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

Olancha Pass Trail

In this picture you can see Olancha PaOlancha Corral2ss. It is the first saddle to the right of the peak (Round Mountain) on the far left of the picture.(Olancha Peak is the highest peak just to the right of center in the picture.) I packed over this pass some three or four times that I recall. Once while wrangling for some lost horses with Frosty Frost in the fall of 1970. I never put on more miles in the saddle in a week than that week spent with Frosty. Frosty was in his sixties, at least, and I had just graduated from St. Mary's College. He was looking for someone to help him out wrangling. I had just finished up the summer with Tommy at Mt. Whitney Pack Trains and was looking for work. Work found me trying to track lost horses amid thousands of fresh tracks in Monache, Little, Big, Redrock, Cold, Beer Keg, Casa Vieja, and Osa Meadows. Some sixty hours of riding in the saddle, for each of us, produced nothing. I seemed to recall Frosty mentioning one Christmas at Tommy & Barbara's that the stock eventually showed up at Kennedy Meadows some distance to the south. This trip had one really BIG bright spot in it - we made our base camp at Jordan Hot Springs on Nine Mile Creek. Being Fall, Jordan Hot Springs Resort was closed for the season and Frosty and I had the entire camp to ourselves. There was plenty of food and after each dusty day we were able walk buck naked from the camp down to the the bath tubs which were fed by hot springs in the Nine Mile Creek area. Since the tubs were fed by the hot water of the springs, we had to make several trips to the creek with a bucket to lower the water temperature to a bearable level. Frosty and I had a great time that fall "wrangling for ghosts." We weren't "Ghost Riders in the Sky" but certainly so on the ground! Frosty and his wife operated a farm in the San Joaquin Valley and I they always brought some of the best corn to Tommy and Barbara's.
Olancha Trail
Another time I packed a Sierra Club trip over Olancha Pass with several packers from MWPT. The trip was originally intended to go out of Horseshoe Meadows over Cottonwood Pass and into the surrounding backcountry. Unfortunately the snow was too deep and forced the trip 30 miles to the south over Olancha Pass.

The same scenario play itself out again on a Trail Riders of the Wilderness trip. This trip usually went in over New Army Pass from the Cottonwood Lakes basin and came out over Trail Crest, with a saddle trip to the summit of Mt. Whitney, and down to the corrals at Whitney Portals. This trip was always the last big "all expense paid" trip of the summer for the outfit; so it was unusual for that much snow to still be on Trail Crest Pass in mid August - but anything is possible with a pass that is 13,777' high. So off we were again over Olancha Pass, through Monache Meadows and north through Brown, Strawberry, Templeton, Ramshaw, and Mulkey Meadows. In the picture to the right you can see Owens Lake in the background as we head up the Olancha Pass Trail.

Last, but certainly not least, I packed one (perhaps two) deer hunting parties just over the summit of Olancha Pass. Typically the hunters made camp just west of Olancha Pass and then hunted in the surrounding high country. Round Mountain seemed to be their favorite hunting spot. The mountain is covered in chaparral that is only three feet high - sage brush and Manzanita. This makes the deer readily visible. The rifles the hunters used were so powerful that they could easily down a deer on the slopes of Round Mountain from 300 to 500 yards away! This wasn't quite my idea of hunting. I suppose my hunting season packing ended one morning when I was out wrangling for my three mules and horse. With a red vest and hat on I headed out of camp at about 5:00 A.M. About 30 minutes later I nearly had my head blown off by some hunter who mistakenly though one of Olancha Corral3my mules was a deer! That was the last deer season I packed for Tommy.

On this particular deer hunting party Tommy accompanied me down to the public corrals at thOlancha Corrale Olancha trail roadend in the stock truck and helped me pack up the guests for the trip. He indicated that he was going to be out of town when I came out of the mountains, a week later, but that he would leave the stock truck at the roadend for me. Well, out we came after a week and there was the stock truck. After unpacking and unsaddling my mules I had lunch with the guests at the roadend and bade them a fond farewell. Soon it dawned on me that I was the only person at the roadend and that it was highly unlikely that anyone else was going to show up this late in the season; and, of course no one else ever did! What was so tragic about this you might ask? The stock truck was rear loading! Let me tell you that rear lift gate on the stock truck was incredibly heavy. Getting it down wasn't the problem. After I loaded all of the stock into the truck and the gear I had to get that gate back up. I was darn stout then; and, try as I may I was unable to get that gate any higher up then my head before collapsing in pain. I finally decided the only way I was going to get that thing up was to prop it up with poles of varying lengths until I finally got it shut. Every time I nudged the gate further shut, I would secure it in position with one of my mule's halter ropes. After about 45 minutes I finally managed to get the gate up and secured with the lift gate bolts. I was never so worn out in my life, except for the week of shoveling snow on Trail Crest Pass. It must have shown too. When I finally rolled into Olancha the road was blocked for quite a while due to road construction on U.S. 395 and a rancher pulled up along side of me in a pickup truck and gave me two beers before heading off somewhere. Ranchers and cowboys are just like that, don't you know!

Outposts of the PastMe and String

You will have to excuse the poor quality of these images. All were taken either before my 35mm camera days or taken by guests and later passed on to me. The Picture to the right is one of me seated on Rich. My mules for the summer of 1966 were: Bart, Dan, Kate, Bailey and Wendy. This was the first Sierra Club Family High Trip offered by the Sierra Club. The route took us out of Twin Lakes, in the Bridgeport area, over Rock Island Pass into Kerrick Meadows down Kerrick Canyon and over Seavey Pass an on to Benson Lake. (Since this was a family trip, the Clubbers only traveled between 4 -7 miles per day. It was GREAT. On top of that, we ended up retracing our path and going out the same way we came in.) If you have never been to Benson Lake it is a sight to behold. Here is this alpine lake with rock cliffs on the north and south sides of the lake and a magnificent beach on the east end of the lake. It is like nothing you'll ever encounter in the Sierra! It's as if you've stumbled on the sandy shores of some ocean. You just have to kick yourself to remind you that you are in the High Sierra and not at Seal Beach in Southern California.

Shoveling SnowThis next image, to the left, is one of my brother Tom (with the pick ax) and Ed Brown shoveling out Trail Crest Pass in June of 1965. I might have mentioned this before, but we spent nearly a week camped just below Mirror Lake at Bighorn Park on the Whitney Portal's trail to the summit of Mt. Whitney. It rained every day and every day we saddle up and rode to Trail Camp at 12,000'. From Trail Camp we hiked another mile, and 50 switchbacks, with our pick axes and shovels up to nearly 13,000' where the snow was and began shoveling snow for 6 hours. Ed swore he'd never smoke another cigarette after that, but it was the first thing he lit up when we finally arrived back at the Portal Store soaking wet and exhausted. We did discover one useful thing on this trip: powdered Wyler's Lemonade mix is excellent to start fires with when all you have is wet wood! I'm not quite sure how the three of us stumbled on this little known fact but it helped us stay dry during four days of rainy, sleety, snow shoveling hell. One day we found ourselves shoveling snow in a "white out" while it was snowing. Figure it out - we were crazy soldiers following the commandants orders. I think this was the huge straw that broke the back of my brother for he never returned to Mt. Whitney Pack Trains after this year. To me, it was worth every shovel since it eventually led to me getting my own string of mules an packing with the outfit for many summers.

This last image, to the right, is one of me on Judy riding east up Rock Creek towards the Miter Basin during Along Rock Creekmy second trip with the Boyds and Merlos into the Sierra just west of New Army and Cottonwood Passes. This was indeed a memorable trip. I had an opportunity to once again be with a wonderful girl, Cindy, that I had met previously when Charles Morgan packed this same group of people into the Sierra. Cindy and I had developed a great relationship corresponding with each other during the college year and now we were finally able to see other once again. We did have a terrific time together on this pack trip. Then it was called the Hunt Party. Charles once again led this pack trip, only this time I was a packer with a string of mules instead a pot boy. It was nice having something to be proud of instead of wondering if it was something I would ever achieve. Tommy Jefferson was a great boss and good teacher though whom I was quite proud of. I always looked forward at the end of each school year to once again seeing Tommy's family and spending the summer with them. I have so many exciting memories of Tommy,Barbara, Norman, Susan and Kathy - but those are for another page.

"1960 High Trip"

from 1960 Sierra Club Bulletin

Early Lone Pine  

Wildflowers of the High Sierra   

 More, One Packer's High Sierra Experience - Purchase my book: High Sierra Adventures from Amazon


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This page was last updated on 22 April 2024