winter JMT thru-hike -- in 1929!
- Everyone who is following the current thread on traversing the JMT in
May and who is contemplating dealing with the snow and ice that may
linger on the JMT well into the summer this year might be interested
in the story of a winter JMT thru-hike which took place more than 75
years ago. Below is an article off the AP newswire from April of
last year which describes the journey. The book mentioned in the
article dates from 1974 -- I was able to find a copy in the Sonoma
County Library, and perhaps others living in California can find a
Santa Rosa CA
Son, fans seek recognition for skier who made high Sierra winter
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. - Escaping avalanches, enduring
blizzards and surviving an entire winter skiing the rugged Sierra
crest, Orland Bartholomew made history 75 years ago - scoring the
first winter ascent of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the United
States at the time.
The 14-week journey that ended April 3, 1929, was an early feat of ski
mountaineering at a time when skiing was in its infancy in North
America and climbing in the Sierra Nevada was a warm weather pursuit.
But hardly anyone noticed. No record was kept at the park of his
arrival, and his 300-mile adventure remains nearly as little-known
today as it was when he finished.
Now Bartholomew's son, a group of avid skiers and some history buffs
are working to resurrect the memory of his trek by naming a peak for
him in the mountains that were his home until he died in 1957.
"There's so many other people who were never in the Sierra, others
who did next to nothing to get their names on a peak," said Gene
Rose, author of "High Odyssey," a book chronicling the improbable
trek. "It's really almost tragic that history has almost bypassed
this great Sierra icon."
"Bart," as he was known, recruited his friend and colleague, Ed
Steen, for the trip and lined up $1,000 from an organization
promoting travel in the Fresno area. The two men spent the summer of
1928 storing provisions throughout the high country, using pack
horses to haul 30-gallon garbage cans of food they hung from trees.
But their sponsor backed out and so did Steen. Bartholomew decided to
go it alone.
The route would roughly follow the yet-to-be-completed John Muir
Trail - named for another Sierra trailblazer - covering remote and
spectacular terrain from the 14,495-foot top of Whitney to Yosemite.
To take a spill alone would spell doom. Even today, standing atop the
passes and peaks Bartholomew scaled gives the sensation of an endless
labyrinth of soaring mountains and plummeting canyons.
To meander up the spine of the range on skis with a 70-pound backpack
was considered by many to be a foolhardy proposition. Even
Bartholomew had second thoughts, contemplating in his journal that he
might "break my fool neck."
In persevering, and making first winter ascents on Mount Langley and
Mount Tyndall, both over 14,000 feet, he opened the Sierra Nevada -
Spanish for "snowy mountains" - to winter recreation.
Bill Tweed, chief naturalist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national
parks, views Bartholomew as a forefather of those who embrace
"In a way, he's the direct precursor to modern day extreme mountain
sports," Tweed said.
On Christmas Day 1928, Bartholomew, who would turn 30 that winter,
got a lift up the road leading from Lone Pine to Cottonwood Pass on
the Sierra's steep east side. He hiked until the snow got deep around
8,000 feet and strapped on his new custom-built hickory skis and
pushed off with poles fashioned from rake handles.
Five years ago, Art Baggett stood in the same place with the goal of
following those long-vanished tracks. With his 17-year-old son and
two other expert skiers, the four were the first to trace
Skiing with lighter, modern equipment and using techniques much
evolved - opening up new terrain and making steeper pitches skiable -
the group covered the same distance in less than a month.
But they slogged through snow eight of their first 11 days and
listened to the report of avalanches echoing off the mountainsides.
"That gives you an idea of what this guy faced," said Baggett,
chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board. "It was an
amazing, amazing feat he pulled off."
While the expedition renewed their respect for a man who single-
handedly took on the mountains, it didn't achieve their goal of
getting a peak named for him.
An 11,099-foot mountain near the Minarets, a section of soaring
spires in the Ansel Adams Wilderness of Sierra National Forest where
Bartholomew later worked as a ranger, remains unnamed. Efforts are
underway to get Bartholomew's name on the summit.
U.S. Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., wrote the U.S. Board on
Geographic Names in support of a Mount Bartholomew after recording a
tribute to the skier and his latter-day followers in the
congressional record five years ago.
Philip Bartholomew, a retired fishery biologist, filed the necessary
forms with the federal government last week to give his father, a
quiet, modest man, the exposure he deserves.