One Packer's High Sierra Experience

All pictures are from the archives of Ray DeLea unless otherwise noted.

Revised- May 2020: High Sierra Adventures
Added endorsements and poem, expanded Foreword, needed format enhancements.
high sierra adventures
This book follows the adventures of a teenager who worked for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains, out of Lone Pine, CA, for six summers between the years of 1965 - 1970. It details his journey from being a "city slicker" knowing nothing about livestock and packing to becoming a seasoned packer / guide for one of the most prestigious pack stations operating on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. Using a combination of photographs and life events he takes the reader progressively through six summers of "learning the ropes" of being a packer as he packed in such groups as the Sierra Club, the Trail Riders of the Wilderness and private parties. This book is full of events that will make you laugh and cry as he describes the pack trips, wrecks, wrangles, livestock and personnel that made each summer a greater adventure than the preceding one.
Copies are now available through Amazon
The Western Museum of Film History in Lone Pine, CA
The Eastern California Museum in Independence, CA
and at the Whitney Portal Hostel & Hotel in Lone Pine, CA

 Joe Devel Peak and Lower Rock Creek
lower rock creek
This is a scene from Lower Rock Creek where the outfit occasionally camped with the Trail Riders of the Wilderness, and many private parties, on a yearly basis. This was a favorite spot of mine, not only for packing but also for backpacking, because it gave you easy access to Mt. Guyot and the Kern River, the golden trout were always large; and, no one ever seemed to know about the place. Joe Devel Peak, which overlooked the Miter Basin and Sky Blue Lake, looms in the background.
I'll never forget the first time I backpacked into here with Mike Porter and a couple of other hiking buddies. This was their first time here, and I don't know how many times for me since I came here at least once every year with the outfit. I was in the best of high altitude shape in those days; and, I was determined to make it from the roadend in Horseshoe Meadows to Lower Rock Creek in one fell swoop. They all told me, after we got to Lower Rock Creek, that it was a good thing I was far out in front of them or they would have strangled me. Those many miles of wrangling in saddle boots gave me great stamina when it came to putting in 18 mile days on foot. Well, we all got over it, and I never again pressed them for so many miles in one day.


 Trail Riders Fishing at Rocky Basin Lakes
Norman Jefferson (far right) with two members of the Trail Riders of the Wilderness in late August of 1969 at Rocky Basin Lakes just west of Cottonwood Pass by several miles. Fishing for golden trout at Rocky Basin Lakes was usually not this great. More often than not, you ended up with nothing. Norman and I were the best of friends for the seven seasons I worked with the outfit. We both sort of grew up together. Without fail, the two of us always went out fishing once all of the strings of mules were unloaded, the stock turned loose and packer's camp had been set up for the evening. Between the two of us, we nearly always brought back to packer's camp enough trout to feed every packer that evening.
norman jefferson


  "Wilderness Outings"
from the 1947 Sierra Club Handbook


 Shoeing the Hard Way at Wright Lakes!
gene harlan
gene harlan
Gene Harlan (on the ground) and Harry Mathers showing off their shoeing abilities near Wright Lakes during a Trail Riders of the Wilderness trip in 1968. This is not the way it is usually done; but in the backcountry, anything goes when it comes to shoeing a mule. Harry and Gene were the best of friends. Gene was one of those folks who seemed to have grown up around stock all of his life (and still is, serving as a vetenarian now); and Harry?, I was never sure of Harry. You have to understand, I was never raised around stock so all of this was quite new to me. Every day was a new "stock challenge" for me; and, if something was done in a somewhat out of the ordinary fashion, such as shoeing a mule in this manner, I would have never known it! We packers never failed to make the best out of any situation either, whether it be shoeing or acquiring coffee from the Sierra Club.


 Mt. Whitney Pack Trains Headquarters
Headquarters for the outfit for many years, located just outside of Lone Pine on the Whitney Portals Road. Since the splitting up and sale of the outfit in the early '70s this old building has had its sign repainted referring you to Bob Tanner's outfit out of Bishop; so I rather cherish this old photograph of a bygone era when Mt. Whitney Pack Trains was based in Lone Pine and actually packed over Trail Crest Pass and up to the summit of Mt. Whitney on a regular basis. Now part of the "west that was," it brings back many fond, dust filled memories of pushing stock from Whitney Portals to the Elder Ranch; and, from the Moffat Ranch in the northern section of the Alabama Hills to the Elder Ranch located in the southern section of the Alabama Hills. Memories of Tommy Jefferson, right there along side of us, in the truck, and Barbara Jefferson with hot fried chicken and potato salad at the end of the dusty day.
whitney pack trains


Middle Rock Creek
middle rock creek
Middle Rock Creek just west of old and new Army Passes; and, to the north of the Siberian Outpost and Funston Lake. This was a favorite camping site for many private parties and for the Trail Riders of the Wilderness trips over the years. It was a central point for side trips to Sky Blue Lake in the Miter Basin, Funston Lake on the Boreal Plateau, Guyot Summit, and the Rocky Basin Lakes. This was a terrible place to wrangle when the creek was high, the stock always seemed to be on the other side. I remember one spring, when theotherwise timid creek was a river in the midst of a "meadow-lake." It was Norman Jefferson's and my turn to wrangle along with another packer. When I rolled out of bed, much to my surprise a good deal of the stock was in the nearby meadow; but, on the other side of the "creek." There wasn't one horse or mule on the side that Norman or I was on. We pleadedand coaxed with nose bags full of grain until we were blue in the face and not one ofthose animals would budge. I finally made the decision that it was time to get undressed and cross the "creek." Norman would have nothing to do with it and thought I was stark raving crazy. After disrobing and wading the frigid creek with my clothes, nose bag and bridle in my hands over my head (we're talking waist deep water here folks), I managed to put the grain filled nose bag on the closest horse available. While the horse was chowing down I was able to once again get dressed and then herd the stock bareback into camp. It was a good thing no one else was up at 4:30 A.M. to see me!


Golden Trout Creek Golden Trout - 1967

golden trout


Golden Trout Fish Fry at Mono Creek - 1975

mono pass


Owens Valley Panorama


Mt. Whitney Packers of the 1940s - 1970s  

Early Lone Pine  

Wildflowers of the High Sierra   

 More, One Packer's High Sierra Experience


 Brochures of the Eastern High Sierra


Cerro Gordo

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This page was last updated on 22 April 2024