August 18 – Whitney, Conquered!

Posted on August 18, 2017

Today is the anniversary of the very first time a human being climbed to the top of Mount Whitney, in California!

Except, it's probably not!

Our ancestors - including all the many thousands of California Indians or Native Americans - were mostly too busy surviving to frequently take on extra dangers and challenges...But people way back when were just as varied as they are now, and many of them were courageous, adventurous, and daring. I bet a few of them scaled what we now call Mount Whitney - all 14,494 feet of it!

But early derring do's don't count when we are talking about "first this-and-so" and "first that-and-such" - because we have no written record of who did it, when.

Flash forward to the 1870s. Since Mount Whitney was the very tallest mountain in all of the United States (at the time!), there was a lot of competition to see who would be the first to climb it. 

In 1871, a man named Clarence King climbed a peak that he thought was Mount Whitney and seemed to be destined for the record books - but then he was startled, two years later, to hear that someone had proved that the mountain he had climbed was not actually Mount Whitney, and was not the highest mountain in the U.S.

The actual Mount Whitney was five or six miles away from the mountain he'd climbed.

King was determined to be king of the actual Mount Whitney. He was all the way across the country, but he traveled to California, hired two men to accompany him up the peak, and successfully climbed Mount Whitney -

but he was 32 days too late.

On this date in1873 another climbing party had conquered the difficult climb and stood on the tip-top of Mount Whitney. So Charles Begole, Albert Johnson, and John Lucas were first. And 13 days before King scaled the mountain, another group of four climbers had done the deed. I guess King had to settle for #8!!

Although I've never wanted to climb Mount Whitney, it does have some importance for me. When I was a little girl we vacationed in Mammoth Lakes at a family cabin, and when we got to the town of Lone Pine, we would see glorious Mount Whitney looming over the town - and also a mural of the mountain on one of the buildings in the town. I always looked forward to seeing the mountain, partly because it meant we were more than half way to Mammoth.

Also, I named one of my daughters Whitney after this mountain!

By the way, Mount Whitney was the tallest mountain in the U.S. in the 1870s. But when Alaska became a state in 1959, Mount McKinley - also known as Denali - took the honors. Now we have to say that Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in "the lower 48" or "in the contiguous states." ("Contiguous" means touching.) It's also, of course, the highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (its mountain range) and in California.

Also on this date:

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