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Pathways: A Story of Trails and Men (1968), by John W. Bingaman


CHAPTER V

Yosemite Trails

It is believed the first white men who used the Indian Trails were Captain Boling and soldiers of the Mariposa Battalion in search of Teneiya’s band of Indians. (See Bun[n]ell’s Discovery of Yosemite, 1851.) He writes, “Going from the head of Indian Canyon we soon stuck an old trail that led east.” This old trail may have been the Indian Mono Trail that was used the same year by Lieut. Moore, while crossing the Sierra via Soda Springs, and Mono Pass in pursuit of Indians. It was also used later by sheepmen.

In June, 1851, Captain Boling, Bunnell, and party with Chief Teneiya, left the valley via an old trail above Mirror Lake and arrived at Tenaya Lake that same night. This appears to be the first recorded trip over what later became the Tenaya Zigzags.

In the “Era of Trails” C. Frank Brockman, describes the improvement of some of the early trails and the construction of new ones. “Milton and Houston Mann, who had been in the Sherlock’s Creek party of 1855, were the first to take positive action along this line. They undertook the construction of a toll trail from Mariposa to Yosemite Valley almost immediately after their initial visit, completing the project in August of the following year (1856). Existing Indian trails were utilized as much as practical particularly as far as the point now known as Wawona on the South Fork of the Merced, which they bridged. The toll route started approximately 12 miles from Mariposa, from a point known as White and Hatch’s. At the Wawona area, however, it departed from the old Indian route climbing steadily to the high-land between this point and Yosemite Valley by following the Alder Creek drainage to its heights. Then it crossed at an elevation of over 7000 feet to the drainage of Bridalveil Creek where it traversed a number of lush meadows, gradually making a second ascent over a series of low ridges, to the highest point on the route, before dropping to the south rim of the Valley at Old Inspiration Point. From here a quick descent to the floor of the Valley near the base of Bridalveil Falls was made. This route is essentially the same as the present combination of the Alder Creek-Pohono Trails.

“Undoubtedly, the presence of the meadows along this route with their abundant stock-feed was the compelling motive for locating the trail in this manner. The old Indian trail which followed a lower elevation through the timber did not offer this advantage. Several years later two sheep camps, known as Westfall’s and Ostrander’s, were set up in the vicinity of these meadows, and the crude shelters which were available served occasionally as a hospice for those who desired a respite from the long ride.

“In 1857, Galen Clark, who was to become a prominent figure in Yosemite history, established himself at the meadow where the trail crossed the South Fork, where Wawona is now located. Here he provided overnight accommodations to the many travelers on their way to Yosemite. Still later Charles Peregoy, for whom Peregoy Meadow is named, established a public house midway along the trail between Clark’s and the Valley. It was operated by Charles Peregoy and his wife until 1875, when the stage road was construc[t]ed between Wawona and the Yosemite Valley, diverting travel from the trail.

“Seven hundred dollars was expended by the Mann brothers in their trail enterprise but, while their efforts were successful in encouraging early travel to this region, their project proved to be somewhat ahead of its time from a practical point of view, and was not an outstanding financial success. Some years after its construction the trail was purchased by Mariposa County for $200, and made available to the public without charge.

Coulterville and Big Oak Flat Trails

“In 1856, L. H. Bunnell joined with George W. Coulter and others of that community in the construction of the ‘Coulterville Free Trail.’ This route did not benefit materially from any previously existing Indian trail, as did the one pioneered by the Mann brothers, for horses had apparently never been taken into the Valley from the north side, and the foot trails that existed were unsuitable to horse travel. It started from Bull Creek, to which a wagon road had already been constructed. The total distance from Coulterville to the Valley was 48 miles, of which 17 miles could be traversed by road. From Bull Creek it passed through meadow areas at Deer Flat, Hazel Green, and Crane Flat, then to Tamarack Flat, finally crossing Cascades Creek to the point now known as Gentry from which the descent along the north rim was made to the Valley floor.

“A third, the Big Oak Flat Trail, had its origin at the town of that name, located six miles north of Coulterville. It followed a route north of the Coulterville Trail through Garrote to Hardin’s Ranch on the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, thence to its junction with Coulterville Trail between Crane Flat and Tamarack Flat. During the early days of trail travel to Yosemite the latter was not as generally used as were the Mariposa or Coulterville trails.

“The Hite’s Cove route, which appears to have been in use in 1872 and 1873, was at least a partial answer for other routes. Hite’s Cove, where was located the rich mine discovered by John Hite in 1861, was on the South Fork of the Merced River some distance above its junction with the main Merced River. By 1874, it was made accessible by wagon road from Mariposa, 18 miles distant. Another route was made available from the north side of the Merced Canyon by 1877. Before this time wagon roads had been completed to the Valley from Coulterville, June, 1874; Big Oak Flat, July; 1874; and Mariposa, July, 1875. Now much of the hardship of a long journey in the saddle was unnecessary.

“The report of the Yosemite Valley Commission for 1880 indicates that before the completion of roads into Yosemite Valley, 12,000 people reached this point via horseback. The first people to penetrate to this area had to pick their way carefully along Indian trails, camping out along the way.” 1

________
1 Quotes from “The Era of Trails,” C. Frank Brockman.

Early Yosemite Trails

The U.S. Geological Survey of California had roughly reconnoitered the Yosemite High Sierra in 1863; they made a more careful investigation of this area in 1866 and 1867. The trail system in existence at that time followed the Coulterville trail from the Valley floor to the north rim where it joined the Mono Indian trail. This route was originally used by the Indians and improved in 1857 by those interested in mining possibilities in the Sierra; it ran east through the heart of what is now Yosemite National Park, closely approximating the present Tioga Road, to Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows. From this point the return went westward to the original Mariposa-Yosemite Valley Trail constructed by the Mann Brothers in 1856. This was accomplished by means of a branch of the Mono trail, also an original Indian route, which crossed Cathedral Pass and passed through Little Yosemite Valley and Mono Meadows to Ostrander’s in the vicinity of Peregoy Meadows on the present Glacier Point road. An improved trail, which follows the same route and which is famous for its spectacular scenery and sunrises from Cathedral Pass, is in use at the present time. The map includes and also calls attention to the route from Ostrander’s to Sentinel Dome, which was blazed by the State Survey party in 1864.

It also indicates that the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees was accessible by a trail from Clark’s (Wawona) which follows a route that is approximately the same as that utilized at the present time. On the north side, Hetch Hetchy Valley was accessible by train from a point on the Big Oak Flat route between Sprague’s and Hardin’s ranches, which were located west of the present Big Oak Flat entrance to the park.

When the Yosemite Valley Commissioners took over the Yosemite Valley and Big Trees in 1864, there were two improved trails in the Valley; the Vernal Falls Trail and the Mirror Lake Trail, both of which have unknown builders and construction dates.

We find that the foundation of the major part of our present system was laid in the 1870’s, largely through the policy of the Commissioners in granting toll privileges for trail construction. The Commissioners desired the development of the Valley but had little money; so they gave charters for the construction of toll trails, under which the Four Mile Glacier Trail, the Snow Trail, and the Eagle Peak Trail were built. In 1882 the Commission purchased the Mist and Glacier trails and soon after bought the rest. They did little trail building themselves before the Army took over in 1891.

In 1870, Albert Snow constructed a horse trail from “Register Rock”, at the start of Mist Trail, over the rugged shoulder on which Clark point is located, to the flat between Vernal and Nevada Falls. Here he constructed a hotel known as “La Casa Nevada”. The following year John Conway built a trail which ascended from the La Casa Nevada to the top of Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley. John Conway contributed further to trail development in the Valley. Under the auspices of James McCauley, who later (1878) built and operated the Mountain House at Glacier Point, he began construction of the Four Mile Trail from the base of Sentinel Rock to Glacier Point in 1871, and completed this project in 1872. James McCauley entered into a contract agreement with the Yosemite Valley Commissioners to build a toll trail up to Glacier Point. McCauley selected the master trail builder, John Conway, to survey the route and build the trail up the 3200 feet to Glacier Point. During the years the trail was slightly rerouted and the grades changed until it is now nearer five miles long than four, but it still retains the historic name “Four Mile Trail.”

The route of the trail passes by a prominent vantage point 2,335 feet above the valley floor, Union Point. No reference could be found regarding the origin of this name, but certainly one can assume that this was a very popular name.

Since the trail was a business venture, it is not surprising to find the owners conducting an advertising campaign describing the quality of the trail. One Gilbert Munger and others testified in one such pamphlet that the benefits of the trail are stupendous, that it has a wide, smooth, easy grade, skillfully executed, and further that General Grant, in 1879, praised it as the best mountain trail he had ever traveled over. Others testified that its grade averages only 20 percent and not over 35 percent. McCauley recognized that visitor’s facilities would be needed at Glacier Point, and in 1878 built and operated “The Mountain House.” This building is still seen today in use as a cafeteria.

The Yosemite Valley Commission, according to its policy of eliminating all private holdings as rapidly as funds became available, requested from the California State Legislature in 1877 the sum of $7,500 for the purpose of purchasing trails from private owners. However, it was not unti[l] 1882 that the Four Mile Trail was purchased from McCauley for $2,500 and became public property and free of toll. Incidentally, by the year 1886, the Commission had succe[e]ded in eliminating all toll on all roads and trails in Yosemite Valley.

The successful completion of the road to Glacier Point in 1882, of course greatly increased the number of visitors to this fabled point of rock. At this time there was some agitation for improving the accessibility of Glacier Point; the only two quick routes to the top were the Four Mile Trail by foot or horseback, and the long Glacier Point road. As early as 1887, there was agitation for a tramway. The State of California seriously considered this and surveyed a route. However, this plan never bore fruit. The idea has been brought up at intervals. The last plea is related in the Congressional Record of December 12, 1930, in which a Mr. Crampton argued for a cableway up to Glacier Point, pointing out that the scenic features should be made available to all, the sick and weak, as well as the young and strong, and that a cableway is no disfigurement of the landscape anymore than a trail is, and that further, such methods are frequently employed in the Swiss Alps. Mr. Crampton’s proposal was defeated. It is the policy of the National Park Service, charged as it is with maintaining the natural and scenic beauty of an area, to respond extremely cautiously to each new demand for improvement of facilities.

Today the Four Mile Trail stands as a tribute to the hardy men who mapped and hewed it out. The fabulous, fantastic view of the “Incomparable Valley,” defying man’s powers of description, always seems just a little more incomparable when you get there by way of the Four Mile Trail.

Yosemite Trails General

The old Indian trails and unimproved sheep herder’s trails were not rocked and rarely blazed, so it was almost impossible to find them. The earliest maps show only the old Mono Indian trail which goes over Tioga Pass, branching somewhere in the Tuolumne area, one branch cutting back of the north wall of Yosemite Valley, and the other going through Clouds Rest, Sunset Creek, across Little Yosemite, up Buena Vista Creek and down to the foothills.

Indian Canyon Trail

This was a toll horse trail to Yosemite Point, constructed in 1873; in 1874, James Hutchins met the cost of a horse trail up Indian Canyon, which by 1877 already had fallen into such disrepair as to make it accessible only to hikers. The disintegration progressed rapidly, and the improved aboriginal route to the north rim found use during a comparativ[e]ly few years of Yosemite tourist travel. In the current master plan of Yosemite National Park it is carried as the trail proposal calculated “to provide the best all year access to the upper country on the north side of the Valley”.

Yosemite Falls and Eagle Peak Trail

The Yosemite Falls Trail, started by John Conway in 1873 and completed to the north rim in 1877, was carried by its builder and owner still higher to the summit of Eagle Peak, highest of the Three Brothers. He started his toll horse trail to Eagle Peak in 1873 and completed it as far as the foot of the Upper falls. In 1877, he finished the trail to the top of the falls, and in 1888 to Eagle Peak. The State wanted to purchase the trail from him in 1882, but he refused to sell. He fought the State in and out of court but finally sold in 1885 for $1,500.

Except for minor changes, the present trail follows Conway’s trail. From the top of the falls you can follow what are probably Conway’s original blazes to Eagle Peak, except for a section through the meadow. The Park Service has reblazed much of the trail, but the diamond shaped blazes made by the Army are easy to distinguish from the others.

The Pohono Trail

I can find no information on its builder or date. It is not shown on McClure’s 1896 map but does appear on the 1905 map.

About 1906 this trail was changed from Dewey Trail to Pohono Trail. It follows the south rim of the Valley from near Sentinel Dome via the Fissures, then across Bridalveil Creek some distance back of the Bridalveil Falls, then on to Dewey and Stanford Points and the old stage road at Fort Monroe, the first stage station just beyond Inspiration Point. It gives new points of view of wonders of the lower part of Yosemite.

Clouds Rest and Half Dome Trails

The original trail to Clouds Rest was a segment of the Old Mono Indian Trail starting in Little Yosemite. The trail is shown in Wheeler’s Survey Map of 1878 and mentioned in the 1884 Commissioners reports. In 1882, the Commission recommended that the trail be shortened. In 1890, the Commission shortened and improved the trail. Again in 1912, the trail was further shortened and improved by the Department of the Interior.

Wheeler’s map shows a spur trail to the base of Half Dome but gives no information as to its construction. Half Dome was first climbed by George Anderson in 1875. His ropes and pegs were used for a few years by several people to climb to the top. In 1908, two young engineers strung the cable furnished by the Sierra Club. The present cable was first put up by Lawrence Sovulewski and Milton Frankie, two civil engineers. The cable was packed to the dome in full length on several mules by a packer named Lack, who was working for the Park Service. Most of the necessary material was carried to the top of the dome by those two young engineers, which was a feat in itself.

There are no signs of the old Indian trail or the Commissioner’s trail, but the Army trail with its “T” blazes is in quite good condition. It can be picked up when one enters Little Yosemite Valley by taking the path to the left across the meadow; a short distance from this path a faint trail cuts back in the general direction of Yosemite Valley. In a few hundred yards there was an old corral at the base of a small round hill; the Army trail began at the base of this hill going around to the left.

Mist Trail

In 1864, when the State took over Yosemite, the trail to the top of Vernal Falls was in existence, and no one seems to know its origin. It was started at Happy Isles and went up the south side of the river to the top of the falls. It can be picked up now at the end of the Illilouette Creek delta and followed quite easily to Register Rock. This is probably the old trail rebuilt for horses by Snow, (1869-1870)

The Mist Trail is essentially as it was except that rock stairs were put in later, and the trail ended at Fern Grotto where there was a platform and ladder leading up over the lip. (This may have been built by Cunningham.) Later, after one man fell off and was killed, wooden steps replaced ladders, and railings were put up. In 1897, the wooden steps were replaced by stone. The State purchased the Mist Trail in 1882 for $300.

Panorama Trail

The original trail prom Glacier Point to Nevada Falls was one built by Washburn and McCready in 1872, going along the Illilouette Ridge, and then dropping down to join the old Mono Indian Trail at the bridge in Little Yosemite Valley.

In 1885, the present Echo Wall Trail of Panorama Trail climbed up from Nevada Falls. In 1893, the Commissioners reports state that the Panorama Trail was rebuilt after long disuse, and the bridge was rebuilt over Illilouette Creek.

As I searched the Little Yosemite Valley area, the Illilouette Creek area, and the Buena Vista area looking for signs of the Old Mono Trail, which according to the maps does not follow the present trails, I found no sign other than a few old blazes at a ford that led nowhere.

Snow Trail

The first known trail builder in the Yosemite Valley was Albert Snow, who built the horse trail zigzags up to Clark Point and thence down to the Silver Apron in 1870. This trail can be picked up at Register Rock and generally follows the new trail but is much steeper. Just after you cross the bridge near Silver Apron, if you turn right you can find a section of this trail that leads directly to the site of the Casa Nevada. Snow probably built the wagon road which went from the Casa Nevada along the north side of the river to the edge of the cliff at the top of Vernal Falls. Sections of the road are in surprisingly good condition. There were the remains of an old shack where it terminated.

Casa Nevada — and Nevada Falls Trail

In 1871, John Conway built the horse trail from Casa Nevada (an early pioneer hotel) to Nevada Falls along the north side of the Merced River, but when he built the original cut backs they were much longer stretching from wall to wall of the canyon, and were built up in places fifteen feet high.

Anderson Trail

In 1882, George Anderson built the trail up the north bank of the Merced River from the Happy Isles Bridge. The original plan was to build the trail all the way up the north side to the top of the falls. He built the widest, best trail yet built, but costs ran way over estimates and he was stopped by the cliffs. In 1885, the Commission had a connecting trail built from the point where Anderson’s trail started uphill to Register Rock bridge, where it joins the Snow and Mist Trails. The south trail then fell into disuse. Anderson built a blacksmith shop ‘along the trail that is mentioned in some of the old commissioner rsquo;s reports. Remains of the shop were picked up by the Park Service crews in 1957.

Anderson’s abandoned trail leaves the present trail about two blocks before the bridge below Vernal Falls and continues uphill, wide as a toad, till it abruptly stops in a grove of trees.

Merced Lake Trail

Originally to get to Merced Lake one would have to go up the Sunset Creek Trail and cut around north of Bunnell Cascades and down into Merced Lake. In 1911 a trail right along the river to Bunnell point and over the tip to the Lake was built, saving four miles. This trail has since been improved by the Park Service. In 1914, three miles of new trail were constructed from Washburn Lake to Lyell Fork of the Merced River, which opened up beautiful country along the main canyon of the Merced River.

La Casa Nevada

This early pioneer hotel was built and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Snow. It was famous for its excellent meals. It was midway between the top of Vernal and the foot of Nevada Falls. In 1869-1870, Albert Snow built a horse trail from Yosemite Valley to this flat near Vernal Falls. The Snow Hotel opened April 28, 1870. It was destroyed by fire in 1890.

Ledge Trail

In 1871, James M. Hutchings had been guiding parties of hikers to Glacier Point over a most hazardous trail, which he had blazed up the Ledge and through the chimney and which climbed 3,200 feet in approximately one and a half miles to Glacier Point. This was the Ledge Trail.

In 1918, it was repaired by the Park Service. It was a dangerous climb because it was partly built of solid rock, and extremely steep, much like a staircase. Rock slides occur[r]ed frequently causing accidents to climbers. Only up-travel was permitted by the park regulations in later years. After several major floods, rock slides, injuries, and deaths to climbers the park authorities deemed it necessary to close this trail to all hikers. The Author assisted in rescue parties several times on this trail.

It was April 9, 1928, when the Author rescued Miss Edna May Wilbur, daughter of Curtis D. Wilbur, Secretary of the Navy, and Miss Ona E. Ring, of Lindsay, California. The girls without a guide became lost at night while trying to descend the steep Glacier Point Ledge Trail. In responding to the girls cries for help, and with the aid of ropes I was able to haul them back more than 100 feet to safety from a narrow ledge 2,000 feet above the floor of the Yosemite Valley.

Archie Leonard Trail 1914

This trail extends from the Wawona Ranger Station paralleling the South Fork of the Merced River for several miles, then bears to the left to the main Buck Camp trail at the Buck Camp Ranger Station. This trail is named in honor of Ranger Archie Leonard, as a slight recognition of his many years of faithful service in Yosemite National Park. He was a guide for the U. S. Troops and later ranger with the National Park Service. When the Troops came to take over the protection of the Yosemite National Park, he was assigned as scout and guide for the Troops. During the winter months when the troops were out of the park, Archie and Charles Leibig took over the responsibilities of patrolling and keeping law and order. It is thought Leonard first blazed this trail in the early 1900’s. He was one of the “First Rangers” in Yosemite.

John Muir Trail

The plan for a John Muir Trail apparently originated with Theodore Solomon, member of the Sierra Club, and an enthusiastic mountaineer. Much of the preliminary mapping of the route was done by Joseph N. Le Conte, son of the famous geology professor of the University of California. The trail itself was established in 1915, when a grant of $10,000 was made by the California State Legislature upon the request of the Sierra Club. Work started in August, 1915, on portions of the trail which were already in existence and needed only to be connected. The work between the two National Parks, Yosemite and Sequoia, was done under the supervision of the United States Forest Service.

In 1917, another grant of $10,000 was made by the State Legislature, and the route finally worked out by Wilbur F. McClure, State Engineer. In 1919, and 1921, the State Legislature appropriated additional grants, but Governor Stephens vetoed the measure. In 1925, Governor Richardson approved another $10,000, and improvement and maintenance were carried on largely by the Forest Service with donated funds. Other appropriations of $10,000 were made each year in 1927, 1929, and 1931; these were expended under joint direction of the State Legislature and the Forest Service.

We are unable to locate any information on later expenditures on the John Muir Trail, but a statement made about 1932 by Walter Huber, prominent Engineer and member of the Sierra Club, was to the effect that he hoped more and larger appropriations would be forthcoming.

A portion of the John Muir Trail within Yosemite National Park is maintained by the National Park Service as a regular part of its trail and maintenance program. It was fitting that the trail was named after John Muir, who was President of the Sierra Club for 22 years.

A fitting climax to the High Sierra Trails in Yosemite National Park is found in that portion of the trail system which has been designated by John Muir Trail. Beginning at the Le Conte Lodge in Yosemite Valley, this route follows the Merced River Trail to Little Yosemite, thence along the ancient Indian route over Cathedral Pass to Tuolumne Meadows, up the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne to Donohue Pass where the trail leaves the national park, along the east slope to Island Pass, then back to the headwaters of westward-flowing streams to Devils Postpile and Reds Meadow on the San Joaquin, south to Mono Creek and other tributaries of the South Fork of the San Joaquin, into Kings Canyon National Park at Evolution Valley, over Muir Pass to the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kings, over Mather Pass in the South Fork of the Kings, over Pinchot Pass, Glen Pass, and into Sequoia National Park at Foresters Pass, thence south to Mount Whitney. At Whitney Pass the route descends the east slope until it connects with a spur of the El Camino Sierra at Whitney Portal above the town of Lone Pine. Along the route are 148 peaks more than 13,000 feet in height. The Sierra crest, itself, is more than 13,000 feet above the sea for eight and one-half miles adjacent to Mount Whitney. The trail traverses one of the most extensive areas yet remaining practically free from roads.

Trail Hub at Tuolumne Meadows

A short distance from Tioga Pass on the Tioga Road is the headquarters for the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger District. The Author was in charge of this vast mountain wilderness for ten summers and became acquainted with protection and maintenance, with eight to twelve seasonal rangers to assist in the duties. Here Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, store and gas station are maintained by the Yosemite Park and Curry Company every summer. The National Park Rangers maintain an improved camp ground under the ranger’s supervision.

The “Meadows”, as they are called, afford visitors a chance to gaze in wonderment at the higher mountains of the Sierras, or, if they feel so inclined, to climb and explore the 10,000 foot masses of glacier covered rock. The meadows are ideal for camping. Each summer many people remain in this happy vacation land for weeks at a time. The Tuolumne River is a good fishing stream, flows through this area, and lends a peculiar charm to the scene.

Here an excellent trail from Tuolumne Meadows leads to the renowned Waterwheel Falls, where the glacial born Tuolumne River strikes a spoon shaped rock causing the pure mountain water to rise twenty feet and spin fifty feet in the air. The spectacle is a most extraordinary sight and is said by travelers to be one of unequaled beauty.

Below the Waterwheels the Tuolumne River plunges madly through the mile deep canyon known as the Muir Gorge, a part of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, and one of the world’s most beautiful gorges. This was inaccessible except to hardy and enthusiastic knapsackers. A trail has been built and is now maintained by the National Park Service, which enables hikers of all ages to traverse this part of the Yosemite National Park.

A few miles further westward the granite cliffs slope back more moderately, and the river instead of rushing madly along its course flows in a quiet, serene fashion through Pate Valley. Here the blackened rocks have various unreadable and mysterious Indian pictographs outlined in deep stain which are mute reminders of the red men who once inhabited this section of the country. Numerous bowl shaped holes hollowed in the gray granite represent primitive grist mills where Indians, less than a century ago, ground acorns into meal for bread.

Seven miles below Pate Valley the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River enters Hetch Hetchy Valley, now the reservoir and water storage for the city of San Francisco. A huge dam has been constructed across the lower end of Hetch Hetchy for water and power. This was erected by the Raker Act, which was passed in the early 1900’s.

The Tioga Road, considered the most beautiful mountain automobile route to be found anywhere in the country, winds from east to west across the crest of the Sierra Nevadas and reaches an altitude at the summit, Tioga Pass, of 9,941 feet. This road was originally built by Chinese labor in 1881, to transport silver from a mine east of the park. As the mining venture failed the road was abandoned and became impassable. In 1915, a group of public spirited citizens purchased the nearly forgotten road from the mining property owners and presented this route to the government. Stephen Tyng Mather, the first Director of National Parks was one of these benefactors.

It is now an excellent highway, with beautiful vista points and parking areas where one stops and views the distant peaks. It makes accessible country whose scenic attractions are unsurpassed in America. This was completed in 1962.

Tuolumne Meadows itself is the hub from which radiate a dozen or more trails, each leading to some mountain lake, to waterfalls, to two mile high passes, to trout streams, living glaciers and glacially carved cliffs and domes.

Isberg Pass and Red Peak Pass Trails

In 1930, trail construction was brought up to a higher standard with the construction of the Isberg Pass and Red Peak Pass Trails. this provided an easy route through a country noted for its scenery, fishing, and excellent camping areas. The new trail with an estimated length of 15.6 miles shortened the distance to Isberg Pass by six miles. It avoids the old fatiguing high route. It provides an excellent scenic loop from Yosemite to Merced Lake, Washburn Lake, and Triple Peak Fork, by many small lakes in the vicinity of Ottoway Creek, and down the I’llilouette basin to Glacier Point.

On viewing the slope and character of the mountain between Merced Peak Fork and Triple Peak Fork we regarded a trail location as impossible, but Mr. Sovulewski skillfully chose routes along benches and through narrow passes for an economical climb.

Season of work extended from the middle of July until middle of October, when cold weather affected the crews’ moral. Nine to twelve men constituted a crew. Camp sites at upper end of Washburn Lake and junction of Merced River with Lyell Fork were occupied at progress stages. Provisions were brought in over 17.8 miles of trail from Yosemite Valley. Equipment was portable air compressor, air hammers, drill steel, horse and stoneboat, hose and small tools.

Considerable ingenuity was needed in securing and placing logs for the Merced River Bridge about 70 feet below Lyell Fork junction. Peeled lodgepole pine was used throughout. Decking consisted of logs hewn to rough 4 by 8 inch dimension 7 feet long allowing a 5 foot clear bridge width. Five logs of the floor were extended out on each side to form rests for diagonal rail bracing. The lower log rails were wired through to stringers directly beneath. 83.6 cu. yds. of dry rubble wall formed the abutments, central pier, and approaches.

In 1931, Park Supervisor Sovulewski and Colonel Thomson, former superintendent in Yosemite National Park, saw the advisability of this trail. Their recommendations contemplated not only a connection with the Isberg Pass Trail via a low line route affording a junction near Merced Lake, but included a trail projection over the Clark Range near Red Peak via Ottoway Lake to the Merced Pass Trail. In 1939, Mr. Walter A.. Starr of the Sierra Club advocated this same trail across the Clark Range, pointing out the advantages not only of superlative High Sierra country views that would be obtained, but also its ultimate usefulness in an extension of the High Sierra camp system.

In 1931, under the direction of the park supervisor and the park engineer the first step in the construction of this trail was accomplished; and in 1939, the appropriations permitted a resumption of the work and its junction with the old trail near Isberg Pass, and a continuation of the trail approximately 10 miles from Triple Peak Fork across the Clark Range to join the Merced Pass Trail The work continued throughout the summer season of 1940 and 1941, with final completion on September 17, 1941. The high standard of trail accomplished and its location were attributable to the unstinting efforts and time in the field by Mr. Ewing and Park Engineer Hilton.

Red Peak Pass at an elevation of 11,200 feet gives one of the most unique and beautiful sights in the Park. Ottoway Lake, a few hundred feet below the timber line, offers an extremely attractive and picturesque panorama of the peaks on the Cathedral Range, the peaks on the eastern park boundary, and the crest of the Ritter Range and the Minarets. The Merced Park and Triple Peak country is particularly attractive with numerous meadows, forests and streams.


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