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From the Diary of a Yosemite Climber Steward

Posted on: November 2nd, 2012 by The AAC

From the Diary of a Yosemite Climber Steward: NPS Steward Week Three

By John Connor

Yosemite National Park contains some of the greatest concentration of granite climbing in the world. With 3,000’ faces, over 5,000 routes, and 1,200 square miles of terrain in the park, it’s astonishing that there are only two—count them: two—full-time climbing rangers, one of whom is a seasonal employee. This perhaps impossible task is dutifully, exhaustively, heroically, and even joyfully undertaken by the dynamic duo of Jesse McGahey and Ben Doyle. It’s their job to manage, protect, and defend the park’s climbing resources as well as the climbers themselves. 

Steward Work Week

The Rangers, Stewards, and volunteers at work in the Valley. John Connor

Climbing volunteers have long been active in Yosemite. This year, however, these two dedicated rangers organized a grant-funded, volunteer-fueled effort to cover more ground. The call to action went out this past spring for climbers to take part in the new initiative: The Yosemite Climber Steward Program.

The Climber Steward Program grew out of a conversation that began at “Climber Coffee” one Sunday morning in Camp 4 in August 2011. A casual chat with AAC Yosemite Committee Chair Linda McMillan, long an active steward of Valley climbing, sparked an idea that would grow into a prototype program with the legs to run on its own.

Climber Coffee

Climber Coffee. John Connor

Later that year, AAC members and their international guests participated in a half-day stewardship project at Cookie Cliff. After witnessing the effects of the volunteer project, Ben Doyle decided to take action; he knew that there had to be a way to apply this same force-multiplication to broader volunteer efforts in Yosemite. After a seasonal layoff, he began writing and sending grant proposals to various organizations.

The response was tremendous: The AAC, Access Fund, Yosemite Conservancy, and others pitched in, some with fungible assets, others with tangible goods to aid the effort. Amongst other things, the AAC bought two cruiser bikes for the new Stewards to use for transportation around the Valley and Tuolumne, as well as a powerful point-and-shoot camera to document our work, camping equipment for us to use, and much more. The Yosemite Climber Stewards were a few steps closer to reality.

AAC Campfire

AAC Campfire. John Connor

Now, it was time to get to work.

Late on a Tuesday of NPS Steward Week Three, I rode the shuttle bus to the Tuolumne Meadows trailhead and hiked into Cathedral Lakes. Volunteers were needed in the morning to carry tools over to the base of Cathedral Peak for the trail crew working there. It was all the excuse I needed to get out of my van for a night and sleep under the stars. I wasn’t disappointed. As the alpenglow highlighted Eichorn’s West Rib and the Cathedral massif, I powered down some Jet-boiled calories and chose a bivy site. In the morning, after a healthy cup of java, I hiked over to help with the carry. I first encountered a restoration crew in Cathedral meadow, where I helped tear out the multi-track trail that so many pairs of booted feet had created through the years. The plan, partially completed, was to relocate the trail itself to a more durable surface nearby, crossing broken rock instead of the fragile meadow. Now, the crew was involved in the hard work of erasing the previous trail. They camped up high through the week, and hiked out on the weekends to resupply.

NPS Steward Work Week 3 - Cathedral Lakes

NPS Steward Work Week 3 – Cathedral Lakes. John Connor

A little later, the mule train arrived with tools for the other project, but our three other volunteers were late. I loaded up my pack with rock bars, single-jacks, and several shackles, setting off cross-country toward a far-away saddle. The other three volunteers would meet the crew later on to help with the rockwork. When hiking out the popular John Muir Trail afterwards, I witnessed the full cross-section of trail culture, ranging from loaded-down, trail-conscientious backpackers, to woefully under-prepared tourists in flip-flops and sneakers, older folks, younger folks, Americans, Europeans, and one statuesque woman hiking along in nothing but a bright blue bikini.

NPS Steward Work Week 3

NPS Steward Work Week 3 – Cathedral Lakes. John Connor

 Later in the week, I ran into NPS trail-crew member Justin Jendza, also working on Cathedral Peak’s approach trail. Not content merely to work hard in the sun all day, moving rocks to construct steps and other physical work, Justin and fellow crewmember Allison Mohr had been able to climb a new route in the vicinity, too.

NPS Steward Work Week 3

NPS Steward Work Week 3 – Cathedral Lakes. John Connor

The effects of the Climber Stewards program have already begun to take hold, yet more help is needed. This article is one of many about the Yosemite Climber Steward Program and our efforts to inform, educate, support, protect, and celebrate the diverse array of climbing and climbers here in the world’s most popular climbing area. Read past reports on the program at the Access Fund Blog and on Alpinist, and find out more about the American Alpine Club’s conservation efforts in Yosemite.

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