Tuolumne Meadows

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

Climbing Tuolumne

One of the most fun times we had in 1987 was the weekend that Yosemite 1 came down to share our camp in Tuolumne Meadows. Diane and Roxanne had pooled some money together from each crews’ rec fund to go to a basic rock climbing class with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Yo1 arrived at our camp on Friday night. Early Saturday we headed over to the school. The instructor took us over to Pothole Dome. The best classroom in the world I’ve ever had was sitting on the warm granite of a dome in Tuolumne.

Climbing Class, Pothole Dome photo 23-1.jpg

The instructor addressed the class about climbing in general. Then he talked about basic ropes safety, and then he went over all of the equipment we would be using on our climb. Last, he covered the couple of basic climbing knots we would need to know to secure ourselves in our harness. Then we broke up into pairs and practiced putting on our swami belts, clipping into the carabiners, and tying our basic knots. The instructor came around and double checked everybody’s set-up. When he was satisfied that everybody was on the same page, we went over to a precipice on the dome and started climbing! Woo-HOO!

Actually, it wasn’t that simple. The instructor showed us again how to clip a ‘biner onto a swami belt, then picked a helper from the class and went over belaying and signals to be used between belayer and climber. (“Belay on!”) The most important part of climbing is learning to trust your gear and your climbing partners. For instance, when rappelling, after you are clipped onto the rope and start to lower yourself over the face of the rock you are going down, your natural instinct is to cling tight to the rock. You need to overcome that natural instinct to rappel. You need to place your feet firmly against the rock and lean back, away from the rock and trust this little nylon wrap around your groin…and the little metal clip connecting you to the rope…and the rope…and the person with the other end of the rope around their waist…to support your weight and keep you from plunging down the cliff to your death. Fun stuff! When you trust your gear and your partner and lean back from the rock, your feet are pressed firmly onto the rock face. It feels totally safe, but you never know that until you trust and lean back.

Climbing photo 25.jpg

Everybody had a chance to climb up the face, rappel back down, and belay at least one other person. By the end of the day, everybody had gained a confidence on steep rocks that we had not had that morning. Some of us were going to have a chance to put this stuff to use sooner than we thought!

Climbing Pothole Dome photo 27-1.jpg

Roxanne Climbing photo 26.jpg

Climber George! photo 24-1.jpg

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

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