High Sierra trip, August / September 1956
by Bill DuBay
After half-hour heated discussion on whether we should take one car or two, get a burro or not, make it a hiking or camping trip, we left Pico at 8:50. Went to 6:00 Mass at Saint Hilary's -- Walt Kelly was late and had to go to 7:00.
So, we are taking two cars, heading for Parcher's Camp, 13 miles above Bishop. At 10:10 we just passed the end of the Cajon Pass -- sign said 256 miles to Bishop. The only worry is getting Dick Arnold's Buick up to Parcher's. It seems to be in good shape -- just had it lubed.
Plan to hike to Parcher's from Onion Valley, about 65 miles. We have $61.00 worth of food -- 100 pounds. 3:45 -- hit Bishop. 5:00 -- Parcher's Camp. Left Dick Arnold's car at South Lake -- country looked sumptuous.
Stopped at Bishop at 6:50 to eat a hearty meal at Harry's. Bought a half-pint and left Bishop at 8:00. Dark already. Didn't know the name of any Scotch. Had to show my ID card.
Arrived at Onion Valley 15 miles above Independence at 9:45. Pitch dark. Forded stream twice before entering campground. Inflated sleeping mattresses, made milk and soaked peaches for breakfast. 10:20 moon coming up. A very exhilarating place. Can't wait to see what it looks like. Quite a climb from Independence--many switchbacks -- wash-boarded dirt road.
Monday morning. Woke up at 6:45. Most of us slept a little cold, but soft. This place is a box canyon with sheer cliffs of about 800 feet on three sides. Stream rushing down one side.
10:00! Met Chuck Hodell and Gary Frampton here. All packed to leave. Started, for Kearsarge Pass, 10:30. Stopped at Gilbert Lake at 12:50 to eat. Beautiful. Also many other nice lakes on the way -- about five; streams all over.
Made the pass at 5:55 -- seems like six miles from Onion Valley. Panoramic view on all sides is exhilarating. Kearsarge Pinnacles on left with the Kearsarge Lakes (about five) at their foot.
Bullfrog Lake due west. Kawea-Kern Divide back of the Kearsarge Pinnacles. Sheer ridge with 200-foot cliff on south. Kearsarge -- lowest pass in Sierras, 11,825 feet. Met man and son from Frisco at pass.
Arrived at Bullfrog Lake about five o'clock. Beautiful surroundings. Fishing not much good. Had good meal. Tried fishing with Denny. Slept Better than last night.
Very damp, but not too cold Tuesday morning. Guys felt awfully sore and tired. Buckwheats. Tried more fishing, no luck. Going to eat lunch soon and attack Glen Pass to Rae Lakes -- about five miles. Sun is warm -- a few clouds. Magnificent scenery.
Rack -- three hours of rain and snow -- I found a little dry cave where I lit a fire. Most of the guys' equipment got a little wet. I spent a miserably cold night.
Next morning (Wednesday) we dried out in the sun. Said goodbye to Gary and Chuck at 11:50 -- was slow packing again. Gary let me take his friend's (a good Catholic) mummy bag. He's taking mine back today with him.
Made Glen pass (11,900 feet) at 1:30 -- quite a climb. Signs said two miles, must have been longer. Guys are getting a little incredulous of these trail signs. Made the three miles from the pass at 3:40. It was surely a spectacular trip. The tremendous snow-covered peaks, the crystal-blue lakes, the cascading streams and the crowds of wildflowers, especially Sierra Shooting Star.
The Rae Lakes are a string of quite large and deep, clear lakes surrounded by snow-capped peaks and pinnacles. As soon as we got here (3:40), at Rae Lake #1 (Main Rae Lake), Denny and I started fishing. In two hours we caught seven Eastern Brook Trout.
Had a good dinner of fish and macaroni and cheese. Fishing was great here. Caught most of mine on a wet Royal Coachman. We are having a fine campfire as I write this.
Thursday -- August 31. Got up at 7:00, out of Rae Lakes at 10:50. We had a little spiff with Edwin Grubs, during which we almost talked him out of a pack-rack and fly-pole he left in our camp. We hiked down 1800 feet for lunch at 1:50 at the junction of the North and South Forks of Woods Creek. We had a good time resting there and washing up.
We cllmed up 1800 feet to the Sawmill Trail junction. We camped a little further on at Twin Lakes at 6:50. Denny caught seven fish in 45 minutes. Had a good heavy meal and nice camp- fire. Hiked 10 1/2 miles today -- going nine tomorrow -- over Pinchot Pass.
Friday -- got up late -- 8:00. Started out at 10:45, made the pass (Pinchot) about 1:00 -- easy climb. Hiked down to Lake Marjorie and ate -- no fish there. Went to the North Fork of Kings River and caught six trout -- different kind from the lake fish -- Golden. Did dishes in dark again, rosary in bed. Felt pretty beat.
Saturday -- 13 miles! We left our camp in the upper basin of the South Fork of Kings River about 10:50. Before leaving we met a lady about 40, out on her own from Onion Valley, thence returning. We also met a large Sierra Club group. The trail wound slowly up the basin to Mather Pass, 12,050 feet, at which I arrived about 1:50. We finished up the rum there and left the bottle with the note. We hiked down the other side towards the Palisade Mountains, into a great glacier-made valley. We had lunch about 2:50. After a rest, we went further down along the Great Palisade Lakes, which we later learned were Golden Trout lakes (sob).
We almost camped at the lower end of these lakes on a spectacular setting overlooking a huge gorge and surrounded by huge glaciated walls, but for lack of good campsite and firewood, we decided to go the next three miles to Deer Meadow -- a drop of 2000 feet! It was quite a hike. The drift gate at the bottom was named the Golden Staircase. The lower part of the Palisade Creek Canyon resembles the U-shape and configuration of Yosemite Valley. We ate about 7:00 P.M.
Sunday -- lying in here at Deer Meadow -- despite the mosquitoes. We got almost twelve hours sleep. Caught seven Golden Trout, 8-11 inches -- more fun. Sure made the day go fast. Camped down a way from us, a few guys made a day hike to Amphitheater Lake where they caught dozens. A couple of 13 1/2 inch Rainbows.
Monday -- got started down the trail about 9:50. Followed the stream down the canyon to the junction with the Middle Fork of the Kings River. There's where I broke my fishing pole. The hike was much the same as the hike from Rae Lakes. Then we turned right and proceeded up Le Conte Canyon -- a beautiful glacier canyon with overhanging valleys and snow-capped peaks and waterfalls. We left the John Muir Trail and turned right again and climbed into a high cirque to Dusy Lakes at 11,000 feet -- a climb of 5000 feet.
Found a nice mosquito-ridden campsite and caught one Goldie. Had a blast at 3:30 in the morning when it got too cold; told a story and sang songs. Got up early Tuesday morning and left Dusy Basin at 9:40. After a short climb of about 700 feet over very desolate and uninspiring land, we crossed Bishop Pass -- 11,900 feet -- at 1:10.
The trip down to South Lake was very colorful: the long string of deep-blue lakes, the red-colored rocks, the snow, the green slopes covered with flowers. We ate -- except Walt and Denny who blasted on to Parcher's -- at 12:50. We came into the South Lake parking area at 2:15. We drove to Bishop and arrived there at 5:15. Ate at Harry's again -- awfully slow service, good dinners, lousy hamburgers. We sort of got washed up at the service station beforehand.
Bought some fruit at Safeway and went to Independence where we left Terry and Walt and most of the gear at a Shell station. About 6:00 P.M. we started up the precipitous road to Onion Valley. Found Denny's car all right and once more met the "lone lady" of Upper Basin -- just returned.
Picked up the guys -- Terry and Denny in this car and the rest in Dick's. Stopped at Four Corners about 11:50. Made Gary Frampton's house in Pomona about two. He wasn't home to exchange our gear. Terry and I rode to Pico Rivera with Dick, Walt with Denny. Terry drove to Santa Ana and I to Long Beach. Got home about 5:50 A.M.
Deo Gratias!
Bill DuBay (author) -- seminarian, 1st year Theology
Dick Arnold -- sophomore, Loyola University
Walt Kelly -- seminarian, 2nd year Philosophy
Terry Halloran -- seminarian, 1st year Theology
Denny Ostrander -- senior, El Rancho High School
Chuck Hodell -- senior, Pomona Catholic High School
Gary Frampton -- seminarian, 2nd year Philosophy