Although many of the sites were not surveyed this month, what little is there shows bad news for the Kern River Basin. As of the May 1 survey date, the Kern River is at 0%. If we look at the US Forest Service snow monitor for California, which does use snow survey data and remote sensing by NOAA, you can see there really is not large masses of snow in the Kern River Basin. It is a dry year and reports of Giant Sequoias still smoldering from the SQF Complex in 2020 shows how dry it really is out there. Plan accordingly this summer and be water wise!
The April snow survey results are in. If you are a native here in the central valley, you know it has been bad regarding the lack of rain and snow. It is the same story for the mountains. The Kern River Basin is at 29% of normal. Unless there is a larger storm system that comes in late, like there was in 2018, it is going to be hot, dry, summer again. Keep watch on water sources when you head out this summer along with any fire damaged trees. At least, if you are going to walk through the Castle Fire scar (aka SQF Complex).
Results are mostly in for the Kern River Basin. Unfortunately they are not good. Most of the snow surveys have reported in giving a 44% of normal for this time of year. Many are hoping for a “Miracle March” and with a storm potentially coming up this weekend and into next week, maybe it will be a start to achieving that Miracle March. Time will tell.
I wanted to let everyone know that the Facebook Page for the Golden Trout Wilderness website has returned. There were some background things that needed changing and the original webpage was lost in the process. Therefore if one way to get news about the wilderness for yourself is via facebook, make sure to add this site to your feed. The direct link is below.
The first snow survey results are in for February 1. Unfortunately it does not look good right now for the wilderness. Snow survey results discovered the area to be at 39% of normal. However, February and March are typically the “wettest” months in California for this area. March 1 and April 1 surveys will be important to seeing what kind of summer the wilderness will be experiencing.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you made the best of 2020 as much as you possibly could. The 2021 “hiking season” will soon be upon us. As such with a new year comes many new things in various parts of our lives. In respect to the website, there is a new way to communicate using Tapatalk’s forums. I have created a group there called Southern Sierra Wilderness.
The forums will be a new way for the community here to engage. By default the forums are closed to public viewing, meaning you need to join. Membership is completely free and there are several options for you to choose from in order to gain access. I believe it will also be a way for users to better share their adventures and photos of their trips, ask for advice, and general communications about the wilderness. I hope you find it helpful and I look forward to interacting with everyone.
Ready to get started? Simply click the link below to join in! Hope to chat with you soon.
Forums -> Southern Sierra Wilderness via Tapatalk.
The Sequoia Complex Fire made its way through a lot of the Golden Trout Wilderness during the summer and fall of 2020. One of those areas near Trout Meadow is a private property inholding called “Cow Camp.” The owners were allowed to return to see what survived and what did not. One individual recorded their observations along the way. Here is what Paul shared.
Cow Camp Now
I spent Sunday night with Bradley and Emily at their home in Springville. We three left for the mountains on Monday morning. The road is only open to residents. Since Bradley and Emily own private property (Cow Camp), they were allowed access and had a letter to prove it. The amount of stuff that was burned was unbelievable. However, the road had been cleared. We did see traffic– Edison and other work trucks. When we turned to go to Lewis trail head, we could see that some parts were burned to a crisp, other parts weren’t. It was amazing how much scenery we could see. It sounds odd, but with the bushes gone you could see the lay of the land better than you ever would have seen it. Terrible thought, but you could. And going in, some places were burned, some were not. The (Golden Trout) pack station had some buildings and corrals burned, some not. I didn’t take the time to really look.
Lewis trail head survived. We tacked up and left for camp. Bradley and Emily followed me in. The trail was in surprisingly good shape. Note: it was amazing how far they got in with a caterpillar or other firefighting truck or equipment with tread. It went in further than you can believe. After that we had a few obstacles. A few walk-arounds, nothing too hairy, but you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t have to. We passed through a burned area, then a not burned area, then a burned area, then a not burned area. Some places were still smoking. The bridge was not touched at all. A lot of stuff around it was burned, but the bridge – not touched.Coming up the hill as you climb, before you level off at the top, one bad tree was down. Not burned, just fell. Had to do some trail clearing just to get by. Bradley and Emily are about 15 – 20 minutes behind me. (Note: I cleared the tree on my way out.)
There’s a place on the trail where you can catch a glimpse of the camp. I don’t always remember where this place is, so I wasn’t worried when I didn’t see tents. Then I went around the corner, up to the gate. I fully believed it was gonna be there. When I got to the gate, I could see that it wasn’t going to be there. It had all burned down, to the ground. So I went up to get a closer look at it.Oh, by the way, there were two pack animals in the meadow, a horse and a mule. They had been there since before the fire started (August 19), maybe way before. They were sure glad to see me.
The camp? Burned, flattened, crispy. Surprisingly, the loading dock survived. It has maybe a hundred little burns, but it survived. At that point I rode back to the gate to meet Bradley and Emily & tell them what I saw. They rode into camp. I rode up to the Forest Service cabin, so we’d have a place to stay. I knew that there would be sleeping bags, cots and other stuff we’d need to stay alive.We could unload our stock, but the catch pen and meadow fence did not survive the fire, so we had to lead our stock back to Bradley’s, because the meadow fence at Cow Camp did not burn. Then we had to walk the mile to back to the Forest Service cabin.
The cabin did not burn, but the outhouses are no more. There are no more outhouses in Trout Meadow.
It was eerie to be in a burned forest. I should say burning. The fire is 75% contained, but it is not OUT. We saw smoke everyday and in the evening we could now and then see a tree burst into flame. None close enough to be a concern, but spooky! Seeing that explained how wind coming up could restart a blaze. We did go and check, but there wasn’t anything we could do.The propane needs to be put back in line. The tanks blew up. The hot plate and refrigerator depend on propane. But it doesn’t look like it will be too much trouble to fix.
We were asked to look out for cattle. We did see cattle. Over twenty head. Just outside the Cow Camp meadow.
We did a lot of sifting. We dragged the metal roofs off the used to be buildings. They use barrels for storage. The barrels were still tightly closed, but the locks were melted. Everything inside the barrels was incinerated or cremated. Unbelievable! The tent cabins? Like they never existed. My cot – the legs were metal, so they survived. The lower water control center- with a solar powered pump was burned. The solar panel was burned. The pump was burned. The fence around the pump was burned. The whole little area was burned to a crisp. The cold box was still there! There was still beer in the cold box! Outhouse? – gone! Nothing, nothing, nothing left everything gone, burned to a crisp. Work shed gone cook shed (Cocina) gone. The (300 gallon) water tank survived. We have a water tank! The water heater for the shower survived! The shower survived! The shower curtains did not! You’ll have to stand naked out in the open to shower, but it survived.So now, what survives for the future. There is a 40-acre fenced meadow with a good fence and good gates. There are flat spots to pitch a tent. There is water for stock and drinking. So, it’s a primo spot for camping. It will need cleaning up. But if you have a tent and a sleeping bag, just like when we actually packed, you can camp.
With a few volunteers, we can probably rebuild the water system in a few days. The sink survived, the kitchen water heater survived. That means hot and cold running water. Okay, no building, but hot and cold running water! For dishes and a shower!The electricity would be another project. It would be easy to reinstall.
The flat spots would have to be cleared (of ashes). We’d need a hitch rail. However, the loading dock does not need to be replaced.
Rebuilding will not be too hard. The sawmill needs to be replaced, first. There will be plenty of dead trees to mill in spring. I’ve been working there for fifteen years. Fifteen years of fixing it up, improving it. There were already three buildings and an outhouse. Now we have to kinda start over. But really, it is a deluxe camping spot. It has a fenced meadow, water, flat spots to pitch a tent.
It will be work. But, rebuilding with a plan should take less time. I am willing to listen to ideas.The cabin up the hill needs work, too. It would need the meadow fence and catch pen repaired and the outhouse rebuilt before it could be used. The Forestry needs to okay repairs, but the outhouse is important. This is a Forestry building. It has to have a bathroom. So, planning needs to start right away.
Maybe we can talk about work projects. Maybe at Rendezvous (Back Country Horsemen of California Rendezvous). I’ve been rambling on, it’s what I do. But Cow Camp has been very nice. I really want to see it restored.Anyone ready? Remember, fenced meadow, running water, water for stock, flat spots for tents.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us all Paul! I am sure others will enjoy seeing that area through your eyes since it will be awhile before others venture into the area. Thanks again!
Forest officials have extended the closure of Sequoia National Forest managed land near the Castle Fire through December 31, 2020. Despite cooler temperatures, hot spots continue to smolder and burn through dry vegetation. This creates hazardous conditions for anyone walking through the burned area such as smoldering stump holes and fire weakened trees. Highway 190, the Western Divide Highway and Mtn. road 50 over Parker Pass remain open to through travel. Trail of 100 Giants is open for day use until winter weather makes it necessary for Tulare County to close the Western Divide Highway and Mtn. Road 50 over Parker Pass.
View the Closure Map
The week of August 15, California experienced a historic lightning siege with a reported 11,000 lightning strikes over 72-hours, igniting more than 650 wildfires. Two of the lightning-caused fires, the Castle and Shotgun fires (Sequoia (SQF) Complex), were reported by Bald Mountain Lookout Wednesday, August 19, at approximately 7 am. Six 20-person hand crews hiked into the Golden Trout Wilderness to attack the Castle Fire, struggling against extreme fire behavior and poor visibility due to smoke.
Fire crews and air attack reported erratic behavior with wind-driven fire runs burning past the Little Kern River. Although thousands of gallons of water and retardant were used to stop the fire’s progression, within a few days the fire spread to more than 3,000 acres within the Golden Trout Wilderness. Since day 1, the fire has been in full suppression mode, using all available resources.
As concerns mounted over the fire’s behavior, Forest officials began requesting voluntary evacuations for mountain communities. Forest personnel reached out to forty permit holders with backcountry trips planned into the fire area. They implemented search and rescue efforts for hikers reported within the vicinity of the Castle Fire. On August 22, helicopter-523, based at the Forest Service Helibase in Kernville, airlifted five hikers out of the wilderness to safety.
Due to the incident’s complexity, we have had several teams and firefighters from throughout the United States and Mexico fight the blaze in our forest and mountain communities.
- • August 23, only 4-days after the fire was discovered, California Interagency Incident Management Team 12, a Type 2 team, took command of the incident.
- • September 3, command of the incident was transferred to the Northern Rockies Incident Management Team 1, a Type 1 team.
- • September 16, the complex was divided into two zones; East and West. CAL FIRE Incident Management Team 6 assumed command of the West Zone, and the Northern Rockies IMT maintained command of the East zone.
- • September 23, California Interagency Incident Management Team 2 took command of the East zone.
- • October 6, California Incident Management Team 13 assumed command.
The Eastern Area Gold Incident Management Team assumed command of the SQF Complex on October 22.
Over the course of the fires, the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, CALFIRE, BLM, BIA and Tule River Reservation came together under unified command with the Incident Management Teams to fight the wildfire, the largest in Tulare County history.
Many cherished mountain communities and forest sites were within the fire’s path. Ponderosa, Pyles Boys Camp, Redwood Drive, Alpine Village, Sequoia Crest, and Doyle Springs all experienced varying amounts of damage and loss of homes. According to firefighters’ reports, winds blew the fire in a northwestern direction at an alarming rate that had not been seen in 10 years.
As you know, the fire went through a number of sequoia groves. Although the sequoias are fire-adapted, I developed a team of Forest Service personnel and key stakeholders to assess the impacts to the sequoia groves from the fire, compare the pre- and post-fire conditions, and develop short- and long-term restoration needs.
Although crews worked to stop the fire from spreading, secured perimeters, and wrapped historical structures, our losses were many. Among those are Jordan Peak Lookout and communications site, Grey Meadow Cabin, Mountain Home Guard Station, Clicks Creek Trailhead, at least one trail bridge on the Freeman Creek Trail, the Golden Trout Pack Station, and the CSET (Stars) Camp on the North road.
As fire suppression activities within the forest winddown, fire suppression repair activities are just beginning, and residents are returning. A Forest closure area was established due to multiple hazards and crews working in the area. Over the next several weeks, staff and contractors will be mitigating safety concerns to our communities.
We are permitting some individuals access to their private lands, cabins and permitted operations on National Forest System land. Requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. We have been granting access if there is no active fire in the area; accessing the area will not interfere with any fire operations, and the requested area is not located within a mandatory evacuation zone. District Rangers Eric LaPrice and Al Watson will continue to be the Points of Contact for approving additional names to the master list.
Please remain patient with the Forest closure as it continues to be important for both firefighter and public safety. While I do not have a projected date for modification of the closure area outside of the fire perimeter, it is being evaluated daily. However, the fire caused significant damage to our Forest infrastructure that will need to be addressed before reopening to the public. We request your patience as this may take a substantial amount of time. I appreciate your help in communicating with other community members about the residual fire hazards and the concern for firefighter and public safety.
What are the safety concerns? The fire burned extremely hot in many areas causing fallen or leaning trees and branches. There is potential for windy conditions, high temperatures, and low relative humidity in the coming days, resulting in fire flare-ups. We are dealing with other potential safety hazards, including heavy equipment traffic on narrow roads, hazard trees resulting from fire damage, chippers, and other heavy equipment sending debris onto roadways. In addition to these hazards, there are numerous areas where the fire is still smoldering, resulting in ash pits and stump holes that are likely to continue burning into the winter months. While there is little chance for rain in the near forecast, we monitor the potential for storm activity, increasing our chances of mudslides, flash floods, and additional hazards along the roadways.
A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team arrived in October, consisting of various resource specialists from the local forest and other areas. The team evaluated the burned area to determine where there is a high risk of erosion or other damage to resources that may occur within the next few months and into the next year. They also began conducting emergency stabilization activities, where necessary, throughout the burned area. Some of the activities are stabilizing roads and trails; placing vegetation, seeds, or other material on the severely burned slopes to prevent erosion; and proposing treatments to prevent spread of known invasive species in the burned area. These activities can take days, weeks, or months to complete. Some areas may be monitored for up to three years, where there is a risk of fire-related damage.
It was inspiring to see local people and organizations working together to provide the infrastructure and support that allowed thousands of firefighters to suppress the largest wildfire in the history of the Sequoia National Forest and Tulare County.
The Forest Service is grateful for the consistent cooperation that occurred between the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Fire Department, Tulare County, Tulare County Office of Emergency Services, Tulare County Roads, Tulare Country Health and Human Services Agency, Tulare County Health Departments, Tule River Reservation, Caltrans, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, Red Cross, local emergency responders, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park employees, US Fish and Wildlife Service, CALFIRE, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Conservation Corps, California Office of Emergency Services, AT&T, Verizon, California Department of Transportation, California Air National Guard, and California National Guard, CONAFOR crew, National Forestry Commission of Mexico, concessionaires, private landowners, and many others.
Working together allowed us to develop, coordinate, and execute successful plans. I look forward to our continued cooperation as we rehabilitate our mountain communities, roads, trails, and facilities so the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument can once again be the destination for thousands of Forest visitors.
To the Sequoia National Forest employees thank you for your dedication and self-sacrifice during this historic fire. I am grateful to all of you for your hard work, perseverance, great attitudes, and passion for protecting and managing our public lands.
Start / Report Date: 8/19/20 Cause: Lightning
Hand Crews: 13 Dozers: 3
Size: 168,973 acres Location: 25 miles N of Kernville, CA
Helicopters: 12 Water Tenders: 14
Containment: 75 % Injuries: 17
Structures Destroyed: 228
Total Personnel: 744
The lightning-caused Castle and Shotgun Fires were discovered on August 19, 2020, and later managed as one incident named the SQF Complex. The Castle Fire burned on portions of the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument (129,000 acres), Inyo National Forest (12,290 acres), Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (16,289 acres), lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (728 acres), State (4037 acres), County, and private lands and threatened the Tule River Indian Reservation. On October 6, 2020 the Shotgun Fire was fully contained and remains at 841 acres.