With a degree in Classic Literature, an old army hat, and great physical endurance, Norman Clyde became a living legend. He drove nails into the soles of his boots for traction, so slick rock, ice and other obstacles could not keep him from reaching the summits of the mountains he wanted to climb. On cold Sierra mornings, he would recite Homer’s “Illiad” and “Odyssey” in Greek, while cooking breakfast for climbing partners at the campfire. He was one of a dying breed, a “vanishing Victorian,” which was evident in his writing style.
The following excerpt is from the book Close Ups of the High Sierra by Norman Clyde, published by Spotted Dog Press:
Few Californians know even the names of the 14,000-foot peaks of the Sierra Nevada, their knowledge of them being usually limited to the fact that Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the continental United States. Few are aware that there are ten others, all of which have at least one feature of interest. They are either scenically attractive, afford exceptionally fine views from their summits, offer mountaineering inducements or possess all of these characteristics. All are found along the axis of the range from a point west of Lone Pine to one in the same direction from Big Pine. All may be said to be included in three groups which we may call those of Mt. Whitney, Mt. Williamson and the Palisades, from the most prominent mountain in each of them. . .
…In this sketch we shall begin with the first of these. Many appear to be disappointed with the views ordinarily obtained of Mt. Whitney. Viewed from the Owens Valley to the east, other considerably lower peaks, due to their position seem to rival or even exceed it in height, while from the Kern region to the west, the comparatively gentle slope of that face of the mountain appears to rob it of spectacular features. However, both of these estimates appear to be in some degree unwarranted, for as one approaches Mt. Whitney from the east, its series of granite pinnacles stand in beautiful perspective at the head of Lone Pine Canyon, a fine gorge walled in on either side throughout most of its length by high granite clfffs, while if one surveys it from the summit of any of the peaks of the Great Western Divide, the depth and the breath of the valley of the Kern seem to impart to it a grandeur that it appears to lack when beheld from nearer points in that direction.
But it is from seldom-trodden vantage points that Mt.Whitney is most imposing. From Lone Pine Peak, Mts. Mallory and Irvine, Le Conte and Langley to the east and south; from Mts. Russell, Barnard and others to the north, Mt. Whitney is spectacular to a degree that would surprise those who have seen it only from the usual viewpoints.
The panorama beheld from Mt. Whitney is one of great extent and magnificence. To the north it extends along the axis of the range to the mountains of Yosemite; to the west it looks across the Kern basin to the castellated Kaweahs and the jagged line of the Kern-Kaweah divide; to the south, over gradually lowering forest-clad mountains; to the east and southeast, over a multitude of arid ranges and desert valleys.
Mt. Whitney is regarded by mountaineers as being remarkably easy of ascent. From the west, aside from a chimney of about a thousand feet, it is a walk up comparatitrely gentle slopes. From the east it demands more endurance, requiring a person to be in good condition to climb it from timberline and return without suffering from overexertion. The last of the high pinnacles on the ridge running south from Mt. Whitney is called Mt. Muir. It attains an elevation of 14,025 feet. As one comes up the Mt. Whitney trail from the east, its sheer face and sharp summit are very striking, The summit commands an excellent view, especially of the rugged mountains to the southeast. It rises several hundred feet above the trail that winds along to the west of it, and necessitates a short but I interesting rockclimb to reach it.