Tony Krizan

Another Sierra mountain secret

What is a snaffle bit? Are you confused? I was until this proper name was explained. A snaffle bit is used to control a horse by inserting the bit in its mouth. The name snaffle is a German title for which the bit was named.

That’s your history lesson for today ... so let’s talk about the Snaffle Bit Trail.

This trail originated during the 1890s and was primarily used by the US Carvery during the early years of Yosemite National Park. Of course the local packers and a few hikers that were looking for a route to fish Crescent, Johnson, Grouse and Royal Arch Lakes, this was the only route.

After talking to Mrs. Anita Fullmer the local historian, her family dates back to the first settlers in our area. Mrs. Fullmer who with her husband Malcolm rode horses along this trail many times since the 1930’s. She stated they were in their 80’s the last time they tried to complete the trail and sad to say it was impassable on horseback.

Not only was the trail overgrown with Bear Clover, numerous fallen trees across the trail made it impossible for their horses to continue. For the last 35 years from the lack of usage and trail maintenance, today this historic trail is returning back to nature.

After my conversation with Mrs. Fullmer I decided to put my skills to a test and see if I can locate and follow this forgotten trail. My first setback was that our recent maps do not show this historic route. Luckily I had a Yosemite map dated 1909 and it showed an unnamed broken line from Wawona to the Crescent Lake area.

Could this be that trail? The only way to find out is to plan a hike.

The trail starts in Wawona just north of the swinging bridge that crosses the South Fork of the Merced River. First I had to drive past the Wawona Hotel cross over the bridge to the Chilnualna Road which leads to Wawona. Drive over the Chilnualna Creek and follow to the end of road which is the trailhead to the Swinging Bridge.

Once arriving at the swinging bridge the trail to the left (north) is the path starting the Snaffle Bit Trail.

Only 200 yards into my hike and to my surprise hanging from a pine tree was a red flag streaming in the breeze. Could it be possible someone has marked (flagged) this forgotten trail? Even though this trail was overgrown in places with Bear Clover and Manzanita bushes, those fallen trees across the trail forced me to rekindle my crawling and climbing skills. My thanks are to the individual that took the time hanging those red flags which helped me negotiate this historic trail.

I limited myself to only three hours of hiking time. At that point I would start my return back to the swinging bridge. Maybe I was much too focused following this forgotten and challenging trail. Part of my time was looking around the base of the older trees for any verification of the telephone line from Wawona to Buck Camp, constructed in the early 1900’s?

You guessed it - time has removed all traces of that cable. Checking with my watch I only have 15 minutes remaining to locate the end of this five mile trail. My map revealed I’ve crossed six stream beds with four of them dry. Estimating that I have hiked a distance of only four miles I may have to return without the photograph of that Snapple Bit Blaze embedded in an elderly Cedar tree.

The story associated with this imprint started sometime during the early twentieth century when an Army Calvary patrol was on maneuvers. One of the horses broke its leg and was out of commission. They removed all the equipment from the horse and the bit somehow was left attached to a tree. Who knows how long it remained at that location before someone removed it, but the impression of the bit remained as a scar.

My goal is to locate the tree and take a photo of that impression. Guess what? While searching for that tree I ran out of time. Can I say this story is not over because next week I’m going to reschedule and if that tree is still standing, I’ll take a photo of it. My intention is not to reveal another Sierra mountain secret.