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Evan Belknap

Evan Belknap stares down Yosemite Valley from “Dinner Ledge” on Washington Column
Photo credit: —John Barkhausen      

Cat meows from high branch of tree

—Evan Belknap

As the sun starts to rise on Tuolumne Meadows, I am windows down, feeling the cold wind blasting my face, singing maniacally to the worst country radio station I can find, slapping myself silly, and continuing on, trying—with all my might—to keep my eyes open and my car out of the river below. The drive from Prescott, AZ, to Yosemite National Park, with a short dinner break in Vegas, takes from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., at which point, no amount of Redbull or coffee can make any difference against the delirium. El Capitan, the 3,000-foot, shear granite face that dominates Yosemite Valley appears like a ghost—horrifying and awesome. My hopes and dreams of climbing The Nose (the prominent prow of the wall) are almost immediately dampened, if not beaten senseless with a rack of pitons. I know, quickly, that this place is bigger than I’ll ever be. Waterfalls cascade out every window, meadows glisten with the dew of morning, massive Douglas Firs create a tunnel leading deeper into the valley—I will have to grow indifferent to beauty if I plan to accomplish anything.

At Camp 4, my friends and I stumble out of our cars and find a long line of people waiting for a campsite. The campgrounds in Yosemite are almost always full. Camp 4, though, has historically been the climbers campsite and is first come, first served in the morning. We get in line, and I lie on the ground, set my head on my jacket, and fall desperately asleep. Three hours later, we have a site for a week at five dollars a night. The park ranger warns us about the bears and asks us whether we want one bear box or two, and we inform her that we have about fifty pounds of goat meat. Without asking further questions, she assigns us two, and we take the rest of the day sleeping in the shade.

We seem to fit right into the culture here: the old-timer climbers nod their heads at us in the mornings as we fry eggs and goat, as if in us, they can see parts of their lost youth. Our bodies quickly become sore and apprehensive to the tyranny of our minds and the crazy things they make us do daily. The rangers seem to think that they need to wake me up nightly to yell at me about something or other, and we lazily collect our warning slips. Almost like magic, we find ourselves meeting, or seeing, the world’s best climbers—hunchbacked burly dudes with crazy looks in their eyes. We share beers with the founder of Sender Films, and he asks us if we want to play “dirtbags” in his new film about Yosemite. He films us sneaking through the bushes trying to evade the rangers. My friend John somehow finds himself belaying Tommy Caldwell (famous) for a Patagonia commercial, and Amalesh and I climb a few hundred feet to meet them on a small ledge half way up an immaculate Yosemite climb. At the end of our climbing days, we wash up in the freezing Merced River, and back at camp, people bring wood, food, and drink to our fire ring. We have apparently become the party hosts of the camp. We sleep like old dogs.

After a week, our plan of training for The Nose of El Capitan remains simply that—a plan—and our time is running short. We stare at the wall, run quickly to the nearest bathroom, and repeat. With only a few days left, and having climbed every day, John and I blissfully abandon the idea and instead head off to the base of Washington Column. Washington Column stands across the valley from Half Dome and is 1,100 feet. Climbing this wall takes a combination of clinging to the rock face with your fingertips and hanging onto tiny pieces of metal jammed into cracks in the granite. We plan to sleep on the wall one night. It is a far more obtainable goal, we think.

It is a struggle to get our haul bag out of the parking lot, let alone the steep mile-and-a-half to the base. We see our homeboys Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold as we reorganize our gear. They have hardly anything and are running off to climb so much harder than we ever will. We find out later that they are on their way to set a new world record, climbing three of the tallest cliffs in Yosemite in a single day. Reapportioned, we battle our way up to the base of our climb and start climbing at 3:30 in the afternoon. We get to our perch just before nightfall. With a few inches of loose stacked rock separating us from a 500-foot void, we add layers, get comfortable, and make macaroni and cheese with the entirety of Yosemite Valley in front of us. Up here, I can’t help but think that there is a hopeless loneliness to it all. I slip my sleeping bag over my legs and stare out, and for a few moments, with John and I silent, I am heartbroken and alone. When we have hot food and start telling stories, laughing brings me back to myself, and I am happy to be where I am. It seems perfect, in fact. As soon as the sun fades, we are asleep, tied loosely to the wall, waiting for sunrise, and ultimately, our last day in Yosemite.

Starting early, we push four pitches up and it takes all day. We come to a halt at a tiny seam in a nearly overhanging wall that neither of us want to lead. Exhausted and cold in the wind, we high five and yell, “Abort!” We eat our sandwiches and then begin our long decent to the ground, and then to our car, and then out of the park, heading northwest towards the ocean.

US Forest Service and partners provide employment opportunities nationwide:
Summer positions for thousands anticipated

Thousands of temporary seasonal jobs with the Forest Service and its partners are available this summer and officials say now is the time to begin the application process.

“Due to the nature of much of our work, such as wildfire fighting and seasonal recreation programs, we anticipate hiring many temporary workers,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “These jobs will provide economic relief for many unemployed Americans and help stimulate local rural communities.”

Annually, the Forest Service and its conservation partners hire over 15,000 people for summer positions. Of that total there are around 12,000 openings during the peak fire season months for those seeking temporary work in the fire and aviation management field. More about jobs in the Forest Service can be found online at

Seasonal job opportunities also provide first-hand knowledge of natural resource management to the new employees, many of whom are young adults. These work experiences may instill lasting and meaningful connections between the future stewards of our land and America’s great outdoors,” Tidwell said.

Many of the communities most affected by economic hard times are located near national forests and grasslands. By providing temporary jobs to a diverse group of applicants, the Forest Service is helping to build stronger communities as well as providing safe access to the forests and grasslands for everyone, Tidwell noted.

An employment alternative offered through the Forest Service is enrollment in one of the agency’s 28 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers. This rigorous vocational training program combines a demanding academic curriculum and prepares students to excel in the twenty first century workforce. One emphasis area focuses on “green-collar” jobs and clean energy issues. Recognizing the program’s efforts in green jobs training, President Obama has endorsed them as America’s Green Job Corps.

The Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Parks Service, and the Employment and Training Administration share common goals regarding career development for young people. These goals include giving low income youth opportunities to gain valuable work experience, provide service to their nation, and contribute to much needed work projects on public lands. 

Land management agencies and the land itself can benefit from increased employment of youth on the public lands, especially to address the backlog maintenance issues many agencies face. Workers learn about potential career pathways in their occupation, and those who are interested can help meet the imminent demand for skilled workers—approximately 35 percent of Forest Service employees are eligible for retirement in the next four years.

USDA works with state, local and Tribal governments and private landowners to conserve and protect our nation’s natural resources – helping preserve our land, and clean our air and water. We are working to better target conservation investments: embracing locally driven conservation and entering partnerships that focus on large, landscape-scale conservation.

Forest Service to purchase and restore lands in fifteen states including NM

—U.S. Forest Service

In April, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Forest Service will dedicate $40.6 million for twenty seven exceptional land acquisition projects in fifteen states that will help safeguard clean water, provide recreational access, preserve wildlife habitat, enhance scenic vistas, and protect historic and wilderness areas.

The money is made available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, created by Congress in 1964 to provide funding to federal, state, and local governments to purchase land, water, and wetlands. The fund receives the majority of its money through royalty payments from offshore oil and gas revenues to mitigate the environmental impacts of those activities. Those funds also are augmented by additional money or in-kind services of a variety of partnerships.

Lands are purchased from willing sellers at fair-market value or through partial or outright donations of property. Landowners may also sell or donate easements on their property that restrict commercial development while keeping the land in private ownership.

The fund supports many goals set out in President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, including the need to support locally-led efforts to protect and renew rivers and other waters, conserve and restore national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands and waters, and enhance recreational access and opportunities.

The New Mexico proposed project is in Miranda Canyon—“Phase I, Carson National Forest.” This land offers breathtaking views from its numerous ridges and peaks of the Rio Grande Gorge to the west and Wheeler Peak to the north. Historical features include the Camino Real Trail, unique geologic features such as a small volcano and 1.7 billion-year-old rock outcrops that rival the age of rocks found at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Hunting, sightseeing, camping, hiking, and horseback riding will be enhanced. $3,442,000 will be given to this project.

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