By the time this is published I should be back from my second backpacking trip of the summer; unless a bear or snake or foolish step on a mountainside gets me first. As in many outdoor excursions of any length, my old pal Steven Steelrod will be along for the ride. As an aging cowboy once said, “I ain’t been killed yet,” in Steelrod’s company, though it often seems he’s trying to do his best to end both our careers. The first year I knew him, Steelrod’s directions led me straight into a mountain biking accident. Decades after that massive concussion and I still can’t sleep on a full-sized pillow without developing a migraine.
Steve used to brag about his “Apache warrior instincts” in the wild, but he’s about as Apache as a St. Bernard and less likely to get you home by the shortest route. His idea of instinct is to head toward a distant peak with no more mountaineering equipment than a tin cup and a packet of Kool-Aid for snow cones, then, knee-deep in drifts, announce, “Stop! I think we’re over a crevasse.”
Of course, Steelrod isn’t the name on his birth certificate. By the time I met him he’d already suffered the mishap that caused a doctor to insert a steel rod into one of his legs and the moniker stuck. As crazy as he sounds Steve is a teacher, a good one at that.
Our June backpacking trip took us into Desolation Wilderness. Steve’s wife (a photographer whose work appears in several Mt. Shasta area newspapers) and brother (another fine high school teacher) were along. During this trip we ambled north on a day hike to Clyde Lake. I was surprised that neither Steve nor his wife knew for whom Clyde Lake was named.
Norman Clyde may have been the most skilled mountaineer in the history of California. He made at least 130 first-ascents of peaks in the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges of the western United States and Mexico. Clyde was born in 1885, the son of a Philadelphia Presbyterian minister. He was still hiking and guiding others into the Sierra in the 1960s. His enormous backpacks often included multiple cameras, a hammer and cobbler’s anvil so he could repair fellow hiker’s shoes on the spot.
Clyde climbed Mt. Shasta twelve different times; once covering the final 6,162 feet in a record-setting three hours and seventeen minutes. His most famous climb, however, may have been one in 1933: to cover in stones the body of Pete Starr, the author of Starr’s Guide to the John Muir Trail, who had fallen from Michael’s Minaret in the Eastern Sierra.
Like Steven Steelrod, Norman Clyde was a teacher. Steve has always excelled at reaching nearly un-teachable students, the ones some might suspect would come to school some day with a weapon. Norman Clyde graduated Geneva College with a degree in the Classics. He read fluently in both Greek and Latin.
In 1927 Clyde acted as both principal and teacher at Independence (California) High School when the walls of the school were defaced by Halloween vandals. He suspected some of his own students. They returned in an automobile on Halloween night 1928, but Norman Clyde stood ready in the shadows, firing a pistol into the street. One bullet struck a student’s car. No one was injured, but Clyde resigned his position in order to escape prosecution. One of the few teachers to shoot at a student was thus freed to pursue his career in the mountains.