Saturday, October 26, 2013

Backpack to lake haunted by drowned boy in Yosemite National Park

Galen Clark, Yosemite's first guardian,
heard the cry of what local Native Americans
told him was the ghost of a drowned boy.
Photo courtesy NPS Historic Photo Collection.
Does the ghost of a drowned boy haunt a remote lake in Yosemite National Park? None other than the nation’s first park ranger wrote that many on believed it did.

Unfortunately, the trail to Grouse Lake in Yosemite’s southwest corner is not the easiest destination to reach unless you’re in good shape. It runs 19.46-miles round trip (9.73 miles one way) at more than 7200 feet elevation.

But the route – a green, mixed forest and open, granite-strewn terrain – is gorgeous. Besides, who can resist the opportunity to see or hear a ghost?

The hike is best done in late July or early August when temperatures at that altitude are pleasantly warm. For much of the year, snow prevents travel to the trailhead.

To reach the lake, drive up Glacier Point Road then take Yosemite National Park Road into Bridalveil Creek Campground. Register at the campground office and ask for a parking spot, unless you’re camping (Given the hike’s length, you’ll almost certainly want to obtain a backcountry camping permit and stay overnight along the trail.).

Enter Galen Clark
The route to Grouse Lake requires following a number of connecting trails. You’ll want to start with the one heading to Ostrander Lake, which begins across the road from Campsite 77.

The first leg of the trail parallels Bridalveil Creek as heading into the wilderness. After1.46 miles, the trail reaches a Y junction; go right/southeast.

In 1857, America’s first park ranger, Galen Clark, hiked this same area as exploring Yosemite. Clark had moved to Wawona a decade earlier and is credited as the first white man to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

After 0.7 miles, the trail comes to a T-junction; go left/south. In 2.65 miles, the trail reaches a Y-intersection where you’ll go right/southeast.

Clark’s love of this area’s beauty led to him to lobby for the establishment of Yosemite as a park. He helped write the very legislation that President Abraham Lincoln signed in 1863 establishing the Yosemite Grant – which turned the land over to the state of California to be managed as a park.

Clark was named the park’s first “guardian,” a role akin to a park ranger. He held that post for 24 years.

In 1.23 miles, the trail comes to another T intersection; go straight/southeast. About 0.76 miles later at the next T-intersection, go right/south.

“A distinct wailing cry”
According to Clark’s memoirs, during his 1857 exploration, when he reached Grouse Lake (which he promptly named “Grouse Lake”), he “heard a distinct wailing cry, somewhat like the cry of a puppy when lost.” He decided that Native Americans “must have left one of their young dogs behind.”

In 0.7 miles at another T-intersection, go left/east. You’re now officially on Grouse Lake Trail.

Clark mentioned the cry to local Native Americans that evening. They told him that it was no dog, though. Many years before, a boy had drowned there, and whenever anyone passed, his ghost cried to them.

In about 2.08 miles, the trail passes north of Grouse Lake Trail. You’ll have to go cross country about 0.15 miles south/southeast to the lakeshore. An arctic tarn, the small lake was formed at the end of the last ice age when a glacier dug out a hole that filed with meltwater when the Earth warmed.

Don’t get too close to the lakeshore, though. The tribal members told Clark that none of them would go near the lake because the boy’s ghost would grab their legs and pull them under.

Return the way you came – and ignore the cries of any lost pups coming from the lake.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.