John Muir – one crazy hiker

Just read my first John Muir book — The Mountains of California.

I knew very little about the icon before reading about his decade exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Long before there were any trails built.

A young man, John Muir dropped out of University and started hiking.

… instead of graduating from a school built by the hand of man, Muir opted to enroll in the “university of the wilderness” and thus walked a thousand miles from Indiana to Florida

Arriving in San Francisco in March 1868, Muir immediately left for a place he had only read about called Yosemite. After seeing Yosemite Valley for the first time he was captivated, and wrote, “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite,” and “[Yosemite is] the grandest of all special temples of Nature.” …

Pursuit of his love of science, especially geology, often occupied his free time and he soon became convinced that glaciers had sculpted many of the features of the valley and surrounding area. …

A large earthquake centered near Lone Pine, California in Owens Valley was felt very strongly in Yosemite Valley in March 1872. The quake woke Muir in the early morning and he ran out of his cabin “both glad and frightened,” exclaiming, “A noble earthquake!”


In that earthquake rock fall, Muir ran towards the thundering boulders to assess how they bounce and where they settle into place.

In one chapter of the book “A Near View of the High Sierra” Muir describes his spontaneous first ascent of Mt. Ritter. In October. Without even a jacket. On a vertical face of rock and ice where there was no turning back. It was summit or fall.

He would study a single water-ouzel (his favourite bird) for hours. Or days on end.

In a wind storm he climbed 100ft to the top of a Spruce to see how the tree reacted. (Swinging in an arc of from 20-30 degrees.)

Muir may not be the greatest writer of all time, but he was one passionate outdoorsman.

Muir co-founded the Sierra Club and served as first President until his death. Sierra became the template for the modern environmental organization.

The Mountains of California
President Roosevelt with Muir in 1903

The Mountains of California

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