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Modesto (CA) Bee
Friday, August 8, 2014


The ‘Mountain Sage’ added flavor to Yosemite
By Dick Hagerty

As Yosemite National Park continues to celebrate its 150th anniversary, it is timely to recognize the immense contributions made to the quality and continued splendor of our great treasure by three great men.

John Muir’s legacy still reverberates through the park; his enormous efforts to preserve and promote the park are legendary. His great personal theme has become my own personal mantra: “Going to the mountains is going home.”

Ansel Adams, who dubbed the central Sierras as “The Range of Light,” brought great awareness of the mountain splendors through his magnificent black-and-white photography.

A lesser-known giant of the mountains was “The Mountain Sage,” Carl Sharsmith. He died in 1994 at the age of 91. He had served as a National Park Service ranger in Yosemite since 1931, a full 63 years. He was the oldest ranger in the service as well as the longest-serving ranger. His “normal” occupation was botany professor at San Jose State College.

One of his many interesting assignments in Yosemite was to lead summer science classes for the college, and that is where I first came to know this great man.

My dear mother, always looking for an angle, had discovered a loophole in the law that allowed active-duty military an early out if the individual was enrolled in a “for credit” college course. I was finishing my hitch with the U.S. Navy on an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va., and was definitely eager to end my military career, return to life with female coeds and escape the stifling humidity of the southern East Coast.

Thus, two months ahead of my discharge date, I was cheerfully lined up to commence nature school, freedom from military rule, close contact with lovely young people, etc., etc. And, as fate would have it, my teacher was none other than “The Mountain Sage.”

Once of the memorable moments with Carl was the morning he took our group up past the Wawona Tunnel, led us down an embankment (“Careful, don’t step on the flowers”) and had us sit, in silence, for nearly an hour with the instructions to look, listen, smell and simply take in all that was going on around us. He promised that at the end of our quiet time he would teach us a new word.

“Ecology!” he exclaimed to break the silence. We all stared at him and waited for a definition. He went on to explain that some time in the future this new word would take on much importance; it described all the natural interactions that we had observed and more.

Of course, none of us knew the word, nor did we realize the importance it would take on.

Sadly, as is the general case with the Park Service and our government, there is a sour twist to the end of this saga.

Soon after his death, many of Sharsmith’s admirers began a push to name a mountain in the park, just north of Tioga Pass, in his honor. Sharsmith Peak has languished in Congress for a dozen years or more, and still has not been formalized. True to form, the Park Service he so ably served for 63 years issued the following tepid endorsement: “The Park Service will not oppose this action.”

Swell! Just about what we might expect from this bureaucratic creature.

I leave you with one of Carl’s greatest quotes.

A woman visitor approached him, rather breathlessly, and exclaimed, “I only have one hour to spend in Yosemite. What do you recommend that I do and see in this hour?”

Carl looked at her with his long craggy face and opined, “Ah, lady. Only one hour.” Which he then repeated slowly and said, “I suppose that if I had only one hour to spend in Yosemite I’d just walk over there by the river and sit down and cry.”

Aug 9 Owen Hoffman

This article is a wonderful tribute to Dr. Sharsmith. He loved the park and its visitors, and while he was alive, he was a memorable part of the park experience for all who went on his guideded walks or attended his evening programs. He was totally in his element when giving a primitive evening program, with only a campfire, songs, stories, and stars for a stage. As far as I"m aware, he never needed to use artificial amplification. He seldom raised his voice. HIs audiences just listened more carefully. I would hope that among those of us who knew and experienced Yosemite's Mountain Sage, that we could renew energy and momentum for the naming of Sharsmith peak. More information on this effort can be found at

"Against All Odds: the epic story of one of the National Park Service's greatest rescues" by Kevin Grange in National Parks Magazine, Fall 2016

This article presents the story of a rescue in the area of Sharsmith Peak, which it has been noted, elsewhere, was made more difficult by the lack of established nearby place names. Ranger Anne Macquarie was one of the rescuers, and is a supporter of formally naming Sharsmith Peak.

SEED OF THE FUTURE: Yoseite and the evolution of the national park idea. by Dayton Duncan. Yosemite Conservancy, 2013.
page 184 has a picture of Carl Sharsmith and relates a camping trip to the base of an unnamed 12,002 foot peak north of Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park when Carl was 85, along with Ranger Dick Ewart.
page 185 relates how people in the park are trying to give this mountain the name Sharsmith Peak: "Yosemite already has mountains and lakes named for politicians, celebrities, military officers ahnd their wives, even European geologists who never came to the Sierra; Ewart and his cohorts figure that a man who devoted more than sixty years of his life to personally inspiring tens of thousahnds of tourists with his love ahnd knowledge of Yosemite deserves similar regonition."  

Send emails to Sharsmith Peak Committtee

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