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In the News - Friday, AUGUST 31, 2007

Climber dies on

Mount Russell

   An experienced climber fell 100 feet to his death Sunday, Aug. 26, while climbing Mount Russell. The 14,000-foot peak is located immediately north of Mount Whitney on the common boundary of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest.
   Charles Robert Duerig, 50, of Castro Valley was climbing with his best friend, Greg Zaffaroni, when the two got off course and separated. Zaffaroni reported his friend missing about 5 p.m. Sunday by contacting the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department.
   A helicopter located Charles’s body later that day at the bottom of a canyon at the 12,500-foot elevation level. Two climbers from a search-and-rescue team climbed to the body Monday and rigged it to the helicopter for transport.
   Authorities believe the victim fell due to an equipment failure when he tried to anchor himself to a rock. He most likely died immediately upon impact.
   Charles was an avid outdoorsman and skier, a marathon and ultra-marathon runner, and an accomplished mountain climber. He was an electrical engineer who also worked as a substitute math and science teacher at East Bay high schools.
   He is survived by his wife, daughter, parents, and four brothers.

Gas for $1…
for awhile

   For most folks, it’s difficult to remember a time nearly three decades ago when gasoline routinely sold for $1 per gallon. Earlier this year, the statewide average for regular surpassed $3.25 and for a time looked like it might reach $4.
   So on Wednesday, Aug. 22, when Three Rivers Market, the local Shell gasoline outlet, decided to lower the price to $1.0099, it set off a buying frenzy reminiscent of the gas lines of the 1970s.

  “We wanted to do something special for our customers and keep it low key,” said Sam Yim, who with his wife Sookie, has owned and operated the market since 2002. “It was our fifth anniversary in Three Rivers so we thought it might be something we could give back to the community for all the great support.”
   In the first hour after 8 a.m. when the store is normally open, customers and motorists who passed by began to realize that the makeshift prices -- $1, $2, $3 -- on the marquee were indeed real. At first a few vehicles began to circle then another, and another, and another pulled off the highway to see what was so exciting that was so obviously going on. An orderly line quickly formed facing the opposite direction of traffic, partially in the bike lane and in front of several businesses along Sierra Drive from Anne Lang’s Emporium to Sequoia Gifts & Souvenirs.
   There was only one catch. A motorist who wanted to cash in on the cheap fill-up needed to pay at the two open pumps with plastic. While some drivers waited in line, they used cell phones to spread the unbelievable news.
   The plan was, according to Sam, to keep the store closed that day so that he and Sookie could take a well-deserved and rare day off.

  “What Sam wasn’t saying is that his 50th wedding anniversary just happened to be on the very same day,” said Alex, the market’s assistant manager.
   What soon transpired as a result of the commotion swirling around the gas giveaway was a very unpleasant exchange with a California Highway Patrol officer.
   The CHP arrived on the scene after a neighbor called to report that the line-up was blocking access in and out of the area and was an accident waiting to happen. By this time, Sam was out front of the store to monitor the escalating situation and to see if he was going to need another load of gas.
   Ironically, the Chevron’s pumps, the only other gas in town, were closed for repair on that morning so it really underscored the need for Sam to pump gas which he was more than willing to do at an unprecedented discount.

  “I had a tanker standing by because I knew we were going to run out of gas,” Sam recalled. “The CHP told me that I should put it back to regular prices. I really resented him telling me what price I could sell the gas.”
   Ending the short-lived gas giveaway was the only way to relieve the congestion, and if you’re not willing to do that, the officer said, he would begin to ticket motorists waiting in line. In disgust, Sam locked up the pumps and they remained out of service for the rest of the day.
   Sam said he has no regrets from what he tried to do and will think of other ways to reward his customers.

  “I realized more than a year ago that discounting the gas is a win-win situation,” Sam said. “I make less profits but I sell more gallons. If I can offer competitive prices and keep those dollars in town then the community and the market will both benefit.”
   There were dozens that day that reaped the windfall and some disappointment that the great gas giveaway ended all too soon. Sometimes, even with the best intentions, it’s the thought that counts.

Caves reveal creepy crawlers,

Native American ties

   If you like creepy critters and creatures that crawl in the night, then you’re going to love the September issue of National Geographic. David Liitschwager’s photographs of troglobites — millipedes, spiders, and worms — some documented as a new species for the first time, are presented with fascinating text by Kevin Krajick that tells how these creatures have evolved in a world of perpetual darkness.
   The 14-page layout documents startling new discoveries coming out of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Park biologists recently announced the discovery of 30 new invertebrate species, all still yet to be scientifically classified.
   What has become clear to date: vision is overrated and size matters when it comes to these creatures of the darkness, some that have fewer eyes than their related species or no eyes at all. In general, it is also apparent that when it comes to survival in these caverns smaller is better.
   Cavers in the local parks are also discovering new caves — 255 at last count — with a new cave being added to the parks’ inventory every few months. Last year, four amateur explorers poking around a cliff face noticed a softball-sized hole, enlarged it, and climbed in, discovering a spectacular cathedral-like cave.
   What the cavers saw were several large spaces up to 100 feet wide richly decorated with sparkling crystals and formations in every color of the rainbow. Scientists have since named the August 2006 find Ursa Minor after the massive bear skeleton found lying at the foot of a stone curtain.
   Tom Burge, park archaeologist, and Lisa Schaaf, a paleontologist from Northern Arizona University, visited the cave earlier this month to examine the bear bones. They documented the location of several obsidian flakes indicative that a Native American or two might have used a tool to render the bear’s skeleton.
   Obsidian is a volcanic glass-like lithic that was used by Native Americans.

  “Obsidian doesn’t naturally occur in Sequoia-Kings Canyon. Every piece of obsidian was brought in from elsewhere, most often from the eastside of the Sierra,” Burge said.
   One well-known source is south of Mono Lake and there are dozens of others along Highway 395. Archaeologists have techniques to source obsidian and date skeletal remains.

  “One interesting observation is that the bear is missing its skull and claws,” Burge confirmed.
   It’s likely that these items were removed by Native Americans who visited the cave. Bear claws and skulls are sacred to Native Americans and still valued today by local Indian people.
   For every question answered, there are many more being asked. The current entrance to the cave is small and requires a rope to negotiate a 70-foot vertical drop. The bear skeleton is another 100 feet into the cave from this entrance.

  “This likely points to the former existence of another entrance to the cave that collapsed long ago,” said Joel Despain, parks’ cave specialist.

Highway mailboxes
struck by vandals

   The group of mailboxes on Sierra Drive at Salt Creek Drive were intentionally damaged last Friday (August 24). Rural mailboxes are recurring targets of nighttime vandalism.

There’s something for all

onboard the Smile Train

   The second annual Smile Train Charity Bicycle Ride will be held Saturday, Sept. 15. The Smile Train is a nonprofit organization devoted to providing free operations for children around the world that have been born with cleft lips and palates.
   Last year, through the generosity of a dozen cyclists and the organization of Kevin Foster, a professional cyclist who resides in Kaweah, the effort raised enough funds to give 14 children something to smile about. This year, there are goals to go beyond that as many of the local businesses and people have become supportive of this event, including Sequoia National Park, which agreed earlier this year to open up the access trail leading to Shepherd Saddle for 50 riders.

  “And we do listen,” said Kevin Foster.
   Last year’s ride was a short 50-mile tour around Lake Kaweah and several towns, but what one may think of as a “short” bike ride may turn out to be a killer, thus another route has been added by cutting the main ride in half to 25 miles, as well as the 35-mile Shepherd Saddle route.
   All rides will begin and end at the Three Rivers Lions Arena, with sign-up from 7 to 8:30 a.m. with all rides leaving the Arena at 8:30 a.m. Come early and enjoy a continental style breakfast of coffee, juice, and pastries, along with a catered meal in the afternoon.
   For the road riders, there will be a few rest stops along the way, as well as total sag [support and gear] support. For the mountain bikers, we’ll be packing in our own supplies, but we will have support along the route in case a pesky goathead (puncture vine) gets in the way.
   Amazingly, nearly all the sign-ups thus far for the mountain bike ride are coming from Los Angeles, including those from the International Mountain Bike Association. If you’re an IMBA member, you may want to join those who have been working on your behalf at the state and national levels to make sure more trails are open to cyclists. Here’s your chance to talk to them personally.
   After the ride, while we’re all feasting and having a good time back at the Arena, we’ll be having a silent auction with many bicycle-related items donated by those in the bike industry, because the goal is to raise more funds in order to help more children receive smiles.
   The registration fee is $50, which covers all the incidentals and registration is now ongoing at The fee includes a “schwag bag” of items worth at least the price of the registration, and everyone is encouraged to do their part to raise the $250 needed to help at least one child receive not only a smile but a chance at life.
   The motto of the event is: “One child per cyclist and beyond.”
   On a separate note, another event is happening across town called the Sequoia Bicycle Jamboree, hosted by local business owner, Greg Thompson, of Jerky This!, who will be attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the largest bicycle parade. Registration for this event is free and everyone is welcomed.
   Greg will need plenty of help in this area as the previous record of March 29, 2006, is 641 bicycles covering 2.17 miles in Leiden, Netherlands. Call Greg at 561-4791 for details.
   Also in the spirit of charity, an event is being planned by another local business owner, Tony Moreno of Three Rivers Cyber Café, who is organizing a motorcycle run from the Lions Arena at 9 a.m. to Hospital Rock in Sequoia National Park for all local motorcyclists who wish to participate and help raise funds for the kids. Contact Tony at 561-4165 if you wish to be involved in this upcoming ride.

  “Whether you’re planning on joining the Smile Train Charity Bike Ride, the Sequoia Bicycle Jamboree, or the motorcycle ride, show your support and have some fun,” said Kevin. “You’ll be meeting a lot of great, like-minded people, sharing in a common cause as well as helping out a worthy event... and that’s something to smile about.”

Community asked to

save Box Tops 4… TRUS!

   Three Rivers Union School will participate in the Box Tops 4 Education program again during the 2007/2008 school year. Each box top submitted to TRUS is worth 10 cents.
   Last year, the school earned $486.
   The Box Tops 4 Education logo is found on a variety of products. These include: Cheerios, Fruit Roll-Ups, Go-Gurt, Hamburger Helper, Bisquick, Ziploc bags, Hefty paper plates, Betty Crocker cake and cookie mixes, and hundreds of other products.

  “We need the community’s help to make this program a success,” said Sue Schwarz, TRUS mom and local program coordinator.
   There is a Box Top collection bin located at the Three Rivers Post Office for the convenience of all community members. Box Top logos may be clipped and dropped off at the post office or send them to Three Rivers School with a student.
   To keep track of Three Rivers School’s progress, visit This website also offers monthly contests that are free to enter and can earn the school 50,000 Box Tops if a TRUS supporter is selected as a winner.
   For additional information, contact Sue at 561-3042.

TRUS receives 2007 tech award

   It’s not just chalk and a blackboard that teachers use in the classroom anymore. It’s computers, multimedia projectors, scanners, digital cameras, and software, all of which cost a bit more than a box of chalk.
   To assist with this shopping list of electronics, Three Rivers School was awarded an HP Technology for Teaching grant for the second consecutive year. The grant is designed to improve learning in the classroom through innovative uses of technology. This year’s gift from Hewlett Packard — the HP Technology for Teaching “Leadership” Award — is a higher-value grant awarded to previous HP Technology for Teaching grant recipients whose projects demonstrated success in the first year of implementation.
   Three Rivers School was selected again because of its success during the last school year of integrating HP technology into the classroom curriculum with their “Speak to the Earth” project that allowed students to study temperature, precipitation, and other weather factors as well as solar and lunar phases and air and soil quality.

  “The generous donation of a greenhouse by the Three Rivers Lion’s Club has been erected on the lower field, thanks to the help of contractor Tod Johnson and his crew,” announced Sue Sherwood, TRUS superintendent/principal.
   This new addition to the campus allows the students to integrate technology to study the environmental effects on the school’s garden year-round and throughout their school years.
   During the 2006-2007 academic year, HP Technology for Teaching grant projects assisted more than 42,000 students nationwide. Of the 130 projects funded in 2006, only 15 — including TRUS — were selected for the Leadership award in 2007.
   This year, Three Rivers School received an award package of HP mobile technology, cash, and professional development with a total value of more than $81,000.
   Sue Sherwood, superintendent/principal; and two staff members, Barbara Merline and Deb Cruz, represented Three Rivers School at the National Education Computing Conference this summer in Atlanta, Ga., where they participated in professional development training and shared their progress with other grantees.
   In the first year of the grant work, five TRUS teachers were part of the grant project — third through seventh grades — however, through the reinvestment grant all teachers will join the effort to positively impact student achievement through technology integration.

  "We are very excited about receiving the Technology for Leadership grant award,” said Sue Sherwood. “All the teaching staff at Three Rivers School has begun their training on the new equipment. The teachers are beginning to implement plans for an exciting year of science learning in grades K through eight.”
   Since 2004, HP has contributed approximately $44 million in HP Technology for Teaching grants to more than 850 schools worldwide. During the past 20 years, HP has contributed more than $1 billion in cash and equipment to schools, universities, community organizations, and other nonprofit organizations around the world.
   More information about Three Rivers School and their HP Grant Project is available on the TRUS website:

Lineup announced

for 2007 ‘Concert’

   Three Rivers’s own Concert on the Grass is one of this community’s longest running, and some would say, most crowd-pleasing events. Started in 1980 by Harry Ison, M.D., the Concert has evolved over the years from a classical piano recital to its current form, which also includes dance, choir, poetry, drama, comedy, and bluegrass.
   A lot has changed since the beginning. During the last seven years, the Concert has moved to a large, shaded lawn with a performing arts stage and added a high-quality sound system. Because of generous neighbors on River Walker Ranch, parking has improved measurably, and the addition of two shuttles eliminates the moderate walk to the venue.
   The setting is exquisite. The audience spreads out on a cool green lawn under the shade of overarching oaks. All around are spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
   Most people sit on blankets or beach chairs and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy during the performances.
   This year’s Concert is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, at 2:30 p.m. (a half-hour earlier than in the past). It should be an excellent show.
   The College of the Sequoias Chorale returns after a triumphant summer tour to Italy; John Slade and “Eight is Enough” star Laurie Walters will present thematically linked exerpts from Shakespeare’s King Lear; Three Rivers pianist Ken Elias will perform Bach’s French Suite; and Miss Tulare County Meaghan Swinney of Three Rivers will perform a modern dance piece.
   And this year, the Concert will be introducing a new performer to Three Rivers, Hollywood actor Ronny Cox. You’ll recognize him immediately from the films Deliverance, Beverly Hills Cop, Star Trek: Next Generation, RoboCop, and dozens of other productions. But he’s not coming to act; he’s coming to play music. He’s an excellent bluegrass musician and is bringing along his band for this year’s show.


No Child Left Inside:

A decade of

family backpacking adventures

By Sarah Elliott

   I tilted my head back to see from beneath my hat brim and up the steep slope only to watch my son disappear behind a giant boulder. I took his advice; turning my feet into the herringbone position, as if I were ascending a snowslope with Nordic skis.
   But I wasn’t. I was working my way up Sawtooth Peak’s south flank, which is basically the surface of an ocean beach but vertical and with a lot less water. This prominent landmark stands sentry over the Mineral King valley in Sequoia National Park.
   Our family of four – including our two teenagers, ages 18 and 17 – had been on this mountain many times before, but always avoided ascending it with fully-loaded backpacks. But here we were, on our first day of a nine-day trip, and at this point all separated along this off-trail portion, each hiking at our own pace and selecting routes that would get us to the top of the steep ridge, then across to Glacier Pass.
   As I put the duck walk into practice and began making steady progress in hauling my 55-pound pack toward the ridge’s backbone, I thought back on our previous backpacking trips that had, over our children’s lifetimes, made it possible to get us to where we were today. This journey was bittersweet for me as it very possibly could be our last together since our children are now grown and may soon choose to spend their summer vacations elsewhere.
   I realized that the four of us had never backpacked without each other. We started together in 1996 and every year except for one have taken at least one extended trip.
   Together, we learned the ins and outs of backpacking ever since our debut outing, a two-night trip that consisted of a 3.5-mile trek to a lake that immediately immersed us into the joys and challenges of the sport. Our memories include a mosquito attack that enabled us to work our way cross-country to our destination at a surprisingly quick pace and a two-hour thunderstorm that rolled through as we took refuge in our brand-new tent and spent the afternoon reading aloud from a paperback novel.
   That evening was spent helping the kids to fish, then savoring the gourmet supper that featured the catch of the day seasoned with wild onions and sage. The clouds went away as quickly as they had come, and a spectacular alpenglow just before dark turned the surrounding granite cliffs to hues of yellow, then orange and red.
   A hike the next day took us to an upper lake where we enjoyed a picnic lunch after dunking ourselves several times in the ice-cold water and basking on sun-drenched boulders.
   Our subsequent trips have all been variations of the above, where we have been totally at the mercy of nature and, concurrently, awestruck by nature. The trips grew longer as we streamlined our gear and the kids became strong enough to carry more than just a water bottle and a whistle.
   AS I LOOKED ABOVE me, I could see a miniscule outline of Johnnie, 17 – this year carrying 40 pounds – nearing the ridgetop. I smiled as I recalled all the times I’ve had this view of him. More often than not, he’s the one who reaches the top of whatever we are climbing first.
   Down below on the sandy slope, I watched Jennie working her way determinedly up the trail. Steady and strong; the way she hikes is also how she approaches life.
   I was raised outside in remote places every summer of my childhood because my dad was a seasonal ranger for the National Park Service. By the time I became a parent, I had the mountains in my blood and the benefit of hindsight to know that children can actually survive a summer without television or telephone and be the better for it.
   I was determined that my children would have that same experience. And as computers, cell phones, and video games began to invade our household, I resolved that we would unplug the electronic distractions, if not for an entire summer at least for a week or two each year, and instead tune into the natural world.
   CONTINUING MY TRUDGE UP the mountain, I contemplated what it takes to plan a “vacation” like this. At times, the preparations are overwhelming because the planning takes significantly longer than the actual trip.
   Here is what I’ve learned during the past 12 years:
   First of all, after the initial investment of gear and clothing, backpacking is an inexpensive vacation. But there is some effort involved in all aspects.
   Conditioning is important and, if a fitness routine is not in place year-round, then regular workouts and dayhikes should be started several months in advance of hoisting that pack. As I’ve aged, I’ve noticed that I have to be in peak shape to really enjoy a vacation that entails carrying a house on my back while tackling some of the steepest peaks and passes in the Sierra day after day.
   Being fit and acclimatized is especially important when hiking with young ‘uns because the strongest member of the team needs to be Mom or Dad, so when the trail becomes too steep, the mosquitoes too thick, the weather too stormy, or the pack too heavy, the parents can ease the burden, handle any situation that arises, and keep everybody upbeat and moving along safely and somewhat on schedule.
   That brings us to the route, which must be planned meticulously. Once a trip is selected, factor mileage with the number of days minus layover days desired to make sure the trip is feasible within the time constraints.
   Also to be considered in route selection is the transportation to and from the trailhead(s), the time of year that travel is planned to pre-estimate the level of snow and waterways, and the daily vertical elevation gain. Then each day’s approximate mileage should be determined based on everybody’s expertise, fitness, and pack weight, and campsites conditionally selected.
   Next is food preparation. This also must be started a couple of months in advance. There is no room for error in the planning of meals and snacks, and while a person hiking solo may be content with three meals a day of energy bars, kids need more sustenance and will work with anticipation toward the day’s destinations if knowing a scrumptious meal awaits.
   Then there is the gear to check, repair, or upgrade. And the clothing, which should be light and packable, but adequate for every type of weather situation that could possibly arise.
   When all of the above is accomplished, it’s time to pack. While planning a wilderness trip with children, there are always anxious moments when strategically placing the items into the various backpacks, because the kids are completely entrusting their parents to have all the gear necessary for survival and there are no second chances if a detail is overlooked or an item forgotten.
   An additional curve was added to this equation when, in 1999, our son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Since then, an extra three to five pounds of supplies are packed, some of which are daily necessities and others that ensure we are ready for any emergency associated with this disease that could possibly arise.
   WITH RELIEF I REACH the top of the treeless ridge where it is now a mostly level trek to Glacier Pass. Even though he is nowhere to be seen, I see Johnnie’s tracks in the sand and begin to follow them.
   This brings to mind a concern I’ve always had when traveling in a four-pack, which is that we’re not the lightest on the land. But we’ve attempted to minimize impact by restoring every campsite we’ve trampled and teaching our kids to live by no-trace sensibilities that have become second nature.
   Although the planning phases of a weeklong backpacking trip may seem daunting, as well as the journey itself, it is the time spent together as a family that has made us continue this tradition year after year. We are one on one with our children, doing everything from spending day upon day on the trail together with no outside distraction other than expansive vistas and wildlife sightings, as well as eating together, bathing/swimming together, and sleeping side by side.
   Now that’s the definition of a close family.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
OFFICE: 41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, California
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
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