Monday, December 14, 2015

Origins Of Some Sierra Nevada Mountain Names

Dale Matson

If you spend any time at all in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you become curious about the names of some of the peaks that are organizing features as you hike the trails. Some names are obvious like Mt. Muir (14,019’) near Mt. Whitney (14,508’) but others are not. Much of the influence in the Sierra Nevada came from the East Coast by way of Harvard that produced notable surveyors and geologists and the West Coast by way of prominent early Sierra Club members and U.C. faculty. John Muir, Theodore Solomons and Joseph LeConte were notables from this latter group. Mount Solomons (13,040) is near Muir Pass and LeConte Canyon, Mt. LeConte (13,936') and the LeConte Divide are named after Joseph LeConte.

Two books that I’ve read recently have filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge base. One is “Mountaineering In The Sierra Nevada” by Clarence King and the other is “Norman Clyde Close-ups Of The High Sierra”.

Norman Clyde is arguably the greatest mountaineer of the Sierra Nevada with the most first ascents and 100’s of first route ascents. In his day, he could petition the USGS to name a peak if he was the first ascender. He named Mount Mallory (13,851') and Mount Irvine (13,786') in honor of the ill-fated mountaineers who lost their lives attempting to climb Mt. Everest in 1924. Clyde Peak (13,861’) in the Palisades group was named after Clyde posthumously. A glacier also bears his name. The tallest of the Minerets in the Ritter Range is also named after Clyde (12,270’).

Many of the Sierra Peaks were named by and after members of the California Geological Survey. They were explorers as much as they were geologists and scientists. Clarence King, Richard Cotter, William Gardiner, Josiah Whitney, Charles Hoffman (Mt. Hoffman) and William Brewer were contemporaries exploring and mapping the Sierra Nevada. The U.S. Congress consolidated the various western geological surveys into the USGS with Clarence King as the first head. King’s account of his first ascent of Mount Tyndall (named after another scientist who influenced King) with Richard Cotter demonstrates both their skill and courage.

Mount Agassiz (13,899’) in the Palisade group was named after Harvard University geology professor Louis Agassiz. Finally, Mount Humphreys (13,992’) in Humphrey’s Basin in Eastern Fresno County was named after Andrew Humphreys a chief engineer of the U.S. Army. He was involved with survey work related to the Transcontinental Railroad.

Amelia Earhart Peak (11,969') in Yosemite was named after the aviator in the 1960's and has been the scene of an annual pilgrimage by female pilots since that time.

 Mt. Brewer Center Left Behind East Lake
 Mt. Agassiz From Dusy Basin
 Mt. Clarence King From 60 Lake Basin
 Mt. Cotter On Right Gardiner Basin On Left
 Mt. Humphreys From Humphreys Basin
   Mt. Whitney Right Of Center

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