Berkeley alum uncovers mystery of John Muir’s Sierra Nevada hut
By Will Kane
2 March 2018
CED alum Doug Harnsberger (B.Arch ‘77) was hiking along the John Muir Trail a few years ago when he happened upon a stone hut at the top of 11,955-foot Muir Pass, inside Kings Canyon National Park. As a trained historical architect, Harnsberger was thrilled to investigate the structure.
Harnsberger turned to the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library for information where he uncovered the original 1930 blueprint for the building. The blueprint was designed by Henry Gutterson, a 1905 graduate of Berkeley who was commissioned to build the hut by the Sierra Club.
The structure was originally named the John Muir Memorial Shelter. It’s architecture is reminiscent of Italian Trullo Hut design tradition.
Since encountering the hut, Harnsberger has made efforts to get the structure placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a listing of buildings and places the government deems worthy of preservation for their historical significance.
Currently, research is underway to get the 16-foot-by-16-foot octagon hut, and the entire 210-mile John Muir Trail, to be recognized as a National Historic Landmark. This would protect the structure and place the Muir Hut among the country’s most significant structures.
“We have the architecture of a medieval stone structure from southern Italy showing up on the Muir Pass,” Harnsberger said. “This is a mountaineer’s version of that kind of shrine.”
Recognizing the hut as a landmark would honor Muir, who is generally considered to be the father of the National Park System, and protect the hut and trail for generations to come, Harnsberger said.
“A building does not last without maintenance,” Harnsberger said. “So far, this structure has lasted (almost) 100 years without maintenance, but it might not last another 100 years.”