In our May/June 2001 issue commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Sierra Club Outings program, we asked readers to submit their fondest memories of Sierra Club trips. Here's a sampling of what we received:
July 1941, Kings Canyon. Twenty young hikers, ten burros, one horse, headed for Bullfrog Lake. Dave Brower saw us off. Milt Hildebrand led us. Lightning was our burro; so many ways to test these dumb inexperienced hikers! At Vidette Meadows, Milt and others carried a heart attack victim down a very steep trail on a litter they made of branches and a coat. Near Rae Lake we practiced rock climbing. Ned Robinson, 15, tried out experimental tent pieces for his father--zippers to connect for two, three, four, or five. Each day we caught Lightning, loaded the panniers, and remembered how to throw the hitch to hold it all together.
Delee Marshal (née Staunton)
In 1967, my own "first summer in the Sierra," I joined the knapsack trip led by Walt Oppenheimer and Ann Coolidge, quintessential old-time Sierra Club leaders. This was the year of the "great late snow"--a wintry April yielding unusual summer hiking conditions. Originally conceived as an off-trail circuit of Mt. Darwin, the trip was rerouted to avoid snow camping the second week of July! In the high country we continually slogged through snow; every lake too big to toss a stone across was iced over. Down below, high water at Evolution Meadow necessitated a roped ford (shoulder-deep for some) at McClure, then a two-mile tramp through new avalanche debris. Still further down, the south fork of the San Joaquin roiled in full flood-stage. Decades later, the memory of the vista from our Darwin Bench campsite seems as fresh as yesterday: brooding cumulonimbi adding wild contrast to the multicolored granite and slate peaks, snow-choked Evolution Basin, and emerald green Colby Meadow.
1953: Drove Devils Gate, saw cattle belly deep in grass in Bridgeport. View from Conway Summit of a FULL Mono Lake, no tufa beds. Climbed Mt. Whitney wearing Tricouni Nailed Boots. Peg Putnam's cabin burned at Whitney Portals. Helped fight fire. 1954: Norman Clyde wandered into Colby Meadow camp wearing boots shown in picture [see "280 Boots and 14,000 Feet," [I]Sierra,[/I] May/June 2001, page 54], offering to take our 15 climbers to top of North Palisade. Around campfire he told many of his Sierra adventures and horror stories of climbs in an effort to weed out our climbers. Intrigued, we all went wearing our first Vibram-soled boots. Route was across LeConte Ledge and up the Chimneys to the top. Descent via "Clyde's Variation of the 'U' Notch." Lightning moved in, striking the peaks, prompting a quick Dulfersitz rappel. An adventure never to be forgotten. My friends Sue and Smoke Blanchard took care of Mr. Clyde in his last days.
Elizabeth (Betty) Parker
My first extended backpacking trip was 31 years ago on Ragged Spur II lead by Gordon Peterson. On our second day we were traveling off-trail when we came to a halt. The leaders had to find a way over the divide. Tom the assistant leader returned first. His route would have us roping our packs down the other side. When Gordon returned he said he had a better way. We turned around to follow Gordon. Now instead of being last in line I was first behind Gordon. We had to climb a chute one at a time. Gordon went first and was soon out of sight. He then hollered for me to follow. I went up but the chute split in two. "Which way?" There was no response. I chose right and resumed climbing. "Wrong way." and there was Gordon sticking his head around a rock outcropping. I headed down. "No. Just come across." I didn't see how but began to edge my way across. "Stop!" Gordon said as he took my picture. " It looks like you're hanging out over nothing." Thirty-one years later I'm still backpacking and Ragged Spur II remains the hardest trip I've done. Thanks, Gordon, for getting me started, and do you have a copy of that picture?
Sometimes, when a group of people come together, magic occurs. Just such an occurrence happened in July/August 1976 on the Siberian Outpost service trip (where I met my future wife). The 25th anniversary of this unforgettable trip made me think that you and trip members might be interested in some "poetry" generated by that trip, so here goes:
Whenever people come together in a group of ten or more
Each of the people is a tether, emanating from a core
Each, uniquely, acting singly
All alone, or intermingly
Cast their spirits on the others
So that all become as brothers
And as day follows night
And we move on in time
We offer this rhyme
By the bright firelight.
Kevin Ahern, won't you ever learn to give the correct time of day
And Alice, his friend, who hikes at the end, come up front and lead the way
Joe Heckel, move over, let Alice take over, and wait for your dear wife, Jo Anna
And Liz, please get ready to make the spaghetti, and don't sing off-key with Susanna
There's rare David N, most courageous of men, who swims nude in waters so frigid
Debbie Brandt then jumps in and immerses her skin 'til the cold Sky Blue Lake turns her rigid
The Highshutter named Ed is the first one to bed; his cold feet would cool a martini
And Eric, his son, talks of motocross fun and washes the pots up so cleanly
Then Sharon and Phil climb up Pickering Hill, we don't think to fetch any water
While William and Lynn stay in bed until 10 on a Tuesday so bright and so sunny
Greg Martin, fast pacer, like a jet-propelled racer, goes ahead of the group to be funny
Smiling cook, Susan Kopic, shows glee in the topic of singing while stirring the grain
While Bettina, the Lewis, speaks plaintively to us of the ankle she recently sprained
Mike B from Pennsylvania tries hard not to pain ya when he treats of your pains and your blisters
Now, there's just me and you, as this polemic is through; let's show them we're not brother and sister
("Me and you" are Dick Messenger and Beverly Miller, who married later in the year at the Big Sur Inn.)
My first outing with Sierra Club changed the course of my life. In 1992, a friend gave me the NYC outings schedule. At the time, I was the divorced mother of two boys who would be staying with dad over the July 4th weekend. One of my first free stretches of time and what to do? I read in the schedule that a camping trip was being organized in the Lake George, NY, area for that weekend. I called the leader and decided to go--a somewhat daring move on my part to drive 250 miles from home and camp out with a group of strangers. Well, about 20 of us met in drizzling rain at the Warrensburg Grand Union and followed leader Bob McDermott to the campgrounds. I enjoyed the camping/hiking so much that I went on more Sierra Club outings, including several of Bob's hikes each year. How did it change my life? Bob and I are getting married in September 2002!
My first hiking boots, bought (in my mid-forties) in Michigan, weren't seriously tested until I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, shortly afterward, and joined the Sierra Club (early 1980s). I signed on for a "moderate" hike up one of the innumerable trails on the forested flanks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea--a pig trail (big, mean, wild pigs) with alternating hummocks and mud holes. We could neither step from one hummock to another, nor step over them from one mud hole to another - up and down, for three miles--three hours! Fortunately, we never saw a pig. I have since been very cautious about "moderate" Sierra Club hikes. The boots survived, taking me later over still-hot lava and up Pu'u O between eruptions. I am still using them, but they have never again had a hike like that pig trail.
Every day was a new adventure on my trip to the island of Kauai. We hiked through lush jungles of wild plants (made more fun by learning there is no poison ivy and almost no snakes on the island). We went snorkeling and saw hundreds of brightly colored fish. One day was devoted to a kayak trip (fortunately for us beginners it was a very calm river). At an old Hawaiian village, we had a lesson in lei-making. Green sea turtles and a monk seal with her baby playing in the waves added to our entertainment. The most memorable scenery was saved until the last day--the Na Pali coast--described in the guidebook as "wild, raw, unforgettable." It is a steep, rugged coast that drops into the brilliant blue ocean. The first explorers to arrive must have thought they had found paradise. I think they did!
Back in August 1975, I hiked with 12 Sierra Club members in Montana's Glacier National Park. It's been a long time, but I can still remember how grateful we were that the tunnel that we had to pass through had thawed out. Our path took us through fields full of colorful flowers. The air was chilly but calm. We were hiking around Lake St. Mary and I decided I should resupply my water. I seem to remember the lake being green. As I kneeled down to dip my canteen, I could make out a little brown spot reflecting in the water near me. I looked up and saw the owner of that little brown spot. It was the nose of a baby deer. It was as if he'd come to join me at the water's side to share all this beauty, and, of course, a drink.
Alcide LeBlanc, as told to his daughter
We had been complete strangers only five days before. Now, we plunged our paddles into the cresting waves in sync, our bodies straining in unison. This was to be our final day out on the river. The rafts were different for this run. The guides no longer had most of the control over the steering, leaving all of the passengers equally responsible for our staying afloat. A group of laughing playful women led the way. Scanning the tree-spotted cliffs beside us, noticed a bald eagle sitting so still that at first I imagined it was not real. Finally, a loud splash sent the creature soaring. We made it safely to the end of our journey. At our rafting guides' prompting, the entire group embraced in a circle and exchanged favorite memories of the trip. I was stunned by the feeling of community radiating from the recently formed group.
UNCLE ELI'S BOOTS
In the waning days of World War II, my Uncle Eli was discharged from the Army. I was 14 and a Boy Scout, and became the owner of Uncle Eli's Army Boots. For the rest of my teens and early 20s, Uncle Eli's boots and I hiked the Sierra; traversed the John Muir Trail; hiked the Grand Canyon; climbed Half Dome. Fifty years later those boots took me to the top of Mount Whitney.Along the way, there have been other boots, and trips to far-away places. In October, I will celebrate my 70th birthday, and I am still hiking in Uncle Eli's boots. Each time I put them on, those days long ago when I learned to cherish the great outdoors, shine as clear and vivid as ever. It has been one continuous trip; I am not sure which of us will outlast the other--me or Uncle Eli's army boots.