Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fired. Or Not?

Even before we had our camp fully set up and operational, we lost one of my best friends from the crew.

Before we left Wawona, Moose had managed to get some of the tobacco-chewers to at least try to give up chew when we hit the Backcountry.

In some ways, our move to Vogelsang was more stressful than the move to Tuolumne Meadows. It was the first time we had worked with pack mules. It’s harder to load a mule than it is to load a truck. And unlike the move to Tuolumne Meadows, it was going to take three days to get all of our gear up there. Somehow, some important gear that we needed on Day #1 didn’t make it up to Vogelsang on Day #1. Or Day #2. Some of our Day #1 gear didn’t make it in until Day #3.

I’m sure this contributed to the general stress on the crew. Stress causes anxiety. Only one thing is going to calm down an anxious chewer—chew! Dave started jonesing for a chew. Moose mildly reminded him of the goal to at least try to quit. Dave had a pretty expressive, animated personality. Kinda common for Portuguese, from what I hear. Dave had provided positive crew morale by overacting and exaggerating situations. Well, this evening Dave started begging and pleading Moose for a chew. Moose mirrored his drama. There was a lot of laughter around the campfire.

“Ple-a-a-a-ase!”

“No. You made a deal.”

“I gotta have a che-e-e-ew!!”

“You gave your word that you would at least try to quit.”

“I can’t do it! I need a che-e-e-e-ew!!”

“Sure you can do it.”

“Oh-h-h-h-h-h!!! I gotta have a che-e-e-e-ew!!”

“Hang in there!”

“Somebody give me a che-e-e-e-ew!”

All of this played out with laughter all around, including from Dave. He was certainly playing to the crowd in fine form. Dave finally got a dip of chew from some merciful soul.

“Aw, Dave. You said you wouldn’t.”

“But I had to.”

“But you promised.”

“I couldn’t do it.”

“OK. You’re fired.”

“But I couldn’t help it.”

So went our campfire entertainment that night. Everybody left the campfire laughing and happy, including Dave, as far as I could tell.

The next morning before breakfast, Dave shook me awake. We were still pretty much sleeping outside. However, Dave was already dressed with his full backpack on. That was odd. We wore daypacks to work, not our full backpacks. Dave said, ”I just want to say goodbye, buddy.”

“What?”

“Yep. I’m gone.”

“Why?!” I sat up in my sleeping bag, still rubbing sleep out of my eyes.

“Moose fired me.”

“Whaddaya mean Moose fired you?”

“Yep. Last night.”

“You mean by the campfire?”

“Yeah.”

“Dude, she was kidding.”

“No, she wasn’t. She meant it.”

“Dave, everybody was cutting up around the fire last night. She was not serious.”

“No, she was serious about that. Look, I gotta go. I just wanted to say goodbye.” Dave stood up and walked out of camp.

“Dave! Wait! Let’s talk about this!”

Dave was long gone before I could get my pants and boots on.

Everyone else in camp was just as mystified as I was. Nobody else thought Moose had really fired Dave. Especially Moose! She had never even talked to him after the campfire. What would have made him think he was fired? I have a couple of theories.

Upon re-reading the crew journal, I think Dave might have been more sensitive than he let on. And I’m not sure he was going to do well with the isolation of the Backcountry. I think he saw that coming, so he took what he considered an honorable way out that was handed to him by somebody else. Where is the honor in getting fired, you ask? Well, he wouldn’t have to look at himself in the mirror and admit “I quit.” I think it was easier for him to say “Moose fired me…unfairly…because I wouldn’t stop chewing.”

I also think that a girl he met in Wawona he hoped to meet up with had something to do with it…at least in his mind.

These are, of course, just my theories. I have never seen Dave since, so I haven’t been able to discuss any of this with him. Dave…if you’re reading this, look me up! I’d love to talk!

Anyway, Dave’s departure from Yo2 was the first one that rattled me. We had already lost six people from the original crew by then, plus Xem, who had been an alternate. Losing Dave was different to me. Most of the others who had left had never really gelled with the rest of the crew. They tended to be loners who stayed apart from most of the camp life. I think Xem just got homesick. We kept running into groups of Vietnamese people from San Jose, and Xem just decided to go home from Tuolumne Meadows with one of the groups. I thought Dave was one of the core crewmembers who would have made it through for sure. He seemed positive, motivated, and excited about heading to the Backcountry. He really seemed to have all of the traits I’ve described that successful Backcountry corpsmembers possess. He was always a part of the team. He was a regular dishwasher. He participated in camp life. He had been a CCC fire fighter before the Backcountry, so I think the physical challenge was probably the least of his concerns. This just goes to show that it can be hard to predict who will successfully make it through a season.

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Categories: Backcountry, Camping, CCC, Vogelsang, Yosemite | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Rafferty

Our second camp move was to be our final camp move. Measles shots and SAR had cut into our trails time out of Tuolumne Meadows, but the project at Vogelsang was ready for us now in the High Country.

Several of us started out hiking in a group up Lyell Canyon. We turned right at the junction to the Vogelsang trail and started the climb out of the canyon. At the first switchback, I saw two interesting hikers. An Asian guy was sprawled across the rock wall at the corner. He still had his daypack on, but he was panting heavily and had unbuttoned his shirt all the way. His partner was taking his pulse. Yup. They hadn’t even finished the first switchback yet.

It was a steep climb out of Tuolumne Meadows, but it wasn’t very long. Once we climbed to the top, the next ten six miles were a relatively gentle stroll. Seven of those ten three of those six miles were over the unbroken causeway of Rafferty Meadows.

Rafferty Meadows Causeway photo 44.jpg

Rafferty Meadows was legendary. A popular high country route, the trail through the meadow had been one of the most spectacular examples of trail rutting of all time. Being a meadow, Rafferty collected the water runoff from all around. This made the trail wet and marshy. Well, nobody likes to walk through ankle deep mud, so people started hiking to the sides of the official trail, up on the grass that was still above the mud. Over the years, new trails were beaten down alongside the original…and then these trails were worn down into the mud. So what would people do then? Move over onto the higher grass and make new trails.

This process went on for decades. Eventually there were up to fifteen side by side ruts through the meadow. Some of these ruts were a full three feet deep. The meadow turned into a nasty quagmire. The entire meadow ecosystem was impacted. NPS realized something needed to be done to correct the problem.

The first solution was to reroute the trail up the hillside to drier terrain. The reroute went the full seven three miles. The only problem with this was that the new higher trail stayed buried in snow until well into the hiking season. Early season hikers really had no choice but to hike through the muddy ruts in the meadow.

The second solution worked but it was labor intensive and took three full seasons to complete. Trail crews built causeway trail for the full seven three mile stretch through Rafferty. In a causeway, the sides of the trail are lined with a single tier rock wall, and the space in the middle is filled with crushed granite. Then dirt is piled on top of the fill to provide a smooth trail tread. This raises the trail bed around a foot, but water can still pass through the rock wall and crushed fill. The meadow ecosystem was restored, and hikers stayed on the trail with dry feet. Win-win!

My Del Norte C-1, Kristen, had worked on the Rafferty causeway. It was about five years old when I hiked over it in 1987, and it was still in great shape.

(Edit: When I first posted this, I was wrong on the distances. Oops.)

Categories: Backcountry, Backpacking, CCC, Hiking, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

June 28, 1987: No Contact

I’m kinda ticked off right now. I spent the better part of the morning digging up enough change to call Kathy in Illinois. I got no answer at her house. No big deal. I thought she might be at David’s. I got a blasted recording at David’s, and it cost me $1.75 to find out he wasn’t home. Next I tried Scott’s, and it cost me another $1.75 to find out he wasn’t home from his little kid. Argh!

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Larry!

As you can see from yesterday’s journal entry, Larry was found. I just have one more story from that SAR that technically is not one of my stories. I heard it from NPS workers.

There was an NPS trail worker named Larry Evans. Larry’s crew was not involved in the search. Larry was napping under a tree during lunch one day while the search was going on. He was awakened by some hikers coming up the trail calling “La-a-a-rry! La-a-arry!”

Larry sat up rubbing his eyes and hollered back “What?”

Larry found himself surrounded by hikers offering him candy bars and offering to take him back to Richard.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Search and Rescue, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

June 27, 1987: Searching for Larry

Editorial note: This journal entry is posted pretty much as-is from 1987. I redacted the lost camper’s last name in the interests of his privacy. I decided to keep one word in describing Larry that I would not use today. No offense was intended by it. At the time, this word was a descriptor that was soon to be phased out as offensive in describing developmentally disabled people, but it was a pretty common word. To redact that from a journal entry would not be honest to how things were in 1987. Thanks.)

My, I’ve been getting rather spotty in my journal—haven’t I?

 
The past couple of days we added to our list of unscheduled events for the summer—this time search and rescue.

 
The victim was a 26-year-old retarded guy named Larry. There was a group of people here from a state hospital camped just down the road from us and Larry just wandered away from camp Wednesday night. Thursday morning we were called to the ranger station to join the search.

 
We ran into our ol’ friends from helitac—Hal, Frank, and the rest. Then we spent the next two days doing grid searches north of the Lyell Fork and several miles east of here. On Thursday Dave (Amaral) found an excellent clue (a print), so a dog team (Dog Team 3) was called in to check it out. The dog seemed more interested in chasing a stick than following a track. It seemed to us (Erin, Dave, Wayne, Tammi, and me) that our lead was just shined off. Later when we talked to one of the trackers, he explained that the dog had been shown Larry’s scent, and if the print had been Larry’s the dog would have followed it. By playing with the stick the dog showed us that it wasn’t Larry.

 
Larry was found Friday afternoon at about 13:00 hours. He was on Johnson Peak, the direction he was first seen to be heading, and in the opposite direction from where we found that print. A chopper found him, and he waved at it. He was safe and sound.

 
We got to do more on the search than on the fires, and I feel we contributed a lot more to something a lot more important than those silly smolders.

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Grid Searching

As we headed out to meet the dog handler we would be working with, we were all given copies of an information sheet on the lost person. His name was Larry. He was developmentally disabled and was with residents from a San Jose group home. Larry had wandered away from camp the afternoon before. He was last seen headed up canyon, to the south and east, but his counselor reported that he was basically lazy and wouldn’t continue going uphill. We had instructions to approach him carefully if we found him…not because he was considered dangerous, but to keep from spooking him. We were instructed to offer him candy bars and to say that his counselor, Richard, sent us.

The picture on the hand out was interesting. It was a poor photocopy of Larry’s photo ID. Several of us noticed at the same time that the person in the picture could have passed for our crewleader, Glen! I tapped him on the shoulder and said “Hey! Richard sent us. You want a candy bar?” Glen didn’t think that was very funny.

The primary way Yo2 assisted on this incident was by performing grid searches. We were assigned a meadow or a piece of land, spread out in a line on one end of our assigned area, and swept from one end of our assigned area to the other. It was critical that there were no gaps in the line just in case the victim was lying unconscious behind a rock or a log. We had to be constantly looking behind us and under places where a person could be injured, or even hiding from us intentionally.

Dogs assisted in the search as well. On the first morning, Dave found a footprint from a shoe that was about the same size and tread design as the one we had been shown was Larry’s. A dog and handler were brought over to check it out. The dog seemed more interested in chasing a stick than in following the trail. It seemed to us that the dog wasn’t doing his job. We weren’t happy when the handler took his dog to go search somewhere else. Later we talked to another dog handler about this. He told us that all of the dogs had been shown Larry’s scent, and since the dog was more interested in the stick than the print, the dog actually was doing his job by letting us know the print was not Larry’s.

For our last search before sundown, we were assigned to a larger area right outside the Tuolumne Meadows lodge in a populated area. We were being teamed up with an experienced volunteer SAR team. We met them outside the lodge and Erin and the volunteer leader coordinated how we were going to conduct this particular research. Before we started the search, Erin and the volunteer leader gathered everybody around for a pep talk and a reminder of basic search techniques. Erin said, “Remember to be constantly looking behind yourself, too. Under logs and behind rocks. It would be easy to miss a body behind a log.”

A sour look passed over the volunteer leader’s face as he looked around at the tourists within earshot. That’s all we needed, for a rumor to start that we were now looking for a body! The volunteer leader broke in over Erin and said, “Yes, an unconscious person could be easy to miss if he were laying behind something.”

Whew. Dodged that one!

Larry was still missing at the end of the first day.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Search and Rescue, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking For Backcountry Stories

Howdy!

I received a request that I will publish here in full:

My name is Adam Somers. I am working as a volunteer with the CCC to create an anthology of writing from any Backcountry Trails Program alumnus that wants to share their experience as a corps member either from the point-of-view of their time in the BC Program from journal entries, etc. or from the perspective of looking back on the experience and its impact on their lives today for example. I was wondering if you could publish this on your blog and have submissions sent to my email address. The deadline is roughly the end of August. I would also be interested in poetry, short stories, memoir from the BC Program experience as well.

I have checked this out through Backcountry staff, and it is for real. So…any Backcountry Corpies who want to get involved in this worthwhile project, send your stuff to Adam’s e-mail:

adamlsomers@gmail.com

Go for it, Corpies!

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Blowing Sunshine

During the day on the trail, we started hearing about a camper that had wandered off and gotten lost. He was a developmentally disabled guy with a group outing from San Jose. He had just wandered away from camp. That night after dinner, a ranger came to our camp and asked if we could help search for him around Tuolumne Meadows. Once again, our trail work plans were postponed.

After breakfast the next morning, everybody loaded up into the van. Erin was even going with us on this one! Moose rode shotgun. On the way out of camp, somebody started complaining about something again. I don’t remember who. I don’t remember what. I do remember that it was really getting tiresome. Erin thought so, too, because he started chewing us out as we got close to the campground used as the Incident Command for this search. As we pulled onto the long, straight road into the campground, Erin finished his rant by barking “We’re not here to blow sunshine up your ass!”

The van fell into a sulking silence. Erin pulled up to the ranger at the check point to the Incident Command, rolled down his window, and said cheerfully “Hi! We’re here to blow sunshine up your ass!”

No more sulking. Everybody in the van, even Moose, broke out laughing. The ranger looked confused. Erin continued, “No, seriously. We’re a trail crew that was requested for grid searches.” The ranger waved us through to the staging area.

We were allowed out of the van, but had to stay together near the van, while Erin and Moose went to find our assignment. As we watched the sun rising over the trees near a big field, a helicopter came in from the west and landed in the field in front of us. It was a familiar looking JetRanger with Rodgers Aviation colors. It landed, and who should get out but Hal, the loadmaster we had worked with over at Crane Flat on the fires! He saw us and waved. We all waved back.

Erin and Moose came back with our assignment. We were to hike to a specific location in the Meadows, meet a dog handler, and grid search a specific area. We got our gear together and headed out.

Later we found out that a tracker had been supposed to go out with us. The IC (Incident Commander) didn’t know where he was when we were ready to head out, so he sent us without the tracker. A little while later, the tracker showed up and asked where the crew was he was supposed to go with. The IC said “They left already.”

“Which way did they go? I’ll catch up to them.”

“Nah. They have a fifteen minute lead on you. You’ll never catch them. When it comes to hiking, these trial crews are animals.”

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Search and Rescue, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Sick Turkey

When we got back from our vaccinations in Yosemite Valley, and after I found myself committed to a street-fighting duel after debriefing, and still sick as a dog, there was still time to hit the trail and get some nearby work in. Except for me. I had KP. And the cook was gone. And the menu called for turkey. I had never cooked a turkey in my life. And I was still sick as a dog.

Fortunately for me, Victor Perez had stayed back in camp, too. I found out that Vic had spent some time as a cook at a club. He could cook a turkey! I tried to focus on what he was telling me. I was worried that a turkey would take way too long to cook before the crew came back. He told me that it doesn’t take that long if you don’t stuff it. He told me how to season the bird and place butter in strategic places on it to keep it moist. And then it happened. I couldn’t keep it down any more. I had to disappear behind some bushes. When I came back wiping my mouth out, Vic said, “Dude, just go get some sleep. I got this.”

What a guy!

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See You at Mather!

This day was not one of my shining moments in the Backcountry.

There had been an outbreak of measles in Yosemite among park employees. As a result, all park employees had to go down to the clinic in Yosemite Valley for a measles immunization booster. We all loaded up into the van after breakfast and headed west on Hwy 120. This was not a simple down and back again trip. It was about a 90 minute drive one way. That’s three hours there and back again. Add in waiting time at the clinic and the day was going to be pretty much shot by the time we got back.

On the drive down, I started feeling lousy. It started as a headache and rapidly turned to nausea. I spent most of the trip with my eyes closed and my forehead pressed against the cool window glass. Fortunately I had a window seat. The drive seemed to take forever. We finally made it to the clinic. They were ready for us, and it didn’t actually take very long to get through with the shots. Since it was lunch time, Wayne drove us to the village for lunch and told us all to meet back there in an hour.

I was feeling worse by now and wanted to make sure I had a window seat on the way back. “Right here, Wayne?”

“Right here. I’ll be back right at this spot in an hour.”

“Cool.”

I sure wasn’t eating any lunch that day. I went on a short stroll through the Ansel Adams Gallery and then went back to the bench at the rendezvous spot. I sat/laid there for the rest of the hour. I was determined to be the first one on the van when it pulled in to make sure I had a window seat to stave off nausea.

At the appointed hour, Wayne pulled up…with the van full of people!

On, no.

“I thought you were picking us all up here?”

“Well, I was. But everyone was over there.”

Great.

This is where The Great Embarrassment comes in. Instead of telling people that I felt sick as a dog and that I would appreciate a window seat to reduce my chances of puking, I just sucked it up and climbed to the back of the van. Why did I do that? I don’t know. Some silly sort of pride? Too proud to admit that I was sick? I don’t know. I just know that I did it. I do know that if I had just said I was sick, the crew would have let me have a window, and what happened next might have been avoided.

We started back up the windy highway to Tuolumne Meadows. I had my face in my hands most of the time, feeling pretty sick and fighting hard not to be sick. I can’t remember exactly what happened over the next 30 minutes or so, but I do remember what happened because of it.

Somebody on the van was complaining about something. That seemed like a popular thing to do with some people on our crew. (More will come up about that later.) At some point, Rolando, or Rollie, was making some pointed comments. I’d had enough of listening to it all by now and sharply told him to knock it off. He responded to me just as sharply. The next thing I know he’s calling me out! To settle it with fists!

“That would get us both fired, and you’re not worth losing my Backcountry season over.”

Rollie replied “OK, how about we settle this at Camp Mather, when debriefing is over?”

“You’re on.”

I could not believe this was happening. I’ve never been in a fight in my life, and now I’ve got a duel at debriefing?! What in the world?!

For what it’s worth, we started a Yo2 catch phrase right there. For the rest of the season, whenever a discussion would start to get too heated, someone could usually lighten things up by saying “Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll see you at Mather, buddy!” Then everybody would start laughing and situation defused.

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