Archive for October, 2019

TRAINING DAY

October 27, 2019

We saw the vehicle with hazard lights on, just before we arrived at Box Canyon, at about 3700 feet, where we were going to log out part of McBee Trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness as part of crosscut saw training.  It was raining something that looked white. Good hypothermia weather, although sawing logs might keep us warm.  

Nobody at the car flagged us down, and we didn’t see anything, so we pulled into the parking lot, got into all our rain gear and personal protective equipment—hard hats, gloves, safety glasses– had our day packs on and were ready to go to work.  Five of us were getting some training, and while I had been in the woods crosscutting with the crew 19 different times, I figured I could learn some more.  It was my first time working with a saw since I broke my hand backpacking around Mt. Hood two months earlier.

We crossed Highway 19, the Aufderheide, a scenic but not often traveled 60 mile road between Highway 126 from Eugene to Santiam Pass and Highway 58 between Eugene and Willamette Pass.  Box Canyon was equidistant from each side.

While crossing the road, the truck that had had its hazard lights on stopped and asked if we could help. 

 
“There’s a car over the edge with a guy pinned in there.”

We had completely missed seeing the car.  Anybody could have.  The details weren’t completely clear, but the car was apparently driving west from Oakridge and heading towards Terwilliger Hot Springs the night before.  The hot springs are closed at night, but that didn’t stop people from using them. There were three in the car; the driver and one passenger were hurt but were able to leave and apparently flagged a car down and had called emergency.  An ambulance was heading up from the McKenzie River side, the north, but it was probably 40 miles, and the last 30 on the Aufderheide were narrow and bumpy.  They would be at least an hour and a half, maybe longer.

We walked towards the accident scene, about two hundred yards. My leg was bothering me, so I lagged behind.  We brought our tools, because we weren’t going to be doing any logging for a while until we understood the situation.  

A small, red car had collided with a fir and left a 7-8 inch gash in the bark, but not too deep.  The car had somehow turned and faced perpendicular to the road, engine compartment smashed in on the right, the windshield ready to give way, and the car was on some sort of stump, suspended, so it remained horizontal with the rear wheels several feet above the sloping forest floor under it. 

The other passengers or the hunters had put blankets on the victim, who was conscious but in a lot of pain from what appeared to be a fracture of the femur.  There was little we could do: one of the others in our group, who knew I was a physician, looked at me like I was supposed to do something.  We did not want to touch the car, and everything appeared relatively stable, so we waited for the emergency personnel to arrive.

About an hour after we knew about the accident, an ambulance arrived, a crew of first responders, someone from Eugene Mountain Rescue, and an Oregon State Police officer soon after.  They stabilized the car, started removing the passenger side front door, and got a backboard ready. They wanted to take the patient directly up the bank, which had a lot of brush.  

“Do you guys have loppers to cut out this brush?”

“Does the Pope have a Bible?” I thought.  We are a bunch of wilderness trail workers.  We had five loppers among us and cleared the bank in as minutes.  Then there was another issue.

“We encountered two logs coming in on the road.  We winched one out of the way, but the other needs to be removed.  Can you do it?”

Why yes, we can, but unfortunately, we aren’t the chain saw group. Still, we had bodies and we had a 5 foot, 2-man crosscut.  Four of us left and drove north down the Aufderheide about 6 miles, where we found a 75 foot western Hemlock down, the top covering about three-quarters of the road. This would be a big part of the training, cutting the tree out.

Of the four, one was an experienced crosscut sawyer, two were beginners., and I knew enough to be helpful. I was able to work with the two new people; we had to make two separate cuts because the log had such a top bind, or compression, we couldn’t get plastic wedges in to the kerf, or cut, to open it. We had to “chunk” the log by cutting and then using a Pulaski to remove wood. Eventually, we got through the log and with 4 of us pushing with our legs, moved it off the road, opening about 80% of the road there.

We then got back in the car and drove back towards the accident site.  Not five minutes later, a small group of cars, including one ambulance, came the other way.  

We had lunch standing up, by the trailhead in the rain, and then hiked into McBee trail, clearing about a mile of it.  When we came out and drove back to Oakridge, we came upon the tow truck with a red car, crushed front end, but no longer with a person in it.

Upper McKenzie Fire District first responder at the vehicle. The brush we would remove is in the upper right corner.
Log cut out. We didn’t cut from the road edge, because it was a lot thicker there and there was some time pressure to get the road open. The cut section is at the top.

CLOSING THE CIRCLE

October 1, 2019

I had never triple carried a portage before: 5 trips across, 3 carrying gear and 2 backtracking to the start to collect another piece.  Fall-Newton, the portage named for the lakes where it started and ended, was only about 90 rods or a quarter mile, but that was still a lot of walking. There was some time pressure this first day out, because of a possibility of significant rain later in the day or evening.  Still, I got an early enough start and a late day would occur only if I were choosy about campsites. 

I was operating with one good hand, and I didn’t want to push matters on the first carry.  I got the canoe up on my head with a sharp pain in my left wrist and carried it across the portage, getting the same pain removing the canoe from my head.  The large pack was carried across without incident. On my fourth trip across the portage, to get the last pack, I encountered a group of young men, three to a canoe, a guy at each end, the third presumably spelling one as they walked across.

I’ve never portaged that way, preferring to flip the canoe up on my head and shoulders and carry it that way, pack at the same time or separately.  For a brief moment, I wondered if I should tell them how canoes ought to be carried across.  Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut, after I saw what was in the canoe.  They had all their gear, unsorted, in the vessel, plus each guy was wearing a small backpack with more gear.  Given their strength, it certainly appeared easier to walk the canoe across than to be “pure” and do it my way, especially since they were going to make one trip across, and I was making five.  With all that loose gear, they would have taken five trips, too.

I looked into the last canoe and saw my food pack.  The last group noted it at the end of the portage and put it in the canoe.  How nice of them!  That saved me a bunch of time.

Newton Lake, my canoe in the upper center.

I’ve certainly done a similar thing for other people when I have been on a portage and a group was coming the other way.  I picked up loose stuff and carried it across.  It’s something you do for others in the woods, if you have the ability.  You help someone; some day someone helps you.  It’s a circle.

It was on this same trail, seven weeks shy of ten thousand days prior, that this particular circle began, the summer of ’92.  I was working with the Forest Service as a volunteer wilderness ranger, and we were camped at the end of the portage, on the Fall Lake side.  While we had lunch there, we heard a crash in the woods.  I got up and went to look, finding a canoe in the middle of the trail, almost exactly where I was standing in 2019.  There was nobody around.  

Figuring the person was headed our way from Newton Lake, I picked up the canoe, put it on my head, and took it the rest of the way across the portage.  It was a 75 pound Grumman “AlumaPig,” as we called them, and that summer I had no problem carrying 75 pound canoes.

Ten minutes later, after I was back finishing my lunch, the presumed owner appeared.  

“Oh my God, thank you thank you thank you!” He called.  I waved. 

“Need any help?”

He did, so my partner and I walked the portage back to Newton Lake and we decided what gear to take. On the walk, we learned the man was from Florida, and this was his first—and last-trip to the Boundary Waters.  He had had enough.  The conversation went something like this:

“This place is awful.”

“Really?” I responded, “I’m a volunteer.  What went wrong?”

“The lakes are huge, and it was windy the whole time.”

“Yes, that can be an issue.”  Builds character, I thought, but decided not to say it. 

“And the fishing sucked.”

“It has been a tough summer for fishing,  It has been very rainy, but we did get some walleye in Basswood the other night.”

“And it’s so rocky on these PORT uh ges or por TAJES, whatever you call them.”

“Builds character.”  I couldn’t resist.  Shame on me, but hey, I was carrying his stuff.  

The man stared at me.  “And the bugs!!”  He paused, staring at me.  “Or are you into them, too?”

I’m truly sorry he had a bad trip.  I have had less than ideal trips, too. Still, I helped the man from Florida, and it was fitting that on the same portage, years later, I was helped.  That’s closing the circle.

Even the difficult days in the canoe country—especially the difficult ones—are memorable.  I remember fighting two foot waves in the rain on large Agnes Lake on the Canadian side.  We camped on Silence Lake that night, and I told my partner to get into his sleeping bag and warm up, while I got wood and made a fire—one match even.  I have few other recollections of that trip.

The same partner and I made it through a swamp to Silence Lake from a different side a couple of years later.  It poured that night, and neither of us had dinner.  We were beat, mostly dry and weren’t about to get wetter again trying to make it.

Or the 20 mile day down Basswood River on a late September day in 1992, standing up at times because I was so sore sitting.  I got hissed at by an otter in Wednesday Bay on Crooked Lake, and reaching the main body of the lake, my arms about ready to fall off, the Sun was a large red ball appearing to bounce of the white pines somewhere over Friday Bay.  I put up the tent, ate dinner and went to bed.  That was the night I heard the wolves.

Or the day my wife and I went down the Frost River and fifteen portages later, reached Cherokee Lake, We had been a bit behind schedule, but we were smart to leave the river for the beginning of the day.  I’ve never before or since put a canoe on my head that many times in a day.  As we paddled out to look for a campsite, some people hailed us and asked what the weather was going to be.  I said, “Rain.”

“How come?”

“New south wind, and up here that means low pressure is coming.”

It rained the whole next day.  It was fortunately a day of rest for us.

There are also the days like the one on Museum Bay in Lake Insula, a decade ago, when after dinner, we heard “clop, clop, SPLASH,” and spotted a moose, half mile away, walking along the shore.  That’s the reward for all the hard work; indeed, the hard work IS the reward, as every outdoors person worth his or her salt would say.  Wilderness writer Sig Olson wrote that eighty years ago.  

Thanks, guys, for bringing my pack and making my day easier.  I appreciated it.  You closed a circle for me, and some day someone will close it for you. For the one guy who noted I was solo and said he wanted to go solo, may you do it and enjoy it thoroughly. Thank you for showing me that the way you portaged, gear in the canoe, can work quite well.  I was wrong all the time I thought that was silly.

It’s just not for me.


Red sky in the morning.