From the Diary of a Yosemite Climber Steward
Yosemite National Park: El Cap, Half Dome, Cathedral Peak, Fairview Dome, splitter, steep, granite, cracks, and faces. Three thousand vertical feet of granite, five thousand routes, 150-180,000 days of climbing per year, 1,200 square miles, and two—count them two—full-time climbing rangers, one of whom is a seasonal employee. Two people whose job it is to manage, protect, and defend the parks climbing resources as well as the climbers themselves. A perhaps impossible task, dutifully, exhaustively, heroically and even joyfully undertaken by the dynamic duo of Climbing Rangers Jesse McGahey and Ben Doyle. Climbing volunteers have long been active in Yosemite. This year however, these dedicated individuals have revamped and organized a grant-funded, volunteer-fueled effort to cover more ground: The Yosemite Climber Stewards. The call went out this Spring, for climbers who would help with stewardship efforts in Yosemite. This is just one installment in a series of articles about the Yosemite Climber Stewards and their efforts to inform, educate, support, protect and celebrate the diverse array of climbing and climbers here in the world’s most popular climbing area.
~John Connor, Yosemite Climber Steward
In the world heavyweight bout of material density, there are few naturally occurring substances more massive than granite. We love this density for its clean, beautiful, climbable lines. Other rock types produce splitter cracks, but none as long as granite. Trouble is, it's a pain to move granite around: the stuff weighs in at about 170 pounds per cubic foot. But turns out it makes for exceptional trail-building material.
Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, our group of Yosemite Climber Stewards, along with NPS Climbing Rangers and Trail Crew and 15 volunteers from the American Alpine Club gathered together for an Adopt a Crag in Tuolumne Meadows. The goal was to rearrange several thousand pounds of granite along the approach/descent trail for Fairview Dome. Part of a week long joint Access Fund/AAC event, the work sessions were designed to mitigate erosion caused by both water and climber traffic. Using enough rock bars, shovels, rakes, sledgehammers, and elbow grease to supply a small road crew, and under the supervision of NPS trail ninjas and fellow climbers Justin Jendza and Allison Mohr, we installed new steps, water bars and other features.
Late in the afternoon of our second day out, I'd been out in the woods, collecting fist-size rocks to fill in around the larger boulders we placed as steps along the trail. I returned just in time to catch NPS Climbing Ranger Jesse McGahey demonstrating "shovel tactics" to the assembled crew. While mostly fictitious in terms of actual defense value, shovel tactics hold inestimable humor at the end of a long, arduous two-day service project. Jesse, no stranger to long, arduous projects of any type, has developed a keen sense for when volunteers, fellow employees and anyone else standing nearby are in need of some comic relief. This talent holds tremendous value under the seemingly crushing weight of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo that both climbing rangers routinely deal with.
On Thursday, fellow volunteer and AAC Northwest Regional Coordinator Eddie Espinosa and I, along with club secretary Doug Walker and member Ashley Siple, decided to descent-test the new trail by climbing the Regular Route. Our dueling rope teams headed up the 900-foot line, taking our time and enjoying the views while exchanging criticism of each other’s' respective belay ledges. Hiking back down, I paid much closer attention to my foot placement and balance. Trail building is all about proper contact: rock to rock, rock to dirt, and shoe to trail. In order to stay in place, trail features such as steps need to be properly braced against both the underlying soil, as well as themselves. Stepping off to the side while ascending or descending inevitably loosens rock and dirt, accelerating erosion and damaging often fragile soils and vegetation. Though more work needs to be done on this particular trail, we made significant improvements to this troublesome section, reinforcing the existing path and directing water away, with hopefully long-lasting results.
Reconvening again on Friday, our crew attacked the braided trail leading to another popular area, the South Flank of DAFF Dome. Also commonly used as a descent option from such routes as West Crack, Blown Away, and Crescent Arch, this trail lies in a gully and frequently changes course after a heavy rain. Hiking the approach a week earlier, even looking in earnest for a worn path, I couldn't see it clearly. But after a morning spent erecting cairns, protecting tree root systems, and building minor retaining walls to direct climbers along the best path, a new, better-marked trail and base area now exists for the popular cragging near the Guide Cracks. We were joined in this work by prolific local climber, and longtime stewardship volunteer, Ron Kauk. Ron worked alongside the rest of our crew for several hours, then left to head "downstairs" to the Valley to prep for his regular film presentation, Return to Balance: A Climbers Journey. He cordially invited us to join him, then hiked down, gracefully disappearing into the trees the way he had come.
The Yosemite Climber Steward program is the brainchild of Ben Doyle. But the idea grew out of an existing outreach effort known as Climber Coffee. Last winter, laid off from seasonal employment and finally finding himself with a little bit of free time, Ben began applying for grants to fund the idea that he'd spent so many hours conceptualizing and planning. Unemployed and uncompensated, he nonetheless took it upon himself to search for funding that would lead, the following Spring, to the hiring of a small squad of volunteers to spearhead stewardship efforts in Yosemite. The Access Fund was one of the organizations who stepped up to provide funding for this program.
I take great pride in being a part of this first-year effort to help protect and preserve Yosemite, and I revel in this chance to spend more time here. Hosting the first ever joint Access Fund Adopt a Crag/AAC Climbing Meet in Tuolumne Meadows was icing on the cake. The combination of climbing, stewardship, and community created a terrific event—one that speaks volumes about climbers coming together to protect both natural resources and climbing access.