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Kaweah Kam

  In the News - Friday, June 27, 2003
  • Click Headline for Full StoryRead
  • Another life lost
    The Middle Fork of the kaweah river claims its third drowning victim of the season.
  • Prescribed fire ignited
    On Wednesday, June 25, park fire crews began ridgetop ignitions on the “Atwood Prescribed Fire” in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park
  • River is training ground
    Tulare County’s California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) personnel were in Three Rivers testing the waters of the chilly Kaweah River by floating down Slicky
click to enlarge photos   

Another life lost to the Kaweah

The Middle Fork claims its third drowning
victim of the season


On Wednesday, June 25, at about 5:30 p.m., a 22-year-old male drowned in the Kaweah River behind the Ash Mountain administration buildings in Sequoia National Park. According to Shauna Dyas, acting information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the victim entered the water to help a friend who appeared to be in trouble.

The victim became trapped underwater in the swimming hole known as the “Research Pool,” owing to its proximity to the research center at the park headquarters complex. The unidentified friend relaxed and was able to reach the bank and climb out of the water while his potential rescuer was unable to return to safety.

A Tulare County Sheriff’s Department dive team assisted in the recovery of the body. The family requested that the name of the victim not be immediately released.

This is the third fatality due to drowning on the Middle Fork of the Kaweah this year.

On May 11, Xavier Apodaca, 11, of Hanford slipped into the river at Hospital Rock in Sequoia National Park. The youngster’s body was discovered five weeks later, on Monday, June 16, downstream from the Dinely Bridge, about 10 miles from where he fell into the water.

On Thursday, May 29, Andrew Leon, 22, of Louisiana, a seasonal park employee who had arrived in town just a few days prior, was swept downstream while swimming just above Slicky, a section of river across the highway from Three Rivers School. His body was found several miles down the river near the Holiday Lodge on Sunday, June 8.




Prescribed fire ignited in Mineral King area

On Wednesday, June 25, park fire crews began ridgetop ignitions on the “Atwood Prescribed Fire” in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. The burn segment is located above the Mineral King Road between Redwood Creek and Cabin Cove, about 20 miles from Highway 198 and about 12 air miles east of Three Rivers.

A helicopter and handheld drip torches will be used to ignite the interior sections of the 2,450-acre burn on Saturday or Sunday.

The Mineral King Road will remain open, but travelers may encounter short delays. The trail from Atwell Mill to Paradise Peak will be closed; the Atwell Mill Campground will be open.

This fire is one of 13 projects planned by the local Park Service for the 2003 season. A total of 6,291 acres within both parks is scheduled for treatment via prescribed burns and mechanical methods with the ultimate goal being reduction of hazardous fuel and improved forest health.





Kaweah River is training ground for swiftwater rescue

Testing the waters: California Department of Forestry (CDF) personnel line up for a turn at riding the rapids down Slicky. The chilly dip in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River was part of a self-rescue training session.
EnlargeTesting the waters: California Department of Forestry (CDF) personnel line up for a turn at riding the rapids down Slicky. The chilly dip in the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River was part of a self-rescue training session.


It was more than just coincidence that during the statewide Water Safety Week (June 20-26), Tulare County’s California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) personnel were in Three Rivers testing the waters of the chilly Kaweah River by floating down Slicky. And although the level of the river is dropping daily, in the rapids on the Middle Fork there is still plenty of challenging whitewater for the trainees to gain valuable experience.

Since the CDF training began on Monday, June 16, more than 120 firefighters have spent a day in Three Rivers undergoing swiftwater-rescue training. The eight-hour course includes watching videos, throwing a rescue rope bag, and then floating over Slicky to experience the chilly whitewater and feel the river’s current while wearing a helmet and personal flotation device (PFD).

“The course is really about self-rescue and awareness,” said Kirk Gramberg. “Each trainee learns how to use a throwbag and how to respond in a rescue situation.”

Gramberg, who along with Steve Ballew and Mike Ramirez are assisting lead instructor Isi Bran as facilitators, said that the training is critical for each CDF firefighter because in Tulare County, CDF usually gets the first call to roll on a river rescue.

Bran, Gramberg, and Ramirez are Tech II-certified as swiftwater rescuers; Ballew is a Tech I.

As an example of how the training could be used, Gramberg cited the May 29 drowning at Slicky, the same location where the training is currently taking place.

“Right when Andrew Leon slipped beneath the water, the [CDF] engine was pulling in at the scene,” Gramberg said.

Leon was a newly hired seasonal Park Service worker who drowned within a few days of his arrival in Kaweah Country. His body was recovered 10 days later about three miles downstream.

No one knows if the Leon tragedy could have been prevented. It is conceivable that a CDF engineer, with proper training and equipment, could have thrown a rope bag that just might have saved a life.

Invariably, the county Sheriff’s Department can take much longer to respond than the CDF engineer who arrives with the Three Rivers-based Engine 14 at incidents that occur on the Kaweah River.

If a Sheriff’s Department dive team is needed for a rescue, that mobilization can take up to two hours or longer. A CDF firefighter, if properly trained and equipped, could make the life-saving difference.

“Unfortunately, in the majority of these incidents, what we’re dealing with is a recovery and not a rescue,” said Lt. Greg Wright, who coordinates the rescue efforts for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department.

At present, CDF personnel do not have jurisdiction in a river rescue and are not permitted to enter the water until authorized to do so by the Sheriff’s Department.

“The ideal situation is that we work together because we’re usually the first ones to get called on everything,” Gramberg said. “To do that and be effective we’re [CDF] going to need more training and equipment. The bottom line, just like with the Sheriff’s Department, is funding.”

Capt. Joe Hughes, CDF training supervisor, said the problem extends far beyond dangerous rivers like the Kaweah. Nearly every year, there are drowning victims in Tulare County canals, irrigation ditches, lakes, ponds, and backyard swimming pools.

“The most important thing is to educate the public about water safety,” said Capt. Hughes. “An informed public would make our job a lot easier.”


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 and don’t jump into water less than nine feet deep.
• Always expect strong currents, undertows, underwater objects, and sharp drop-offs.
• Maintain constant supervision of 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.
• Never swim if you are too: tired, cold, far from safety, or
• If you have had too: much sun, alcohol, or strenuous activity.
• If in trouble, stay calm and don’t fight the current, it will lead to exhaustion; instead, float on your back, feet first, paddling downstream and diagonally toward shore.
• To pull someone from the water, lie on your stomach and reach an object to the struggling person, such as a long stick, T-shirt, or anything else at hand.




Hiking the Parks:

Merging with traffic on the High Sierra Trail

Part I
Looking down: The Kaweah canyon as seen from the High Sierra Trail, where the headwaters of the Middle Fork converge, between Bearpaw and Hamilton Lakes in Sequoia National Park.
EnlargeLooking down: The Kaweah canyon as seen from the High Sierra Trail, where the headwaters of the Middle Fork converge, between Bearpaw and Hamilton Lakes in Sequoia National Park.

The High Sierra Trail is the southern Sierra Nevada’s version of Highway 99, but much more scenic. Like a major freeway, backpackers can get on this trail and go, from start to finish, traveling en masse to the final destination, which is Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the Lower 48. And this was the goal of more than a dozen backpackers with which we shared this mass-transit route, that is, until we took a minor detour and, thus, quickly found solitude in a landscape rarely touched by hiking boots.

The first two days of this journey from Crescent Meadow to Hamilton Lakes have been written about several times in this series, so instead of a step-by-step description of the trail, this first installment reveals the personalities and places along the familiar route.

* * *

Saturday, July 20: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw— We have been on so many portions of the High Sierra Trail during our travels that last summer (July 2002) the goal of our trip was to explore yet another section. We began, most fittingly, at the beginning, as we have done many times: the High Sierra trailhead at Crescent Meadow (elevation 6,700 feet) in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park.

Our first day consisted of the familiar 11.5 miles to the High Sierra Camp at Bearpaw Meadow (elevation 7,800 feet). We have done this trip many times, and the kids (they were 12 and 13 at the time of this trip) have hoofed it out to Bearpaw almost annually since they were five and six years of age.

They, as do their parents, look forward to the hospitality of the staff, the unparalleled backcountry dayhiking and fishing, the delectable food and clean and comfortable tent-cabin facilities and, especially, meeting fellow guests, several of whom we now count among our dearest friends.

In previous years, Bearpaw has been the destination, meaning we traveled light, carrying just clothes and toiletries while the camp so graciously provided the gourmet meals, beds, and hot showers. This year, the mileage was more noticeable because we were all carrying fully loaded packs in preparation for an additional nine days in the backcountry.

The first day of any backpacking trip can be excruciating, and this High Sierra Trail initiation lived up to the expectations. Our packs were filled to maximum capacity, and this would be the highest-mileage day of the journey.

It wasn’t long before our bodies were screaming, from shoulder blade to hipbone and to bones and muscles that anatomy would have never discovered if it weren’t for backpackers and their insane need to carry 40-plus pounds of earthly possessions with them into the mountains.

The trail from Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw has a mere 1,800 feet vertical elevation gain, which helps in a gradual acclimatization process, and the weather was warm, clear, and pleasant. Lunch, as is customary, was at the halfway point, conveniently, the water-polished granite benches alongside picturesque and refreshing Mehrten Creek.

We had seen relatively few people up until this point, but after the lunch break, we began being initiated to a kind of traveler that frequents this high-traffic Sierra thoroughfare. While we were enjoying the sights, sounds, and feel of the water at Nine Mile Creek, two men, who were making camp here asked us to keep a lookout for their buddy, who had been hiking ahead of them with instructions to stop at this locale.

We met this marathon man just before Buck Creek (about the 10.5 mile mark), where he had only just realized he had gone too far. This is where the phrase “not a happy camper” was discussed upon his departure.

As we approached the Buck Creek crossing, the established campsite here was occupied by a group of 20-something guys. As we were patting ourselves on the backs for reuniting the previous trio, one of the men in this group approached us and asked if we would keep an eye out for their tardy trailmate, who had fallen behind up the trail due to oozing blisters plaguing both feet.

We vowed on our moleskin and liner socks that we would point the hobbling hiker in the right direction. We never did see this fellow although we had lounged trailside on Bearpaw’s front porch with other guests till way past moonrise.

We, therefore, assumed he limped past our Bearpaw beds as we were enjoying deep sleep, savoring every minute of mattress and comforter. From experience, we knew it would be many nights on ground and granite before we again felt the luxury of a bed.

Sunday, July 21, Bearpaw to Hamilton Lakes— We took our time departing from Bearpaw since we would follow the High Sierra Trail for just 4.5 miles to upper Hamilton Lake (elevation 8,235 feet). This is a beautiful alpine lake and we have enjoyed many a day along its shores that always seemed too short. For that reason, we decided that we would spend a night here.

So did 22 other people. This was our initiation to the High Sierra Trail thru-hikers-to-Whitney clan.

When we arrived, there were eight men and boys who had already claimed three campsites out of the designated six. They were a loud, obnoxious bunch.

We heard them long before we saw them. As we crested the last knoll and descended to the lake, these wilderness wannabes were sitting on lawn chairs and playing Slap Jack on the food-storage box, laughing hysterically every time someone slammed their hand down, causing the metal container to reverberate loudly, the sound further amplified by the water and echoing off the surrounding granite cliffs.

Instead of the lakeview campsite that I had envisioned, we rolled our eyes at the clueless campers and chose a site farther away. As we were setting up camp, a guided trip of 12 arrived.

The savvy guides were able to coerce the eight-is-more-than-enough gang to relinquish one of their sites and they got busy setting up their village of tents in the last three available sites. By this time, we were swimming in the lake when we noticed another tent tucked into the trees near the outlet stream.

Although late in the day, these two men were breaking camp. Loving the lakeside vicinity and always willing to go great lengths for the perfect campsite, we laid claim on this spot the minute it was vacated.

Sure, we were pushing the 100-foot limit that is requested when camping by a water source, but it was a campsite, right? Wrong.

As we were carrying our already erected tent to its new home, our son decided to read the bulletin board located along a portion of trail we had previously bypassed in our beeline to the lake. It specifically showed the designated campsites and this lakeside one — yep, we should have known better — definitely wasn’t one of them. We had taught our kids the rules of leave-no-trace backpacking way too well to even consider trying to get away with this infraction.

Back we went to the forest with the tent. And so much for quotas, because about this time a couple straggled in and whether or not they paid any attention to the bulletin board, there were no campsites left and they got the waterfront real estate.

In the late afternoon, as we were making preparations for supper, we took time to visit with our new neighbors and fellow High Sierra Trail hikers.

The late-arriving couple was from Ohio and had flown to California specifically to hike the High Sierra Trail to Mt. Whitney. They were struggling desperately with the altitude, new boots and blisters, and from carrying too much weight, including an oversized camera with a lens the size of a Volkswagen.

The group of 12 included nine first-time backpackers and three professional guides from a Fresno outfit. As the novice hikers were introducing themselves to the ancient backpacking ritual of soaking their sore feet in the lake, the guides were busy hydrating food for the evening meal.

As nightfall approached we bagged up our food and other scented items and put them in the bearproof food-storage box adjacent to our camp. Other campers had already done the same and we had another High Sierra Trail revelation.

Inside the bear-box was a virtual 7-11 convenience store of junk food. There were smelly hot dogs, mini-cans of pork-and-beans, 20-ounce bottles of Gatorade (that’s more than a pound apiece), bags of potato chips that were blown up like pillows due to altitude and air pressure, melted chocolate bars, and a can of Pepsi, all of which were guaranteed to tempt the olfactory senses of any bear located on the continent of North America.

This type of backcountry camping — loud, crowded, and virtually unaware — is indicative of anywhere along a beaten path as sure as there’s a McDonald’s at every freeway offramp. Staying at Hamilton Lake verified our reasons why we walk long and far to avoid such accessible areas.

But we weren’t worried. Within a day, we would veer just slightly off the main course and leave the rest of the human race behind.

Monday, July 22: Hamilton Lake to Nine Lake Basin— We smelled it first. The stench of smoke filled the tent and we awoke with dry throats and burning eyes. As we took our first look outside, it was an ominous sight.

Although it was 6 a.m. and well past daybreak, the sky was dark and eerie. The sun over the granite peaks that tower above Hamilton Lake was ball of orange hidden behind a thick haze, barely able to lighten the landscape to a pinkish hue.

Our packs and tent were covered with a layer of white ash. We knew immediately that this was more than a neighboring camper building a morning cookfire, but we had no way of knowing what was burning or where.

To be continued…


More Hiking the Parks




What’s new is old: Rosemary’s Remembrances now open

There’s a new store in Three Rivers to buy and sell vintage collectibles and it’s called Rosemary’s Remembrances. Located between Three Rivers Market and Noisy Water Café, the attractive little treasure trove is yet another reason for residents and visitors to take a stroll along Sierra Drive.

Rosemary Anderson of Rosemary’s Remembrances.

EnlargeMexican Taxco-period silver is on display at the new antique store in Three Rivers.

Rosemary Anderson, who with her husband and two daughters who still live at home, recently moved to Three Rivers from Lemoore. The antiques store, Rosemary says, is something she can do to stay home, keep up with family activities, and pursue her passion for collectibles.

“My husband, Curt, and I both have had careers in the auto industry and the timing was right to move back to a small community,” Rosemary said.

The Anderson story is similar to so many who have recently become part of the rural renaissance and moved to Three Rivers in particular.

“Curt, who now works as a general manager at Keller Motors in Hanford, said Lemoore was getting too big and it was time for the family to make a move,” Rosemary said.

That move turned out to be Three Rivers where the Anderson’s bought a log home, something they’ve always wanted. Rosemary said the way they found out about Three Rivers was because of her husband’s flyfishing and attraction to the Kaweah River.

But for Rosemary, the move became an opportunity to display and sell some of the antiques she has acquired over many years of collecting. Prior to opening her own shop, Rosemary has had spaces at an antique mall on Cannery Row in Monterey and at Stuff ‘N’ Such in Visalia.

Rosemary admits that her real antique passion is for Mexican period silver jewelry. She has an extraordinary collection of fine silver pieces from the Taxco jewelers, dating from 1930 to1950, and many examples are for sale at the store.

“Among my favorite artisans is the work of Matilda Poulat,” Rosemary said. “I’ve probably priced some of these items a little too high, hoping that they won’t sell.”

But like all vintage collectibles, prices are negotiable, and Rosemary, who buys and sells all sorts of antiques, is open to some good old-fashioned trading. There are new pieces of furniture on the floor and vintage works of art on the shelves almost daily.

“There’s a lot more where these came from,” Rosemary readily admits.

Looking to buy, sell or talk collectibles? Stop by, meet the owner, and discover Rosemary’s Remembrances.





Ruth Cort Sharp
1918 ~ 2003

Ruth Cort Sharp of San Marcos died Tuesday, June 15, at the home of her son, Gary Cort, in Three Rivers. She was 85.

She was born Ruth Olivia DeGarmo in Rochester, N.Y., in 1918.

Ruth and her late husband, Don Sharp, provided the funds for the building of Cort Gallery in Three Rivers and the recent purchase and restoration of Slicky, a favorite swimming hole of locals on the Kaweah River’s Middle Fork.

In addition to her son, Gary, Ruth is survived by her sister, Doris Heffer, and two grandsons, Paul Cort and Todd Cort.


Cecil See
1919 ~ 2003

Cecil J. See of Eureka died Friday, June 6, 2003. The former resident of Lemon Cove and Three Rivers was 84.

Cecil worked on the Montgomery ranch in Lemon Cove from 1948 until his retirement in 1985.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Alice; two daughters; four sons, two sisters; 12 grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; four step grandchildren; six step great-grandchildren; and two step great-great-grandchildren.




Earning his wings as mayor of Woodlake

Jack Ritchie, Woodlake mayor.
EnlargeJack Ritchie, Woodlake mayor.

Born and raised in Hanford, Jack Ritchie knew he wanted to fly airplanes. Enrolling in Fresno City College with his eye fixed on a career in aviation, Jack completed the first year towards his goal.

But the year was 1966, and Jack had the draft hanging over his head. He decided to put his studies on hold.

“I thought I’d just join the Air Force and get it over with,” he said.

A lot of other young men had the same idea, and while Jack was waiting for his name to get to the top of the Air Force’s waiting list, he was drafted into the Army.

Jack had two options: be drafted for two years and let the Army assign him a job or enlist for three years and get to pick his job. Jack enlisted in November as an aircraft mechanic.

After four months of training, Jack was stationed at Fort Knox, converting helicopters from one model to another.

Jack wanted to work on airplanes, however, not helicopters, so after eight months he requested a transfer to where the airplanes were: Vietnam.

Jack began his tour of duty Jan. 1, 1968, stationed with the 18th Aviation Company in the base camp of Qui Nhon.

Within three months, he had worked his way up to crew chief, personally responsible for the performance, maintenance, and flight records of his assigned Otter airplane. Jack flew up to four missions a day, every day, for the next six months.

Jack continued with aircraft radio relay work, relaying reconnaissance signals for the Army.

After 18 months in Vietnam, Jack shipped back home to the United States and was discharged, having served his country for two years, eight months, and 22 days.

Jack returned to Hanford and joined his father’s electrical contracting firm.

“I was so tired of working on aircraft, I never wanted to see one again,” said Jack. “This was a 100-percent lifestyle change: aircraft to electrical, war to peace, army to civilian.”

Jack also married his pre-war sweetheart, Charlotte Ropes of Ivanhoe. Jack and Charlotte had met on a blind date when he was in college and she was a senior in high school.

They had corresponded throughout Jack’s service and remained steadfast to each other. They married on Valentine’s Day 1970, six months after Jack returned home.

At the electrical firm, Jack worked his way up from apprentice to journeyman to foreman. Before he left the company in 1979, Jack was working in the office as an estimator — calculating materials, labor, and insurance costs, and submitting bids for contracts.

By now, Jack had two children, Kelly and Michael, and was ready for another lifestyle change. He moved the family to the Woodlake area to work for his father-in-law, Edwin “Doc” Ropes, D.D.S. Doc Ropes practiced dentistry in Woodlake for over 50 years, and he also grew oranges on the side.

Doc’s businesses included RDD Acres, Ropes Groves, Naranjo Groves, Ropes Orchards (near Cecil’s Garage), and Willson Ranch Company. For the next 21 years, Jack was a foreman at Willson Ranch.

About this time, Jack started becoming active in the community. While his children were in school, he was first an assistant leader in 4H, and then a member of the Woodlake High School band boosters. He was a member of the Woodlake Lions Club for 22 years (now he’s a member of the Rotary Club), and was a Woodlake volunteer firefighter from 1982-1994.

Gradually, Jack’s community service gravitated toward high-level operations. He served on the Woodlake Fire District Commission from 1988-1996 and then worked as a member of the Woodlake Planning Commission.

Before his Planning Commission term was over, Jack applied to take over a vacant seat on the Woodlake City Council. Soon after that term ended he took over another vacant seat.

He decided to run on his own for a seat, but found he was running unopposed. Rather than have the City pay to conduct the election, Jack applied yet again for the vacant Council seat.

“I still had the word ‘appointed’ after my name, but it saved the City $5,000, and to a city the size of Woodlake, $5000 means a lot,” he said.

The City Council elects the mayor and vice-mayor from within their own membership. From 1998-2002 Jack was elected to two terms as a vice-mayor, and in 2002 he was elected mayor of Woodlake.

As mayor, Jack’s duties include running City Council meetings, signing official resolutions and ordinances, and signing warrant lists to pay the City’s bills.

“By the time someone gets elected mayor, they’ve developed their philosophies about where they want to lead the City of Woodlake,” Jack explained.

“I’m pro commerce. I want to see Woodlake’s business base expand. I try to encourage the Council and staff to be business-friendly. I’d like to see businesses come into Woodlake.”

Jack left the Willson Ranch Company in 2001 when it was sold. He moved to his house on North Palm, and is now in business for himself, farming 40 acres of oranges on the outskirts of Woodlake.

And when he gets the chance, he flies.

Jack returned to his dream seven years ago, taking aviation classes and earning his certificate in 1998 as a fully licensed pilot. If you can’t find him on the ground, look up in the skies for a Cessna 182 flying over Bravo Lake.




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