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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.