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One Packer's High Sierra Experience

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

Funston Lake overlooking the Great Western Divide
funston lake
Funston Lake, located on the Boreal Plateau, has some of the largest Golden Trout I've ever seen or caught. Early in the summer of 1968 the outfit was packing a Sierra Club Highlight Trip over Cottonwood Pass to Rock Basin Lakes, Lower Rock Creek, Golden Trout Creek, Mulkey Meadows and Horseshoe Meadows. The rain was abundant this particular summer, and the lakes were quite snowed in; because of this, we were forced to camped at Barigan Stringer some distance from the lakes. I remember this trip quite well because one of the packers got his butt reamed out but good by Tommy for leaving his mules saddled and standing in the rain while he cavorted around with the commissary girls. This was not a wise thing to do! One's mules, horse and tack ALWAYS came first for the packer, once they were taken care of you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. Unfortunately this was not the first incidence for this packer; and, needless to say, his time with the outfit was short. It was too bad because he would have made a fine packer otherwise. Well, thank goodness the rain cleared out the next day, at least for a while, and Norman Jefferson, Ed Brown and myself went on a layover day fishing trip to Funston Lake. The lake was socked in with ice and snow on the southern shore. This was often the case since the lake sets at nearly 11,000' atop the Boreal Plateau. Once we reached Funston Lake, Ed and Norman proceeded to fish around the eastern edge of the lake while I went along the western. About 40 minutes later I saw them jumping up and down and screaming from the other side of the lake. I just thought they were having better fishing than I was, because mine was quite bad! When I finally reached them, at the northern end of the lake near one of the inlets, I couldn't believe my eyes. They had caught a Golden Trout measuring approximately 24" in length. Of course they told me they had caught it with Salmon eggs and forced me to fish another 30 minutes before the truth actually came out. They had actually herded the fish upstream at the lake's inlet and caught it with their hands! All of their garbled screaming was an effort to get me to come over there as quickly as possible and help them "catch" more. But by the time I arrived they had scared all of the trout back into the lake. That one fish was enough to feed six hungry packers that evening; and, we had a memorable fish story, including several of the big ones that got away!

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Big Whitney Meadows
Big Whitney Meadows as viewed from the Pacific Crest Trail between Cottonwood Pass and Siberian Pass. This was a favorite stop over for many private parties on their way to Golden Trout Creek, Tunnel Meadow, Little Whitney Meadows, Johnson Peak and Johnson Lake, Volcano Creek, and Rocky Basin Lakes. It was also a favorite place for mosquitoes and cattle. This was my first backcountry stop as a "pot boy" (along with Ed Brown) on my first all expense paid trip, The Hunt Trip, with Charles Morgan as head packer and Stephanie Morgan as cook. The Hunts, the Bettencourts and the Merlos all became life long friends after this trip. I even spent one winter vacation during my college years helping out on the Bettencourt's dairy ranch (now a vineyard) in Santa Ynez. Cindy Merlo, a teenager at the time, and I developed a friendship that lasts 'til today. Her many letters and baked goods put a very welcomed and much needed bright spot in my college years, so much so that I fell in love with her during my college years; and, though we never married, she has always been dear to my heart no matter the distance or separate families we have come to have and love. That was another great part of being a packer for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains, a great deal of the people you met and worked with or for on those trips became friends for life. It might be years between seeing each other; but, when you do, it is as if a long lost brother or sister has come home bringing great joy and news from afar!
big whitney meadows

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 "Sierra Packing and Wilderness Policy"[pdf]
by Norman B. ("Ike") Livermore Jr.


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Rocky Basin Lakes
rocky basin lakes
Rocky Basin Lakes has got to be one of the most beautiful lake settings in the southern Sierra. Just south of the Boreal Plateau and north of Barigan Stringer, Golden Trout fishing can be some of the most exciting at times. Deep snow in early summer often times makes the lakes inaccessible but they are definitely worth the wait. Johnson Peak just to the west of the lakes makes for an exhilarating climb; and, Johnson Lake at the foot of the mountain, with its own isolated beach, can be a surprise fishing paradise for the fisherman looking for a challenge. The lakes are easily, relatively speaking, reached via Cottonwood Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail; or, if you are interested in a more exciting route, via New Army Pass, Siberian Outpost and a little known and seldom used nameless pass which drops you into the largest of the lakes from the Outpost. I say seldom used because I recall one trip when we were actually forced to construct a stock trail, by hand of course, from this lake to the Siberian Outpost. We would have normally trekked east via Barigan Stringer to the Siberian Pass trail and the Siberian Outpost except the trail was blocked by some huge trees which had fallen during the winter. With shovels and pickaxes in hand, five of us packers managed to construct a trail in one day which lasted for several years. As far as I know, it might still be there.

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Sky Blue Lake - Trail Riders of the WIlderness
Check this picture out! Here I am with a group of girls which I took to Sky Blue Lake in the summer of 1968. Sky Blue Lake is another one of the "jewels of the Sierra." It sets in the middle of the Miter Basin at about 11,500' surrounded by Mt. Langley, Mt. Corcoran, Mt. Pickering, Mt. Chamberlin, Joe Devel Peak, Mt. LeConte, Mt. Mallory and M. McAdie just northwest of New Army Pass. Norman Jefferson and I once climbed three-fourths of the way up Joe Devel Peak when we were camped at Middle Rock Creek. If we hadn't decided to do it on the spur of the moment, late in the day, we might have made it to the top. You can walk up the sandy, talice slope from the western side; but, from the Miter Basin side you had better be and excellent rock climber of shear 1500' rock faces!

In the same basin also reside Erin Lake, Primrose Lake and Iridescent Lake. But the nearly 1/2 mile wide Sky Blue Lake truly is the jewel. With a natural dam at the outlet of the lake, the water must be immediately 25' to 30' deep. Setting in the basin that it does, it is perpetually fed by snow melt so the temperature constantly boarders on 40°F - 45°F. Why do you think I am the clothed one in this picture! This packer was no masochist, at least not this time! I had dared these waters once before and discovered how painfully cold they were. This group of ladies didn't last more than about 15 minutes in the water before the numbing cold set in. The lady taking the picture worked for the U.S. government monetary printing department in Chicago. I corresponded with her frequently during my college years until a long writing absence followed by a change of addresses left her whereabouts unknown.
sky blue lake
L to R: Ginny, Mary, me, Jean, Pat - 1968

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 Exciting Western Links
Sons of the San Joaquin
Western Mule Magazine
Bishop Mule Days
California Heartland
U.S.G.S. Historical Typographical Maps of California
Guides to the Eastern Sierra
California Topographical Maps
Mammoth and the High Sierra

 






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Mt. Whitney and 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 18 June 2015