RSM's "Back to the Ice Age" Trip to the Eastern Sierra
Sam's Tale of the Ice Age Trip
---penned cooperatively by Sam and Marilyn, a doggerel tribute
Well the Ice Age returned in the May of '15
As el Nino roared on towards Cal,
But bent on a trip, they wanted to rip
Those indomitable boys of REAL
They were not really buff, but thought themselves tough,
And insisted the Sierra to try
So for miles in the cold, in topless jeeps old
Up the mountains they sped, never cried
Unseasonable snows meant the passes were closed
But they swore they would simply not fail
So up north 'round Tahoe and towards Bridgeport they'd go
On to Bishop in rain, snow and hail
At the foot of a glacier they found meager pleasure
As they bunked down at old Glacier Lodge
In the relentless cold with its powerful hold
There was snow every morning to dodge
On the very last day we were mushing our way
Through the slush to ye old Lee Vining
In the chill gusting wind our spirits were dimmed
For the pass to be clear we were pining
We were filled with great dread and felt nearly dead
Thinking warm homes we'd ne'er see again
And I crouched real deep in a crack 'tween two seats
How we'd pull through I just couldn't ken
My buddy turned to me and “Sam,” says he,
“It's warm up in front, I guess,”
And I pleaded with him, with a trembling chin,
“Don't refuse my last request.”
Well I was so froze that I couldn't say much
But I gasped with a sort of moan
“I want you to swear that foul or fair,
You'll let that front seat be my own.”
Well a pal's last need is a thing to heed
So he swore he would not fail
But he looked kinda blue, and din't want to move
And I passed out beneath the storm's veil
We all were saying prayers to hide all our scares
When oe'er Deadman's Pass we crested
And we came to the marge of Lake le Mono
Ah! A place to get warm and rested
It was covered in ice but I saw in a trice
It was called the Chevron Quick Mart
The lot jammed with cars that couldn't go far
--- With frustration they were starting to smart.
I looked at it and I thought a bit,
And I noted my frozen hands
Then here, said I, with a sudden cry,
Is the place that we'll make our last stand !
We were 'most outa cash but we made a fast dash
Straight to the hot coffee bar
And each drank a gallon, so soon we were smilin'
As we watched ice and rain drench our cars
It began to get late, and yet with no haste
We slogged back outside, cursing loud
When a Japanese man in an old rental van
Yelled at us, “The pass has been plowed!”
We roared up the mount. Now the cold didn't count,
To Yos'mite at 10,000 feet
And my cheeks cracked with cold, but I felt really bold
This triumph now filled me with heat
O'er the mountains we fled, and on down to Merced
Where the valley sun seared weary bones
We'd come through the storm, and now we were warm
In fact, we weren't even dead
When the Ice Age returned in the May of '15
As el Nino roared on towards Cal,
They were bent on a trip, and so they did rip
those freezer-burned boys of REAL.
REAL School Marin's Trip Back to the Ice Age, May 2015
(Here is a little taste of a typical RSM trip...)
Glacier Lodge, altitude 7000 feet, at the base of the Clyde and Palisade Glaciers above Big Pine, has a view of the “last remnants of the Ice Age in North America.” As we crawled out of our cabins at 5:30 AM Friday morning, the Ice Age was still in full roar, a frigid dusting of snow covering the jeeps even though Memorial Day weekend, the official start of summer, was about to begin. We headed out of Bishop under steady freezing rain (open jeeps) and up over Deadman Summit. Whichever kid was riding shotgun had to periodically peer at the poor souls in the back seat to probe for signs of life: they rode with their heads down, breathing into their parkas and waiting it out. “Tioga Pass Closed,” the highway monitor blinked, so Michael volunteered to pray for it to open (thank goodness 7th graders had studied world religions!) --- and we made a list of all the deities who might be supplicated, yelling at each other over the roar of the wind and rain. By Mono Lake, an hour later, the rain had subsided and feeling was beginning to return to fingers and toes. Welcome to the RSM 2015 Desert Trip !
The theme of this 1200-mile adventure turned out to be “plan but flex,” starting with the truck's flat tire on the Tahoe Rim Trail above North Shore on Friday night. We'd been up at Watson Lake at 9000 feet, hunting for critters. Finally back at the house, what turned out to be our nightly routine --- swaddle the jeeps in blue tarps against the rain. Meanwhile the cooking crew, Gianluca, Dylan and Lola, prepared the dinner we had planned for camping out at Mono Lake: cup of soup, soft tacos with trimmings, cookies for dessert. A pointed reminder that any food you eat while camping is great … but it does not necessarily get the same ratings if you try it at home. We watched half of “Contact,” the movie about searching for extraterrestrial life, in anticipation of visiting a couple arrays of radio telescopes in the Owens Valley.
Next morning we hit the road southbound. Still cold and wet weather. As we came over an 8000 foot pass in a hailstorm, we cancelled our kayaking date for the morning. And of course, then the sun came out and we hiked Panum Crater, surreptitiously collecting obsidian, under clear, sunny skies. Off to the west we could see storms coming and going over the high peaks of the Eastern Sierra. Despite having rolled his ankle in the morning, Leo summited every mini peak with Weston. Gianluca balanced for a photo on the edge of a drop-off, and Lola coached Michael a bit on rock-hopping. Most of us collected obsidian shards but Dylan caught bugs, of course. Eli took 100 photos. Mark and Dan explained the geology to everyone.
About those storms we had seen brewing... As we headed south from Mono Lake mid-afternoon, the wind came up, followed by rain, which turned to snow. Open jeeps. We were all whooping and yelling about the snow, freezing but exhilarated. People in passing cars gave us odd looks. A sort of REAL School moment...
Later, in Bishop we accomplished our grocery shopping with admirable efficiency. (It was warmer in the market.) Kids learned to distinguish between a 12-ounce jar and a 28-ounce one, consulted packaging labels to determine portion sizes... Some figured out the difference between roast beef and turkey. They bagged the groceries with the chips on top this time. There was no room to stash any of the food, so everyone volunteered to carry on up the mountain with oranges and bacon and hot chocolate and lunch meats piled on their laps. Anna was buried under a mound of food in the truck. It was pretty funny to see everyone trying to get out of the vehicles to go into the little Mexican restaurant where we found dinner that night. Our friendly host kept replacing the chips on the table as everyone gobbled up everything in sight. Just at dark, we wound our way up a long, steep canyon out of Big Pine, the loaded vehicles pulling hard against the incline, and rolled into Glacier Lodge, a collection of retro cabins huddled streamside in a grove of evergreens. Lights out by 10, boys strewn about in disarray in Dan's and Mark's cabins, girls tidily set up in Marilyn's cabin. It was really cold that night, in spite of the piles of blankets we had. Around midnight, I heard a little voice that sounded like Anna's, “Uh, I think Lola threw up!” Fumbling in the dark for a light, I finally discovered the scene: all those taco chips and lemonade on rerun. The paper towels were in another cabin, and the correct flavor of restorative Gatorade in the third cabin. I did a lot of hiking around in the dark before we got Lola cleaned up and settled again with a wastebasket by her bed.
At dawn, Mark was shivering across the clearing with a platter of bacon and Dan was running around with a coffee pot. Kids (mostly Mark) cooked bacon, waffles and then we set up a lunch-making line on the frosty picnic table and everyone filled a brown bag for the day ahead: Eureka Dunes ascent ! About 60 miles later, deep into the deserted reaches of Death Valley, we found the dunes. Along the way we'd identified trees and flowers, looked for lizards, though the real goal was achieving the summit of those dunes. Storm clouds hovered to the south, but the temperature was cool enough to promise good climbing conditions. Right in the midst of the safety speech Mark and I were giving --- “If a storm blows in with lightening, we all descend immediately!” --- a boom of thunder sounded and soon rain was pelting us. We hurriedly tarped the jeeps and everyone crawled underneath to stay dry. It was a comical scene: bare legs sticking out, ringing the jeeps.
Finally the storm passed and the kids lit out to climb Eureka Dunes. The 8th graders, just two weeks short of graduation, finally bonded, helping each other along and summiting as a group before anyone else. Such jubilation! Sam was not far behind, however, and Dylan soon appeared as well. All that running paid off! In spite of boots packed with sand, we all spun down the slopes in descent, the 8th graders rolling halfway. It was a hard climb and a well-won victory.
Next morning we were up early again, no complaints. For the record, Michael, Dylan, Eli and Leo are all quite good at getting up early! Sam masterfully managed breakfast production while we all went twice through the bag-lunch-assembly line, packing one lunch for the Bristlecone Pines and another for our drive home Friday. Everyone dutifully ate the oranges and carrot sticks they had ordered, and no one tried to fudge and change his mind about the sandwich choice he hadwritten on our lunch-planning chart. Our estimates for food for lunches was much improved on this trip. Progress! The 7thgraders were tasked with studying the system carefully, as they will be the ones in charge next fall.
Out of Bishop, we headed up Silver Canyon on a jeep track, about 10 miles up to the crest at 11,000 feet. Lots of bumps and splashes as we charged across flowing streams and navigated gullies. On top the wind was fierce but we paused long enough to return fire when Mark started a snowball fight. We hiked 2 miles through the oldest living organisms on earth, the bristlecone pine trees, Sam breaking through the snow up to his knees at one point, Dylan trailing clothing along the trail, the 8th graders again in a posse. Descending back towards Bishop on paved roads, we detoured to inspect the CARMA array of radio telescopes and Michael gave a fine instructive speech about them. A little reptile hunting in the Owens Valley and we headed back to the lodge. No one protested at all about a 45-minutre nap period. Meanwhile, the pond fishing that had begun the previous afternoon continued. Both Weston and Leo caught --- and fried up and ate! --- a trout each. Lola caught another fish and released it. Big smiles.
Friday morning everyone was up by 5:30 to discover snow on the ground. All around the mountains were white, and soon we knew Tioga Pass had closed again, yet again. We breakfasted, cleaned up our cabins, packed the truck (Weston is a pro!) and were on the road before 7 AM : very impressive. Finally on the last day of the trip they knew the ropes!
Again, climbing out of Bishop on Highway 395 we were pelted with steady rain and cold. The thought of trying yet again to kayak on Mono Lake became less and less appealing. We huddled in the Quick Mart in Lee Vining, miserably contemplating having to drive the long way around to get home ….. BUT by 10 AM Michael's praying had Tioga Pass open again! We drove through a majestic winterscape in Yosemite, oohing and aahhing. Later we saw the remains of the Rim Fire of 2013, and took a one-hour break to hike the two miles to and from the Tuolumne Grove of giant Sequoias. We thought maybe Eli was expiring from cold, but it turns out he really needed sleep, which believe it or not, you can get in the back of a jeep if you are determined. He came to as we pulled into a gas station in warm, sunny Oakdale, opening his eyes and delivering a wisecrack immediately. Eli lives!
The last bit of a trip is always sort of sad, as we re-enter the clutter and noise of an urban area. But the kids also were beginning to talk lovingly of their beds, their moms' cooking, their favorite TV shows. No one missed all that while we were thrashing it out up there in the Eastern Sierra Ice Age, but it was good, too, to be headed home with lots of gratitude on our minds.
A lot of growth happens on RSM trips. Your kids came a long way, having fun doing extremely challenging things --- more than you can imagine. They ate what they said they could not eat, hiked what they said they could not hike, got to like people they thought they could not stand, learned auto mechanics and wilderness skills and acquired a great deal of common sense. They stepped outside their familiar comfortable worlds and became bigger, more generous and more humane souls.