Posts Tagged With: Hiking

High Water Crossing

There is a scene in the movie Wild in which Cheryl Strayed crosses a mountain creek and is literally swept off her feet and winds up crawling out of the creek. This scene reminded me of one particular creek crossing I had in my CCC days.

Del Norte Center. December, 1988. We had been working a habitat restoration project on Hunter Creek, a tributary near the mouth of the Klamath River. Dan Burgess and I were the Fisheries Special Corpsmembers acting as technical advisors on the project. We had been working several sites on the creek with Corpsmembers from different crews. One particular site was up the East Fork of Hunter Creek. To get to this site involved a little hiking up the creek in our hip waders. We had seen several redds, or steelhead spawning nests, on the way up the creek. We were working to protect the steelhead, so we needed to stay away from these redds to avoid potentially destroying eggs or fry. We tied some colored ribbon into trees near them so Corpsmembers would know to avoid crossing the creek near those spots. We also had to scramble up and over a fifteen foot ledge to get above a log jam. Above this jam was our last creek crossing before we got to the work site. Throughout the fall, this has been a nice but easy hike through redwood riparian habitat.

Some storms came through in early December. These storms dumped several inches of rain in a few days. The creeks swelled. We probably would not have gone back into Hunter Creek, but there were some loose ends to secure before we left for the winter. We also had tools that we had left stashed at the work site. We needed to retrieve these. Dan and I took crew leader Todd Schabek and several other Crew One Corpsmembers out to finish up a final day’s work.

The creek we hiked up on this day was very different from the last time we had hiked it. What had been hardly more than a shin deep trickle of water now filled the creek bed banks from side to side. The water was thigh high and forced us to wear chest waders instead of our more comfortable hip waders. The current was strong. We had to use all of our creek-walking skills in the crossing we had below the log jam. If we paused and left a foot in one place on the bottom too long, the current would wash the gravel away from beneath our feet and take us down. If we lifted a foot too high, the current would get under our foot and keep us from getting it back down on the bottom before being knocked down. Creek-walking involved a quick shuffle step, feet flat on the bottom with no hesitation at all. We didn’t stay in the water long in these conditions. We needed to get across as fast as we could.

We got to the log jam, and as we climbed the rocks, what had been a trickle of water flowing down through the jam was now a genuine waterfall, pouring over the top log and filling the air with mist as it roared right next to our route. It reminded me of waterfalls I had seen in Yosemite. We could not communicate in normal voices. We had to shout to each other, even when standing right next to each other.

We got to the top of the log jam. Our last creek crossing was about fifteen yards above the jam…now a waterfall. The creek seemed deeper and faster up here as it approached the logs. Dan, Todd and I huddled up.

Dan shouted, “I don’t know if we can cross here right now.” We could barely hear him above the creek’s thunder.

Todd shouted, “I think you’re right. Let’s look a little further up for another crossing.”

I thought the creek looked high, but not necessarily too high. I shook my head. “I think we should try and see it we can make it over here. I’ll go first and try it.”

Dan and Todd looked skeptical, but nodded agreement.

I started out into the creek. I had never been in water so fast. Mindful of the waterfall just yards downstream, I started hustling my way across. The water quickly came up to my thighs. It crashed into my right leg, my upstream leg, and constantly threatened to push me down. I gritted my teeth and forced my way across, pushing hard against the current and swinging my arms wildly to add to my momentum.

I was just a few feet from the opposite bank when I almost lost my balance. I was almost knocked off my feet, but managed to stay up. However, in regaining my balance, my right foot stayed down just a hair too long. I felt the gravel give way under my foot. My right foot got pushed left, and I started going down over my now crossed feet.

I could see the waterfall in my peripheral vision. Crap!

I threw myself for the bank. I lunged once and the current carried me several feet downstream. Water crashed over the tops of my waders and under my jacket. I lunged again, getting pushed further downstream. My day pack, filled with my lunch, water bottles, notebook, and a few hand tools started pulling me off balance to the downstream side as it got knocked cockeyed. On the third lunge, I crashed into a redwood log on the bank and threw my arms around it. I bounced once, but then had the log fixed in a death grip. I hauled myself up out of the water and onto the bank. My chest hurt where it had slammed into the log. I turned and looked back across the creek. Dan, Todd, and the crew were all stunned. Dan hollered, but I couldn’t hear him. He made a funnel with his hands in front of his mouth and shouted again. I could still barely hear him, and it was partly lip reading, but I could tell he was shouting “Are you okay?”

I flashed a thumbs up, then cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted back, “Yeah…we aren’t going to be able to cross here!”

Dan gave me a thumbs up.

I shouted, “I’m just gonna rest here a minute and dump the water out of my waders!”

Dan gave me another thumbs up. They all started to work their way upstream. I stood and walked farther up the bank to another big log. I slid my day pack off my shoulders and put it on the ground. I took off my jacket, laid it down on the log, and rolled my waders down. Water poured out before I even had them down past my waist. I sat on the log and kicked the waders off the rest of the way. I was soaked…khaki shirt, Ben Davis jeans, socks…everything. I picked the waders up by the feet, turned them upside down, and poured the rest of the water out. I took off my socks and wrung them out the best I could. I had an extra pair of dry socks in my day pack that had managed to stay dry and put them on. I think the help that gave me was more psychological than anything else, because as soon as I put my waders back on, it wasn’t long before the fresh socks were soggy, too.

We finished up the project for the season that day…and used the alternate crossing Dan and Todd found on the way out!

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Categories: CCC, Del Norte Center, Salmon Habitat Restoration | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

August 1, 1987: Glad I Came

Here I sit on the bank of Reyman Lake with Dewey and Derek. It was just a short hike, but we’re all pretty tired just the same. Dewey is crashed out under a tree. Derek is kicking back against a rock reading a book.

Like I said, it was just a short hike around Rafferty Peak, but to be honest Derek and I didn’t really want to come in the fir t place. Derek and Dewey don’t know it, but I’ve been so tired from work that I haven’t felt like doing anything for the last couple of weekends. I just don’t want to be a proverbial camp slug. The only reason I came today was because I’ve been telling Dewey and Derek I was going to.

Now that I’m here, I’m glad I came. With everyone so quiet the animals and birds are resuming their normal activities around us. A couple mountain chickadees were feeding in the trees above us; a squirrel is playing in the tree in front of me.

I guess I’m not like most backcountry types who are into hiking marathons and peak bagging. I like to go someplace and stick around a while. Sure Jose and Rolando did Amelia Earhart Peak. But do they know about the rock rabbits and marmots that live up there? Jose insisted that marmots wouldn’t live up there, but I saw one right at the peak. Do they know how beautiful the moonlight is reflecting off the glacial polish down by Ireland Lake?

I agree with Tom Brown’s philosophy that we have to slow down and become a participant with nature, not just rush right through it. To me it is more desirable to sit quietly in one place for an hour or two just to get a glimpse of nature as it accepts my presence and resumes its normal activities, than it is to hike for an hour or two just to see how far I can get. When you’re hiking, all you see are rocks and trees and glimpses of animals and birds as they hurry to get away from you. And the only reason the rocks and trees don’t run is because they can’t.

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

Boots on the Ground

Backcountry Corpsmembers take great pride in our boots.

(This piece is based upon 1987 Backcountry boots. I hear they’ve changed.)

For one thing, our boots set us apart from everybody else in the CCC. Just like jump boots identified elite paratroopers on World War 2, Red Wing Irish Setters identified Backcountry Corpsmembers to everybody else in the CCC.

Regular issue CCC boots are made by Prison Industries (PI). Yes. Inmates in the California penitentiary system make the boots worn by the CCC. They are black steel-toe safety boots with a high ‘logger heel’. The high heel is supposed to give the wearer’s foot a better grip on wet, uneven surfaces like logs. The heel and sole are supposed to collapse in upon each other a little, acting like a big clamp. It actually works that way on logs.

The quality of PI boots is uneven. Most of the time they are pretty good. Sometimes there can be tacks sticking up through the boot’s sole. It is always a good idea to feel around inside the boots with your hand before you put a pair on for the first time.

Trail work requires a different type of boot. Steel toes do not work in hiking boots. The steel toe caps intended to protect the toes actually become a hazard to the toe when hiking long distances. An inflexible toe on the boot leads to more injuries than are prevented from falling rocks. The logger heel creates poor posture for hiking.

Red Wing Irish Setters became the official CCC Backcountry trails boot. They are all leather construction with high tops, a low heel, and a Vibram sole. It’s a big day in the life of a Backcountry Corpie when the Red Wing representative, George the Boot Fairy, comes by your center to fit you for your boots. Your brand spanking new Red Wings are delivered to your center shortly afterward. The Red Wings are expected to be broken in by the time a Corpie reports to Backcountry, so the Red Wings become a matter of pride as a new Backcountry Corpie struts around in his/her brand new Red Wings. And they are the color of an Irish setter! The make the new Backcountry Corpies stand out in a crowd.

There is an initial bonding moment among trail crews at Orientation as all of the new Backcountry Corpies meet for the first time. Everybody shows up at Delta Center in ones and twos from the bus station or dropped off by family or friends. We all sport our brand new Red Wings. The second moment of bonding is when everybody gets chewed out by Delta staff for wearing our boots inside their center. The audacity we had, to wear our CCC-issued boots inside a CCC facility! It turned out to be Delta Center policy that work boots were forbidden inside because their floors were maintained with a high polish. Boots scuffed the polished finish. This little note had not been included in any of our ‘report to Delta Center’ instructions. In hindsight, getting chewed out by Delta staff over our boots was just one more thing that set us apart from the ‘regular’ Corpsmembers at Delta. Maybe that was Peter’s plan all along!

The beautiful new Irish setter-colored boots would be unrecognizable by the end of the season. We had seen the pictures in the Backcountry recruiting slide show. The leather would be dried out if you did not keep your boots oiled throughout the season, or a buffed to a deep, rich brown if you had oiled them. Seams had probably started to come apart, and glued back together with the Backcountry Corpies best friend…Shoo Goo! The Vibram tread would be pretty thin by the time you hiked out of the Backcountry, too. Most boots could survive to the end of the season, but probably not much longer. I think I got an extra six months out of my first pair. And I did get an honest extra six months out of them…I never went back to PI boots! When I had to replace my original pair of Backcountry Red Wings, I bought another pair of Irish Setters. (Well…I traded a pair of PI boots for a pair of Red Wings…but that’s another story!)

The pride in our Backcountry boots is what led to Wayne’s injury. He wanted to ‘save’ his Red Wings, so he wore his PI boots whenever he thought he could. Wayne found out how necessary that low heel is. He was wearing his PI boots when he pulled up lame on that weekend hike. A few days after Wayne was evacuated, after he had been to a doctor and prescribed treatment, we received word on his condition. He has developed stress fractures in his foot. The most likely cause of the stress fractures was hiking in the logger heels. The elevated heel shifts more of the body weight forward onto the metatarsals. The metatarsals are not designed to take that much pressure. After so much time and pressure, they start to crack. This causes pain. The only treatment is to stay off the stressed metatarsals for six to eight weeks.

The life lesson for today is simple: never hike in high heels!

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Losing Another

The great weekend that I’d had with Moose and Anne on Amelia Earhart Peak received an ugly jolt on Sunday afternoon. Wayne, Mark, Glenn and Chris had been hiking and Wayne pulled up lame. He couldn’t put any weight on one of his feet and couldn’t hike at all. Mark and Glenn left Chris with Wayne out on the trail while they hiked to camp for help. Fortunately there were some packers nearby. They took horses out to bring Wayne in. They came riding into camp right around dinner time. Wayne’s face was longer than his horse’s. He sat slumped in the saddle and had his hands crossed on the saddle horn. He looked totally worn out and dejected. He looked like an old west outlaw headed to Federal prison. Wayne and the packers got something to eat and then headed down the trail.

Wayne was one of the most upbeat, motivating people on the crew. He was a crewleader from Placer Energy Center and had technical skills that were needed on the septic system project. He really set an awesome example for the rest of us. His last crew journal entry says it best:

I’m so glad that we’re doing this class with Cheryl. It really is helping this crew be a ‘crew’. I feel we all really care about each other a lot and that we are closer now than ever before. I hope this really lasts the rest of the season. I think it will. Just remember, don’t sweat the petty shit, just let it pass. So far all the conflicts have been petty. Let’s be a family & really enjoy what times we have left. (Mount) Lyell on Labor Day!

Four days after Wayne wrote that, he was being packed out on a horse. We were going to miss him.

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My First Peak

The weekend after my solo adventure I went on a legal cross-country overnighter. Moose wanted to climb Amelia Earhart Peak. Anne and I volunteered to go with her.

We left camp after brunch and camp chores on Saturday. We hiked past the High Sierra Camp and then turned east off the trail. We had to climb over one ridge (more boulders) and cross the Ireland Lake basin to get to Amelia Earhart Peak.

Amelia Earhart Peak photo 33.jpg
Amelia Earhart Peak. We were headed to the low spot on the left.

The Ireland Lake basin is a perfect example of glacier action in Yosemite. Millennia ago, there was so much snow and ice packed down into this little valley that weight and gravity did their job. As the ice slowly slid downhill, it carved out the u-shaped valley that now existed. The ridge that we had to cross to get into this basin is what geologists call a ‘lateral moraine’. As glaciers carve their way downhill, they push rock and dirt debris, or til, out of the way. This debris gets pushed either off to the side (a lateral moraine) or in front (a terminal moraine) of the glacier. As we hiked across the floor of the basin, we could see and feel the granite slickrock that had been polished smooth by the abrasives carried along by the ice. The polished granite in the Yosemite wilderness could be as smooth as a cut countertop. If you got close enough, you could see the individual quartz crystals in the granite. What a world this was!

Moose and Anne were such great company. They are both happy, upbeat and positive people with great senses of humor. Anne is also a very punny person!

Climbing Ameila Earhart Peak photo 37.jpg
Can you see Moose?

Moose led the way up Amelia Earhart. We went up the left side of the mountain to hit the ridge where it was relatively low. The plan was that if we got up on the ridge, we could walk easier up the ridge to the peak than we could by bouldering all the way to the top.
We worked our way slowly but steadily up. Most of the climbing was similar to what I had done a week before on Rafferty, with only two differences. For one thing, this one went a lot higher. More importantly, we weren’t trying to beat sundown, so we had plenty of time to pick our route. That made all the difference. Eventually, we made it to the top of the ridge. Making it to the peak was now a simple matter of walking up the incline.

Yeah. Simple.

Almost nothing in the mountains is as smooth and simple as it looks on a topo map or in a long distance panoramic photo. Some sections of the ridge were open enough to simply hike up. These sections always had steep cliffs dropping off both sides of the trail. Sometimes it felt as though we were literally walking up the razor’s edge. These are the sections that an acrophobic would not make it through.
Other sections of the ridge get wider and steeper, so that you are once again heading up a near vertical surface. Sometimes there is only one way up through the rocks. There can be a well-defined trail going up these sections. We got to use some of our newly acquired climbing skills to get through some of these sections. In fact, there were a couple places where we had to ask ourselves “Are we going to be able to get back down here without ropes?”

By mid-afternoon we were at the summit—11,982 feet.

Obviously, we were not the first ones in history to summit Amelia Earhart Peak. However, it was surprising to find signs that someone had been there in just the last few days. A pair of very small, brand new flags…maybe six inches high…had been planted at the summit. One was an American flag. The other had a star field and said ‘The 96ers’. We had no idea what that meant. I later learned that they were a climbing group focusing on peaks higher than 9,600 feet.

Almost the first thing that Moose and Anne did upon reaching the summit was search for the peak register. Most named peaks have some way for people who make it to the top to leave a record of their ascent. We found an ammo can under a little shrine-like structure built out of…of course…rocks! This helped protect the can somewhat from the elements.

Inside the ammo can was a small spiral notepad and some short stubby pencils. People had been recording their names, where they were from, the date they summited, and sometimes even their thoughts on top of the mountain. I signed it “My first peak. We ain’t got nothin’ like this in Illinois!”

Now, peak baggers might have stayed there to eat lunch before racing back down and moving on to the next peak. We moved in to stay! Moose gave Anne and me a tour of every peak in sight. She seemed to know something about the history, geography, and geology of every peak around. Moose knew a lot of those things because she had run Backcountry crews right across the border in Inyo National Forest, around Mount Dana, Mount Ritter, Banner Peak, and Kuna Peak. What an afternoon that was!

Around late afternoon or early evening, clouds started rolling in. The sunset light through the clouds, which quickly became fog for us, became an ever-changing kaleidoscope of pinks and purples. I had never seen a show like it, and the admission price had simply been a good workout and some sweat. Well before sundown the clouds had socked the peak in so much that the three of us could barely see past each other. Everybody decided to turn in early and see what the morning brought. I took my sleeping bag and pad down from the peak a few steps onto the west side. Sleep came quickly.

Bunking on Amelia Earhart Peak photo 32.jpg
Bunking on Amelia Earhart Peak

I woke up in the middle of the night. I looked up and the skies were clear. I put my glasses on and laid back to enjoy the sky show. I had never seen the sky so clear. Even with the full moon, I could see more stars than I ever had before in my life. If you stare at a clear sky like that long enough, vertigo can sneak up on you. I suddenly saw such depth of field to all those stars, I felt like I was going to fall upwards into them. I looked down over the edge of the rocks to shake off the vertigo…and saw the entire Ireland Lake basin sparkling in the moonlight! I had never seen anything like this, either! It took me a minute to figure out just what I was seeing. The glacial polished granite on the basin floor was smooth enough to reflect moonlight! I never even tried to go for my camera. There was no way this was going to come out on 400 speed film with my point and shoot. All I could do was sit there and stare at the beauty below.

How many people have had the opportunity to sit on top of a 12,000 foot mountain looking down at such a light show in the beautiful remnant of a glacier track? I could not believe how much I had been blessed to witness these works of God’s art that so few people had ever seen.

Categories: Backcountry, Backpacking, Camping, CCC, Hiking, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

An Alpine Independance Day

July 4, 1987: I woke up on my perch above Rafferty Meadows. The sun hadn’t cleared the mountain ranges to the east yet, but I was still in full daylight. It was about 5:30 AM. I crawled out of my bag and hoped onto a higher rock. I let my bare feet dangle over the edge as I soaked in the morning view. Vogelsang and Fletcher Peaks stood tall across the canyon. I could barely make out the yellow rain flies of our camp right below Vogelsang. It still looked dark down there in Fletcher’s shadow.

Vogelsang Camp From Across the Canyon photo 35-1.jpg

As I breakfasted on GORP and water, I sketched out a plan. I was an early riser, even for a trail crew. It was possible, if I got over the ridge in the next hour or so, to catch up with Anne’s group at Nelson Lake before they pressed on. I gathered up my stuff and resumed my way through the boulders.

An hour later, I was still nowhere near to being over the ridge. I kept running into walls and crevasses. I reached a point where I had to admit there was no way I was getting to Nelson Lake before they left. I took my pack off for a short break and started my way back down.

About half-way down the ridge I stumbled across something odd. It looked like a faint trail, following the contour along the ridge. It looked like it had not been maintained in years, but it sure looked like a trail. I decided it was a good time for a break as I shed my pack and broke out the topo map one more time.

The only trail showing on the map was the causeway through the bottom of Rafferty Meadows. No other trail at all appeared on the map through this canyon. I studied the lay of this ‘phantom’ trail again. It was possible this was just a game trail, but I didn’t think there was enough game this high to leave a trail. I left my pack on the ground and followed the trail south about thirty yards until I found a water bar across the trail. That clinched it! This was definitely a trail! Now I was curious about where this unmarked trail led. I retrieved my pack and headed south. The only reason I could think of for this trail to be here was if it was an old cavalry trail. I daydreamed about cavalry troopers riding through these mountains.

At the top of Rafferty Meadow, the trail dropped down off the contour. I lost the trail several times once it got lower. It practically disappeared. I couldn’t tell where it was by the break in the contour like a trail had. I stopped seeing water bars. The right of way was overgrown. Once I lost the trail, I had to stand still, look ahead, and ask myself where I would route the trail ahead. I would catch glimpses of trail clues every once in a while for about fifty yards. As I worked my way through the overgrown brush, I suddenly popped out onto the main trail through Rafferty Meadow! I could not see the main trail until I was actually out on it.

Well…that was a fun adventure!

I even made it back to camp in time for brunch. I spent the rest of July 4th, 1987 catching up on laundry and reading more David Copperfield.

Considering that I had managed to go on an authorized independent but illegal solo hike, I think it was an appropriate Independence Day.

Categories: Backcountry, Backpacking, CCC, 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

NPS says “Hike fast!”

Hike fast!

That’s a pretty simple guideline for hiking on a trail crew. The National Park Service has a minimum hiking speed for trail crews of 3 miles per hour. This is the minimum under any condition. It doesn’t matter if you’re only going one mile with a daypack or twenty miles with a full backpack plus tools. Of course, once you get in shape you can easily hike faster than that, especially on shorter distances.

Everyone develops their own hiking techniques, too. I developed one that I don’t think I saw anybody else use, but I think it contributed to my bad knees after two seasons.

The one rule that NPS had about hiking technique was “No running”. Running on those steep grades, especially while packing gear, would tear up knees and ankles pretty quickly. People got pretty picky over a definition for ‘running’. We were told we were running if both feet were off the ground at the same time. With that definition of ‘running’ in mind, I used some advice my high school friend Jerry had given me from cross country running.

1. Work hard on the uphill.
2. Let gravity do the work on the downhill while you rest.

I was never a very good uphill hiker. I tried to keep a constant stride. I leaned forward and took as large a stride as was comfortable. I rested my hands on the tops of my thighs, pushing down on my legs as I needed to in order to throw the next step forward. I would get winded fast. My hamstrings would scream in protest. Sweat constantly dripped into my eyes with the salt sting. I was always toward the rear of the pack on the uphill.

Downhill hiking…now that’s where I shined! I would lean back and let gravity do most of the work. I’d pick my feet up and put ‘em down as fast as I could. I’d take as big a stride as I could. On steep downhill grades, large strides would send me so far down with each step that I was always in danger of letting both feet come off the ground. As my foot hit the ground, I would bend my knees slightly to absorb the shock. Many times it didn’t feel like hiking downhill so much as a controlled fall down the hill. It wasn’t a pretty technique, but it was fast. I could gain back all the distance I had lost on the uphill and pass most everybody else on the crew.

The speed eventually came with a price. My second season on Backcountry trails was in Kings Canyon National Park. At the end of the season, especially the last week, my right knee had finally had enough. It started screaming in protest as I hiked out of the backcountry. I rested it over the last weekend and hoped it would be fine on Monday for our last week of the season in the front country. Monday morning it felt fine. It gave out again on the hike home in the afternoon. Our boss asked if I wanted to see as doctor for it, but I insisted it just needed rest. Tuesday through Friday were all the same. It felt fine in the morning but like it was on fire in the afternoon. I still insisted it just needed some rest, which I would be getting plenty of in the off season. It never was the same, though. I never saw a doctor for it, and it kept me from ever working trails again.

So remember…hike fast! (But use good technique!)

Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Hiking | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

May 3, 1987: Ribbon Falls

Yesterday I went with Kim (Orr), Wayne (Vanderleest), Anne (Tam), and Chris (Graffam) to the bottom of Ribbon Falls. It was the best adventuring I’ve done so far.

The hike up was more of a scramble over boulders as we followed the creek up to the falls. I really enjoy scrambling. I did quite a bit of it up at Del Norte on the rocks with which the entire coast line is strewn.

We found a couple of interesting caves on the way up. The first one only went back about 30 feet or so into the rock. The interesting thing about it was the ledge along the back wall that would have served as a mighty fine bed if someone had to hole up in the cave to wait out a storm.

The second was quite a bit longer and went back quite a ways before turning up and coming out the backside of a boulder.

When we got to the base of the falls, it was truly spectacular. We were right next to El Cap, and the canyon wall has a kind of horseshoe indentation right here. The falls are on the right side of the horseshoe (looking up), and as the water cascaded over the edge, it filled the entire horseshoe with mist. The mist swirled around in the air, twisted and turned by the wind.

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When the water gets to the bottom, there are only about four or five narrow streams running down the rock. The rest of the water gets to the bottom in the form of the mist, which is so heavy right by the canyon wall that it seems like a hard rainstorm.

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Today, I’m just kickin’ back. I did some laundry this morning, and went to the showers and the store. This afternoon has been spent reading John Muir: To Yosemite and Beyond. The more I read and find out about the man, the more I admire him. It seems like I’m currently in the position he was in after leaving the University of Wisconsin—trying to figure out what the heck to do with the rest of my life.

Right now I’m sitting in my favorite spot on the river bank. There are some small lizards which seem to enjoy spending their time running back and forth on the rock below me right on the water’s edge. I’ve really enjoyed watching these guys run around. It seems they’re now taking an interest in me. Just now one of them scrambled up the bank to a rock about ten feet away from me. I just barely caught the blur of movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turned my head to look, he froze. We stared at each other for about a minute, then I made a move as if to get up. The lizard freaked out and scrambled back down the bank. I could have sworn I heard it yell “Run awa-a-a-a-a-ay!” I think I’ll name him Tim.

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

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