By: Mark Abrams
It was now 3 weeks into November when we headed back to Mammoth Mountain on Monday, November 21st to fix the antennas at Lincoln Peak. It has been 10 days since we were there and spotted the antennas leaning over, so we have been very lucky with the weather that there have not been any additional storms. This means that the antennas should be in essentially the same condition as they were when we left the mountain on November 11th.
We commenced to gather the materials that were needed to properly secure the MRA antennas. This required obtaining some extra heavy duty clamps and making certain that they would hold the support pipe far enough from the tower so that the pipe would clear the top flange of the tower leg.
It took us a couple of days to have all of the materials ready at which time we planned to head back to Mammoth to retrofit the antenna system with the new clamps and get the antennas vertical again. Mammoth Mountain’s requirements are that we register through their contractor portal at least 3 days ahead of our planned arrival so that they can have everything ready on their end that they need to make certain that we get proper access since so many facilities on the mountain are not accessible by ordinary passenger vehicles. The location to which we were going was on top of Lincoln Peak which is completely inaccessible by car, truck or SUV due to the snow coverage. We needed to get there by some other means which meant that Mammoth Mountain personnel needed to make arrangements for us to get to the site. Once we were on site, their security personnel are responsible to be certain that we get off the mountain and are not stuck there over night since that could end up being a fatal situation. It routinely drops below freezing on the mountain during nighttime so leaving personnel on the mountain without proper gear would be a serious problem.
November 21st arrived and it was time to head north. I left the house at zero dark thirty to head to the office to pick up Chris who was going with me. We left the office by 6:00AM so that we could get to Mammoth by noon. Our plan was to do the job of fixing the antennas when we arrived in Mammoth if we got there early enough, otherwise we would do the job the next morning. If we did the job after arriving in Mammoth, we would be up on the mountain in the afternoon which would require us to get done in 2 hours as we did not want to be there late. When the sun sets in Mammoth during winter, the temperature drops quickly and most of the time, everything begins to freeze which would not be conducive to finishing the job. We headed north on the Long Beach Freeway and merged onto the Golden State Freeway heading north. Once we arrived in Sylmar, we passed the Foothill Freeway and shortly thereafter arrived at Highway 14. Turning north on Highway 14 took us through Canyon Country, Acton, Palmdale, Lancaster and eventually to Mojave, the location of an aerospace center where many airplanes come for retrofitting and repairs. It is just a short hop, skip and a jump to Edwards Spaceforce Base which is several miles east of Mojave. Passing through Mojave, we continued north past Jawbone Canyon, Redrock Canyon, Roberts Roost, Indian Wells, Pearsonville, Coso Junction, Grant, Olancha, Cartago, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and then Bishop.
When passing through the Olancha area, we had originally expected to stop at the Olancha Fire Department to reprogram some radios for them. We had called ahead to see if someone would be available to open the station so that we could reprogram some of the radios. Unfortunately, no one was available, so we continued to roll through Olancha without stopping. However, there was a possibility that we would be stopping there on the way south when heading home.
Our plan was to meet up with Jon who was driving his own vehicle. He lives in the Redlands area and wanted to join us up at Mammoth Mountain to assist us with the repairing of the antennas. He got an earlier start than we did, so he was ahead of us. Therefore, he was taking his time heading north, dragging anchor wherever possible while finding reasons to delay starting back north. When we called him on the phone, we found out that he was in Bishop about to head out north to Mammoth when we told him that we were about 10 minutes from Bishop and that we intended to stop and eat lunch at Schat’s Roadhouse. They have fabulous burgers and other delectable items on the menu. We had eaten there on a previous trip and really enjoyed our meal, so we decided to do it again. Jon met us at Schat’s, but he had previously eaten so he sat there and visited with us while we ate lunch. Soon thereafter we were finished and it was time to finish the journey.
We continued north and finally we arrived in Mammoth about noontime and drove to the house where we able to open the garage door with ease this time. Last time, we attempted to open the garage door and found that the snow had been cleared from the driveway by the snow plow, but they leave about a foot of snow packed against the garage door because they do not want to get too close and damage the building. Last time the snow had been there for about a week and had frozen to the garage door making it impossible for us to get the garage door open. Therefore, we had to get to the front door which is around the side of the house and there was plenty of snow between the driveway and the front porch. Grabbing the key to the house, I tromped through the snow until I reached the porch where I was able to make my way to the front door. Chris was right behind me so when I opened the door, he followed me into the mud room and into the interior of the house where we headed to the garage. We went into the garage where we were able to grab the braces for the garage door. I pressed the button on the remote while the two of us pulled up on the garage door, breaking loose the bond between the snow and the garage door. We then had to grab the shovels and dig out the snow bank that was left behind by snow plow. After digging for 10-15 minutes, we were now in the position to drive the SUV into the garage and park the vehicle. So much for last time because this time after opening the garage door, we drove into the garage with ease, parked the vehicle and proceeded to take our suitcases inside.
I went into the heater closet turn up the heat on the water heater. I also plugged in the circulating pump for the hot water which makes the hot water more readily available when one uses any of the sinks or showers that use the hot water. Chris and Jon were getting ready for heading up to the mountain while I changed into my ski clothes which were more appropriate for the environment where we were doing the job. However, I did not put on ski boots as my EMUs seemed to be the better choice for the job. After taking care of emails and checking the weather, Chris, Jon and I headed out to meet Mammoth security at Stump Alley so that we could take Chair 10 up to the top of the lift. They planned to have a snowmobile meet us at the top of the lift to take us up to Lincoln Peak which was about a 90 second snowmobile ride from the top of the lift. They also said that they would come over to Stump Alley to bring us the key.
We drove over to Stump Alley hoping that we would be able to get a parking space for each of our vehicles. We drove up Minaret Road towards the Main Lodge. We passed the Mammoth Scenic Loop, Mammoth Chair 4 parking area, the maintenance yard, the compressor house and finally arriving at Stump Alley parking lot. We pulled into the parking lot passing one parking space on the right as we headed towards the handicapped parking to find that all of the handicapped spaces were taken, but there was another space on the other side of the same aisle. We pulled into the space and called Jon on the radio to let him know where the other space was located that we passed getting to where we were parked, however he found a closer parking space on the next aisle which placed his vehicle closer to us than the other parking space.
We started to unload our tools and tower climbing equipment. We grabbed the climbing ropes and the tower climbing bucket. We were informed that they wanted us to secure everything in bags to help prevent dropping anything from the lift as we rode up the mountain so that could avoid any injury to the skiers. This presented some challenges for us, but not an insurmountable obstacle. We managed to stuff all of our tools and equipment into the bags and began the trek from the vehicles to the lift. We had to cross the lift line to the far side of the lift where we gathered together waiting for the lift operator to stop the lift for us to load our equipment on the chair and get on for the ride ourselves. We did that quickly and soon we were riding up the chair lift with all of our gear.
The ride up Gold Rush Express Chair #10 is a long one because it is one of the longer chairlifts on the mountain. It takes you up the hill paralleling the Easy Rider ski run and Wall Street ski run. The lift keeps taking you higher on the mountain and traverses the edge of Lower Dry Creek, a creek bed that is easy to ski when the snow if fresh and relatively smooth, but becomes treacherous after the snow has been beaten up by skiers and snowboarders while the moguls cut in the snow become larger and significantly icy from the constant heating and cooling between storms. The lift leveled out and started going down due to the temporary decline in the elevation of the terrain, but then continued up at an increasingly steep angle until we reached the top of the ski lift where we had to unload from the chairlift. We managed to get off the lift with all of our gear without them having to stop the lift, but we had to “run” forward once our feet could touch the snow to avoid being run over by the lift. We continued to move forward to get out of the way of the skiers who were continuing to unload from the lift after we got off the lift. We moved forward about 50 yards to a place where the traffic was minimal and there was room for the snowmobile to pick us up and take us to the site which was only about 1-2 minutes away via snowmobile.
We waited for about 15 minutes for the snowmobile to arrive. We were considering walking the rest of the way to the building, but it was a significantly uphill trek which would require a big effort while carrying all of our gear. We were wondering if the MRA antennas were still in the same condition as 10 days ago, but from our location, we could not see the MRA antennas because of the ridge behind the building and tower was between us and the MRA antennas. So we continued to wait for the snowmobile and I got to the point where I was ready to call to see what was the delay when the snowmobile finally arrived to take us up to the site. I was elected to take the first trip up the hill, so we secured some of our gear to the back of the snowmobile and I got on for the short ride to the site.
The first thing was to traverse the flat land to the ski run that goes up to the site. We started climbing up the hill taking a run that is part of the “Relief” ski run. We passed the “Sunset” ski run which is a black diamond run that had partial snow coverage. The winds at this location often blow the new snow away when it is falling which is the reason that there are some custom snow gates on top of the hill to help retain the snow on top of the hill. As we approached the site, I gave a sign of relief as I could see that our antennas were in the same condition as before. We quickly reached the top of the hill where the radio building was located where the driver stopped the snowmobile. He got off the snowmobile and I followed him shortly thereafter while giving my legs a brief time to recover from the awkward leg position required to ride on a snowmobile. We proceeded to unload the tools and equipment from the snowmobile so that the driver could head down to the lift and bring our next crew member up to the building. It took about 6 minutes for our next crew member to arrive and after a short unloading of the snowmobile, he made the third and final trip to bring us up to the radio site. After another 6 minutes, our third crew member was here and we proceeded to open the building and show Jon around the electrical equipment that runs Chair 22 (the lift that comes to this location) on bottom floor of the building. We then took Jon upstairs negotiating the same staircase as last time to the second floor so that we could show him the radio equipment and the installation.
Now we were ready to start the tower work to fix the MRA antennas. All these delays getting to the site have given time for the weather to warm up to the point where it was comfortable to work outdoors. There was virtually no wind which made working on the tower as ideal as possible while in the throws of winter in snow country. There was about 3 feet of snow on the ground at the site and the sun was shining. We could not ask for better working conditions at this time of year. Chris proceeded to climb to the top of the tower which is only 40’ tall. However, we were at 10,200 feet where the air is thin, so everything that we do requires considerably more exertion than at sea level or at one of the radio sites in the Los Angeles area where the sites are typically only 3,000-6,000 feet. After Chris reached the top, we sent up the work bucket and the tools for straightening out the antenna mast. Then Jon climbed up the tower to work with Chris to get the antennas straight. The job could have been done with one person, but it would have been considerably more difficult because of the weight of the mast and the awkward angle at which the antenna mast was resting. Although a single person could have fixed the problem, it would have taken considerably more steps to maneuver the mast without help and a lot more time. So having both Chris and Jon at the top of the tower would make the job go a lot faster, easier and safer. Tower work should never be done without a ground crew for which I was eminently qualified. I mostly had nothing to do because there were two of them at the top of the tower. Most of the items that I would have to do would be lifting the heavy materials utilizing a pulley at the top of the tower, but there was no need for the heavy lifting from the bottom of the tower because we had two people on top of the tower.
The first thing that had to be done was to loosen the clamps holding the mast. They then had to mount the new clamps to the tower and get them adjusted. Getting them spaced properly to hold the mast was a bit difficult considering the existing mast being in the way. The other problem was that there had to be a way to get the mast back to vertical while being able to hold the weight of the mast with the two antennas already mounted to it along with the weight and tension of the feed lines. While they were working on the new clamps, they dropped one of the nuts for the new clamps. The new clamps used 5/8” bolts and nuts while the old clamps used ½” bolts and nuts, so the hardware was not compatible between the two sets of clamps. This meant that they could not utilize a nut from the old clamp set so we had to find the nut that they dropped, otherwise we would have to go down the mountain to the parking lot to grab a nut off of the other clamp set that we left behind in the SUV since we were trying to carry the minimum amount of tools and equipment on the chair lift. The guys indicated that the nut landed near the leg of the tower, within about 2 feet of the leg. I looked for the nut, but could not find it there. There was about 18” of snow near the base of the tower, so I had to dig in the snow to try to locate the nut. However, there were no locations where there was a hole in the snow in the area described by the guys. I kept telling them that the nut cannot be under the snow without creating a hole and there is no hole around the area that they described. I kept looking and feeling around, but to no avail. Jon decided to climb down the tower to assist me in finding the nut and about the time he was reaching to the bottom of the tower, I finally stood up to see where there was a hole in the snow. Jon came around to the area where I was looking when I spotted a hole in the snow. I pointed at it because Jon was closer to it than I at which time he got down on his knees and started digging through the snow. He found the nut at the bottom of the snow pack thus validating my theory that the nut had to be where the hole was located. Now that we had the nut back, Jon climbed the tower again getting back into position to assist Chris with straightening out the mast. With a lot of skill, planning and a little luck, they got the mast upright in place, then tightened the nuts so that this will never happen again.
After the antennas were straightened and upright, I needed to get the Anritsu antenna tester to sweep the antenna cables to verify that they were working properly. This was also a concern because the antenna connections at the top of the tower where the antennas were leaning over may have been stressed or compromised which we could not tell by simply looking at the connections. I went upstairs with Jon who had previously climbed down to check the antenna connections from inside the building. Fortunately, the Anritsu indicated that the antenna system was intact and working well.
We were about 30 minutes from being finished when I called Mammoth security to let them know that we wanted the snowmobiles back to pick us up in about 45 minutes. They indicated that the snowmobiles would be a few minutes.
In the meantime, we worked on packing up our tools and left over equipment so that we would be ready to head down the mountain once the snowmobiles arrived at the site. Once they arrived, we would do whatever it takes to make it work. In the meantime, we visited with numerous skiers who had climbed up the hill from Chairlift 10 to ski the steep runs that start from our location at the top of the hill known as the Avalanche Chutes and the chair line for Chair 22. The skiers had a significant walk and climb from the top of Chairlift 10, but they considered the challenge of the runs available from our location to be worth the climb. Many of them were curious as to why we were there and what we were doing which sparked numerous conversations and some amazement on the part of the skiers. It helped to pass the time while we waited.
Finally, two snowmobiles arrived at the site. We immediately proceeded to load the back of the snowmobiles with our tools and supplies. We needed some Bungee cords to strap down the load so that it would not fall off the snowmobile. I sat down on the passenger seat and the snowmobile driver finally sat it down on the driver’s seat so that we could take off heading down the hill. Jon sat on the other snowmobile and took off shortly after I left the site. Chris had to wait about 20 minutes while one of the snowmobiles dropped us off and went back up the hill to retrieve the third person.
I headed down the hill first as soon as my snowmobile was secure and ready to go. Chris and Jon were still loading the other snowmobile with the driver so they took off a minute after I left. The ride down the hill was challenging as I was trying not to slide forward which would get in the way of the driver. The irregular & steep terrain was challenging which required the driver to lean heavily to one side or the other, depending upon whether the ground slope went downhill to the right or to the left. At times to keep from being thrown off the snowmobile, we both had to lean very hard to the uphill side of the slope which was very uncomfortable for me. I had to grip very hard on the handles that were part of the back of the seat behind me which made the riding a snowmobile remind me of riding a horse when I was a young boy, but I was far more flexible at that time in my life compared to today. It was difficult for me to hold onto the snowmobile because I did not have a significant arm spread like the driver who was holding onto the handle bars that were used to steer the vehicle. Riding the snowmobile made me spread my legs in a fashion that was uncomfortable and by the time we got to the parking lot, I felt that I had been riding in a saddle for an hour because my groin muscles were quite sore and I felt like I was walking bowlegged.
When we were about 80% of the way back to the parking lot, I realized that I left my ski mask on top of the power transformer in the first floor of the building which I took with me in case the wind at the site was bothersome. However, going back at this point was not an option as the ski area was closing for the day and getting the people to take me back up the mountain was not an option. I tried to call Chris on the phone, but he did not answer and then I realized that I had the key to the building which was already locked, so even if he answered, he could not retrieve my ski mask. So now I was faced with the options of (1) abandoning my ski mask, (2) going back to the mountain in the morning or (3) leaving Mammoth and hoping that I could retrieve my mask on the next trip to Mammoth.
We arrived at the parking lot safe and sound without loosing any of the payload on the back of the snowmobile. The driver got off the vehicle making room for me to dismount the snowmobile. I had to figure out if my legs were still working and attempt to kick my right leg over the top of the snowmobile so that I could get off the left side. I found out that my legs were only partially working and trying to dismount the bike through the pain and numbness turned out to be a challenge. With a bit of coaching and prodding, I managed to get my legs working enough to dismount the snowmobile while wincing in pain only one or two times. I then had to walk around the area for about 2 minutes to get the circulation back in my legs so that I could attempt carry the equipment back to the car as the driver had already unloaded the snowmobile. I grabbed the equipment and set them down on the asphalt. I thanked him for the help and the ride and about that time, Jon arrived on the other snowmobile. Being about 65% of my size, he had no problem getting off the snowmobile. It was time for one of the snowmobiles to head back up the hill to pick up Chris. Now I was faced with the short 20 yard walk back to the SUV which helped get my legs working better, increase the circulation and shake off the soreness & pain. I got out the keys, started the SUV and proceeded to load everything into the vehicle that I could while waiting for Chris to be brought down the mountain. After about 20 minutes, Chris arrived on the snowmobile and he dismounted it to grab the last of the tools and equipment so that he could carry them back to the car. Chris finished loading his equipment and got out of his snow suit that he had donned in the parking lot before we went up the hill so that he would not get cold while working on the tower.
Once fully loaded and driving away in the SUV, I called Mammoth security to find out where I could meet them to return the key. They were over by the main lodge, so we headed there where we handed over the key to security. Our duty was done and now it was time to head back to the house where we would pack up our belongings and load them into the SUV.
Now it was time to relax and rest up for awhile before dinner. Chris moved into his bedroom while I went to my bedroom to lay down on the bed and watch a bit of TV. Falling asleep for about 45 minutes was in the cards after the afternoon’s work and a little bit of TV. However, now it was time to get up and head over to Giovanni’s Restaurant and Bar for a nice meal and some libations so that we can be prepared for the work that needed to be done on the condos tomorrow morning while Jon planned to head back to his home at zero dark thirty. The three of us ordered our most favorite entrée along with a drink to get sufficiently lubricated so that we could get a good night’s sleep and be ready for the day ahead of us starting the next morning. We finished dinner and headed back to the house so that we could retire for the evening.
Jon took off at 5:30AM as planned while we still had a few repair tasks to perform at the Solstice condos. The arrival of 6AM came will little fanfare and a distinct buzzing from the alarm clock. Considering it was about 35 degrees outside, the lack of heat from the upstairs heater made it difficult to get undressed to get into the shower just like the previous trip. I have attempted to get an HVAC repairman there, but no one would return my calls in my feeble attempt to get a serviceman to the house. Fortunately, there was an electric heater in the bathroom which I cranked up to keep from shivering to the point of being unable to hold the bar of soap. The hot water of the shower helped immensely to warm me up, so when I finished the shower, I attempted to completely dry off prior to exiting the shower to keep from returning to the shivering.
There were some door handle issues at Solstice that had not been completed on the previous trip and I wanted to get it done prior to the winter rush of guests renting the units. We contemplated going over to the mountain to retrieve the ski mask, but decided that we had enough of the mountain and that if I had to sacrifice my ski mask, it was a small price to pay for getting the job done. However, I did have the option of returning to retrieve the mask when I headed back to Mammoth to ski so we headed over to Solstice to take care of the issues that we would find. We wanted to start heading back to Los Angeles, so we were under the gun to fix as much as we could in the shortest amount of time possible. We wanted to be on the road no later than 11AM which would get us back by 5-6PM since it was a 6 hour drive back to Los Angeles plus traffic delays, lunch break and pit stops. We quickly made our way through the different rooms checking out the door handles to see if they were loose. Almost every door handle needed some attention. The door handles were made by Colombo, an Italian manufacturer of door hardware. The complex was built by a Canadian company who used all this hardware throughout the entire complex. The hardware was metric based and did not match anything available in the United States. The door preparation was completely different than anything available here, so it was not an easy or inexpensive task to change out the hardware to US compliant door hardware. The design of these door handles made it very susceptible to damage from rough handling by guests staying in the units making this a constant maintenance nightmare. So this is just another round of repairs like ones that we have done before in previous times. Now that we were done, we had to shut down the house by reducing the heat on the one working forced air heater, lower the heat on the water heater and unplug the circulation pump for the water heater. We shut down the computer, closed the windows and turned off the lights and closed the garage door.
Now that we were done at the condos and the house was locked up, it was time to hit the road. Driving down Main Street, we started our 6 hour trek slightly ahead of time. We headed down towards the Mammoth Airport passing by and continuing towards Crowley Lake. Passing the lake, we finally reached Sherwin Summit and headed down hill for another 10 miles to the bottom of the grade where we traversed across the valley floor for another 10 miles when we made it to Bishop. We stopped at the Copper Top to have lunch in Big Pine. They have some of the best BBQ you will ever eat so I decided to order a pulled pork sandwich while Chris ordered the tri tip sandwich. We ate the food at a reasonable pace and then got back on the road. The good news is that we would be late enough to miss some of Los Angeles traffic, but the bad news was that we would not miss all of it. Since this was Thanksgiving week, it seemed that we would not have the normal heavy LA traffic so that was working in our favor.
We headed south through town and proceeded to drive through town after town for 3 hours until we reached Mojave. We stopped at a local gas station for a pit stop and to get a caffeinated soda to stave off the drowsiness for the balance of the trip. We got back onto the road while continuing south and accelerating to full highway speed. The last 2 hours of the trip were relatively uneventful as we drove through the high desert, through the mountains and depositing ourselves into the San Fernando Valley. Heading down Interstate 5 through Sun Valley, Burbank, Glendale, Elysian Park and down the Santa Ana Freeway to the Long Beach Freeway until we arrived at the office. We pulled into the parking lot and parked so that Chris could grab his stuff, put it in his car and we both headed out to go home. It was about 6:30PM when we got home.
We were both glad to be home and relax before going to bed. Another job well done but because I forgot my ski mask, there will be another trip to the site to attempt to retrieve it.