John Muir High Country and Wild Wool (Part One)

I so admire the man who found personal transformation and a sense of home deep in the wilderness of the High Sierra Nevada mountains, and fought to bring his experience of the territory into the lives of the general masses with his writing and activism. The masses who from a distance were readily destroying virgin wilderness with logging, mining, dam-building, and all manners of disregard in the turn of the last century. That man is John Muir, said to be the Father of Modern Environmentalism. That man is the man who made his home along the very lakes in the Sierra Nevada which I have camped, and who divided himself limb to limb to bring the High Sierra to the world, in attempt to protect it, its wildlife, the giant old-growth sequoias, and perfect beauty of the high mountain wilderness.

john-muir carleton watkins

John Muir , born April 21, 1838 – died December 24, 1914,  was a Scottish-American naturalist & author, environmental philosopher and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada of California, have been read by millions. His activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is a prominent American conservation organization. The 211-mile (340 km) John Muir Trail, a hiking trail in the Sierra Nevada was named in his honor. read more ….


Yosemite Valley,  by Carleton Watkins, John Muir’s friend and photographer.

In case you didn’t know, I am an experienced hiker of John Muir territory, although it’s been a time since I’ve returned there.  As a bit of proof, take photos below backpacking eight days along John Muir’s High Route, culminating on the peak of Mount Whitney in August of 2001.

Mt Whitney 2001

Above photo is of  our group, Jeff directly behind me, all of us tired but totally and completely gratified.

On Top of Mt Whitney, John Muir High Sierra, Aug. 2001

And that’s me at the  Mount Whitney plaque , quite exhausted and glacier-burnt in the face,  from the epic trip but also from the push up from Guitar Lake that morning.   Mount Whitney was for that eight-day trek the end of the line,  and of the John Muir High Country Route.  I nearly am dumb-struck just to take in the scope of the majestic granite mountain, and to realize that I actually was at the top of it!


I could go on indefinitely about John Muir’s High Country, but let me not ramble too much on side-trails and back-story, and let me bring attention to this noble creature…


Wild mountain sheep!  In fact, the very wild sheep ( subspecies of ovis montana ) which inhabit the High Sierra and who’s tufts of downy wool Muir found and mused him to write a pithy chapter entitled “Wild Wool” from his publication Steep Trails.

“…pure wildness is the one great want, both of men and of sheep.”

” Give to Nature every cultured apple — codling, pippin, russet — and every sheep so laboriously compounded — muffled Southdowns, hairy Cotswolds, wrinkled Merinos — and she would throw the one to her caterpillars, the other to her wolves.”

“…and our wild sheep, wading in snow, roaming through bushes, and leaping among jagged storm-beaten cliffs, wears a dress so exquisitely adapted to its mountain life that it is always found as unruffled and stainless as a bird.”

excerpts from “Wild Wool” by John Muir

Visit Sierra Club archives to read “ Wild Wool “ from John Muir’s “Steep Trails”, 1918


This is part one of a two-part post about John Muir, the High Sierra, and a new design which has come out of it. ( Stay tuned for Part Two forthcoming !) In the meantime, I hope you really do read Wild Wool  and acquaint yourself with some of John Muir’s writing of High Sierra Wilderness, and of the wild sheep.

BigHorn Sheep_yosemite

Now you can read Part Two: “Wild Wool” Trail Socks

An Old Friend

And there I am, happily perched on the granite in the High Sierras, with my big North Face plastic camp mug (which my dear brother gave to me) full of delicious coffee (coffee made in the wilderness after one has set up camp, is as good as it gets).  I can’t remember the exact year or place this particular coffee moment was, as I’ve been to the High Sierras so many times, on so many packing trips,  but it would be over fifteen years ago.

Well, the thing about this photo that is of novel importance, is the fact that I am  wearing one of the first-ever things I knit for myself, my hat of many colors, likely made from some stash of my dear mom’s yarns in collaboration with my own.  I haven’t seen this hat since the winter following this photo, as it was then that I lost it.  One of those heart-that-sunk-into-my-feet moments.

I had knit a series of these pointy tassled hats and I gave them all to friends and family I fondly remember that time of knitting because  I didn’t care about gauge or even consistent fabric, was able to blissfully improvise  without a pattern… I would use different sized double-pointed needles throughout the shaping, not having a full set of one size, only random ones which were my mother’s, grabbing and using wooden skewers more than once, in the decreases towards the top.  (I figured as it’s getting smaller, to use smaller needles,to hold up the tassel better, was a good idea). Most of my domes turned out impressively, but admittedly, a few drooped and fit their heads horribly.I went on to knit about 15 or 20 of these hats in total, all given away.

The part I recall most fondly, was the magic and ease I felt while I just sort of ‘sketched’ with the yarn , as with imagination and paints,  making up color patterns as I went along, from This & That yarns of all blends and sizes, and decreased at random intervals to make changing improvised motif repeats fit as I knit up. I did not know of or use the two-handed Fair Isle stranding technique I now use,  and I remember using up to 4 colors in a row , with long floats on some, though usually 2 or 3 colors, and remember ‘inventing’ for myself out of necessity, a style of throwing two colors on a finger. I suppose at one point I got fairly good at it, likely throwing two on my index finger, and on occasion, one or even two more on my middle.

I  so loved this hat in the photo ! I had knit it just for me, and wore it for years. It was packed in my backpack every trip to the Sierras, for those very cold late afternoons when the sun has dropped enough to leave only shadow in the camp, and the chilly evenings and downright frigid mornings at altitude.   I parted with it ~ lost it ~ on a ski slope somewhere in the Sierra Nevadas, and can you imagine how sad I was?  But my attention notices All Things Yarny, just now discovered it here in this photo I scanned, from my box of photos,  and am elated to see it somehow brought back to life ! Ah, but to lose a hat on a mountain trail is a noble loss indeed. I am sure someone found it and took it home with them.

Well, anyway,  I have renewed my love for the mountains lately, walking every day, though maybe not quite as I once was. Here is *moi* on top of Mt Whitney in 2001.