Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Last Hike

We all got up at the normal work day time the next day, but the work day for us was going to be all about packing up our personal gear, hiking out, and driving to Camp Mather.

I woke up hangover free!

Dewey woke up in a pile of beer cans. He rubbed his eyes, looked around, and asked “Did I drink all that?!”

Normally camp would have been broken down the day before and everything loaded on the mules today. Since NPS was staying to finish the project, the packers were only going to be taking out our backpacks loaded with our personal gear. The hike out was going to be a good one. Seven miles downhill, and we only had to carry our day packs.

We said goodbye to the NPS workers who had taught us so much over the summer—Erin, Marty, Patti, Matt, Joe, and Kim—and headed down the trail.

As we passed the High Sierra Camp, Glen hung back and said, “You guys go on ahead. I just want to sit and look around for a while. I want to be able to say I was the last one out.”

We left Glen behind. The crew got scattered all up and down the trail like we always did. We all dragged this hike out as long as we could. Nobody insisted that we hike NPS speed as we hiked for the last time past Choo Choo Ridge and down the Rafferty Causeway. We made the left turn when we got to the bottom of the switchbacks at the Lyell Canyon trail and headed for Tuolumne Meadows. The packers got down there before we did, and our backpacks were piled near the corral. We grabbed our packs as we showed up in ones and twos and headed for our van. Eventually Glen came in and said, “Okay. Let’s roll.”

“Wait a minute. Where’s Dewey?”

“He’s not here yet.”

“Did you pass him on the trail, Glen?”

“No. I never saw him.”

Great. Dewey got lost on the hike out on a pretty straightforward trail. We decided to give him another thirty minutes before we went back to look for him.

After about twenty minutes, Dewey came hiking up to the van.

“I got to the bottom of the switchbacks and turned right instead of left. I don’t know how far I went before I realized I was heading back up Lyell Canyon.” In fairness to Dewey, most of the rest of us had been back down to Tuolumne Meadows at least once and were already familiar with the trail.

“Hey, Glen! I guess you weren’t the last one out after all!”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Congratulations, Dewey! You were the last Yo2 Corpie out of the Backcountry!”

We all piled into the van and set off for Camp Mather and debriefing.

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

Farewell Party

We kept the party mellow. Nobody got crazy. I sipped a beer and thought that beer was just as gross as I remembered it. It was to be a few years before I realized that my problem was with Budweiser, and that there really are good tasting beers out there. I tried the orange wine cooler, and that tasted pretty good. Life was good.

People came and went from around the campfire back to their tents. After a couple of beers, Dewey couldn’t stop laughing and telling us all the latest stories about his Martian friend Moshkeloge. He eventually laid down in front of the cook tent and went to sleep.

After sundown, Moose took me off to the side. “Some of the crew have been in their tent for a long time. I’d like to just check on them and make sure they’re okay, but they might be doing things that if I saw, I’d just have to do something about. Could you go check on them? All I need to know is if they are okay.”

“Sure, Moose!” I stood up, and then realized that I had killed almost a whole two-liter bottle of orange wine cooler. And I never drank alcohol. It was a wobbly walk to the tent. I hollered, “Knock, knock!” before I opened the tent flap.

Everybody was okay. They were all just sitting around on cots talking about astronomy and music in a smoky tent. I joined in the conversation. Somebody eventually said, “You’ve had a few, huh, George?” and chuckled.

“Yeah. Almost a whole two-liter bottle.” And then it dawned on me. “Oh, no! The hangover!” I grabbed my head.

Mark said, “Hangovers happen because you get dehydrated. Drink all the water you can before you go to sleep.”

“I’m gonna do just that!” I said and left the tent. I scrounged around for my one quart water bottle and filled it at the filtered water pump. I found Moose and plopped down into a camp chair next to her.

“Everybody is fine.”

“Thanks, George.”

Throughout the rest of the evening I killed two water bottles (of water) while chatting with Moose, Tammi, the NPS workers, and the packers. Everybody started tossing their empty beer cans around the sleeping Dewey.

And so ended our last night in the Backcountry.

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

Glen’s Dive

As we worked our last day on The Mound, the packers had brought in our weekly resupply. In a normal season, they wouldn’t have brought any supplies in on this trip. They would have come in empty to load all of our camp gear and packed us out. Since NPS was staying, they brought in a normal resupply. Well…they did have a few extra goodies on this trip.

When we got back to camp after work, Moose gathered us around for a little talk.

“This has been a summer totally unlike any other summer I’ve seen in the Backcountry. This has been unlike any summer I’ve ever heard of—fires, sewers, search and rescue. So many people quitting. People getting hurt. People doing really stupid things and getting fired. Wow. Just incredible.”

“But you guys are still here. You guys have made it. I’m proud of all you guys. You’ve done yourselves proud and you deserve something a little extra for that. I got to blow off a little steam at Trail’s End. Well, you guys can blow off a little extra steam tonight.”

“I had the packers bring in a couple of cases of beer, and some two-liter wine coolers. Enjoy. But stay safe, don’t get stupid, and don’t get hurt!”

Silence.

I looked at Glen. Glen looked at Mark. Mark looked at Anne. Nobody said a word. One of the constants in the world of the CCC was the “No drugs or alcohol” rule. That was one of the Big Five rules that could get you fired. We knew that people could work around that rule with a little simple discretion, but here we had a C1 telling us to go ahead.

Wayne asked, “Seriously?”

“This is a one time, never to be repeated, extenuating circumstances offer.”

Glen said, “Whoa!”

The alcohol sat untouched through dinner. We knew Moose wasn’t trying to set us up, but the “No drugs or alcohol” training had been pretty much set in concrete. Almost everybody had participated in either discrete drinking or toking during off hours and away from camp, but seeing the beer and wine coolers right there in camp was bizarre.

Our last night of washing Backcountry dishes was a fun time. Everybody was in the line and our spirits were high…so to speak.

Glen piped up with his usual, “Last chance right here! I’ll jump in the dish pit for a hundred dollars.”

Wayne said, “You aren’t ever going to jump into that pit, so just knock it off.”

“I will! One hundred dollars, payable when we get out to a town with a bank, and I will take a dive. I know you would all love to see me do it!”

I’d had enough. “I’ll pay you fifty dollars cash right now to jump into the dish pit.”

“You don’t have fifty dollars!” Glen shot back.

“I’ll be right back.” I went to our tent and dug out fifty dollars I still had left from my week in civilization. By the time I got back out, they were finished washing the dishes. I counted the bills out for Glen.

“Twenty. Forty. Fifty. Fifty dollars cash for you to take a dive right now.”

Glen said, “Whoa!”

Wayne’s hand shot in the air and he said, “I’ll do it!”

“Nope. The offer’s only open for Mister Big-mouth. Put up or shut up.”

Glen said, “Whoa!” and walked over to the campfire. He grabbed a beer and opened it.

“Getting some liquid courage there, huh, Glen?” said Mark.

I continued, “And I want to get my money’s worth. You have to go all the way in. I don’t want to see the top of your head or the soles of your boots.”

“Whoa!”

Boy, did that spark some excitement around the campfire! The look on Glen’s face was priceless as he tried to think of a face saving way out of this.

There wasn’t any.

After about ten minutes of excited, “C’mon, Glen! Do it!” from around the campfire, the excitement started to wane.

Moose said, “Come on, Glen. Either you do it, or you don’t.”

Glen grabbed another beer.

I thought it was time to up the ante a little.

“Every five minutes you wait, starting now, I’m gonna knock five dollars off your money.”

That got everybody fired up again! Glen downed his beer. He set his face and strode to the dish pit.

“He’s gonna do it! He’s gonna do it!”

Glen took a deep breath and then held his nose. He hopped down into the dish pit! The greasy water splashed around his knees. Waves shot out from him, hit the pit walls, and ran back towards him. He went down on his knees, and, still holding his nose, fell forward, all the way into the dish pit. I could not see the top of his head, or the soles of his feet. The crew cheered!

Glen came out of the water and climbed out of the dish pit. He shook the spaghetti-red, greasy water off as best he could and looked directly at me. I applauded and shot him a thumbs up. He threw his chest out and his shoulders back and roared, “OHH-RAH!” I handed him his fifty dollars and he went off to our tent to change his clothes.

All of the hesitation over the alcohol broke loose. The beer was handed out. The wine coolers were opened. And life was good.

I went to find Glen. He had washed up and changed his clothes. His hair was still kinda greasy from the bilge water. He grinned when he looked up and saw me. He said, “It sounds pretty loud out there.”

“Yeah. I think your dive was just what the doctor ordered to loosen everybody up and get the party started.”

“Then we did good!” Glen stuck his hand out. I grabbed it and pulled him into a bro-hug.

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

Moon Over the Mound

Our last day of work at Vogelsang was on The Mound. How appropriate. We all concentrated on breaking as much rock as we possibly could on the last day. We weren’t going to be finishing this project. Yo 2 was only about half the size it was supposed to have been. The NPS crew was going to stick around to finish the leach field. NPS was even going to bring in reinforcements—other trail crew workers who were finishing their projects elsewhere. We volunteered to stay until the project was finished, but our timetable had already been set. We had to be at debriefing with the other CCC crews. We already had the good fortune of being in the Backcountry longer than any other crew. They had already hiked out and had been working in the front country for a week. We had the advantage of only being seven miles in. We could hike out, hop in the van, and be to Camp Mather on the west side of Yosemite in less than a day.

At the end of our last work day, somebody suggested taking a crew picture on The Mound. An excellent idea! We lined up and had our picture snapped with the foreground filled with crushed rock. (This picture is the front page pic for this blog.)

The Mound was the one part of Vogelsang that we were not going to miss. Dewey did a little dance across the top of the crushed granite smiling widely. Somebody said, “This pile of rocks can kiss my ass.” Somebody else suggested, “Let’s moon it!”

“Moon The Mound?”

“Yeah! Let’s take a picture! That would be awesome!”

“Okay, but let’s make sure nobody is standing in the same spot so nobody will able to identify individuals in the picture.”

“That won’t help me,” laughed Corey, the only black person on the crew. “I think I’ll sit this one out.” Corey walked off to the side.

One other person did not feel comfortable being in a moon shot.

“That’s okay. With two less people, and moving around, that will make it even harder to identify individuals in the picture.”

So the crew—minus Corey and one other—lined up and turned around. Everybody opened their belts, and on the signal dropped their pants and bent over.

And that is how we got the Moon Over the Mound shot.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Vogelsang, Yosemite | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

The Last Weekend

The season was ending. One more weekend, then crushing rock on The Mound one last time on Monday, and then hiking out for the last time on Tuesday. The entire crew…the nine of us remaining, anyway…stayed around camp that weekend. On Saturday night, we all sat around the campfire and talked about what we were going to do once we got back to civilization. A lot of choices involved food. There would be a lot of catching up with friends and family. I wondered how my Mom was doing. I would be finding out soon enough.

At the same time, an important time of our lives was ending. A real shower was going to feel great, but these were the last sunsets we would see against Choo Choo Ridge. We had only two more Vogelsang campfires left. We had all worked so hard to get here. We had made the cut and only five months ago had assembled at Delta Center in Stockton to begin transforming from fifteen separate parts into a crew. In our first crew meeting in the quad at Delta, Moose had held out the stack of our Backcountry applications and said “This is gonna be such a great season! Backcountry corpsmembers are all great people…but everybody here was hand-picked for this specific technically challenging project in Yosemite. This is gonna be great!” The season had started off so bright and optimistic.

Then we started losing crewmembers. Five quit before we left the frontcountry. Then we were sent on the fires. The fires seemed so long ago. We had still been camped at Wawona. Wawona seemed like an entirely different world. Our camp at Comfort House now seemed to have been clean and tidy and civilized. We were Backcountry newbies in Wawona. When we thought about it, we were now no longer the same people we had been when we were still in Wawona.

The moment we had all been working for, the moment that changed everything, the Backcountry, came around the 4th of July. Everything we had been working for over the last year had come true on that July 4th weekend. The High Country. Lotsa granite slick rock. Stunted lodgepole forests. High Country star shows. Glaciers. Heaven.

And three months later it was ending. One more day on the mound, one more Vogelsang campfire, and our unforgettable summer would be over.

Ahhh…but this wild and unpredictable season still had a couple of surprises in store for us.

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Vogelsang, Yosemite | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Moose’s Solo

The season was ending. One more weekend, crushing rock on The Mound one last time on Monday, and then hiking out for the last time on Tuesday. It was a bittersweet weekend. A real shower was going to feel great, but these were the last sunsets we would see against Choo Choo Ridge.

Moose had had an especially tough season as a C1. If you factor in all four alternates who were no longer with us, we had lost over half of the crew. We had been redirected from our regular work projects several times to go fight fires or search for lost people. She’d had to deal with injuries requiring air evac and had spent more time at the Yosemite Valley medical clinic than anybody would want to. Instead of relaxing and heading up a mountain somewhere on the weekends, she had usually had to spend weekends hiking out to deal with injuries or administrative snake nests. Moose needed to blow off a little steam. She hiked out on Friday afternoon – on a personal mission for a change! – and drove down to Kings Canyon National Park for the annual Trails End Party.

Trails End was a long time tradition of the Kings Canyon trail crews. It was held every year in Cedar Grove at the trail crew bunkhouse known as ‘Hole in the Wall’. It involved a pig roasted underground and assorted fixings, a cleared out barn with a live band and plenty of dancing room, and an open invitation to any NPS employees wanting to celebrate the end of another great season. Moose had run a CCC crew in Kings Canyon a couple of years before and knew a lot of people who would be there.

She said she had a great time!

(I believe her!)

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Yosemite | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

I’m Back

Yeah…it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I had some personal issues come up that interfered with writing. Once those cleared up, I had a hard time sitting myself down to write. I finally figured out why. We are at the end of the season! All I have left to cover in the chronology here is the last weekend. I hated to see the season come to an end…and I’m not comfortable now about writing about the end of that marvelous summer.

Then I realized…it’s not quite the end. After I write about this last weekend, I have to go back and catch up on that time in April at the beginning of the season that I had missed when I started this project. And then…I have to go back and flesh all of this out into a book.

The work is not even nearly done!

Categories: Backcountry, Writing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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