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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, unless otherwise noted.

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mule train

Roster of Mt. Whitney Pack Trains Packers

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Blasting on the Mt. Whitney Trail
dynamite
Clouds of dust from dynamite blasting on the upper switchbacks of the Mt. Whitney Trail.


This was a constant picture when it came to the Whitney Trail. Once a packer left Mirror Lake, at near 10,000 ft., it was the last timber he would see for approximately 10 miles until he reached Guitar Lake on the other side of Trail Crest Pass in Sequoia National Park. 10 miles of hard rock that constantlybegged for care. The continual freezing and thawing, combined winter avalanches, often necessitated the forest and park service trail crews to blast fallen rocks off of the trail. Any packer that has packed dynamite for those trail crews has a story to tell. I recall the summer of 1969 when I had to pack in dynamite and blasting caps for the forest service, the trail crew was there for most of the summer and I only had to suffer through two or three days. Unfortunately, those days were pouring down rain - the whole day! (There were many days like this that dispelled the old myth that it never rained at night in the Sierra!) After loading up my two mules Bart and Dan, in the rain, with enough dynamite and blasting caps to relocate the Portal Store to Meysan Lake, I headed up to the trail crew's camp at, of all places, Trail Camp. An uneventfull soggy day turned into a fear-filled and duck-and-pray situation in the rocks about one quarter of a mile above Mirror Lake. It was there that Bart slipped on the rocks and fell over losing his load of dynamite. You never saw a packer abandon his horse and find a place to hide faster in your life. When nothing happened, I slowly, with much shaking and trepidation, came out of hiding to find Bart with his load on the ground and shaking in his shoes more than me! Dan and my horse just stood there in the rain oblivious to anything having happened at all. After repacking Bart, I finally made it to Trail Camp, only with my nerves quite shattered. Now where else, other than working for MWPT, could one gain such a heartwarming summer experience?

guitar lake
Guitar Lake overlooking the peaks of the Great Western Divide.

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"Handling Barbed Wire"


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adjusting the load

Adjusting the load..

Let the packer who has never had to adjust or repack a load stand up; and, then place his hand on a Bible and swear that he never had to! This was often a scene. I don't think I ever packed when either myself or someone with me had to stop and redo their loads. Seldom though was it in a situation like the one pictured. Most likely it was on the side of a mountain with your mules spread out over one or more switchbacks, with guests looking on wondering what was up. Well one thing for sure wasn't up, and that was the load. It was coming off.


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Lunch amongst the rocks.

Is it even possible to think of a better place to have lunch than with the rest of the packers, above timerline with your string looking on? Oh, yeah! How about on those days off? If you were packing the Club it could very well have been with one of those beautiful commissary girls at some secluded lake; or, if it was with the Trail Riders of the Wilderness it could have been with one of the guests as you explored to Rock, Whitney, or Wright Creeks. But for me, some 95% of the time, it was fishing - anywhere- with Norman Jefferson. We were fishing bandits. The packers relied on us so much for fish that often the first words out of their mouth were: "When are you going fishing?" As the Sierra Club gradually switched from all fresh food to "backpacker-type" dehydrated rations, our fish became the main staple in the evenings. Rarely did we fail to "bring home the trout." Some times we brought home so much trout that even six packers couldn't eat it all! We won't discuss the legality of it all.
lunch amongst the rocks

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Golden Trout
Country

Golden Trout
Golden Trout

Baxter Pass
Baxter Pass party

Limit of Goldens
Limit of Golden Trout

 Lake South America
Lake South America - head waters of the Kern River

 Tulainyo Lake
Tulainyo Lake, located at the base of Mt. Russell it is the highest lake in the continental U.S. at 12,802 ft.

 Frasier photo cards courtesy of Rich McCutchan archives.

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 "High Country in Season"
by Paul Webster

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Rest Stop

  rest stop
Rest stop on a steep mountain slope.

on the trail
Taking a break overlooking a beautiful meadow valley.
Even the mules seem to be enjoying the view! Scenes like these are what made packing for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains the most wonderful experience ever. God richly blessed all of us, packers and guests, more than we'll ever know this side of heaven. From the lush forests of the western side of Kaweah Gap, overlooking Hamilton Lakes and the Valhalla in Sequoia National Park, to the grass so deep in Upper Paiute Meadows, at the northern fringes of Yosemite National Park, that all you could see were the ears of your mules, scenes like these were what the summer was all about. When God made the "Range of Light", as Ansel Adams so inspirationally name the Sierra, I'm so thankful that He put it in our backyard for us California packers to enjoy.

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The Elder Corral - Located off of Tuttle Creek Road
The Elder Corral, located just south of Lone Pine about 2 miles west on Lubkin Creek Road, was the scene of many a summer's stock preparation. Mules and horses was often pushed here at the beginning of June from Whitney Portals or Moffat Ranch, or both, for shoeing in preparation of the packing season. Burros were pushed here from their wintering pasture at the Moffat Ranch for mane and tail shearing and loading onto stock trucks. The burros were subsequently hauled to the western side of the Sierra for use by the Sierra Club on their family burro trips. I can still smell the forge as Tommy Jefferson formed each shoe and fitted it to the mules. Hot shoeing was a luxury, because in the backcountry there was neither forge or anvil. You had to find a good rock on which to cold-form the shoe and pray for the best fit possible. But even at its worst it was still better than no shoe at all when the trails were mostly rock. I shall never forget when I met, what appeared to me to be, a champion shoer out of a pack station in Bridgeport. I watched in awe as this individual completely shod a mule in under 20 minutes; and, guess what, it was a woman! She completely broke my stereotype vision that all farriers where men. Bravo for her!
elder corral
Elder Corral - Circa 1950s

elder corral

Elder Corral - Circa 2015
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

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"The 1971 Sierra Burro Trip"
[Sierra Club Bulletin, March 1971]

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1995 Mt. Whitney Packer's Reunion  

Packing & High Sierra Stories  

 Mt. Whitney Packers of the 1950s and 1960s

 

Early Lone Pine 

 

Wildflowers of the High Sierra 

 

 One Packers High Sierra Experience


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This page was last updated on 14 March 2016