by Dave Mau
I’m sentimental to a fault and it doesn’t stop when I start up the four lane to Vermilion either. It might, actually, get considerably worse.
Our opening isn’t quite what it used to be. Years ago we would have what could be called a “hard opening”, meaning we were basically right behind the SCE snowplows and had a few short days to get the place ready before the gate was unlocked and the masses released into our big, beautiful, backcountry home. Back then, most large projects were usually reserved for autumn when the road was still open and the hiker traffic slowed down. With the advent of access via quad for late spring fishing and exploration, we have more of a “soft opening”, nonetheless daunting but not quite as compressed and frantic. Okay, I take that back, it’s still pretty gnarly. Nowadays though we usually have a few bodies back there early to start to turn on the water, propane, pull a few shutters and otherwise get the place ready for the season. If we have the time and resources we might even try and get some repairs and improvements done. Properly planning the fall closing can make or break an opening as well; it’s much easier to get the extras done if everything is already in place from the previous season. There’s no Home Depot at 7700 feet and we have to rely on whatever comes up that goat path called Kaiser Pass Road.
I love the opening in all its forms and I’ve seen some rough ones. Like the time a bear and three of her cubs decided to winter in the main building, feasting on cases of mayonnaise that were improperly secured. Now that was a mess for the ages. I wasn’t there for it but I remember when the opening crew had a substantial flash fire from a broken propane line that almost took the whole place out. Opening can be treacherous and don’t forget we’re two and a half hours from Fresno even when the road is open. During late spring with a closed road you are on your own.
Where my sentimental nature meets the nuts and bolts of the opening is where my favorite traditions reside. And here they are.
I’m not terribly religious but I do believe in God and describe myself as a “half-assed Catholic/aspiring Lutheran”. Every year for opening I bring my Grandmother Lola’s Bible (dated 1916) with me. When we get to Kaiser Meadow, either a snowy paradise or epic bog during late spring, I always walk out a bit with Grandma’s Bible and say a little prayer. I give the Big Guy upstairs a heartfelt thank you for allowing me to experience the “new morning of God’s creation” one more year, enjoy the kind company of my mountain family, make some new friends and have a bit of peace and quiet even for the shortest of times. Silly? Perhaps, but it makes me feel damn good nonetheless.
I love collecting books about the Central Sierra and have some real gems, including a first edition of “The Story of Big Creek” signed by the author, David Redinger. (I’m also a huge narrow gauge railroad nerd but I’ll save that for another time). He was chief engineer for the whole Big Creek project, which created the chain of lakes that allow us to have our little slice of paradise. In it (and all subsequent editions) is a photograph of Mr. Redinger standing on the top of Kaiser Pass for the Edison Company’s own version of opening season in 1940. He is standing in the road, arm extended to show how high the snow was. I do the same thing every spring. There is more snow some years than others and I generally look like a one-armed referee standing there, but I do it anyway.
My Father, Robin Mau, has been gone ten years now, passing away all-too-young at the age of 64 (note: don’t smoke cigarettes). He was the one who put the mountain bug in me, from my very first camping trip to Yosemite Valley as an infant to subsequent trips to Florence and Ward Lakes. He loved Ward in particular, the late afternoon thunderstorms booming off the polished granite above it being a particular highlight for him. We scattered his ashes nearby. My brother Chris’ went there as well, six years later. I still have a shirt of my dad’s, a boxcar red button down that somehow fits me. Every year that is the shirt I wear for that first run over Kaiser. More of a gesture than a thank you, it embodies gratitude to my old man nonetheless.
Opening season up here is a very special time for many reasons and right now I’m chomping at the bit waiting to get in. Packed and ready, various gear in hand and counting the seconds. When that starting gun goes off signaling time to go up, you gotta know I’ll be out the door in a flash. And I’ll see everyone at that gate to paradise for a cold beer.
Dave Mau is an Orange County-based chef, photographer and food writer who has helped man the kitchen at Vermilion for 18 years. A great supporter of he VVR mission he recently came on board to contribute to the Vermilion blog, sharing personal stories, tall tales and high country memories of the people and places of the Edison Lake area.