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Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

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Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

Postby giantbrookie » Thu Apr 21, 2016 1:29 pm

I figure someone has probably written about this, but have you folks ever wondered what approach and return Clarence King and Richard Cotter followed in their famed climb of Mt Tyndall in 1864 (not the final climbing route and descent route which is pretty obvious)? I just read King's Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada for the first time since I was a kid (>40 years ago) and I was struck by something that I had long forgotten: that the most hair-raising climbing was in the approach and return rather than the climb itself. The account of the climb has been long considered to have really exaggerated the difficulties of the standard class 3 route, but, upon further review, much of the degree of difficulty is related to snow-ice conditions and, as noted above, the most extreme climbing descriptions are on the approach and return. Anyhow, I wonder how many of you have taken out the topos and wondered about just where King crossed the Great Western Divide (S of Brewer) and then the Kings-Kern Divide (where the most hair raising stories of the account are). Also, it appears they did some serious climbing to get around the shores of what I'm guessing is Lake Reflection after recrossing the Kings-Kern Divide on the return.
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Re: Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

Postby Hobbes » Thu Apr 21, 2016 3:15 pm

Roper recounts the story that the Brewer expedition followed the S Fork King in late June, 1864. Upon summiting (what was to become) Mt Brewer in late June/early July, Brewer spied Whitney & other 14ers to the south-east. From that vantage point, he named many of the surrounding peaks, including Mt Whitney. King & Cotter were in his group, and after hearing his tale, convinced him to allow them to attempt one of the peaks to the south-east.

Taking a look at a topo, the most logical path would have been the future JMT/PCT by simply following the S Fork up & around to Rae lakes. From there, they probably went over Glen, since that pass was probably pretty obvious. Once over Glen, it once again is pretty straightforward to follow the gap down to Vidette, then follow Bubbs up to Center basin.

At this point, they probably had the same reaction as the first JMT route finders looking at the future Forester pass (ie how the fvck do we get over that?), and decided to follow Center up to Junction pass. From there they could have seen both Williamson & Tyndall beyond Shepherd pass. Roper says that King thought he had climbed Whitney, only to discover later it was Tyndall. Since they were only gone 5 days, they had to be moving pretty fast: 2 days there, 1 day summit, 2 days back.

Roper thinks King greatly embellished his account, since that was the style back in those days to sell books and make money as an adventure writer/lecturer.
Last edited by Hobbes on Thu Apr 21, 2016 3:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

Postby Hobbes » Thu Apr 21, 2016 3:33 pm

According to this record of SF rainfall, the winter of 1863-1864 was one of the lowest on record (other than 1850, 1897 & 1975): 10" inches.

http://ggweather.com/sf/monthly.html

In comparison, the 4 years of 2012-15 drought averaged 15.5" inches of rain in SF. So, all things being equal in conjunction with Sierra snowfall, when King & Cotter took their hike in late June/early July 1864, there would have been -0- snow anywhere on any of the passes - including the yet-to-be built Forester.
Last edited by Hobbes on Thu Apr 21, 2016 3:38 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

Postby Jimr » Thu Apr 21, 2016 3:33 pm

I highly recommend this book

http://www.amazon.com/Early-Days-Range-Light-Mountaineers/dp/1582435197/

Not only did he retrace many of the early explorers, he did it with the same type of equipment they used. I also highly recommend his book "Salt to Summit" both excellent reads IMHO
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Re: Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

Postby ExploreABitMore » Thu May 12, 2016 3:42 pm

Jimr wrote:I highly recommend this book

http://www.amazon.com/Early-Days-Range-Light-Mountaineers/dp/1582435197/

Not only did he retrace many of the early explorers, he did it with the same type of equipment they used. I also highly recommend his book "Salt to Summit" both excellent reads IMHO


I've read both of those and would highly recommend them, as well. Great reads for sure :thumbsup:
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Re: Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

Postby gdurkee » Fri Jun 03, 2016 3:39 pm

"...to coolly seat oneself on death’s door, waiting only for the fatal summons, and all this for a friend, takes as sublime a type of courage as I know." (King on his climb of Mt. Tyndall being belayed by his climbing partner, Cotter). That's a good question. I'd always assumed Milly's or Lucy's or something. Looking at a map and re-reading his description it looks like maybe dropping down from Langley Pass, then crossing somewhere north of Thunder and south of Jordan (??). Someone must have figured this out. King's descriptions are notoriously unreliable but he sure was manly! I'll look at it more carefully.

Not sure how Hobbes got Glen Pass. Am I missing something (never impossible!).

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Re: Clarence King: Approach Route to Mt Tyndall?

Postby Larry55 » Sun Jun 05, 2016 11:02 am

Such a Landscape, William Alsup's outstanding 1999 book on the 1864 California Geological Survey Exploration of the Sierra Nevada (led by William Brewer), provides on pages 49-55 the author's "reasonably constructed" route taken by Clarence King and Dick Cotter to Mt. Tyndall. Alsup writes that from the base of Mt. Brewer the pair climbed up or around South Guard, crossed to the east side of the Great Western Divide at Longley Pass, dropped toward Lake Reflection, camped in an amphitheater on the north side of the Kings-Kern Divide, surmounted the Divide near Mt. Jordan, and then worked their way to a camp on Tyndall Creek at 11,000 feet. Alsup states that King and Cotter's return trip is more difficult to reconstruct but it is possible that they crossed the Kings-Kern Divide at either Milly's Foot Pass or Lucy's Foot Pass, camped near Lake Reflection, re-crossed Longley Pass, and returned to their starting point at the base of Mt. Brewer. I highly recommend Alsup's book to all those interested in the Brewer party's exploration of the High Sierra.
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