Whitney Conquered August 1873

Because Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States, scores of mountaineers have made it their goal to reach its 14,505-foot summit since its official discovery in 1864. But who was the first to stand on its lofty heights? It gets complicated. Geologist Clarence King thought he was the first, in June 1871. Two years later—to his shock and embarrassment—King learned that his ascent had not been on Mt. Whitney at all, but on another peak entirely. King at last stood on the summit of the true Mt. Whitney on September 19, 1873, where, to his further chagrin, he found a monument and documents left by two preceding parties. Months of claims, counterclaims, and accusations by contenders for first place scorched the pages of the local newspaper, the Inyo Independent. When at last the controversy was sorted out, the honor went to Charley Begole, Johnny Lucas, and Al Johnson (three men on a fishing and recreational excursion)  who attained the summit of Mt. Whitney at noon on August 18, 1873, having climbed the wrong mountain themselves the day before. In October 1873, the famous environmentalist John Muir ascended the peak, his first of several climbs. The first woman to succeed in climbing Mt. Whitney was Anna Mills, in 1878. The first recorded death on Whitney was that of Byrd Surby, a United States Bureau of Fisheries employee who was struck by lightning while eating lunch on the summit in July 1904. Named for Josiah Dwight Whitney, California’s first appointed State Geologist, Mount Whitney lies on the boundary between Inyo and Tulare Counties.