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Mt. Whitney Packers of the 1940s - 1950s

All photos courtesy of Paul Lamos from the archives of his stepfather, and former MWPT packer, - Bill Smart.

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Roster of Mt. Whitney Pack Trains Packers

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Sherman Steven's Sawmill



Leftovers from a bygone era. The old Sherman Steven's sawmill located at Cottonwood Creek near the junctures of the Carroll Creek and Cottonwood Creek trails provided lumber for the Cerro Gordo Mines, Cartago , and Swansea; in addition to providing lumber for the charcoal kilns near Swansea for the silver mines of Cerro Gordo. The charcoal was hauled across Owens Lake by the Bessie Brady, one of two steamers which provided the charcoal to the Cerro Gordo Mines. These are probably some of the last surviving pictures in the history of this sawmill. When I first packed into the area in the summer of 1965 these items were still intact. the next summer, when they were constructing the Horseshoe Meadows road, vandals had already burned these last vestiges of the sawmill to the ground. Another piece of early California history was lost forever, ruined by those who had no respect for it or others who might enjoy it in the future.

cottonwood sawmill

Remains of the Sherman Steven's sawmill at the head of Cottonwood Canyon - 1950s


cottonwood sawmill

Remains of the Sherman Steven's sawmill at the head of Cottonwood Canyon - 1950s

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"Walter Starr"[pdf]
by Vincent Butler


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No load was too difficult to pack
Packing lumber out of the Carroll Creek Pack Station


packing lumber

packing lumber


packing lumber

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packing lumber


packing lumber
L/R: ? (back), ?, Wendell Gill (alongside Snake the Mule), ?, ?

packing lumber


packing lumber

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packing lumber

 
packing lumber

Finally, all loaded up, the bucking over and ready to go.


packing hay
Packing hay

packing firewood
Mounted: Bill Smart packing firewood. (1), (2)


bill smart
Mounted: Bill Smart packing hay. (1), (2)

Whether it was lumber at the Carroll Creek pack station or logs or hay at the Whitney Portals pack station, packers have enough ingenuity to pack anything onto a mule! The mule most likely will not cooperate with you at first, especially if the load extends above or beyond his ears; but, packer persistence will pay off. Take your pick - watermelon, sides of beef, 300 pound stoves, dunnage, oats, barbed wire, dynamite, canned goods, dry goods, lettuce, mining cable, etc. - if you've packed for any length of time, you have encountered any or all of these loads. Once you've obtained the mules cooperation, the next feat is to pack-up, balance and tied down the load.

Balancing can often times be more of a challenge than actually getting the mules cooperation. I mean balancing without using stones in your load. Only the most inexperienced and lamest of packers would make his mules pack stones! I had more than one load fall off of a mule. What I thought was well balanced in the cold of the morning was something totally opposite in the heat of the day. And, believe me, there is nothing a mule dislikes more than a load which starts slipping off to one side and down to his belly! I recall one trip over Snow Summit out of Bridgeport when I was packing dunnage with boxes of lettuce perched on top of the dunnage. When the load finally did slip (in the heat of the day), thankfully it was on a long flat section of the trail, the mule bucked lettuce and dunnage everywhere. I managed to eliminate lettuce from the salad menu for several nights of the trip.


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  From the peaceful to the morbid.

stream crossing
A creek crossing that every packer dreams of.


palisade lakes traverse
Traversing one of the Palisade Lakes.


palisade lake traverse
Traversing one of the Palisade Lakes.


There's nothing a packer likes better than to pack up and enjoy a good ride in the saddle to the next camp. Ah, just to lead your string of mules across of stream while you're singing "Red River Valley" (or in my case during the late '60s - "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man"), what a life. But packing was not always that romantic or without incident. Sometimes you were forced to loose herd your mules through lakes, over snow banks and through precarious rocky or sandy switchbacks. Occasionally these "adventures" resulted in wrecks where either the load or the mule were lost.

The mule in the lower left was fortunate and only lost his load. The mule on the right, however, paid for the wreck with his life. Wrecks seldom resulted solely because of the mule. Usually it was the result of an inexperienced or, most often, inattentive packer. One thing your mules demand is attention, and lots of it.


wreck in the snow
Mule collapsed in the snow.

dead mule
Mule dead on the trail.


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 "Sierra Trails"[pdf]

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Carroll Creek Pack Station Corrals
Up until approximately 1965 nearly every packer that worked for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains, since it first began back when Frank Chrysler and Ted Cook owned the outfit, packed out of the old Carroll Creek Pack Station.

If you look close enough in the photo to the lower right you'll see a packer with his string of mules heading up the Carroll Creek trail. From Carroll Creek one had easy access to Cottonwood, Army, Mulkey and Trail Passes, Rock Creek, the South Fork of the Kern River, Golden Trout Camp and the golden trout fishing paradise of the Cottonwood Lakes. It was a tragedy when the house which contained all of the old packing records dating back to the Chrysler and Cook days were lost in an accidental fire in the late 1960s. It was even more of a tragedy when the Horseshoe Meadows road was blasted across the face of the mountain destroying the old trail and opening up the backcountry to vandals, litterers, and fishing poachers. This resulted in the closing of all of all but the uppermost Cottonwood Lakes to fishing, the burning down of the old Sherman Stevens Timber Sawmill, and trail head quotas. All of this because some folks thought they could exploit the Horseshoe Meadows area into a ski resort. This area is not like Mammoth to the north with it's approximate 200 inches of annual snowfall. Here the snowfall is meager because it is bled out of the clouds by the eastern crest of the Sierra Nevada.

carroll creek corrals
Carroll Creek Pack Station Corrals


carroll creek corrals
Carroll Creek Pack Station Corrals - Pack train heading up
the Carrol Creek trail in the center of the photo


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1995 Mt. Whitney Packer's Reunion  

Packing & High Sierra Stories  

More Mt. Whitney Packers of the 1940s and 1950s 

 

Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada 

 

 One Packers High Sierra Experience


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This page was last updated on 25 August 2017

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