I've been working on this report on backpacking trips for upwards of five years. Mostly that work consisted of creating a dummy page that said "coming soon."
I got a few paragraphs done early in 2011, but during the last week of October
of that year I got on a roll, and
worked on it steadily until it was done. Creating this report meant
digging through a lot of hazy memories,
covering events that happened between ten and 32 years ago, so I
can't guarantee that everything is 100% accurate, but there are no
serious intentional lies.
First, a little general
information about the areas where I did most of my hiking, so that I
won't have to repeat these details every time (pay attention because
there WILL be a quiz): I live in the Fresno
Metro Area, in the city of Clovis,
in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in central California. East
of us are the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and to the west, quite a bit
farther but still within an hour's drive, is the Coast Range.
There are two major river
systems running from the Sierra through Fresno County. The San
Joaquin is north of us, and for a good part of its length in the
lower elevations, forms the border with Madera County. It flows west
out of the mountains, then turns north and runs into the San
Joaquin River Delta near Stockton, and eventually into San
Francisco Bay. The Kings, to the south, splits into two branches in
the valley, with the water all going to irrigation. Both rivers have
a North, Middle and South Fork in the mountain area. There is no
road access to the North Fork of the San Joaquin or the Middle Fork
of the Kings. There are various small dams on both rivers, and two
major ones, Friant on the San Joaquin, forming Millerton Lake, with
a half million acre feet capacity; and Pine Flat on the Kings,
forming the million acre foot Pine Flat Lake.
Most of my backpacking
trips were in the north and middle forks of the San Joaquin, and all
three forks of the Kings. The main road access that I used was as
>San Joaquin North
Fork: Highway 41 north to the Minarets Highway (North Fork Road),
then past the village of North Fork to Granite Creek trailhead.
>San Joaquin Middle
>Kings North Fork:
Highway 168 east to Shaver Lake; Dinkey Creek Road east to Dinkey
Creek; McKinley Grove Road east to Wishon Reservoir or Courtright
Reservoir (these two lakes are about the same distance from Dinkey
Creek, with Courtright to the north on Helms Creek, and Wishon on
>Kings River Middle
Fork: Same route to Wishon.
>Kings River South
Fork: Highway 180 east to Grant Grove, down into the river canyon,
and up to Cedar Grove and Roads End.
Of course there are a few
other routes to hiking trailheads, but these are the ones I used. I
did a lot of hiking in the San Joaquin Gorge (Squaw Leap) BLM area,
which is on the main stem of the San Joaquin below where the two
forks split off. I also did some hiking in Yosemite National Park,
which is in the drainage of the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers.
Dome 1 (July 1979)
Although I did a lot of
hiking and camping throughout my life, it was not until I was nearly
40 years old that I first tried backpacking. A sensible person,
especially one who had done little exercise in the previous ten
years, would have started with a short, easy hike. Instead, my
chosen destination was the top of Half Dome in
Yosemite National Park, a hike of over eight miles one way, with an elevation gain of
nearly 5,000 feet.
It wasn't really my
fault. My very good friend, the late Ron Reed, stopped by one day
and announced that he and several others were going to hike to Half
Dome, spend the night, and return the following day, and I was
invited. I protested that I was not really in very good shape, but
he was not swayed - "just do some jogging every day for the
next two weeks," he said; "you'll be fine."
So in July, 1979, less
than a month short of my 40th birthday, I joined Ron, his son Scott,
and Scott's buddy Larry for the drive to Yosemite. There we met up
with our friend Randy Westmoreland, whose father worked for the park
concessionaire and who had grown up in the valley. He would be our
guide and inspiration, and at age 20 or so, would make us realize
how physically unprepared we were for the effort.
We spent the night at
their home, then got up early and started out. Although it is
possible to drive to within a mile or less of the trailhead at
Happy Isles, we walked from near park headquarters across the
valley, adding at least a couple of miles to our journey. The
trailhead at Happy Isles is
also the start of the famous John
Muir Trail, and if you're really ambitious, you can stroll the
212 miles to the top of Mt.
Whitney. Our plans were much less
The hike to Half Dome is
fairly strenuous, but does not involve any technical climbing, and
is accomplished by thousands of park visitors every year. (In 2010
the route had become so popular that the park service instituted a
permit requirement, to limit the impact of too many people on the
fragile environment, and the dangers of too many people on the
cables.) The first part of the trail is the famous
Mist Trail, which parallels the Merced River and passes close to
Vernal and Nevada Falls. Tens of thousands hike as far as the top of
Vernal, and it's possible that a million or more hike to bridge that
crosses the river about a quarter mile below the falls, offering the
iconic view of this unique park feature.
The Mist Trail is truly
misty in August, leading the hiker through droplets of water that
splash up from the 320 foot high, 80 foot wide drop of Vernal
It's a cool and refreshing experience. However, in June of a year
with heavy precipitation, a walk up the Mist Trail results in a cold
The trail is not so close
Falls, but still provides excellent views. For those on
horseback, or just seeking a trail that is less steep, the Horse
Trail leads from the trail head at Happy Isles up through the
woods, drops down to the river at the top of Vernal, then zig zags
up the canyon on the opposite side of the river from the other trail. The Mist
Trail also features a lot of stair steps, which kids enjoy but which
are hard on adult legs, especially going down.
Above Nevada Falls the
trail levels out and goes into Little Yosemite
Valley, a relatively
flat area that is only a vague approximation of the real thing. One
notable feature is Half Dome, seen from the "back side"
and appearing as a rounded cliff rising about 2,000 feet above the
surrounding area (from the top of the dome to Yosemite Valley is a
distance of nearly 5,000 feet). Past Little Yosemite the John Muir
Trail continues on along the river, while the Half Dome Trail heads
north and up, with many switchbacks, and almost constant elevation
gain. (Articles at some of the links in this page make reference to
a backpacker's camp in Little Yosemite; this did not exist at the
time of my three hikes.)
It was here that youth and conditioning beat out age and
laziness. Randy and Scott were continually a quarter to a half mile
ahead of Ron, Larry and me most of the way. They would stop and rest
until we caught up, then head out again, which seemed quite unfair.
We also learned about the validity of the Kingston Trio song
"Everglades" - "better keep movin' and don't stand
still; if the 'skeeters don't get ya, then the gators will." We
didn't have to worry about alligators, but if we stopped to rest in
the shade, mosquitoes immediately attacked us for a meal. As long as we
kept moving, or rested in the sun, they left us alone.
Since the trail trends
generally north from the Merced River, it is crossing the divide
between the Merced River and Tenaya
Creek Canyon, and at one point the trail goes
very close to the edge of the canyon. This also provides some
excellent and "new" views of familiar Yosemite Valley
features, such as Mt.
Watkins, North Dome, and Basket
If you look at the face
of Half Dome more or less straight on, you will notice a smaller
dome to the east (left side when viewed from the valley). Arriving at the base of
this dome, those of us who were new to the trail thought that some
climbing aids would be needed, but the trail zig zags up through
loose rock, pines and junipers, and is actually fairly easy going.
From the top of the lower dome, it's quick walk down to the saddle,
a narrow passage about six feet wide, with a long steep drop on each
side, and the famous cables.
The cables are anchored
to steel posts set into the rock, are just far enough apart to
comfortably hold on to each cable There are 2 X 4 boards laid across
the pathway above each set of posts to help with footing and provide
short rest stops. Although the rock is quite
steep at first, it becomes a little more gentle, and rounds off to
an easy slope at the top, and is not difficult or scary at any point
(I would not take children younger than ten or twelve, however). The
climb IS steeper than it looks in most photos
of the cables. People have died on this trail, not because it
is difficult or scary, but because they attempted the hike in
adverse weather conditions. If a thunderstorm is approaching, do you
really want to be hanging on to a metal cable on a high exposed
Once we reached the top,
8,842 feet above sea level, we set up a makeshift camp and Randy brewed some tea. It was
literally the best thing I had ever tasted, just the exact right
beverage to restore mind and body after our 8.2 mile, 5,000 foot
elevation hike (and following his example, I made tea at rest stops
and at the end of the day on virtually all my subsequent backpacking
The top of the dome is
plenty big enough to walk around, and big enough for quite a few
people to camp overnight without being too close to each other - I
believe it's about seven acres. Of course, it slopes down in three
directions, and goes out to a sheer cliff with about a 2,000 foot
drop to the first ledge. With reasonable care, you can safely walk
very close to the cliff, and some of us lay down, looking over at
the sheer drop below us and the flat valley below. Camping on top is
no longer allowed, due to the serious impact from the large number
of hikers now making the climb.
Since Half Dome is higher
than most of the valley rim, there is a view not only down into the
valley, but of the domes, forests and higher peaks around in
all directions. One of the most striking scenes was of the shadow of
Half Dome, a perfect outline cast on the lower cliffs to the east as
the sun set.
Another aspect of high, open places like this is a fairly strong wind at night.
Over the years people had built walls to create a wind break, and we
set up our camp on the downwind side of one of these.
The next morning we
headed back down the long trail. Although gravity works somewhat in
your favor on the downhill trip, it is still important not to get in
a hurry, since a rapid descent, especially on the steps, can take
quite a toll on your legs. Once back in the valley, we headed for
home, with Ron and I very aware that we had used muscles that had
been idle for a number of years.
By the way, a gentleman I
went to school with made his first trip to the top of Half Dome when
he was over 70, along with his sons and grandsons.
Corral Meadow/Kings River (September 1979)
Despite the physical
demands of the Half Dome trip, I enjoyed it immensely, and decided I
wanted to do some more backpacking. Having learned my lesson, or at
least ONE lesson, I started a daily exercise program, which
consisted of walking and jogging along the canal bank near my home.
Although my commitment sometimes wavered over the years, I soon worked my way up to a one
and a half mile run every morning, preceded by a few stretching
A little less than two
months after my first hike, I headed out for a slightly longer, but
somewhat less demanding hike on a trail that starts at Courtright
Reservoir, east of Dinkey
Creek and Shaver
Lake in Fresno County. It's around 70 miles from Fresno,
starting out on Highway 168. The Maxson Trailhead there, at 8,000
feet, is the jumping off point for an extensive system of four wheel
drive and foot trails, and the first four miles or so is really a
This section of the trail
passes through a small glaciated valley reminiscent of a mini
Yosemite, and goes by a large, sloping granite base marked with glacial
polish, and covered with large
and small boulders left behind when the last ice age ended. My
first destination was Post Corral
Meadow, about 7.5 miles in. From
the boulder field the trail climbs up and over a fairly steep ridge,
then up and down through forested terrain. The meadow itself was
occupied by cows, and if you camp there, try to get upwind from the
I set up my first night's
camp away from the meadow a ways and enjoyed a well-earned rest. I
also contemplated another lesson learned - I brought too much stuff.
Although I had been camping many times, most of the time I was
around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I remembered a time when I camped just
below the 9,000 foot level, and it was cool enough that I had to sit in the sun to
read. Much of this trip would be around 8,000 feet, so I brought two
or three sweat shirts, along with other warm clothing. However, the
thin atmosphere at higher elevations lets plenty of warm sunshine
through. Hiking in the daytime, I was comfortable in shorts and
t-shirt. It cools off a lot at night of course, but by the time it
got dark, I was ready for bed, and I found I didn't need much more
than shorts and t-shirt in my sleeping bag. So I knew I could
lighten my load in the future, always a good thing when you are
carrying everything on your back.
The next day I headed
down the trail, which followed a small creek in a fairly deep,
narrow channel. I was heading downhill, towards the North Fork of
the Kings River, probably a good thousand feet lower than my
starting point the previous day. Where the trail met the river,
there were a number of fire rings, indicating fairly heavy use
(heavy for the backcountry). I found a place to cross (this was in
September, when the rivers are very low), and set up camp a hundred
yards or so from the stream. Writing this 32 years later, the
details are hazy, but I believe I made the return trip back to the
trailhead in one day. This would have been about 11 miles, a lot for
me even in those younger days, but I have no memory of camping
anywhere else, so I'm going to let that stand as the official
Valley 1 (October 1979)
Approximately a month
later I made the first of two trips to Paradise
Valley, which is about six miles up the South Fork of the Kings
River from Roads
End. This is a few miles up from Cedar
Grove, and the stretch in between is a glacier-carved valley, a
little smaller than Yosemite, and with no major waterfalls, and not
as many high, sheer cliffs. This entire hike was within Kings
Canyon National Park.
I think it was this trip
that I started the practice of "night before camping" -
meaning I drove to or near the trailhead the evening before my hike,
and slept in the camper (I had a 1977 Datsun with a camper shell).
It was dark by the time I got close to my destination, and between
the park entrance and where I spent the night I had the experience
of seeing owls swoop down across the road in front of me.
I stopped somewhere on a
dirt road that led off the highway near where it drops down to join
the river, descending from about 6,000 feet at Cherry Gap, to a
little over 2,000 feet at the river. The next morning I drove on to
Roads End and set off on my hike.
The trail follows the
river generally east for about two miles. At this point a large
tributary, Bubbs Creek, joins the river from the east, while the Kings turns north.
Another two miles up this trail is Mist
Falls, which drops about 50
feet in a series of cascades.
The trail to Paradise
Valley follows a common sequence in the Sierra - a stretch of
relatively flat walking (along the Kings to Bubbs Creek), a climb of varying steepness (about four miles up past Mist
Falls), then another fairly flat valley - usually carved by
glaciers, always with a waterway of some type running through it,
and higher cliffs on the sides. At this second flat area, Paradise
Valley, I walked a mile or so, then set up camp where there was a
bear cable. No, you do not use it to tie up your bear. This one is
on a pulley and can be lowered so that you can tie your food bag to
it, then raise it up to prevent theft by bears (they call it
I wandered around the
valley during the rest of the day, climbing up a dry wash on one
side a pretty good distance. At one point, I heard what sounded like
rocks crashing down from a cliff, but didn't see anything, not even
a dust cloud that would normally accompany an event of this type, so
it was probably some distance away, and out of sight around a bend
in the valley.
Early in the morning I
got up and needed something from my food bag. I left the bag tied to
the cable, but didn't raise it back up, since I would be getting up
for the day soon. Here was another lesson - bears are not the only
animals that like human food. A small rodent or similar creature
snuck up, chewed a hole in the bag, and helped himself to some
With the conclusion of
this third hike I had experienced a wide variety of different
terrain and hiking conditions, and realized that I could be a
backpacker any time I wanted.
Business of Backpacking
Business is not exactly
the right word, but I want to pause here and talk about planning,
preparation, food, water, sleeping, and other aspects of every day
living that must go on, whether you are at home or sitting on top of
a 10,000 foot ridge.
Equipment: As far
as I can recall, I did not acquire any new equipment for my first
hike. I wore some old "waffle stomper" boots that I'd
owned for years, and got by with what was actually a day pack, and
whatever sleeping bag I had at time time. By the time of my second
or third hike, I had invested in some good hiking boots, a lightweight,
extra warm sleeping bag (good down to 25 degrees or so), and a nice
backpack. Over the years I had two different camp stoves, one that
used small propane canisters, and one that burned white gas (like a
typical Coleman stove). I used a small pot that I got at a yard
sale, and a frying pan with a folding handle (read how it sometimes
folds itself here). I
had a knife, folk and spoon set that fitted together, made
backpacking. I took basic first aid supplies, plastic bottles for
While maybe not half the fun, getting to the trailhead was often a
nice experience in itself. For example, the road in to Courtright
Reservoir is 30 miles of pine and fir forest, with some nice views of
high peaks, particularly the LeConte
Divide, and dramatic canyons
and domes near the lake.
Food and water:
Water is heavy - a pound per pint. This means you can't carry enough
for an overnight trip unless you are a mule or you carry nothing
else. Since any stream in the world is subject to pollution, boiling
or purification is a must. I did use the boiling method once or
twice, but it's a pain in the butt to spend time boiling, then it
has to cool, and of course, it uses up stove fuel. The common
solution when I first started backpacking was iodine water
purification tablets. These work fine, but impart a slightly
brownish color and slight taste to the water. Later a two-tablet
package became available - the first to purify, and the second to
remove the color and taste. These days, most backpackers use a
lightweight pump filtration
On our Half Dome hike,
Randy brought steaks, his philosophy being that it was OK to sleep
in primitive conditions, but there was no reason why you couldn't eat well.
And for a one night trip, it's not that big a deal to carry the extra
weight. Meat well wrapped, then wrapped up in your extra t-shirts, is insulated from spoiling in the course of a day. When I started
traveling on my own, I bought some freeze-dried food, but this
provided unsatisfactory - not very appetizing, and another one of those
pains in the butt to prepare. Eventually I depended on simple things
like cheese and peanuts. I also would bring a couple of hot dogs for
the first night, along with a small plastic container of mustard,
ketchup and chopped onions mixed together. The dogs could be easily
cooked on a campfire, reducing stove fuel usage (however, I never
begrudged the resources necessary to fix hot tea). Other foods
included apples, oranges, candy bars, and granola. More often than
not, I fixed instant oatmeal for breakfast, although bacon and eggs
were on the menu once in a while. On my final trip, my grandson and
I had pork chops.
been used to a comfy, queen size bed for many years. On the trail,
my first thought was an air mattress. However, the products available
in those days were not very comfortable, and if a leak develops,
you're a long way from a replacement. I eventually settled on a
thick section of foam, about three by six feet and four inches
thick when it was new. I always carried vinyl tarps, and put one
under the mattress. My sleeping bag took good care of me even on
nights when I would wake up to find a light layer of frost on the
outside of the bag. Although summer rain is common in the Sierra, I
was lucky and never got rained on, which was good because I did not
want to carry the extra weight of a tent.
Photos: I am
slightly somewhat semi-well-known for taking lots of pictures on the
trips I report about. This was not always the case. I did not take a camera on my first few trips,
but it soon
became an essential piece of equipment. I also carried a tripod a few times, so I
could get shots of myself
with fantastic scenery in the background. Throughout my
backpacking career these were slides, and I've been scanning them
into the computer sporadically over the past few years. Some of the
photos on this web page were not taken on hikes, but they represent
the area well. For later hikes, most of them are from the trip.
Weight is always a
consideration when everything goes on your back. There are a lot of
specialty lightweight items designed for backpacking, but unless you
are doing really long trips, the difference between these expensive
goodies and the common everyday stuff that's lying around the house
is negligible. Stove fuel was a fairly heavy item - the propane
canisters I used were metal, about five inches long and three inches
in diameter. Liquid fuel is similar in weight to water. However,
backpacking stoves are efficient, and I never carried more than two
pints of liquid fuel, or two or three canisters.
guideline is that a healthy person can carry up to a third of their
weight. I never got close to that amount, and my pack always seemed
heavy. When we weighed them a time or two, we never went much over
30 pounds. A well constructed backpack puts the bulk of the
weight on your hips, making it much easier to carry.
I have known, and met on
the trail, people who think you need to walk as fast as possible, so
you can "get there." My philosophy is that once you step
onto the trail, you are "there," and the rest of it is
just walking around, enjoying your surroundings. From my first solo
hike I developed what I call "the indolent saunter." To
observe what this is like, watch the next time a group of teenagers
crosses in front of your car at a pedestrian crosswalk. I found I
could keep up this slow but steady pace for an hour with only a
couple of short stops, then after an hour I would take off the pack
and sit down for a rest of anywhere from two to fifteen minutes.
Occasionally I made tea at these stops, which probably extended them
to 20 or 30 minutes.
Meadow Creek 1 (December 1979)
This was my first winter
backpacking trip, although in California we have the luxury of mild
weather in winter, and some situations where it's downright warm. We have a lot of winter fog in the San Joaquin
Valley, where I live, but the nearby Sierra foothills are often warm
and clear, and very
pleasant on sunny winter days. It was such a time when decided to
hike to Garlic Meadow Creek, a spot at about 2,000 feet in
elevation, above the Kings River.
Not only was this my
first winter hike, it was the first hike where I was not familiar with
even the road in to the trailhead. For a few years I'd been enjoying
winter camping at low elevations during sunny periods, so I had been
studying my maps for suitable hiking locations.
This hike starts
with a drive up Trimmer Springs Road from the valley floor to
Flat Reservoir, around the lake, up the paved road to where it
crosses the river, then eight miles up a dirt road on the north side
of the river to Garnet Dyke
From here, a trail goes
along the river, eventually zig zagging up the side of the canyon to
where a creek runs down from the 10,000 foot ridge above, through a
small, open canyon, and over the cliff to the river.
The date was December 15,
1979, and the weather was cool enough to be wearing a flannel shirt
over my t-shirt when I started out. The first two miles of the trail
are fairly level, staying close to the river, with slight ups and
downs. Along this stretch I saw a deer, and thought to myself
that this country was much like it was when her ancestors were the
only living creatures around.
A fair size creek comes
in from the north at the two mile mark, and the river canyon
narrows. This forces the trail to go up and away from the river, and
the exertion soon had me removing the top layer. Along the way I was
looking down into a stretch of the river canyon that was so narrow
that the sun, crossing low in the southern sky at this season, did
not shine on the bottom, and the rocks along the river were white
with frost, while I was wet with sweat.
At one place I came
across the remnants of a building, likely the cabin of a miner or
possibly someone who ran cattle in the area. The trail had been coming
up by way of a series of switchbacks, but just past the old cabin,
the trail seemed to disappear. I followed a washed out runoff
channel pretty much straight up the hill, and again came to a
"normal" trail. It soon reached the top of a ridge, and
from here I had about two and a half miles of up and down hiking. By
this time I was fairly tired, and hoped each downhill stretch would
the creek that was my destination. On top of one ridge I made my way
out to the edge where I could look down into the river. I also
noticed that I was so far east into the mountains, that I could see
redwood trees on the high ridges on the other side - probably part
of the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.
Late in the afternoon a
final downhill stretch brought me to Garlic Meadow Creek, which runs
down from above through a small, steep canyon. There was a fairly
level stretch where people had camped before, and here I set up my
camp. This involves laying out the tarp and unrolling my foam pad
and sleeping bag, getting out cooking gear and other items, and
usually gathering firewood. Wherever I stayed, I ended up with
things scattered around on a second tarp or placed on rocks,
and I would often look at it and wonder how I had managed to carry
all that, and how I was going to get it all back into a compact
bundle that I could carry with me.
A big part of camping for
me has always been the opportunity to sit around reading while I
enjoy the peaceful beauty around me, so I always included a book or
two in my load. Except for one trip, which I'll get to later, I have
no memory of what I read on any of my journeys.
The trail continues past
the creek, so I explored a short distance, as well as going up and
down the creek as far as I could. With steep rocky cliffs upstream,
and a sharp drop off to the river downstream, I was confined to a
relatively small area, but it was quite striking. To the east,
across from where I was camped, there was a cliff with yuccas
growing at the top, as well as the usual Sierra foothill trees and
plants. One tree I was happy to find was manzanita. This common
foothill tree almost always has dead, dry branches than can be
broken off; it is very hard and hot-burning, and my first choice for
campfire wood if available.
As it got dark, I spread
my foam pad across a spot in the rocks where I could lean back
comfortably and look at the stars. This is when I was fully rewarded
for my efforts. Unknown to me, December 15 is the date of the annual Geminids
meteor shower, so I enjoyed a very unexpected free light show.
Later I learned that this meteor shower is usually one of the best
of the year, especially if it's a moonless night.
I don't recall if there
was a moon early in the night, but I'm pretty sure it came up during
the night. At one point something caused me to wake up, and I saw
two skunks right next to my sleeping bag. I did not panic, but
without thinking I quietly said "skunk." I guess they
thought I was trying to insult them, because they turned and wandered
off into the bushes, and never made another appearance. These were
not the skunks I had seen in the foothills all my life, with a head
that is mostly black and a single stripe down to the nose; these
guys had two narrow stripes all the way down their face, and seemed,
with the brief look I had, to be somewhat smaller and with sleeker
The next morning I
started down the trail, determined to return to this beautiful spot
Leap 1 (March 1980)
I had been making short
day hikes in the Squaw Leap Bureau of Land Management area for a
year or two, so I decided it was time for an overnight trip. At 800
to 1500 feet along the San Joaquin River, the weather on March 1 and
2, 1980, should have been perfect.
know "squaw" is a word that is now considered
inappropriate, but that was the name of the place when I first went
there. It is now called the San
Joaquin Gorge, but I don't know what they are going to do (if
anything), about the table top mountain also called Squaw
Leap that overlooks it, and gave us the legend. Briefly
summarized, an Indian woman was distraught over the death of her
mate, and leapt into the river below, where she turned into a fish.
Researching this, I found several stories related to the area, but
they seem to be even more fanciful than the story I described, as
well as having been written by non-Indians.
trailhead is off Smalley Road, about eight miles from the town of Auberry.
This town is at around 2,000 feet elevation, and the river is about
800, so the road drops down in a series of switchbacks. From the
trailhead to the river is about a mile. I first heard of the place
around 1980 when a footbridge over the river was completed, just
below a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) power house. On my first backpack trip there I was
accompanied by 16-year old Tim Liddle, who was my younger daughter's
boyfriend, and is now my older daughter's husband (they all had
different boyfriends/girlfriends and even another husband in between, so
everyone is happy with the present arrangement).
drove to the trailhead the night before and slept in the pickup
camper. In the morning I was not happy to see it had clouded up
overnight, but we hoped it would burn off and not cause us any
problems. For this relatively short hike we took Coke in bottles
(!) and ice cubes, along with the more normal backpacking stuff,
including a tent.
hundred yards past the bridge, the trail forks, with the Ridge Trail
to the right and the River Trail to the left. We knew we didn't want
to go downstream along the river to Millerton Lake, so we took the Ridge Trail, which
made it quite a bit longer hike than necessary, since the trail
loops around and joins the other section.
went uphill quite a ways, then along the side of a ridge, finally
locating a likely camping spot a little below where the trail starts
back down. After setting up camp, we did quite a bit of walking
around, going out along a fairly level cow trail below Kennedy
Table, the biggest table top mountain in the area. It was during
this time that we heard the whooshing sound of something going very fast
through the air, and saw a hawk diving from a high spot nearly to
the ground, seeking dinner.
our spot, we had actually left the trail and were following an old
road, but didn't know it. We walked up the road to where it went
outside the BLM area and over a ridge, were we saw a blue heron take
off from a small pond.
had a few raindrops in the afternoon, but nothing to worry about.
However, the next day there was a little rain off and on as we packed
up and started back, taking the shorter route down to the River
Trail. About halfway down to the river, the rain picked up,
and started raining harder and harder. By the time we reached the
bridge, we were too wet to worry about finding shelter, so we
slogged on up the hill to the parking lot, arriving wet on the
outside and damp from sweat under our clothes.
our bad weather experience, we enjoyed all the rest of our trip, and
would make a number of day and backpack hikes to the area over the
next few years.
the only backpack trip I took with my sister, Linda, who lives in Duluth
MN. With lots of great hiking and camping country around there, she
had done some backpacking and even a wilderness canoe trip. Part
of the time the canoe carries you, and part of the time you carry it
- plus all your other stuff.
came out to California for a visit in March of 1980, and our initial
plan was to start where Mill Flat Creek runs into the Kings River on
the south side, cross Mill Flat Creek, and hike a trail that goes up
the canyon several miles. This location is about three miles up a
dirt road from where the paved road crosses the Kings above Pine
Right now I am very
confused about the order of events. I thought I made this same hike
with Tim BEFORE Linda and I tried it, but my notes say otherwise.
These hikes are both in 1980, and my initial notes must have been
handwritten, since I didn't have a computer until 1987. The
originals are long gone.
attempting to wade this large creek in the spring proved to be a
challenge we could not overcome, and in retrospect, the attempt was
foolish and dangerous. We decided to drive back to the paved road,
and up toward Balch
Camp, to take a trail that goes up Rodgers Ridge,
the divide between the main river and the North Fork.
were able to find what appeared to be the start of the trail, but
after a half mile or so, there were so many cow trails that it was
impossible to know if we were on the "real" one or not. We
hiked up and down a while, and found a nice spot along a creek. We
explored the area, ate dinner, spent the night in the tent, and
returned the next morning.
two things that stand out most about this hike are doves and cow
manure. This is National Forest land, where cattle grazing has been
allowed for many decades, and we were constantly dodging
"pies," not always successfully. Most of this country is
open oak woodland, with mostly blue oaks. Each time we approached a
good sized tree, a flock of doves would fly out, and head for the
next tree, only to have to fly again and again and again as we progressed.
It's not surprising that this is prime dove hunting country in the
Meadow Creek 2 (probably April 1980)
I've described this are in detail above, I'll
discuss only things that were different this time. It seemed obvious
that the creek had to drop over a cliff to the river. In fact,
at some point in time I found a place on Highway 180 between the Grant Grove and Cedar
Grove sections of Kings Canyon National Park where I was able to see the falls
where it drops down to the river. I'm not sure if that
was before or after this hike, but I decided I needed to spend two
nights, so I would have a whole day for exploration, without having
to also hike in or out with my pack the same day I explored.
than the fairly level area where I camped, this country is quite
steep, but I found I could follow the trail past the creek, then
make my way down to the slope where I could get a glimpse of part of
the falls. I have a memory of traveling over terrain that might
challenge a mountain goat, but it was probably not that difficult.
There's a photo
on line that someone took from the river a ways above the falls,
and it is a much better view than what I got as a reward for my
12-mile round trip.
Meadow (May 1980)
was a hike that backpacking purists would sneer at, but we DID
backpack, and we enjoyed it. There is a road that goes from the Sky
Ranch Road to the Sugar Pine Road, which leads in to Nelder
this road crosses California Creek, a dirt road goes in a short
distance to a small meadow. The end of this road, long since
barricaded by the Forest Service, was our trailhead, from which Tim
and I hiked in less than half a mile to another meadow that had the
remains of a falling-down cabin at one end. We named the
place Cabin Meadow; later I learned that the official name is
Nichols Meadow. We called this the Cabin Meadow Candy Ass Backpack Trip, and
made plans to repeat it annually, which we did at least once.
most such areas, there were cows grazing in the meadow, and as we
sat around watching them, we noticed that they worked their way
slowly from one end of the meadow to the other, then back, over the
course of an hour or so. We described this as "cow
soccer," because it was just about as slow and boring as the
We did have a
bit of an adventure when Tim stepped into an area of almost but not
quite quicksand, and had to work a little to pull his foot out. Many
Sierra meadows are composed of sandy soil carried downstream over
the centuries, and there had apparently been some heavy rains
earlier in the spring. This particular section of the meadow was
saturated, and was essentially a thick, gooey soup of sand and
We also studied how
the main creek and other channels cut through the meadow, often
creating a small, narrow gorge, ranging from a foot to four feet
One time when Tim
and I were at the first meadow, there were hundreds of ladybugs
flying around. One flew into his ear, causing some consternation,
but it quickly came back out. I don't recall whether this was during
one of our backpack trips, or just during a day hike.
I know we made at
least one other pack trip into this area, and walked in and out as a
short day hike several times, but I can't recall any details, so
I'll just say that we made the hike out without getting hot, tired
or sweaty, and let this be the only entry on this area. I camped
near this area in 2014 and hiked in to both meadows, only to observe
Valley 2 (June 1980)
hike, also with Tim, was far more ambitious than any of my previous
hikes except Half Dome and Post Corral Meadow. I've described the area in
general previously, so again I'll concentrate on what was new and
was a strong, young teenager, I think he suffered more on this hike
than I did, because I picked him up after his all-night shift at a
mini-mart, drove to Kings Canyon, and prodded him up six miles of
trail under some challenging conditions.
trip took place at the height of spring runoff in a wet year, so the
Kings River and its tributary creeks were running high. This
presented no problem along the level two miles to Bubbs Creek, but
when we started up hill we soon came to places where the river was
up over the trail, and we had to find our way around these spots
through the trees and rocks. Many of the tributary creeks were too
large to cross easily, and more than once we had to go upstream away
from the trail until we found a log across the creek, or some other
aid to crossing.
sure if we spent the first night in Paradise Valley, or continued on
up the trail. Either the first or second day, we followed the river
to where the trail crosses it, heading east. There was no
bridge, but there was a fairly large log across the river. The
secret to crossing a raging river on a log is to walk carefully but
steadily, look where you are stepping, not at the river, and cross
your fingers and hold your breath. We met a group coming down that
included a young girl wearing thongs - that's NOT one of the secrets
to safe crossing. We took the water temperature, and it was 41
degrees. If you fell in, even a strong swimmer would be chilled and
swept downstream before he could swim to safety. Would I cross that
log today? Not in a million years!
the east side of the Kings River, we followed Wood Creek for a
number of miles. Again I can't recall if we stayed two nights or
three, but we were trying to get to the point where our trail joined
the John Muir Trail. Eventually this proved to be too far for the
time we had available, but we did meet a young man who was hiking
either the entire Pacific Crest Trail (Mexico to Canada), or at
least the complete JMT.
people who do hikes of this length (the JMT is 212 miles from
Yosemite to Mt. Whitney), take side trails out to where they meet
friends bringing them additional supplies, and taking away items
they no longer need. This gentleman had started out when the high
passes were icy and his equipment included an ice axe, but he had
since sent that home.
retraced our steps back to Roads End, dealing again with the same
creek crossing issues as our uphill route. At one place we crossed a
fairly large tributary on a makeshift log bridge that people had
made. While the water was spectacular, I would suggest that most
people would enjoy the hike more a little later in the season, when
there would not be so many detours around flooded spots.
Dome 2 (July 1980)
was by far the most adventurous of all my backpacking trips. The
parties were my older daughter Teri, Tim, his friend Lyle Scott
(known as Scott) and
myself. I was the only one who had previously gone to the top of
Half Dome, but the others were 16 and 17 years old, young, strong,
and in good health, so we didn't anticipate any problems.
time we spent our first night in Little Yosemite Valley. There is an
official backpacker's camp there now, with permits required, that
did not exist in 1980, although many people camped there before
heading up to Half Dome or up the John Muir Trail.
the end of the forested part of the route, before you get close to
the edge of Tenaya Canyon, there is a fairly level area that has
been used by campers over the years. Nearby is an excellent spring
where hikers can re-fill their water containers. We stopped here to
get water, then continued up the trail.
before we reached the bottom of the cables, we met people coming
down, who told us a thunderstorm was coming, and we should get down
off the rock. We headed back down the lower dome, arriving at the
camp area just as the rain hit us. While we were still on the open
rock, we saw lightning hit an evergreen tree far across the canyon
from us. We saw the entire trunk glow brightly for a moment, then
crash to the ground. This gave us extra incentive to get out of the
We set up a
makeshift shelter using tarps, since we had not brought a tent. The
storm was over fairly quickly, and we were treated to a spectacular
sunset adding color to the lingering clouds, and a great view of Mt.
Clark and Mt. Starr-King. Aware that we were in prime bear
country, after supper we set out to hang up our food. The official
process is as follows: Locate a tree with a live branch that extends
at least ten feet from the tree. Tie one end of your rope around a
rock and throw it over the branch. Tie half your food and other
attractive items (bears like he scent of most toiletries) to one end
of the rope. Pull this up near the branch, then tie the other half
so that when hanging from the branch, each bundle will be 12 to 15
feet above the ground. With a long stick, push the second bundle up
till they are both well above ground.
analytical mind will immediately detect several flaws in this
process. The most difficult task is finding a rock that you can tie
a rope around; and finding an appropriate tree is next. In most
cases, a reasonable compromise is achieved, so that your efforts
along with a great deal of optimistic hope protect your food to the
extent possible (in recent years, bear-proof metal containers have
been placed in many frequently used areas of the national parks and
forests. Light-weight bear-proof canisters are also now available).
our case, suitable materials proved elusive, so Tim hung his pack
right against the trunk of a tree. The problem with this is that
cubs can climb trees, and are very obedient. When mama bear says,
"Climb up and get me that pack, Junior," they are quick to
obey. A dead branch on a tree can be broken by these strong animals.
And the original method of putting everything in one bundle and tying
off the end at ground level just gave bears the chance to show how
quickly they can chew through a rope.
the least successful method of protecting food from bears is to keep
it close by your sleeping area, assuming the bear won't come that
close to a human being. This was the method chosen by our neighbor
Bob, who was on his first ever backpack, with rented equipment.
Bears that frequent well-used camp areas have no fear of humans, and
the wise human will not challenge a bear who tries to steal his
So all this leads up
to our nighttime adventures, or perhaps it would be more accurate to
say the time when all hell broke loose. Around 1 a.m. we were
awakened by Bob's cry of "F*&%$n bear's got my
backpack!" We quickly got out of our sleeping bags. The details
are hazy, but during the next hour, we were up and down two or three
times. A very large bear came out of the woods, but didn't really
get too close to us. Teri grabbed a big stick and prepared to do
battle. Bob rescued his backpack from where the bear left it a
couple hundred yards down the hill. One pocket was torn loose, and
there was no food left.
climbing cub tore a hole in Tim's pack, opening a bottle of pancake
syrup which left his pack slightly sticky for a long time. Although
the rest of the night was bear-free it was far from restful. And I
learned another lesson - no matter how difficult, follow the
next morning we had breakfast, and gave some extra food to Bob. Teri
did not feel up to going back up the mountain, so she stood guard
over our packs, while Scott,
Tim and I set out for the top of Half Dome. It was amazing how
much easier it is to climb the cables without a heavy pack on your
back, and we made it to the top, spent some time enjoying the view,
and came back down without further problems.
back at the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley, the three kids
decided to cool off. I checked the temperature of the water, which
was 59, and decided to stay hot and dirty (I had previously
discovered I could handle water as cool as 63 degrees, but anything
lower was just too cold for me).
their swim, we gathered up our stuff and headed for home.
Crossing 1 (Date unknown; probably August 1980 or earlier)
starting point for this hike was the farthest from home of all my
hikes. Up state highway 41 about 27 miles is the North Fork Turnoff,
AKA Road 200, which goes about 17 miles from the highway to the
small town of North Fork in Madera County. A paved
US forest road, known as both Minarets
Road and Sierra
Vista Scenic Byway, goes beyond this point over 50 miles, to a
campground and trail head at Granite Creek.
here trails head both north and east. My route today was the eastern
trail, which goes over rolling country about two miles, then another
two down into the canyon of the North Fork of the San Joaquin River.
Here a wooden footbridge crosses the river, at a site called Sheep
Crossing, from the purpose it was used for in the late 1800s.
of the second half of the trip is a long downhill stretch with a
couple of switchbacks, after which the trail arrives at the bottom.
I walked upstream on the west side of the river a short ways and found a place to
set up camp where some boards and rough shelves provided a place to
remainder of my day I explored the area, including an informal trail
that went up the river on the west side. I went only a short
distance up the trail, but I was destined to become much more
familiar with it in two future hikes (Sheep
Crossing 2 and Cora
day I made the relatively short, though partly steep, return journey
back to my car and the long drive home to Fresno.
just noticed that my notes indicate that the date listed above was my second
hike into that area. If so, I have no idea what the date of the
first one was, but what I described is my first hike.
Crossing 2 (August 1980 - date uncertain)
the second hike I was accompanied by Otto Trachtenberg, an
experienced hiker. His wife was in the same unit I was in at work,
and arranged for us to get together. It was a mismatch.
was one of those fast hikers that you meet, making long, fast
strides, arms swinging, covering as much ground as possible - and
not seeing most of it. He was disappointed how short the hike was to
where we stopped, but we made up for it with a long side trip.
Leaving our packs, we followed what is usually referred to as a
"fisherman's trail" up the river for some distance. Along
the way a rattlesnake crossed our path and continued on into the
brush. We looked at him and talked about rattlesnakes as we
continued on up the trail, till we heard a loud roar of water that
indicated a fall or major cascade up ahead.
continued on and came to a 50-foot
waterfall, with a mostly vertical drop, coming over a cliff set
back in a recessed portion of the bedrock. I don't know if this fall
has a name, so I just identify it as "falls on the North Fork
of the San Joaquin River." I would return to this falls three
stayed just one night, and made a quick hike out and home the next
Postpile (August 28 - September 1, 1980)
was one of my more ambitious hikes, as well as one of the most
scenic. After I started backpacking, I started acquiring USGS
These have contour lines to show the ups and downs of the land,
usually with lines marking each 500 feet in elevation. If the lines
are spaced far apart, it indicates a gentle slop; a bunch of lines
very close together means a cliff. Between hikes I studied these
maps to see where there were trails, where they went, and to find
one point I realized that Devil's
Postpile National Monument, which I had never seen, was fairly
close to Granite Creek, and could be reached at my leisurely pace
with two stopovers. So late in August I drove to the campground to
spend the night, planning to get an early start the next morning. To
cut a couple of miles off this long trip, I drove my truck across
the creek at the shallow crossing place, which gave me access to a
rough but passable road that led out to the edge of the canyon
of the North Fork of the San Joaquin River.
the third time, I arrived at Sheep Crossing, but for the first
time, I kept on moving. I traveled another few miles before making
camp at a spot close to the trail. Soon after crossing the river, I
had met a couple coming from Devil's Postpile, and I asked them how
the hike was. Their description was that it was nice if you enjoy wildflowers,
but didn't offer many good views.
the end of the hike I could only conclude that this couple had their
eyes on the ground all the time, because there were many views of
forested mountain ridges and high rocky peaks; long vistas down the
canyons, and generally, just an endless array of good stuff to see,
including the promised wildflowers.
reasonably sure that I spent the second night in a place where rocks
and soil had built up a series
of terraces above a meadow. While I was enjoying the view, a
deer wandered out into the meadow and nibbled at some brush for a
short while. I cooked up something in my pot (photographic
proof), and got a good night's sleep in preparation for the
final push to the Postpile.
starting point was high on the south side of the North Fork canyon;
my route went over the divide between the south and middle forks,
and down into the middle fork. The trail winds up and down across
the broad divide, then drops rather steeply to the river. The trail
here parallels the river for several miles, and the Postpile is
right by the stream, on the east side. Although I had seen photos,
like most places, there is nothing like seeing the real thing, and I
was duly impressed. The first thing I learned was that the
"posts" are bigger than they appear in photos. Broken
sections lie in a pile at the base of the cliff that forms the
feature, and the typical post is a foot in diameter. Broken pieces
up to ten feet in length were common.
other great feature of this hike, a first for me, was a store, since
there is a road into the area from Mammoth
Lakes on the eastern side of the Sierra. I bought a couple of
cold beers at the store, hiked down the trail out of sight of
"civilization," and set up camp between the river and the
trail, where I enjoyed my purchase.
night was one of those that tested the quality of my equipment - my
thermometer registered a low of about 23 degrees, but I was very
comfortable and warm inside my bag with just shorts and a t-shirt.
The bag I got was not the typical down bag many hikers used at that
time, but was instead filled with "hollofil,"
an artificial fiber that is essentially a bunch of small tubes. The
holes in the fibers trap air and provide excellent insulation.
around this time I did carry a down jacket that could be stuffed
into a small bag about six by eight inches. I found I didn't need to
wear the jacket very often, but I would carry a pillow case, and put
the jacket inside that for a pillow at night.
the temperature warmed up a bit in the morning I was up and fixing
breakfast, ready to continue down along the river to the other
dramatic feature of the area, Rainbow
Falls. The flow of volcanic basalt which makes up the postpile
created cliffs along the sides and across
the path of the river, and at Rainbow
Falls it drops 101 feet. I spent a half hour or so enjoying the
view and resting, since my plan was to cross the river and head
cross-country back to the trail, following a route that was shown on
the map as an old trail. In practice, it was a fairly easy route,
but with no signs of a trail. However, I knew by keeping to the
northwest I would have to intersect the trail I came in on, and
around mid-day I found it, and turned west.
other feature in this area deserves mention - the Minarets,
a series of jagged peaks in the Ritter
Range. They are readily
seen from many locations, and I had a great view from my trail.
The route winds its way around the southern end of the range,
of the Minarets from both east and west.
is also a striking man-made feature, the 88 Corral, about half way
between the North and Middle Forks of the San Joaquin. I'm not 100%
clear on the story, but I believe a group of stockmen and their
animals had to hole up here during the severe winter of 1888. The
site has makeshift tables,
benches and shelves, but also had too much horse poop to make it
an attractive place to stop overnight.
think I stopped overnight two nights on the return trip, but I would
not want to have to swear to it in court. It seems that I made it to
Sheep Crossing the last night, giving me a fairly short hike up the
canyon to where my truck was parked the last day. Although I always worry about
driving down roads that are close to 4-wheel drive conditions,
especially when a creek crossing is involved, I made it back to the
campground and across the creek without incident, and headed for
Chilnualna Falls (September 6 - 7, 1980)
was the only hike I took with just my older daughter Teri. We had
hoped to go to Glacier Point and hike in to Illilouette
Falls, but a
forest fire had closed that trail. Instead we turned off at Wawona,
a small settlement inside Yosemite National Park along Highway 41, which goes to Yosemite from Fresno.
The trail here leads up Chilnualna Creek to a
mostly uphill hike with lots of switchbacks. It was a warm day, and
the elevation there was fairly low, so we enjoyed it when we crossed
a drainage, because the air rises during the day, and the funnel
effect of little creeks provides a nice cooling uphill breeze.
falls itself is 20 or 30 feet high, dropping over from the edge of a
pool. We ate lunch here, rested, walked around a bit, and headed
back down. I guess we stayed overnight, but I am not 100% sure; it
was a short enough hike we could have done it all in one day.
have since learned that we did not really complete this hike. There
are several different cascades, and it is 8.4 miles to the main
falls. We certainly did not hike that far, and we probably just
went to the first cascade.
Meadow from Wishon (September 16 - 17, 1980)
read about Garlic Meadow Creek twice before, but this is the place
where the creek starts down from the high ridges at the top of Kings
Canyon. I can't say with certainty that I was actually close to
Garlic Meadow Creek, but I certainly covered a lot of trails on this
My starting point
was near Wishon Reservoir, on the North Fork of the Kings River, and
this was another of those hikes where I was never sure I was on the
"right" trail. The first mile or so was fine - the trail
led into Statum
Meadow, the site of a cow camp where there are some cabins used
by stockmen when they move cattle to or from lower elevations.
out from the meadow there were trails in every direction, so I
picked one that went more or less south, since my goal was to get
out on the edge of the canyon. Eventually I was rewarded with some
nice views down into the canyon. I sat by a
side canyon and enjoyed the sunset
as it turned the granite around me to gold
one of those hikes where I had a little trouble finding water. I
ended up setting my cooking pot where a tiny trickle dripped down,
waiting at least a minute or two for it to fill up.
the hike out the next day, I followed various trails and even some
jeep roads, and eventually made my way back to the trailhead, with
photos to show for my efforts.
Peak (September 19 - 20, 1980)
hike was my only experience with actual mountain climbing, and
though I'd like to think otherwise, it
was a fairly mild climb. Cathedral
Peak is in the Yosemite backcountry, but not far from Tuolumne
Meadows, a popular camping spot with a store, post office, etc.
again I had an experienced hiker/climber as my guide and companion,
with most of the planning and preparation being done by Randy
Westmoreland. He and other kids in Yosemite had taken advantage of
their location by trying to climb the big boulders around the valley
with clothesline rope and tent pegs as their only climbing aids.
their parents and/or the rangers caught them, instead of punishment,
they encouraged them to take lessons and learn to climb the proper
way, which is relatively safe and certainly far safer with the right
We hiked in to
Cathedral Lake where we camped overnight before setting out for the
mountain, only a mile or so away. With Randy's guidance, and the
fact that he chose a relatively easy route, I had no trouble getting
up to the top. Most of the way I was able to work my way up without
relying on the rope.
top we had a good view of the surrounding peaks,
meadows and lakes. Our hike back down was done without equipment; we
just followed an easy walking route on a less steep side of the
By the time we
were heading down the trail back to the road, it was getting dark,
but we made it out OK, and drove down to the valley and Randy's
house, where I spent the night before heading back to the lowlands.
Grove (November 8 - 9, 1980)
Grove is not usually thought of as a place to backpack, and in fact,
the hiking part of this trip was very short, probably not a half
mile. Back in those days the road from the campground up to where
the Old Granddad Tree is located was still open and drivable. About
half way up a dirt trail leads into a meadow and an area where there
are a half dozen large redwood trees. We called this Redwood Glen,
and had hiked into it many times. This time Tim, my daughter
Jennifer, and I parked where the trail leaves the main road, and
walked in the short distance to where we wanted to camp.
had previously determined that it was possible to hike cross-country
from this spot to the Old Granddad Tree, which was a mile or two by
road. The cross-country route was marked only in my memory, and we
soon realized that we were not getting to our destination. Along the
way we had spotted foot prints, which we have always been referred to
as "following the old man's footprints," although I don't recall
actually seeing a man of any age. In any event, after a few twists
and turns we reached the old logging road that goes out past the
Granddad Tree to the road that comes up from camp. This area is
known as "The Graveyard of the Giants," because of several big dead
redwood snags, a couple of large living trees, and about a dozen
stumps of big redwoods that were cut down in the 1890s.
enjoyed the scenery here, and followed the road back down. However,
I have to confess that the first night we did a very non-backpack
type thing - we drove all the way out to the highway, went to the
nearby village of Fish Camp for some needed supplies, and drove
back, driving all the way in to our campsite.
believe this was also the trip that ended in an adventurous way. The
clamp that held down the battery in my Datsun pickup came loose, and
electrical arcing caused some of the wiring to catch fire. We had no
extinguisher, but killed the fire with dirt. We then discovered that
it had burned through the accelerator cable so that the wire broke.
was already developing the mechanical skills that would be his
long-time profession in the future, and tied a bootlace to the
accelerator pedal, with the other end controlling the gas, and we
made it almost home with this temporary fix. The last few miles
through town, Tim had to operate the gas manually by pulling on and
releasing the shoelace, while I took care of brakes and steering.
I've never had to deal with a problem quite like that again.
Meadow Creek 3 (November 22 - 23 1980)
written about my first and second
hikes previously, so I won't repeat information that
you can find there. This section will cover my final two Garlic
Meadow Creek hikes.
again I convinced Tim to hike mostly uphill for six miles, with the
promise of seeing "a really cool place." One of the
"fun" things about this hike is that you think you're
almost there when you're not. Once you start up out of the lower river
canyon, you are crossing a series of ridges and drainages. Since you
know the end of the trail has to go downhill to the camping spot,
each downhill stretch brings hope that the end is at the bottom -
only to disappoint you with another uphill stretch.
all this we made it to Garlic Meadow Creek, and were very soon
greeted by a very
big rattlesnake. Actually he didn't so much greet us as disdain us,
crawling into the rocks. Although there are people who will kill
rattlesnakes on sight, I don't believe that's right, and it doesn't
really accomplish much in the long run. Nevertheless, we debated
killing this one, since it was so close to where we would be
sleeping. The snake ended our discussion by simply disappearing and
never showing himself again. Of course, we didn't stick our hands
into any holes down between the rocks.
enjoyed our trip despite the long, steep trail, but I notice that he
never volunteered to go to this spot again.
made one more trip to the area, with Tim's friend Scott, at the
wrong time of year. I have long been aware that no matter how much
rain there is, the green grass turns brown and stickers develop, and
this transformation reaches its final stage by June. Scott and I
went on June 3 - 5 of 1982. Although the trail is well marked, the
tall grass can't be avoided. When we returned from this hike, I
started to remove the stickers from my socks, took a good look, and
threw them away.
memorable event of this hike was meeting some other hikers coming
down the trail. They "warned" us that the trail was washed
out and impassable ahead of us, but I was pretty sure they had come
to the area where you just have to tough it out and hike straight up
the hillside till you get to the trail again. We kept going, and the
trail was just like it had always been. As a bonus, the area was not
populated by people who give up easily.
Flat Creek (December 14 - 15, 1980)
is the trip that I thought preceded the hike my sister and I took,
but my notes say otherwise. The route was this: Drive to Mill Flat
Creek Campground, cross Mill Flat Creek, hike up the south side of
the Kings River, spend the night, and return.
is typical with river trails, the route parallels the river,
sometimes staying close to the stream, and sometimes climbing up
over ridges and down. Hiking back out, we kept hoping that this bend in
the trail was the one that led to Mill Flat Creek, only to have
another ridge to cross. Overall it
was an interesting hike, although I really can't recall any details,
except that we did safely cross Mill Flat Creek, unlike the time
Linda and I attempted it..
Wallow (Various dates)
did several day trips and short overnight hikes, as well as a couple
of longer excursions in this area, but the trips were often very
similar, so I'm going to combine them all into one section.
trail head is on a familiar route, the dirt road that goes up the
north side of the Kings River above Pine Flat Lake. About half way
to the Garnet Dyke trailhead, a trail goes up the side of the
canyon, and eventually in to a place called Bear Wallow. The trail
that Linda and I tried to be on comes in from the west here. The
area is a large, open rounded hilltop, with higher mountains to the
north, and a couple of creeks.
in 1980 Tim and I did a day hike all the way in, but this first hike
of 1981 was supposed to be a more ambitious overnight trip, although
it eventually turned out to be shorter than planned. Joining me were
Jennifer, Tim, and Scott, and we started out strong. But once we
made it up the first long, uphill stretch, and went another mile or
so, no one felt like hiking another four miles, so we decided to
just explore that area, and made our camp on a small knoll off the
trail, overlooking the canyon.
course, with less hiking we had more time for other activities,
which included rolling rocks down the steep hillsides. Eventually
Tim and Scott made the return trip by just heading cross country
down the steep, grass-covered slope, getting down to the road in
about a third the time it took Jennifer and me to hike the trail
On the first hike with
Tim, we were going through a thicket of brush and live oak, sort of
a tunnel through the greenery, when we disturbed an owl, which flew
across the trail in front of us and into the woods.
February 20 and 21, 1982, Teri and her then boyfriend Johnny Upshaw
and I did the full Bear Wallow hike, probably six miles each way,
and spent the night. We camped in an area that had no fire ring or other
sign of use, so I carefully dug out a circle of green grass and set it
aside. We built our fire there, then in the morning put the ashes in
a plastic bag and replaced the grass, watering the area well.
the very end of 1982, I went to Bear Wallow with Rod Neely, my
younger daughter's boyfriend (they have now been married for over 25
years). We observed New Year's Eve sitting on the side of a big
green field, looking at stars, probably with a campfire, and knowing
Rod, some fireworks.
was my last hike all the way in, but Rod and I made a partial hike
in January of 1985, during which we had a few sprinkles of rain, and
built a very hot manzanita fire.
Expedition (March 27 - April 6, 1981)
started out to be one of the longest trips I've been associated
with, although circumstances changed before it was over. Tim, Scott
and I made a day trip to the Squaw Leap area, taking my camp stove
and fixing a lunch of "cup of noodles." Among the
many things we discussed was the idea of spending a month (!)
camping there (not for me - I was working full time).
it was decided that as soon as equipment and food could be acquired,
we would all return on a Saturday, hike in and set up camp. I would
leave Sunday, then come back the following weekend with additional
food and whatever else might be needed. Thus was born the L/S
When the big
day arrived we drove up to the trailhead, and headed down the trail,
across the bridge, and up the River Trail. Once we were past the
trail junction a half mile or so, we started looking for a camp
site, and after a bit of wandering around off the trail, we saw a
small knoll with a little creek on one side. The ground sloped down
quickly on two sides to small creeks, while the "back"
side of the area was an open, gentle slope, leading to a steep hill.
The route in from the trail, the "front" side, was also a
gentle slope, but covered with quite a lot of trees and brush.
actually made at least two hikes in from the parking area (about 3
miles round trip), bringing
many items that were not normal for backpacking, including ice
chests and possibly folding chairs. On the first trip in we were all
carrying things in our hands (like the ice chest) in addition to our
full packs, so we probably looked like a very soft bunch of wimpy
hikers (in reality we were quite manly).
first weekend we got camp set up, including a cheap
explored the area around the site. While there is a lot of steep
terrain, much of this land is gently rolling hills, and it's
possible to wander around a fair distance in three directions
without a lot of uphill hiking. Nearby are some small cliffs of
decomposing granite where there are "holes" into the rock,
creating an overhang.
Sunday afternoon I said my goodbyes, wished the boys well, and hiked
out to the parking lot for the drive home.
probably good that we did not have cell phones in those days, since
I would have surely received a call mid-week asking for a
rescue. When I arrived to bring food for week two of four, I
was quickly informed that they were ready to come home after this
They had spent
their time exploring just about all the land between the river and
the steep slopes north of the camp as well as the table top; drawing
maps of the area, and catching butterflies. This may sound
like a rather mild activity for a couple of energetic 17-year olds,
but their method of capture was to throw their leather vests over
the insects, often stunning them (sometimes past the point of no
return). The ones that survived were eventually rewarded with their
They also endured
a couple of hard spring rainstorms, which confined them to the small
tent. There were also the inevitable conflicts when people spend too
much time in close quarters. In retrospect (in fact, immediately) it
was obvious that the quiet, pastoral life of camping in the Sierra
foothills was not going to be satisfactory for very long. When I
arrived, I noticed a hole in the mesh front of the tent.
What happened here?
threw the .22 rifle through the tent.
Tim: To keep from
shooting Scott with it.
stayed overnight that final weekend, making a couple of trips out to
the truck to get everything packed out, and enjoying a couple of
beautiful sunny days. And though I think it was the last camping
trip Tim or Scott made to that area, I would return a dozen times
over the next twenty years.
Squaw Leap Hikes (1981 to 1982)
I realized how quick and easy backpacking to Squaw Leap could be, I
went there quite a few times in the next few years. It was a little
over an hour's drive to the trailhead, and roughly a mile hike to
the bridge. From there, it was probably not more than a half mile to
L/S Camp, as we named the spot where the boys camped.
that trip and my next trips, we made a number of improvements to the
site. We of course built a fire ring during the first weekend of the
Expedition. We found some short sections that had been cut off of
fence posts, cylindrical, about six inches in diameter, and 18
inches long. We set these into the ground, and laid several branches
across to form a crude bench. I think I brought in a hammer and
nails and improved it during a later trip, including the addition of
a back. Eventually I carried in an old folding aluminum chair, used
it during my campouts, and hid it in some rocks in the area for the
When I made my
first visit to Squaw Leap for a day hike, it seemed that the road in
from Auberry was very narrow and winding, with lots of switchbacks.
When Tim and I drove in for our hike, the road had been realigned.
Although still steep, there were fewer switchbacks, with longer
downhill stretches between curves.
was building a new power house by the river downstream a ways from
the bridge and existing building, and as part of the licensing
agreement, they paid for the realignment of the road. The
construction company set up headquarters, with several temporary
buildings, in a flat, open area near the trailhead parking lot, so
for several years there was always quite a bit of activity there.
Once the project was completed, the buildings were removed, and the
area they had occupied was converted into picnicking and camping
There were no
official camp sites at the original parking lot, but there was a
toilet, several picnic tables, and some shooting benches, which were
used for a while by a local muzzle-loading club.
My first trip
after the L/S Expedition was only two weeks later, April 16-17, but
I don't remember many details of that or most of my subsequent
hikes, so I'll combine the next few Squaw Leap trips together in this
section. I didn't go again until the next year, when I enjoyed a
more ambitious hike, with unusual but fascinating weather
The weather in
the Sierra foothills on a sunny winter day can be very pleasant, and
I had already discovered the joys of truck camping in the winter. My first hike
of 1982 took place January 22 - 24, 1982. We had a little rain in
Fresno the day
before, but that just freshens the vegetation, and clears the air
for better views.
up from the San Joaquin Valley, the route goes through the small
town of Auberry, and just past town there is a series of wide, flat
meadows. I was not shocked, but a little surprised, to see a light
layer of snow in this area, probably not over an inch. This location
is at 2,000 feet, but the road quickly drops down quite a ways, and
as soon as I started down Smalley Road, I got below the snow level.
However, there were little spots of snow all the way down the river,
at 800 feet.
A series of
table top mountains runs along the San Joaquin River on both sides
from Squaw Leap down to the country below Millerton Lake. The
biggest of these is Kennedy Table, on the north side and overlooking
much of the country we hiked and camped in. Tim and Scott had gone
up to the top of the table, and I wanted to do the same, so I made
this a two-night trip, giving me a full day to do the extra hiking.
addition to the trails, there is an old dirt road in the area that
comes over the ridge near the table mountain, and down the hill to a
spot near the river. Part of this road is used as the trail, but
most of it is separate. After breakfast on the second day, I headed
up the trail and picked up the road where it went over the ridge.
From there I hiked cross-country toward the "back" or
northern side of the mountain, where it was possible to work my way
up through the broken basalt rock at the edge. Out on the eastern
and southern sides of the mountain, the rock
cliffs at the edge were 80 to 100 feet high.
I reached the top of Kennedy Table I had good evidence that I was
back up above the 2,000 foot level, since there was a dusting of
snow on top. It was easy enough to walk around, although the ground
is quite rocky most of the way. From the edge, I had a view of my
tent, looking very tiny down in the woods, as well as the bridge
and the trail up to the parking lot, and the old power house and
road leading to it.
the hike to the table top involved an elevation gain of close to a
thousand feet, as well as making my way through some brushy areas
via cow paths and game trails, allowing a full day in between the
hike in and out proved to be a good idea, and I made one or two
other three-day trips later on. My next trip was in May of that
year, a one-night visit that I have no memory of. And because of
some dramatic events that will be recounted later, I am going to
save the final 1982 Squaw Leap hike for later.
Pass (June 20 - 25, 1981)
was kind of a farewell hike for Tim and Scott, who had joined the
Navy, and would be leaving for basic training in September. The pass is east of
Courtright, and is in high country with many small glacial lakes.
Although I am not a fisherman, Tim and Scott were, and took along
fishing equipment in addition to all the usual stuff.
first part of the hike matched my second ever trip, from Courtright
Post Corral Meadow, where we
camped for the first night. The next morning was when we learned
about the self-folding frying pan that I mentioned in my report on
the "business" of
backpacking. At a camping store I had bought
a frying pan that had a folding handle for easier carrying. It was
not well designed, and if the pan was at an angle when you picked it
up, it would fold and tilt sideways. Tim was cooking eggs when this
happened, and his comments on the subject cannot be repeated here.
found something else to eat and set out on a trail that went east from
the meadow, rather than the trail south that I had followed
previously. This took us in the direction of Hell-for-Sure pass on
the LeConte Divide. Our first stop was at one of many small lakes in
the area, possibly Fleming Lake or Rae Lake, where the boys did
their first fishing.
the next few days (not sure how many), we spent quite a bit of time
at other nearby lakes, and set up camp at Hell-for-Sure Lake. The
boys caught many
small trout, which they cleaned and cooked over the fire, so we
were eating them the day they were caught, the only way to ensure
really good, fresh taste. At one point we had to chase away a marmot
who took an interest in our frying pan, although I'm not sure this rodent
is a meat eater.
did a day hike to the top of Hell-for-Sure pass, which still had
quite a bit of snow. Tim and Scott had a fun time sliding down the
east side (only a hundred feet or so) on
it was time to head for home, we continued on a loop that would take
us down to the Kings River, and out the same trail I followed on my
first hike in the area in September 1979. We did some cross-country
hiking heading for the Devil's Punchbowl. A contour map is essential
for this kind of enterprise, since it shows whether you're heading
for a cliff, or a gentler, more passable slope.
did not stop at the Punchbowl, but continued down hill toward the
Kings. Along this stretch we went past a number of meadows, all
patrolled by voracious mosquitoes, who kept us busy slapping,
shooing and scratching. Applying insect spray provided about 15
minutes of relief, then they were back. One meadow was occupied by
hundreds of dragon flies, who dine constantly on mosquitoes. We
tried to figure out how to get a cloud of the dragon flies to
accompany us, since we didn't get a single mosquito bite when we
were passing this meadow.
spent our final night where the trail reached the Kings, then hiked
all the way out the next day, an eleven mile slog which wore us down
pretty good. We did not go home that night, but instead found a
place off a dirt road where we could camp overnight, then drove home
the following day.
Cecil Trail/Roaring River/Sphinx Creek (August 1 - 5, 1981)
to this point my backpacking trips had followed an established
pattern: Drive to the trail head, hike in, hike around and look at
stuff, hike out, drive home. But trails don't just go in and stop -
they connect to other trails, they form loops, they go anywhere and
When I started
thinking about a loop trail trip, I realized that it required either
two vehicles or two drivers, or possibly both. For this hike, which
took place mainly in the high country south of Kings Canyon at Cedar
Grove, I used two vehicles, but operated both of them.
one driver, two-vehicle method was very suitable for hiking the Don Cecil Trail, which
goes up out of Kings Canyon from Cedar Grove. The first part of the
route heads mainly south, then it turns east and generally parallels
the Kings River, dropping down into Bubbs Creek, which joins the
Kings about two miles east of Roads End.
Before I started hiking, I parked the truck at the Roads End trail head and rode my bike six miles
back to Cedar Grove.
The bike ride was mostly down hill but I had to do some pedaling on
flat stretches. I
had left my backpack at the ranger station, so once I arrived there, all
I had to do was lock my bike to a tree, pick up my pack, and step
off on the trail.
Don Cecil Trail follows Sheep Creek up from Cedar Grove, just
across the road from the ranger station and campground, and rises
from 4,000 to 7,300 feet in six miles. The first day was one of the roughest hiking days I have ever had. It was more than 95% uphill, some gentle, some steep and some
just tedious switch backs for what seemed like miles. Besides all this, I
hadn't been sleeping well and woke up about 4 a.m.; didn't eat a good breakfast, and didn't eat much on the trail. By the time I stopped I felt worn out and a little sick, and it was a major effort to fix
supper and set up camp.
made two mistakes on this hike. First, I assumed that the meadow
that was my planned destination would have water available. Second,
I passed up the chance to fill my water containers when I crossed a
creek, because I didn't want to go to the trouble of getting out the
purification tablets, and I was close to the meadow.
there was no running water of any kind at the meadow, which meant
another mile and a half uphill to get to a creek. Despite these
troubles, I got settled in, got some water, started a fire, and
cooked my hot dogs. I got a good night sleep, and started out on day
two feeling much more normal.
I had some steep hills and a lot of down hill, and stopped earlier in the
day at a nice campsite with a table and log chairs and bench at
Williams Meadow. There was a tiny creek with quite a few fish, up to six inches.
Although I had hiked a total of about 14 miles, I was only five
miles as the crow flies from my starting point.
next day's hike was mostly easy and up and down, never gaining or
losing much elevation, and with lots of nice scenery, about which I
remember very little. I do know that I passed through a place called
Sugar Loaf Valley, which had a small granite dome at one side,
similar to the typical "sugar loaf" mountains found in a
number of locations. The most
famous guards the harbor at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
After about eight miles of hiking, I camped by the Roaring
River. This river flows down to the Kings, and ends with a short but
waterfall that is only a few steps off the road between Cedar
Grove and Roads End. There was a ranger station nearby, and in my camp area were about 14 boy
scouts and their leaders. I had seen two people the first day and none
on day two, so it was quite a change. The scouts were headed for Mt. Whitney, so we
went in opposite directions the next morning.
had a nice conversation with the ranger, about cows and pine trees.
When I camped at Williams Meadow the previous night, I was surprised
to find it occupied by cows.
This is normal in the national forests, but should never happen in a
national park. The ranger explained that when this area was added to
the park system in the 1950s, the family that had grazing rights
there retained them until the last permit holder died. Since this
person was a woman in her 90s in 1981, I am assuming that cows no longer pollute Kings
Canyon National Park.
ranger also mentioned that he had spent much of the previous day
pulling small lodgepole pines out of a nearby meadow. One of the
hallmarks of a good meadow is that it is too wet for trees to grow.
Over time, conditions will be right for a tree or two or three to
get established at the edge of the meadow. They will consume some of
the water, allowing the edges to dry out, and give more trees the
chance to grow. The natural progression of a Sierra meadow is that
it is eventually taken over by forest. The ranger said he had mixed
feelings about interfering with this natural process, but there is
also value to preserving meadows.
elevation at Roaring River was about 7,000 feet, and I had about 14
miles to go to get back to where the truck was parked, but I still
had to go up and over 10,000 foot Avalanche Pass to get there. I
don't recall much about this part of the hike, and my notes pretty
much end when I left Roaring River, but I probably took two days to
finish, and the dates of the hike agree with this. The final leg of
the hike was a lot of downhill, mostly following Sphinx Creek,
followed by a couple of level miles to finish it off.
than the short, overnight hikes, I always met other
people on the trial. Everyone says "hello" and often we
stopped to talk for a minute or two about what's ahead on the trail.
However, on this hike I encountered a person who didn't
want to follow this protocol. Walking through a fairly
flat, open area past the Roaring River, where I could see several
hundred yards ahead on the trail, I saw a woman coming my way,
hiking alone. About 100 feet before we met, she went of the trail a
little ways, turned her back to to the trail, and lowered her head.
It was obvious that for whatever reason she did not want any contact
with others (well, at least with me), so I went on by without a
Wishon to Cedar Grove (August 29 - September 5
This was probably my
favorite hike of all time. This time I used one vehicle and two
drivers, with my friend Gary Reed accompanying me to the starting
point, driving my truck home, then meeting me at the other end. This
was my "three rivers" hike, starting near the North Fork
of the Kings, going up, across and down into the middle fork, and
finally over the Monarch Divide to the South Fork and the Roads End
trailhead in Kings Canyon National Park.
Again time has
erased many of the details of this hike, but we probably camped
somewhere near the starting point, since Gary enjoyed camping and
had previously joined me on a number of camping trips (not hikes). In any event,
fairly early on the first hiking day I watched Gary drive away in my
truck, leaving me with 50 miles of walking before I would see them
Some of the first
day's hike led through Crown Valley, above which is Crown Rock, a
small dome with a crown-shaped formation on the top. At one point I
hiked through a mile or so of level territory, where there were many
fallen trees. All along this area I saw chipmunks running along the
downed logs, which I defined as "the chipmunk highway."
first night was spent by a small creek, below the trail, with a 20
foot cliff between trail and creek. As I was preparing supper, I
looked up toward the trail just as a huge buck with a large rack of
antlers looked over the edge, checking me out.
main purpose in this hike was to see the Tehipite Valley, a
"Yosemite style" valley carved by glaciers, and featuring
rock cliffs, interesting rock formations, a couple of waterfalls,
and the gem of the area, Tehipite
Dome, the largest dome in the Sierra. Approaching the valley
from the south, you can see the "back"
side and top of the dome, and while it's a cool-looking rock, it
is not all that impressive. From the valley however, it is a high,
spectacular example of the granite domes that appear throughout the
mountain range, and the
photo reminds some viewers of Darth Vadar.
Getting down to the valley from the divide between the north and
middle forks was one of the most challenging stretches of trail I
have ever attempted. It was no surprise, when I reached the upper
rim of Tehipite Valley, that the trail went down the side of the
canyon in a series of switchbacks. A LONG series of switchbacks. And
it was ALL down hill. This may sound like easy hiking, but down hill
travel is rough on the knees, even though it's easier on the lungs.
long switchback trails have some sections where the trail levels out
or goes up hill for a short distance, which relieves the constant
stress of down hill hiking. Of course, if you're going up, the
sections where the trail goes down for a ways are equally welcome.
However, the Tehipite trail was 100% unrelieved down hill for
probably four miles. In addition, during the last two miles or so,
the trail was composed of loose broken rocks, and occupied by 74
billion annoying little flies. These are not house flies or big
horse flies, but instead a small but very determined insect that is
constantly trying to land on your face. Throughout this section I
was constantly shooing flies away with a bandana.
I reached the bottom, I set up camp within a few feet of the trail
and more or less collapsed for a while. My camp site was close to
the river, so I refilled my water containers, then fixed supper and
enjoyed a well-deserved night of rest.
valley is similar to Yosemite in general appearance - level, a mile
or so wide, and a river runs through it, the middle fork of the
Kings. It is dominated by Tehipite Dome, but there are many striking
rock formations, including some turret-like shapes that I thought looked like a bishop's mitre. The
trail I would follow the next day went upstream, staying close to
the river all the way. About six miles from my camp a branch of the
trail turned south and went up the side of canyon to the top of the
divide between the middle and south forks.
the things to see in the valley were some huge old growth trees.
Although the area has had National Park status only since 1965, its
remoteness has provided additional protection.
The river itself offered many scenic views, including a waterwheel
falls, which results when a rock ledge across the stream bed creates a small plume as the water is deflected away from the rock face.
Although it was late summer, the river had a large volume of water.
Since I was on the north side, I knew I would have to cross the
river at the trail junction. The map showed a bridge there, but
backcountry bridges on major rivers have a tendency to get washed
out, so as I hiked, I spent some of my time worrying about how I
would cross if this had happened.
was also on this stretch that I met a young couple who were doing a
very extensive hike. It was his first time, but she had been over
many trails all over the Sierra. She said that she thought the
switchbacks down into the valley was the roughest section of trail
she had seen.
As usual, I
can't remember every detail of this trip, but I think I may have
taken two days to hike up the river. I do know that at my first stop
I took a pretty good "sponge bath," and if I actually got
into the water, it was a quick dip, since Sierra rivers tend to be
very cold. It also seems that I spent a night near the bridge. Yes,
my worries were for nothing, and there was a fairly new,
sturdy-looking foot bridge.
this point, the rock walls had given way to steep slopes on both
sides of the river, and the canyon was V-shaped, instead of the
U-shape of a glaciated valley. The trail went up the south side,
eventually reaching the 10,000 foot elevation at Granite Pass, the
high point on the Monarch Divide.
continued my hike the next morning, following a trail that was
mostly uphill, but without any long stretches of switchbacks. When I
made camp that evening, I was pestered by a deer that had no fear of
humans, and which kept hanging around my camp. I finally managed to
shoo her away.
following day, as I made my way higher and higher, I had some
spectacular views of the Middle Fork Canyon, some of its
tributaries, and the rugged mountain peaks that surrounded me. One
of my favorite pictures of all time was taken along this stretch of
trail, showing a
hiker looking at the jumble of canyons, cliffs, peaks, and rock
I reached the higher altitudes of the divide, I realized that
although it was September, it was spring at this elevation. Shooting
stars and other flowers seen as early as February in the
were just now in full bloom. Trees are limited and small here, but
the shining granite, small
lakes, and lush meadows make it a place of beauty. At the top
of the pass I stopped to take pictures, have a snack, and rest,
before starting down into the south fork of the Kings.
could have probably made it all the way out to Roads End that day, but my
ride would not arrive till the next day, so I stopped a little
earlier than usual. The area
where I camped was where the trail goes down a long slope, but I
did manage to find a fairly flat spot to lay out my sleeping bag.
Because of the terrain I was not able to hike around as much as I
would have liked, but I did some reading, and took some extra time
to properly hang my food, since it was near a frequently used area
and bears were a likely possibility.
was good that I did, since I woke up in the night to see two bear
cubs in my camp, meaning mama bear was close by. Someone had given
me some so-called Mexican firecrackers, which were about the size
of a little finger, and exploded with a very loud noise. I had them
with me specifically to set off in case of bears, so I got one out
and lit it. Both cubs ran up trees but immediately came down and ran
off, and I did not have any further trouble.
on down the trail the next day, I had some great views of the high
country on the south side of Kings Canyon. I got to Roads End
fairly early, and had a wait of two or three hours for my ride, but
I spent the time reading and walking around a little. Despite some
difficult sections of trail, I enjoyed every day of this hike;
however, I was still glad to see Gary drive up in my blue pickup. I
loaded my pack into the back and relaxed for the drive home.
Leap (December 1982 and May 1983)
Here is where I must
address a matter not directly related to backpacking, but important
to the story of my next two hikes to Squaw Leap. In the summer of
1982 some people were picnicking at the upper end of Millerton Lake,
below Squaw Leap. After cooking lunch in a small hibachi, they set
it down in the dry grass away from their picnic table. For some
strange reason, the dry grass caught fire. The ultimate result was a
major wildfire, which burned significant acreage on both sides of
the river, mainly in the Squaw Leap BLM area.
Firefighters brought in a
bulldozer and other equipment over the rough dirt roads that enter
the BLM land from the north, pretty much destroying the half mile of
trail between where the road joins it and the junction of the Ridge
and River Trails. The fire went through the L/S camp area, burning
part of our bench. On the other side of the river it went up the
side of the canyon through the parking area, destroying the shooting
benches, picnic tables, and a number of fence posts.
It also partly burned or
killed a number of trees, although for the most part a grass fire
like this burns fast and does not permanently harm the vast majority
of trees. In the long run, the fire was beneficial. Natural fires
have burned throughout the foothills and higher elevation forests
for tens of thousands of years. The 100 or so years of suppressing
all fires had the unwanted side effect of increasing dead brush and
other fuel, leading to more damaging fires. The Squaw Leap fire
burned all the dead brush and fallen logs, as well as the thick
layer of old dead grass that accumulates year by year. Some big
patches of chaparral were burned to the ground.
It was fascinating to
visit the area over the next few years and observe how the area
recovered and see some of the other after effects of the fire. I'll
discuss this in relation to my next two trips to Squaw Leap.
My first visit to Squaw
Leap after the fire was in December of that same year, when I was
joined by future son-in-law Rod Neely. We did the usual stuff that I
usually did in that area, venturing into some places I had not fully
explored in the past. In a brushy area next to a small creek we
discovered a wild grape vine that wound through the trees and bushes
for at least 100 feet.
Green grass had started
to grow over all the burned area, and some trees killed by the fire
had fallen over. My favorite thing was a dead bull pine that had fallen
so that it balanced across a blue oak tree. But the biggest effect of the fire would not be
visible until my next visit.
May is a little late in
the season for foothill camping, but I was very glad I made this
trip. The fire had burned off not just the standing dry grass, but
the layer of dead grass that accumulates on the ground over the
years. However, it did not burn the seeds lying on the ground, and I
think virtually every one of them sprouted. With plenty of sunshine
warming the earth, and a good rain year, the wild grasses were close
to six feet tall. I had to walk around in a little circle stomping down grass in order
to make an open place to put my tent and other stuff.
I also worried a little
about cows grazing nearby, realizing they could sneak up on me
without me noticing until it was too late. Fortunately, they were
only interested in eating the lush grass.
I made a number of other
hikes into the area over the years, and as time went by, conditions
became more and more like they were before the fire. Within a year
or two, the chaparral that had burned to the ground began to grow up
from the roots. I saw it when it was just inches high, then knee
high, then eventually back to its normal six to ten feet.
As well, trees lost
branches, bushes died, and trees fell over. Within about ten years
it was hard to find evidence of the fire, and now it is impossible.
Also, the BLM rebuilt and realigned the section of the trail that was
torn up by fire fighting equipment, making the climb a little more
Creek and North Fork of the San Joaquin
Unless my notes are
wrong, this was the last hike I made that was more than overnight.
It was my 33rd backpack trip, and I would reach a total of 45. But
it was hard to find anyone willing or able to take the time for
longer hikes, and I guess I just lost my taste for being out in the
wilderness alone for extended periods.
This hike started at the
Granite Creek Campground, the same jumping off place as my Sheep
Crossing and Devil's Postpile hikes, but went in a different
direction. The trail I had taken before goes east across Granite
Creek, through rolling
country about two miles, then down into the North Fork of the San
Joaquin. Another trail goes north, connecting with various other
A few miles from the
trailhead, there is a junction where a trail follows Cora Creek east
down to the San Joaquin. My plan was to take this route, follow
the river downstream "cross country" to Sheep Crossing, and
then take the trail that comes in from Granite Creek back up to my starting point.
Everything went more or
less as planned. As far as I can recall I made it to the junction of
Cora Creek and the river the first day and spent the night in that
area. When I set out the next day, I expected to find
"fisherman's trails" at least part of the way along the
river to the bridge, and in fact, this is what happened.
However, the first part
of the cross-country hike was fairly rugged. The river canyon is
steep, and there was really no place to walk next to the river, so I
ended up working my way fairly high up on the right bank for the
first mile or so. Eventually I arrived at the falls that I've
described previously, where I took
a long rest stop, just enjoying the falls and doing some reading.
Throughout this trip I was reading Clan of the Cave Bear, the
first book of Jean Auel's "Earth's Children"
series, for the first time. The setting is 25,000 years ago, and
deals with contact between Neanderthals and
Cro Magnon people, so
the book and the setting made me feel very primitive.
I continued on to a spot
maybe a half mile from Sheep Crossing, where there was a very nice
camping area, with primitive shelves and a bench, making for a
little more comfortable camping than usual. The next day I hiked
down to where the other trail crosses the river, then uphill to my
Hole and Granite Gorge (August 1984)
Maybe I need to re-think
my earlier statements about the most difficult hike, since this
one is definitely a contender. Granite Gorge and Hell Hole are part
of the canyon of the North Fork of the Kings River, a short distance
below Lake Wishon. From the dirt road above, you can look down into
this steep hole and see a nice
pond and a waterfall.
If you don't have good sense, you can also hike down there, although
there is no trail.
I thought long and hard
about attempting this hike, but the beauty of the place was irresistible.
I talked to a man who was familiar with the area who said there was
a trail up the river from below, but he did not really know where it
started, so I took the direct route. After driving past Shaver Lake
and Dinkey Creek, I took the dirt road that goes to Sawmill Flat
Campground. Just past this a very rough road heads back toward
Wishon. Right at the start is an area that was used for the
disposal of rock and soil that were dug out during the construction
of tunnels that carry water to various power houses as part of
Southern California Edison's Big
Creek hydro project. The material was brought
out through tunnels dug for that purpose, called adits.
From this flat spot, you
can make your way down the rock debris, and then down the canyon
side. I had to do a bit of detouring to get past some extra steep
areas (some would call them cliffs), but I was careful and of
course, I could not get lost as long as I kept going down hill. It
did not take all that long to reach the river, and I spent a
delightful day swimming in the very cold pond (made more enjoyable
by the presence of an air mattress I found by the water), and
exploring the area up and downstream a few hundred yards.
The hike out the next day
probably took twice as long as my descent, but it was not as bad as
I had expected. In later years I learned that many people make their
way down to Hell Hole, and my grandson Johnny and his fishing buddy
Curtis are planning a trip soon. I'm afraid I will have to decline
their invitation to join them.
November 2013: Johnny
and a different friend, Dustin, went to Hell Hole on November 1,
less than a week after a pretty good storm left snow all across the
Sierra. Dustin had been there before, but they discovered as I did
that there is no easy route. Their trip was made more challenging by
the fact that they were walking through snow a lot of the way down.
Did I mention that lack of good sense is a pre-requisite for making
Leap (1984 - 1993)
I'm going to wrap up all
the rest of my Squaw Leap hikes except the final one in this
section. I don't have any notes and don't remember many details, so
I'll just touch on each one briefly.
In January of 1984 I
camped overnight with a friend from work, Randy Morrison. This was a
warm-up for a much more adventurous hike the following year.
In March 1985, I hiked in
to the L/S campsite, but found it occupied by a very large bull.
Although range cattle generally are more scared of people than the
reverse, I decided to take no chances, and went back to the trail,
and out on a ridge toward the river. In the area I found a red cap,
so I named this spot Lost Hat Camp, and had a nice time exploring a
part of the area that I had not been in previously.
In January and February I
made two more trips, both overnight. While walking around the area
above camp on the first one, I ran across some drip irrigation
tubing and other evidence that someone had been gardening in the
foothills. You can probably imagine what their crop was.
In March 1990 and in
April 1993, I made the first two of three hikes to Squaw Leap with
my grandson Johnny, who was born in 1984. On the first hike I
carried my stuff, his stuff, and part of the time, I carried Johnny.
By the next trip he was nine and I was not about to carry him,
despite his requests. Both times we camped at the expedition site,
and spent our time on short walks around there. We saw a lot of
interesting things on the 1993 hike, including Johnny's first
meeting with woolly bear caterpillars. In a little runoff pond
beside the old dirt road, we almost saw some kind of very
fast water bug - it moved so fast that we could only detect the
movement, but could not get any kind of idea of what the creature
looked like. We also encountered coyotes (audio only), cows, and
Wallow and Nelder Grove
These were both short
hikes, with no particular distinguishing events. Cow Wallow was the
name we gave to a spot where Rod and I camped in January 1985, by
which time he was married to my younger daughter, Jennifer. This spot was a
knoll along the trail to Bear Wallow.
In July, 1987, Johnny and
I went to the place I've described previously as Redwood
Glen. This is a hike for lazy people or
3-year-olds, requiring less than a half mile of walking from the
Dome 3 (June 28-29 1986)
After the easy warm-up of
our Squaw Leap hike two years earlier, Randy Morrison and I decided we were ready for
something more ambitious, so I made my third and final trip to the
top of Half Dome.
We drove to Nelder
Grove the night before our hike and camped there. The next
morning we drove on into Yosemite Valley, parked as close to the
trailhead as you can get, and set off on an 8 mile hike, with a
4,800 elevation gain. I don't remember many details, meaning
everything went smoothly. We spent the night on top, then hiked all
the way back the next day.
Coming down the
switchbacks and stair steps near Vernal Falls we went too fast in our
eagerness to get to the car, and we paid for it the next day, with
wobbly legs and pain all over. Nevertheless, Randy greatly enjoyed
his first visit to Nelder Grove, and his first hike to the top of Half
Camp (October 3-4 1986)
This was my grandson
Johnny's first backpack trip, and as this
picture shows, he carried his own pack. Of course, on
most of the trip, his dad carried Johnny.
We went to Garnet Dike,
trailhead for my previous Garlic Meadow Creek hikes, but only walked
in about a mile. We set up camp at a flat, sandy spot not far off
the trail, and explored the area - hiking up the trail a little
further without a load, checking out the Kings River, and just
enjoying outdoor living.
There had been cattle in
the area, and there were a number of dried cow chips around. We
explained to Johnny that they could be burned in our campfire, and
he had a good time gathering up a pile of fuel, exclaiming as he
found one, "cow chip, cow chip!"
Since he was two years
and two months old, he probably has little if any memory of this
hike. But he and his fishing buddies still like to go up that trail
for the acclaimed fishing in the Kings River.
Last Hike (March 30-31 2001)
Since I made so many
trips to Squaw Leap, I guess it's fitting that it was the
destination for my final backpack trip (so far).
Once again I was joined
Johnny, now 17 and able to carry his own pack. It had
been 22 years since my first hike to Half Dome, and eight years
since the most recent one, also with Johnny to Squaw Leap, in 1993.
This time we camped in an
entirely new place. A quarter mile up the river trail from the
junction the trail turns west, but we went mainly north on the
old road that comes in over the pass below Kennedy Table and winds
down to this spot. It's not open to vehicles, and would only be
suitable for 4-wheel drive if it were.
At one point the road
gets very steep, then levels off. Once when I was here I came up
this road to discover about a dozen buzzards on the flat. This time
we saw them flying, but not on the ground. This road drops down
through a small level spot near where a couple of creeks come
together. We stopped there and named this spot Hilltop Camp and made
it our base of operations for the weekend.
That night we had a dark
sky with thousands of bright stars. I don't recall anything about
the temperature, but my notes say that the weather was nice and evening photos show
Johnny in shorts and a T-shirt, so it was pleasant at night too.
I believe we fixed pork
chops in the frying pan for supper. We had musical accompaniment,
provided by frogs in the nearby creek. We looked for them with a
flashlight, but could not see them. Based on later experience, I
think they were the tiny frogs that puff out their throat and make a
very big croak.
The next day we hiked to
the top of Kennedy Table. I had not been up there for nearly 20
years, and had trouble finding the best route, so we had to do some
brush crawling, but we made it, and enjoyed the experience, the
environment, and the view.
We went back down to
camp, packed up, and hiked out that same day, which was a bit more
effort than I was prepared for. I could not convince Johnny to
return the favor of 12 years earlier and carry me; instead he
marched on ahead, getting back to the parking lot 15 minutes ahead
of me. Despite the effort involved, I enjoyed this trip, especially
since my grandson could be with me as a real hiker.
Writing this has brought
back many wonderful memories, and as I wrote, more and more details
came back to me. In fact, I am kind of sad that I am done with this
report. At age 72, it is not likely that I will do any more
backpacking, although I think I could make it in to Squaw Leap one
more time. Over a period of 22 years I made 45 hikes. You may have
noticed that they were more frequent in the early years - 24 of them
in 1979, 1980 and 1981. After 1982 there was only one year when I
did more than two hikes, and three of the four that year were
dangerously close to the "candy ass" definition.
I still enjoy all the
places I've visited and the places I've yet to visit, but my camping
these days is in a 26 foot motor home. The R/V is just a
kitchen/bedroom; I still do some walking everywhere I camp. And just
as there was truck camping before the R/V camping, there was day
hiking before the backpacking.
I define a "day
hike" as one that lasts long enough that you have to take a
lunch or a good snack along. My first such hike, other than 4-H camp hikes as a kid,
was with two colleagues from work, Lew
Koch and Wil Heath. They had done quite a bit of hiking
together, and invited me to join them for their first visit to Courtright
From the trailhead we
hiked in maybe three miles or so, along the way discovering a place
I would return to many times. The lake is at 8,000 feet, in an area
of small, glacier-carved valleys, with many
domes and other rock formations. Along the trail, about two
miles in, we came to a place that I referred to as the giant
marble game. It actually is a big, gently sloped area of flat
granite, with lots of examples of glacial
polish, and boulders
large and small that were left behind when the ice receded.
We went another mile or
so past this point, enjoyed our lunch, and hiked back out. I'm not
sure if it was this hike or another one, but one time as we were hiking out
from this location, a rainstorm came up just as we reached the dam.
Heading out, in the opposite direction from us, was a party of about
six or eight hikers, already wearing their ponchos, and I could not
help but be delighted that I was not going with them.
On another hike I
remember in this area, with Lew and maybe Wil, we hiked back past
the granite slab, then went cross country about a half mile to the
lake. Here Lew inflated a small rubber raft he had brought along,
and paddled it back to the dam, while I (and maybe Wil) followed the
The most difficult day
hike I ever experienced, harder than any of the hikes in Yosemite
when I was young, was to Alta
Peak, east of Wolverton in Sequoia
National Park. It's been around 40 years since this hike, so the
following from SummitPost.org explains it better than I can:
follow the well-beaten trail for around two miles, where the trail
splits. The path less taken is the Alta Peak Trail (right), although
the Pear Lake trail (left) is an important one for winter travelers.
After another mile or so, you come to Panther Gap, with its nice
views into Kaweah
Canyon and of the Great
Western Divide. The trail traverses the canyon wall for another
couple miles, until you hit Merhten Meadow at 9,000 feet elevation.
From here, the climb gets steeper, as you wind around the very
prominent Tharps Rock. From 10,000 feet to the summit, the climbing
is even steeper, passing through a pretty high alpine forest, with
sparse but massive red fir trees. The true summit of Alta is not
terribly prominent, but obvious, and requires a bit of class two-ish
scrambling on granite slabs.
I don't remember any
"scrambling," but the last part of the hike was through
loose rock, where I could go for about 30 seconds at a time before I
had to stop and catch my breath for another 30 seconds. The trip was
worth the effort, with unbelievable mountain vistas, including a
rare view of Mt. Whitney from the west. Also near the top we saw a
number of foxtail
pines, which grow in only a very few places in the Sierra. I
believe some of the links referenced here regarding Alta Peak
misidentify these as fir trees.
The hike was seven miles
each way, with an elevation gain from around 7,000 to 11,000 feet.
We were pretty wobbly when we got back to the car, and it was late
enough that we stopped to call our wives and let them know we were
(not mine) identifies many of the landmarks mentioned in connection
with this hike. There are more photos of the area here.
Another time Lew, Wil and
I took that left hand trail on a day hike in to Pear Lake (NOT in
the winter). We also hiked to Mallard Lake out of White Bark Vista
above Huntington Lake, and did a hike out of Lake Edison, deep into
the Sierra. These hikes with Lew were between 1966 and 1973.
In December of 1979, on a
very sunny winter day, I went to Sequoia Park, and hiked on The High
that leads out of Giant Forest. Although it was cool and forested
for the first mile or two, I soon came out into the open, high up on
the side of the Kaweah River Canyon, and was very comfortable in
jeans and a T-shirt. On the trail I met and talked with a man from
Buffalo NY. He was very glad to be in the mountains of California,
since Buffalo was snowed in by a blizzard, with no transportation in
Jumping ahead to 1982,
Tim, Scott and I enjoyed a nice hike in Yosemite just before they
left for their Navy service. They were instructed to learn the eleven
general orders of a sentry, so I drilled them on this as we
Our destination was Taft
Point, along the south rim of Yosemite Valley, reached by a 2.2
mile round trip trail from the Glacier Point Road. The area is marked by deep
fissures in the rock wall of the main canyon, as well as smaller
ones within the larger fissures, best explained by the photos
For the most part, the
trail is not steep - it goes up and down but there is no significant
change in elevation between the trailhead and the point. In addition
to the unusual rock features, Taft Point offers views
of Yosemite from a different angle than I had seen before. It's
about the same elevation as Glacier Point, but maybe a mile west,
and of course, you can drive to Glacier Point.
It's not as scary as it
looks in some of my photos, but this advice from Yosemite Hikes must
be heeded: "The dropoff at Taft Point is steep, and a fall
would be not just fatal, but squish-you-like-a-bug fatal. The fall
is so far that your friends, waving their teary goodbyes and hoping
you didn't have the only set of car keys, would lose sight of you
before you reached the ground. So be careful."
Probably my most recent
day hike was with Rod and Jennifer to the upper part of Nelder
Grove. In October, 2008, I decided I wanted to make at least one
more trip to the Old Granddad Tree, located in the upper part of the
grove. This location is accessible now only by foot on the old, abandoned dirt road
that was still drivable on my early visits to the area in 1970s. Now
it's a six mile round trip hike.
Granddad is one of the most rugged giant redwoods I have ever
seen, located on a gentle slope above the road. After a short walk
up an old roadbed, one could see the entire tree from near the base
to its unique top. It was surrounded by a number of young redwoods,
none over 15 feet tall, and marked by a sign that read “Old
Granddad and the Grandkids.”
It had probably been
about 20 years since I was last there, but I was not prepared for
the changes that had taken place all over the area. We parked near
the campground and started up the old road. After a fairly steep
climb, the road levels off, but until we reached that spot I did not
realize we had gone that far, because several landmark trees along
the way were hidden by new forest growth. I am talking about giant
redwoods that were clearly visible from the road during my early
years going to Nelder, that are now almost impossible to spot. You
have to know where to look, then you can see glimpses of the big red
trunk or the top through the trees that have grown up around the
It was even worse at the
Old Granddad Tree area. When I first drove into that area I came
around a bend and saw a small
basin below the road with six or eight big stumps, a huge dead
redwood snag (100 feet tall or so), with another equally large
snag above the road on the opposite side. Arriving there this time,
I did not recognize anything until we came to the upper snag, after
we had passed by the other landmarks. Again I was finally able to
pick out the stumps, the lower snag, and another large snag through
There was a sign pointing
up a new narrow trail to the Old Granddad, but I walked right past
the giant tree at first. Jennifer and Rod were ahead of me and had
seen a broken sign that some other hikers mentioned to them, that
read “and.” Looking at it, I realized it was all that was left
of the sign that had been there nearly 40 years earlier, that used
to read “Old Granddad and the Grandkids.” Well, the kids are all
grown up, and you can only get a look at the top
of the Old Granddad, and not that good a look. It was very
disappointing to me, but a good lesson in how the forest recovers
from fire, cutting and other events. The stump basin had been burned
over a number of years before I first saw it, and was full of small
trees and brush, so it’s not surprising that it is now full of
trees that are 30 feet tall, and obscure the view.
There will probably not
be any more backpack trips, but there will surely be some day hikes.
All my travel reports, including later hikes, are linked at the bottom
of this page.
--Dick Estel, October to
Early in my backpacking career I created, but of course did not patent,
a clever invention. A number of years earlier I had read Frank Herbert's
Dune, the first in a series of sci-fi novels set on a desert planet.
The native people traveled through the desert on foot, wearing what
were known as "stillsuits" - a space age product that
protected them from the heat and recycled perspiration and other wastes into drinkable water as one
walked. Near the shoulder was a tube through which the wearer could
get a drink.
I realized I could
re-create this with a recycled plastic juice bottle and some plastic
tubing I had left over from my beer and wine making days. I placed
the bottle in a pocket of my backpack, and ran the tube under a
strap near my head where I could drink from it.
About now you may be
saying, YOU didn't invent that, you can buy them in any camping
store. Well, when I made mine, you couldn't. So I will claim the
cleverness to invent it, but not the wisdom to patent and market it.