Hikers complete San Joaquin River Trail thru-hike: Millerton to Devil's Postpile

The Fresno BeeNovember 27, 2013 

A veteran hiker of the San Joaquin River Trail near Millerton Lake, Sara Fry of Clovis always wondered how far upstream the trail actually went.

When she found out it stretched, in theory, all the way to Devils Postpile on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, she got the itch to explore the full route.

So the 23-year-old contacted the San Joaquin River Trail Council and started hatching a plan to hike the route with partner John McKinney of Colorado, with whom she had previously completed the Pacific Crest Trail.

After a couple of weeks of planning with the council and its president, Steve Haze, a plan was formed to complete the trail's first full digital assessment from the Valley floor to the crest of the Sierra Nevada — a hike originally estimated at about 73 miles.

On Nov. 17, Fry and McKinney set out from Friant Cove. On Wednesday, they arrived in Mammoth.

"It's been wonderful," Fry said in an email. "There's been a tremendous amount of climbing. We've tracked nearly 30,000 feet in total ascent in about 100 miles so far."

There was plenty of beauty and nature along the way.

The two came across a massive 30-foot natural waterslide but decided to keep its location a secret, although Fry said if you hike the trail you'll find it fairly easily.

"It started out at low elevations with endless views of the gorge and countless reservoirs," Fry said. "There's been a huge variety of flora and fauna. We started out following tarantulas and for the last five miles we've been following bear tracks."

But like any hikers going out late in the season, the two encountered challenges — freezing temperatures, 15-hour rain storms and 70-mph wind gusts.

But, most concerning of all, the trail isn't completed yet in spots.

Currently, the corridor from the central San Joaquin Valley to the eastern Sierra is about two-thirds complete, Haze said, and utilizes parts of the SJRT, the French Trail, the Eaton Trail and Native American trading routes used by the Mono on the western slope to reach Paiute/Shoshone tribes on the east.

"We've gotten lost countless times and had to bushwack severely overgrown terrain, resulting in many cuts and bruises. But all this makes for a grand adventure," Fry said.

"Our favorite part has been the adventure of it all. We never know when the trail will stop or what we'll encounter around the next bend."

Fortunately, the two reached Mammoth on Wednesday under clear blue skies, in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family before starting the return leg to Fresno on Friday.

Haze said he hopes Fry and McKinney's first-ever recorded thru-hike of the SJRT and their research will spur its completion, which the council has been working toward for more than two decades.

"What Sara has done is a catalyst for our organization," Haze said. "It's a reflection of our 25 years and the four T's — time, treasure, talent and tenacity.

"The vision is that hikers can fly from LAX into the crest of the Sierras into the town of Mammoth, hike into Agnew and Red's Meadow to Devils Postpile and into the middle fork of the San Joaquin River and work their way into Fresno. When all said and done, they'll fly from FYI back to wherever they came from and share that experience."

Follow the hikers on Twitter @SJRiverTrail and on Instagram @SanJoaquinRiverTrail.

For trail information, go to www.sjrtc.org.


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6401, amoreno@fresnobee.com or @angellll on Twitter.

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