Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mountain Passes and Fresno County California

Fresno County

View East From Kaiser Peak

Wait a minute! I thought Fresno County was known for its agriculture; its fruit and nuts. Well, the western half of the county is known for agriculture. Fresno County is the sixth largest county in California and the forty third largest county in the U.S. with an area of nearly 6,000 square miles. The Eastern third of Fresno County is wilderness and high Sierras.   Those who backpack here from around the world are aware of this more than most of the half million folks who reside in the city of Fresno.

I have had the privilege of being a civilian on the Fresno County Sheriffs Search and Rescue (SAR) Team for nearly a decade. It has allowed me to travel in and appreciate most of the Fresno County wilderness areas. These areas include the John Muir Wilderness, the Sierra National Forest, Kaiser Wilderness and much of Kings Canyon National Park. There are small herds of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in Fresno County. They are endangered but making a comeback with human help. I briefly spotted two sheep in Sixty lakes Basin this summer.  The John Muir Trail (JMT) begins in Yosemite Park to the north and runs through the Sierra National Forest and Kings Canyon National Park, both of which are in Fresno County. The third highest mountain in California is in Fresno County. North Palisade is 13,249’ and a favorite of mountaineers.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to section hike the John Muir Trail, be flown into other wilderness areas by Eagle One the SAR helicopter, backpack remote areas of Fresno County like the Sixty Lakes Basin and Humphreys’ Basin, there is no other area I have visited with any more beauty than Eastern Fresno County.

So, yes the answer is that Fresno County is known for agriculture and for wilderness activities. It has more lakes than any other California County. I have always been an outdoorsman and was a member of the forestry club in my high school back in Michigan. I once said to a trail running friend, “I wish I had been born here in California.” He responded, “You don’t have to be born here but it’s important to get here as soon as possible.” I agree.

Mountain Passes

Mountain peaks and passes have one major thing in common. They provide a unique perspective; a singular view. Peak bagging has a singular mission to reach the top. I have done some peak bagging but the peaks are what can be termed “walk ups”. There are no mountaineering skills required. Being an average person, Peaks like Kaiser, Half dome, Cloud’s Rest, Mitchell, Alta, Givens and even Mt. Whitney have been conquered as day hikes.

Glen Pass Looking North

Mountain passes are different than peaks because they are traversed as a means to get to another place. It also means that the pass can be approached from more than one direction. For example, most of the passes on the JMT can be crossed from south to north or north to south. In fact, mountain passes can actually be higher than many mountain peaks. Glen Pass (11,978’) is higher than Kaiser Peak (10,320’). Passes are high altitude ‘assurance markers’. Often there is a sign denoting the pass name and altitude. Passes are also used as boundaries between Counties or Parks. Kearsarge Pass (11,760’) is an east- west boundary between Inyo and Fresno Counties. Forester Pass (13,200’) is a boundary between Kings Canyon to the north and Sequoia National Park to the south.

This is about mountain passes but it is also about a portion of Fresno County that even residents are generally unaware of. I am an adopted son of Fresno County having lived here only my last twenty two years. Those years have been filled with personal growth and a spiritual joy that is enhanced by being in the mountains. Is it any wonder that the Israelites received God’s words from the mountains in the wilderness?       

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