« PreviousContinue »
and rocky bed of the stream making it an uncertain pleasure; others were ferried across by a most obliging member, who made countless trips with two animals; while on the opposite bank were gathered those who had arrived earlier and were drying out. "Gabriel,” our most picturesque donkey, was almost drowned in the stream, and his rescue added a thrill of excitement.
Wednesday a delightful six-mile tramp over the Kernbut brought us to Little Kern Lake, where we were to camp for several days. The real trip had begun; we had at last reached the Kern, our variable companion for several weeks to come. We should know its every mood, and part with it reluctantly. The fishermen here forgot their disappointment that this was the closed season for golden trout in their endeavors to catch the more familiar varieties. Lunch parties with trout cooked in the ashes or on a hot rock or in the less picturesque frying-pan were not infrequent. Excellent swimming in Little Kern Lake made the small sandy beach a gay and busy place every afternoon.
These days of lazy pleasure were soon over, and we journeyed up the cañon past Lower Funston Meadow to the point where the Big Arroyo tumbles down in white cascades to meet the Kern. This trip was a varied eleven miles between the precipitous walls of the cañon. The trail led now across talus slopes, now over grassy, sparkling meadows, then across swiftrunning torrents. Each day we became more adept at crossing foaming, noisy streams on slippery logs, but the one over Rattlesnake Creek was a wet and undulating sapling-a test of selfcontrol and coordination. The Big Arroyo camp was almost surrounded by two rivers, and the Big Arroyo unkindly rose at such a rapid rate after sundown that a hasty evacuation of some of the most charming camp-sites was necessary.
On Sunday we zigzagged up a very steep slope toward the Chagoopa Plateau, frequently stopping for breath and to enjoy the ever-changing prospect down the Kern Cañon, so colorful with living shadows. Pushing on through a splendid forest, we suddenly came out into Sky-Parlor Meadow, too glorious a spectacle to describe or to forget, a wide-spread amphitheater, carpeted with flower-sprinkled green, encircled by dark pines and crowned by solemn, jagged peaks and glacial cirques, notably Sawtooth, Needham, and the many-hued Kaweah group. Impossible as it seemed to leave this enchanting spot, our next camp, Moraine Lake, was near, and we promised ourselves the joy of coming often during our week's sojourn.
Moraine Lake is an ideal camp-site. Dense forest fringes the margin of this glacial basin. A clear, bubbling spring, icy cold, supplied delicious drinking-water, and, despite snow-hung mountains mirrored in the lake and the almost 10,000 feet of altitude, swimming was more than possible—it was enjoyable. This idyllic spot is centrally located for countless trips varying in degrees of strenuousness to suit any inclination.
Then follow you, wherever hie
Direct your choice upon a road. An evening walk to the edge of the ridge gave one a glorious comprehensive panorama from Mount Whitney, in the main crest beyond the Kaweahs, along a sharply broken sky-line of granite peaks in the Great Western Divide, to the unnamed snow-clad cirques just across the gorge. From the almost perpendicular walls of the Big Arroyo one seemed to be perched on the top of the world. A faint boom from the river far below throbbed in the evening stillness. As the long purple shadows filled this magnificent valley we hastened back to our foresthidden camp, elusive even by day.
Here were six days brimful of pleasure. One hundred and forty intrepid ones climbed Kaweah Peak; knapsack parties journeyed off in all directions, some to Lost Cañon, Columbine Lake, and Sawtooth, some to Mount Needham; and toward the end of the week ardent hikers with bed and board on their backs journeyed up the Big Arroyo and across the Kern-Kaweah Divide, descending through the wonderful Kern-Kaweah Cañon to join the main party again at Junction Meadows. For those not so energetic there was still much to be done-fishing parties down at the Big Arroyo, dreamy days at Sky-Parlor Meadow, and swimming and fishing in Moraine Lake. History has it that once upon a time a mighty 872-pound trout was caught there; but although many saw three gigantic beauties, neither secret sorcery, hypnotism, nor fancy flies could lure them to impale themselves on any deadly hook.
As each day was more wonderful, so each night the spell of the camp-fire drew us closer into the magic circle. "Lost and found” were distributed with appropriate remarks, the trips described in terms of Colby or Tappaan miles; and then came a wide diversity of entertainment–interesting talks on birds, trees, glaciers, Alaska; singing of solos or tout ensemble; haunting melodies of flute and violin, peculiarly suited to these surroundings.
The annual Sierra Club Vaudeville given here in the forest theater was a high-class performance which brought out much talent—"Street Scenes in Venice,” beautifully staged, was interrupted somewhat by temperamental “Gabriel"; music, skits, monologues, and even Shakespeare à la mode, were greeted with generous applause. Another day the bulletin board announced that a bandana exhibition would take place, and all were urged to enter gaudy squares in this unique competition. Things of beauty were produced from grimy dunnage-bags-hand-woven brocades, block-printed silks, and oriental scarfs of much interest. The last evening found the commissary metamorphosed and we dined sumptuously and well at "Café Moraine,” served by familiar faces rising above unfamiliar garments. The men had raided the women's camp and now appeared in flowered kimono, highland kilt, or prim shirt-waist.
A wealth of stirring memories is associated with this campthe mysteriously fascinating eclipse of the moon, a "by request" violin concert on the sloping hillside near the spring, a vivid electrical storm over the upper Kern region—so it was with genuine regret that we left the Chagoopa Plateau to return to our former camp-site in Lower Funston Meadow for one night and then push on eleven miles to Junction Meadows.
This day we crossed the mighty Kern itself and proceeded to the upper end of the cañon, whose grandeur was enhanced by mighty sculptured walls and forbidding cliffs, culminating in minarets and domes, rushing streams, pouring at intervals from some side cañon, and occasional mistlike waterfalls, "like downward smoke, slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn." Junction Meadows, where the Kern, Kern-Kaweah, and East Fork meet, had been ravaged by a terrible tornado since the club camped there in 1912 and splendid trees were everywhere lying prone. The knapsackers returned, thrilled by the rare beauty of the upper Kern-Kaweah, and, animated by their glowing description, many decided to explore for themselves. It seemed as if some whim of creative force had hidden in this remote cañon at least one perfect form of every kind of mountain scenery, as a reward for those who persevere.
On Wednesday morning two hundred left for the Crabtree Meadows base camp to ascend Mount Whitney the following day. One hundred and seventy-five reached the summit, the largest party of mountaineers ever registered there. Those of us who remained below anxiously watched the angry clouds pile up in the direction of Mount Whitney on Thursday. A dark sky threatened rain, but only a few scattered drops fell at noon; the clouds soon dispersed, and these spatters were the only shower of the trip.
A long, steep pull out of Junction Meadows to the ridge, although exhilarating, brought with it a certain sorrow that here we must part with our many-mooded companion, the Kern. We consoled ourselves with the ever-changing panorama as we struggled on and up toward the crest. A glorious prospect was here presented. Peaks of the High Sierra, especially Mount Whitney, seemed broad, gently sloping masses, while Red Spur and the Kaweahs, now seen from the north, looked unapproachable and awe-inspiring. The Whitney climbers straggled across the upland meadows, each group content at times to nestle down among protecting rocks and scan the marvelous beauty radiating on all sides.
A desultory content had entered into the souls of most of us, with Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the United States, conquered; but at the Tyndall Creek camp those insatiable ones who must explore found Mount Tyndall and Mount Williamson challenging them to their best efforts. In the evening at the camp-fire all of us scrambled up Williamson's chimney, blistered our hands on the hot rocks, and pulled ourselves through the small “window” to the apex-vicariously.
Off early in the gray of Sunday morning, the crisp coldness of the air most stimulating, we were conscious that this day was