In 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States. Gasoline cost 27 cents a gallon. The average price of a home was $12,500. "West Side Story" and "The Parent Trap" were popular movies.
It was during that summer that 13 Boy Scouts from Strathmore made a trek through the High Sierra, covering 102 miles in two weeks.
I was one of those Boy Scouts who made that memorable hike, and recently we held a 50-year reunion at Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park.
The reunion was arranged by recently retired Clovis Unified science teacher Bill Finch. But when I knew Bill, he went by Bill Fink. (He wisely figured out that Fink is not such a good name for a teacher and changed it to Finch.)
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Earlier this year, Bill started sending out emails about the proposed reunion. His first batch asked if any of us would like to do a mini-version of our 1961 hike – 56 miles in six days. Not surprisingly, there weren't any takers.
At first, I was apprehensive about a reunion. Having lived in Southern California since 1969, I had lost touch with most of the guys. But my wife Norma and I decided it might be a fun and worthwhile trip, particularly since we were able to get a reservation at Cedar Grove Lodge. Camping is not our thing.
As things turned out, I was really glad we decided to make the reunion because it was an uplifting experience.
It was great getting reacquainted with my fellow hikers, hearing about their lives and realizing that being a Boy Scout and making that hike seemingly had helped all of us on the pathway of life.
Ten of the 13 original hikers made it to the reunion: Jon Awbrey; Jay Bottomley; Bill Nagata; Allen Ishida, a Tulare County supervisor; Bryan Jessup, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno; Cole Cameron; brothers Dwight and Alan Todd; Finch; and myself.
Over a Saturday night campfire, Bryan delivered a powerful impromptu testimonial about what being a Boy Scout meant to him. It reminded me why I thought way back when that Jessup would end up in the ministry, just as he thought I would become a journalist. Having just turned 15, I wrote a story about our hike that was published in the Lindsay Gazette and Strathmore Sentinel.
Planning the trip took at least a year and included several weekend training hikes. Finally, the July day arrived. I was so anxious and excited I don't think I slept a wink the night before.
We started out at Mineral King in Sequoia National Park and went over Franklin Pass (elevation 11,800 feet) our first day. Our journey took us along Rattlesnake Creek, then north up along the Kern River before reaching Wallace Creek on what I believe was our third day.
The next morning, we left behind our backpacks and headed toward Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. Many hikers have conquered Mount Whitney from the east side. We came in from the west side – 13 miles up and 13 miles back.
Without heavy backpacks to carry, we started out feeling like we were walking on air. However, as we approached the summit in mid-afternoon, it was a different story. I still remember being able to walk only a few hundred yards in that thin air before having to stop and catch my breath.
But it was all worthwhile. The view from the top of Mount Whitney is something I'll never forget. And going down the mountain was a lot easier than going up.
Besides climbing Mount Whitney, another highlight was spending four days and three nights at the headwaters of the Kern River. Our group caught more than 100 golden trout in one day, and they were a welcome dinner addition after living mostly on dry foods.
On one of those afternoons, a particularly hot one, several of us decided to go swimming in a nearby lake. Since no one thought to pack a swimsuit and no one else was around, we swam in the nude.
After swimming grew tiresome, someone suggested floating on air mattresses. (Keep in mind we were still in the raw.) As a result we ended up with sun-burned butts. Bryan started calling them "SBBs" for short. I remember not being able to sit down for several days.
During the last few days of the hike, I also developed blisters on my feet. One was the mother of all blisters, and it was a hot topic at the reunion.
I remembered barely being able to walk in my hiking boots. What I didn't remember, but was reminded of, was that someone found an old pair of tennis shoes that had been discarded. I tried them on, and they fit. So I wore them on the last day of our hike, making the trek to our final destination near Cedar Grove a bit easier.
My father was among the parents who met us with watermelons and all kinds of fresh food, making the last night of our adventure a most pleasant one.
Now I have another fond memory of Cedar Grove, one I will treasure the rest of my life.
In all, 20 people attended the reunion, including the 10 original hikers and six wives and girlfriends. Everyone brought so much food and beverages, we probably had enough to last a week. But the reunion lasted only two days, two wonderful days.