Wilderness Watch & High Sierra Camps

The comment period for the Merced River Plan is extended  to December 14.

Close the High Sierra Camps? Really?  Read what the Wilderness Watch said in their letter  to the Superintendent in Feb, 2010.  Oh, the purpose of  Wilderness Watch is (their words): The preservation and proper stewardship of lands and rivers included in the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and National Wild & Scenic Rivers System (NWSRS).”


Dear Superintendent,

Wilderness Watch is providing these scoping comments on Yosemite’s Merced River Plan. We’re pleased that the NPS is moving forward with a new plan for this remarkable area. We sincerely hope that this effort will result in a plan that is worthy of the Park’s extraordinary natural and scenic values, and that will protect and restore those values that have been lost from what may have seemed at the time to be appropriate developments and activities, but are now recognized as detracting from and harmful to Yosemite’s wilderness and natural values.  

Wilderness Watch is particularly concerned with those aspects of the plan that involve the wild segments of the Merced River and the Yosemite Wilderness. We recognize, however, that activities originating within the more developed areas of the Park can and do affect these areas. The plan needs to address the impacts on the Wilderness from these other activities.

 Wilderness Watch believes the plan needs to give serious consideration to removing the High Sierra Camps and restoring the sites. The camps are incompatible with the Yosemite Wilderness. They significantly detract from the  natural setting. The number of people, noise and structures coupled with the overly commercialized provision of goods and services exceed any  reasonable interpretation of a wilderness setting. The amount of sewage, trash and other pollutants produced from such concentrated use impairs the area’s natural conditions. The amount of pack stock needed to maintain the camps pulverizes the trails into dust and manure, and the use of helicopters to service the camps violates the Park Service’s responsibility to preserve the wilderness character of the surrounding area.  

The camps may have had their time and place, but like many other “historic” practices in the parks (bear feeding at garbage dumps, zoos, the “firefall” at Yosemite, etc.) it is time to implement a more enlightened ethic in the backcountry and Wilderness of Yosemite.  

When establishing the Yosemite Wilderness, Congress recognized the incompatibility of these camps with the surrounding Wilderness. It recognized a number of resource concerns with the camps and delineated a process by which they could be removed and the areas designated as wilderness. The time has come to bring this direction to fruition. Should NPS decide to allow camps to remain at any of these locations, the camps should conform with all wilderness rules and policies including group size limits, leave-no-trace practices, temporary structures only, and no motorized (helicopter) use. The services provided should be consistent with a wilderness camp, not a frontcountry, or resort experience.  

The camps are also incompatible with direction in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. A wild river area is defined as having “watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America.” Webster’s defines primitive as “original, primeval.” These camps are neither primitive nor nonpolluting. Instead, they hearken to the expanding settlement and growing mechanization to which wilderness and wild rivers serve as an antidote. Stock use is an appropriate use of the Yosemite Wilderness and the Merced River corridor. The use must be controlled, however, in a manner that preserves the wilderness character of the area and the experience of other wilderness  visitors. NPS has long recognized the need to limit visitor use to protect that character. Stock are a wilderness-compatible means for allowing visitors to enjoy the wilderness, yet, all other things (ethics) being equal, each stock user has a disproportionately greater impact on the resource. That additional impact must be limited to only what is essential to enjoy a stock-supported trip. Group size should be limited to no more than 12 “heartbeats,” with a limit of no more than one packhorse or mule to three persons. This is more than adequate to haul necessary supplies, while at the same time keeping the impacts per visitor to a minimum. Given the additional impact that stock animals have on trails, water quality and campsites, it simply makes no sense and is unfair to other visitors to allow any individual to utilize more stock than is necessary. To prevent the introduction or spread of weeds stock should be must be sufficiently quarantined before entering the park and only pellitized, weed-seed-free feed should be allowed in the park. Because the Park Service has already limited visitor use in many of these areas, and may have to further limit it to protect the river and surrounding area, we urge you to phase out all commercial developments in and near the Merced River corridor, and to phase-out commercial services in the wilderness. They are no longer necessary for the public to enjoy the area to the limit of the area’s capacity. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments. We look forward to continued involvement in the planning process.


George Nickas

Executive Director


Unrelated thought worth quoting: A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger.” – TV intro  

*MrHalfDome™ – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com

One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome

About Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch

Mr Half Dome. Has written the only half dome hiking guide, One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome. Has hiked it 31 times to day. Lives in San Jose, CA Available for presentations. Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
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4 Responses to Wilderness Watch & High Sierra Camps

  1. Maureen L says:

    I take issue with their assertion that “stock are a wilderness-compatible means of allowing visitors to enjoy the wilderness” but hiking the High Sierra Camps are not.

    Those stock trips would likely be on trails shared with day hikers and backpackers. (Not that I want stock trips going off-trail in Yosemite Wilderness! Off-trail stock trips are allowed in Sequoia-Kings Canyon south of Yosemite, and folks can even let their stock graze the meadows. They are requested to disperse manure.)

    The Wilderness Society description of “12 hearbeats” and 3 people per mule/horse/llama would cash out to something like 2 stock handlers, 7 hikers, and 3 four-legged animals. Or, assuming hikers were competent at leading stock in Yosemite terrain, preparing their loads properly, seeing to their feeding and manure disposal, 9 hikers and 3 animals. Either way, stock trips would cost mucho dinero.

    If the High Sierra Camps get taken out, then I think it should be humans on foot only.

    Selfishly, there’s a fairness issue here for me. If I can’t get to Merced Lake, those who can afford stock shouldn’t be able to either.

    • Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch says:

      I have never been to Sequoia NP. Always been a Yosemite guy. But if the fertilizer hits the ventilator over the next couple years, I may become Mr Sequoia!

      • Maureen L says:

        I apologize to the Wilderness Society for confusing them with Wildeness Watch.

        The Wilderness Society has been around for 75 years and does wonderful work. Wilderness Watch is much newer, founded in 1989.

        It’s Wilderness Watch that thinks stock should be allowed in the Merced River corridor and elsewhere in Yosemite Wilderness but the High Sierra Camps should not!

      • Chris says:

        Mr. Sequoia!

        Ha! I’m pretty sure they don’t let you climb the big Sequoia trees!

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