As often happens when we are on a Road Trip it was dark when we found a place to camp.
Here is what it looked like in the morning. This was up a dirt road west of Smith’s Ferry, off the main road from Boise to McCall.
Tripod Reservoir was just past the gate. It was a beautiful scene with this reflection in perfectly still water.
When we were driving up the road during the night we saw masses of these white flowers in the headlights. Snowbrush, Ceanothus velutinus.
Back on the main road. Dan actually took a trip around the block in Cascade because I missed this ram when we passed the first time.
We got to McCall and Chris and Meryl were waiting for us at The Pancake House, not far from this sign. After breakfast we followed them to the grocery store so Chris could get groceries for the crew lunch. Dan waited in the truck while we were in the store. When we were going to leave he turned the key and nothing happened. More about that later. We left the truck in the Albertson’s parking lot and drove with Chris to…
…the McCall Smokejumper Base.
Dispatch is on the top floor and that tower is meant for drying and inspecting parachutes. You’ll see a view from the inside later.
This sign is in the reception area of the Base. Bottom of first paragraph: “…certain Forest Service officials who considered anyone that would jump from an airplane to be mentally unstable.”
Many of the 60-80 (?) jumpers live in barracks for the season although some live in town. The 9 rookies in training also live in barracks, but when at the base for the first 6 weeks this was headaquarters. The surrounding structures are for training. The platforms behind are connected to ziplines which are also connected to another structure and they practice jumps and landings.
I think this is one where the person is lifted in a harness and then “dropped” to learn how to land safely.
Another view of the platforms where the zip line that comes from…
…here ends. That barrel-looking structure at the top is shaped like the plane and the opening is where the jumpers leave the plane. They are attached to ziplines that end at the other platforms. During this training the rookies are running everywhere—up all those stairs, for miles around town and in the mountains (picture running under a ski chairlift to the top of the mountain in the snow), doing hundreds of pushups, sit-ups, etc and learning all there is to know about procedure from packing their bags to packing a parachute. There are plenty of pass/fail opportunities—you pass this test or task or you’re off the crew—so they all feel a lot of pressure until that first six weeks is over and they are still there.
There are three airplanes. This is one of the two owned by the Forest Service.
This one is a contract plane.
We were able to go inside to check it out.
Inside the base. This is “the box” where everyone stays organized. Name strips are placed in order under various columns and in order of who is next to go out.
This guy is in the reception area to show the gear when a jumper is ready (although hopefully they haven’t forgotten there boots!). Under the suit there knee and elbow pads, and sewn-in hockey pads around the back and thighs. The big blue bag is where they carry all this gear and when empty it gets stuffed in the back of the suit for more padding, along with other things (sleeping bag?). Now I’m not remembering everything in this suit but in the leg pockets I think they are carrying 150 feet of rope and other equipment so they can get out of a tree if that’s where they end up. They also have water and some food there. There is a personal bag in front that includes things that may be needed immediately. The green bag is a reserve chute complete with computerized electronics that includes an altimeter and measures rate of fall so that it will be released under emergency conditions. Some of the gear includes a special bag to stow that reserve chute after landing so that it won’t get damaged by moisture. The main parachute is on the back.
After the jumpers are off the plane then the food, water and tools are tossed out.
These next couple of photos aren’t very good but this shows the racks where the jumpers that are on the ready list hang their gear. One of the tasks on which they were timed at the beginning was getting into the suit and all the gear in place in a certain time (I think a little over 2 minutes). Crew members that are not going on the immediate flight have a checklist to go through for all of the jumpers who are going, safety checking them after they are suited up.
These are racks of gear ready to go—boxes with tools, chainsaws, water, etc.
The role of the smokejumper is to get to small fires that are in remote areas so that they can control those fires before they can grow larger and potentially catastrophic. They may put the fire out or maintain control until ground crews can get to them. At that point they may have to bundle all their gear (110 pounds) into the big blue bag (which becomes a back pack) and hike out. Eventually they will meet up with a truck or boat or aircraft.
When they are back at the base the parachutes are hung up in this room (the tower from one of the first photos) to dry out if necessary and where they are checked for damage. The orange chutes are the new square ones being used at this base for the first time this year and the blue ones are older round ones. I think that the orange ones have more options for controlling where and how the jumper lands. They drop from 3000’ and jumpers with the blue ones jump from 1500’ (if I have that right).
I had no idea that all the gear except the parachutes are made at the base. This is the sewing room. It’s hard to tell here with many of the chairs up on the tables but there are lots of sewing machines and other specialized equipment in here.
Raw materials ready to be sewn.
If this was a fabric store this would be called the notions department.
Parachute repair. I’m not sure what training goes into this part but the first year jumpers don’t do any of the sewing. It’s all about safety.
This is the room where the parachutes are folded on these specialized tables. In training Chris said that it took him four hours to fold a chute. One of the trainers , talking to Dan at the other end of the room, said that he can fold four or five in a day. This speaks to the attention to detail that is necessary—checking every little fabric fold, the position of the cords, etc. This is another of the tasks that the rookie jumpers do over and over and are checked on each one (by unfolding). Chris had to fold twenty chutes and be checked on them (or was it ten??-too much info to remember) before he was considered jump ready.
The new crew members learned on the orange square parachutes because the older blue ones will be phased out.
I also don’t remember what these tools are but each crew member (but not the rookies yet) has his/her own. I’ll have to ask Chris bout this.
There was a lot to take in at the base. It’s all very impressive and there is so much about this that I didn’t know. I hope that we’ll go back later in the summer and be able to see it all again.
Back to the Albertson’s parking lot. The key turned but nothing happened. In fact Dan had disconnected the battery because all the lights inside the dashboard were on but the key wouldn’t turn them off.
No auto mechanic places were open on Sunday. We had happened to see the owner of the local AAA truck near the smokejumper base and she said that her trucks were all going to Boise and besides there was nothing open. So Dan looked on Youtube and we went to the car parts store to get an ignition switch.
This is a long story but the guy at the auto parts store had suggested calling a locksmith. When the part we bought didn’t make any difference we did call the locksmith. Thank goodness he was working on Sunday. He happens to have a hobby of working on late 90’s Fords and knew this truck fairly intimately. He figured out that the ignition switch (not where the key goes in but at the base of the steering column—that small tan box) was not broken but the rod that connects the part where the key goes in and the switch (the box) was broken. You could actually use the small pin that sticks out of that tan box to turn to the truck on and off, as long as the key is in the ignition because there is a chip that has to be recognized. So he had us up and running and we were able to continue this trip without other mechanical issues. Dan now has the truck torn apart here and is waiting for a part to fix this correctly.