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.
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 Scouting 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.
August 4th – Saturday
Left Mr. Perkin’s house.
Lunch at Fresno.
Arrived at Wawona. Mix-up in meeting place so we waited here for 2 hours.
Made camp. Valley floor. Duty: I had KP [kitchen patrol] with Johnny Thomas.
Made camp & ate lunch. Tully Hole. Duty: Camp detail. I fixed Mr. Perkin’s hiking staff which he broke.
Ate dinner & went fishing. Thomas caught 1 fish.
Went to bed.
August 15th – Wednesday
Lunch at lake [Silver Pass Lake] south of Silver Pass.
Made camp. Camped at trail camp south of Pocket Meadow. Duty: Fire detail.
Went to bed.
August 16th – Thursday
Lunch at fork of Bear Creek.
Made camp. Upper Bear Creek Meadow. Duty: Cook.
Ate dinner. Went fishing and everyone caught fish. I caught 4-6 fish and Mr. Perkins caught a 12″ fish.
Went to bed.
August 17th – Friday
Lunch at Sally Keyes Lakes.
Made camp. Blayney Meadow. Duty: KP “Doc” Lynn’s birthday so we gave he & Mr. Perkins beer we had been carrying since Sunday.
Went to bed.
August 18th – Saturday
Lunch half way along Florence Lake.
The end at last, north end of Florence Lake.
Dinner in Bakersfield.
 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.
 I did some very light editing and added my own photos for effect.
 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.
 This was their longest (11 miles to camp) and toughest (5,700 feet of elevation gain) day of the trip.
I’d love to know what constituted “old” to Gary and how much his pack weighed.
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! 🙂
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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.