Saturday, August 2, 2014

27th Anniversery Of High Trails Reunion

Dale Matson

Leconte Divide From Viewing Area Above Courtright Reservoir
Note: click on photographs to enlarge

34 Years ago Art Sallee and some friends used their four wheel drive vehicles to transport some disabled Veterans into the wilderness. Art saw it as a means to get them into the wilderness for fishing and camping.

They have not been able to do this every year but I had an opportunity to visit the site this year as they once again transported those with mobility impairments to the high country where the air was considerably cooler at 75 degrees (above 8,000’) while it was 105 degrees here in Fresno.

What I didn't realize at the time was that Voyager Rock Campground is three miles from the southern end of the Dusy Ershim Trail. This 31-mile challenge that terminates to the north near Kaiser Pass, is nearly impassable to all but the best-equipped 4 wheel drive vehicles.

I ran into Art coming down from Courtright as I was going up. He had done his part and was headed back to Fresno. He had left the group in the journeyman hands of the regulars. He told me I could easily navigate the Dusy Ershim Trail to the campground with my truck. “Just don’t go past chicken rock”, he said. Chicken rock for me was the first rock I saw just past the open gate.  Not wanting to risk my precious truck, I decided to walk to the campsite from the Maxon Parking area. It took me about an hour outbound and I enjoyed the sights of the first few miles of the trail as a hike. The reservoir was down considerably because of our drought.

The annual event is sponsored by Bertha and John Garabedian Charitable Foundation.  The foundation also sponsors the Search and Rescue "Wild Run" which is also this weekend. The transportation is provided by various fourwheel drive clubs and some of the rigs are both retro and rad. Other personnel are from our Mountaineering Unit of the Fresno County Search And Rescue Team.

 Clem From The Mountaineering Unit On Left

 Jeep With Special Wheel Chair Hoist

 Old Dodge Powerwagon

 Leader McDivitt On Left
 Another Dale From The Mountaineering Unit
More People Coming In As I Was Leaving
 This Vehicle Is Better Suited Than My Truck
My Hike Route From The Maxon Parking Area 

My hat is off to this group of volunteers and especially Art for continuing to coordinate the event again this year. The campers I talked to all had broad smiles from ear to ear when I asked if I could take their photographs.

Art has kindly forwarded a description of the event which more accurately describes the history as the founders remember it.


I have confirmed this account with my friend, Trent Jaeckel, who was involved from the first day.

The beginning date was in late 1979 or 1980 when we were approached by Nick Grogan, US Forest Service, who had been a door gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam and, because Trent and I had jeeps and were active 4Wheelers, Nick asked if we would consider taking a few disabled veterans into the mountains for an outing. We agreed

Nick found 6 veterans who wanted to go and we rounded up a few more
4Wheelers to assist.   That first trip was to Red Lake where we used some rubber rafts to allow our guests a chance to fish on the Lake.  We provided hot dogs and beverages.  That first trip went very well.

Following year we had additional 4Wheelers that volunteered to help so we had another group from the VA who wanted to go.  That trip was to Coyote Lake and was very much like the first trip with rubber rafts, hot dogs, etc. The same year we were put to the task of taking them deep sea fishing from Avila with the local VA hosting a dinner for all after the trip.  All went pretty well with the VA supplying a bus from Fresno and back again.  It was up to Trent and me to finance the fishing trip, which proved to be a challenge.

The original plan for trips to our local Sierra's was getting morphed into something we were unable to continue so we decided to offer 4WD trips to any and all folks who were physically challenged. We had random guests who were aware of the offer and continued with the one-day trips.  We met another group of handicapped folks, headed by Joel Bernal, who were active in sport related activities and they became active with us and were annual guests.  They numbered about 12. We tried several destinations for overnight trips before settling on Voyager Rock on Courtright Lake.

We dug a hole for our toilet facilities, fabricated a toilet with handicapped rails, made a frame of PVC pipe and covered it with vinyl.  Used it for years. Pooled our resources to purchase tents, sleeping pads and the necessary items to continue year after year.

Eventually, with the help of Bob Hegland, who had been assisting us every year, we were able to meet with the Bertha and John Garabedian Charitable Foundation and explain our goal of working with Handicapped folks.  The Foundation agreed to fund us with an annual grant that was generous enough to purchase more tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, a used party barge and new trailer that we use every year to take our guests fishing on the Lake, a very good sit down dinner and breakfast and all of the items.

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