Almost before our camp was complete at Vogelsang, several of us got to go out on our first work project in the honest-to-goodness Backcountry. Jim Snyder had been working with a crew of NPS trail people to blast a hole in the slick rock big enough to build a septic tank in. They had already blasted once before we got there. They were about to do the second blast, and there was talk that they might even need to do a third to get the hole big enough. Several of us from Yo2 were assigned to go up to Snyder’s crew and help them out on trail guard.
When we got to the work site, Snyder’s crew was in the hole finishing the charges. We could see the lime green det cord strung around the hole connecting all of the charges. Before long, they were finished and Snyder came over to introduce himself. Jim Snyder was a unique individual. He was the foremost trail worker in Yosemite…and that is saying something by itself. He was also an expert on John Muir and Yosemite Park history. I had read an article in National Geographic Magazine about Snyder. That’s how well known he was. The article was about the original caretakers of Yosemite, the US Calvary, and the trails they made, and the blazes that marked those trails. And here we were working for Jim Snyder. Wow.
Snyder explained how they had set the charges, and then he went over the duties of the trail guards. We were supposed to go about a quarter mile up the trail and let nobody come down that trail until the ‘all clear’ signal had been given. Simple.
I was one of the lucky ones who got to go up the trail uphill from the blast. We had a clear view of the entire event. Those who went downhill were going to be behind a bunch of trees from the blast site and not be able to see anything. We assumed our positions up the trail. Heidi, the NPS worker with us, radioed Snyder that we were in position. Then the radios went off and would stay off until after the blast. A radio signal could detonate the explosives before they were supposed to. That would be a bad thing.
Snyder disappeared into the hole to make the final connections between the det cord and the igniter. In a few minutes he came out of the hole and over to his safe hole where the plunger was. When he got there, he cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, “READY ONE!”
One at a time, all of the trail guard positions echoed back, “READY ONE!”
Snyder hooked up the final connection to the plunger and set it on the ground. “READY TWO!” The trail guards echoed back, “READY TWO!”
Snyder hollered “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” and gave the plunger a twist.
A massive cloud of dirt erupted, shooting up higher than the trees, and then we heard the BOOM.
Now we had to hold the hikers in place until Snyder and Murphy combed through the debris in the hole to make sure that there were no unexploded pieces of det cord laying around. This was probably the longest part of the process. After Snyder was satisfied that all of the explosives had indeed exploded, he came out and hollered, “ALL CLEAR!” The trail guards echoed back, “ALL CLEAR!” and let the hikers who had been waiting through.
A pretty cool day!