golden trout

golden trout

golden trout

golden trout

golden trout

golden trout




golden trout camp

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Robert House - Golden Trout Camp Packer


What a thrill it was to receive your E-mail, Thank you. I vividly remember so many of the Packers who I encountered while working for Clara and Clarence Towler at Golden Trout Camp in the summers of l947,48,49,50.

My first trip to Golden Trout Camp (GTC) was riding behind my mothers saddle from Carroll Creek Pack Station when I was four years old - 1936. My dad had met Frank Chrysler of the Chrysler and Cook, Mt Whitney Pack Trains in Lone Pine at a gas station and was told about the Cottonwood Lakes and fishing. My mother however,golden trout camp did not want to go anywhere without fresh milk for me. That excuse did not last a minute as Frank told my parents that there was a cow at GTC. The next morning the three of us were on our way up the steep terrain riding and leading a mule with belongings. That week in the wilderness of the Sierra would change our lives forever, and shape my life with so many experiences that I have had enjoying the vast expanse of places wild and west. My parents and I returned to spend our vacation at GTC for the next ten years. These were war years and our car with ration stamp savings would only make it this far from our home in Long Beach.

When I was fifteen in 1947, I started my first summer working for Clarence and Clara Towler at GTC and continued there for the next three summers. My jobs included wrangling the stock every morning, saddling and nose bagging, felling dead trees and hauling in the logs on a sled pulled by a horse, using only two man saws and a gas powered drag saw and an axe (no chain saws in those days). Chopping wood every day for the cook house, bath house, and the twelve tent cabins, waiting tables in the main log lodge, filling coleman lanterns, digging a huge garbage pit, and washing the dinner dishes kept me busy from six AM to ten PM.

On one rare day off in 1950, I was at the cottonwood lakes to help guests catch Golden Trout, and after fishing a while I decided to ride up Army Pass and get to the top of Mt. Langley. Near the summit I tied my horse to a rock as the terrain became too steep for a horse. I climbed just a short distance to the registration box to enter my name. When I started down, and looked over the outcrop I saw no horse, but what I didn't realize is that I was a bit off course from where I had tied up. Was the altitude of 14,042' getting to me? I soon was on my way riding back down Army Pass and back to GTC, arriving about eight PM. 

One interesting day in July 1949 Frank Chrysler was in camp and asked me to help him bring in some horses that had been grazing for two weeks in the south fork meadows and of course, I said yes anxiously. It was a five hour escapade, but it was successful running this stock (horses and mules) some five miles through forest, meadows, and stream back to the corral at GTC. GTC had two separate pastures fenced with three meadows in one and one meadow in the other.

When guests arrived with their reservations they had ridden some ten miles, either from Carroll Creek via Mt. Whitney Pack Trains or they could arrive up Cottonwood Creek via the Cottonwood Pack outfit. These two trails came together at GTC which was about ten miles from each pack station. Some of of guests were movie stars, doctors, and even locals from Lone Pine. Of the really famous were the movie stars Victor Jory, Morris Ankrum, Charlie Lane, and the music man Robert Preston along with their wives.

Dr. Fetterman and family from Pasadena were regular guests every year. The second year I was at GTC, Dr. Fetterman had packed in an ice cream maker for us to use. We had the fresh milk but no power to freeze with, so I got the duty of finding snow, and packing it into camp in order to churn the milk with snow and salt into ice cream. I could usually find snow around the Cottonwood Lakes or once way up at the head waters of Carroll Creek. It was here riding into a meadow above timberline that I observed a huge black bird that was so big it had to run about 50 yards, slowly unfold it's wings, and glide to take off. Guest what? I had just seen my first Condor as it sailed off into the Owens Valley. That day I packed two mule loads of snow into camp and the next day every guest enjoyed a soup bowl full of tasty ice cream. Imagine, no ice cream ever before at 10,000', the elevation of GTC.

The main attraction to the Cottonwood Lakes and Golden Trout Camp was always the very attractive Goldengolden troutTrout the State Fish of California.On one occasion, I was given the task of helping the Golden Trout fishery become better established in lake number five. So, in the summer of 1950 I and a helper were assigned to catch small trout from the upper pond of the south fork cottonwood creek and contain these fish in Fish and Game cans. We would keep these pack cans in the stream overnight, then transport them to lake number five. This was an attempt to re-establish the fishery of that lake.The limit of fish in 1947 was twenty fish per day, however it was very rare that a limit would be caught. and Mrs. Towler would cook the catch for the guests we had in camp. One a few occasions, I was assigned to smoke some of the catch of the guests in a hand- made smoker Mr. Tower had made. Willow wood would provide a good smoke!

The summer of 1950 the Towlers sold Golden Trout Camp to John O'Keefe, my last summer there. However, I will always remember taking four mules from GTC to meet a pick-up  load of fresh groceries at the road end. I waited and waited looking constantly down at the old ruins of Bartlett and the colorful red and white ponds of the Owens dry lake. I finally rode on down to the pack station at Carroll Creek to find all the food waiting on the pack dock. Barbara Morgan was the only person there, however I was able to call GTC on the old forest service wind up phone to explain I still had to pack four mules with cases of cans and two sides of fresh beef. By now, it was about six PM and I started out with heavy loads to climb up and out of the valley floor to Little Cottonwood, which was the only source of water along the whole ten miles. Once while pulling the mules with a tight rope around the saddle-horn I realized the only rope I had was my horse's tie rope. It was now very dark and I didn't have the lead rope for the mules. so I got off my horse which was very content, dropped his rope, and started to walk down the trail hoping to find my mules. It wasn't far when I bumped right into the head of the lead mule, and the other three loaded ones standing there I am sure, already exhausted. The one load was already dripping with blood from the fresh beef. I finally arrived back at GTC about 11 PM to unload very tired but reliable stock.

Packers that I encountered with were Leppy Diaz, Bruce Morgan, Charles Morgan, and Charlie Gilmore. Richard Morgan [in middle of the photo link] was still a "kid".

In the summer of 1952 I traveled to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park to visit a college friend working at the store there. Soon, I found out the meals there were more costly than I expected so I met the manager of the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Stables and asked for a job. The next day I was at work cleaning the corrals. Soon however, I was packing, saddling, and  taking  groups to spot camps. These stables are the main supply station for the High Sierra Camps in Yosemite which needed a pack train of supplies every week of the summer. One person I packed a mule for was Ansel Adams who was off for a short hike/camp trip with his son. The Curry Company experience in Tuolumne Meadows provided me with an great opportunity.

As a senior at College in 1953, I applied for a Park Ranger job in Yosemite. The week after graduation, I traveled to Yosemite to become a seasonal ranger and asked to be at Tioga Pass, as all first year rangers were assigned to an entrance station. It was here that I was able to climb Mt. Dana and explore the old mines of Tioga, Lundy, and visit the old mining towns of Bodie and Masonic. The next summer I found myself in charge of the Tioga Pass station as we expanded the opening times with more personnel. However, my old horse days were calling and the third and forth summer I was with a horse and mule on backcountry patrol throughout the wilderness and even on fire work. It was here in Tuolumne Meadows that I was assigned to represent the National Park, and to travel with the Sierra Club High Trip. Charles Morgan was one the packers along with his sister Enid as Mt. Whitney Pack Trains were the concessioner for the trips. The next summer I was on backcountry patrol in the Mather District, and the following summer at Buck Camp out of Wawona. Each one of those summers, I had great experiences and I was fortunate to be able to observe and enjoy literally all of the Yosemite trails, and wilderness.

The summer of 1961 my wife and I rented two horses and mule from Cottonwood Pack Station to do a trip over the new Army Pass to Wallace Lake, down the Kern River, golden trout creek, Tunnel Meadows, and back via the sawmill to Cottonwood Creek. One day from Crabtree Meadows we started out to ride to Mt. Whitney, but were turned back by a sign which indicated trail blasting. We instead took in the scenery of Crabtree lake. In 1969-1980 I became a professor for the National Audubon Society and the University of Wyoming at the their facility at Trail Creek Ranch, near Dubois, Wyoming. This was a summer job only, at the Audubon Camp of the West, teaching Vertebrate Ecology. This was one to the training facilities for State Park Rangers of California. I had previously met Paul Howard, the regional director of Audubon in California who later became the president of the National Audubon Society. It so happened that Ike Livermore [2nd from left in front row of the photo link] of Mt. Whitney Pack Trains was on his board of directors.  Next, as this story continues, I was telling Paul about Golden Trout Camp and the knowledge I had that the Thatcher School in California could purchase it. Mr. Livermore was a former graduate of Thatcher. For many years thereafter various Audubon Chapters have used Golden Trout Camp as a retreat.

After working in Wyoming in the summers of 1970-1973 I would organize pack trips for friends in late August across eastern sierra passes to various places that included lake South America, Tulainyo lake, and the Sixty Lake Basin. On one to these trips we were going out over Whitney Pass to the Portal, but three of us detoured to ride to the top of Mt. Whitney. That day about September 1, 1973 l was probably the last person to ride a horse to the summit of Mt. Whitney. I had finally made it! My son Brett's, middle name is Whitney!

While spending thirty-nine years teaching biology at Newport Harbor High School I retired in 1994 to rebuild a home lost in the great fire of Laguna Beach. In 1972 I founded the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach which depicts the major plant communities of California. Six years ago this unique outdoor educational facility built the first platinum level green building in Orange County. Currently, we have school buses arriving daily and expect 25,000 students this year. I now spend my summers in the Wilderness of Wyoming, just outside of Grand Teton National Park.

Robert House - January 2016

Ed Turner of Idaho writes:

Thanks Ray,

Great story. I met John O’keefe in his Lamp and Furniture store in Pasadena, Calif. in the 1956.  I asked him for a job to work during the summer at the Golden Trout Camp, however he wanted someone with experience. I was 17 years old then.  When I started to Pack for the Mt. Whitney Pack Trains in 1956 one of my first trips was a load of fresh food to the Golden Trout Camp, and there was John O’keefe. We talked awhile, and I am sure glad Bruce Morgan gave me a job when I didn’t have any experience in Packing. 

Take Care,
Ed Turner
January 2016


More of Golden Trout Camp in the High Sierra

  Mt. Whitney Pack Train's Chrysler & Cook Brochure


 Frank Chrysler & Ted Cook's Mt. Whitney Pack Trains


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This page was last updated on 21 January 2016