Monthly Archives: May 2014

May 31, 1987: Payday

I got my check last night, so naturally I went down to the valley and started spending it today.

One thing that I bought was a good investment—The Amateur Naturalist’s Handbook. I first found this book in the Round Lake library back in Illinois about a year ago. I’m glad to own a copy of it now. It’s a good primer for all of those –ologies I mentioned earlier that I want to learn more about.

Yesterday I went to Big Creek with Anne and Jose. It’s amazing how smooth and rounded all the rock was—so aesthetically pleasing. I’d like to go back with a camera and my journal before we leave Wawona.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Yosemite | 1 Comment

May 27, 1987: Lake Vernon, Part 2

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I misread the topo map for the hike from Lake Vernon to Tiltil Valley. I saw the trail went over a couple of contour lines, then followed the contour around the mountain and down into the valley. Figuring they were 80 foot contours, I figured it would be a piece of cake.

We set out and started climbing. And climbing. Climbing, climbing, climbing! I thought we’d never stop going up. I know we climbed more than 160-180 feet, which is what I expected. Getting to Tiltil Valley, I checked the map and found out that the contour interval was 200 feet, not 80!

Tiltil Valley was a dream. It’s a lush meadow bisected by a creek with trees all along its banks. It’s just how I pictured the terrain around Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings. It was a clear night, but in the morning the fog rolled in from Hetch Hetchy, advancing up the valley like a cautious invader.

The hike from Tiltil back to Hetch Hetchy was indescribable. I just couldn’t hike fast—there was just too much that screamed out to stop and be examined. There was one plant that at first looked like it had bunches of purple balls for flowers, but when I looked closer it was some sort of violet (I guess) that hadn’t quite bloomed yet. I stood there for some time just watching it—it was so beautiful.

Categories: Backcountry, Backpacking, Camping, CCC, Hiking | Leave a comment

May 26, 1987: Lake Vernon, Part 1

This last weekend was probably the best Memorial Day I’ve ever had. Anne (Tam), Dewey (Tromblee), Raulie (?), Jose (?), and I went hiking and camping for three days up at Hetch Hetchy.
We got a late start on Saturday—we didn’t get out of here until after noon. On our way up we ran into some people from Yosemite 1 who had gotten kicked out of the Strawberry Bluegrass Festival. We gave them a life back to their camp, which is right by the dam, anyway.
After crossing the dam, the trail goes through a tunnel and then starts up switchbacks. The way Andy Ramirez had described them I half expected to die on those switchbacks, but it turned out that the Chilnualna switchbacks are harder.
Dewey learned the hard way about what not to backpack—like half your wardrobe.
Our first night was spent at Lake Vernon. It was kind of cold, but the night was so clear it was like having our own personal observatory. We saw some falling stars, and I saw a satellite.
Sunday morning we woke up to find everything frosted. Sleeping bags, tents, clothes, everything. I got a picture.

 

Frost on the Sleeping Bag
Sunday’s hike went over Mt. Gibson to Tiltil Valley. I read the topo map…

Categories: Backcountry, Backpacking, Camping, CCC, Hiking | Leave a comment

One Beer

OK…there is a gap of about one week here in my Backcountry journal, so I can use this time to fill in with some other CCC stories.

One day shortly after I had promoted from Crew 3 Crewleader to Fisheries Special Corpsmember, I was having a hard time getting site plans for fisheries construction projects to correlate to the actual work sites. I was coming to the conclusion that the consultants I had been surveying the sites with had been off on a critical aspect of the plans. This was not a good feeling. I thought about what that meant in terms of all that money spent on the contract, and the possible consequences of building the structures wrong. Even worse…what if I was wrong? The consultants had PhD’s. They had years of experience in the field. I had a high school diploma and about three or four months total in salmon habitat restoration projects. I had a grand total of about two years’ experience if we factored in every other sort of natural resource project I had worked on. What if the problem wasn’t in the plans, but in mistakes I was making in reading them?

I was talking this over with Lee Howard in the office at the end of the day. Lee was a Corpsmember on my old crew. Lee looked kinda like Art Garfunkel…receding hairline and all. I had trained him how to run chainsaws, and he was well on his way to promotion to crewleader. Lee had been having a particularly grueling week on the grade and had his own stresses that had been weighing on him. We were both just dog-tired.

As we gathered up our gear to leave for the day, Lee said, “I am not looking forward to whatever it is they’re serving up in the kitchen tonight.”

“Wanna go down to the Salmon Jerky?” Since promoting, I’d had to move off center, and I could no longer eat meals regularly up in the Center kitchen. I had learned how to cook beans and rice. And tortillas. I frequently went to went to Crescent City to eat as well. Paul’s Cannery Smoked Salmon Jerky was a lot closer than Crescent City. It was a restaurant/bar down at the bottom of Requa Hill and on the main highway. It also served as the local Greyhound stop. Every Corpie at Del Norte Center had either arrived or left by a bus here at some point in their career. Some staff called it Paul’s Cannery. I suppose that was the proper name for the place. However, the biggest sign out front said ‘Salmon Jerky’, so that’s what most of us Corpies called it. They had pretty good greasy spoon-style burgers. And every once in a while those burgers were a good change of pace from the Center food. Lee was sold!

We loaded into my Chevette and headed down the hill.

It was a beautiful and sunny warm day. There were just a few people in the Salmon Jerky as we walked in. It was brighter in there than I thought it would have been. I was surprised by the amount of sunlight that actually found its way into the place. We ordered our burgers, and I made the observation “A beer would be really great with that burger.”

Lee looked at me sideways and said,”Yeah. It would.”

Now…the CCC is very particular about certain rules concerning fraternization between staff and Corpsmembers. They can hang out together a little bit, but one of the Big Rules is “Staff shall not drink with Corpsmembers.” There are solid reasons for these rules. I agree with them. I support them.

But just a few weeks before, Lee and I had been Corpsmembers together. We could have come down to the Salmon Jerky and gotten hammered together and it would have been totally within the rules…but we never had. The opportunity had just never come up. We were friends who had never had a beer together. How sad!

But now I was a Special Corpsmember. A staff member. And now it was totally outside the rules. This should have been an easy call…drink a Coke. But I thought about it for a minute, and that got me in trouble.

Here we were, tired and hungry, it was warm out, and a beer would be really, really good with that burger and fries. And it’s not like we were going to get hammered. It was one beer with a meal. We were off center, and who was ever gonna know?

“I’ll have a draft with that,” I told the bartender.

“Make that two,” Lee said.

Conversation was good as we leisurely ate our burgers and fries and enjoyed our beers. We talked about everything except work. Life was good.

And then a solid hand smacked down on my shoulder. Slowly I turned. There stood the night duty Special Corpsmember, John Calkins. He had a hand firmly on each of our shoulders. He did not look happy to see us.

“Busted,” he said.

He’d had to bring a Corpsmember down to catch a bus. He saw my car outside and came in too say hi.

He glared directly at me and said, “We need to discuss this.”

Well…’discussion’ implies a two-way conversation. It was not like that at all. There wasn’t really much for me to say. The rule was clear. I had broken it. If John even mentioned this to any other staff, I would lose my job. He must have believed me when I told him that it had never happened before and never would again.

And it didn’t.

Categories: CCC, CCC Staff, Del Norte Center | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

May 19, 1987: Fill

The past couple of days have been spent crushing fill. Quite fun, actually. Except, of course, when a piece of rock the size of a 12-inch softball is broken off from a larger rock and is propelled into your shin at high velocity.

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May 16,1987: Tramping With Muir

Last night I stayed up until 12:30 reading John of the Mountains. An incredible book. Muir is a master of description and an excellent writer. I rank him up there with Tolkien.

http://www.amazon.com/John-Mountains-Unpublished-Journals-Muir/dp/0299078841/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399944789&sr=8-1&keywords=john+of+the+mountains

Thursday night we went down to the valley to see Conversation With a Tramp. Impressive. Awesome. I loved it. Lee Stetson did a fine job. What I thought was really neat was when I was leafing through John of the Mountains before I actually started reading it and found parts that were incorporated into the play.

http://www.yosemiteconservancy.org/yosemite-theater-live/conversation-a-tramp-evening-john-muir

I’m going to make it a point for the rest of my stay here to put more of an effort into learning more of the botany, zoology, geology, climatology, and a couple of other –ologies.

It’s clouding over now. It’s 2:00 so it’ll probably be raining in an hour and a half. Turner Ridge rally looks cool with the clouds hanging over it. It looks like if I climbed to the top of a tree on the crest of the ridge I could reach up and touch the clouds.

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May 13, 1987: Seven Rocks

Causeway Ready For Fill photo 38-1.jpg
Causeway under construction. This is not the section that Erin didn’t like, but this is the kind of trail we were building.

Back to reality today. I got 7 rocks in my section of causeway, but I wound up having to rework the whole blasted thing. This morning when Matt was lining me out, he showed me where the next step was supposed to go. So, I just started at the lower step and worked in a straight line for the next step. Boy, did it look nice. A nice straight line, contact on at least the entire front of the rock (usually more). It was great.

However, I noticed that the trail was getting kind of narrow after I put in my 5th rock. I asked Matt about it, and he had me straighten the last couple out, and then I continued. Just before the afternoon break, Matt asked Erin (Anders) if the trail width would be acceptable. Erin looked at it and laughed. He laughed. I don’t think he could have done anything that would have pissed me off more than that. At that time I guess I copped an attitude and I didn’t really grasp what little reasoning he gave for having me tear it out and make it conform more to Matt’s side. All I know is that I was really pissed off at Erin all afternoon after the break. I pulled out all of my rocks, making room to adjust them and used a stretched string line to keep my side exactly 6 ½ feet from Matt’s. What really made it worse was that my side was a perfectly straight line, while Matt’s looked like it zig-zagged all over the place. As I’ve already said, I was furious.

After work I talked to Erin about it and he explained in more detail about the necessary width and using Matt’s side of the causeway as a guide. But I still don’t understand why they wanted the trail rambling all over the place when it’s just as easy to make it a straight line. That whole section of trail is on dirt—it’s not like we had to work around obstructions. But I understand now the importance of working off the other guy’s work.

Completed Causeway in Wawona photo 39.jpg
Completed causeway section. This is what we were shooting for. It still needs some cosmetic work along the sides to blend it in with the surrounding forest.

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May 13, 1987: Seven Rocks

Causeway Ready For Fill photo 38-1.jpg
Causeway under construction. This is not the section that Erin didn’t like, but this is the kind of trail we were building.

Back to reality today. I got 7 rocks in my section of causeway, but I wound up having to rework the whole blasted thing. This morning when Matt was lining me out, he showed me where the next step was supposed to go. So, I just started at the lower step and worked in a straight line for the next step. Boy, did it look nice. A nice straight line, contact on at least the entire front of the rock (usually more). It was great.

However, I noticed that the trail was getting kind of narrow after I put in my 5th rock. I asked Matt about it, and he had me straighten the last couple out, and then I continued. Just before the afternoon break, Matt asked Erin (Anders) if the trail width would be acceptable. Erin looked at it and laughed. He laughed. I don’t think he could have done anything that would have pissed me off more than that. At that time I guess I copped an attitude and I didn’t really grasp what little reasoning he gave for having me tear it out and make it conform more to Matt’s side. All I know is that I was really pissed off at Erin all afternoon after the break. I pulled out all of my rocks, making room to adjust them and used a stretched string line to keep my side exactly 6 ½ feet from Matt’s. What really made it worse was that my side was a perfectly straight line, while Matt’s looked like it zig-zagged all over the place. As I’ve already said, I was furious.

After work I talked to Erin about it and he explained in more detail about the necessary width and using Matt’s side of the causeway as a guide. But I still don’t understand why they wanted the trail rambling all over the place when it’s just as easy to make it a straight line. That whole section of trail is on dirt—it’s not like we had to work around obstructions. But I understand now the importance of working off the other guy’s work.

Completed Causeway in Wawona photo 39.jpg
Completed causeway section. This is what we were shooting for. It still needs some cosmetic work along the sides to blend it in with the surrounding forest.

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May 12, 1987: Fires, Day 3

 photo 10.jpg
Crane Flat Fire Lookout

06:45—We’re awaiting the helicopters to start flying at about 08:00 to bring us some water so we can finish this job. We got a line around the smoldering trees last night, but couldn’t extinguish them because we had no water to do it with.

08:57—Well, we’re still waiting for the helicopter. It seems that the helicopter isn’t even going to be in the park until 09:15. To kill some time we went over and stirred the coals a bit and found a couple of hot spots.

I’ve really tried to be optimistic through this whole thing. I reasoned that even though we’re being sent on snag fires, we’re freeing up people to go out on the important blazes. But I can’t help but wonder what good we’re really doing. I realize that even one smoldering tree can spring into a full-blown fire, but these things have taken so little effort that I wonder if they were worth the time and money that was put into them.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, WildlandFire Fighting, Yosemite | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

May 11, 1987: Helicool!

 photo 11.jpg
Tammi Garner ready to fly!

Today was my first helicopter ride. It was helicool. Right now I’m sitting in the middle of a forest writing by the light of a headlamp. The fire here was just another snag.
 photo 8.jpg
You can see the path the electricity took from the top of the tree where the lightning struck to the bottom of the tree where it went to ground.

I’m going to have some killer camping stories for the folks back in Illinois when I get there for Christmas. Building trail and fighting fires. No one is gonna believe this.

Actually, I got 2 chopper rides today. When the first one took off, the generator went out, so we had to land it again right away and wait for the first bird to get back.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, WildlandFire Fighting, Yosemite | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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