Vogelsang

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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Two More Down

After the Last Big Blast on Friday, Jose, Rollie, and Corey decided to hike down the canyon to Yosemite Valley for a taste of civilization.

On Saturday, only Corey came back.

I think it’s best to relate the story the way we heard it from Corey on Saturday night.

The three of them were headed out of camp in good spirits. The end of the season was only a couple of weeks away…so close, we could all taste it. Rollie was really excited. He kept saying “We made it! We made it!”

However, this was Jose’s second season on a Backcountry crew. He was a veteran and knew that a lot could happen in the last few weeks of a season. He cautioned Rollie by saying “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.”

They found a place to camp and got cleaned up for a night out on the town. Yosemite Valley does have some establishments catering to the night life crowd. Corey said the evening had been progressing nicely over beer and hanging out with the beautiful people in Yosemite Valley. Considering they had no place to go in the morning, Jose and Rollie were knocking back the beer.

Everything was going fine until Rollie took a long, long look at Jose, reared up, and hit Jose in the face.

At this point, we broke into Corey’s story. “Were they arguing?”

“No.”

“Oh, come on. There must have been something said or done that got out of hand.”

Nothing. Corey insisted that nothing had happened. One minute they were buddies, the next minute Rollie was knocking Jose out of his chair. It even took Jose a few moments to realize what was going on. Rollie had knocked Jose out of his chair and was on top of him before Jose started defending himself.

Corey, not being a fighter, and also being a lot smaller than either Jose or Rollie, hollered at them to stop a few times, but there was no way he was going to jump in to try to break them up. Before long, NPS Rangers, the cops of Yosemite, were running into the place. Corey backed away and made himself as inconspicuous as possible as the rangers broke up the fight, threw handcuffs on Rollie and Jose, and hustled them out.

“I have to get Moose!”

Moose got another hike down to Yosemite Valley. She was not happy.

Moose came back to camp with Jose. Rollie had already been fired and given a one way bus ticket out of Yosemite Valley, the price of which would be deducted from his final paycheck. Jose was being fired, too. Remember the Big Five rules that would get a Corpie automatically fired? The one about “No fighting”? There was no other choice. Jose got a chance to gather his gear up from camp, though. When he got into camp, he pulled up a folding camp chair by the fire and sat down to rest for a minute. He was quiet and still looked dazed from the fight. One eye was swollen almost completely shut. His face had cuts and scratches. His lips were swollen and cracked.

The only question we had was, “Why?”

The only answer he had was, “I still don’t know.”

As I walked away with Wayne, I could only think that I had been scheduled to fight Rollie in a couple of weeks if we hadn’t cleared up our issues earlier in Cheryl’s group discussion. Jose was bigger and a much more capable fighter that I could ever be. If Rollie had done that to Jose…

I said to Wayne, “Man, I’m glad we called off Mather.”

Wayne chuckled and said, “I bet you are!”

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The Last Blast

The end of the season was rapidly approaching after Labor Day. Only two weekends remained before the end of the season. We still had a long way to go on The Mound and the leach field, but we started to tie up the loose ends of other aspects of the project.

Snyder was through blasting, but he still had a good amount of explosives left in his Vogelsang shot locker. They didn’t like to pack explosives out of the Backcountry. Movement of explosives was just too great a hazard. Every time it had to be taken out of the shot locker, loaded onto a mule, transported, unloaded off the mule, and stored somewhere else there was always a risk of an accident. It was better for everybody if we could just find a way to use it at Vogelsang.

Snyder and Marty decided to get a whole lot of fill added to The Mound at one time. The draft horse, Tony, was still around with the stone boat. We helped load huge rocks onto to the stone boat to be dumped onto The Mound. When we had The Mound loaded with huge rocks, Snyder and his crew set to work placing the three hundred pounds of remaining ANFO all over the rocks. ANFO is a fairly common high explosive made up of Ammonium Nitrate (fertilizer) and Fuel Oil…hence, ANFO. ANFO was discovered accidentally after World War Two when a freighter loaded with fertilizer blew up at a dock in Texas City, Texas and destroyed most of the harbor facilities around the city. Somehow the fertilizer accidentally got mixed with some fuel oil and ignited.

When the charges were placed, the det cord was laid out. The rocks looked pretty freaky with plastic bags full of ANFO stuck on them all over the place and held in place with mud, and chained together with lime green det cord. The final connections were not made until everybody was out of the danger zone. We all remembered the road worker who had been killed on a blast earlier that summer. He was outside the danger perimeter for the size blast the road crew was doing. He was where he was supposed to have been. However, a freak piece of fly rock had still hit him in the head just below the rim of his hard hat and killed him instantly.

Snyder wanted to play it safe and posted us as trail guards a half a mile away, well beyond the recommended safety radius. And that wasn’t all. He wanted everybody to be behind hard cover. I guarded the trail down to Merced Lake with Glen. We found a big rock bench to hunker down behind. All of the trail guards radioed “Ready!” when each team got in place. When all of the teams had checked in and Snyder replied “Copy ready,” we all switched our radios off. We did not want a stray radio signal to detonate the explosives prematurely. Snyder and his crew hooked up the det cord to the plunger and backed up to their safe spot, which was a lot closer than we were.

Glen and I knew all of this was happening, but with our comm off, we had no idea when the blast was actually going to go off. It seemed to take forever. Then we felt a jolt through the ground, and a few seconds later heard a huge BOOM.

Glen said,”Wow. And that was a half mile away.”

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Mountain Rush

One day after dinner, I wanted to see what radio stations I could find with my Walkman. I walked up the lower slopes of Vogelsang Peak until I was clear of the trees. I sat down on a rock and began searching the airwaves.

Before long, I tuned into some cool synthesizer and drum riff. I stopped there figuring I had found a rock station. After the drums, the bass kicked in. Very nice bass line! Melodic. It reminded of something Rush might do, but I did not recognize the song. The more I listened to the bass, the more I thought “This sure sounds like Rush.”

Then the vocal started. Definitely Geddy Lee! Unmistakable! Still, this was a Rush song I had never heard, and I thought I had heard everything by them. I just kicked back and enjoyed the ride. I applauded when the song finished. The DJ said it was a single called ‘Force 10’ from their just released album Hold Your Fire.

Well, here was one cool thing to look forward to after the season!

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Hiking On the Clock

The NPS requires its trail crew members to hike a minimum speed of three miles an hour. Once you get in shape and acclimated to the altitude, three miles an hour is pretty easy to do. Five miles an hour is common with trail workers on the top of their game.

At the end of one day on the trail through Rafferty Meadows, Mark, Chris, Glen, Wayne, and I were clustered together hiking back to camp. We played different music trivia games on this hike. First we played The Alphabet Game with band names. The first person might say “Aerosmith”. The next person would say “Aerosmith, Beatles.” The next person would have to say all of the names already given, plus add one for the next letter in the alphabet.

When that game ran its course, we began a discussion of the state of contemporary music. The question under discussion was “Name a good band who had put out their first album since 1980.” The discussion was vigorously progressing when Moose caught up to us from behind.

Moose said, “Hey! Come on! You could hike faster than this!”

“Well, yeah, we could, but it’s the end of the day and we’re on our way home.” I’m not sure who actually said this. The cheekiness indicates that it was most likely either Mark or myself.

“Doesn’t matter. You’re on the clock. Let’s go! It doesn’t look good for all you young guys to be outhiked by a thirty year old woman with bad knees!”

We kicked it into gear and picked up the pace with Moose right behind us. We were hard-headed youth, though, and so as soon as our watches hit 4:00…quitting time…we dropped our pace back to a speed that would let us continue our discussion.

Moose almost crashed into us from behind. “Hey! Let’s go! Three miles an hour.”

“Well…it’s after four o’clock now and I’m hiking on my time. I don’t think we’re obligated to hike three miles an hour on our own time.”

“Aw, come on! You’re going to let a thirty year old woman with bad knees beat you back to camp?!”

“Yup. Today we are, anyway.”

“I don’t have anything to prove.”

“I’m secure in my masculinity.”

Moose spit on the ground as she passed us.

We never did come up with one good band active in 1987 who had released their first album since 1980.

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Stable Boy

Of course the packers said they could use a hand cleaning the stables. Moose headed back up the trail. I got to have dinner with the NPS trail workers at the trail crew housing. It was a fun time. They asked how my eye injury happened. I told them the corneas had gotten scratched by dust from a passing mule string. Brian said, “Huh. Must’ve been a Curry Company string. NPS mules don’t raise no dust!”

I got to spend the night in the stable’s loft. There was a bunk up there and a light. I had a paperback I’d picked up in Yosemite Valley called Wild Blue, a novel about the World War Two-through-post-Vietnam career of an Air Force fighter pilot.

The next day was the first time since Tuesday I had awaken without my eyes being crusted shut. It was also one of the most laid back work days I was to ever have in Yosemite. The packers showed me what they expected done during the day, and then they left me on my own for the day. There are two modes of working for the State. We usually operated in assholes-and-elbows mode. Rarely on a trail crew, though, did we get to use the ‘this-is-the-only-thing-that-needs-to-be-done-today-so-make-it-last-all-day’ mode. Today was one of those days. The stables were clean and ready for the mules to come in at the end of the day. And I made progress on Wild Blue!

After another dinner with the NPS crew and another night in the loft, I headed back down to Yosemite Valley on Saturday morning. I hadn’t owned a car since I had left Illinois just over a year prior. I hadn’t driven at all in that year. It was nice to be behind the wheel again. I hadn’t driven many places as beautiful as the Tioga Road through Yosemite National Park. Nothing in my life had prepared me for sights like the massive granite domes rising up from the far shore of Tenaya Lake.

As I drove along the shore of Tenaya Lake, I remembered that it was Labor Day weekend, the second and final three-day weekend in the Backcountry. I had missed a three day weekend hike on the first one because of KP. Right now several Yo2 crewmembers were setting out on a three day journey to Mt. Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite. I was going to miss this one, too. Oh, well. Getting mad hadn’t accomplished anything the last time. It wouldn’t do any good to get mad now. This was due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. I simply had to learn how to deal with life unfolding in ways other than what I had planned.

The doctors decided that my eyes were fine and gave me a release. Let’s see, now…Saturday in Yosemite Valley, with ‘my own’ wheels and no particular time table. What to do?

It was a good thing I was not a drinker, or I could have gotten myself into real trouble. As it was, I hung out at the Ansel Adams Gallery for a while, had lunch, and by then had had my fill of Yosemite Valley’s crowds.

I was back at Vogelsang in time for dinner.

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