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for residents and visitors
Three Rivers,
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
National Parks,
Lemon Cove and Woodlake
Kaweah Kam

The Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and blooming yucca, also known as the Lord's Candle.
EnlargeThe Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and blooming yucca, also known as the Lord's Candle.

The Kaweah River:
Enjoy it at a distance

The Kaweah River has claimed its first victim of the season, an 11-year-old boy who fell into the raging water and, despite search-and-rescue efforts, whose body has not yet been recovered. The National Park Service and the residents of Three Rivers strongly recommend that visitors coming into town and to the nearby national parks stay well away from the river and off the slippery rocks that border the waterway.

Spring snowmelt has created extremely strong currents and very cold water, making the river a deadly place to be. Every year, an unsuspecting visitor gives into the temptation to enter the water and accidentally slips in by walking too close to the water. Every year, there are those who don’t make it out alive.

  In the News - Friday, May 16, 2003

River claims young victim

River safety

News release

Everest summit bid

TKC launches readers’ poll

Woodlake High teacher

Bomb threat a hoax

Create ‘defensible space’


Tigers blanked by Garces

Celebrating 50 years:

River claims young victim

EnlargeON GUARD: A Sequoia Park rescue worker stands vigil at a waterfall one mile below Hospital Rock to watch for signs of the season's first drowning victim, an 11-year-old Hanford youth. The young boy slipped off a rock and was swept away in the rapids of the Kaweah's Middle Fork.

As of Thursday, May 15, Sequoia Park searchers still clung to waning hopes that an 11-year-old Hanford boy would be found in the vicinity of Hospital Rock. Last Sunday, the boy, identified only as Xavier, wandered away from a family picnic and was last seen by a companion cascading down a 10-foot waterfall just below the popular picnic area.

According to the eyewitness, the boy had tried to cross the narrow channel of the Middle Fork when he slipped and fell into the water.

The Kaweah River is currently swollen with snowmelt, and water temperature is 40 degrees or below, meaning survival time even in calm water is less than 30 minutes. This section of river is currently rated a Class V, based on an international scale of river difficulty that ranges from I to VI, used mostly by professional whitewater guides and paddlers.

This rating means there are long, uninterrupted rapids, big drops, violent currents, a steep gradient, and the riverbed is extremely obstructed. In this area, large, deep pools look deceivingly calm, yet are swift-moving and contain strong undertows.

Dozens of park search-and-rescue workers spent Mother’s Day afternoon trying to find the Kings County youngster. That day’s search had to be called off at sundown.
A Park helicopter with spotter searched for the body
EnlargeA park helicopter with spotter searched the rugged Middle Fork canyon for the body of a young drowning victim who fell into the river on Mother's Day.

On Monday, at least 45 searchers combed the rugged canyon to more than three miles below the Hospital Rock area. Tulare County sheriff’s deputies, volunteers, and divers from the department’s swiftwater rescue team joined park personnel.

Divers with wetsuits were able to briefly enter the chilly waters, but could only access a small portion of the steep, raging river.
The Middle Fork of the Kaweah River is treacherous when brimming with spring snowmelt.
EnlargeThe Middle Fork of the Kaweah River is treacherous when brimming with spring snowmelt.

“He could be anywhere in that stretch below Hospital Rock area,” said a park ranger. “I’m afraid it could be weeks until we make a recovery.”

The search was scaled back on Tuesday, but ground crews and a helicopter with a spotter continued to fly up and down the rugged terrain. Afternoon thunderstorms on Wednesday forced the helicopter to suspend its search at 3 p.m.

“This is the most dangerous time of the year,” warned a member of the sheriff’s dive team. “With the first hot weather, people just gravitate to the river that right now can be extremely dangerous. Most of these places aren’t even safe for trained personnel with a PFD [personal flotation device] and head gear.”

If Xavier had not been located by sundown yesterday (Thursday, May 15), the incident commander said the search would be scaled back with little hope of a recovery until water levels drop.




River safety

  • Stay off rocks near the river’s edge.
  • Never go to the river alone.
  • Never mix alcohol with swimming.
  • Never enter the water headfirst; a feet-first entry is safer, but never jump into water that is less than nine feet deep.
  • Always expect strong currents, undertows, underwater objects, and sharp drop-offs.
  • If you fall into rapids, try to turn your body so you are in a sitting position with feet first.
  • Maintain constant supervision of all children.
  • Adults should know how to swim; teach children water safety as soon as possible and teach them to swim beginning at age three.
  • Take a CPR course; a significant number of drownings have been prevented because parents have had these skills.
  • Never swim if you are too: tired, cold, or far from safety.
  • Never swim if you have had too: much sun, alcohol, or strenuous activity.
Wild, beautiful, deadly - The Middle fork of the Kaweah River
EnlargeWild, beautiful, deadly.
The Kaweah River's Middle Fork is a succession of descending rapids and steep falls.
EnlargeThe Kaweah River's Middle Fork is a succession of descending rapids and steep falls.
The Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
Enlarge The Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
  • Know how to prevent, recognize, and respond to a river emergency:
  • Children in trouble in the water might not yell out or flail.
  • To pull someone from the water, lie on your stomach on the shore, dock, or boat, and reach an object to the struggling person, such as a long stick, T-shirt, or anything else at hand.
  • If in the water with a potential drowning victim, they may try to hold on to you, which could pull you under too, so instead grab them from behind with your arm under their chin and across their chest so they are on their back and you can do a modified sidestroke to safety.





News release from Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks
May 16, 2003

Another day has passed without locating the 11-year-old Hanford boy who fell into the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River in the foothills of Sequoia National Park on Sunday, May 11, 2003.

The effort continued today with aerial and ground searches. The focus remains on the three miles of river immediately downstream from Hospital Rock Picnic Area, where the boy entered the water. The helicopter also continued to search an additional four miles below that.

Concern for the safety of the searchers and others near the water remains high as the river continues to swell with snowmelt. Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicates that water flow in the area has risen significantly from the approximately 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) that was flowing when the boy fell in. It rose to almost 1600 cfs on May 14, and remained above 1300 cfs today.

In addition to the cold, fast current, other hazards challenge searchers. The riverbanks are steep, without beaches or trails to walk on. Dense chaparral vegetation, including poison oak, grows thickly along much of the river; where there is not vegetation there is usually steep, slick rock. There are rattlesnakes and ticks. “This is a very high-risk environment,” said Park Superintendent Richard Martin. “We appreciate the offers of assistance we have received, but the area is too unsafe for volunteers.”

Tomorrow, plans call for ground searches and, if river conditions permit, more diving. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department Dive Team will assess whether they can safely enter the river to search. As time goes on, such periodic checks on conditions will take place. Searchers will continue to survey the river from shore on a daily basis.

“Everything that should be done is being done, but it is very painful for the family and frustrating for the searchers,” said Dave Walton, incident commander for the search. “If the boy was at the surface, we would have found him by now. Unfortunately, that is not the case so now the main element we are working with is the changes time will bring.”

Over the coming weeks, river level may continue to rise substantially, changing the hydraulics and possibly moving snags that are underwater. Once the main snowmelt has passed, river flows will decrease enough that searchers can access more areas that are now under whitewater.

The National Park Service strongly recommends that park visitors avoid getting close to the water at this time of year. Even if people do not intend to swim, it is not uncommon to slip and fall into the river.





The Crowing Glory: Petit prepares for Everest summit bid

Petit Pinson prepares for Everest summit bid.
EnlargePetit Pinson

Petit Pinson
in the shadow of Mt. Everest

—photo courtesy Petit Pinson

Headlines around the world screamed 50 years ago this month as “The Crowning Glory” Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, was surmounted for the first time by Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, an ethnic Himalayan highlander.

Now, a half-century later, climbers are still vying for the chance to stand on top of the world, paying tens of thousands of dollars for the death-defying privilege. Among them this year, on the golden anniversary of the first summit, is Petit Pinson of Three Rivers, who is receiving an all-expense-paid trip.

For the past five months, Petit has been a competitor on Global Extremes: Mt. Everest — 4Runners of Adventure, a reality-based television show that airs weekly on the Outdoor Life Network. She was initially one of 50 from a pool of 700 applicants who was handpicked to participate in the series.

Beginning in Moab, Utah, and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Petit has since successfully competed in the Kalahari Desert, the jungles of Costa Rica, and Iceland, while the numbers of athletes dwindled to the final five selected for the ultimate Everest summit team.

Petit departed Three Rivers on March 28, and arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, on March 30 to meet up with her teammates.

“Kathmandu is a wild place,” she wrote upon her arrival. “So many climbers here preparing for this season’s journey.”

The next day, the athletes flew north over the Himalaya range to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet (elevation 12,000 feet), and has since been residing on the north face of Mount Everest for the past month with the rest of the expedition team, concentrating mainly on the acclimatization process. Regularly, the athletes dayhike to ever higher elevations, then withdraw, rest, and rehydrate.

“Yes, it has been over a month now since I left for this magical land,” Petit emailed last week. “After an amazing trip to over 25,000 feet, we have been back down at Base Camp for about a week now.”

At the beginning of the most recent Global Extremes episode, which aired Monday, May 12, after a two-week hiatus while crews settled in at Everest, it was announced that one of the five finalists, Troy Henkels of Eagle River, Alaska, had decided to withdraw from the expedition team, citing concerns of not being able to make it back down the mountain safely once he summited.

In addition to the physical and mental challenges the athletes are facing in preparing for the trip, several consecutive days of 100 m.p.h. winds were challenging the team, destroying at least eight or nine tents out of the 150 that were set up at various camps on the mountain.

“For the past few days, it has been relentless winds,” wrote Petit. “Up high, the camps are getting destroyed, and [at Base Camp], we are inundated with a fine Tibetan dust that seems to get into every space of my tent and body.”

Reporting from Base Camp, located at 17,200 feet near Rongbuk Glacier, was a new face on the television series, but a veteran on the mountain. Conrad Anker, a professional mountaineer and native of Tuolumne County who began his life of climbing on the rock faces of Yosemite, is providing his expertise both on and off camera.

“Just put up a new 4-bolt 5.9 near here, passing time with Conrad Anker,” reported Petit in an email.

The recent episode only briefly highlighted the four athletes, but instead educated viewers on the history of Mount Everest (elevation 29,035 feet above sea level) and the north face route the climbers will take. There are seven camps altogether: Base Camp (12 miles and 12,000 vertical feet away from the summit), an Interim Camp at 19,000 feet, Advanced Base Camp at 21,000 feet, Camp I at 22,970 feet, Camp II at 24,610 feet, Camp III at 25,920 feet, and Camp IV at 27,230 feet.

Camp IV is where the team will depart for their summit attempt on a date that has yet to be announced, but could be as early as next Monday (May 19). From Camp IV, it is 1,805 grueling vertical feet to the summit, which is expected to take about nine hours to ascend.

Three “steps” stand between the climbers and the top of the mountain, consisting of technical climbs of 100 to 150 feet in vertical ice, snow, and rock. If the ascent is successful, the climbers still have hours of challenging and dangerous descent until they reach the relative safety of their camp.

“This is more than I’ve ever done,” said Petit during a brief interview on Monday’s show. “Yes, I see myself up there [on Everest], but more so, I see myself back here, too, and back home with the people I love.”

The show also had commentary by Sir Edmund Hillary, who recalled his summit climb 50 years ago. Also highlighted were the various expeditions that are assembling at Base Camp — a Kuwaiti who, if successful, will be the first from that country to reach the summit; a 20-year-old from Spokane, Wash., who will climb with his father and, if they make the top, will be the youngest American to have reached the peak; and three men from Aspen, Colo., who will attempt the summit without oxygen or Sherpa support and plan to descend by way of skis; and many others.

“Petit is on a spiritual quest,” Conrad Anker observed. “I like that.”

If Petit and her female teammate, Colleen Ihnken, are successful in the quests, they will be only the 12th and 13th American women to reach the Everest summit.

Petit’s climbing team will consist of her three teammates — Colleen, Ted Mahon, and Jesse Rickert, all of whom reside in Colorado — veteran Everest guide, Chris Warner, and their team of five climbing Sherpas. The team will be joined on the summit push by two high-altitude cameramen and their Sherpas. Assisting them lower on the mountain are a dozen or more support Sherpas and an entire TV production crew, making their home in a city of tents.

To prepare for this 10-week trip, more than 22,000 pounds of equipment was ferried from Katmandu to the Everest Base Camp. From there, more than three tons of gear was carried to Advance Base Camp by a team of 150 yaks, the highest place the animals can access.

As of yesterday, May 15, the team planned to move from Base Camp back to Advanced Base Camp, where they will wait for a window pf favorable weather to make the five-day ascent. Guide Chris Warner and expedition leader Russell Brice will make methodical, tactical decisions on when will be the most opportune and safest time to make the final climb, always knowing that reaching the summit is never a given.

“The sunrise each morning catches the north face of Everest and brings her to life,” wrote Petit. “I have found a nice, flat rock next to ice and water to greet the rising sun. I breathe in the cool mountain air, stretch my body, and think of all of you out there who have given me so much love and support.”


According to the Global Extremes broadcast schedule, the next episode will air Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. (local cable channel 104). Although subject to the whims of Mother Nature and the mountain, the summit attempt could take place as early as next Monday, but the exact date has not yet been announced.

Also on the broadcast schedule beginning Tuesday, May 13, are “Daily Expedition Updates,” although it is unknown if and when these have aired. On the morning following the summit attempt, live descent updates are also planned.

The Cabin in Three Rivers is attempting to install a satellite feed to air the show next Monday. Call Ken, 561-4785, for more information.




TKC launches readers’ poll
2003 Best of Kaweah Country Reader's Poll

In what’s become an annual kickoff to the busy summer season, it’s time to stand up and be counted in the Best of Kaweah Country readers’ poll. The fifth annual poll, which appears on the back page of this issue, now features 75 categories in which readers vote for the “Best of” dining, shopping, recreation, lodging, social scene, and what to do when out and about in Kaweah Country.

There’s bound to be some hotly contested races this year, especially in “Dining” where one of the old players is back (Noisy Water Café), and some new ones (The Cabin) have also emerged.

“I don’t know how anybody could challenge us [Gateway] in the waitstaff category,” Glenn McIntire said, owner of Gateway Restaurant and Lodge and one of 2002’s biggest winners. “We have the most smiles per server and a really nice bunch of folks who work here.”

Nearly 2,000 ballots were submitted last year, but online voting on the new TKC website is expected to dramatically increase that total.

Although the online ballot wasn’t announced until today (May 16), several ballots have already been submitted by the point-and-click crowd.

The results of the poll will be published in the annual summer visitor issue distributed July 25. The deadline for submitting ballots at the office of the Commonwealth or online is July 1.




Woodlake High teacher named Educator of the Year


Each year, the California League of High Schools selects the Educator of the Year. This year, Woodlake High School’s own Louise Achenbach is a finalist for this prestigious award.

The competition is twofold. First, nominees compete for the regional title, which was awarded to Achenbach on May 1. Then she and the 10 other regional champions will present topics of their choice at a state educators’ convention during the last week of November 2003 for final judging.

Mark Babiarz, WHS principal, nominated Louise because of her nearly 35 years of leadership and commitment to the student body. In the application letter, Mark cited the roles she has played in improving curriculum, initiating after-school programs, and developing California high school athletic policies and a code of ethics.

Louise was selected from among a field of 10 highly qualified candidates to represent Region 7 (Fresno, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, and Tulare counties).

“I feel honored to represent this region, especially Woodlake,” Louise said. “You don’t necessarily have to be a big school to win awards.”

Born and bred in South Dakota, seven miles from Mount Rushmore, Louise earned two teaching degrees by 1969 from the Black Hills State Teachers College, where she majored in elementary education, social science, and physical education and minored in psychology and music.

It was an unexpected twist of fate that brought her to Woodlake.

As Louise was finishing up her last week of student-teaching, she received a phone call from LaVerne Miller (Self).

Louise had played volleyball in college with the Miller sisters, who had both taken jobs with Woodlake High School upon graduation. Now Virginia was moving to Nebraska, and LaVerne asked Louise to teach P.E. with her at WHS.
“I got the call on Wednesday,” said Louise. “I finished my hours on Friday, arrived in Woodlake late Sunday, and started Monday.”

She lived in Three Rivers during her first three years of teaching, renting a cottage from the Strohs near the Pumpkin Hollow Bridge. Louise then bought a five-acre spread on Hwy. 245 between Woodlake and Hwy. 198, where she lives today.

At the high school, Louise was assigned as the tennis coach. Never having played tennis before, Louise had the students run track on the first day — “conditioning exercises” — while she read tennis rules and regulations from a library book. She taught herself to play tennis in the evenings using a spatula as a racket.

Since then, Louise expanded the girls’ P.E. program from offering only swimming and tennis to include basketball, softball, and volleyball. In her 26 years of coaching volleyball, Louise and Woodlake High School brought home 23 championships.

In the early 1980s, Louise piloted the Peer Counseling mentoring program for at-risk students.

“I told some of the guys to get out of Woodlake and go see what’s on the other side of the mountains,” Louise said. “I told them to join the Army.”

To practice what she preached, Louise joined the Army Reserves. The recruiter encouraged her to enter as an officer, but Louise refused. She wanted the same experience her students would encounter.

She enrolled in 1976, entering as a buck private. During her stint she was, among other things, a diesel mechanic, a supply worker, and a battalion operations sergeant. By the time she was discharged 14 years later, Louise had worked her way up to an E-9 classification, the highest rank an enlisted soldier can achieve.

In 1984, an influx of freshmen prompted Louise to switch departments and start teaching the ninth-grade core classes — social science, history, economics, and government.

A former chair of the social science department, Louise has spearheaded curriculum improvements by introducing new teaching strategies and aligning the lessons to California benchmark standards.

Louise has no plans to leave her beloved school any time soon.

“I will teach until I feel I’m not effective,” she said.




Bomb threat a hoax

A bomb threat at Woodlake High School on Thursday, May 8, brought classes to a halt for nearly two hours.

The threat was made by telephone to the WHS office at 10:30 a.m. Students were evacuated to the football field, while police, firefighters, and school staff searched the campus.

A hunt through classrooms, storage areas, cars, vending machines, bushes, trash cans, and more proved that the threat was a hoax. At 12:15 p.m., the students were released to resume their normal schedule.

The Woodlake Police Department is investigating the incident.




Create ‘defensible space’ now

Fire conditions in the Sierra foothills will soon be at extreme levels once again. Every resident and property owner plays a crucial role in keeping Three Rivers safe from wildfire by creating a “defensible space” of 30 to 100 feet around all homes and other structures on the property.

In addition to removing all flammable vegetation, woodpiles, construction materials, and other debris should be cleared. For more information on keeping homes fire-safe, call Hammond Fire Station, 561-4432.




Tigers blanked by Garces, 1-0

BATTER UP: Jenelle Bivens, Tiger sophomore third-baseman, attempts to deliver in the clutch during the pressure-packed playoff game against Garces last Tuesday.
EnlargeBATTER UP: Jenelle Bivens, Tiger sophomore third-baseman, attempts to deliver in the clutch during the pressure-packed playoff game against Garces last Tuesday.

Tuesday’s first round of the Sequoia Division Small School softball playoffs figured to be tough for the No. 7 seeded Lady Tigers of Woodlake High. The first battle was to just get a first-round home game vs. Garces, the No. 2 seed.

After Saturday’s CIF selection meeting, there was confusion as to where the Tigers would play the opening round as typically the higher seed gets the home game. The Garces Rams (23-5-1) actually finished second to Taft, No. 1 seed in South Sequoia League play.

Woodlake, the East Sequoia League champion, felt they deserved at least a No. 5 seed in a very talented eight-team field.

“The rule states that a league champion must get at least one home game even if they are the lower seed,” said Frank Ainley, WHS athletic director.

The pressure-packed home game had all the drama of a heavyweight fight. Both pitchers were overpowering, moving the ball around and effectively changing speeds.

It was Tiger miscues that finally led to a Garces run in the fifth inning. After two fielding errors, a bobble, and an errant throw, Andrea “A.J.” Juarez, Woodlake’s senior ace, walked in what became the winning run.

Woodlake finished with five hits and six errors; Garces had only three hits but played errorless ball.

The Tigers had three opportunities to score or break the game open, but could not get the clutch hit. Annie Gonzalez, junior first baseman, had two of the Tiger five hits.

Woodlake’s best scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the sixth when A.J. Juarez led off with a triple. After two strikeouts and a failed squeeze bunt attempt, the Tigers appeared to be beaten.

“This [the playoffs] is no time to be looking at a called third strike,” Coach Dina DaSilva reminded her Lady Tigers. “Let’s not hang our heads. We still have an inning to play.”

In the seventh inning, Tiger hitters stranded yet another runner at second base.

With the early exit from the playoffs, three senior starters, A.J. Juarez (pitcher), Catreece Guerra (catcher), and Amrita DeLisio (left-fielder) played their final game as Woodlake Tigers. Woodlake finished an impressive season with an overall record of 19-5.




Celebrating 50 years: Rodeo roundup and results


The Queen of England sent her favorite band to help launch the Woodlake Lions Rodeo week-end. Guests of the Queen’s Jubilee celebration in London during Winter Break, the WHS band helped lead the kickoff Rodeo Parade down Woodlake’s main street last Saturday, May 10.

Boasting more than 64 entries, the hour-long parade featured VIPs, local athletes, marching bands, community associations, and service organizations.

That afternoon at the rodeo grounds, a Parade of Queens greeted the 3,500 fans. Led by Kara Morris, 2003 queen, rodeo queens from the past 30 years galloped around the arena and saluted the crowd.

Many of the former queens went on to compete in rodeo events during the weekend, such as the fast-paced barrel race and the energetic Suicide Race.

Awarded as 2002 Specialty Act of the Year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), rodeo clown Troy “Wild Child” Lerwell entertained the throng with quips, pranks, and a daredevil dirt-bike leap over a trailer rig through a column of fire.

Focusing on rider performance, the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls demonstrated grace, agility, and daring. Highlighting equine maneuvers, the Visalia Rockettes Junior Drill team showcased precision and split-second timing.

Raucous rowdies stamped to the beat of Country Connection, shaking the rafters at the Saturday evening barn dance.

Cowboys from across the nation demonstrated rodeo action at its finest, winning silver belt buckles in nine different categories.




THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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