Sierra Spring 2011

Most years I spend a week on a Pacific Crest Trail Association trailcrew: one of the best options for a working vacation. How many of your fellow citizens appreciate the completely relaxing effects obtained by toting 40# iron bars, sledges, pickaxes, shovels and the like around a high-altitude worksite for a week or so? These were the means by which the railroad crossed over to the great basin, and they still work well. We usually make that silly mistake of thinking that it's our bodies that need to relax...

This year the remarkable snows are paying heavy dividends. To ease into the work, I spent 4 days hiking a 11.5 mile circle from Devil's Postpile up to the southern end of the Ritter Range. Above 8500 feet it was mostly snow; and I call doing this in 4 days real accomplishment. I could never get to the higher lakes or passes that I'd hoped to see, but have no complaint. Finally, on the last day I got to a long stretch with mostly southern exposure, and actually saw the trail I had been imagining. I did the last 1/2 of the journey in 2 1/2 hrs... as soon as I got up the courage to cross a rotten snowbridge just a few yards from the spot where the gushing creek took a 500' plunge. Either that, or go back the weary way through the drifts. I'd actually asked the Visitor Center Ranger about this point when I got my pass--as usual they were clueless. Because my 80# dog had already sprinted across, the decision was a bit easier.
Our worksite began a the foot of an 11-year old burn; this extended a mile or so up a ridge. We'd been warned about the 'dismal scene' on this section.... in fact, it was a paradise of wildflowers between towering snags. Below at about 8000' there was a generous sprinkling of 6-8' Jeffery pines; at the 8500' upper end many premium Red Fir christmas trees. Several stands of Aspen had survived the fire in a wetter section(the whole range is well watered now with intermittent streams), surrounded by acres of ferns. I'd no camera, but my colleagues may post flower pictures that I can borrow; in particular the wild delphinea were worthy--so vastly more elegant than the florist's stock. And every day new species effloresed.

A sorry bit is the very shabby way we've treated our Backcountry Rangers. Even when the goose hangs high these fragrant souls only get a seasonal job with few benefits; and that not quite every year. Recently many are there only as 'volunteers'; doing their usual jobs gratis to us. The PCTA crews are assigned tasks and work along Rangers. In fact we no longer augment, we replace, hired trailworkers--in itself a very foolish economy. And of course for our nonpaid pros, doing your work assisted by amateurs--no matter how willing-- means you work twice as hard, with four times the risks. Quite a number will put up with this sort of crap indefinitely... a situation that does us no credit at all.

Posted by icosahedron icosahedron, July 31, 2011 19:34


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