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Yosemite Climber Stewards repair Medlicott trail

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
In desperate need of some love, the trail to Medlicott Dome got a full rebuild thanks to over 200 hours of work put in by 26 volunteers from the Yosemite Climber Stewards, NPS Rangers, YOSAR and the Access Fund.

Ask most climbers if they enjoy hiking, and the range of responses extends from an eyebrow-raised "are you kidding me?" to poker-faced, I'm not even gonna acknowledge that question. Fact: we all grind out millions of miles of hiking every year, whether its a half-mile traipsing back to the proj for the umpteenth time, a dozen miles accessing that alpine classic, or twelve feet (ahem, Rifle) to the familiar cragging zones we all enjoy. In Yosemite, it’s the same, except that these trails see more climber use than perhaps anywhere else in the estimated 150-180,000 days per year! Trouble is, these trails are as rugged as the climbs they access: often loose, rutted out, braided and potentially dangerous. They require extra care to maintain and people comfortable with exposure and steep terrain. For years, these trails languished in poor condition.

During the past two seasons, a solution has been found. NPS Climbing Rangers, in conjunction with the Yosemite Conservancy, the American Alpine Club and the Access Fund have established the Yosemite Climber Stewards—a grant-funded, volunteer-fueled, stewardship crew. This August, the Stewards, Rangers, trail crew, members of YOSAR and volunteers from the American Alpine Club, totaling 26 people, worked over a five-day period to repair and bolster the main approach trail to Medlicott Dome, a popular cragging and multi-pitch zone near Tuolumne Meadows. Home to such hollowed face-climbing test pieces as the Bachar-Yerian (5.11c R/X) and Peace (5.13d), as well as more moderate classics like Shagadelic (5.8) and Ciebola (5.10b PG13), Medlicott sees a ton of traffic, and not just by climbers. Skirting the base of the dome, heading southeast, the trail eventually delivers hikers to the Cathedral Lakes basin, forming a popular loop for those adventurous enough to venture off the map.

Trails such as the John Muir, Valley Loop and others that see use by tourists, hikers and pack stock alike receive the full benefit of funding and trail building expertise. The Medlicott approach, and most other climbing trails in the park, received no such attention. This is due to the simple fact that they exist solely for climbing, have come into existence from the soles of our shoes, and appear on none of the NPS maps. Hence, no funding, staff time or equipment is allocated or scheduled for them. Yet each season, work must be done to maintain these trails. Over the last few years, the tide has begun to shift. Yosemite Climbing Rangers, along with volunteer Climber Stewards and supported by generous grants for the Climbing Trails project from the Yosemite Conservancy and Planet Granite, have been coordinating work on these trails.

Different sections of trail require different tactics for maintenance. Always, the same strategy applies. The goal, according to NPS Trail Crew worker Ali Mohr, is to "keep people and dirt on the trail and water off of it". Ali, whose time on the this project was paid by grant money, directed our efforts over the course of the week, mapping out a strategy to help strengthen the trail now, and maintain it in the future. Where previously three tracks led through a soft meadow, we restored the trail to one section. In another area, a rock staircase was constructed solely with hand tools and strong legs and backs. Several places received water bars designed to move runoff away from the trail. After two days of work, the Tuolumne area received consecutive afternoon thundershowers, with large amounts of runoff afterward providing proof that our work worked.

Twenty-six people volunteered at least part of a day during the Medlicott project. Most put in six hours or more. At a minimum, repairing this mile-long section of trail required 200 hours of digging, shoveling, raking, hammering, sawing, rock-breaking, back-tweaking, leg-fatiguing labor. At a correctional facility, it would likely be called cruel and unusual. In Yosemite, it’s just what we have to do to maintain our climbing trails. Thanks to the generous support of partners like Black Diamond, we continue to do so.

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