Stories from the Sage: Tales from California’s Eastern Edge
Giles: For those of you waiting eagerly to get out to Duck Pass this summer, consider this story, as reported in this week’s print edition of The Sheet.
Marye and Lou Roeser, former owners of the Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit, used to take trail snow removal into their own hands after big winters like the one we had this year. As they tell it, in 1969, all it took was a trip to the hardware store, some guts, and a little TNT.
Lou: And with a heavy year, like ’52 and ’69 and ’83, what we did to open the trails if the snow was really deep, is we’d use dynamite and blow the snow. It was quite and operation. Normally, it was one of us packers who picked up the dynamite from Hirschorn’s hardware store. You didn’t have to have permits or anything in those days; you just bought it like any other hardware supply. So I just asked Marye to pick up the dynamite on her way home [from grocery shopping in Bishop].
Giles: So now I’d like to interject, and ask you to imagine Marye Roeser, on her way out of the grocery store, with her kids in the back seat the family station wagon, ready to check off the last item in her shopping list: the dynamite.
Lou: So she pulled up to the hardware store and said, “I’m here to pick up the dynamite.” So he carried out the cases of dynamite and the caps.
Marye: Well, I’d already picked up the groceries, so the car was full of groceries. He looked at my station wagon with the three little girls in there, and Leslie was just a baby. She was in a kind of a car seat, and he got a little pale [laughs]. And he said, “Oh. You’re going to carry it in this?” and “Yes,” I naively said. So he takes the dynamite back in and he wraps it all carefully up and then he takes the caps…
Lou: And he had you put them in the glove box, I guess, of the station wagon, and so then Marye came up the hill with the kids.
Marye: Well, he cautioned me then, “Don’t go over any bumps,” and this was the old road too, it wasn’t the new Sherwin Grade, so then I got nervous [laughs]. But we made it up to the pack station without anything happening.
Lou: So then, we’d get together the crew, as many people as I could find and pack shovels and a long pole and the dynamite on pack mules. And then we’d go as far as the mules could travel in the deep snow, and we’d tie them up and then pack the dynamite on our backs and scramble up the side hill to Duck Pass. We’d set off a number of charges at one time. We had a long pole, and we’d take that pole and drive it down into the snow as deep as we could get it, [several times, in a line along the snow]. Then we’d drop as many sticks of dynamite in that hole as we could. Sometimes, before we could get all of these dynamite charges lit, they’d start going off behind us, so we’d have to hurry up down the line and get it all lit so that it didn’t catch up with us.
Giles: Again– these were big avalanches! Imagine that the ski patrollers at Mammoth Mountain use dynamite to this day to set of slides. These guys were flying by the seats of their pants.
Lou: Anyway, it was a pretty western operation, a cowboy operation that wouldn’t be anywhere near the standards of today’s worrying about explosives and what have you.
Giles: You don’t think anybody’s driving down to Bishop to pick up dynamite in their station wagon these days?
Lou: At the hardware store!