Alden Barber’s Report
Camp Wolverton Re-Visited - - August 23, 2002
By Alden Barber, Chief Scout Executive 1967-76
editor’s note: I have edited the report for style, typos and for reasons of privacy. The remaining content is unchanged. msr
In the spring of 2000 I was phoned by Harry Bimber, a Scout who hiked and camped with me when I directed Camp Wolverton in Sequoia National Park, California in the early 1940’s. Harry located me through the efforts of his friend, Art Marquez, who lives in Santa Monica, California and was also a Wolverton camper in the early 40’s.
Because Camp Wolverton was operated under a joint agreement between the National Park Service and Crescent Bay Council, Boy Scouts of America to serve as a base camp for all Scouting groups visiting or camping in the park, I assumed that over the years the camp had outlived its usefulness. Not so. Wolverton has continued over 60 years, nurtured by Crescent Bay Council and its successor, Western Los Angeles County Council with Park Service approval.
Nostalgia, a chance to review history and maybe contribute a bit or the opportunity to contribute a needed service stimulated Harry and me to return for a visit. It was a rewarding and memorable experience. In addition to names, addresses and phone numbers (if available) I have added a comment (where appropriate).
Sequoia National Park, California
Western Los Angeles County Council, Boy Scouts of America
Western Los Angeles County Council, BSA
Hugh Travis, Scout Executive (Could not join us because of Philmont assignment but provided excellent support.)
Derek Fortin, Director of Program (Stayed the whole time. Good support.)
Jon MacKenzie, Director of Camping (Very helpful in making arrangements.)
Richard “Rich” Stowell (volunteer) Wolverton Director (Exerted quiet, effective leadership, gracious host.)
THE OLD TIMERS
After Harry and I agreed to return to Wolverton and I had received approval of Hugh Travis, Scout Executive of the Western Los Angeles County Council, BSA, I recalled old friends who had camped and hiked with us in the early 40s. I invited them to join us at Wolverton and received an enthusiastic response.
We visited and reminisced all day August 2nd and the morning of August 3rd with Rich Stowell, director of Wolverton and members of his staff, mostly veterans who served on staff in years past.
Unknown to us old-timers, the beautiful Wuksachi Lodge and Village had been built close to Wolverton, so we enjoyed comfortable accommodations without sleeping on the ground.
The evening of August 2nd we enjoyed dinner at the lodge, after which Harry Bimber made an interesting presentation of classic memorabilia for the lounge in the camp headquarters building which also serves as commissary and storage.
Harry’s items included a Wolverton double-bitted ax he borrowed in 1947 for the John Muir Trek from Yosemite to Whitney. Now, after 55 years it’s back! He also presented a hook-scale we used to weigh backpacks and pack saddles to balance loads.
He presented me with a cowbell because I usually inherited the job each morning on the trail of locating the pack animals and getting ready to “saddle up.”
My introduction to Wolverton came in 1941-42. My Scout Executive Bob Hill assigned me to direct the camp as a service for the park administration. At the same time, my predecessor, Mart Bushnell, then Scout Executive in San Luis Obispo called, asking me to recruit a group of Explorer Scouts to hike from Wolverton to Lone Pine (including Whitney) to return the pack animals he rented for the east-west crossing. My preparations included careful menu planning, handling of pack animals and how to throw diamond and squaw hitches. I reviewed my Boy Scout first aid, took daily hikes and urged my Explorer Scouts to procure proper hiking shoes. Pack light, I said. They made it in pretty good shape.
When we arrived at Wolverton in 1941-42 we found a run-down cabin reportedly built by the WPA to support road and trail building. The cabin had a screened commissary and close-by was a shower and wash house. (no hot water) Our kitchen and dining area was open air. We fashioned a rock fireplace, with reflector oven for bread and biscuits, a table for food preparation and another for eating and cleanup. We purchased our food from a store at Stoney Creek, halfway to Grant Grove. Ladies were not permitted, so we established our pit latrine. The bears did not allow us the privilege of garbage pits, so most of it, we burned.
When we “moved in” in 1941-42 Wolverton Meadow had a lake. It was not a big lake, but at the lower end of the meadow aided by a makeshift rock dam it passed for a “swimmin’ hole” and a place to wash hands and feet and quickly scrub yourself with a washcloth before we set up hot showers.
During those early years we apparently enjoyed good relations with the Park Service personnel because we never received a complaint. It never occurred to me to request a permit from the Park Superintendent to make a parachute drop in the Big Arroyo. As I look back now, in the event of an emergency, it would have been a good idea!
I recruited older Scouts from Crescent Bay Council to serve with me on the staff at Wolverton. One of the first was John Ehrlichman, before he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. John, a Stanford law student who became a successful attorney and later served as Domestic Advisor to President Nixon, helped Scouts and leaders to plan and carry out back country hikes and overnights.
In 1943, encouraged by my first Sierra crossing the previous year I embarked on a circle route, starting at the Cottonwood Creek Pack Station, crossing the high plateau south of Army Pass and descending to the Kern River at the southern section of its box canyon. We followed upstream, stopping at Kern Hot Spring, Junction Meadow, Wallace Creek and Crabtree Meadow. The Mt. Whitney climb was always the climax. Joining us were Al McCluney, his dad, Chester and Charles Dick, an Eagle Scout from Santa Monica and an earlier camper from Wolverton.
In 1946 (Both John and I were discharged from the Army Air Corps) we conceived and carried out a “shuttle service” between Wolverton and Lone Pine (including Whitney). The initial group of hikers arrived in Wolverton in the council truck, driven by Paul Weiss. When we arrived, 10 days later, at the Cottonwood Creek Pack Station, Paul and the council truck met us, bringing John Ehrlichman and his hikers for the return to Wolverton. We repeated this again...110 miles each way!
In 1947, I became convinced that we could establish a base camp in the Big Arroyo, just east of the Western Divide at Kaweah Gap. This camp, with its food and supplies, could have enabled Scout troops from Wolverton to explore the beauty of the back country which they could have done in no other way.
My Scout Executive Bob Hill (a great guy) allowed me to pursue my dream) and buy the food and supplies for the base camp. It was my job to persuade my Air Force buddies at March Field, Riverside to bundle up the suppIies for the appropriate chutes, fly over the Big Arroyo and make the parachute drop. All was arranged. The food and supplies were delivered to March Field. The appointed day for the drop was agreed upon. our pack train left Wolverton on schedule to establish camp and lay out the markers for the flyover. The C-47’s arrived on schedule. There was just one problem. The Army Air Corps - - at least the March Field contingent - - had not matched chutes and shrouds with the weight of the bundles. Our supplies, pushed from the planes, went one way, and the chutes went another. Disaster! The animals in the Big Arroyo have never been so well fed. We salvaged what we could. A good idea that “bombed!”
Soon at Wolverton, the ice cold showers became intolerable. We acquired a water tank, strapped it to two iron bars over a fire pit just below the shower house. We hooked the tank to the water line and its outlet to the showers. If you gathered enough wood for the fire you had hot showers. Heaven, almost …!
In 1947 with Lewie Elmendorf, a long time friend and fellow executive with the Boy Scouts of America, we planned a 21-day trek with 20 Explorer Scouts and four pack burros on the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney and Whitney Portal. Lewie led from Yosemite to Little Pete Meadow just west of Bishop Pass. I hiked over the pass, relieved Lewie, gave him the keys to my car so he could return to the land of hot showers and milk shakes. I took the group on to Whitney and Lane Pine. Both Harry Bimber and Art Marquez made this trip.
In pursuit of those who directed Wolverton prior to my time, I called Mrs. Jean Bushnell, the widow of Mart Bushnell, who preceded me as a field excutive in Crescent Bay Council and who asked me to make my first Sierra crossing in 1942. Jean remembers the name Wolverton vividly but isn’t absolutely sure that Mart served as director in 1939-40.
Several friends have, quite properly asked, “How many times have you climbed Whitney?” I should give an honest answer. It is “six.” Here they are:
1942, First Sierra crossing and Whitney climb
1943, Circle Route, Whitney Climb
1946, Shuttle Service, Two Whitney Climbs
1947, John Muir Trek, Whitney Climb
1951, As Scout Executive, Buttes Area Council, accompanied Explorer Post 40, Marysville, Ca. on a two-day climb from Whitney Portal up the east face.
HERE’S THE LIST OF THE OLD TIMERS:
Art was Senior Patrol Leader of Troop 10, Santa Monica, when in 1941 I was assigned, not only to direct Camp Wolverton but drive Troop 10’s truck, loaded with Scouts to Sequoia for their 10 day summer camp.
The truck was not approved for transporting Scouts and this became clearly evident as I tried to slow down as we came off the “grapevine,” a steep descent to Bakersfield. We wore out the emergency brake on the way down.
Art made the High Sierra crossing in 1942, including Mt. Whitney and also the John Muir trek from Yosemite to Whitney in 1947.
Alden and Mitzi Barber
Charles W. Dick
Charlie, an Eagle Scout and retired engineering manager for the Bechtel Corporation was a Wolverton camper in 1939-4, had backpacked from Mineral King in the early 40’s and had served at Emerald Bay on the camp staff with Lewie Elmendorf as quartermaster and assistant camp director.
Charlie made quite an impression on Rich and his staff associates after breakfast Saturday morning by displaying his merit badge sash showing a 1939 Wolverton patch. Charlie cut it off and presented it, thus completing the camp’s collection. There was much picture taking!
Al & Connie McCluney
Al was a Wolverton camper in 1941-42 and, as a Scout, made the first High Sierra back-pack crossing and Mt. Whitney climb. His dad joined us. In 1943 Al and his dad joined us again. He is an Eagle Scout, served on the Camp Josepho staff for two years and has an Eagle Scout son.
Harry & Barbara Bimber
Harry was a Wolverton camper, crossed the Great Western Divide was present for the ill-fated parachute drop and traveled the John Muir Trail with me and Lewie. He has my sincere thanks for prompting me to return to God’s country.
As does Barbara for her accompaniment for the singing of the Wolverton Hymn!
Before the Hymn , Harry made appropriate remarks concerning the “good old days.” He rekindled memories when he presented, for display in the Wolverton lounge, the Wolverton ax he borrowed in 1947 for the John Muir Trek. Now returned 55 years later! Also for display, the hook scale we used to weigh back packs and pack saddles. I recalled vivid memories of chasing mules and burros in the early morning when Harry gave me a cowbell.
It was a fitting climax to a delightful dinner and evening August 2, 2002 at Wuksachi Lodge.
UPDATE AND HISTORY
After consulting with Bill Tweed and Hugh Travis, Scout Executive of the Western Los Angeles County Council, BSA, I determined to write a long-overdue letter to Superintendent Martin.
In a telephone interview with Ranger Tweed, I learned that Col. John R. White was the park superintendent from 1920-1939 and was reassigned 1941-47. Wolverton was created as the result of a verbal agreement and a handshake between Col. White and F. R. (Uncle Bob) Hill, the Scout Executive of the Crescent Bay Council, BSA in the late 1930’s .
My interview with Ranger Tweed substantiated my recollection of the existence of the lake at the lower end of Wolverton Meadow and the makeshift dam. He certified that at one time this was the water supply for Giant Forest Village.
James Wolverton, a civil war soldier, was hired by Tharp, a cattleman and fur trapper in the 1870s. Tharp’s log, a burned-out Sequoia was the home for Wolverton and sometimes Tharp. Wolverton, a strong northern sympathizer, is credited with naming the General Sherman tree.
Legend also records that there is also a Wolverton Creek and a Wolverton rock just north of Lodgepole.
According to Ranger Tweed, the first time that a use permit was issued for the Boy Scouts to operate a camp was in 1985. It was then by common agreement that Ranger Tweed and Richard Stowell, Wolverton Director, signed for and received, the first official documentation of a use permit, in the name of the Western Los Angeles County Council, BSA.
Bill Tweed indicated that the park archivist, now on vacation, would be asked to review any documents in his files about Camp Wolverton, on his return. He is to call me and I will follow through.
Listed here are recollections of incidents in camp or on the trail which might be of interest.
Giant Forest rangers who had visited our Wolverton campfires often invited us to participate in campfire programs for the park tourists and visitors. Boy Scout songs and the always popular, Cremation of Sam McGee were sure fire hits.
Necessity forced us to acquire a used ice box in which visiting Scout troops could store meat for short periods. We bought blocks of ice from the store at Stoney Creek. One night I was awakened by the sound of boards being rirpped from the cabin. On careful investigation, we located a large black bear which had been lured under the cabin by the smell of the meat juice drained from the ice box by water from the melting ice. Noisy activity chased the bear but we quickly eliminated the drain. The floor under the ice box was saved.
The first day of my first High Sierra crossing called for a tough 14-mile hike from Wolverton to Hamilton Lake. We had 14 Explorer Scouts and two adult scouters. Harry Blue, one of the adults was slightly overweight, but had passed the strict physical we insisted upon. As we neared our destination, I placed an older Scout to be “rear guard” while I went ahead to secure our campsite. Suddenly the rear guard brought word that Harry, on the climb from Bearpaw Meadow to Hamilton, had given up, was laying down in the trail and refusing to go on. Taking the horses with me, I returned, found Harry and with help got him in the saddle. At this point, our chances for making the complete crossing did not look promising. Several cups of good, strong High 5ierra tea, dinner and a good night’s rest did wonders for Harry. We did make it.
In addition to the judicious use of drift fences to control the pack animals, there were two tools that were exceedingly important--hobbles and oats. Pack animals, especially mules, should be hobbled each night and equipped with bells--important to tracking them next morning. A supply of oats is the best incentive to keep the animals close.
We tried to persuade our back-country hikers to abandon bait fishing for fly fishing for golden trout. In many cases we were successful. Mosquito flies were usually successful, and in most cases they did the job.
The Kern Hot Spring, half way between Wolverton and Lone Pine, was a welcome relief, anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed. It was a hot soda spring close beside the beautiful, trout filled Kern River deep in its box canyon with a campsite close by.
Grimy from three days on the trail, every hiker was eager for a hot soda bath. Early pioneers had brought a half of a 55 gallon drum and enough concrete to fashion a bath tub with a drain to the river. Tourists had used burlap and wooden poles to ensure modesty for squeamish bathers.
A five gallon can is always available for each new bather. It is his (or her) responsibility to dip a full can of ice water from the Kern River and rinse the bather before he or she towels off. Exhilirating does not describe it.
I recall one Sunday morning when I was leading a group to Mt. Whitney. We were above the timberline in a beautiful little meadow. Realizing it was Sunday, I asked the group to sit down for a moment and be silent. I know not what prompted me, but I reminded my charges that this is the Lord’s day, and if they wish to communicate with Him there would never be a better chance. The only sounds were the wind in the grass, the gurgle of the brook and the swish of bird’s wings overhead. The moment reminded me of something my grandmother said years ago, &lduo;Be still and know that I am God.” Few, if any of us, will ever forget that Sunday Service.
In 1943 on the “circle trip” up the box canyon of the Kern to Crabtree Meadow and Mt. Whitney we encountered a trail washout on Wallace Creek above junction meadow. The pack animals could not make it. We felled a tree to back up the wash out. We spent the rest of the day hauling rocks large enough to rebuild the trail so the animals could cross.
On the first crossing in 1942, Bud Slinde, who was later Camp Director at Emerald Bay, contracted pink eye. It was painful and we bandaged his eyes the best we could. Descending the steep trail from Army Pass to Cottonwood Creek Campground I was leading the horse Bud was riding. As we approached a rugged overhang on the trail I suddenly realized Bud could not see it. This time the horse understood when I said: “Whoa!” Bud would have been tumbled from the saddle down a 2,000-foot cliff. Disaster, averted.