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Retired educators take to the backcountry to explore, fish and share campfire stories


Provided Crowley Lake Columns were formed over 760,000 years ago by cold water filtering down and steam rising up out of hot volcanic ash spewed by a cataclysmic explosion.

The Backpackers Literary Guild (BLG) recently returned from their 31st annual weeklong trip into the backcountry. The hikers, four retired teachers, Carl Brownless, Mike Calbert, Carl Murry, Mike Kubasek, and a current principal, Mitch Heldstab, were forced to change plans due to the intense snowmelt in the eastern Sierra.

The high and fast waters of McGee Creek washed out, not only the bridge to the high country, but also the hikers’ plan to stay the week at Big McGee Lake. The group decided to stay at the McGee Creek Campground and explore the surrounding area as a second option.

Since Crowley Lake sits on the eastern side of the campground and across Highway 395, the first order of business was to visit a geological site known as the Crowley Lake Columns. These columns were formed over 760,000 years ago by cold water filtering down and steam rising up out of hot volcanic ash spewed by a cataclysmic explosion.

Back road wanderings took the hikers through a Pinon Pine area where they found a Native American (Mono/Paiute) grinding rock and mortar hole. Hundreds of obsidian chips were evidence that arrow heads and other cutting tools were being worked at the site.

Fortunately, the hikers met a local who steered them in the right direction to the columns. These fascinating columns thoroughly amazed the group.

Anyone wishing to see the history of these columns, simply search online for the Crowley Lake Columns.

A day trip up McGee Canyon to take a look at the washed out bridge produced another geological event. The hikers heard a loud boom accompanied by the ground moving.

The earthquake shook loose material from a nearby slope which came down in a cloud of dust. The camp host said the quake was designated a 2.2 and centered in Baldwin Canyon.

The fallen bridge was under several inches of water, and the bank on the opposite side was completely washed away. A hike up neighboring Hilton Canyon proved challenging for Heldstab, while the others hiked in from the Rock Creek trailhead.

The hordes of mosquitos and running water on the trail kept the hikers ever vigilant. Another trip to Convict Lake was great for kayaking and hiking but slow for fishing.

A subsequent trip to South Lake and Lake Sabrina out of Bishop provided beautiful venues for more kayaking, fishing, and hiking. The group voted South Lake as the best experience of the trip.

Of course, no trip to Bishop would be complete without a stop at Shatz Bakery for bread and sweet treats.

All agreed that the poor fishing was far exceeded by the spectacular high country wildflowers. Campfire chat was dotted by discussion of this year’s literary selections: Falling Upward, Ordinary Grace, Bacon and Beans from a Gold Pan and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. (last story submitted by Mike Kubasek).

It is amazing how this group has made so many annual backcountry trips together.

Back to our area, fishing has improved on the Middle and South forks of the Stanislaus as the high water flow begins to slow.

The Kennedy Meadow area has been good as well as around Strawberry on the South Fork. Pinecrest Lake is still rewarding anglers with some big trout. Last Friday some big rainbows turned up as my son, Bob, and I caught three in the 2 to 3 pound class and released some others. Flasher/worm combos and a Rainbow Runner lure behind a dodger did the trick.

Boaters fishing with Power baits or salmon eggs also were doing well.

At New Melones Reservoir and Lake Don Pedro, heavy speed boat traffic with the hot weather and 80 degree water has got anglers out at daylight and off the water early.

As we get into August, fly fishing may come to mind for those who have had to wait out the high water. For information on fly fishing, local guide Stu Heller is a good source and can be reached at lakewooddancers@goldrush.com.

Trout plants by the Moccasin Creek Hatchery this week are as follows: Tuolumne River North fork; Stanislaus River South fork at Strawberry and Frazier Flat and Middle Fork; Power House Stream; Lyons Canal; Moccasin Creek; and Herring Creek.