Carson Pass

Building the Station

Building the Station

Many of the U.S. Forest Service people of the Amador Ranger District, Eldorado National Forest, knew that time was running out on the small information kiosk (a converted Forest Service outhouse) being used at Carson Pass to dispense information and maps. The building or “the “Shack” as it was called was simply too small to handle the ever-increasing number of visitors to the Carson Pass area. With Ranger Judy Yandoh’s approval, two of them, Chuck Lowrie and Janice Gordon, decided to do something about it.

Chuck and Janice established a “Challenge Cost Share Project” to build a new Carson Pass Information Station. Under this program the Forest Service provided the funds for the basic materials to build the structure and volunteers and donors provided the labor and other support.

Construction got underway in 1991 under the supervision of Joel Knowles (he’s the one with the coffee cup shown in the photo below) of the Eldorado National Forest Interpretive Association (ENFIA). That year the foundation was completed before the snow flew and blew. That is all that could be accomplished because the construction season at Carson Pass is usually limited to between June and October. Before sometime in June, there is still too much snow on the ground and the temperature is too cold for volunteers to do construction work. Sometime in October (usually) the snow starts falling and ice starts forming which makes it difficult to work outside. And snowfall at Carson Pass averages 76 feet (that’s right, 76 feet or 912 inches) per year.

To construct the foundations for the new building, our volunteers dug trenches (mostly by hand), constructed concrete forms, and tied rebar. Since most of we volunteers had never done such work, we had to “learn on the job.” When we had dug most of the trenches for the forms we discovered a problem. The problem can be seen by looking at the photo of Joel watching the backhoe (above). You can see a big bolder to Joel’s left (in front of the backhoe). The boulder extended two feet into the area where the back foundation wall was supposed to go. For awhile we thought we could move the boulder – like we had moved all of the other big boulders we uncovered. But we finally realized we could not move the boulder and that we could not blast it out. Consequently, we had to move the foundation two feet so that it would be in front of the boulder. That meant filling in the trenches that had already been dug along the back and the front and then digging new trenches.

We also discovered that the area where we decided to build the station had been leveled off with fill dirt and boulders. Instead of having to dig down only two feet for the foundation, we had to go down as much as six feet in some places. Obviously, we were not happy about having to do so since we had to use shovels, pickaxes, rock bars, and wheel barrows to dig and move the dirt out of the way.

During the summer of 1992 some 50 volunteers laid the floor, put up the log walls, set the gluLam ridge beam and 4″ by 12″ rafters, installed the windows, and covered the 1-1/4″ tongue-and-grooved plywood on the roof with metal sheathing. The gulLam, as shown below, was obviously too big for a bunch of volunteers to raise by hand. Fortunately, a man coming back from a hike to Winnemucca Lake stopped and watched us work. When he saw that we had to yet put the gluLam in place, he volunteered to drive his boom truck up from Jackson and lift the beam for us. He charged us only for the cost of the gasoline he used to drive up from Jackson.

For some more details regarding the construction of a log building in mountain snow country, see more of the experience we had building one on the Construction Details page.

Most of the volunteers were ENFIA members who were recruited by Joel Knowles and others who passed the cabin on the way in or out on the way to the Round Top Lakes area. Two of these recruits were Will Green and Dick Brock. Will was a retired contractor and rocket scientist (no kidding!). Dick was a University Business School Professor, Sierra Club Outings Leader, and crew chief from the Tahoe Rim Trail Project. Under the professional guidance of Will, Dick’s trail crew experience, and supervision of Joel there was a weather-tight building with log walls and a secure metal roof ready to face the winter at summer’s end, 1992. Green was awarded a lifetime ENFIA membership for his contribution.

Construction continued every summer until we were essentially finished with the building. We would start as soon as enough snow had melted in the late spring to permit us to get into the building and continue until the cold temperature and falling snow drove us away in the fall. Finally, in 1996 the building was far enough along to permit using it as an Information Station. We moved our supplies into the new building and removed the shack by tearing it apart and hauling off the pieces (see part of that Destruction). Work continued inside of the building even as visitors were making use of the facility. We obviously had to be extra careful not to injure any of those visitors.

Building a cabin at Carson Pass, elevation 8573′ above sea level, posed many unique problems. It was remote; if you didn’t have a necessary part, a journey of a couple hours minimum was required to go to Minden, Nevada. Occasionally, Joel had to go to the Bay Area for equipment. Because the Station is located at such a high elevation, a few of the volunteers suffered dizzy spells and shortness of breath. The weather ranged from bright, warm sunny days to mid-summer snowstorms.

The Station could not have been built without the help of the businesses and people of the Carson Pass area. The Kirkwood Ski Area, Hope Valley businesses, Sierra Recreation Managers and the then Iron Mountain Ski Area were all were willing to “lend a hand.” Sierra Recreation (thanks, Bill) provided equipment, labor and professional support; Hope Valley businesses donated signs, financial support and wood preservation; Iron Mountain Ski Area was there early on with loans of form lumber and a backhoe that followed the first spade turn of the foundation by Lola Schuette, one of the ENFIA members who have donated more than 3,000 hours to the Forest Service. Yes, more than 3,000 hours!

Kirkwood Ski Area played an integral role in the building of Carson Pass Information Center. From engineering advice (thanks, Penny) to forklifts, backhoes, front-end loaders, rock drilling, mountain advice (thanks, Dick, Joe and Jeff), and local information (thanks, Nina and Vicki). Kirkwood Ski Area was the single, most important non-governmental agency supporter of the construction of the Carson Pass Information Station.

The Carson Pass Information Station is now a reality. It is open seven days a week during the summer months until Labor Day weekend. It hosts the casual hiker, the dedicated hiker including the Pacific Crest Trail trekker, the dedicated wildflower observer, and the Highway 88 motorist. If you have questions, the people of the Carson Pass Information Station will be happy to answer them!

The work that ENFIA did in building the Information Station at Carson Pass resulted in Joel Knowles and ENFIA being given an award for their efforts.