University of Wisconsin


image preview


these discomforts, which would be intolerable to a less hardy man, Muir appeared oblivious. Climbing in the mountains by one's self, as did Muir, is one of the most exacting of the physical arts. The semi-professional climbers, who climb in order to write articles for magazines, go with not less than two professional guides, the three being roped together. Only those who have done climbing will appreciate how unlike are the two methods. When three are roped together, if one makes a mistake, in all probability his life is saved. When a man is climbing alone on a steep or vertical cliff, his first mistake is likely to be his last. Neither hand nor foot can be moved except with the exercise of sure judgment, and with the nicest precision. Muir was able to do what he did only by possessing a most wonderful combination of clear eye, unfaltering nerve, and limbs of great strength and endurance. John Muir's books, in the matter of personal safety, are in marked contrast with those of many mountain climbers. One finds danger only occasionally mentioned. In order to appreciate Muir's marvelous, almost uncanny skill as a climber, it is necessary to go to the writings of others who have had the good fortune to see Muir at work. With remarkable speed, unflagging energy, and nerves unshakened, he would climb on dangerous ground for twelve, fourteen, or sixteen hours without rest; and on one remarkable occasion when a life was at stake his mountain work extended throughout'the night, during which he [14 1 had not only himself to guide, but to lead and carry his crippled friend over very difficult ground in the darkness. The same qualities were shown in Muir's glacial work. To explore glaciers alone, and especially unknown glaciers, requires great agility and endurance, constant skill, steady coolness, and never failing watchfulness. To jump innumerable crevasses, to cross those too wide to jump on ice bridges, are a severe strain upon the nerves of any man; and yet Muir, on one of his trips of exploration, dragging a heavily loaded sled over the rough ice or pushing it ahead of him across the ice bridges, worked day after day alone on the vast glacier that bears his name. The man who goes out to the wilds alone is a true lover of nature, not a lip worshipper. The mighty forests are sometimes so soundless that the ear hears only the circulating blood; at other times are a tumultuous mass of tossing boughs, swaying limbs, and crashing trunks. In the impenetrable darkness of the forests at night, it is as if the eye did not exist; but the tense ear may catch a myriad mingled sounds—the moaning of the trees, the falling of the waters, and the joyful, weird, or angry cries of fowl and beast. In the day the eye may sweep over the endless plain, leap a hundred miles to the distant mountain peak or attempt to penetrate the grey mist hanging over the crevasses of the glaciers. To be alone with nature, oppressive and terrifying to the city born, was a delicious pleasure to Muir. Indeed it [15 1



Date Original

December 1916

Page Number


Resource Identifier

MSS048 Va.10

Copyright Statement

Some material related to John Muir may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Owning Institution

University of the Pacific Library Holt-Atherton Special Collections. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.


John Muir, biography, reminiscence, colleagues, contemporaries, archives, special collections, University of the Pacific, California, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, history, naturalist