There are many gateways, two by road, the rest by trail. For years to come, as in the past, the great majority of visitors will enter through the Giant Forest of the Sequoia National Park and through the General Grant National Park. The traveller by rail will find motor stages at Visalia for the run into the Giant Forest, and at Fresno for the General Grant National Park. The motorist will find good roads into both from California’s elaborate highway system. In both the traveller will find excellent hotel camps, and, if his purpose is to live awhile under his private canvas, public camp grounds convenient to stores and equipped with water supply and even electric lights. Under the gigantic pines, firs, and ancient sequoias of these extraordinary forests, increasing thousands spend summer weeks and months.
From these centres the lovers of the sublime take saddle-horses and pack-trains, or, if they are hikers, burros to carry their equipment, and follow the trails to Kern Canyon, or the summit of Whitney, or the Kings River Canyon, or the Tehipite Valley, or the John Muir Trail upon the Sierra’s crest. Many are the trip combinations, the choice of which depends upon the time and the strenuousness of the traveller. Camping-out on trail in Roosevelt is an experience which demands repetition. Sure of clear weather, the traveller does not bother with tents, but snuggles at night in a sleeping-bag under a roof of spreading pine.
But it is possible to equip for the trail elsewhere. The principal point upon the north is the Yosemite National Park, where one may provide himself with horses and supplies for a journey of any desired duration. Starting in the Yosemite Valley, and leaving the park near the carved cirques of Mount Lyell, the traveller will find the intervening miles of the John Muir Trail a panorama of magnificence. Thousand Island Lake, reflecting the glorious pyramid of Banner Peak, the Devil’s Postpile, a group of basaltic columns, far finer than Ireland’s celebrated Giant’s Causeway, the Mono Valley, with its ancient volcano split down through the middle so that all may see its vent and spreading crater, are merely the more striking features of a progress of spectacles to the north entrance of Roosevelt Park; this is at the junction of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River and Piute Creek. The principal eastern gateway is Kearsarge Pass, on the crest of the Sierra a few miles north of Mount Whitney. The trail ascends from Independence, where one also may comfortably outfit.
These four are, at this writing, the principal en-trance gates, each opening from points at which parties may be sure of securing horses, equipment, and guides. But several other trails enter from the east, south, southwest, and west sides. All of these in time will, become, with development, well travelled trails into the heart of the great wilderness.
Any description of the glories of the John Muir Trail from its entrance into the park to its climax upon the summit of Mount Whitney far passes the limits of a chapter. In time it will inspire a literature.
Approaching from Yosemite through the canyon of the San Joaquin, the traveller swings around the north side of Mount Goddard, crosses gorgeous Muir Pass, and enters the fringe of cirques and lakes which borders the western edge of Sierra’s crest from end to end. Through this he winds his way southward, skirting lakes, crossing snowfields, encircling templed cirques, plunging into canyons, climbing divides, rounding gigantic peaks, surprising views of sublimity, mounting ever higher until he stands upon the shoulders of Mount Whitney. Dismounting here, he scrambles up the few hundred feet of stiff climb which places him on the summit, from which he looks out north, west, and south over the most diversified high mountain landscape in America, and eastward over the Sierra foothills to Death Valley, lowest land in the United States.
No thrilling Alpine feat is the ascent of our loftiest summit. But those who want to measure human strength and skill in terms of perpendicular granite may find among Whitney’s neighbors peaks which will present harder problems than those offered abroad, peaks which themselves well may become as celebrated in future years.
The John Muir Trail is destined to a fame and a use perhaps many times as great as those men thought who conceived it as a memorial to a lover of the trail, and of all that that implies. It will play a distinguished part in the education of the nation in the love of mountains. It will win artists to a phase of the sublime in America which they have overlooked. It will bring students to the class-rooms where Nature displays her most tremendous exhibits.
Nevertheless, Roosevelt’s lower levels will draw many times as many devotees as will the High Sierra; and these visitors will stay longer. It is the valleys and the canyons which will prove the greatest lure, for here one may camp leisurely and in entire comfort, and thence make what trips he chooses into the regions of the peaks and the cirques.
There are literally thousands of canyons and of many kinds. Besides the Kern Canyon there are two which must rank with Yosemite. In the summer of 1916 I travelled the length of the park, as far as the Giant Forest, with a party led by Director Stephen T. Mather, of the National Park Service, then Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, and was powerfully impressed with the scenic qualities of the Tehipite Valley, and the Kings River Canyon, at that time little known.
Time will not dim my memory of Tehipite Dome, the august valley and the leaping, singing river which it overlooks. Well short of the Yosemite Valley in the kind of beauty that plunges the observer into silence, the Tehipite Valley far excels it in bigness, power, and majesty. Lookout Point on the north rim, a couple of miles south of the Dome, gave us our first sensation. Three thousand feet above the river, it offered by far the grandest valley view I have looked upon, for the rim view into Yosemite by comparison is not so grand as it is beautiful.
The canyon revealed itself to the east as far as Mount Woodworth, its lofty diversified walls lifting precipitously from the heavy forests of the floor and sides, and yielding to still greater heights above. Enormous cliffs abutted, Yosemitelike, at intervals. South of us, directly across the canyon, rose the strenuous heights of the Monarch Divide, Mount Harrington, towering a thousand feet higher above the valley floor than Cloud’s Rest above the Yosemite. Down the slopes of the Monarch Divide, seemingly from its turreted summits, cascaded many frothing streams. The Eagle Peaks, Blue Canyon Falls, Silver Spur, the Gorge of Despair, Lost Canyon-these were some of the romantic and appropriate titles we found on the Geological Survey map.
And, close at hand, opposite Mount Harrington and just across Crown Creek Canyon, rose mighty Tehipite. We stood level with its rounded glistening dome. The Tehipite Dome is a true Yosemite feature. It compares in height and prominence with El Capitan. In fact, it stands higher above the valley floor and occupies a similar position at the valley’s western gate. It is not so massive as El Capitan, and therefore not so impressive; but it is superb. It is better compared with Half Dome, though again perhaps not so impressive. But it has its own august personality, as notably so as either of these world-famed rocks; and, if it stood in the Yosemite, would share with them the incomparable valley’s highest honors.
Descending to the floor, the whole aspect of the valley changed. Looking up, Tehipite Dome, now outlined against the sky, and the neighboring abrupt castellated walls, towered more hugely than ever. We did not need the contour map to know that some of these heights exceeded Yosemite’s. The sky-line was fantastically carved into spires and domes, a counterpart in gigantic miniature of the Great Sierra of which it was the valley climax. The Yosemite measure of sublimity, perhaps, lacked, but in its place was a more rugged grandeur, a certain suggestion of vastness and power that I have not seen elsewhere.
This impression was strengthened by the floor itself, which contains no suggestion whatever of Yosemite’s exquisiteness. Instead, it offers rugged spaciousness. In place of Yosemite’s peaceful woods and meadows, here were tangled giant-studded thickets and mountainous masses of enormous broken talus. Instead of the quiet winding Merced, here was a surging, smashing, frothing, cascading, roaring torrent, several times its volume, which filled the valley with its turbulence.
Once step foot on the valley floor and all thought of comparison with Yosemite vanishes forever. This is a different thing altogether, but a thing in its own way no less superlative. The keynote of the Tehipite Valley is wild exuberance. It thrills where Yosemite enervates. Yet its temperature is quite as mild.
The Middle Fork contains more trout than any other stream I have fished. We found them in pools and riffles everywhere; no water was too white to get a rise. In the long, greenish-white borders of fast rapids they floated continually into view. In five minutes’ watching I could count a dozen or more such appearances within a few feet of water. They ran from eight to fourteen inches. No doubt larger ones lay below. So I got great fun by picking my particular trout and casting specially for him. Stop your fly’s motion and the pursuing fish instantly stops, backs, swims round the lure in a tour of examination, and disappears. Start it moving and he instantly reappears from the white depth, where, no doubt, he has been cautiously watching. A pause and a swift start often tempted to a strike.
These rainbows of the torrents are hard fighters. And many of them, if ungently handled, availed of swift currents to thresh themselves free.
You must fish a river to appreciate it. Standing on its edges, leaping from rock to rock, slipping waist deep at times, wading recklessly to reach some pool or eddy of special promise, searching the rapids, peering under the alders, testing the pools; that’s the- way to make friends with a river. You study its moods and its ways as those of a mettlesome horse.
And after a while its spirit seeps through and finds yours. Its personality unveils. A sweet friendliness unites you, a sense of mutual understanding. There follows the completest detachment that I know. Years and the worries disappear. You and the river dream away the unnoted hours.
Passing on from the Tehipite Valley to the Kings River Canyon, the approach to Granite Pass was nothing short of magnificent. We crossed a superb cirque studded with lakelets; we could see the pass ahead of us on a fine snow-crowned bench. We ascended the bench and found ourselves, not in the pass, but in the entrance to still another cirque, also lake-studded, a loftier, nobler cirque encircling the one below. Ahead of us upon another lofty bench surely was the pass. Those inspiring snow-daubed heights whose serrated edges cut sharply into the sky certainly marked the supreme summit. Our winding trail up steep, rocky ascents pointed true; an hour’s toil would carry us over. But the hour passed and the crossing of the shelf disclosed, not the glowing valley of the South Fork across the pass, but still a vaster, nobler cirque above, sublime in Arctic glory !
How the vast glaciers that cut these titanic carvings must have swirled among these huge concentric walls, pouring over this shelf and that, piling together around these uplifting granite peaks, concentrating combined effort upon this unyielding mass and that, and, beaten back, pouring down the tortuous main channel with rendings and tearings unimaginable !
Granite Pass is astonishing ! We saw no less than four of these vast concentric cirques, through three of which we passed. And the Geological Survey map discloses a tributary basin adjoining which enclosed a group of large volcanic lakes, and doubtless other vast cirque-like chambers.
We took photographs, but knew them vain.
A long, dusty descent of Copper Creek brought us, near day’s end, into the exquisite valley of the South Fork of the Kings River, the Kings River Canyon.
Still another Yosemite !
It is not so easy to differentiate the two canyons of the Kings. They are similar and yet very different. Perhaps the difference lies chiefly in degree. Both lie east and west, with enormous rocky bluffs rising on either side of rivers of quite extraordinary beauty. Both present carved and castellated walls of exceptional boldness of design. Both are heavily and magnificently wooded, the forests reaching up sharp slopes on either side. Both possess to a marked degree the quality that lifts them above the average of even the Sierra’s glacial valleys.
But the outlines here seem to be softer, the valley floor broader, the river less turbulent. If the keynote of the Tehipite Valley is wild exuberance, that of the Kings River Canyon is wild beauty. The one excites, the other lulls. The one shares with Yosemite the distinction of extraordinary outline, the other shares with Yosemite the distinction of extraordinary charm.
There are few nobler spots than the junction of Copper Creek with the Kings. The Grand Sentinel is seldom surpassed. It fails of the personality of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Tehipite, but it only just fails. If they did not exist, it would become the most celebrated rock in the Sierra, at least. The view up the canyon from this spot has few equals. The view down the canyon is not often excelled. When the day of the Kings River Canyon dawns, it will dawn brilliantly.