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 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.[2]

August 4th – Saturday

Yosemite Valley (April 2018)
6:30AMLeft Mr. Perkin’s house.
12:00PMLunch at Fresno.
2:30PMArrived at Wawona. Mix-up in meeting place so we waited here for 2 hours.
5:00PMMade camp. Valley floor. Duty: I had KP [kitchen patrol] with Johnny Thomas.
7:00PMAte dinner. Watched fire fall.[3]
10:00PMWent to bed. Bear took some food during night.

August 5th – Sunday

Long Meadow (August 2015)
6:30AMGot up.
7:45AMAte breakfast.
9:30AMBroke camp.
11:05AMArrived at Vernal Falls. I never want to go up another stairs.[4]
12:30PMLunch at Nevada Falls.
6:00PMMade camp. Camped along trail before pass into Long Meadow.
7:00PMAte cold dinner. Went to bed.

August 6th – Monday

Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral Range (August 2015)
6:00AMGot up. Ate no breakfast because we thought we would reach Long Meadow soon.
7:00AMBroke camp.
11:00AMAte lunch at Long Meadow.
5:00PMMade camp. Tuolumne Meadow. Duty: Camp detail. Went to store & replenished food that bear had taken.
7:30PMAte dinner.
9:00PMWent to bed.

August 7th – Tuesday

Lyell Canyon (August 1972)
6:00AMGot up.
7:30AMAte breakfast.
9:00AMBroke camp.
12:00PMLunch. About ½ hour before & during lunch we fished (no luck).
5:30PMMade camp. Upper Lyell Base Camp. Duty: Fire building. B. Lynn, R. Ax & I got to camp first; so we built fire & got everything ready.
6:30PMAte dinner.
8:00PMWent to bed.

August 8th – Wednesday

Banner Peak from Thousand Island Lake (August 1972)
6:00AMGot up.
7:30AMAte breakfast.
9:30AMBroke camp.
11:30AMGot to top of Donahue Pass. Pass was completely covered with snow.
1:00PMLunch at junction of Marie Lake outlet and Rush Creek.
5:15PMMade camp. Thousand Island Lake.
7:30PMAte dinner. Went fishing after dinner (no luck).
9:15PMWent to bed.

August 9th – Thursday

Shadow Lake (August 1972)
6:15AMGot up.
7:30AMAte breakfast.
8:30AMBroke camp.
9:00AMDid conservation by building ford across Thousand Island Lake outlet.
12:15PMLunch at Shadow Creek junction.
1:00PMMade camp. Shadow Creek. I went swimming. Duty: KP.
5:00PMWent fishing.
6:15PMAte dinner.
8:20PMWent to bed.

August 10th – Friday

Shadow Lake (August 1972)
6:00AMGot up. Layover day Shadow Creek.
8:15AMWent fishing at Lake Ediza. R. Ax caught one fish.
2:30PMAte hot lunch which was a regular dinner.
6:30PMAte dinner.
8:00PMWent to bed.

August 11th – Saturday

Minarets (September 2018)
6:00AMGot up.
7:15AMAte breakfast.
9:30AMBroke camp.
1:00PMLunch at Minaret Spring.
2:30PMArrived at Reds Meadow.
2:45PMTook shower at hot spring.
3:30PMMade camp. Reds Meadow. Duty: Fire detail. Refill day.
4 to 5PMWent to store.
5:00PMDistributed new food & supplies.
7:00PMAte dinner.
9:00PMWent to bed.

Stone and Tree (September 2014)

August 12th – Sunday

6:30AMGot up. Got up. I built firepit for cooking merit badge.
9:30AMBroke 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).
12:45PMLunch at Crater Creek.
4:00PMMade camp. Deer Creek. Duty: Cook. Went fishing (no luck).
7:15PMAte dinner.
8:15PMA 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.
9:30PMWent to bed.

August 13th – Monday

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

August 14th – Tuesday

Sierra Sunset (August 2012)
6:00AMGot up.
7:30AMAte breakfast. Saw a porcupine & doe.
8:45PMBroke camp.
10:00AMMet an old hiker with 60 lb pack & dog.[5]
11:20PMMade camp & ate lunch. Tully Hole. Duty: Camp detail. I fixed Mr. Perkin’s hiking staff which he broke.
5:30PMAte dinner & went fishing. Thomas caught 1 fish.
9:00PMWent to bed.

August 15th – Wednesday

Marie Lake from Selden Pass (August 1972)
6:00AMGot up.
7:30AMAte breakfast.
8:15PMBroke camp.
12:15PMLunch at lake [Silver Pass Lake] south of Silver Pass.
3:30PMMade camp. Camped at trail camp south of Pocket Meadow. Duty: Fire detail.
6:00PMAte dinner.
8:15PMWent to bed.

August 16th – Thursday

Bear Creek near Kip Camp (August 1972)
6:00AMGot up.
6:30AMAte breakfast.
7:30PMBroke camp.
11:45PMLunch at fork of Bear Creek.
2:30PMMade camp. Upper Bear Creek Meadow. Duty: Cook.
6:30PMAte dinner. Went fishing and everyone caught fish. I caught 4-6 fish and Mr. Perkins caught a 12″ fish.
9:00PMWent to bed.

August 17th – Friday

Sally Keyes Lakes (August 1972)
6:00AMGot up.
6:30AMAte breakfast.
8:30PMBroke camp.
11:30PMLunch at Sally Keyes Lakes.
3:30PMMade camp. Blayney Meadow. Duty: KP “Doc” Lynn’s birthday so we gave he & Mr. Perkins beer we had been carrying since Sunday.
8:30PMWent to bed.

August 18th – Saturday

Florence Lake (September 1995)
6:00AMGot up.
8:15AMAte breakfast.
8:30PMBroke camp.
11:45PMLunch half way along Florence Lake.
2:00PMThe end at last, north end of Florence Lake.
5:30PMDinner in Bakersfield.
10:15PMGot home.

“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.


2 thoughts on “Gary Croan’s John Muir Trail (August 1956)

Add yours

  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.


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