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This book, originally published in 1871, has long been out of print, though in constant demand. Its publication was discontinued owing to the desire of the author to make certain emendations in the text, a work that the arduous activities of a professional scientific life left him no leisure to perform. A few changes, indicated by him, have been made. Otherwise the text of the present edition is that of the last, the revised and enlarged edition of 1874. Only the fastidiousness to which the extraordinary literary quality of the book is itself due, could suggest further modification of what is here republished with the motive of restoring to print and circulation a work too perfect in form and of too rare a quality to be allowed to lapse. It is accordingly with the view of renewing the accessibility of a genuine classic of American literature that the present edition is presented.
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Mountaineers will realize, from these descriptions of Sierra climbs, how few dangers we encountered which might not have been avoided by time and caution. Since the uncertain perils of glacier work and snow copings do not exist in California, except on the northeast flank of Mount Shasta, our climbs proved safe and easy in comparison with the more serious Alpine ascents. And now that the topography of the higher Sierra has been all explored by the Geological Survey, nearly every peak is found to have an accessible side. Our difficulties and our joys were those of the pioneer.
My own share in the great work of exploring the Sierra under Professor Whitney has been small indeed beside that of the senior assistants of the Survey, Professors Brewer and Hoffmann. Theirs were the long, hard years of patient labor, theirs the real conquest of a great terra incognita; and if in these chapters I have not borne repeated witness to their skill and courage, it is not because I have failed in warm appreciation, but simply because my own mountaineering has always been held by me as of slight value, and not likely to be weighed against their long-continued service.
There are turning-points in all men’s lives which must give them both pause and retrospect. In long Sierra journeys the mountaineer looks forward eagerly, gladly, till pass or ridge-crest is gained, and then, turning with a fonder interest, surveys the scene of his march; letting the eye wander over each crag and valley, every blue hollow of pine-land or sunlit gem of alpine meadow; discerning perchance some gentle reminder of himself in yon thin blue curl of smoke floating dimly upward from the smouldering embers of his last camp-fire. With a lingering look he starts forward, and the closing pass-gate with its granite walls shuts away the retrospect, yet the delightful picture forever after hangs on the gallery wall of his memory. It is thus with me about mountaineering; the pass which divides youth from man-hood is traversed, and the serious service of science must hereafter claim me. But as the cherished memories of Sierra climbs go ever with me, I may not lack the inspiring presence of sunlit snow nor the calming influence of those broad noble views. It is the mountaineer’s privilege to carry through life this wealth of unfading treasure. At his summons the white peaks loom above him as of old; the camp-fire burns once more for him, his study walls recede in twilight revery, and around him are gathered again stately columns of pine. If the few chapters I have gathered from these agreeable memories to make this little book are found to possess an interest, if along the peaks I have sought to describe there is reflected, however faintly, a ray of that pure, splendid light which thrills along the great Sierra, I shall not have amused myself with my old note-books in vain.
New York, March, 1874.
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