Mt. Whitney Packers
of the 1940's - 1950's
over Muir Pass
(Photos courtesy of
the backcountry shelter atop Muir Pass in the background, strings
of Mt. Whitney Pack Trains' mules make their descent from Muir
Pass southward towards Helen Lake and into Le Conte Canyon and
the Middle Fork of the Kings River. This was not so much an uncommon
sight, mules traversing snow; what was unusual about this passage
is that the snow was so expansive and so deep that it required
a rare early morning traverse. Shoveling out the snow, a packer's
second occupation on some summers, was out of the question. An
earlier air survey of the area by Bob White's flying service
out of Lone Pine confirmed the extraordinary amount of snow still
on the pass. The packers began packing up their strings of mules
in the early hours of the morning by the light of the moon. By
the time they reached the summit of Muir Pass, the sun was just
beginning to come up and the snow was still frozen solid enough
to support the weight of the fully packed mules.
L/R: Jim Gordon, Loren Joseph, Ken Hess, ?
From the 1947 Sierra Club Handbook
Packers, 1958 at Crabtree Lakes
courtesy of Ed Turner]
Slater, Bob Hansen, Barbara Jefferson, Kathy Jefferson (girl
in front of Barbara), Tommy Jefferson, Norman Jefferson (boy
in front of Tommy), Eddie Mike, Lester Bellas, Stewart Yankton
, Jim Dittmer, Ed Turner
Country In Season: The Great Sierra Nevada [pdf]
by Paul Webster
the 97 Switchbacks
of Ed Turner
Consultation Lake below as a backdrop, Mt. Whitney Pack Trains'
packers loose herd their mules from Trail Camp westward up and
over Trail Crest Pass at 13,777' on their way to Guitar Lake
and Crabtree Meadows. These are the infamous switchbacks which
nearly every packer spent time shoveling out at one time during
his packing career. Believe me when I say that there is nothing
more grueling than shoveling snow, sometimes seven feet deep,
at 13,000'. Even being acclimatized doesn't seem to help out
a great deal.
I remember my first snow detail in the summer of 1965 on these
switchbacks. Ed Brown, my brother Tom, and I spent nearly one
entire week shoveling snow in a blizzard on these switchbacks.
We camped in pouring down rain at Outpost Camp (aka Bighorn Park
to some) just below Mirror Lake at 10,000'. Every day we mounted
and rode to Trail Camp at 12,000' where we left our horses and
proceeded to hike up to the snow with shovels and pickaxes in
hand. This job, being a packer, would either make you or break
you! I'm convinced this aspect of the packer's job is what broke
my brother; for, he never returned to work for the outfit after
this summer. I'm sorry he never returned, we could have had a
great time packing for the outfit together. I went on to shovel
out this pass for several more years in my packing career. In
addition Trail Crest there was also Muir Pass, Bishop Pass, Chicken
Springs Pass, Army Pass and Cottonwood Pass, to name but a few,
which saw my shovel and the shovels of many other packers over
of San Luis Obispo, CA writes.
Great sight! Worked for Cottonwood Pack Station in the early
60's just a kid but enjoyed it so much use to supply the Golden
Trout Camp and take supplies into Tunnel Air Camp things Mr.
White did not fly-in. I remember running into some of your packers
when we took trips north. You had some good looking stock. I
have been working for Caltrans for 32 years get to the mountains
every so often, but I do miss the time in the back country. Thanks
for brining back some very good memories!
John Maddux (Sept 2002)
Thanks for your note. I was a barn boy - helping people get out
of Carroll Creek, "training" burros for the Sierra
Club, breaking colts - in 1956. Then I packed legitimately in
1957 and in 1958, working in Jackson Hole in 1959 and in 1960,
and returning to pack for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains in 1961 and
I remember being intimated by Tommy for at least two summers.
He was one of the best tough bosses I ever had. I'm grateful
for that experience, and that he taught me how to shoe.
Best wishes to all the crew. Strange to think back to those days
from the perspective of being retired from a long intervening
career. We had some good times.
What I learned from Bruce, Charles, and Tommy matches what I
learned in gathering a bachelor's degree and two masters degrees.
As a principal of a local high school, I told my students that
I learned how to work with kids by working with mules (and I
told the kids I loved my mules). Because I'm tall I packed grain
and other heavy loads on Roberta, Nina, Joe, Coso, and Maria;
and was honored to take over Shorty, June, Susie, and oh the
memory fails, when Tommy got distracted. An impending divorce
caused me to cancel out on the reunion and I've always regretted
the missed opportunity. It's great to see the pictures of so
many folks I worked with. Thanks.
Chris Rich (March & September 2008)
"It has always been my private conviction that any man who
pits his intelligence against a fish and loses, has it coming."