Visalia hiker visits winter hut in drought

Brian Newton of Visalia has visited Pear Lake Winter Hut each winter for 26 years in a row, but none of those years has been quite like this one because of the drought.

Pear Lake Winter Hut, built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is at 9,200 feet elevation in Sequoia National Park.

In most years, Newton skis from the Wolverton parking lot to the hut, a distance of 6.2 miles.

Not this year, though. He hiked the entire distance last weekend.

“There was essentially no snow on the ground from the parking lot to the hut,” Newton said.

He and fellow enthusiast Sandy Sherriffs of Fowler left their skis at home and carried snow shoes for use at higher elevations.

After spending the night in the hut, they hiked until they found snow at 10,000 feet elevation. They donned their snow shoes, trudged through the soft snow to an area called the Tablelands and reached an overlook to Moose Lake.

“When you get above Pear Lake and look at the Tablelands, it’s a desert of white,” Newton said. “In some years, there’s not a rock exposed. It reminds you of the Arctic or Greenland. It’s all snow.”

The Sequoia Natural History Association manages Pear Lake Winter Hut (it houses a park ranger in summer), and is available for overnight use by cross country skiers from December through April. Space is limited and demand is high — it’s common to find Europeans — so spaces are doled out by lottery. The cost is $40 per night per person.

“It’s warm, it’s cozy,” Newton said. “It has a pellet stove in there. It holds 10 people. There are fold-up bunks. It’s roomy. It’s a sanctuary.”

That 26 years in a row to the hut has got to be a record. Newton believes it is after reviewing visitor logs going back to the 1980s.

Newton, 66, has been camping and hiking most of his life.

“It’s the scenery for me and the challenge and the satisfaction of making it,” he said. “My goal is to take my grandson someday but I don’t know if I’ll be able to. He’ll be strong enough to do it but the question is me.”