only of the glorious scene. Once looked upon, the memory of its sublime impressiveness will remain an exalted mystery forever. Leaving this, therefore, for a frequently recurring feast, let us repair to


Here we are on the edge of an abyss three thousand two hundred and fifty-seven feet deep, with all its wondrous environments on every hand. As Derrick Dodd expresses it in his “Summer Saunterings:” “It is something to stop the beatings of a chamois’ heart to lean over the iron railing, set between two verge-toppling bowlders on the peak’s brink, and glance down into the bottomless, awful gulf below. It causes spiders of ice to crawl down one’s spine.” Large trees, two hundred feet high, are dwarfed to utter insignificance. The little checker-board-like spot first attracting notice, possibly, is Lamon’s apple orchard of four acres, and which contains over five hundred trees, set regularly twenty feet apart. The other cultivated point, formed by the junction of Ten-ie-ya Creek with the Merced River, is Lamon’s other orchard. The bright speck which throws out its silvery sheen in that deep, tree-dotted cañon is Mirror Lake, and although the great sweep of the northern rim of the Valley is before us, with its multitudinous crags and rents, the Half Dome, as omnipresent as ever, overshadows and eclipses every lesser object.

The Sierras, from Glacier Point Hotel Porch.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
The Sierras, from Glacier Point Hotel Porch.
Key to the High Sierra from Glacier Point Hotel.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.


As a part of the usual programme, we experimented as to the time taken by different objects in reaching the bottom of the cliff. An ordinary stone tossed over remained in sight an incredibly long time, but finally vanished somewhere about the middle distance. A handkerchief with a stone tied in the corner, was visible perhaps a thousand feet deeper; but even an empty box, watched by a field-glass, could not be traced to its concussion with the Valley floor. Finally, the landlord appeared on the scene, carrying an antique hen under his arm. This, in spite of the terrified ejaculations and entreaties of the ladies, he deliberately threw over the cliff’s edge. A rooster might have gone thus to his doom in stoic silence, but the sex of this unfortunate bird asserted itself the moment it started on its awful journey into space. With an ear-piercing cackle, that gradually grew fainter as it fell, the poor creature shot downward; now beating the air with ineffectual wings, and now frantically clawing at the very wind, that slanted her first this way and then that; thus the hapless fowl shot down, down, until it became a mere fluff of feathers no larger than a quail. Then it dwindled to a wren’s size, disappeared, then again dotted the sight a moment as a pin’s point, and then—it was gone!

After drawing a long breath all round, the women folks pitched into the hen’s owner with redoubled zest. But the genial McCauley shook his head knowingly, and replied:—

“Don’t be alarmed about that chicken, ladies. She’s used to it. She goes over that cliff every day during the season.”

And, sure enough, on our road back we met the old hen about half up the trail, calmly picking her way home!!(?)

D. D., you are a trump. Mark Twain could not beat that story—except, perhaps, the one about a mean man in “Roughing It,” where the boss deducted ten minutes from a miner’s time after being tossed up by a premature blast, for being absent in the air that long from work!

Our enjoyable midday repast being over, let us now ride to the summit of


This is four thousand one hundred and sixty feet above the meadows of Yo Semite. It is a striking landmark, and as its crown is almost as clear of trees as though a tornado had swept ruthlessly across it, the view in every direction is entirely unobstructed. The vast amphitheater of the Sierras is before us. Did time permit us we might profitably tarry here for hours, or even days as new beauties would be opening, and strange forms made manifest on every side and at every moment. But the rapidly declining sun admonishes us not to linger too long, if it is our fixed purpose to return to the Valley in time for the evening meal.

If our spirit of enjoyment could be consulted, and the rich scenic feast could be prolonged, we should tarry here until sunset, as the effects from this lofty eminence are not only magical and majestic, but are simply glorious; then, after spending the night at Glacier Point, watch the streaming tails of mighty comets, that come at day-dawn to herald approaching morn from among the snow-clad peaks and forest heights of the Sierras.

Then, after an appetizing breakfast, we can visit the “Fissures,” some three miles distant, and then make an early return to the Valley; or, journey upon its southern rim through primeval forests, across grassy meadows, and adown flower-covered slopes, to Inspiration Point, Mt. Beatitude, and the Standpoint of Silence; thence to the Valley by the Wawona Road, and live over again its marvelous scenes. This, believe me, is a glorious jaunt. But, if it is preferred, we


The views upon either of the routes suggested are so utterly unlike any others, here or elsewhere, that their very novelty doubles the charm of looking upon them. Take, for instance, the view of the Half Dome from the Snow trail. It is so unlike any other of this marvelous mountain that it might be most readily adjudged a different one. From this standpoint it is a sugar-loaf in granite, as no portion of its vertical cleavage is anywhere visible.

Then, presently, we come to the yawning gulf of the Too-lool-a-we-ack Cañon beneath us, with its four hundred feet water-fall; and follow the wave-tossed cataract it is forming, with our eye, down the entire length of the gorge. Soon thereafter we are

The South Dome as seen from Too-lool-a-we-ack, or Glacier Cañon.
riding on top of Echo Wall, nearly three thousand feet above the mighty chasm of the Merced River; and then thread our way among the troughs, or across the ridges of bowlder-built moraines which form the lower base of


Did time and opportunity permit, we might climb to its shoulder, and thence obtain that magnificent view; but could not go beyond this without jeoparding life and limb. Less than a dozen persons have been able to ascend it. The first to do so was Mr. Geo. B. Bayley and Mr. E. S. Schuyler; followed by Geo. Anderson and the writer, a few days afterwards, who, having attached ropes over difficult places, enabled Mrs. A. L. Hutchings and our daughter Florence to ascend it, who were the first and only ladies, at this writing, that have accomplished the difficult task. Its crest is five thousand one hundred and seventy-one feet above Yo Semite Valley, and nine thousand one hundred and five feet above sea level.

The Too-lool-a-we-ack, or Glacier Cañon Fall (400 feet high).
Photo by C. L. Weed.

Soon the Nevada Falls, Cap of Liberty, Half Dome, and other familiar points, come into review, and not long afterwards we are at Snow’s, and on the great trail thoroughfare to the Valley.

Before taking our farewell of Glacier Point, it should be remarked that the Yo Semite Stage and Turnpike Company has constructed an excellent and highly picturesque carriage road, from the Wawona Turnpike at Chinquapin Flat to Glacier Point; thus affording the opportunity of looking upon its wondrous sights, to those who could not make the ascent on horseback. Many visitors ride up the Glacier Point Trail and take the western-bound stage thence; but, where it is preferred, visitors can go direct from Chinquapin Flat, by coach, to Glacier Point, and thence down the trail to Yo Semite—a severe experience to those unaccustomed to the saddle.

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