First whites to see Yosemite?

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Dateline: Montenegro. Mision: Carpe Diem

      The mountains of the High Sierra were unknown to the Anglos who were migrating westward. By the early 1800’s the American frontier of the time lay to the east of St. Joseph, Missouri. There were no towns or settlements to speak of further west. The Exploratory journey of Lewis & Clark provided the first organized route to the new Western continent. Surprisingly, it was the east coast and European fashion industry that helped drive western exploration. Furs had become the wrap of choice for society women in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Paris. The high price that soft beaver pelts could bring trappers spurred on an industry to seek the mammals out west. Trails penetrating the Rocky Mountains began to appear. Thousands of beavers and other fur bearing animals spurred rugged trappers onto uncharted lands. This cottage industry would meet annually to trade their take for cash with resellers. Yearly meet-ups (not unlike buyer/seller conventions of today) were called “The Rendezvous.” Here hunters, guides, suppliers and ambitious men would arrange hunting parties to venture into the unknown. Skilled Indians were allowed to participate in a gesture of equality. 

     In July 1833, the event was held on the banks of the Green river in Utah. It was here that a man named Captain Joseph Walker, assembled a fur hunting party in 1833. His goal was to find a direct westward route for trappers through the Central Sierra to the Pacific coast. (The first westward expedition to California was accomplished by Jedediah Smith in 1826 but that route was via the easier southern Sierra and into San Diego.) Historical research into the journals of one member of the Walker party, Zenas Leonard allows us to reconstruct the Walker route with some confidence.

     It appears the men traveled west to Salt Lake then followed the Humbolt River into western Nevada and to Mono Lake before attempting to cross the High Sierra. They passed by areas we know today as Walker Lake, Glen Aulin and Tenaya Lake. Of our interest is the very high probability that they actually continued on and in fact, looked down into Yosemite Valley from a vantage at Yosemite Point. Their descriptions appear to accurately reflect this. Later Indian stories provide  support. The party did not descend into the valley but continued on their quest through Crane Flat, Merced Grove, along the lower Merced into San Francisco, Gilroy and finally Monterey.


Unrelated thought worth quoting: “One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books.” – John Muir 

*MrHalfDome™ – Rick Deutsch –


About Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch

Mr Half Dome. Has written the only half dome hiking guide, One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome. Has hiked it 31 times to day. Lives in San Jose, CA Available for presentations. Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
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