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Kaweah Kam


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In the News - Friday, NOVEMBER 2, 2007

Imperfect storm

packs eerie punch

   After a week of unprecedented Santa Ana winds and devastating fires in Southern California, it didn’t take long to see what was next. Monday’s awesome display of nature that raked random parts of the Central Valley seemed to siphon much of the storm’s imperfect energy up and over the Kaweah canyon as the fast-moving system made its way across the Western Divide.
   Imperfect because the storm’s effect was major in some areas but very limited just a few miles away. In its wake, it left some areas that experienced a cloudburst, widespread runoff, sporadic flooding, lots of loose rock, and more downed tree branches than area residents could chainsaw in a single day.
   Locally, Southern California Edison crews were scrambling this week to repair downed lines, but in most parts of Three Rivers the power remained on throughout the onslaught and only went out for little more than an hour for the majority of the SCE customers in the region.
   The exception to the sporadic outages was what residents experienced up and down the South Fork. Their power went out in the early morning hours and was not restored until 12 hours later on Tuesday afternoon.
   It all began with a spate of severe storm warnings that were issued by the U.S. Weather Service at Hanford shortly before 5 p.m. Monday There were a line of significant storm cells developing and moving toward the foothills, the warnings stated, accompanied by high wind gusts and significant downpours that might cause localized damage and flooding in the hardest hit areas.
   The instigator of the surprise storm was a cache of tropical low pressure parked off the coast of California for the last several days that had been flirting with some cooler air aloft. When the air masses finally collided over Central California, the foothills of Tulare and Fresno counties had the perfect recipe for an imperfect storm.
   Energy, in the form of small, sporadic cells began cutting off from what suddenly had become a rapidly moving larger air mass tracking eastward. Kaweah canyon residents experienced the leading edge of the storm as a battle royal of horizontal lightning strikes as two of the squall lines came crashing together from the south and the north.
   What followed for the next hour or so until 9 p.m. were wind gusts that topped 70 miles per hour in some canyon areas, one-inch hail stones in some areas, incessant sheet lightning that lit the night sky with eerie strobe lighting, and torrential sheets of rain that at times were falling horizontally rather than vertically.
   The consensus of most storm watchers was some shock, but more awe. Old-timers could not recall ever seeing that particular type lightning storm in Three Rivers.
   Local rain gauges were all over the charts. By morning, most had at least 1.65 inches, but one gauge in Washburn Cove off Kaweah River Drive reportedly recorded a whopping five inches.
   In nearby Sequoia National Park, the hardest hit areas were Shepherd’s Saddle, the Hockett Plateau, Paradise Ridge, and Tar Gap in the vicinity of Mineral King. Lightning was described as “cloud to cloud” with considerable rainfall.
   When the clouds parted on Tuesday, a light dusting of snow was visible on Alta Peak and there were no fires immediately reported in the Kaweah drainage. There were however several ground strikes that reportedly caused fires in the mountains between Shaver Lake and Yosemite National Park.
   Indian summer-like conditions with daytime highs around 80 degrees are in the weekend forecast. Ideal weather for football and yard clean-up chores, cleaning rain gutters and preparing for a winter that is forecast to have some semblance of ’normal’ storms until at least the end of January.

Sequoia roadwork ending…

for now

   In any construction project, when the inspector signs the so-called certificate of completion it usually is a time to celebrate a job well done. At Wednesday’s walk-through and media tour marking the completion of the current phase of the Generals Highway reconstruction, there was elation as the upbeat team of managers looked back on the now nearly completed 18_month contract.

  “We had a good team out here so there was really nothing unusual in terms of the work that was being done within the scope of the contract,” said Scott Wolfert, Federal Highway Administration project engineer. “This is the final inspection today where we generate a punch list of some [minor] things to be completed. We’re really happy with the results given the history of the project.”
   Wolfert, who as the federal highways principal, is the representative “owner” and responsible for the specifications and signing off on the $11.5 million contract with Agee Construction Company of Clovis. The history he made reference to was the fact that the original bid on the 2.1 miles from Big Fern Springs to Amphitheater Point had to repackaged to attract a successful bidder.
   As recently as four weeks ago, the unpaved roadway was still a mess, littered with construction materials, equipment, and debris. Thanks to weather that mostly cooperated, the new highway is a showcase road reconstruction, built for greater safety and a smoother ride.
   The paving of the old roadway was the easy part, according to Wolfert, but restoring the retaining walls presented a formidable engineering challenge.

  “The difficulty in doing a job like this where the public is involved is incredible,” said Chris Hickey, Agee’s chief engineer. “We never let the contractual issues hold us up.”
   The 18-month project, according to Alexander Picavet, parks’ spokesperson, finished on schedule and under budget. Picavet also pointed out that the 30 or more workers at certain times were housed in Three Rivers and spent lots of dollars locally.

  “This is not your typical highway job,” said Dan Blackwell, chief of maintenance, who as acting superintendent attended on behalf of Sequoia National Park. “The fact that we’re here today speaks well for this project and the team that did the work.”
   Conspicuously missing for the walk-through were the reporters from media that were quick to publicize the road construction caused delays. Only the Visalia Times Delta, who dispatched a freelancer, and the parks’ local newspaper, made the effort to attend the historic occasion.
   Among the more noticeable work that remained to be completed were several sections of new curb that were washed out by Monday’s storm. Those were all being repaired this past week while the inspection team from Denver was on the job.
   The traffic signals could be removed from Generals Highway as soon as this weekend. There is no new construction scheduled for 2008 and it may be two or three years until the next phase is ready to go.

Now open…

   John McWilliams of Three Rivers, a co-owner of the new Discoveries West Gallery & Archives in Three Rivers, cut the ceremonial ribbon to kick off the grand-opening festivities last Sunday. In attendance were dignitaries such as county Supervisor Allen Ishida and Meaghan Swinney of Three Rivers, who is Miss Tulare County 2007.

Free public forum focuses

on future of Tulare County growth

   The public is invited to attend a panel discussion on “The Future of Growth in Tulare County: Four Perspectives, Plus Yours.” The event is sponsored by the Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth and the College of the Sequoias.
   The forum will be held Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the Ponderosa Building’s lecture hall (Room 350, located behind the COS theatre).
   Issues such as the direction of development, impacts on local economy and farmland, water supply, air quality, transportation, and public safety will be discussed. The Tulare County Citizens (TCC) group feels these topics are timely due to the county General Plan process that is currently underway.
   Four panelists will offer insights and expertise: Mike Knopf, engineer, planner, and president of Quad Knopf, Inc.; Greg Kirkpatrick, founder of Farmland Conservation Strategies; Laurel Firestone, co-executive director of the nonprofit Community Water Center; and Jeff Steen, citrus rancher and TCC co-chair.
   For more information, contact Brian Newton, by calling 904-5435 or emailing

Chamber announces

phonebook bid contest

Editor’s note: The following is the first installment in what is planned to be a regular monthly column by the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce, intended to announce the organization’s activities and events. Chamber board member Catherine Launey (Three Rivers Bed & Breakfast), who has spearheaded this public-relations project, has hopes that other organizations in Three Rivers will follow suit by also preparing regular submissions.
                                                * * *
   Put your business on the back cover of the 2008-2009 Three Rivers phonebook and let your advertising dollars work for you!
   The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce is updating the next Three Rivers phonebook and offering new and exciting advertising opportunities. Chamber members can show off their business on the phonebook’s back cover by submitting a sealed bid for this coveted spot by December 31, 2007. Minimum bid is $1,000.
   Please send your business name, contact information, and bid amount to: Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 818, Three Rivers, CA 93271. Call (559) 561-3300 for more information.
   The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce submitted this article.

Town meeting

features busy agenda

   The monthly Town Hall Meeting, presented by the Three Rivers Village Foundation, will include several topics such as updates on ambulance service, the national parks, the chamber of commerce, and key county developments in planning that will have future implications for Three Rivers. The meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 5, 7 p.m., at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.

  “We have five speakers to furnish updates on their respective activities and organizations and there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion on any topic that’s relevant,” said Tom Sparks, who conducts the informal forums on behalf of the Foundation.
   John Elliott, the Tulare County-District 1 planning commissioner, recently returned from the 77th annual State Conference of the California County Planning Commissioners Association in South Lake Tahoe. There were sessions on cultural resources, general plans, oak woodlands, Native American Heritage, Williamson Act, sand and gravel mining, and how to make county agencies more attractive to a new generation of civil servants.
   Elliott was also elected as a Central Section representative to the 13-member executive board that governs the organization. It’s an opportunity, he said, to invite the CCPCA to hold its annual meeting for the first time in Tulare County.
   Tom Sparks said there are also new developments relative to Tulare County’s efforts to negotiate an ambulance service agreement for 2008. Representatives from the Three Rivers Ambulance will furnish an update and answer ambulance-related questions.
   Alex Picavet, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks information officer, will discuss local Park Service issues, while her husband, Fred Picavet, a contract specialist with the parks, will report on behalf of the Village Foundation regarding efforts to secure a grant that would furnish flashing lights and a solar-powered speed feedback sign at the highway crosswalk at Three Rivers School.
   For more information about the upcoming meeting, call Tom Sparks 561-0406.


A family’s journey into

the wilderness and back

Days 4-5 (Part 5)
July 17-18
Nine Lake Basin layover days

   After hiking with heavy packs for the past three days, our family of four was happy to have a couple days of rest. The days were sunny and warm, the temperature reaching nearly 80 degrees.
   Smoke could be seen wafting above some of the ridges that line the Big Arroyo trench to the south, a residual effect of the lightning storm that we experienced up close and personal two days before.
   The mornings were spent organizing gear, filtering water and filling water bottles, fishing, playing Frisbee and backgammon, and reading and lounging on sunny rocks. The main entrée for both days’ lunches was homemade pasta salad — a favorite backcountry meal of ours — which was brought to life by soaking in water in a zippered plastic bag throughout the morning.
   On the first day, I had attempted to garner interest in an exploration of the area. I was eyeing Mount Stewart or Eagle Scout Peak, which were towering 1,500 feet or so over us to the west. Another distinguished landscape feature that beckoned was the 200-foot waterfall just east of our camp. Staying in a place called “Nine Lake Basin,” it was easy to imagine what awaited beyond where that water was shooting out of the chasm.
   It looked like it would be a simple boulder-hop to the top. Johnnie, our 17-year-old son, had worked his way about halfway up the nearby ridge the previous evening.
   No one was taking me up on my offer for an outing, but I was feeling restless. It wouldn’t be wise for me to climb any of the nearby peaks alone and, upon closer inspection, the waterfall looked like a slippery route, so I meandered up the hillside above our camp and due east of the lowest lake in the chain.
   This was the perfect route for a lone hiker and to see all to which the basin offers access. Upon reaching the top of mountain, the terrain becomes a gentle gradient of glaciated granite and moist meadows.
   I first traversed north to the largest Nine Lake (elevation 10,725 feet) and, beyond, to a smaller lake surrounded on three sides by a steep rock face. This was the end of the basin in this direction so I turned back south, seeing a small lake above me and passing a placid, rockbound pond that was there solely because of snowmelt as there were no inlet or outlet streams.
   My route ended abruptly as I reached a cliff from where I could see our tents below. I ventured east along this ridge and continued to climb toward the enormous facade of the Kaweah Peaks Ridge.
I had enjoyed the marvelous views of these peaks many times from afar but had never been close enough to reach out and touch them. But here they were — Red Kaweah, Black Kaweah, Queen Kaweah, and Mount Kaweah — rising starkly above the glaciers that cling stubbornly to the western base of the massive ridge that boasts heights of nearly 14,000 feet.
   I arrived at the base of the ridge by walking along the shore of yet another lake (this was number five or six out of nine or more tarns in this secluded glacial basin). I was stopped by snow directly below Lawson Peak, which is just north of Kaweah Queen.
   Again, I was turned around by the rugged terrain. I began following the lake’s outlet stream and it led me to the edge of another ridge that looked down toward our camp, where the idle stream turns into the waterfall, roaring headlong down the granite slabs.
   From this vantage point, it was easy to see that this is not the route to take to mount this ridge. I followed the ridgeline back north until the terrain leveled out enough that I could turn west toward the hillside dotted with gnarled, weather-beaten whitebark pines, which is where I had begun this afternoon outing and where I made my descent to camp.

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