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Yosemite High Sierra Camps Access Information and History | High Sierra Backpacker

Yosemite High Sierra Camps Access Information and History

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 16 March 2016

Yosemite HIgh Sierra Camps

I have very mixed feelings about Yosemite's High Sierra Camps. The concept could work In a perfect world, but we do not live in a perfect world.

Currently Yosemite's High Sierra Camps are administered by aramark, a vast conglomorate that has taken over since DNC botched administering Yosemite's concessions.

Current High Sierra Camp Information

High Sierra Camps Page

High Sierra Camps Lottery Page 



High Sierra Camps History

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and Tenaya Lake and Merced Lake camps opened by Desmond Park Service Company.

World War I and bankruptcy of the Desmond Company force closure of High Sierra camps opened in 1916.

Through encouragement of the NPS, the Hikers’ Camps reopen (Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake), and in September Naturalist Carl P. Russell chooses five additional sites for camps, of which three are chosen by the Yosemite National Park Company in 1924 for operation as High Sierra camps.

Glen Aulin and Boothe Lake (later known as Vogelsang) High Sierra camps established.
(All above chronology from Tuolumne Meadows Historical Chronology, from Green., and as cited below.)

High Sierra Camps were "reestablished."
Green, page 626.

The original camps were,

“Little Yosemite Valley, Merced Lake, Boothe Lake (later Vogelsang, in a different location), the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne, Tuolumne Meadows, Glen Aulin, and Tenaya Lake.”

“In 1925, after the merger of the Yosemite National Park Company with the Curry Camping Company, the camps were retitled High Sierra camps because of their growing popularity with saddle parties as well as hikers. A new camp beside White Cascade at Glen Aulin began operating in 1927. Because of a mosquito problem, the camp later moved to a valley to the east. The camps were not money-making ventures, but profits in overall concession activity covered the losses, which the company deemed acceptable because of the convenience and service such facilities afforded the public.”

The stated goal of the HSC system was, “luring more people into the backcountry”. 

At this point in time we are not facing that problem anymore...

This change in visitor density began to change perceptions on the High Sierra Camp system, as we see from the note from 1961, below:

Note 56, from link above:

“[56. The camps have accomplished the purpose of enticing visitors out of the valley, but many environmentalists now believe attempts should be made to remove these areas of intense concentration and disperse people more throughout the backcountry. They question whether this is legitimate backcountry use or even a genuine backcountry experience. Interestingly enough, Chief Naturalist Car! Russell once stated: (in 1961)
It is unthinkable that any camp shall become so popular as to render it a saturated center overrun by people. Heavy use, of course, would ruin the atmosphere which distinguishes the favored spots and actually would destroy some of the natural attributes which make the High Sierra Camp experience delectable.”

High Sierra Camps Role in History

My take is that Yosemite's public face in Yosemite Valley started as a "High Sierra Camp,"  while the explorers who popularized Yosemite's wonders were their day's versions of backpackers and climbers.

 Thus we had Yosemite first coming onto the consciousness of America as a contradiction.  These Western Mountains and their magnificant valley represented the last bastions of wild America in the face of massive industrialization and population growth that had swallowed America's natural resources as it swept West across the continent.

Thus developement led Americans into the hearts of America's National Treasures to despoil them, while the beauty these depredations exposed drew protectors out of the industrial classes these resources created and enriched.

Yosemite made this contradiction crystal clear.

The children of the Robber Barons had better display some small degree of a conscious, or they risked losing their ill-gotten gains. Rockafeller begin buying every university and charity in the country.

Muir and his associates directly appealed to, and constructed the romantic notions of Nature we entertain today to appeal to the egos of the new industrial class rising on the destruction of these very natural resources.

American history is ironic, if nothing else. Such was the bith of Yosemite, and the National Park System itself, out of the crucible of the destruction.

Thus America saw a public campaign to instill a value for Nature in a country enriching itself through Nature's wanton destruction. Part of that campaign was the system of High Sierra Camps for the worker bees and luxury accomodiations for their betters.

The luxury of the Ahwahnee Hotel and the simplicity of the High Sierra Camps grew together, both working to moderate the brutal influences the thoughtless, irresponsible, industrialization had wrought on our people's souls by preserving slivers of Nature's original magnificance.

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