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Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada

Clarence King

Book Overview: 

"Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada" is a memoir by Clarence King of his adventures and work with the California Geological Survey. King later led a major survey along the 40th Parallel in the American West and then was appointed the first director of the new U.S. Geological Survey.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .vast bulk the grand, pillar-like stateliness, is the thin and inconspicuous foliage, which feathers out delicately on the boughs like a mere mist of pale apple-green. It would seem nothing when compared with the immense volume of tree for which it must do the ordinary respirative duty; but doubtless the bark performs a large share of this, its papery lamination and porous structure fitting it eminently for that purpose.

Near this “King of the Mountains” grew three other trees; one a sugar-pine (Pinus Lambertiana) of about eight feet in diameter, and hardly less than three hundred feet high (although we did not measure it, estimating simply by comparison of its rise above the Sequoia, whose height was quite accurately determined). For a hundred and fifty feet the pine was branchless, and as round as if turned, delicate bluish-purple in hue, and marked with a net-work of scorings. The branches, in nearly level poise, grew long and slenderly out from the. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Oh, were it possible to add an extra 15 stars! This book made me fall hopelessly in love with Clarence King -- and I mean LOVE, like with Shawn Cassidy in the seventh grade. Reminiscing about his three years as a 20-year-old on the California Geological Survey under the leadership of Elias Whitne...more

It seems likely that Clarence King was more comfortable out in the wilderness than with people. His descriptions of the landscapes and vistas are written lovingly, and for the most part, when he encounters people, it is not very compassionate. His view of Chinese and Mexicans and Indians are for...more

I read a slightly different edition... I came to this book via a reference in The Life of a Fossil Hunter, another fascinating 19th C. science memoir. These men seem to stand on some strange sliding cusp between the 19th C. and the 20th, one foot embedded -- sometimes mired --in the past (and, of...more

Wonderful book filled with tales of the exploration of the Sierra Nevada in California including an ascent of Mt. Whitney and Shasta. King does a great job weaving information about the geology of the region with his personal tales of the people and places he visited in the region. Definitely an...more

"Among the many serious losses man has suffered in passing from a life of nature to one artificial, is to be numbered the fatal blunting of all his senses" - pg. 286-86

This is a really fun first-hand account of Clarence King telling his journeys as one of the earliest geological surveyors in the...more

A true classic from an entirely other timeframe. The first couple of chapters are utterly fascinating and engaged me completely - the rest less so but still a true look back to the days of discovery. Quite politically incorrect but certainly reflects the time that it was written. Hard to imagine...more

Clarence King explored the California mountains during the second half of the 1800's. This book describes the Sierras before they were crowded with settlers and tourists. If you like adventure and nature, take the time to read this book. It is a book that should be read slowly to truly savor his...more

Read this a long time ago, and strangely enough I am a Geology teacher now. So, the part I remember was reading about a couple of explorers/travelers heading from the Salton Sea up to the Sierras and that I have only known that "route" as a series of "numbered" roads (395, 15, 58) that used to ca...more

Very detailed account of four mountaineering trips to Tyndal, Mount Clark, Shasta and Whitney. The Tyndal trip was a first ascent.
Between these summits King writes about odd characters and places he visits. Fair warning he isn't found of Indians, Mexicans, Chinese or poor whites. He did surprise...more

In his early twenties, Clarence King left New England in 1863 for California. Trained as a geologist, he was instrumental in the early surveying and geological exploration of the Sierra Nevada, making a number of first ascents. He was also an able writer in the style of the day. This book is a co...more

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