Gary Croan’s John Muir Trail (August 1956)

The other day The LovedOne brought home a small book from the “free” box at the library. It turned out to be a 5th Edition (1953) of Starr’s Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Region (purchased from the still extant Vroman’s Books in Pasadena, California). The guide’s paper dust jacket was still in good condition, so it was somewhat of a rare find (at least for us trail guide geeks). Even rarer were the notes I found inside: Log of the John Muir Trail Hike by Gary Croan (August 1956). These detailed the backpack Gary’s Scout troop did along the Muir Trail that summer from Yosemite Valley to Florence Lake. Also included were his personal gear list and a brochure for Dri-Lite Foods, one of the pioneers in freeze dried foods.[1] His troop appears to have been based in the Los Angeles area, which meant they got to Yosemite Valley on [now old] Highway 99 since Interstate-5 didn’t exist in 1956. I’ve found brief notes in old guidebooks before, but this is the first set I’ve found detailing a backpack on an iconic trail in the days before permits and crowds and freeways. That he described the same backpack I did in August of 1972, sans scouts and going as far as Piute Creek, is a remarkable coincidence.  I am not, however, reproducing Gary’s notes here as some nostalgic paean to the “good old days” – as hindsight tends to accentuate the “good” and edit out the “bad” – but merely as a look at a young person’s outdoor experience in a now bygone era.[2]

August 4th – Saturday

John Muir Trail 1956
Yosemite Valley (April 2018)
6:30AM Left Mr. Perkin’s house.
12:00PM Lunch at Fresno.
2:30PM Arrived at Wawona. Mix-up in meeting place so we waited here for 2 hours.
5:00PM Made camp. Valley floor. Duty: I had KP [kitchen patrol] with Johnny Thomas.
7:00PM Ate dinner. Watched fire fall.[3]
10:00PM Went to bed. Bear took some food during night.

August 5th – Sunday

John Muir Trail 1956
Long Meadow (August 2015)
6:30AM Got up.
7:45AM Ate breakfast.
9:30AM Broke camp.
11:05AM Arrived at Vernal Falls. I never want to go up another stairs.[4]
12:30PM Lunch at Nevada Falls.
6:00PM Made camp. Camped along trail before pass into Long Meadow.
7:00PM Ate cold dinner. Went to bed.

August 6th – Monday

John Muir Trail 1956
Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral Range (August 2015)
6:00AM Got up. Ate no breakfast because we thought we would reach Long Meadow soon.
7:00AM Broke camp.
11:00AM Ate lunch at Long Meadow.
5:00PM Made camp. Tuolumne Meadow. Duty: Camp detail. Went to store & replenished food that bear had taken.
7:30PM Ate dinner.
9:00PM Went to bed.

August 7th – Tuesday

John Muir Trail 1956
Lyell Canyon (August 1972)
6:00AM Got up.
7:30AM Ate breakfast.
9:00AM Broke camp.
12:00PM Lunch. About ½ hour before & during lunch we fished (no luck).
5:30PM Made camp. Upper Lyell Base Camp. Duty: Fire building. B. Lynn, R. Ax & I got to camp first; so we built fire & got everything ready.
6:30PM Ate dinner.
8:00PM Went to bed.

August 8th – Wednesday

John Muir Trail 1956
Banner Peak from Thousand Island Lake (August 1972)
6:00AM Got up.
7:30AM Ate breakfast.
9:30AM Broke camp.
11:30AM Got to top of Donahue Pass. Pass was completely covered with snow.
1:00PM Lunch at junction of Marie Lake outlet and Rush Creek.
5:15PM Made camp. Thousand Island Lake.
7:30PM Ate dinner. Went fishing after dinner (no luck).
9:15PM Went to bed.

August 9th – Thursday

John Muir Trail 1956
Shadow Lake (August 1972)
6:15AM Got up.
7:30AM Ate breakfast.
8:30AM Broke camp.
9:00AM Did conservation by building ford across Thousand Island Lake outlet.
12:15PM Lunch at Shadow Creek junction.
1:00PM Made camp. Shadow Creek. I went swimming. Duty: KP.
5:00PM Went fishing.
6:15PM Ate dinner.
8:20PM Went to bed.

August 10th – Friday

John Muir Trail 1956
Shadow Lake (August 1972)
6:00AM Got up. Layover day Shadow Creek.
8:15AM Went fishing at Lake Ediza. R. Ax caught one fish.
2:30PM Ate hot lunch which was a regular dinner.
6:30PM Ate dinner.
8:00PM Went to bed.

August 11th – Saturday

John Muir Trail 1956
Minarets (September 2018)
6:00AM Got up.
7:15AM Ate breakfast.
9:30AM Broke camp.
1:00PM Lunch at Minaret Spring.
2:30PM Arrived at Reds Meadow.
2:45PM Took shower at hot spring.
3:30PM Made camp. Reds Meadow. Duty: Fire detail. Refill day.
4 to 5PM Went to store.
5:00PM Distributed new food & supplies.
7:00PM Ate dinner.
9:00PM Went to bed.

August 12th – Sunday

John Muir Trail 1956
Stone and Tree (September 2014)
6:30AM Got up. Got up. I built firepit for cooking merit badge.
9:30AM Broke camp. Did conservation along trail by removing dead trees etc. from trail. Went to Red Cones extinct volcano. P. Perkins & I collected lava cinder for fish aquariums (5 lbs extra).
12:45PM Lunch at Crater Creek.
4:00PM Made camp. Deer Creek. Duty: Cook. Went fishing (no luck).
7:15PM Ate dinner.
8:15PM A herd of horses almost ran through the camp so we put up spook lines in case they came back. Sat around the fire & sang songs.
9:30PM Went to bed.

August 13th – Monday

John Muir Trail 1956
Sunrise (August 2016)
5:30AM Got up and went fishing with Mr. Perkins and “Doc” Lynn. Also discovered we aren’t at Duck Creek like we thought. No fish again.
8:30AM Got back from fishing and fixed full breakfast for cooking merit badge.
9:15PM Ate breakfast.
10:50AM Broke camp.
2:00PM Lunch at Duck Creek. Built ford across creek.
4:45PM Made camp. Purple Lake. Duty: KP. Had to do a lot of work to cleanup after YMCA.
7:00PM Ate dinner.
9:30PM Went to bed.

August 14th – Tuesday

John Muir Trail 1956
Sierra Sunset (August 2012)
6:00AM Got up.
7:30AM Ate breakfast. Saw a porcupine & doe.
8:45PM Broke camp.
10:00AM Met an old hiker with 60 lb pack & dog.[5]
11:20PM Made camp & ate lunch. Tully Hole. Duty: Camp detail. I fixed Mr. Perkin’s hiking staff which he broke.
5:30PM Ate dinner & went fishing. Thomas caught 1 fish.
9:00PM Went to bed.

August 15th – Wednesday

John Muir Trail 1956
Marie Lake from Selden Pass (August 1972)
6:00AM Got up.
7:30AM Ate breakfast.
8:15PM Broke camp.
12:15PM Lunch at lake [Silver Pass Lake] south of Silver Pass.
3:30PM Made camp. Camped at trail camp south of Pocket Meadow. Duty: Fire detail.
6:00PM Ate dinner.
8:15PM Went to bed.

August 16th – Thursday

John Muir Trail 1956
Bear Creek near Kip Camp (August 1972)
6:00AM Got up.
6:30AM Ate breakfast.
7:30PM Broke camp.
11:45PM Lunch at fork of Bear Creek.
2:30PM Made camp. Upper Bear Creek Meadow. Duty: Cook.
6:30PM Ate dinner. Went fishing and everyone caught fish. I caught 4-6 fish and Mr. Perkins caught a 12″ fish.
9:00PM Went to bed.

August 17th – Friday

John Muir Trail 1956
Sally Keyes Lakes (August 1972)
6:00AM Got up.
6:30AM Ate breakfast.
8:30PM Broke camp.
11:30PM Lunch at Sally Keyes Lakes.
3:30PM Made camp. Blayney Meadow. Duty: KP “Doc” Lynn’s birthday so we gave he & Mr. Perkins beer we had been carrying since Sunday.
5:30PM Dinner.
8:30PM Went to bed.

August 18th – Saturday

John Muir Trail 1956
Florence Lake (September 1995)
6:00AM Got up.
8:15AM Ate breakfast.
8:30PM Broke camp.
11:45PM Lunch half way along Florence Lake.
2:00PM The end at last, north end of Florence Lake.
5:30PM Dinner in Bakersfield.
10:15PM Got home.

John Muir Trail 1956
“The end at last…”

[1] Dri-Lite Foods opened in 1951 – born of an ill-fated Girl Scout outing.  The scout’s morale had waned after a long trek carrying canned food. Troop leader Ann Benedict realized that in order to preserve energy while active, the food would need to weigh substantially less. She developed the idea of freeze-dried and dehydrated meals that would provide the foundation for today’s Backpacker’s Pantry, based in Boulder, Colorado.

[2] I did some very light editing and added my own photos for effect.

[3] This was a summer time event during which burning hot embers were spilled from the top of Glacier Point. There non-natural firefalls began in 1872 and continued until 1968.

[4] This was their longest (11 miles to camp) and toughest (5,700 feet of elevation gain) day of the trip.

[5]I’d love to know what constituted “old” to Gary and how much his pack weighed.



  1. Yes, those were the days when you could just go to the valley and start hiking. Nothing like today with the traffic, crowds, and permits. Of course, it might have looked “crowded” then to your uncle and his friends! 😉 But if you get away from the iconic, “must instagram” hot-spots like Yosemite or the JMT or the PCT, there are still plenty of places in the Sierras where you can be alone for days. You need to put the Sierras on your bucket list! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Fascinating account. I’ve hiked minimally in the Sierras (something that needs rectification) but have been regaled over the years by the tales of my uncle who grew up in Sacramento. He would have been hiking the Sierras at this time, the mid-1950’s. By the time he was fourteen or fifteen him and his friends, sans adults, would take the bus up to Yosemite Village for their backpacking adventures.


Comments are closed.