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Firepit Rehab

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Firepit Rehab

Postby freestone » Sun Oct 21, 2012 8:57 am

If you like an evening of fire and smoke above 10,000 feet, your not gonna like this post. I am not a "do gooder" and certainly not looking for high fives. These moments of Karma are fleeting, heck, I blew by this ugly little scenario and didn't do a damn thing.

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I was on a mission to get to Bench for the afternoon bite, and the only thought was, "what a Moron. Dude, have you not noticed the air pads at REI?"

Finally, I was at the trail leading to Bench and all was good in the world, and, no blisters! I took a picture of the sign. I always take pictures of signs on the trail no matter what it says or where. An obsession I guess.

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With my new trekking poles, I flew into Bench and set up camp in an area that everyone else seems to choose as well. I noticed the fire pit, recently constructed. Oh, how nice, they even left a wood stash for the next camper in need of and evening blaze! I learned the same small courtesy many years ago as well.

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I was mildly annoyed. After all, the sign did say "No Fires". As I walked along the shore, I saw big Browns cruising the banks and shallows, enjoying the easy pickings in sunny and warm windless conditions with supreme laziness and confidence that only Browns can do.

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Nothing else mattered now. The rod was threaded and I was doing what I came to this lake to do, fish for Browns.
I fished until the sun, the bite, and hunger said go back to camp and cook a meal. I was cozy and even found time to play with my toys, including a new tarp tent from Gossamer Gear.

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I didn't actually sleep in it, the weather was stunning, and why spoil the view?
The next day the bite was completely different, so I went back camp for breakfast. After three cups of coffee, I started to fixate on the fire pit and get pangs of irritation. The Starbucks caffeine was really kicking in now. I poked through the ashes, picked out the foil and threw rocks. I went from feelings of irritation to a full on destructive mood. I now realized the pit was coming down. I was solo and there was no one to hold me back or reason with me. After the rocks were gone, I flatten the ashes with my Vibrims, then mulched the area with pine duff. Nothing I could do about the boulder, I would need a sandblaster, or fifty harsh Sierra winters for that.

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I settled back into camp, admired my handy-work, finished the oatmeal, then realized what a wonderful life it was at Bench Lake at that moment. No fire pits. Only me, the alpine views and Browns.

Oh, I forgot, I came to Bench to see this as well....

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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby austex » Sun Oct 21, 2012 10:09 am

After the caffeine I guess it was "rehab". Good for you! I'd do the same. I makes one feel good. Nothing like a good buzz to tip the body to go in the "right" direction. Hopefully; but doubtfully the contractor who built it was freezing about 12 months ago in an impending snow/ice storm and no way out. People are people and that's why we have police,rangers and rules. "Does not apply" is fortunately practiced by the minority. People like you and I may add me stick to the leave no trace and also pack out other's leftover garbage. :soapbox:
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sun Oct 21, 2012 10:21 am

Illegal fire pits are a very common sight. One of the worst that I saw was at the Dumbell Lakes. It's such a gem of an area and there are no more trees then a few scattered ones with most being no more then 4 feet high yet near the lake was a used fire pit.

Not illegal in altitude but on the High Sierra Trail a few miles from Crescent Meadow there was a pit in the trail. Yes directly in the trail!

I found them in more places this summer then I could constructively list but the fact is many people just don't care if it's legal or not. I chatted with a guy while I was at Vermillion Valley Resort and he was heading into Lake Italy the next morning. He asked me why fires are illegal above 10,000 and I told him how since there is so little wood up there and everything is fighting for survival it's best to leave it for the environment. He responded by just saying f*** that and he doesn't care and he is having a fire when he gets there. Oddly enough I did see fire pits at Lake Italy which was odd to me because there is no wood there.

In the end if your willing to rehab an area and break up fire pits do so. Cleaning up after grown men in the backcountry is a full time job for those Rangers and they cannot keep up with it. Every little bit that we can help them out makes their lives a bit easier.

There is also the factor that some of these places Rangers never get to and an illegal bit may last for 10 years.
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby paul » Sun Oct 21, 2012 3:32 pm

I would add that I think the existence of firepits encourages fires. People who may be unsure if they are in a fire-legal area may see a firepit and think that it's okay to have a fire there since others have done it. Won't stop everyone, but may stop those who are on the fence.

I have noticed over the years that fire regulations seem to be widely disregarded. The worst example of this I have encountered was in a national forest, not in a wilderness, where fire restrictions were in place due to a dry year and high fire danger. At all trailheads, large signs were posted to notify hikers of the rules. We saw quite a few other parties on our trip, and every single one besides us had a fire - and usually a big one. I even arrived at a campsite to find smoke rising from the previous campers' fire that had not been put out completely. Everybody simply ignored the rules completely.
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby rlown » Sun Oct 21, 2012 5:32 pm

Last year camped out near Paris Lk, I smelled smoke one night. Put my headlamp on and headed over. Five 20-somethings where having a nice fire. Almost before I reminded them of the rules, it was doused.

Scotch and Gouda was still shared and a great conversation ensued.

It's not so much that they know it's illegal, it's that they think they will get away with it.

I'm not sure why when people read "no fires", they think that doesn't mean me? Something is broken there, almost like cell phone use in a car crap.

No, i did not rehab their fire pit. I was out the day before they left.
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby Shawn » Sun Oct 21, 2012 8:44 pm

Some years back I came across this abandoned fire ring that had begun to burn nearby wood. We of course stopped to clean it up and douse the fire, but what kind of irresponsible lid would have left hot embers burning (a lake was 20 feet away)?
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby SSSdave » Mon Oct 22, 2012 10:33 am

Hi freestone, you are now one of my favorite people Bro.

The following is from a thread I started on a Yosemite board this summer. Most members had nothing to post, an indication there are quite a number of hiking, backpacking, fishing, and climbing enthusiasts that secretly regularly ignore fire policies with about as much guilt as people ignoring highway speed limits. The solution is for we enthusiasts to put pressure on our peers doing while out in the backcountry instead of leaving it solely up to backcountry rangers since they are so scarce. Without fear of consequence it will continue. And by the way, building a fire up against a boulder as in your image is also against policy.


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Any of we older enthusiasts that have extensively backpacked in both timberline and alpine areas of Yosemite and the High Sierra are well aware that one of the continuing most widespread illegal behaviors of apparently many backcountry users is illegally building fire rings and making camp fires. In most areas illegal means building fire rings and making fires above policy elevations that in Yosemite is 9600 feet and generally in the rest of the High Sierra either 10000 or 10400 feet. Doing so below those elevations is usually acceptable though during dangerous dry hot periods policy may not permit so or discourage the practice.

If one visits any web boards like this rarely will one find anyone that actually admits to it. Instead most experienced backpackers readily state that they either infrequenty make fires even where such is permited or never do so. So WHO are these people making fires? WHY are they ignoring policy? WHAT are they thinking to rationalize their behavior?

For years I've been tearing down illegal fire rings, scattering rocks and coals. Oh I don't dismantle every one I see because there are so many I don't have the time. But on every backpack I do several and tend to pick on the ones at illegal campsites too close to lake edges. That is of course maybe the second most ignored policy by backpackers, using camp spots too close to lakes. And of course the same visitors that make illegal campfires are also the ones likely to camp too close to lakes. Shows a general behavior pattern of course. Ignoring policy is of course rife in our society and starts with people ignoring traffic regulations like speeding because they are unpractically too low. That same attitude in weak minds festers its way to all manner of law breaking.

I'm also a person that will readily talk to groups in the backcountry that I see with illegal campfires or using illegal camp spots. That of course takes tact where one ought not at all display any emotion or attitude else a response is likely to be aggressive. My strategy is usually to first slyly take a digital camera image of what is going on from a distance. Then I'll walk up and casually ask if a group has a wilderness permit and then if they are aware of the fire elevation policy. Most of the time people are rather surprised someone actually will bring up the issue and are obviously rather embarassed. I leave it up to people to either continue to do whatever or not on their own without further pressure. Of course most will quickly put out any fire and that likely has an additional benefit of them being much less likely to make illegal fires in the future since they are now aware they don't only have to worry about wilderness rangers that are so scarce in current times but also that they may be embarassed by their peers.

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Above is one of the illegal fire rings bon fire wood piles I found at Anne Lake's outlet at 10,3000 feet on the recent 9-day trip we did into the Silver Divide. Obviously that group planned to sit around all night into the wee hours burning burning and then next morning rise at 10am. Nothing I haven't seen in the past. More on my dismantling of some of these fire rings on that feature on Day 1 and Day 5 pages.

http://www.davidsenesac.com/MinnowCr/minnowcr_0.html
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby RoguePhotonic » Mon Oct 22, 2012 12:06 pm

When it comes to admitting what we have done I certainly have built fire rings at legal altitudes. Doing so has always involved either me hiking for a very long time looking hard for any established site and failing to find anything so I break in a new camp or I have destroyed old fire pits in camp sites and built a new one. Doing either is always carefully calculated to make the most desirable camp that will be used by others. It amazes me how often I come across fire pits and I look around to not see a single place you can even lay your body down let alone set up a tent. I can never understand why the person built a pit in such a place. French Canyon near the climb to Merriam Lake was especially bad. I was climbing through the trees on both sides of the trail looking for a place to camp and I must have located 8 fire pits within a couple hundred yards of trail and not a single one of them was even close to being a functional camp.

I will also admit that twice while out this year I built a tiny fire above 10,000 feet in order to burn trash. Both times it was in an effort to reduce my bulk so that I could fit the rest of my food items in my bear barrel. Of course I did not build a fire ring and I only used enough wood to burn up the trash. Do any of these reasons justify it or make it right? Doubtful but it's what I have done.
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby mokelumnekid » Mon Oct 22, 2012 1:09 pm

I'm one of these people that pretty much tries to honor the rules. I don't do fires except at home in the Winter, but I understand why people enjoy them and if they are legal then I say go for it (responsibly). Last summer we did a loop from North Lk up to Lower Honeymoon, over to Ramona, then around the end of Glacier Divide to Lake 10,907 where we spent some time (TR to come). I expected fire rings at Lower Honeymoon even though they are not allowed. But what surprised me at both Ramona and Lk 10,907 where what were stone "living rooms" where flat rocks were carried some distance to create an entire set of furniture around a ginormous fire ring. I have never seen anything like it at those elevations. Large piles of wood were left. These are obviously places where fires aren't allowed.

But wait it gets better! At both Ramona and Lk 10,907 we found large peace signs made by stacking rocks on a flat surface. At the center of the peace sign was a small plastic container with a pair of women's (very, very teeny) underwear from Fredrick's. There was also a note on purple paper about what let's call it a girls mountaineering club. But also on the note- later- was written something by the Fathers-Daughters Backcountry Construction Co. They were bitching about the fact that people don't seem to leave enough wood for the next person anymore!

I de-installed the peace signs and took home both plastic containers. The fire rings and furniture were to big for us to deal with, but we did what we could. I'll post pics and a trip report in due course...but YIKES! :crybaby:
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby RoguePhotonic » Mon Oct 22, 2012 2:38 pm

Those locations are in national forest lands and they are probably the worst with under funding. Any lakes off the main trails are going to get very little attention by Rangers. Many places up there are still in what you can call the "old days" of wilderness.

While I camped at Brownstone Mine this year there was a large furniture couch to sit on by the fire pit. I have to admit I loved it. It was so sturdy and comfortable. :D But it also was not in wilderness.
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby tomba » Mon Oct 22, 2012 9:50 pm

I see many poorly dismantled fire rings. Some blackened rocks still at the fire ring, others nearby, the ring remnant still full of coals, coals spilled from the ring cover the ground nearby, even some aluminum foil remaining.

I try to dismantle them in such way that one wouldn't know that there was a fire ring, except if looking closely (it is impossible to get all the small coals out). It takes time, perhaps 20 min for not too large ring. Unfortunately, I often don't have time for this.

IMG_4129-dismantled-fire-ring-small.jpg
Fire ring at 10800 ft WSW from Donohue Pass, dismantled last year.

What's a good way to report locations of illegal fire rings, so that rangers may find them and dismantle them (or finish dismantling poorly dismantled ones)?
-- Found trash? Please pack it out. Thank you.
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Re: Firepit Rehab

Postby Scouter9 » Wed Oct 24, 2012 8:59 am

Are the pack-train folks allowed to have fires in the areas marked "No"? The reason I ask is that this past summer, we trekked some pretty well-trodden paths out of Agnew Meadows. On the River Trail, we came through two packer-campsites, both of which were uphill of the no-fires signs and had fire pits that contained relatively fresh charcoal.

The lower of the two had a series of logs stacked about the area, presumably for seating, a stone firepit and a full-sized shovel tilted against a tree. The higher of the two had a rock "living room" constructed around a rock-walled firepit that we used as a cooking station.

Up at lower Clark Lake, on the north side, there's a big packer camp, and it's got two established fire pits, along with frying pans, a stash of hay under a tarp and etc...

I cannot believe that our Rangers don't know about these, and the observation above is legit: when one sees the well-established, openly visible, obviously "current" fire rings or pits, one thinks "maybe this IS okay up here".
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