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Hiking from May Lake toward Mount Hoffmann

“Ramble to the summit of Mount Hoffmann, eleven thousand feet high, the highest point in life’s journey my feet have yet touched.” (John Muir: My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911, p. 199.) We rambled in John Muir’s footsteps but didn’t make it to the top. We did explore around beautiful May Lake, up along the mountain, and even spotted a beautiful Sooty Grouse that posed for our pictures.

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: About 5 Miles (about 6 miles round trip to the top of Mount Hoffman)
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 8,858′ – 9,924′
Date: November 14, 2018
Maps: Falls Ridge, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Topographic Quads
Dog Hike? No

We drove east on Tioga Road about 28 miles from Crane Flat, then turned left (north) on the May Lake turnoff. I was pleasantly surprised to see the gate to the road to the May Lake High Sierra Camp still open, so we drove up it about 1.8 miles to the trailhead parking lot. We have seen it closed to vehicle traffic on prior wintry hikes. We stashed our after-hike goodies in the bear box and used the restrooms before heading up the trail toward May Lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After 1.2 miles, we reached May Lake and even though there was a small amount of wind causing some ripples, we saw some really nice reflections.

Charles Frederick Hoffmann, who was part of the Whitney Survey, named May Lake for his future wife, Lucy Mayotta Browne. She was born between 1846-1848 in Washington DC and died 1926 in Oakland. They were married January 13, 1870 in Alameda County and had 4 sons. Her father, John Ross Browne, was born in Ireland, arriving 1833 in New York, and her mother, Lucy Anna Mitchell, was born in Maryland.

Lucy Mayotta Browne (From Rutherford Family Free, Ancestry.com)

Lucy Mayotta must have had quite an interesting upbringing, considering the information in the below biography for her father located on Find a Grave.

Author, Journalist, U.S. Revenue Service Agent, official reporter of the Constitutional Convention of California at Monterey, Surveyor of custom houses and mints and investigator of Indian and Land Office affairs, prolific writer of many subjects, appointed Minister to China in 1868, but recalled in 1870. His writings incidental to service with the United States Government in various capacities, Special Agent of the U.S. Treasury of California, mining and real estate investor, passionate champion for the rights of Chinese Americans and American Indians in California. He traveled widely both in government service and his own pleasure. His father edited a nationalist paper in Ireland, inspiring British authorities to put him in prison. They exiled the family to America in 1833, where they settled in Louisville, Kentucky, and his father became a schoolteacher, editor and proprietor of the Louisville Daily Reporter. In 1842, John Browne signed on to a whaling ship, traveling much of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The New York firm, Harpers and Brothers, published his writings and etchings of a whaling cruise in 1846. It was said his book may have influenced Herman Melville to write Moby Dick, and earned Browne international fame as an author and artist. 1849 found him in California during the Gold Rush and working at a number of government positions. Further travels to Europe and the Middle East yielded more Harpers publications in 1853, and in 1860, while in Virginia City, Nevada, after a few days visit, he complained of stomach pain caused by bad water. Harpers published his unflattering article, A Peep At Washoe. By 1855, he was friends with Mark Twain, who visited him at his Oakland, California, home. In his early days of writing, John heard from Edgar Allen Poe, who published John’s articles in his publication, Graham’s Lady’s and Gentlemen’s Magazine. His style of writing influenced a number of author’s, not only Mark Twain, but Bret Harte and Dan De Quille. John Ross Browne married Lucy Anna Mitchell in 1843 and they had ten children. By 1907, only five of their children were alive. He died suddenly at his home in Oakland, California.

I think the last time I had hiked this area was back on January 3, 2012. That was the winter that Tioga Road stayed open until January 17, giving us wonderful access to a winter wonderland of streams and lakes frozen in time. The pictures below contrast a similar view of May Lake taken this year and back on our frozen 2012 hike.

May Lake January 3, 2012

We passed by the winterized May Lake High Sierra Camp then followed the trail along the west side of the lake. In past years, we have also gone up to Mount Hoffman through a meadow at the northwest end of the lake but the trail takes you the way we headed.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

We could see the direction we were headed up to Mt. Hoffman, along the lower left side of these rocky columns.

The trail continued up the trail then along a dry creek.

But that dry creek bed and trail looked quite different back on January 3, 2012.

As we climbed, we looked back at the view and it was a dandy.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

Photo by Gail Gilbert

But we also had views of where we planned on heading.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

Well, this is as close to Mount Hoffmann that we got on this hike and no, that is not the high point in the picture. That high point is around the left side and up more.

But I need to take the opportunity to share some information and history on Mount Hoffmann (10,855′ elevation). The mountain is named for the cartographer Charles Frederick Hoffmann, who was part of the California Geological Survey of the Sierra Nevada.

Charles Frederick Hoffmann was born at Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany in 1838 and died in 1913 at Oakland. He was educated at an engineering school, was topographer with Frederick W. Lander on Fort Kearney, South Pass, and the Honey Lake wagon-road survey. In 1857, he came to California and 1858 he was a member of California State Geological Survey, under Josiah Dwight Whitney, throughout its existence from 1860-1874. He was a professor of topographical engineering at Harvard from 1871-1872. He was associated with his brothers-in-law, Ross E. Browne and Alfred Craven, in mining engineering at Virginia City, Nevada from 1874-1876. He also managed mines in Mexico, and at Forest Hill Divide, California from 1878-1886. He investigated mines in Siberia and in Argentina. He was associated with his brother-in-law Ross E. Browne in the practice of mining engineering, with offices in San Francisco from 1888-1906.

Josiah Whitney, the State Geologist, says in a letter to his brother, May 3, 1862: “Hoffmann does as well in his place as anyone could possibly do. He is a German, twenty-four years old, formerly topographer to Lander’s wagon-road expedition, with a capital eye for hills and orography in general, and no vices.” (Brewster: Life and Letters of Josiah Dwight Whitney, 1909, p. 214.)

Whitney, Brewer, and Hoffmann were in the vicinity of Mount Hoffmann in 1863, and one or all may have climbed it. The summit and the view are described in the report. (Whitney Survey: Geology, 1865, p. 424.) Clarence King climbed it in October, 1864. (King: Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, 1872, pp. 144-145.) In 1867 a photograph was taken of the summit by W. Harris, showing Hoffmann himself with his transit below. This photograph is among the plates accompanying The Yosemite Book, issued by the Whitney Survey in 1868. (See, also, S.C.B., 1923, XI:4, plate CXIII.)

Summit of Mount Hoffman 1867 (Photograph by W. Harris, THE YOSEMITE BOOK by Josiah D. Whitney. Photographs by Carlton Watkins. (1869))

It was time for us to head back down the hill.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

On our way out, my feet darn near stepped on a Sooty Grouse, nibbling its way along the trail. It blended in so well next to the rocks that lined the trail that I was about a foot or so away before I noticed it. We held up and watched it as it fed, pecking away on the ground at something so small that we could not see it.

Gail took some great pictures of this beautiful bird. Before 2006, the Sooty Grouse was considered a subspecies of the Blue Grouse. The Dusty Grouse that lives in the Rocky Mountains was also considered to a subspecies of the Blue Grouse. The Sooty Grouse blends in so well with the countryside it is hard to spot but you may have heard the “whomfing” that the male makes because it carries pretty far. The female makes cackling and whinny sounds. You can listen to both of those sounds here.

Sooty Grouse (Photo by Gail Gilbert)

Sooty Grouse (Photo by Gail Gilbert)

Sooty Grouse (Photo by Gail Gilbert)

As you all know, hikes don’t always go as planned. We thought that our hike up to Mount Hoffmann would be fairly straight forward. I had even uploaded a track but memories didn’t seem to jive with the track. Lots and lots of cairns or ducks or trailmarkers led in many different approaches up the hill. We backtracked then ended up in the same place we were when we started our backtrack. We were on the right course but ran out of time. We found a nice spot to enjoy our lunch and the view. It was a wonderful day to get out and up to an area we hadn’t visited in a while. We will return and conquer Mount Hoffman, and we won’t wait so long as the last time so our memories of the hiking trail don’t fade.

Dog Hike? No, dogs are not allowed on this trail in Yosemite National Park.

Map, Profile and Doarama:

May Lake & Mt. Hoffmann Area Doarama

May Lake/Mt. Hoffmann Area Topographic Map

May Lake/Mt. Hoffmann Area Profile

Sources:

John Muir Writings My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir (1911)

John Ross Browne Find a Grave

May Lake & Mt. Hoffman Yosemite Hikes

Place Names of the High Sierra (1926) by Francis P. Farquhar

Mt. Hoffman Wikipedia

Exploration of the Sierra Nevada (1925) by Francis P. Farquhar The Whitney Survey and Clarence King

THE YOSEMITE BOOK by Josiah D. Whitney. Photographs by Carlton Watkins. (1869)

Sooty Grouse Sounds All About Birds

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