Dan Gisvold at Bear Creek

Friday, July 29, 2011

Needles Lookout

There has always been a tradition, a rite of passage, if you will, about going to Camp Nelson.
Camp Nelson Cabin
This idyllic cabin hidden from the whole noisy world had payment to extract for long stays on its porches.

You see, you could sleep on that back porch until the sun or the squirrels awoke you. You could sleep in the hammock in the front yard whenever you wanted. You could catch a nap in the large, overstuffed rocking chairs. You could pretend to read in the shade of its oaks and pines.

But such relaxation must be paid for. In physical exertion.

Over Memorial Day, it is the cleaning of the yard and the cabin. If not clean of leaves, sticks and other flammable detritus the Forest Service will attack. (I was trying to think of a good comparison but none come to mind) They made us cut back the bear clover one year. Not even a sickle can cut bear clover. Trust me on that one.

During the summer, there is other payment to be made. Other physical payment.


Most trails around the cabin are fairly benign. The mountains are meant for climbing and a day trail is just that.

But THE NEEDLES is different.

And all novices to the hill (as we call it) are required to go there.

You can find it on Google Maps. It is the Needles Lookout overlooking the Kern River Valley.

It was built in 1937 as part of a line of lookouts to help with fire control. It turned into a major attraction for visitors who want to view the Sierra Nevada Mountains in all their glory. Rock climbers come just to climb its shear rock base.

Dan loved to go there. He said there was a different perspective on the earth from the top of a rock pinnacle where there is nothing but air underneath you.

The hike is relatively short. By lateral distance.

Horizontal distance is another thing.

I don't recall how many thousand feet you gain, lose and gain again as you hike the 5 miles to the stairs. But I can tell you that it is not as easy as it looks.

Then there are the stairs.

Dan could handle them without batting an eye. I, on the other hand, have found gods of all kinds while climbing the stairs.

Because you can see THROUGH the stairs. DOWN. Down about 1000 feet or so. STRAIGHT down.

For me to make it I had to follow someone and just watch their feet. I could not let go of the railing. And hope against hope that none of the wooden stairs were broken or wobbly.

But Dan would scamper up and down the stairs and just make fun of me.

When I got to the top, each and every time, I knew what Dan meant about perspective. At first, I would stand only in the middle of the little lookout. No walking on the catwalk like deck. But with Dan's urging and (ok, I admit it) his shaming me, I made it onto that deck.

It was something I can't describe. To see Mt. Whitney and the three sisters. To see the Kern River below. To watch peregrine falcons swooping and diving in the summer air. Oh, wow..... To see people climbing the rocks just below me. (They ARE crazy!) Amazing.....

But now it is gone. The government didn't shut it down. They still had a ranger living there. She had been there every summer for the last upteen years.

No. It burned. To the rock bed that it stood on.

 Yes, the ranger got out. And, no they don't know what caused it. At least not yet.

I know it will be rebuilt as it is so vital to the safety of fire crews, backpackers, and residents of the back country. But it won't be the same.

They may get rid of those stairs. And that would ruin all the fun of getting there.

1 comment:

  1. Stairs and fun do not belong together in the same sentence... ;)