Mt. Whitney Packers
of the 1940s - 1950s
photos courtesy of Paul Lamos from the archives of his stepfather,
and former MWPT packer, - Bill Smart.
only one mule!
life is, without a doubt, one of the best there is. It is too
bad that here in the west that that life is confined to the summer.
When winter sets in, so does the snow and everyone goes back
to some "fall back" job - school for the students and
saddlery or something else for the non-students. It seems that
no matter what the job at the pack outfit it is always exciting;
and, something which you yearn to do. It might be the toughest
job that you've ever done in your life - shoeing stock, wrangling,
packing up camp, loose herding stock or driving stock trucks
- but for some strange romantic reason seldom does a packer not
wish to return the following summer.
From left to right: mule, "Salty" Peters
by Blanche Stallings
Gilmore on the trail.
in the backcountry Charley Gilmore seems to be having quite a
time. What the heck is that load on your first mule Charley?
From lumber to hay, 225 pound stoves to every conceivable configuration
of pot and pan, dunnage to dynamite and sides of beef to fresh
watermelons and cantaloupes; anything that could be packed, the
packer would find a resourceful way to not only get on his mule
but somehow get the load balanced and tied down with that famous
Mt. Whitney Packers diamond hitch. Let's not forget that a well
tied down load in the morning is no guarantee that it will last
day! The "best tie loads of mice and packers" often
loosened up with the heat of the mule and the day. It always
paid to check those loads throughout the day. I remember once,
while pushing stock 15 miles from the mountain corrals of Whitney
Portals down to the desert corrals of the Elder Ranch, I neglected
to cinch up the saddle on my horse sufficiently and about one
mile down the road, after the horse had worked up a sufficient
sweat, off slipped the saddle and me! What an utterly embarrassing
moment! By the time I caught my horse and got resaddled the other
packers and stock were a half mile ahead of me and Irene, Tommy
and Barbara got the laugh of the morning!
Lake in the High Sierra
Club "High Trip" Commissary
The Club commissary seemed to always be the focal point for exciting
conversation, social happenings, and an opportunity to "get
on the good side" of both the cooks and the commissary girls.
Those cooks were always the best! Was it all of the fresh food
they had to work with, the aura of the Sierra Nevada or the adventurous
people they "catered" to? Whatever it was, it always
kept you coming back for more. I recall one high trip trip when
Bob Golden was cook. We were camped in Lower Rock Creek and Bob
was cooking up some fantastic steaks. One of the packers, Ed
Brown, told him to throw a steak on the stove for him and make
sure it was well done. Ed didn't come back to get that steak
for about 45 minutes! I swear, Ed must have just been eating
a piece of charcoal.
to R: Need
some help from you Club members to identify these folks!
by David Brower
have many a fond memory of packer's camp. Perhaps the most exciting
was on a Sierra Club Family trip out of Twin Lakes. It was one
of those trips where we three-wayed cache, pushing food ahead
to both the next and the last camps. The last camp was located
in Kerrick Meadows between Paiute Mountain and Price Peak in
Northern Yosemite, and the Sierra Club was supposed to have a
"bear guard" stationed at the intended camp. Well,
you guessed it!, there was no bear guard and by the time we arrived
at the last camp, eight days later, there was very little food
the bears did not get into. This called for quick action if on
the part of Norman Jefferson and myself. We quickly went out
and caught ourselves some trout. As soon as the rest of the packers
left camp for the Sierra Club commissary we hastily cooked up
the trout and were licking our fingers when they finally arrived
back at packer's camp. You can't believe how good that trout
tasted and how mad the rest of the packers were. We did make
it up to them the following day with a catch to feed everyone.
Tommy Jefferson serenading the packers in packer's camp.
Mt. Whitney Pack Trails mule all packed up and eager to hit the trail.
Cottonwood Lakes and Mt. Langley
Trail Riders of the Wilderness heading by one of our favorite
spots in the Mt. Whitney region, the Cottonwood Lakes at the
foot of Mt. Langley. Before the Horseshoe Meadows road was blasted
in the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada, beginning at the old
Carroll Creek packstation, these lakes were some of the finest Golden Trout fishing in the Sierra Nevada.
Once the road was in, along came the poachers and all but the
rock-rimmed upper lakes were closed to fishing. These are the
breeding grounds were nearly all of the Golden Trout eggs are
harvested for later hatching and fingerling replanting throughout
the rest of the Sierra. In spite of the poachers, litterers,
and city slickers that burned down the old Cottonwood Sawmill
which had been part of Owens Valley history for nearly 100 years
this is still a magnificent area to visit. Of course if I had
my way, I would have the road closed and dynamited and the pack
stations restored at Carroll and Cottonwood Creeks at the base
of the mountains. Somehow a grueling, waterless, 15 mile hike
from the desert floor to Big and Little Cottonwood Creeks deterred
nearly all vandals from the region