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Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

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Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

Postby ERIC » Tue Jan 29, 2008 11:12 pm

Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

Image
Bathed in evening light, Fletcher Peak soars above the tent
cabins at Vogelsang Camp, which at 10.300 feet is the highest
of the Yosemite High Sierra Camps.
W.S. Wilson/Rochester (IN) Senti -


By DHYANA LEVEY
MERCED SUN-STAR


last updated: January 13, 2008 02:58:11 AM
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/178729.html


YOSEMITE -- It's almost like a conversation between John Muir and Edward Abbey.

Just how pure and pristine do you want to make one of America's scenic jewels? Those two giants of environmentalism might have found themselves in opposite camps over a long-standing issue over some hallowed high ground in Yosemite.

Park visitors know well that though self-reliance is a vital part of a high wilderness adventure, a few basic public conveniences can take the edge off.

Sometimes those amenities -- such as drinking water and restrooms -- need upgrades. But some environmentalists don't believe upgrades are the issue. They ask if the creature comforts should be there at all.

Yosemite National Park is in the early phases of planning its utilities improvement project for Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and Backpackers Camp. The camps' water supply and waste-water systems have deterio- rated, and more stringent state and federal regulations require that the facilities be revamped.

The project also would decide what to do with a composting toilet at Backpackers Camp. The toilet was closed in 2004 because of extensive damage caused by marmots, according to the National Park Service.

No work has started, Yosemite spokeswoman Adrienne Freeman said. But the public scoping process will begin Tuesday and run through Feb. 13. Scoping refers to information exchanged about the scope of a project.

This will give the public a chance to air concerns and make suggestions before repairs start.

"If there are issues we aren't considering, we need to know," said Jennifer Nersesian, park branch chief for public involvement and outreach.

Public brainstorming could become an important addition to the upcoming environmental assessment report and alternative project ideas that the park serv-ice is required to provide. A draft document will be available for public review by summer.

"People are very emotionally attached to the camps," Freeman said. "They are certainly highly valued by users. But some people feel we shouldn't have the infrastructure."

At 10,300 feet, Vogelsang is the highest of five High Sierra backpacking camps, about 7½ miles south of Tioga Road in the Tuolumne Meadows area. It's accessible only on foot, and hikers can visit it as part of a loop trail with camps 5.7 to 10 miles apart.

Hikers can sign up for a guided trip that goes through all the camps, and the beauty, other than the scenery, is that all you need to carry is your personal belongings. The camp, which dates to 1923, offers water, food and tent shelter.

"The whole issue is appropriateness," said George Whitmore, the Sierra Club's Yosemite committee chairman of the Tehipite chapter, which includes Merced County. "The camps are in the middle of a large wilderness area, so does it make sense to have an enclave of civilization in the middle of wilderness?"

The visitors are not the problem, but the upkeep of the camps' resources, he said.

Food deliveries and hauling out waste by mule train can hurt the trail system and wildlife, said Greg Adair, director of Friends of Yosemite Valley, an environmental group. It's involved in litigation over the park's Merced River Plan.

"The camps install an open-air hotel in a wilderness setting," he said. "Revision of camp infrastructure is not appropriate until they look at the effect on wilderness value."

Nersesian said she is aware that some of the public is interested in the bigger picture -- the issue of the camps instead of just the utilities project. The park service is taking those concerns into consideration.

Might elimination of the camps be considered seriously in the future?

"Eventually -- yes," Nersesian said. "But I don't know if it's going to get to that level ... at this point."

Until then, the park service hopes to develop a plan to repair the camps' utilities without hurting natural resources. The park must keep quality high in these sensitive areas, Freeman said, adding: "We're trying to maintain standards. We need to go above and beyond because of the protection of wildlife."

The project may involve adding filtration and disinfecting the water supply, and repairing and replacing the water storage tank. It also could address grease buildup in the septic tank; fix or replace the dosing tank, which treats waste-water; and repair the mound soil- absorption system.

Other potential work could replace or remove Backpackers Camp's composting toilet, add stock hitching poles to the backcountry utilities staging areas and restore social trails.

All this work suggests the camps are here to stay. "If you were to decide whether they should be here or not, well, you've sunk a bunch of money into it," Whitmore said. "Wouldn't it prejudice your approach to it? That's an issue that needs to be raised."
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Postby Baffman » Wed Jan 30, 2008 6:51 pm

On a two week backpack a few years ago, I camped right near Sunrise Camp. I will admit to using their water and pit toilet, but I will never camp near one of these camps again. From what I observed, the guests were fairly quiet, but the staff was incredibly noisy. They had huge campfires late at night and then again by 3am. They were constantly beating on drums and ringing bells. I didn't get much sleep that night. Never again. Personally, I'd like to see these camps go away.

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Postby BSquared » Thu Jan 31, 2008 7:12 pm

Hmmm... A couple of books I've read recommend camping on the ridge behind Sunrise camp on the first or second night of a southbound JMT hike. You wouldn't recommend that, eh Baff?
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Postby Baffman » Thu Jan 31, 2008 9:35 pm

Not a chance! It was beautiful, but crowded.

I would not camp there in a box, I would not camp there with a fox. I do not like green eggs and ham.
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Postby vaughnm » Fri Feb 01, 2008 8:28 pm

I was in the Vogelsang/Merced Lake area in 2004 and 2005 , when the camps were closed (I think those were the two years), and I have to admit, it was nice and peaceful. I think we saw 1 other group at Vogelsang and no one at Merced.

Back in 2002 when I took up backpacking again after a long hiatus, a friend and I stayed at the backpacker's camp at Glen Aulin. Thing were fine until about 10 pm, when a generator kicked on. That I could do without.
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HSHA calls for comments on

Postby gdurkee » Mon Feb 04, 2008 9:28 pm

I just got this from the High Sierra Hikers Association. I have mixed feelings about it. I have a mostly warm and fuzzy feeling about the High Sierra Camps. They are a way of bringing a fair number of people into the backcountry who might not otherwise get there. On the other hand, as HSHA says, they do so at a great environmental cost. Certainly unacceptable by today's environmental standards for a National Park. As described by this document, previous efforts to mitigate sewage have been unsuccessful and a significant impact in and of themselves.

In my experience, the information in the flier is correct, though the presentation is a bit too strident.

http://ostranderhut.com/stuff/HSHA-Vogelsang-Feb_2008.pdf

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Re: Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

Postby markskor » Thu Feb 14, 2008 1:11 pm

Going back and forth over this article…some thoughts:
Reading: "The whole issue is appropriateness," said George Whitmore. “The camps are in the middle of a large wilderness area, so does it make sense to have an enclave of civilization in the middle of wilderness?" Pro arguments involved include mention of rich Yosemite lore…extra special circumstances…successful years of operations; they are certainly highly valued by users, providing backcountry access opportunities to those physically disadvantaged. Against arguments state simply, “Wilderness is pristine.”

After 2 weeks of deliberation, I hesitantly vote yes, with reservations…the greater good is served in having the camps continue to operate…if.

“Standards need to go above and beyond.…adding filtration and disinfecting the water supply, repairing and replacing the water storage tank, addressing the septic tank; replace the dosing tank, and repairing the mound soil- absorption system.” While not cheap, providing reliable water purification is legally necessary... more so is adequately addressing that human waste disposal thing - still a vague and open issue…must be 100% effective or boot the camp. However, can this work be done cost effectively…? (Perhaps added fees?)

I read about other concerns too…adding hitching posts…other mule related issues (but no mention here of any addressing of the trail destruction by our 4-footed friends or the irksome ubiquitous biscuit conundrum)…whatever, work at the camps continues/ is budgeted.
Interesting conclusion…All this (budgeted) work suggests “the camps are here to stay”… maybe all for the best.

In order to maintain operations, the HSC relies on mules (necessary)…and with mules/horses comes flies – not the small little ones but the biting horseflies…Argh.

My question is though, why would any backpacker opt to camp next to one of these HSCs? Isn’t the main benefit of backpacking to avoid the masses…get away from it all? I can understand dropping by for a shower or a piece of fresh fruit…maybe stopping in for a real meal, but camping alongside is ludicrous. Why invite flies, trail biscuits, or noise?

Sure, these camps have benefits and should continue to operate…but, a backpacker camping near the camp…why?
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Re: Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

Postby BSquared » Thu Feb 14, 2008 3:04 pm

Full of wisdom as usual, Markskor. But I do have an answer to the question, "why would a backpacker opt to camp near one of these HSAs?" Well, they're in pretty nice places! In fact, one might even go so far as to say some of the nicest places in Yosemite... Certainly Sunrise Meadow and Vogelsang are both absolutely drop-dead gorgeous places! Tuolumne, too, for that matter. Heck the whole lot of them are in great places. But, of course, they're crowded. Sigh.
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Re: Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

Postby Rosabella » Thu Feb 14, 2008 4:20 pm

Last summer I did the High Sierra Camp Loop with one of my sisters. It wasn't the type of trip I would have chosen initially.... my older sister wanted to go and she didn't want to go by herself. I was dreading all the people, but I ended up having a really good time.

I agree with B2 - the locations were beautiful. A couple times I've actually stayed next to Sunrise on my first nights out on JMT trips . Maybe I've just been lucky, but my experiences at Sunrise as well as the other camps last summer, were really pleasant. And yes.... it was nice taking a shower, even if it was only the first night out. I'll tke a shower on the trail whenever I can get one ;) .

Again, maybe I've just been lucky, but the people that were staying at the camps were quiet and respectful. The people staying there varied - older people wanting to get back on the trail but weren't able to carry loaded packs, parents/grandparents taking kids out to introduce them to backpacking, or people in general wanting to try backpacking but unsure of themselves in the mountains. But it was nothing like the horror that goes on a Curry Village canvas tent area... that place is a slum.

The people that work at the camps were all great... really helpful and loved the mountains. They did mention, though, that sometimes they get together with some of the crews from the other camps for all-night parties. Baffman, I'll bet that (unfortunately) you happened to be there when one of these parties were being held.

If they're going to tear down anything, I'd like them to start at Curry Village.
Last edited by Rosabella on Thu Feb 14, 2008 5:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

Postby markskor » Thu Feb 14, 2008 4:50 pm

B…
I agree ALL the HSCs are in magnificent locations, but where in Yosemite wilderness is this fact not the same. Having logged more trail miles in YNP than most, I can honestly say I too have stayed “close” to all the camps…but never on site of any.
In Glen Aulin and its waterfall, there is little if any room for a tent at the camp itself, but just over the ridge, along the river…perfect…
At Vogelsang, just a close 1/8th mile below at lower Townsend Lake (spelling?), or Booth Lake…good fishing and no flies.
You are right about Sunrise HSC…great views at the ridge above…but the 3 Sunrise lakes are also close too…and no mule deposits.
Merced, (my favorite of all) has/had a killer chef…great victuals…but the lake camping close at hand itself is a bit of a bog…too many horse droppings/flies …Washburn is so much nicer.
Tuolumne is on the road…does not count, either does White Wolf. Any camp that you can drive too…might as well car camp.

I reiterate that most of us here backpack to get away from the hustle and bustle of others. Why hike all that way to get more of the same? They depend on mules to make the camps run smoothly…a given…but, 50 patrons a night plus staff for ~100 nights a year equals ~6000 human fecal deposits per year. Add to that the daily decorations left by 25 mules and other stock animals…quite a “load” to keep clean.

The reason that I advocate keeping them open is simply for the convenience of those who cannot carry a backpack. The camps provide access to many that could never reach such spectacular beauty. In YNP wilderness, there are miles and miles of open spaces…plenty of beautiful places that are still untouched by man. The areas around the camps are indeed spectacular…and when I get too old to hike in myself, I may take a mule train in and stay at one.

Until then, camping on purpose among the cacophony of others…and the ever-present trail biscuits seems inane.
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Re: Yosemite's high camp amenities in question

Postby vaughnm » Thu Feb 14, 2008 5:22 pm

The two times I've camped in the backpackers camp (at Glen Aulin, and Volgelsang) when the camps were open was when I was with folks who were on their first backpacking trip.

On the other hand, the best times I've had were back in 2005. During that year, the camps were closed, and I got the chance to go through the Vogelsang and Merced Lakes areas twice during the summer. Best time I've had there,very few people and the trails were clean. My daughter and I camped at Vogelsang on the last night, and we had the place to ourselves.

So, I could live without them easily.

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