2017 Klamath Backcountry Interviews

This week we hear from several members of the 2017 Klamath Backcountry trail crew.



All photos courtesy of the California Conservation Corps and the Backcountry Trails Program.

If you are a former Corpsmember and would like to share your story, contact us at grinningdwarf@gmail.com . We would love to weave your story into the tapestry of the CCC experience, because every Corpsmember has a story worth telling. Former staff are welcome to share their stories as well!

Thank you.

2017 Kings Canyon Backcountry Interviews

This week we hear from several members of the 2017 Kings Canyon Backcountry trail crew.


All photos courtesy of the California Conservation Corps and the Backcountry Trails Program.

If you are a former Corpsmember and would like to share your story, contact us at grinningdwarf@gmail.com . We would love to weave your story into the tapestry of the CCC experience, because every Corpsmember has a story worth telling. Former staff are welcome to share their stories as well!

Thank you.

Corpsmember Profile: Bill George

Bill George sent us a CM Profile of his years at the Fricot City Academy and Yountville Center in the early ’80s.

After my graduation from high school in 6/82 I had no plans. I worked a few dead end jobs for the next year with no direction in life.

Finally in 9/83 my older brother told me about the CCC, and I had two choices. That or military.

I applied to join the CCC shortly after.

Within two weeks I received a letter from the CCC welcoming me and hoping I was ready for a year of HARD work LOW pay and MISERABLE CONDITIONS and it was written just like that!!

I had a report date of 10-1-83 to CCC headquarters in Sac. After my intake, I boarded an old grey bus to Calaveras County in the town of San Andreas to the Fricot Academy. I would spend my first three weeks here. Three weeks of sheer hell!!

I think we started with 20-30 (rough guess) on our crew and the same amount on the other ten crews as well (again rough guess). So out of 300 recruits there were available spots for maybe 75-100. It was the academy’s job to trim down to the proper amount in three weeks.

They ran us into the ground from the first moment we were there, and it continued until we were down to the proper amount of recruits. We ran, hiked, cut trails among other things constantly. Out of a 24 hour day we had 9 hours to ourselves, 8 of those hours we were sleeping.

Finally when we were down to the proper amount of recruits that they had available spots for all the torture ended!! We had succeeded!!

The next day our perspective centers arrived to pick us up.

I was on my way to Yountville center.

Yountville Sign Sherryl Jones

Yountville Bldg Sherryl Jones

I was prepared to pull in the center and get screamed at the moment I got out of the van, like we did at Fricot. Much to my surprise, they seemed happy to see the five of us. I was shown my sleeping area to put my bags away then given the opportunity to clean up before dinner. Dinner was amazing, you actually were fed enough to get full!!

Shortly after dinner they had a meeting of the center to welcome the newcomers.

The following day we were up at 6am roll call for PT instead of the 5am wake up at the academy.

PT was a fraction of what it was at the academy, with a fraction of the running and you didn’t have CLCs/ACLs every 10 feet screaming at you!!

After PT and breakfast we all prepared for the day and the crews we would be on at our daily am meeting.

My first month was spent in center on the maintenance crew basically janitorial work.

I then got on a crew led by C1 Jim Daniels working on the grade. I spent the next 10 months on that crew. We worked on many different projects with CalTrans, Department of Fish and Game, and Department of Water Resources, just name a few. We did stream clearance, levy erosion control, many, many hours of sandbagging during the floods, as well as trail construction. In September 1984 they created a crew on the grounds of the veteran’s home to help the tradesmen with different projects.

Having only another month left before the year was up it was my intention to become a specialist.

One of the many projects they had was building signs for all of the different buildings on the vet’s home. The project was supposed last for about a month.

Shortly before the project was over the cement mason of the vet’s home went to our center director, Ernie Thompson, and asked to keep me working with him. I was then promoted to green hat and given my second year in the Corp.

It was the best two years of my life, the conservation Corps help me tremendously.

After my days in the Corps I went into the auto repair trade. I worked for Ford Motor Company for 25 years, then went into business for myself. I opened a mobile auto business for my final 5 years in the trade, retiring two years ago.

The Corps taught me discipline and responsibility.

I enjoyed it so much that after 30 years of being out of the Corps, I have just submitted my application to come back as a C1.

Photos of Yountville Center courtesy of former Corpsmember Sherryl Jones.

Challenges and Pionjars

Today we hear a little more of Shawna Lemos’s story.

I’m a pretty competitive person. Naturally I had a lot of pride trying to hike in to our job site and be first! To challenge myself, I would offer to carry the heaviest tools. The most challenging tools to carry were a 65 pound Pionjar or the largest chainsaw. It wasn’t until I met our new Supervisor (Terrance Johnson) that I was given the biggest challenge! He discussed an opportunity to be a leader within our crew and I accepted the goal with open arms. At first, I was given organizational tasks. He allowed me to make a checklists and get us ready for Spikes! I enjoyed making sure equipment was ready and delegating. There were a few deeper lessons to be learned though. One day Terrance sent me out to hike into a worksite, but requested I be last. I pretty much complained and took it out on the guy that hiked the slowest. I think I prob did that for a week straight! (Poor guy!) Terrance checked in one day and held me waaaaay back from the crew. He asked me if my attitude was helping the slow guy in ANY way. You know what? It didn’t help him, or me, or the crew at all! So I started encouraging him instead. It didn’t make him faster, but it did change my outlook from selfish to being more team minded. I’ve used this lesson in many areas of my life including parenting! I’m so grateful for the many challenges the C’s have given me.

Shawna shows one of the best things that good C1s in  the CCC do: develop Corpsmembers and make them better people. Corpies learn these lessons and take them wherever else they go in life.

As you read Shawna’s piece, if you were not in the CCC, you might have asked “What’s a Pionjar?”

A Pionjar is a specific brand of gasoline-powered rock drill.

Pionjar Demonstration

If you click on the above link and watch the video, you will see a basic demonstration of how the Pionjar is used. An interesting note: the narrator in the video pronounces Pionjar as ‘PYON-yar.’ It is a Scandinavian company, so that pronunciation is probably correct, but that video is the first time I had ever heard it pronounced that way. Corpies and NPS trail workers in the United States in my experience have always pronounced it ‘POON-jar’. It’s fun to say! Try it: POON-jar. 🙂

Why would anybody need to drill into rock? There could be several reasons. We might need to drill holes to place explosives into to blow up big rocks. We do this for trails, and we also do this for salmon habitat restoration, if a huge boulder that has rolled down into a streambed is causing debris to back up against it in high water and cause flooding.

We drill into rock in order to quarry big rocks into little rocks, to use in trail construction and maintenance.

We might need to drill into rock to anchor posts for fences or any of other many uses. In the Cobra video below, it looks like the workers are going to be anchoring a post for some sort of construction.

Pionjar is not the only company that makes these types of rock drills. I have also used Cobra rock drills, and I’m sure there are others.

Shawna did not have any available photos of a Pionjar for this piece, so I asked around at several Facebook CCC groups, such as California Conservation Corps former Corpsmembers and CCC Backcountry Trails Alumni, to see if anybody did have pictures. Sure enough, several former Corpsmembers came through with pics.

Karen Kollar Nancy Martin Stan 91

This pic is from Nancy Martin, of Karen Kollar operating a Pionjar on the Stanislaus Backcountry crew in 1991.


E Moreira P Martinez Inyo Modoc Redw 89

This pic of Eddie Moreira and Peter Martinez on the Inyo-Modoc-Redwoods crew in 1989, shows how the Pionjar is used to quarry rock. (Eddie provided the pic.) Holes are drilled in a line across the rock, and then something called ‘pins and feathers’ are used to split the rock. If you look closely at the steel sticking out of the holes, you can see there are three parts there. The long middle part is the ‘pin’ The shorter curved pieces around it are called the ‘feathers’. The feather are inserted first. The pin is placed between them. They are placed in all of the holes in the line. Then a double jack (or sledge hammer) is used to hit the pins down into the holes. All of the pins are hit evenly. As the pin goes deeper, the feathers are forced apart, and eventually, the big rock will split into little rocks along that line. This way, trail crews can quarry whatever sized rocks they need for their construction projects out of materials that are close by.

Eric Vanderleest

This pic shows Eric Vanderleest in Yosemite National Park in 1982. (Eric’s brother, Wayne Vanderleest, provided the photo.) Backcountry trail crews get very creative in using Pionjars in all sorts of positions.

Like Shawna said in her piece, these large heavy pieces of equipment might get shipped into camp on a mule, but they are usually transported on the backs of the trail workers from camp to the work sites.

Just another day of Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions…and More!


2017 Backcountry Debriefing

Alpenglow is an amazing high mountain phenomenon. It’s not the normal glow of a sunrise or sunset. Certain atmospheric conditions need to be met, and the sun’s rays are actually bent through the sky to re-light alpine mountaintops for just a few minutes. Then it’s gone.

A Backcountry Trails season is kind of like alpenglow. It’s not a normal trip to the mountains. It’s heading up to the mountains with the determination to live there for five months, among the peaks and the pine martens, with the same small group that you came up there with, and living a deliberate existence that relatively few have ever experienced.

However, just as surely as alpenglow only lasts a few minutes, a Backcountry trails season does come to an end. And the 2017 season has come to an end.

Around 90 strangers gathered together at Placer Center in Auburn last April. They came from all over. CCC Corpies from places like San Luis Obispo, Fresno, and Redding. AmeriCorps members, such as a mechanic from Florida, a law student from Ohio, and a baker from Virginia were also in the mix. They formed into six crews and spread all across California. They spent the next five months doing the toughest work some of them will ever do. They bonded over campfires, long hikes, and star filled nights without a roof. They have weathered literal storms together—rain, hail, snow, and wind. Several of crews had the additional experience of moving camp ahead of approaching wildfires.

The ninety people now forged into six solid crews assembled at Camp Mather, outside of Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy on Monday, September 25 for final processing.  Tuesday, September 26 was the end of season celebration, which included the distribution of Backcountry patches, caps, and certificates. The Corpsmembers departed Camp Mather Wednesday morning, September 27, bound for bus stations or airports back to wherever they had come from…or in some cases, on to their next adventure.

Below is a gallery of scenes from debriefing. Over the next few weeks, you will hear some of the Corpsmember stories from the 2017 Backcountry Trails season.


CM Profile: Shawna Lemos

Today’s CM Profile is from Shawna Lemos.

I worked for the Y.C.C. (Youth Conservation Corps) the summer after my 10th grade year. We did a lot of front country work, hiking and team building. I remember clearing a piece of trail with my crew when all of the sudden a rag tag group of young adults came hiking past us. They had on packs and were carrying equipment and hiking faster than any one I’d ever seen! I found out that they were a part of the C.C.C. That encounter lit a fire in me and drove me to graduate high school and try out for the C.C.C. program.
I graduated from Clovis, CA. My family moved to Kentucky a week later and my boyfriend at the time went off to college in Oregon. I met with a C-1 in Fresno and requested the furthest area with the most intense work they had. I was excited to learn of an opening in Klamath, California!
When I arrived, we were called Comets and had separate housing quarters from the residents. We endured training by hiking, p.t. sessions, running up mountains and team building exercises. My feet were raw from issued boots and my body aches, but I loved the comradery and encouragement. Graduating from being a Comet felt good.
I ended up on Crew 5 with Phil Lafollete. (Shout out… Crew Fiiiivvve!) He taught me to be a fighter and not give up on a task. (I learned to build the best firepits, lol!)
My last C-1 through Requa (the name of our post in Klamath) was Terrance Johnson. He taught me leading doesn’t mean being first. He toughened me and trusted me. He lead through valuing people and seeing what they could individually offer the team.
While working in the C’s I was sent to leadership training in San Luis Obispo, took forestry classes through College of Redwoods (rip Tom Hunnycut) and was taught how to respond to state emergencies. I attained a class B license, became chainsaw certified (Thx “Chunky!”) and fell in love with going on Spikes. It was during those Spikes that I learned of the Backcountry Program with Peter Lewis (rip <3)
Being chosen to go to Backcountry turned my soulfire into a blazing bonfire. I was thrilled! Not only did I get to join the legacy of my fellow corpies before me, but I got to go to Kings Canyon National Park!

The summer of 98. My gosh, did I find out I had a lot of maturing to do! Living with a Crew of 15-18 people for 5 months exposes a person’s strengths and weaknesses. I learned a lot about myself that summer. I was pushed physically, emotionally and spiritually beyond anything I could have imagined. I enjoyed nature from its ugliest to its fullness in what it could offer. Our C-1 was top notch along with the very seasoned crew from the national park service. It was a time that grew me.

I left the C’s shortly after my return from backcountry. I was engaged and missing my family in Kentucky. Some of the bonds I made with the people I lived with and worked with are eternal and I am so grateful for the time that was given to me during 1994-1998.

Shawna also shares a few entries from her journal written while with the Youth Conservation Corps, working in Yosemite National Park.


Yesterday was our first real work day. It was a welcome change from watching safety videos and learning all the rules. We installed 300lb bear boxes in Yosemite Valley! It was a team effort and we became acquainted with rock bars, shovels, wrenches and stencils. (The stencils were to spray paint numbers on) It made me feel like our work was important when campers and hikers would talk to us. Our group even encountered a bear! It was walking around a dumpster and totally tame. Although it was tempting to poke him with a stick, all of the safety talk came to mind and we refrained.

After dinner, me, Sondro and Star went sledding! It wasn’t hard to do because we were staying at a ski lodge. We had so much fun we decided to do it again tomorrow!



The 4.9 mile trail from Glacier Point to Nevada falls was pure joy! Every so often  (near the top of the falls trail) a breeze would carry with it fresh smells and a crisp whisp of water. I’m soaked from jumping into a small stream. It’s chilly, but Grande! I feel happy and vibrant! I’m ready to take on the next 4.3 miles to half dome!



We decided to sleep outside tonight! I had Star to my left and Sondro and Chelsea to my right. We were dead asleep when I felt something next to my head. I thought it was Star so I tried to push her off my pillow….but it was furry! I heard a crunching sound muffled with some sort of grumbly snorts. It’s a bear. It’s definatly a bear! I crouched low into my sleeping bag and kicked Sondro. I told him what was going on and we formed a very brave plan to scare the bear away. We counted down….3.2.1. Scream!! Our yells woke up the whole camp who then pounded on dishes and screamed with us. That bear took off screaming too, haha! I then realized what the crunchy sound was. I had taken my new retainers out and set them next to my pillow. My teeth better not get snaggly this summer because a bear ate them


kings canyon bear

Kings Canyon ’98 t-shirt and grinning Corpie photos courtesy of Shawna Lemos.

Mountains and bear photos courtesy of the CCC and the 2017 Kings Canyon Backcountry Trail Crew.


If you have a CCC story that you would like to share, or CCC pics, or both, send them to us at:


Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑