Relocating China Camp

July 16, 2013 

The original Blasingame cabin at China Camp was built in 1898 by Knox Blasingame, Sr.

TONY KRIZAN/SPECIAL TO SIERRA STAR — Tony Krizan/Special to Sierra Star

Let me introduce you to a hidden but historical area within the Ansel Adams Wilderness — China Camp.

My first attempt to locate China Camp came during the summer of 1980. Today will be my fifth visit and I'm anxious to verify those rumors of a fallen tree that destroyed the log cabin built in 1960. The oldest log structure built in 1898 was to have survived the damage of the fallen sentinel.

The difficulty in locating this area is a combination of non-maintained trails and previous years of cattle grazing which creates alternate routes. This small settlement was built during the late 1800s when the first Sierra Mountain grazing rights were issued to the Knox Blasingame family. His son, Knox Blasingame Jr., nicknamed Knoxie followed in his father's footsteps maintaining the grazing rights.

The original log cabin built by the Blasingame's in 1898 became inadequate for their growing family, so in 1960 they built a larger log cabin that served as living quarters and the smaller as a barn and bunk house.

Around 1962 the grazing rights changed hands to Lester Bissett. Then a few years later to Tom Cunningham and today his son John Cunningham still operates the pack station located west of Edison Lake. The rights were sold one final time to Henry Bohna and his son Tom Bohna who still carry on the century-old tradition of grazing cattle in these mountains.

The question is how did this historic camp receive the name of China Camp?

One year during a winter trip to San Francisco the Blasingame family found this orphaned Chinese boy roaming the streets of San Francisco and adopted him. His name was Charlie Lee. Through the years Charlie would be the first to open the cabin making ready for the spring cattle drive. His obligations were to begin planting the vegetable garden for the ranch hands and grass to feed the livestock.

To bring water to the garden and livestock Charlie hand-dug an irrigation ditch from upstream on Warm Creek. This small ditch is still operational today flowing around the perimeter of the cabins. The wooden rails of the corral are still standing but deteriorating from seasons of neglect. Year around living was impossible at 7,000 feet because of the deep winter snows and below freezing temperatures. During those early years the nearest neighbor was 30 miles away at Huntington Lake.

Charlie eventually married and had a son named Sam Lee. They also joined him on those seasonal trips into the wilderness. When Charlie died the name China Camp was part of his legacy in respect to his timeless energy maintaining this remote location.

Once again on this clear July morning, I and hiking partner Nancy departed from Mono Hot Springs to follow those forgotten trails into the wilderness to locate China Camp. We followed the trail past Tule Lake toward Mono Creek. At Mosquito Crossing the old fallen cedar tree had survived another spring run-off. Since 1980 this large fallen centennial has served as a bridge allowing hikers to keep dry crossing this main water source.

From this point the trail will increase in elevation following through forested areas with old cattle trails distracting us away from the original route. Since this is another year of minimal rain fall, which in-turn causes many seasonal streams to dry up early, I became confused and hiked beyond Warm Creek which was our turning point toward China Camp. After another hour of hiking I referred back to my map and realized we must back-track and try to locate Warm Creek and the trail we missed earlier.

We finally found the creek and the trail which led to an old fence and pole gate. This old cattle trail will led through the meadow and follow its western border to the northern tree line and the first images of the cabins. To my disappointment, I found the rumor of an ancient pine tree destroying one of the cabins turned-out to be true. The newest log cabin built in 1960 is now displaying a seventy foot pine tree resting the full length of its structure.

The cabin damage was severer, but the sides are still stable and with a little labor it can be repaired. Are we again to lose another bit of history associated with the Sierra Mountains?

We soon learned we were not alone — escaping around the wooden rail fencing was a full grown auburn colored bear showing us his backside disappearing into the forest.

Normally this adventure is around seven hours, but today the misfortune of missing the trail we spent10 hours trekking through the mountains. Even with this setback of time the rewards are in the spectacle associated with this mountain wilderness.

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