The Ascent of Mt. Tyndall, 1864

Clarence King, Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada.

The thermometer stood at two above zero [Fahrenheit]…Stars still blazed brightly, and the moon, hidden from us by western cliffs, shone in pale reflection upon the rocky heights to the east, which rose, dimly white, up from the impenetrable shadows of the cañon. Silence,—cold, ghastly dimness, in which loomed huge forms,—the biting frostiness of the air, wrought upon our feelings as we shouldered our packs and started with slow pace to climb toward the “divide.”  Directing our steps southward toward a niche in the wall which bounded us only half a mile distant, we travelled over a continuous snow-field frozen so densely as scarcely to yield at all to our tread…

As we advanced, the snow sloped more and more steeply up toward the crags, till by and by it became quite dangerous, causing us to cut steps with Cotter’s large bowie-knife,—a slow, tedious operation, requiring patience of a pretty permanent kind. In this way we spent a quiet social hour or so…To look back when we stopped to rest was to realize our danger,—that smooth, swift slope of ice carrying the eye down a thousand feet to the margin of a frozen mirror of ice; ribs and needles of rock piercing up through the snow, so closely grouped that, had we fallen, a miracle only might save us from being dashed. This led to rather deeper steps, and greater care that our burdens should be held more nearly over the center of gravity, and a pleasant relief when we got to the top of the snow and sat down on a block of granite to breathe and look up in search of a way up the thousand-foot cliff of broken surface, among the lines of fracture and the galleries winding along the face…

Straight down, nearly a thousand feet below, at the foot of the rocks, began the snow, whose steep, roof-like slope, exaggerated into an almost vertical angle, curved down in a long, white field, broken far away by rocks and polished, round lakes of ice…At that moment, when hanging between heaven and earth, it was a deep satisfaction to look down at the wild gulf of desolation beneath, and up to unknown dangers ahead, and feel my nerves cool and unshaken.

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