Photo: Greg MacDonald

After Twain’s first, large-scale, Western ruckus, his audience began to grow, as did his reputation. By 1864 he was honing his craft by writing 4,000-word political dispatches five days a week from Carson City. So much for not liking work.

In 1865 his story “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” submitted too late for inclusion in an anthology of Western writing, was instead published in New York’s Saturday Press. It exploded. Within in no time the tale of the jumping frog with the belly full of lead had appeared in newspapers across the U.S. and Europe.

He had stepped onto the world stage.

As we stepped out into the morning at Trumbull Lake, the sun cracked across 12,280 ft. Dunderberg Peak, a wall of loose rock, towering a good 3,000 ft. above our campsite. We’d completely missed seeing it in the dark the night before.

Prior to 1878 this pile of 100-million-year-old granite was known as Castle Peak. Here’s how Twain described it:

At the end of a week we adjourned to the Sierras on a fishing excursion, and spent several days in camp under snowy Castle Peak, and fished successfully for trout in a bright, miniature lake whose surface was between ten and eleven thousand feet above the level of the sea; cooling ourselves during the hot August noons by sitting on snow banks ten feet deep, under whose sheltering edges fine grass and dainty flowers flourished luxuriously; and at night entertaining ourselves by almost freezing to death.

Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter 39

While Natalie warmed herself on the shores of Trumbull, Greg and I set off to find the miniature lake Twain had described. We hiked past multiple sub-10,000 ft. lakes near camp and climbed another 600 near-vertical feet to arrive at Moat Lake. At just shy of 10,600 ft., it seemed like a good candidate.

Climbing up the side of Dunderberg Peak near Blue Lake

Further up, Blue Lake recedes from view.

We finally arrived, winded from the climb and altitude, on the shores of Moat Lake.

Photos: Nik Schulz

Global warming had done a number on the 10-foot-deep snow banks Twain described.

The dainty flowers were doing fine though.

Photo: Nik Schulz

Back at camp we relaxed for the rest of the day. Natalie made a delicious dinner and Greg, stomach now thankfully stable, joined in.

It wasn’t quite cold enough for us to entertain ourselves by freezing to death but it was close, so we made a no-maintenance, pyramid fire to keep warm. To build one, make a small teepee fire on top of a tower (or pyramid) of alternately stacked logs. The fire will burn steadily down the stack without you having to lift another finger.

Our pyramid fire begins to burn.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

The next day, as we got the trucks ready to depart, the chipmunk cleaning crew arrived to clear our scraps from the night before.

What’s up chubs? Find something tasty?

Photo: Natalie Menacho

The Monteros stood at the ready…

…peppered with a week’s worth of mud and bugs.

Photos: Greg MacDonald

Before we wrap things up, here’s a camping tip from Greg. If you make a clothes line out of twisted paracord, you’ll be able to hang items full-length without clips of any kind. Pretty neat.

Greg’s neat laundry-line trick

Photo: Nik Schulz

With the trucks packed we were soon driving back over the Sierras toward home.

Heading up Hwy. 108 towards the Sonora Pass the road is a roller coaster…

…but a gorgeous one.

Photos: Greg MacDonald

We paused briefly…

…then continued west…

Photos: Nik Schulz

…towards home.

Photo: Greg MacDonald

Here’s to a young Mark Twain, who set off on a lark to become one of the most loved and admired writers in history. In the end we couldn’t find him anywhere. We were about 145 years too late. Well, we did find him in one place, fresh, alive, and funny as ever. It was that night around the campfire in the pages of his writing.


Photo: Abdullah Frères, 1867

Other posts in this series:

Part 1, Arriving in Carson City 150 Years Late
Part 2, Virgina City to Desert Creek!
Part 3, Down Jackass Creek Without a Paddle
Part 4, The Ghost Towns of Bodie and Aurora
Part 5, Twain Lost and Found