Old SC Seat!

SMS Memoirs from the Last Millennium


Walt Davie

Forword: This article appeared in the Mugelnoos #763 (Jan 2001) and was scanned and posted by webmaster Reiner Stenzel in Dec 2006.


Having joined the Sierra Club as a UC Berkeley student in 1954, I gravitated to the monthly SMS Mugelnoos meetings after graduating '54 and becoming employed in aerospace engineering. The monthly meetings were held in the Arroyo Seco Park clubhouse just off Avenue 65 on the Pasadena Freeway. These were joint RCS and SMS meetings, as the Ski Mountaineers held sway in the winter and spring and the Rock Climbers for the rest of the year. Some of the people belonged to both groups. The Matriarch and Patriarch of these meetings, as far as regular attendance was concerned, were John and Ruth Mendenhall. Ruth was the Mugelnoos editor for many years. Beginning in 1939, she resided for several years in a cooperative living group of climbers and skiers (called base camp). John and Ruth attended Mugelnoos meetings with their two grade-school daughters, Vivian and Valerie.

The meetings adhered to Robert's Rules of Order until the business of the sections was over. Then there was a refreshment break (mostly cookies and Kool-Aid) followed by spirited discussions of past and future outings. Then the evening's program followed. These were usually slide shows put on by members of the group. Occasionally there would be a 16 mm movie from the Sierra Club or other mountaineering related sources. Following this, everyone was expected to join in the stuffing and stamping of envelopes containing the fresh-off-the-mimeograph copies of the Mugelnoos.

Editors and refreshment providers were assigned in advance at the beginning of the year. Editing the Mugelnoos was a tedious assignment, as it meant providing the Mugelgrapher with the spirit masters for the mimeo machine. These were typed on a typewriter with "no ribbon" selected. If a typing mistake was made, it was necessary to roll the master out of the typewriter, apply blue correction fluid to the reverse side of the master, roll the master back down to the applicable line and continue. This behooved one to exercise careful typing skills. Input material arrived from Trip Leaders in the form of letters, postcards or telephone calls. Since the mimeo masters occupied a definite amount of "real estate" on each page, it was up to the Editor to fill in all the available space with homemade illustrations, helpful camping hints, applicable quotations, jokes or cartoons. Thus, the quality of each issue was a result of the graphics efforts of the Editor. Graphic and the Mugelnoos logo were drawn on the masters with a special ball tip stylus. All this meant long hour at the keys for the Editor of the month. The masters then had to be physically delivered to the Mugelgrapher, usually at a midnight hour at agreed halfway point between their residences.


In addition to the Mendenhalls, some of the regular attendees whose names come to mind were: Barbara Lilley, Leo Finegold, Sy Ossofsky, myself (Walt Davie), Bert and Gen Tumey, John Wedberg, Steve Wilkie, Worthie Doyle, George Harr, Harvey Hickman, Chuck and Ellen Wilts, Rich Gnagy, Bud Bingham, Tom Condon, George and Marge Shinno, Lloyd and Rosie Balsam, Roy and Jim Gorin, Miles and (Marian?) Brubacher, Mike and Natalie Sherrick, Frank Hoover. Mugelnoos Meetings were slim pickings as far as men meeting women, but a fertile field for the few single women who would attend. The constant turnover of winter ski and summer backpack or water ski trips left little time for social life. It would be 13 years before I met a girl with enough determination and stamina to put up with this life style!


The Ski Mountaineering schedule of trips was usually decided on at a special meeting of the "central committee" about October of the previous year . Weekend dates were selected with an eye towards avoiding annoying events such as the start of fishing season or school holidays. The venues included (and still include) all the favorite weekend destinations such as San Gorgonio, Lamark Col, Onion Valley, Pear Lake, Maysean Lakes and of course, our own home turf, the Mt. Baldy Hut. The Hut was managed in those days by Steve Wilkie, whose professional carpentry skills were put constantly to the test. Among other things no one else could do was Steve's ability to tune up and sharpen the 6 ft long two-man saws, which were used for cutting the annual supply of firewood. Steve was a bachelor and professional woodworker. He either rode up to the Baldy parking lot with others or drove his 1936 Ford Sedan. Bachelor, that is, until a lady fell in love with him at age 65. They were forthwith married and she spirited him away to a magnificent home nestled among her grape orchards in the Napa Valley. And yes, the 1936 Ford shares the garage with her Mercedes!

Most SMS trips started out with mad Friday evening dashes to the Sierras. I usually rode with Sy Ossofsky in one of his several Jaguars. Protocol demanded a quick departure from work, followed by a brief stopover at some pre-arranged meeting place to pick up such luminaries as Barbara Lilley, Worthie Doyle or Harvey Hickman. The Jaguar sedans were marvelous road cars but required constant maintenance. They came with extensive built-in tool kits, which expedited on-the-road repairs. It was wise to carry vital spare parts such as fuel pump rebuild kits, special fuses, brake fluid, hose clamps, tubing, etc. I usually found myself helping Sy during one or two weekday evenings repairing the Jaguar for the next outing! If a given part broke more than twice, Sy would look at it more critically and we would reinforce or re-design the part and proceed to make new parts in my father's home machine shop. As time went on, the vehicle became more reliable due to these efforts. I acquired such extensive Jaguar on-the-ground training that I eventually bought a Jaguar sedan because of my intimate knowledge of the marquee. Arriving near the roadhead usually in a midnight Friday time frame, we would turn off on dirt byways, gather ground sheets, air mattresses and sleeping bags before reposing for the night on the ground. Breakfasts were usually Primus Stove oatmeal, breakfast rolls and a hot drink of choice. Then, on to the business of the trip.


We started out the 50's with wooden skis. These had interlocking metal edges, which were held to the ski with rows of tiny wood screws. If an edge became damaged, it could be replaced by removing the screws and installing a new section of edging. Season tune-up for the skis included making sure all the edges were sharp and the screws firmly in place. Once this was done, then last year's bottom coating was scraped or dissolved off. Then successive coats of vile green bottom lacquer were applied, after which the first coat of bottom wax was applied and rubbed down with a cork slab. As time went on, metal Head Skis were adapted. The climbing skin of choice was the Trima. Genuine stick-on sealskins were available, but on the way out, since the adhesives of the day did not last for more than one trip. Sometimes strap-on sealskins with canvas backing were used, but these tended to work loose and/or accumulate snow buildup between skin and ski. The Trima skins were fastened to the groove in the bottom center of the ski by metal plates containing a dovetail groove. The ski was provided with miniature "railroad rail" segments held to the ski by bore holes and top side nuts into the central bottom groove. The ski bindings were of the cable heel type. A downhill cable binding could be modified for touring by adding a forward set of cable retention clips adjacent to the ball of the foot. Then a "touring attachment" could be slipped over the top of the ski. This was essentially a retainer to prevent lateral movement of the boot toe. Other bindings used were the Marker cable binding with Marker "Clou" touring attachment or the Ramey (not Ramer) binding which was a "safety beartrap" This had two pivoted half shells which came together to form a conventional looking beartrap. Poles with large baskets were no problem as there were still US Army WWII ski trooper's poles on the surplus market. In the early 50's WW II Army surplus baggy ski pants and shirts were available to lift the ski mountaineer to new heights of fashion. It seemed to be an unwritten point of honor to NEVER erect a tent unless there was actual precipitation. Boots were not a problem, since the leather lace-up ski boots of the era adapted themselves readily to the described bindings. The only light weight backpack stove available was the Primus. Like the Jaguars, these worked fine when tuned. One had to be careful that a Primus reamer was on the checklist! We sometimes eschewed the Primus in favor of grocery store steaks cooked over an open campfire. A lunch favorite was miniature Eda cheeses. These came encased in an outer wax coating. Once the cheese was eaten the wax could be applied to the ski bottoms for the downhill post prandial run! Walt Davie borrowed Leo Finegold's 16 mm Bolex wind-up movie camera, and carried the 1 a pound camera on many of these trips. Consequently, a filmed record of those years was made and is now available as a video titled "White Horizons" produced by Pete Matulavich. "White Horizons" also includes footage from the previous era of 30's ski mountaineering and features some early skiers of those times including founder of the Ski Mountaineers, Walter Mosauer.


The winter of 1969 brought a record snowfall to the Sierras. I was skiing at Mammoth the day it started, which was something like Jan. 16th. At about 10 am, I was in a complete whiteout and lost in the middle of the Broadway lower run. We had a snow shovel in the car and spent some time digging away the knee high snow. We beat an early retreat about noon! All the way down the Owens Valley the rain was torrential. Old timers called it a combination of a normal storm and a "Tonopah Low." Any cars that remained in the lot for the remainder of the day were entombed until the following May when their crushed remains would be bulldozed out, one by one. A Greyhound bus was lost there and not found until the following spring. That spring (1969), John Wedberg flew over the inner Sierras, and made an 8 mm movie which showed glacier-like accumulations below most of the major peaks. Needless to say, most roads into the trailhead were blocked until June or July. So that year, the SMS decided on other venues. One of these was the East slope of White Mountain. We started from Dyer, Nevada one weekend in April. Snow conditions were great! We noticed a couple of small planes buzzing overhead, but paid no particular attention. As we walked back to our cars, we were met by the Dyer Sheriffs Posse and were harshly challenged. That was the year the DC-3 "gamblers special" flight from Reno to Burbank disappeared. The Sheriff assumed that the unusual group of skiers had located the wreckage and were looting the remains!


Chuck and Ellen Wilts were a well regarded '50's climbing team. On one occasion, a lady tourist was standing on the walkway at Morro Rock in Sequoia Park when Chuck's fingers grasped the last ledge of the arduous south face route they had ascended. The tourist gasped to see this apparition rise. Noticing the wedding band on Chuck's finger, she asked something like "Young man, what would your wife say if she knew you were doing anything this dangerous?" Chuck looked down and shouted, "Hey, Ellen, somebody here wants to know your opinion of this climb!"


Worthie Doyle was a PhD theoretical mathematician who was employed in the aerospace industry to quantify the perceived Soviet threat. Worthie was a consummate and elegant skier. His selection of ski garb and gear was a throwback to earlier times. Worthie (in the enlightened era of 50's safety bindings) skied on WWII surplus wooden skis with the classical bear trap (nonsafety? Danger?) bindings. His garb consisted of Army surplus baggy OD pants which were sometimes cut off as shorts. He was once observed carving beautiful turns on the Mammoth slopes using his wooden skis. One of the skis had broken off about a foot from the tip, and Worthie had repaired them by nailing on a piece of 2 x 4 lumber across the break. Worthie, while in the back country, was a master at handling difficult conditions. He was the only person we knew who could handle breakable crust with seeming ease. For this, he used his famous pole turn, in which he would plant his poles, jump entirely into the air and turn his skis to the new direction of travel before hitting the surface. Another one of his techniques was the "Manzanita Turn," accomplished in the middle of a clump of Manzanita bushes whilst on doubtful terrain. When told Worthie that he looked positively Medieval with his cutoff OD shorts and plum and full length long johns, he replied "More meaty than evil"!

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