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Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California (1862) by James M. Hutchings



Is located at the head of the Sacramento Valley, in latitude 41° 30', and is the main source of the Sacramento River. Without doubt, it is the highest mountain in California, estimated by Lieutenant Williamson at eighteen thousand feet above the sea; and is considered by him to be an isolated volcanic mass, that is the starting point of numerous chains of mountains; and, consequently, does not belong either to the main Sierra Nevada or Coast Range.

Covered with snow at all seasons of the year the only one in the State that can be so considered—it is one of those glorious and awe-inspiring scenes which greet the traveller’s eye, and fill his mind with wondering admiration, as he journeys among the bold and beautiful mountains of our own California. One almost wishes to kneel in worship as he gazes at the magnificent, snow-covered head and pine-girded base of this “monarch of mountains;” and even as you ascend the valley of the Sacramento, Mount Shasta appears to you like a huge mountain of snow just beyond the purple hills of the horizon; and is a constant landmark upon which to look, and which one unconsciously feels himself constrained to notice, as something even more remarkable and inviting than the green and flower-covered valley beside him.


As we we favored with the following graphic sketch of an ascent —alone—by Israel S. Diehl, we shall allow him, without comment, to relate his interesting narrative:

“The morning of the ninth of October, 1855, opened beautiful and bright; the earth had been cooled by refreshing showers which had copiously fallen during the night, as I took up my line of march from Yreka to Mount Shasta, to make its ascent, if possible. Notwithstanding the extensive arrangements by way of talk and promises, that were made by the company contemplating the same visit (alas! for California pleasure parties), when the eventful day came, I was reluctantly compelled to start on my journey alone, dependent upon circumstances for the social pleasures that add so much to such a romantic trip. No equipped and noted travellers, officers, literati, or blooming lively belles, whose merry, joyful tough and bright countenances could add so much of interest, were my attendants; and thus ‘solitary and alone,’ and somewhat fearful because of the stupendous and unknown undertaking, by any single traveller, I slowly, yet determinedly, set out upon my journey.

“From the western side of Shasta Valley, Mount Shasta was in full view before me, in all its beauty and glory, as it reared its majestic head some seventeen thousand feet into the heavens, while its sides were covered with the deep-driven snow of ages, adding so much antiquity to the inspiring awe, as if to say, ‘I am the mighty monarch and sentinel of this western coast,’ and almost steadily did my unweary, wondering eyes gaze admiringly upon the scene before me—hundreds of peaked little hillocks dotted the Shasta Valley for twenty-five miles around, like so many attendants (evidently all lesser volcanic formations), while the Shasta River, and other smaller streams, clear as crystal, and icy cold, sprang from its side.

“For a day and a half did I ride steadily on and around it, to make its ascent; all the time with the mountain in full view, and apparently but a little way off, deceiving even the best eye on calculation.

“For two nights, ere my ascent, did I watch the setting sun, with its purple rays lingering and playing for twenty or thirty minutes around its brow, when, to all other mountains, the sun had set. That scene was beautiful beyond description.

“By the noon of the second day, I had rounded the Mount to its south side, and fed my weary horse and self at the beautiful Strawberry Valley Ranche, or Gordon’s, after which, with indefinite and unsatisfactory directions, I bade adieu to every hope of seeing another person ere my fate became decided. Fearful accounts and warnings were given of grizzlies, California lions, avalanches, falling rocks and stones, with deep cañon crevices, by and in which I might perish, and have no burial or resurrection until the ‘Resurrection Morn;’ but, unwilling to give up, and trusting in God, with a good horse, and a bag of provisions, I commenced the ascent.

“For twelve or fifteen miles, I followed a blind snow trail through bushes of manzanita, and other obstacles, which almost threw me from my horse; and would surely have torn my garments had I not been equipped with a good new suit of buckskin. After an arduous journey, I reached the upper edge of the belt of trees, and of the horse trail, but not until the sun had set. Night came on, rendering it too dark to find water for myself and animal until ten o’clock at night.

“After much difficulty, a fire was kindled, (as the last matches were being used) to keep off the grizzlies and lions, but, unfortunately, from the scarcity of trees and the amount of dead wood lying around, I set fire to all about me. This drove me out, and excluded me altogether: so, making a shelter of my saddle and mochila, and wrapping myself in my saddle-blanket, I crept underneath them, covering my head and feet, saying, “Mr. Grizzly, you must take saddle and all, or none.” Between shivering with cold, dozing, fearing, and dreaming, I awoke, and awaited the dawn of day. At last it came—gladly to me—when, after feeding my horse and bidding him adieu, I commenced the ascent.

“On the east side of the west spur, and the south side of the mountain, there were vast quantities of clink and volcanic stones, and for four weary hours I never set my foot off broken stone, but up, up, up, over rocks and stones, till I reached the base of an almost perpendicular ledge of rocks, the so-called Red Bluffs, which I found to be indurated clay, colored by the peroxyd of iron. Through a little ravine I struggled on, on, climbing for one more painful hour, while large masses of rock, becoming loosened, went bounding to the awful abyss below.

“After reaching what I thought the desired summit, imagine my surprise to look over fields of lava, scoria, snow, and fearful glaciers. I now bad to cross ravines or fissures, from fifty to one hundred feet deep, and from one hundred to three hundred feet wide, and worn through a solid mass of conglomerates, and sometimes half filled with snow and ice, the ice lying in perfect ridges, resembling the waves on the ocean, and were both sharp and dangerous to cross. I slipped and fell several times, once coming near being dashed thousands of feet below. After ascending for another hour, among this strangely mingled mass, hoping again to have reached the long desired summit, I was both disappointed and pleased to see the table-land of snow from ore-fourth to one-half mile in diameter, where it lay from one hundred to probably one thousand and more feet deep, as I could look down into fissures where it had sagged apart, for a fearful depth, and from this field, a few hundred feet from the summit, the Sacramento River takes its rise; running through the deep gorges, sometimes on top, then hidden, then appearing at the summit of hills, then concealed for miles, it breaks forth in magnificent springs and miniature rivers, with sulphur and soda springs intermixed.

“After crossing the field of ice with great difficulty, on account of the sun melting the snow from the east and south, while the wind and cold, froze it from the west and north, thus rendering it dangerous, I reached another perfect mountain of loose and coarse lava, ashes, and other volcanic matter, through which I waded, although a foot in depth, for some distance; and as I ascended, I caught a full and first view of the actual summit, which I imagine is not seen from below, as it is a perfectly bare crag or comb of rocks, while the sides and top around are so covered as to hide the real summit. Across another field of snow, and I was evidently upon the original and main crater, a concavity covering several acres, almost hemmed in by a considerable rim of rocks, and here I came upon the long sought hot and sulphur springs; and here, free from wind and snow, finding it warm and comfortable after being nearly benumbed with cold, I warmed, and took a hasty meal; and in my haste to warm my fingers, nearly lost them by awfully scalding them.

“I spent nearly an hour here, contemplating and watching this wonderful view. A hundred little boiling springs were gurgling and bubbling up through a bed of sulphur, and emitting steam enough to drive a small factory (if well applied), while all around lay the everlasting snow.

“After resting, I made the final summit, a few hundred feet above, composed of a perfect edge or comb of rocks, running nearly north and south, and from this summit, perhaps the highest, variously estimated at from sixteen thousand five hundred, to seventeen thousand five hundred feet, and decidedly the most magnificent of our Union, if not of the continent, I could look around and see ‘all the kingdoms of this lower world,’ [Did you tempt any one, Mr. Diehl?]

“Looking to the westward, far beyond the Scott, Trinity, Siskiyou, and Coast Range of mountains, I imagined I saw the proud Pacific. Northward, looking far over into Oregon, one could see her peaks, her vallies, and lakes, to the Dalles, and what I took to be Mount Hood. East, far over the Sierras into Utah, and the deserts, while beautiful lakes lay like bright meadows, far in the distance. South, I could trace the Sacramento and Pitt Rivers, far below Shasta, where they were lost in the smoke and haze, but on the south-west I could clearly see Mount Linn, Mount St. John and Ripley, and above the haze, could distinctly see the Marysville Buttes, if not the top of Mount Diablo (as I have clearly seen Mount Shasta from the summit of Mount Diablo). South-east, I could trail the Sierras by the Lassen, Spanish, Pilot, Seventy-six, Downieville, and other peaks, to the range below Lake Bigler, to Carson Valley.

“I contemplated the unsurpassed scenery presented to my eye, for hours. The day was clear and beautiful, after our first October rains, while the scenery was delightful beyond description. And upon that peak I planted the temperance banner, side by side with the American flag (placed there in 1852, by Captain Prince), deposited some California papers and documents in the rocks, for safe keeping, as the papers carried up in 1852 were unharmed, and fresh as ever. Then, with a great reluctance, notwithstanding the wind, cold, loneliness, and coming night, I was compelled to beat a descent.

“The sun was fact declining. My watch told three P.M., when I collected my minerals, sulphurs, and all objects of interest, for a future and fuller description, and bidding adieu to the magnificent sights, with a promise of a return some day, I commenced the descent, and in three hours’ running, jumping, tumbling, sliding on the snow, from one-fourth to one-half a mile at a time, in a few moments—having a glorious time, easier by far, and fuller of enjoyment than the ascent—I found my horse, mounted, and hastened away; and after a concatenation of circumstances, lost and bewildered, at twelve at night; dismounted, unsaddled and loosed my horse; weary and exhausted, nature gave way, sleep conquered and until dawn of day, I knew no trouble save the piercing cold, and woke to find my trusty horse missing, giving me a half day’s hunt to recapture him, when, by perils by river, land, and Indians, I followed the Sacramento down one hundred miles to Shasta, to spend the Sabbath after six days’ labor—much better and happier for my ascent of Mount Shasta.”

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