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In the News -
Friday, NOVEMBER 23, 2007
rescued at Ladybug Falls
Living in a rural area like Three Rivers, any emergency can
seem like it’s taking forever for help to arrive. Add to the travel
time to the end of South Fork Drive another 1.7 miles on foot on the Ladybug
Trail and any life-threatening scenario could result in a fatality.
But an incident Thursday, Nov. 15 — a rescue of a badly
injured hiker — had a very different outcome, thanks to quick thinking
by the hiker’s companion and some expert interagency teamwork.
The Ladybug Trail is in a remote section of Sequoia National
Park along the South Fork of the Kaweah River near the park’s southern
boundary. At 3,600 to 4,400 feet elevation in foothill terrain, it gets
its share of hikers in the cooler spring and autumn months.
Last Thursday, the balmy weather seemed ideal for a South
Fork hike to Craig Kanouse, 47, of Visalia and his female companion. The
afternoon’s outing started routinely enough for the experienced
hikers until they arrived at Ladybug Falls in just under two miles from
the primitive South Fork campground.
Just beyond the old Ladybug Camp, there is a short, but steep
and off-trail, descent to the picturesque falls that drop into a series
of pools, which during spring runoff can be swollen with whitewater and
extremely dangerous. According to David Fireman, Ash Mountain subdistrict
ranger who assisted in the rescue, the falls currently have a steady flow
of water and there are several feet of water in the pools below.
The granite outcrops and boulders that form a grotto-like
enclosure around the upper pool have been polished smooth by centuries
of seasonal high water. When Kanouse tried to negotiate the slick rock
down to the falls, he apparently lost his footing and tumbled 20 feet,
striking his head before coming to rest in the upper pool.
His companion immediately made her way down to the pool not
knowing if the unconscious Kanouse was dead or alive. She managed to drag
him out of the water as he regained consciousness, but it became obvious
that he was seriously injured.
After making the victim comfortable and as warm as possible,
Kanouse’s hiking companion ran down the trail, arriving back at
their parked vehicle approximately 30 minutes later. She then drove down
South Fork Drive, stopping at the first house she could find.
Initially, because of where the 911 call originated, the
first Sheriff’s Department deputy on the scene believed that the
victim had fallen near that location outside of park boundaries. Once
it was ascertained that the victim was at the end of the Ladybug Trail,
the Sequoia National Park dispatcher was notified and rangers established
a staging area at South Fork Campground shortly after 4 p.m.
a few minutes, we had a 10-man interagency team hiking out the Ladybug
Trail to locate the victim,” Fireman said.
Because it was already starting to get dark, a helicopter was out of the
took several factors into consideration,” Fireman said, “but
trying to fly in and out of that canyon at dusk is just too dangerous.”
After reaching the locale where the fall occurred, several
team members climbed down to the victim and administered first aid.
could see the victim had suffered severe face trauma and a possible skull
fracture,” Fireman said. “His wrist appeared to be fractured
and his knee cap was shattered.”
Kanouse’s companion told rescuers that she thought
that the backpack the victim was wearing prevented him from being swept
down to the next pool 15 feet below. If that had happened, it’s
likely the unconscious victim would have been thrashed against more rocks
and may have even drowned.
What happened next, Fireman said, was that the patient was
secured to a gurney and hoisted back up to the trail. Then with the entire
rescue team in tow, Kanouse was walked out the nearly two miles in a wheeled
After arriving at the South Fork parking lot around 9:30
p.m., Kanouse was transported via ambulance to Kaweah Delta Hospital in
Visalia. Because the patient required specialized surgery, he was later
transported to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno where he was
listed this week as “recovering” from his ordeal.
There were 30 members of five different agencies who assisted
in the rescue: Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Tulare County
Fire, Cal Fire, Three Rivers Ambulance, and Sequoia National Park.
quick response of all the local rescue personnel and everybody working
together made this hiker’s safe rescue possible,” said Fireman.
“The teamwork of the experts out there was outstanding.”
New Sequoia district ranger on the way
Sometimes the best holiday gifts come early and that appears
to be the case with the appointment of Dan Pontbriand as the new Sequoia
district ranger. Pontbriand will officially accept the post on Sunday,
Jan. 20, 2008, and should be on duty by the first week of February.
According to Chief Ranger J.D. Swed, Sequoia is fortunate
to land Pontbriand, who is currently stationed in Washington, D.C., serving
as Branch Chief of Emergency Services. Swed reported that Sequoia’s
newest ranger is the system-wide program manager for search and rescue,
emergency medical services, incident management, and also the National
Park Service dive program.
Pontbriand graduated from the University of Maine with a
degree in recreation management and formerly served as a district ranger
at Olympic National Park in the Lake District. He has also worked at Bighorn
Canyon National Recreation Area, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Boston
National Historic Park, Shenandoah National Park, Big Bend National Park,
and Grand Teton National Park.
work on national security programs and national committees has served
the NPS well in gaining recognition for our employees and our agency,”
Swed wrote in a parks memo. “He brings all of the field skills we
associate with rangers with his number of years in the service and the
management skill of directing national programs at the Washington level.”
New Lemon Cove mural
A new mural depicting an image of Jesus Christ with contemporary
children in a Sierra foothills scene is located on the front of the Lemon
Cove Presbyterian Church. The seven-by-12-foot work of art was painted
by Marie Munger of Lemon Cove.
In memory of…
Jean Darsey (1921-2007) spearheaded the Redbud Garden Club’s
Community Beautification Committee for many years. A plaque was dedicated
in her honor Sunday, Nov. 18, at the Three Rivers Post Office.
Weekend weather in a word: Cool
Dry, cooler air with periods of sunshine is on tap for the
remainder of Thanksgiving weekend. The best chance for extended sunny
days is in the nearby mountains above 5,000 feet.
Daytime highs in the foothills will be in the upper 60s;
nighttime lows will be in the upper 30s. Mountain temperatures will top
out around 50 with nighttime lows in the mid-to-lower 20s at 7,000 feet.
Contrary to summer heating patterns, during quiet weather
like what’s been experienced recently in the central San Joaquin
Valley, the lower lying areas are actually a few degrees cooler than the
foothills. That’s because colder mountain air drains downward and
is trapped on the valley floor by the lack of wind.
Want to feel that effect in a micro-climate niche? Take an
early morning walk down to the river… and think about where you
Then count your blessings!
Parks fire staff assists
Southern California fires
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks fire management staff
provided assistance with fire suppression in Southern California during
the series of at least 24 separate wildfires that began Saturday, Oct.
20, and were fueled by Santa Ana winds.
According to Deb Schweizer, Sequoia-Kings Canyon fire education
specialist, the following parks resources were assigned:
Interagency Hotshot Crew: Santiago Fire, Orange County.
51, Kings Canyon: Slide Fire, San Bernardino County.
Birkholz, fire planner: Status check-in and demobilization at the Witch
Fire, San Diego County.
Dethlefs, Crew 91, Sequoia National Park: Field observer at the Witch
Fire, San Diego County.
Allen, Sequoia District fire management officer: Safety officer at the
Grass Valley Fire, San Bernardino County.
Schweizer, fire education specialist: Information officer at the Grass
Valley Fire, San Bernardino County.
White, helitack: Helicopter manager at the Witch Fire, San Diego County.
Apland and Bobby Hawkins, helitack: Helicopter crewmembers at the Witch
Fire, San Diego County.
parks managed the level of response to assist our neighbors in Southern
California as much as possible while ensuring that adequate staffing of
the parks was in place in case of any new fires in the parks themselves,”
3R youth and Woodlake Pop Warner football
A TRIO OF THREE RIVERS players were part of the gridiron
gang that led the Woodlake Tiger Cubs to a 9-4 overall record, a league
championship, and a second-place finish out of 20 area teams in the Pop
Warner Juniors Division (10-12 years old). The roster of 35 was coached
by Johnny Fernandez and assistants Tim Smith, Ricardo Rodriguez, and brothers
Sid and Manny Martinez.
Weckert, lifetime 3R resident
1920 ~ 2007
Russell Weckert, who was born in Three Rivers and lived here
for most of his life, died Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007. He was 87.
Russ was born May 3, 1920, to Kenneth and Bessie Weckert
of Three Rivers. He was the grandson of Walter Fry, the first civilian
superintendent of Sequoia National Park.
He lived for most of his life on the family property, which
is located along Sierra Drive just downriver from Reimer’s Candies
During the Flood of 1955, Russ performed a heroic act by
saving his 82-year-old neighbor. He spent the night on the roof of a house,
barely above the raging river. He protected the man from the elements
by giving him his raincoat, and when the man began suffering from shock
and exposure, Russ spent hours pounding on the older man to keep his circulation
When Russ’s eyesight began failing several years ago,
he moved to Visalia and his closest companion became his guide dog.
He was a dedicated fan of the High Sierra Jazz Band and continued
to attend Jazzaffair, even after he lost his sight.
Russ is survived by his half-sister, Jessie Bequette, who
was also raised in Three Rivers. Jessie, who now lives in Visalia, graduated
Woodlake High School with the Class of 1924 and is 101 years of age.
A private burial will be held at Three Rivers Cemetery. A
memorial service will be scheduled for a later date.
Remembrances in Russ’s name may be made to Guide Dogs
for the Blind. Donations are accepted online at www.guidedogs.com; by
mail at Development Department, Guide Dogs for the Blind, P.O. Box 3950,
San Rafael, CA 94912-3950; or by calling 1-800-295-4050.
HIKING THE PARKS
Rerouted in Sequoia’s backcountry
A family’s journey into the wilderness and back
Day 6 (Part 6)
Thursday, July 19
Nine Lake Basin
to Hamilton Lake, 4.5 miles
day, the second of our layover days at Nine Lake Basin, was a day to relax.
Especially because of the star party we celebrated earlier.
We parents awoke in the wee hours and caught a glimpse through
the tent netting of a brilliant night sky. We emerged from our sleeping
bags and went out for a better view.
The scene resembled the Northern Lights as the entire sky
was aglow. A couple of shooting stars later, we knew we had to awaken
the kids as this scene, unobstructed by artificial lights, was not to
It wasn’t an easy task to roust them, especially because
they had only fallen asleep an hour before after talking and laughing
well into the night. (John and I, although usually exhausted, will normally
tolerate this late-night rambunctiousness, figuring it a prodigious deterrent
to a wayward bear who may be tempted to make a food foray on our camp).
The coercion and bribery tactics worked, and soon we were
all reclined on granite and watching the show in the sky. It was a rare
and extraordinary experience.
At lunchtime, we were sitting amongst these same boulders
near our campsite, feasting on tabouli, instant miso soup, home-dried
fruit, and crackers with a choice of toppings — hummus, peanut butter,
and/or parmesan cheese.
We had not seen another person for two days, so it was startling
and a little surreal when we noticed a hiker approaching our camp. It
took the hiker even longer to see us as he was well away from any beaten
path and certainly wasn’t expecting to run across a family of four
camped out in the backcountry.
Some of our favorite people we’ve ever met have been
while backpacking. This was no exception, and we enjoyed some great conversation
with our newfound friend, Ray, from Florida.
After getting acquainted, he continued on his way by putting
his camera, water bottle, and snacks in a fanny pack and leaving his daypack
in our care as he ventured higher into the glacial basin, following the
same route that I had taken the day before [Hiking the Parks, Nov. 2,
Ray was planning to be back at his Hamilton Lake campsite
that night, but felt better knowing that we knew his general direction
in case he didn’t return in a reasonable amount of time from his
solo trip into the wilderness.
John soon followed, heading up the hillside with camera in
hand. The mountains were calling.
Everyone eventually returned safe and sound, and the next
morning, we packed up and left behind no trace at what had been our home
for the last two days. We headed out cross-country to merge with the High
Sierra Trail where it ascends Kaweah Gap.
We left the area planning to follow the High Sierra Trail
to its terminus at Crescent Meadow. Since this was a change from our original
plans, our vehicle was in Mineral King, so a ride would have to be arranged.
But one thing about this trip was certain: the best-laid
plans were sure to change… again.
The trail from Kaweah Gap (elevation 10,400 feet) to Hamilton
Lake (elevation 8,235 feet) is scenic and dramatic. However, there are
portions that aren’t for those with an aversion to heights or sheer
If ever on Kaweah Gap, take time to search out the plaque
that is affixed to the base of Mount Stewart, commemorating the efforts
of Tulare County residents, headed by (as the plaque explains) “Col.
George W. Stewart (1857-1931), The Founder of Sequoia National Park,”
that resulted in Congress establishing Sequoia, the nation’s second
national park, on Sept. 25, 1890.
Descending from Kaweah Gap, the route travels through a narrow
U-shaped canyon, bordered by the vertical slopes of Eagle Scout Peak and
Mount Stewart, leaving just enough room for a tarn and the trail.
It then winds through some rock outcrops, where the first
glimpse of the aptly-named Precipice Lake is seen. This is a spectacular
high-mountain lake (elevation 10,320 feet).
It is sheltered on all sides from air currents so has a glass-like
surface. The lake is in such a deep cirque that it is a dark blue that
would be chillingly ominous except that this creates the optimal palette
on which to reflect the mossy glaciated headwall that drops abruptly into
the lake, making it difficult to distinguish where the rock stops and
After leaving Precipice Lake, the trail descends toward another
unnamed lake, then clings to the mountainside as it contours north to
Hamilton Lake, which soon comes into view more than 1,500 feet below.
The most anticipated section of the trail for us, however,
was just ahead — the Hamilton Gorge. We had been here once before,
five summers previously (when the kids were 12 and 13), traveling in the
uphill direction on that journey.
Here is how this section of trail was written up after that
[The trail] is a historic feat of engineering as the
route is chiseled out of vertical rock walls and hikers pass through a
tunnel of blasted-out granite as they circumnavigate the steep avalanche
chute [see photo, pages 6-7].
This narrow horseshoe section of ledge and tunnel is exciting
and harrowing, yes, but not compared to its predecessor. In 1932, as part
of the construction of the High Sierra Trail, a steel suspension bridge
was erected by the Park Service from one side of the chasm to the other,
hovering hundreds of feet above the gorge.
Being located in an avalanche chute determined the fate of
this bridge. In the winter of 1937, an avalanche swept the bridge nearly
1,000 feet down to the edge of upper Hamilton Lake. The concrete foundations
and some remnants of steel are all that remain of this first attempt at
Today, hikers maneuver cliffside through a tunnel painstakingly
blasted from solid rock by the CCCs (Civilian Conservation Corps). It
was completed in the summer of 1938.
After passing through the tunnel, and with our destination
of Hamilton Lake now in view the entire descent, we continued another
mile amidst stands of manzanita and chinquapin to where the lake reposes,
encircled by gleaming granite slabs. We arrived early in the day by backpacking
standards, so this busy overnight stop was presently deserted and we had
our pick of the prime sites.
When we stayed here five years ago, we shared the area with
two dozen other people. This overcrowding can be a disappointment for
those expecting wilderness solitude.
We had vowed never to set up camp here again, but because
we were here at midday, we were able to enjoy the area before the evening’s
hordes of newcomers arrived.
Since the temperature was hovering near 80 degrees, we spent
the afternoon swimming, which is actually possible in this High Sierra