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Your experience working in the Sierra?

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My First Summer in the Sierra (1972)

Postby bytwerk » Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:30 pm

My first summer in the Sierra was 1972. As a Midwesterner, I'd never been anywhere near the Sierra. I'd just graduated from college, and was about to begin grad school. Through the offices of "A Christian Ministry in the National Parks," I got posted to Tuolumne Meadows. I didn't know what I was getting into. In fact, I was disappointed that I wasn't going to be in the Valley. Drove up the Old Priest Grade. My 1967 Mustang with a Midwestern radiator blew its cap. Did the paperwork in the Valley, then drove 55 miles to Tuolumne. It was love at first sight. Then and now, employees lived in wood-framed canvas tents with no electricity (at least not the last time I was at TML five years back). Lee Vining, the nearest town, was on the far side of Tioga Pass.

The ACMNP arranges with the concessionaire to save a few jobs, so I washed dishes and preached the sermons in the campground on Sunday. It was ideal. There were two days off a week, ideal for a backpacking trip. Three of the five days I worked were breakfast/dinner shifts, which meant the day was free for hiking. Sunday morning I preached a sermon, then washed dishes. I had five days a week to hike and climb.

I was woefully under-equipped. About my second week, three of us climbed Dana, and went down via Dana Plateau. I was wearing Hush Puppies. Shall we say that after getting back to Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, I realized I needed hiking boots. Fortunately, a fellow employee had an almost new pair of Pivettas, which didn't fit him well, but did fit me. Then I ordered an REI backpack. Took it out for its first trip on a hike over Unicorn. It was mosquito season. As a Midwesterner, I didn't realize how bad Sierra bugs can be.

Tuolumne was a wonderful place to work. It was rare to get there one's first year. Usually, one had to "serve time" in the Valley before moving up. All the employees preferred to hike or climb rather than party. Some of the top climbers spent the summers in Tuolumne, and I learned a few things. It's impossible to exhaust the hiking and climbing possibilities in the area in one summer, but I sure did try.

The next summer, despite my graduate adviser's astonishment, I went back to Tuolumne, this time not with ACMNP. Got promoted to waiter half-way through the summer. Actually made money. At the tail end of the summer, a friend and I headed up Tenaya Peak. Class 2. We got off-route. He was more cautious than I, but he was the one who fell. As near to a fatal fall as I can imagine.

I yelled very loudly, and was heard 1,000 feet below at the lake. The rangers came, spotted me with binoculars, and asked if anyone was injured. I waved my red daypack to signal yes. They asked if we needed rescue. I signaled yes. One of my peculiarities then and now is an aversion to watches. I took my alarm clock along so as to get back to work in time for dinner. It fell out of the daypack and bounced down the side of the peak.

It was an amazing helicopter rescue (three one-skid landings on a ledge to land rescue people). It would have made am amazing picture, the copter with rotors spinning, Tenaya Lake below.

It was 8 months before he could walk again, but he made a full recovery.. The next year, my third summer in the Sierra, we went back, this time appropriately equipped. We found my alarm clock, the worse for the wear. It sits on my shelf to this day as a reminder not to do dumb things.

1974 was my third and final summer at TML— 36 years ago. Since then, I've done at least one backpacking trip in the Sierra every summer, save one.

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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby Timberline » Tue Dec 14, 2010 9:05 pm

Hey, bytwerk!
Wow, what an introduction to the Sierra you had! There are so many stories out there, and I believe each one is unique. May I presume your return to the mountains on a somewhat regular basis is due to that first (or second, or third) summer at Tuolumne Meadows? Yeah, the place does get to you, don't it? Thanks for sharing the memories of your experience here.
Let 'er Buck! Back in Oregon again!
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:12 pm

After I graduated college in 1994 and drove across the country, I got a job at Sierra Summit working on the winter food service crew. I had skied the mountain for years as a kid and spent many summer days trouncing around the shore of Huntington Lake. That winter was not unlike what Crawler described: Free pass on the hill and many fun nights at the cabin in Shaver my girlfriend shared with 5+ other people. I had one of the better food-service jobs on the hill—I managed the crew at the mid-mountain shack. If you have to watch other people ski, it's not too bad when you are sitting on a sunny deck at 7.6k BBQing burgers.

My boss kept me on for the spring & summer on the repair/work crew. This entailed doing anything and everything to fix up the place in the off-season. We worked four 10s, leaving me 3 day weekends to go fishing or day hiking over Potter Pass and explore Kaiser Ridge. I was still new to backpacking, having been introduced to it by a friend on the previous summer's road trip. (We did two small trips, one into the Sangre de Cristo Mts. and another into the Grand Canyon.) So, I did not have the confidence (nor the gear) to take off into the wilderness on my own. I did have a ski patrol buddy who taught me climbing over that summer, and we explored areas off Kaiser Pass Road.

One day as I was cleaning the lots for repaving, I accidentally let an ancient converted school bus (with a 1-ton air compressor in the back) roll backwards down a hill, launch over a burm, and almost dump into the creek. I got lucky that it caught on a foot bridge. Had it dumped into the creek, the fuel spill would have been a nightmare. In the end, the only damage was a few busted hand railings, a broken fuel line, and my bruised ego. I was the village idiot for the rest of the summer, but that was fine because I knew how bad it could have been. Once the summer tourist season started up, I moved over to bar tending at the lodge. For the most part, it was a slow summer, but perfect for a young guy working the bar for the first time. I left at the end of the summer to work the ski swaps and then on to Ketchum, Idaho to bum the winter there.

I've returned to the area a few times since I left, twice backpacking out of Bear Diversion Dam and up Bear Creek to Seven Gables. I wish I had gone out there more when I lived up there. When I think of peace, I think of those mountains.
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
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Re: Your experience working in the Sierra?

Postby gdurkee » Tue Dec 21, 2010 8:10 pm

"You can be poor anywhere in the world, so pick a primo spot that pleases you."

That is great and the story of my career. I'll use that line in the future!


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