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In the News - Friday, NOVEMBER 23, 2007

Hiker 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.

  “Within 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 question.

  “We 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.

  “I 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 litter.
   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.

  “The 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.

  “Dan’s 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 live.
Then count your blessings!

Parks fire staff assists

with 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:

  —Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew: Santiago Fire, Orange County.

  —Engine 51, Kings Canyon: Slide Fire, San Bernardino County.

  —Anne Birkholz, fire planner: Status check-in and demobilization at the Witch Fire, San Diego County.

  —Brandon Dethlefs, Crew 91, Sequoia National Park: Field observer at the Witch Fire, San Diego County.

  —Dave Allen, Sequoia District fire management officer: Safety officer at the Grass Valley Fire, San Bernardino County.

  —Deb Schweizer, fire education specialist: Information officer at the Grass Valley Fire, San Bernardino County.

  —Mike White, helitack: Helicopter manager at the Witch Fire, San Diego County.

  —Erik Apland and Bobby Hawkins, helitack: Helicopter crewmembers at the Witch Fire, San Diego County.

  “The 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,” said Deb.

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.


Russell 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 store.
   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 flowing.
   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; 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.

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

  The previous 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 be missed.
   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, 2007].
   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 dropoffs.
   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 water begins.
   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 trip:
   [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 a crossing.
   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 lake.

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