Hiking to the Lone Pine Ashram

Lone Pine, CA

On Saturday we headed west into the Sierras for a hike to a building known as the Ashram.  We were happy to have Dave join us on this hike while Sue stayed back and did some “chores” at the motorhome, as a knee problem (probably an old football injury) prevents her from strenuous climbing.

An Ashram is a hermitage, monastic community, or other place of religious retreat for Hindus.  So what is one doing perched on the side of a mountain high in the Sierras?   It began with a two month stay in the late 1920s in Hunter’s Flat, near what is today the Whitney Portal.  Franklin Wolff and his wife Sharifa spent that time writing books on transcendental philosophy and mysticism.  Because of this two month camping experience, the Wolff’s decided to spend more time in the mountains. They believed the teachings that said the most spiritual place is the highest place. The Forestry Service had stated that in order to spend any real length of time camping in that area, a structure would have to be built.  Building permits were not available at Hunter’s Flat so Franklin and Sherifa explored the next-nearest canyon, Tuttle Creek Canyon.  Here the beauty of the pine trees, the clear, cold creek, the remoteness and serene quiet would provide the perfect atmosphere for a spiritual retreat.

Wolff decided to use the natural stone as the main building material. (Cement was carried in on burros and mixed daily).  The building is 2000 square feet and in the form of a balanced cross, signifying equilibrium.  With access only available in the summer, work proceeded slowly over the next twenty years.  In 1950, before the doors and windows were added, work cease on the building due to the physical inability of Sharifa to make the trip up to the building site.

Tuttle Creek Canyon

To reach the building we drove out Horseshoe Meadows Road and turned west on Granite View Drive.  At a sign for the Tuttle Creek Trail we turned right on a narrow dirt road.  If you don’t have a four-wheel high clearance vehicle you can get up the dirt road to within a mile of where it ends, then hike up to the trailhead.  With our Jeep we were able to get to the trailhead, but it definitely requires high clearance and four-wheel drive as the road is a bit steep and sandy in some areas (and a little close to the edge of the canyon in spots!).

Hiking up the Tuttle Creek Trail

It is only a mile from the trailhead to the Ashram but it is almost all steeply uphill with no switchbacks to help.  About three quarters of the way up we went around a bend and the building came into view across a side canyon.

Crossing a small creek just before reaching the ashram

After crossing a small creek we hiked a short distance up through a pine forest before reaching the steps to the Ashram.

The stone building is in excellent shape.  Someone, probably the Forest Service, is taking good care of it.  As we explored the area we marveled at the effort it took to build something like this far up a steep canyon.

An altar was the first major project. It did not have an inscription at that time.  In the 1960’s an unknown visitor chiseled the following:

Father, Into thy eternal wisdom, all creative love, and
infinite power I direct my thoughts, give my devotion
and manifest my energy That I may know, love, and serve thee.

View of the alter

The view looking east at the Alabama Hills and Inyo Mountains

The view west up the canyon

A young mystic priest meditating in the quiet solitude

A view from above the building looking east

Lunch with a view

Hiking down on a narrow section of trail

Dave pauses to take in the scenery

One last look up the Tuttle Creek Canyon

On the drive back to the RV park we took a little side trip up to Horseshoe Meadows.  But we’ll save that adventure for our next post.

 

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20 Responses to Hiking to the Lone Pine Ashram

  1. explorvistas says:

    THAT is really cool, you two! 🙂

  2. pmbweaver says:

    New word….Ashram.

    What a gorgeous place to meditate and write. I can’t image how they built that house way out there. I don’t how anyone could work 20 years on anything. What a rugged part of our great country.

    • placestheygo says:

      We just walked around the building marveling at the beautiful structure. We, also, couldn’t imagine how they did it. There is a ton of concrete in that structure including the entire floor. Twenty years is a long time for sure!

  3. We really enjoyed that hike to the Ashram. Jim (well, probably me) was not comfortable taking the Subaru any farther up that road so we had a two mile hike. We, too, wondered how they built it in that remote, difficult to access location.

    • placestheygo says:

      They were using mules at first to get supplies up there. Then someone built a “road” which is now the trail. The information we had said they used a tractor with a flatbed trailer to bring supplies up on that “road.” I can’t imagine making the first trip up there to locate the place. Maybe there was already a trail!

  4. So glad you made it there…it’s a neat place! And Dave too, yay!

    I have wanted to hike off of Horseshoe Meadows Rd forever…wondering if you end up doing so!!!!

    • placestheygo says:

      Hiking to the Ashram was great fun and the place was so neat! I can see why they chose the place, but, boy, it is not real convenient!

      We were planning to hike to Cottonwood Lake from the Horseshoe Meadows Road today but after doing some web searching, it didn’t sound like the hike was all that great and the lake didn’t look too impressive for a five mile trip up to it (ten total). There are several hikes from the top but most are at least 11+ miles. There are a few mountains you can summit but they involve long Class 2 rock scrambles. So we did the Kearsage Pass in Independence instead and hiked to Gilbert Lake for five miles RT. We have run out of time and nice weather so more long distance hikes will have to wait:)

  5. Sherry says:

    What an amazing story. No wonder she eventually couldn’t make the trip. I wonder how they thought they could live there full time? Or perhaps they didn’t. Anyway this is just another of these 4 wheel drive high clearance things I must see. So you’ll have to return and bring me along I guess.

  6. Gay says:

    What a great hike…maybe my favorite so far. The colors are so subtle and yet pop at the same time. Love the history lesson too!

  7. Maxxtrails says:

    That looks like an awesome hike, we will add it to our list for our next visit to Alabama Hills.

  8. Laurel says:

    How beautiful and interesting! I’m so happy you guys made the trek there — as you know, it’s another place that Eric and I have wanted to visit. Thanks for the preview tour — your photos are wonderful. I’m really wishing we could have stayed longer in Lone Pine. Looks as though you got to do everything on your wish list!

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Laurel, I did get to everything on my list and a few extras:) We even had time for three rounds of golf! I was hoping to stay a third week for some more high elevation hiking, but the weather is telling us to leave. So we extended til Tuesday and then we are off to warmer climates. We had a wonderful time in Lone Pine!

  9. Jodee Gravel says:

    What a beautiful place, and a bittersweet history. That is a very solid looking structure and I’m so glad it’s been cared for. The canyon is pretty as well, love the photos. How fun that the new backpack got a workout already 🙂 The young mystic priest looks like his studies are going well up there…..

    • placestheygo says:

      The building is in perfect shape. Too bad it isn’t used for some purpose. But we were so glad to see it wasn’t being trashed. It was good to get the mystic priest out on the trail with his new backpack:)

  10. LuAnn says:

    We did not make it to the ashram. Gotta hold a few things back for a future visit, right? 😉

    • placestheygo says:

      I have a terrible time leaving things for the next time, but we have several trails that we need to get to next time:) You will enjoy the Ashram. The views from every angle are so gorgeous, not to mention the beautiful building.

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