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James S. Hutchinson, Jr, 1867-1959

JAMES S. HUTCHINSON, JR.

1867-1959

James S. Hutchinson, Jr., third in a family of four brothers, was born in San Francisco, of sturdy pioneer stock. He graduated from high school in 1886 and for the next five years worked in his father’s banking business. In 1891 he entered the University of California, from which he later transferred to Harvard, where he received his A.B. degree in 1897. Returning to San Francisco he secured his law degree from the Hastings Law School in 1899. He joined one of his brothers who had a law office in San Francisco, and continued in the practice of his profession up to the day of his death, October 3, 1959.

James early developed a love of the out-of-doors and the mountains. In 1892, while a sophomore, he became a Charter member of the Sierra Club under the leadership of John Muir. One of the major objectives of the Club was to explore and make accessible the high and rugged crest region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, stretching southward from Sonora Pass to Mount Whitney, which at that time was all terra incognita. This was a challenge which James and his older brother Lincoln accepted with enthusiasm and carried on with distinction. Their plan was to work south from Sonora Pass, a section at a time, mapping and marking their trail routes, and reporting in some detail to the Sierra Club, so that others could more easily follow. The expeditions could be made only in summer when snow conditions would be favorable and when they could take off two or three weeks of vacation. Other small groups of exploring Club members were similarly engaged of course. This pioneering chapter of Sierra Club history extended from 1892 to about 1924—by which time the crest as far south as Mount Whitney had been thoroughly explored and the major trail routes as we know them today laid out. A very substantial part of this contribution was made by the Hutchinson team, and their reports appear in nine articles in Sierra Club Bulletins between 1898 and 1924. They made several first ascents, some of the more difficult being Matterhorn Peak, North Pallisade, Red-and-White Peak, the Black Kaweah, and Mount Abbott. They also were the first to take pack stock over Colby Pass and down Pallisade Creek from Mather Pass to Grouse Meadow, now a section of the John Muir High Sierra Trail.

In 1925 James and Lincoln organized the Sierra Ski Club and began construction of the Sierra Ski Club Lodge near Donner Pass. This too was a pioneer venture and showed the way by which the fine Sierra snow slopes might be made available to residents of the snow-less coastal regions. Extensive developments of the same kind have followed the Sierra Ski Club, both in the Donner Pass area and in many other sections of the mountains. The club itself was composed of a highly distinguished group of business and professional men from the Bay Area, all close friends of the Hutchinsons. Not many of them were skiers. Nevertheless they congregated at the Lodge, near the snow-shed station of Norden, several times each winter for relaxing vacations in the deep snow country. Again in summer the Lodge became the center for pleasant periods of camping and sociability. No youngsters were admitted to this close-knit group of old friends, so that by 1954 it was clear the club would soon cease to exist. At this point James secured the approval of the remaining members, and the Club disbanded while turning over its beautiful lodge and valuable wild acreage to the Sierra Club.

Jimmy, as James was universally called by his friends, was deeply devoted to the Sierra Club in which he held many offices. He was made an Honorary Vice President of the Sierra Club in 1958. He had been a member of the American Alpine Club since 1905. He was also a member of the California Bohemian Club, the Harvard Club, University Club, and the University of California Faculty Club.

Jimmy never lost his love of the high mountains. He had never been quite content that in his active period of exploring he had not reached the summit of Mount Whitney. In 1945, with his daughter Marjorie and three close friends, Jimmy took off from Mineral King on horseback and rode to the top of Whitney. They were out for a month, camping in the many lovely spots to be found in that region. He came home so delighted with this renewal of his early love that he repeated much of the same trip the following year at the age of 79.

In recent years Jimmy built a comfortable cabin home in the Sierra foothill country near the little town of Jackson. From its ample porch he loved to look eastward across the timbered ridges to the snow-covered Crystal Range and Pyramid Peak 40 miles away. Much of his time was spent there, coming down to his home in Berkeley and his law office for two or three days each week. Here it was that he quietly passed away on October 3, 1959.

H. C. Bradley