Tony Krizan

Snaffle Bit Tree survived the fire

Acres of burnt forest and 3-5 inches of ash ground cover.
Acres of burnt forest and 3-5 inches of ash ground cover. Special to Sierra

With fires being the center of attention within the state of California, my curiosity into these catastrophic events led me to Yosemite National Park. Over the years I’ve hiked many of the parks historic trails. One area that offers the hiker choices of trails into her wilderness is Wawona. Even though the 2017 fires burnt most of this area, some of the trees and ground cover survived.

I’m writing this article on the Swinging Bridge Trail that leads to the historic forgotten Snaffle Bit Trail. This trail was first brought to my attention in early 2015 by Mrs. Anita Fulmer. She told me the story of how the trail served as the route for the U S Calvary after 1890 entering the wilderness toward Johnson and Crescent Lakes. This trail was used before the Chilnualna trail was completed.

Decades ago Mrs. Fulmer stated that she and her husband Malcolm had ridden this trail on horseback and saw the ancient Cedar Tree with the blaze of the horse snaffle bid embossed on its bark. The snaffle bit was estimated to have been hung on this tree around 1910. I wrote a series of articles about this trail starting on December 03, 2015 in the Sierra Star Newspaper.

Now let me introduce you to this historic trail after nature changed the landscaping of this historic area. My hiking partners Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham and I departed Oakhurst around 6:00 AM and arrived at the trailhead in Wawona at 7:00 AM. Our first introduction to this trail was naked of all ground cover. The knee high Bear Clover and seven foot high Manzanita Bushes have disappeared. Only of few pines and oak trees that survived the fire gave us an introduction to this wilderness. Almost all the natural physical markers from 2015 have been eliminated by the raging fire. The ash from the ground cover and trees completely leveled the landscaping and hid the trail. From our previous hikes we set way-points with our GPS which helped in direction finding. I must admit that the fire did remove a few dead trees that fell across the trail over the last few decades which made for somewhat easier trekking.

Almost five hours pasted before arriving at the run-off stream from Johnson Lake. Now to drop into the ravine, cross the creek that served as a natural fire break. At this point the trail was much easier to follow and ten minutes later there was that ancient 100 plus foot Cedar Tree with an 8 foot girth displaying the Snaffle Bit Blaze. After trudging through ash and charcoal colored trees for five hours, we welcomed the shade and natural colors of this area. This old cedar tree made an ideal spot to break for lunch.

Our return trek was much easier; we followed our GPS way-points. Now parts of the original trail were exposed in small sections. Another section that was cleared and flagged by the (Hot Shots) Forest Fire Fighters was a pleasure to trek through. They widened the original trail through the thick Manzanita Bushes. I’m estimating that 60 percent of the original trail still exists. If you decide to attempt this adventure, be a seasoned hiker and have knowledge of this area. This is not a hike for the novice day hiker. Remember this trail was forgotten about over a half century ago and most forest personal does not know it exists. Be careful if you attempt this adventure.

Yes I’m happy the Snaffle Bit Tree survived nature’s fire. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll attempt another trek after the new growth appears. Another historical marker from Yosemite’s passed has survived and should be around for another century for us dedicated hikers to enjoy the challenge.