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Great Hiking Era

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Great Hiking Era

Postby Strider » Fri Mar 16, 2007 10:50 am

My elderly father mentioned that during the depression, there would be tens of thousands of people hiking the Sierras or San Gabriels on any given day. I looked it up and found that Frank Sanborn was a pioneer in discovering trails in the Southern Sierra during what historians refer to as the Great Hiking Era. Any links or book referals for this fascinating topic?
'Hike long and perspire'



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Postby will_jrob » Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:25 pm

You might check the Wilderness Press Trails of the Angeles by John Robinson, it has a bit of history of the trails described.
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Postby rightstar76 » Sat Mar 17, 2007 8:24 am

This is a really interesting question. From reading Trails of the Angeles, it appears there was a grand era where thousands of people would take street cars to the base of the San Gabriels and then spend the day hiking. In some cases, people actually stayed overnight at lodges on the mountain or camped nearby at the resorts like Mt. Lowe and Switzer. All of them are gone now. If you had the time, you could hike all the way to Buckhorn Flat and Twin Peaks. That was considered the backcountry. Once Angeles Crest Highway was built, you could drive there in an hour.

About the southern Sierra, all I know is that there was a time when guard stations were staffed and planes used to land in Monache Meadows. Monache is in Golden Trout Wilderness now and most guard stations are empty, maintained by historic preservation societies. Jordan Hot Springs resort is a historic landmark, but empty because its lease expired and it's in Golden Trout Wilderness so the lease couldn't be renewed. A lot of the trails out of Camp Nelson that lead up to the Kern Plateau I think are overgrown and unmaintained. There definitely was an era where people hiked up and down these trails and around Maggie Mountain through Mt. Home State Forest.

It would be interesting to compare the number of hikers today versus the number of hikers during the Great Hiking Era. I wonder if there were more hikers on Mt. Wilson during a given weekend than are on Mt. Whitney today. There were no wilderness permits back then so more people could have been out hiking. It's fascinating to think of a time when hiking was the norm and sitting on the couch watching tv all day long didn't even exist.
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Postby BrianF » Sun Mar 18, 2007 9:51 am

I've been told that the Depression Era is also when alot of the trails in the Sierra as well as my local backcountry (Santa Barbara) were built.
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Postby BSquared » Sun Mar 18, 2007 12:48 pm

BrianF wrote:I've been told that the Depression Era is also when alot of the trails in the Sierra as well as my local backcountry (Santa Barbara) were built.
That's absolutely true. Many of the trails, especially some of the highly engineered portions of the High Sierra Trail, were actually built by Work Projects Administration employees; the WPA was called a "make-work" project, but personally I'd much rather hire people to do the stuff the WPA did than a lot of things we pay people to do today. One of my favorite WPA projects is Coit Tower, on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, with its fantastic WPA-style murals. I just finished reading an old book about the Muir Trail called "Highway in the Sky," and I was surprised that there wasn't any mention of the WPA in there. Does anyone know of good books about the WPA's role in building Sierra trails (including the High Sierra Trail)?
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CCC

Postby gdurkee » Sun Mar 18, 2007 3:36 pm

I'd never heard about huge number of hikers in the southern Sierra during the depression. The San Gabriels sounds very likely. It was the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) that did a lot of the trail work in Yosemite and Sequoia Kings parks. They did Forester Pass; built Ostrander Hut and Pear Lake hut and a bunch of other major trails. The CCC was part of the larger WPA, which did all sorts of projects to keep people employed. It was definitely not "make work" in that there's a huge legacy of their stuff that survives today.Coit tower and a lot of their art are great examples.

The stuff I've read about the numbers of hikers in the Sierra, anyway, makes me think there weren't an unusually high number of hikers or stock users, but I could well be wrong.

I think the book BSquared refers to (close -- Pathways in the Sky) does mention the CCC on Forester Pass. One of their crew was killed in a rockfall and there's a plaque memorializing him on one of the switchbacks. Incidentally, that's a great book and can still be found online, though long out of print (Hal Roth, I think).

Howard Weamer does a good job of summarizing the CCC in Yosemite and their work on the Ostrander Hut (The Perfect Art Ostrander Hut and Ski Touring in Yosemite). Unfortunately, most all their records and photos burned in a fire at a government records repository in the late (?) 70s.

g.
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Re: CCC

Postby BSquared » Sun Mar 18, 2007 7:13 pm

gdurkee wrote:It was the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) that did a lot of the trail work in Yosemite and Sequoia Kings parks. They did Forester Pass; built Ostrander Hut and Pear Lake hut and a bunch of other major trails. The CCC was part of the larger WPA, which did all sorts of projects to keep people employed....
I think the book BSquared refers to (close -- Pathways in the Sky) does mention the CCC on Forester Pass....
Howard Weamer does a good job of summarizing the CCC in Yosemite and their work on the Ostrander Hut (The Perfect Art Ostrander Hut and Ski Touring in Yosemite).
g.

Ah, thanks George: I hadn't realized that the CCC was actually part of the WPA -- obviously I should have listened more closely to my parents [In that way as in oh, so many others ;) ]. Sorry I mangled the title of "Pathways in the Sky." I'll have to take a look at the Weamer books if I can get my hands on them (I can feel another abuse of our interlibrary-loan system coming on :\ ). Someday, George, I'd love to sit down with you and just get you to talk all night about what you know about the Sierra — but it would probably take a lot longer than just one night!

[Note added by edit: Amazon.com has the following review of Weamer's book, dated 1998: "OK. I'm biased--I'm Howard's assistant at Ostrander Hut. It's a great review of the history of skiing in Yosemite (ca 1930s +). Excellent color photos by the author." The author of the review is one "g. durkee."]
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CCC

Postby gdurkee » Sun Mar 18, 2007 7:28 pm

It was good to find someone else who'd read the legendary "Pathways...". We've got it at all the ranger stations. Towards the end of the season and out of books, I usually open that one up. A sure sign of Fall (the Black Diamond ski catalog too...).

I've often thought of hanging out at the Berkeley REI in one of their chairs -- "talk to a garrulous old ranger, $1." 60% of anything I say will be true. Neither of us will know which is the other 40%, though.

If you can't find Howard's book anywhere, I can direct you to the Source. He's still got a few cases in the basement.

g.
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Postby will_jrob » Mon Mar 19, 2007 5:38 pm

Pathways is a real timepiece, and a great companion to Starrs Guide.
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Postby BSquared » Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:28 pm

will_jrob wrote:Pathways is a real timepiece, and a great companion to Starrs Guide.

Amen, Will, it was really fun to read and look at the pictures.

George, I just suddenly put 2 & 2 together and realized who Howard Weamer is... doh! From a conversation you and I had a few months back, I guess he must have been the Ostrander ranger when my [now] spouse and I (and ... ahem... her [then] boyfriend... but I'll spare you the soap opera :p ) skied out there in ... oh probably 1979 or so. He was nice enough to demonstrate the Rube-Goldberg setup required for the resident ranger to take a shower (standing in the kitchen sink, as I recall) -- very impressive! The Last Season brought it to mind a couple of months ago when I read Blehm's description of how it took all day to prepare and take a bath at Tuolumne in winter...

Amazon wants lots of money for a copy of the book, so I'll try the library route first. Might make a good present for the aforementioned spouse, though... I'll think on't. [She's the family fan of Black Diamond catalogs -- out of my league...]
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