Little known hero – Gabriel Sovulewski

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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     Today’s guest blog is from Blog reader Normon Solomonwitz of Stockton. He dug up an interesting tidbit about a little known trail builder at Yosemite. This info might be on the mid-term. Thanks Norm – good stuff.

   After its creation on Oct 1, 1890 as a national park, cavalry troops patrolled Yosemite. They were the first park rangers. The Army officer in charge was the defacto superintendent of the park. 

      Sergeant Gabriel Sovulewski arrived in 1895. His job was to control the sheep and cattle grazing in protected areas. In 1906, he was assigned the back breaking job of trail building. In just two years he became the Army Superintendent of the Park. After he left the Army, in 1920, he was appointed the civilian Park Supervisor in the recently created National Park Service (1916.) 

     Over 35 years, he was responsible for the construction, improvement and relocation of 400 miles of trail, with an emphasis on taking those trails to scenic viewpoints. One ground rule was that no trail grade exceed 30 percent.  In the Nevada Fall corridor he was responsible for the stone retaining walls below Clark Point, the Rock Cut between Clark Point and Nevada Fall (1931), the comfort station at the Vernal Fall footbridge (1934) and rebuilding two miles of the Half Dome trail.  It was said of  Sovulewski “He didn’t care whether they put a monument over his grave after he was gone: His monument was on the mountains and the trails that lead into the High Sierras.” 

Gabriel Sovulewski was buried in the Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery – which he had earlier outlined with Incense Cedars.

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –


4 Responses to “Little known hero – Gabriel Sovulewski”

  1. Sönke Says:

    Thumbs up! Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  2. andy Says:

    Nice little piece of history. I wonder what Norman would think about the ongoing effort to undo all his hard work by returning the Park to “wilderness”?

  3. andy Says:

    *Sorry Norman, you can tell us what you think! I sure wish we could edit these posts…

  4. Norman S Says:


    The history of trail building in Yosemite has always been geared toward fair usage & greater access. In 1869, Albert Snow ‘improved’ on the Native Americans trail building techniques by the use of pick axes, shovels and black powder. With dynamite, the builders took a “Spare the Stick, Spoil the Mountain” approach. Dynamite reshaped the landscape in a way that was beyond the primitive ability of black powder. The trail builders no longer had to follow the natural contours of the mountain. That’s how the 4 Mile Trail became 4.8 miles when it was reworked to bring the grade below 30%. But the use of dynamite created scars on the mountain, monuments of rock in the environment and sometimes played havoc with the drainage & maintenance of the trails. The Fern Grotto was an example of the overuse of explosives. It was not a natural cavity in the mountain. It was created when they built that narrow ledge along the pipe railing below the rim of Vernal’s crest. Returning the Park to its pristine state would be impossible now given all the water under the bridge & over the Fall. But someone above my pay grade will have to decide how to balance fair usage and safety.

    Norman Solomowitz
    (aka Norman S)

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