«Introduction My season unofficially began on June 2 with a hike to Sphinx Lakes. I did a three day hike to the upper lakes and found no snow to speak ...»
My season unofficially began on June 2 with a hike to Sphinx Lakes. I did a
three day hike to the upper lakes and found no snow to speak of. I began working
on June 5 in Cedar Grove fabricating the floor for the new Bench Lake Ranger
Station. It took two days to get the floor done and ready to be flown into the
backcountry. Training began on June 7 and lasted until June 20.
On June 2 1 I began my backcountry season by hiking up Copper Creek
Trail. I traveled over Granite Pass to Simpson Meadow. Then I went up Cartridge Creek and Pass to Bench Lake arriving of June 25th. On the 26thtwo CCC members arrived to help out for a day moving equipment fiom the old station to the new location. In the afternoon of the 26" helicopter 552 arrived with two loads for the station. On the 28" 552 arrived with two sling loads bringing in the station floor. I worked the 29thand 3 0 on the floor and the afternoon of the 30', I began ~ to feel that "all too familiar" tooth abscessing. Facing the reality about my tooth, I spent the morning of July 1'' weatherproofing the floor and all my supplies and took off in the afternoon for Arrow Pass. I got to Cedar Grove on the 2ndand had a root canal done in Fresno on the 3". I was back to Bench Lake on July 5" and ready to complete the floor project, so I could get the station set up ASAP. By July loththe station was totally setup and operational for the season.
The 2001 season at Bench Lake Station was extremely productive and eventhl. I contacted approximately 1000 park visitor and covered 900 miles of backcountry patrol. It had been 11 years since I was stationed in this area. I was surprised at the obvious increase in the number of hikers in this area. This increase is due to the increased popularity of the Muir Trail. I estimate that throughout the season 75% of the hikers in this area are doing the Muir Trail. As a result of this significant increase in visitor use of the area Bench Lake Station has become a vital backcountry station that should be manned every year. In the past it has been an "on again off again" station that was manned depending on if money were available. We no longer really have that luxury to not fund Bench every year.
In the early season work was concentrated on moving the station and assembling the new station floor. After the station was set up there was work on the station that continued through most of the season. A cot and a knock down table was built. Hardware cloth (wire mesh) was put around the perimeter of the station to keep the critters fiom getting under the floor. So, a lot of work was required to finish off the station. Some of the other work accomplished and
highlights of the season included the following:
Early season patrol to LeConte to meet with Sandy and to set up the solar unit.
Two patrols to Rae Lakes. One to cover the area when Kay was out and the other time she was there.
Established radio communications at Bench Lake Station by putting up a 30 ft long booster antennae in a tree. Prior to this the Bench Ranger had to do all radio communications through relay to Rae or Charlotte Lake Stations.
Relocated the station site and built the new station. Also, I rehabilitated the old station site.
Was part of the investigation of the Morgenson accident site.
Did a lot of cleanup and firering removal all over the backcountry.
Provided information to many park visitors to try and enhance their trip.
In the middle of July, the trail crew on a weekend outing stumbled upon some human remains. Being part of the investigation team, we were able to determine that these were the remains of Randy. This gripping event was ever present throughout the season. It was very important to me that I try to understand how the accident happened and how two search teams could have walked right by the accident site and not have found Randy. Through hiking back over to Window Peak after the investigation, it became more clear to me as to "most likely" how this accident happened. In talking to Dave Gordon during the investigation I realized that he had searched that area early in the SAR with Lori Church. At that time, he did not recall searching down in the gorge where Randy's remains were found. He told me that he "suspected" the reason was that there was snow and ice in the gorge.
Personally, it took a hike back over to the area after the investigation before the timefiame of when my group searched came back to me. I remembered on this trip that it was the sixth day of the search that we searched here. I was with a team that included Rick Sanger, Charlie Shelz, Dave Pettibone and Ned. We came fiom the north over Explorer Pass and camped at a small lake '/4 mile north of the accident site. The next morning, this "A team" combed the area down to Window Peak Lake, as we thoroughly searched the gorge. We actually walked feet away fiom Randy. The only way we would have missed him is that he was totally obscured fiom view underneath an ice pack. High water in this area would not have hidden him fiom our view. Also, as a result of this search, I think that it leads us to understanding how the accident happened. It appears to me that Randy fell through a snow bridge, probably knocking himself out and drowned in the stream while being trapped underneath the ice.
Visitor Use During the main hiking season (July - August), I estimate that 20 people per day would be hiking on the Muir Trail through the area. Some hikers are using Taboose and Baxter Passes to access the area. Lake Marjorie receives a concentrated amount of camping, since it is strategically located at the base of Pinchot Pass. It is a destination site for many Muir Trail hikers. The majority of these hikers are traveling fiom north to south. Palisades Lakes and Twin Lakes are the other extremely h g i l e areas that receive a lot of camping impact. Numerous firerings were torn down in these areas this summer. Bench Lake is also a popular destination for hikers. The shore of this most spectacular lake needs to be patrolled on a regular basis to eliminate the firerings that hikers build. Stripped Lakes is a popular fishing lake and I did do some cleanup and fire ring removal this season near the outlet of the lower lake. Woods Lake Basin was patrolled one time this season. From all the work done here cleaning up over the past 15 years, this area looks better. Hikers use this area and stock parties will enter and exit this area through Baxter Pass. It does require regular patrolling and cleanup to keep the area clean. The Rae Lakes Ranger needs to do at least one patrol a season to Woods Lake Basin.
Radio Communications When I arrived at Bench Lake this season I was unable to hit the repeater.
The thirty foot long booster antennae that I requested did the job and allowed me to transmit the rest of the season. It did require some experimenting to find the right tree to make it work right. Also, we had a lot of trouble with the Gould repeater not working properly until the end of July. This made difficult to determine the correct placement of the antennae. How unnerving it was at the beginning of the season to not be able to transmit. Can you imagine if I had a crisis situation and was unable to transmit? At least with the booster antennae, I was able to transmit fiom the station. Unfortunately a lot of this area north of Pinchot is out of range of any repeater.
Accordingly, there are many places in Kings Canyon backcountry that are out of range. It is a very risky proposition for a backcountry ranger to be put into this situation of being unable to transmit. An immobilizing injury in an area out of range of the repeater could result in a significant problem. If the Gould and Windy repeaters are improved as planned it will be interesting to see the improvement that this makes for transmitting in this area. If after this improvement is made and there are still a lot of areas out of range, this could force us to go the satellite phone route.
Recommendation: Plans were this season for the radio shop to improve the Gould repeater. This did not happen and should be considered a priority for next season.This should increase the power and range of the repeater and give additional coverage in the Bench Lake area.
Rae Lakes The peninsula camping area is one of the most impacted camping areas in Kings Canyon backcountry. Many camp sites exist here in this area of sandy soil adjacent to the lake. Taking a good look at this area, half buried feces and toilet paper can be found all over. Certainly, water contamination is a primary concerdproblem of this area. Part of the problem of excessive use here is the result of our moving two bear boxes to this location 12 years ago. Prior to that, camping in the Rae Lakes Basin was more dispersed. If this level of impact continues at this site, drastic action such as closing it to camping may have to be taken in the hture. An outhouse was there in the past and did not work, so we do want to avoid another outhouse at all cost.
Recommendation: I do recommend that we remove the two bear boxes fi-om this area at the beginning of next season. Also, the Rae Lakes ranger should put up a memo on the sign post at the access trail to the area. The memo would read, "Due to the overuse of this area in the past and in order to rehabilitate this area, no camping is allowed here for groups of 4 or more. If you are in a group of 4 or more you must camp north of the ranger station or south of the isthmus9;This could be looked at as a trial rehab for a season to see how it works. If it works to significantly decrease the camping here this may be sufficient to resolve the problem. Either way, action needs to be taken next season to try and reduce the amount of camping in this area.
Note: The isthmus between the two upper lakes is also a problem camping area with only a couple spots that are suitable for camping. Often the Rae Ranger will post a note on both sides stating that it is closed to camping. The concern here is that the human waste could easily get wasted down into the lake. Thought should be given to permanently closing this narrow strip of land between the two lakes.
Stock Use Stock use in the area was significantly up fiom years past. I contacted 5 stock parties and saw evidence that at least 3 other parties came through the area.
1)Cedar Grove Pack Station They camped for several days 300 yards below the South Fork crossing (below Upper Basin). Orland was the packer and the permit was issued for Dianne Glover. They did have a camp fire here even though it is above 10,000 ft. I think a campfire in this area should be allowed, since it's the only place for a fire fiom Woods Cr. Crossing to Deer Meadow. They had twenty head of stock.
2)Cedar Grove Pack Spotted a group into the Lake Marjorie area and returned to south of Pinchot Pass to camp. The packers were the young kids. (one looked to be 12 years old and the other one maybe 14) What is the policy for kids this young packing for a pack station and unsupervised in the backcountry?
3)SEKI Pack Station Spotted a group in and out of Bench Lake. The packer, while waiting to pack them out, went down to the river to camp for a night. He also camped with his 6 head at the station lake campsite. He camped for a night at the old trail crew site near the Taboose Pass cutoff, which is the best stock camp in the area.
4)Bishop Creek Pack Station They had a group heading south on the Muir Trail. They spotted their group into Bench Lake and camped just north of the old snow survey meadow (about half way to Bench Lake) The packers were extremely conscientious and did not want to keep their stock at Bench Lake.
5)Tom and Linda Marshall This was a private party with 5 head traveling fiom Cottonwood Pass to Yosemite.
When I was not in the area, a stock party camped at Bench Lake and kept their stock on the west shore of the lake. (see photo) There was significant impact fiom the stock being basically "pinned" in this area for one or two nights. The stock waded into the lake, as I could see the stock tracks out in the lake and the stock left deep hoof prints in the soft meadow grasses along the shore of the lake.
Also, manure was found in the inlet stream that feeds Bench Lake, which resulted in contaminating the water source.
Recommendation: Bench Lake is one of the premier lakes in Kings Canyon backcountry. It is totally inappropriate to allow stock to graze along the shore of this lake as evidenced this summer. Some packers respect this area and camp elsewhere while others don't. Bench Lake should be immediately closed to stock grazing to prevent this type of damaging impact from occurring again. There are plenty of other places for stock to be kept in this area other than the shore of Bench Lake.
Stock Management It is time that we take a close look at stock use in Kings Canyon backcountry, as significant changes are needed to protect the most fragile areas....
the high elevation lake basins. Currently, along the Muir Trail some of the lake basins are closed to grazing. This was done for the obvious reason that the impact got so heavy and devastating that the closure was made. What is the cause of the incredible amount of algae slime that is growing in Rae Lakes. These lakes are literally infested with an algae growing in the lakes. It is not an algae that is growing on the rocks on the bottom of the lakes, but a unique form of slimy algae that grows thick in the water. Has the cause of this ever been studied? No other high country lake that I've ever seen has algae slime like Rae Lakes. Certainly, a common sense observation would be that it is a result of fecal bacteria contaminating the water source - human and stock. Unfortunately, the closure of Rae Lakes to stock grazing was made too late. The algae slime in this lake is irreversible an may continue to get worse.
Accordingly, at the confluence of the Middle Fork and the South Fork of the Kings a good example of algae in the water and the water quality can be made.
The South Fork is really slimy with lot's of algae on the rocks. The Middle Fork, a relatively pure water source, does not have this type of slimy growth on the rocks.
Obviously, the South Fork at this point has a much higher level of water contamination than the Middle Fork.