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Your experience working in the Sierra?

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Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby Timberline » Mon Nov 08, 2010 2:21 pm

I don't think this has been a thread before, so here goes. . . .

While many of us backpackers are in winter "downtime" mode, pouring over our maps and planning next year's perfect wilderness trip, I'm interested to hear comments from those of us who have worked in the Sierra. What work have you done, and how has that experience influenced your appreciation/attraction/addiction to these mountains? I know that my two summers during college as a CFI Crew Leader (Sierra & Sequoia NF) forged a permanent sense of this unique place, and an endless desire to be among these mountains, where I've always felt the most alive. Well, after all, they paid me to go backpacking, which made it the best job I ever had! I gained a deeper historical perspective, encountered some truly legendary people associated with the Sierra, and cherish the wilderness lessons I learned from them.

Yes, I'm aware that some of us have, or still do, work regularly in the mountains, as active or former rangers, for example. My inquiry includes you folks, too. There are lots of jobs, though, from trail crew to research. What did you do, and where? Add an interesting "war story" if you'd like. I'd love to read it here, and I suspect others would, too.

OK, Go! :D :thumbsup:
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!



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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby Crawler » Mon Nov 08, 2010 9:40 pm

I worked a season in the main lodge cafateria at Mammoth ski resort about 10 years ago. Free season pass, mostly free food, free bus, and 5 of us renting an A-frame for $600 a month. Gooooooood times. Drank alot of weinhards that winter. lol
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby mokelumnekid » Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:28 pm

In the '70's I worked on trail crews in the Stanislaus and Toiyabe Natl. Forest, primarily from just north of Hwy. 4 to south of Hwy. 108. I then worked for three summers with the USGS while an undergrad geology major doing mapping in the same area, in the Markleeville, Dard Cone, Sonora Pass 15' sheets, also some work geological mapping in the Sweetwater Range (does that count?). Then in the mid-'90's had a couple of grad students working south of Hwy 108 and east of Pinecrest for a couple of summers and in the late '90's spent a number of summers working out of Tuolumne Meadows on a project related to the details of the formation of the granites there. Yep- that getting paid to do what you love thing again!

No war stories tho- just the usual BS. The Sierra is a pussycat in some ways if one is prepared right? Nothing that a stop at Jolly Kone in Bridgeport, dinner at JT's in Gardnerville, pizza at the Mobile in Lee Vining, or happy hour at the Whiskey Creek wouldn't fix. (Most of my war stories come from working in South America or Antarctica).

I bet Giantbrookie has a lot to add to this discussion...
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby Timberline » Mon Nov 08, 2010 11:39 pm

Thanks, crawler & M'kid! I knew there were some interesting gigs from the past out there.

Working a season at Mammoth would be on my dream list, for sure, crawler - - you had all the perks, too! :drinkers:

I have to admit M'kid to having been tempted by a college geology major - - your experiences describe the dreams that were in my head at the time. I especially enjoy reading your posts where you mention that stuff. But anyway, I still got the chance to actually live in the Sierra for two whole summers as a technical forester, not be just a periodic visitor. Life was easy and the wilderness was friendly, as you point out, except that day we came back from work and our camp had been washed away by a flash flood caused by a hail storm! #-o Our crew spent half the night getting warm and dry again. Taught me never to camp in a gully if your going to leave it untended for a day. :-k
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby windknot » Tue Nov 16, 2010 10:26 am

I worked on a team doing field surveys with the USFS in Kings Canyon National Park and the Golden Trout Wilderness this past summer after finishing up with school. It was great getting paid to backpack, and I'll add that spending extended periods of time (and repeat visits) to specific basins and meadows helped me hone my sensitivity to the smaller nuances of my surroundings. Such a radical departure from my recreational backpacks and day trips in which I try to cram as many miles and/or fishing time into my days as possible, but a welcome one.

And echoing MK, happy hour at Whiskey Creek was a strong motivator on the last day out of each field trip!
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby balzaccom » Tue Nov 16, 2010 11:34 pm

I worked at a summer camp near Hetch-hetchy during college: counselor and backpacking guide. Wonderful times, and it did give me a sense of comfort in the Sierra that I've never lost. But my dad was a state park ranger during the summer when i was young, so it must run in the family.

No really wild adventures---but I did manage to diagnose altitude sickness and get some kid down in time for him to have ice cream for dinner!
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby giantbrookie » Fri Nov 19, 2010 11:58 pm

Nowdays I get up to the Sierra occasionally as a part of the job to get students started on geologic mapping projects or to lead field trips. Most of this isn't in the highest Sierra although I am scheming on some projects at higher altitudes. My most extended time on the job in the Sierra was during my years as a consultant from 1989-2005, the first 3 years of which were in the employ of another firm whereas the last 13 were self employed. As a part of this in 1989-1990 did work on landslide mapping in the Mokelumne R. drainage mostly downstream of Salt Spring Res. but I recall this amazing helicopter recon that did the Mokelumne all the way down from the headwaters--stunning. Sometime in the early 90's I forced the canyon downstream of Pardee Res (low elev but still pretty nice canyon)--I recall reaching this isolated pool after some poison-oak hampered scrambling and seeing this river otter cavorting around. Very cool. From 1992 to 1996 I did consulting work for PG&E on various seismic hazard and engineering geology problems, primarily in the northern Feather River drainage near Lake Almanor. Perhaps the most fun sub-project of all was investigating the slopes around the Caribou Penstock (N. Fork Feather River downstream of Almanor). We did geologic mapping on rappel from the top of the cliff. One day my mapping partner and I were having lunch on a ledge high up the cliff/slope. A bald eagle flew overhead. We turned to each other and said, almost in synch, "Can you believe we're getting paid to do this sh---?" Good times indeed.

War stories? Dunno what qualifies. I once swam across the N. Fork Feather toward the end of a field day when a bridge shown on the topo turned out not to be there (holding the all-important map high above the water). I did a sliding fall on one of those steep dirt slopes above a lethal (200' high) basalt cliff and stopped myself by sliding into a tree. On top of one of those basalt cliffs I ran into a yellow jacket nest which prompted one of the highest speed and most agile downclimbs of my life. Took a 5' fall off a cliff of funky metamorphic rock into a blackberry bush--ouch--downstream of Pardee. Got high centered on the only snow patch for many miles around while driving around with my project manager on the oddly named "Rush Hill Motorway" near Almanor. Took us hours to dig out. Nearly missed dinner at Moon's that night (by the way, Quincy fans, I am very much saddened by the closing of that place).
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby Timberline » Sat Nov 20, 2010 9:41 am

Thanks for posting, giantbrookie! I knew you'd have some gems to share about your work and I understand how being paid to be out there doing what you enjoy can be very special, tho in my case it was limited to two summers (but I was lucky enough to move on to 3 more years of work/adventure in Central America. Though it was exceptional, and it had mountains, it definitely wasn't the Sierra).

Once, I also had an abrupt introduction to yellowjackets when the transitman on our survey crew set up his tripod over their nest. We were a long ways upslope from our control line setting grade for a highway cut at the time. We all fled, leaving transit, rod, chain, and everything else behind. Didn't go back to retrieve them 'till next day; fortunately the transit wasn't damaged being out in the weather!
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby mokelumnekid » Sat Nov 20, 2010 12:22 pm

Giantbrookie- HAH-I too have gone down the Mok started right at the Pardee Dam (about 1979 I think) and gone down- enchanting but brushy- the ruins of the old Penn mine(s) there are amazing. In fact I was living between Campo Seco and Mokelumne Hill about that time. How about this hike- starting at the outlet of Hogan dam (Calaveras 'River'), I was surprised by how cool it was- but all private land below the dam so access was tricky, with some remarkable Mesozoic columnar jointed basalts preserved in- what is it called there- Logtown Ridge Fm. or whatever the equivalent type is west of Bear Mountains (haven't thought about that geology in awhile- is it still in the melange zone? I'm guessing so?). I recall one winter about that time getting cabin fever for hiking and tried to cross the Bear Mountains x-country simply by walking east and up from the Lost City area. It was a brushy ****, and I finally got turned back. In the late '60's-mid-'70's nobody was back in that scrub area, and one could stealth trespass, but now a lot of it has been developed. I also used to, um, x-country "back pack" (brush pack) up the trackless foothill creeks in Spring when all the creeks were running and the wildflowers were exploding, in the areas around Calaveritas to Mountain Ranch. And I got some monumental cases of poison oak. The worst case though was climbing out of the Cosumnes River canyon (west of Hwy. 49) in the dark, trying to find my way back to Hwy. 49, where I must have swam in poison oak. That required a trip to the hospital a couple of days later.
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby giantbrookie » Sat Nov 20, 2010 6:23 pm

mokelumnekid wrote:Giantbrookie- HAH-I too have gone down the Mok started right at the Pardee Dam (about 1979 I think) and gone down- enchanting but brushy- the ruins of the old Penn mine(s) there are amazing. In fact I was living between Campo Seco and Mokelumne Hill about that time. How about this hike- starting at the outlet of Hogan dam (Calaveras 'River'), I was surprised by how cool it was- but all private land below the dam so access was tricky, with some remarkable Mesozoic columnar jointed basalts preserved in- what is it called there- Logtown Ridge Fm. or whatever the equivalent type is west of Bear Mountains (haven't thought about that geology in awhile- is it still in the melange zone? I'm guessing so?). I recall one winter about that time getting cabin fever for hiking and tried to cross the Bear Mountains x-country simply by walking east and up from the Lost City area. It was a brushy ****, and I finally got turned back. In the late '60's-mid-'70's nobody was back in that scrub area, and one could stealth trespass, but now a lot of it has been developed. I also used to, um, x-country "back pack" (brush pack) up the trackless foothill creeks in Spring when all the creeks were running and the wildflowers were exploding, in the areas around Calaveritas to Mountain Ranch. And I got some monumental cases of poison oak. The worst case though was climbing out of the Cosumnes River canyon (west of Hwy. 49) in the dark, trying to find my way back to Hwy. 49, where I must have swam in poison oak. That required a trip to the hospital a couple of days later.

Interesting. I've been to New Hogan dam, while involved in some seismic hazard studies in the early 90's but never ventured into the canyon downstream. I don't know the specific geology that well in the area. Logtown Ridge sounds right for the metavolcanics. I have tended to work on the metamorphic stuff further north where things are not so telescoped (mostly north of 80), although I have started snooping around in the area north of Murphy/Arnold, including near Mountain Ranch. I did a 3 week segment of my field camp near Calaveritas in the spring of 1980. It was intimidating geology for an undergraduate, to be sure. Mistakes were made that were never forgotten--I learned (was forced to learn) to map mélange there and without that experience I doubt I would have stood a chance against the feared Franciscan that I have come to enjoy so much.

Returning to "work" in the Sierra, I guess I should have also mentioned earlier that in the course of the various Sierra field trips I've led, that fishing opportunities occurred, too. My students did very well for put and take and some hold over rainbows in the N. Fork Feather R. on a trip in Fall 2006, while I was doing a quick recon with my first grad student. Later on that trip I caught a fat 14" brookie and 20" rainbow out of Eureka Lake. Earlier that spring I had led a geomorphology class to Yosemite to look at glacial geology features and ended the trip with a 2 hour fishing session at Hetch Hetchy. I was impressed that the entire class brought fishing gear. Only the instructor caught anything, though--a 16-inch brown. Recon geology trips for grad students the past two summers have led to fishing in the Lakes Basin area.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby dave54 » Sat Nov 20, 2010 11:13 pm

I retired from the FS in 2005 after 32 years and 10 months. Most of my career was in fire -- engines, hotshots, helitack before shifting to the planning dept.

Although I enjoyed it over all, working outdoors is less glamorous when it is 100+ degrees or snowing horizontally. As the years went on those mountains got steeper and the loads heavier. So I finally promoted to a desk job to be nicer to my body, as well as the family coffers.

Working in the same area for so many years was an environmental education in itself. Seeing the changes over time made me more in favor in increased management and less enthusiastic about wilderness designation. Most of my favorite haunts are outside the Wilderness boundaries. I have a favored car camping spot in a reforested timber harvest unit I help layout in 1980 and is now a nice stand of young forest. I am not anti-Wilderness. I just prefer to be selective about wilderness designation, and make distinctions about where active management is preferred over withdrawal.

The benefits of a career in the forest are many, but monetary renumeration is not one of them. The outdoor professions are not high paying, and you will make financial sacrifices to enjoy the career.
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby markskor » Tue Nov 23, 2010 10:01 am

Never worked outdoors in our Sierra...not as a Ranger or Fire Crew member but...

Many years ago, one of my college professors at UCLA told me some sage words of advice: "You can be poor anywhere in the world, so pick a primo spot that pleases you."
Over the past 25 years, I took him up on his advice on more than a few occasions, including -

Two ski seasons in Mammoth...one season bar-tending at Casa Ricardo (now gone) and one season as a maid at Mammoth Ski and Racket Club/ nights, waiting tables at the Austria Hof. The best thing about Mammoth is that they understood the ski mentality. Any day mid week, especially after a good dusting, it was not uncommon for the entire town to call in sick and then inadvertently run into your boss backside chair 9, maybe Dave's run and just smile...no worries...good times.

4 years working at Harrah's Tahoe - working as a butler on the private ($$$) 16th floor - took care of the "stars". This was before Holiday Inn took it over and turned a great "5 Star" establishment into a "1 Star" POS.
Here I had occasion to cater to the whims of the high rollers...lots of great stories there. One that stands out was being summoned to the Star Suite to serve Willie Nelson. He asked for rolling papers. Spent an hour rolling fatties (dressed in my tux), while he and Merle Haggard picked away on their guitars.

One summer season in Bridgeport...Bar-tending/waiting tables at Bridgeport Inn and (after a scuffle with my then #$@!% boss) ending the season at Mono Village. My girlfriend at the time (now ex-wife) also came along and tended bar at the Sportsman, next door. Only one TV station then available there at the time - no satellite/cable...stayed in a rented house at Twin Lakes...sort of explains the birth of my son.
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