ROCK WORK


I wished I hadn’t hiked Spencer Butte the day before, I said to myself arriving at a nasty climb on the North Fork trail, 2 miles into our work day, where we had already done along the way considerable sawing and moving mud to clean up a trail damaged by numerous uprooted trees with associated root balls, AKA “rootwads.” I was I crew leader to boot, mostly because I was willing to organize the group when the usual leader was taking a well-deserved week off.  Three others signed up to go out with me, each of whom had decades of experience more than I dealing with trails. 

I trudged up the climb I had done a couple of months before, one that seemed to go on and on, when I saw an orange hardhat ahead, where Chris was trying to dig out a rock. Half the trail tread was gone, sloughed into a pile of rocks and mud below.  Tom joined me, and we started filling the hole with rocks.  The good news was that there were a lot of them available. The bad news was…well, it was Rock Work, and if I start handling rocks, my arms are going to be toast before long.  

Tom and Chris working. I’m resting, taking pictures. Somebody needs to document the work.
The completed job…at least until the next season maybe.

Tom was stronger. He went and got rocks, putting them in. I sat among the rocks, picking them up and shot putting them into the hole. Chris gave up on the trail rock, as it was a lot bigger than thought and deep into the ground.  After we had enough rocks, we made the pile even with the usable tread, then covered it with dirt, tamping it down, making it look like undisturbed trail.  Then we continued uphill further, until we reached a ridge about 300 feet above the river.  It was another half mile to the next rootwad, and Chris and Tom would keep on going.  I stayed to fix it, which I did with Steve, doing additional trail repair nearby where the trail was starting to erode.  At least there was no rock work with this one.  I went yet another half mile to a bridge across Leapfrog Creek, a normal intact bridge, where I had lunch and checked on the radio with Tom, who was waiting for Chris, who as usual had gone even further ahead.  

When it became time to hike out, I was beat with 3 miles to the cars.  The hill we climbed, we could descend but all I seemed to notice were the uphill sections on the way back. After a mile, I was able to leave my tools under a log that we would work on the following week. That at least freed my arms to complain only about gravity, rather than holding something against gravity. Climbing the nasty hill at the end, muddy steps, branches and logs to negotiate, required two rest breaks for all of 75 yards gain.  

Pass the jelly. My arms were toast that night.  Rock work.

I know a couple of guys whose first day with the Crew was carrying rocks. They never returned.  I was luckier.  I had my first experience my twelfth time out,  I looked it up in my trip diary. I remember having to fill buckets with small ones and carry them to where rocks were being placed in the middle of a muddy trail at Terwilliger Hot Springs.  The further afield I had to go, the more difficult the carrying became.  It was work to dig the rocks out, put them in the bucket, then carry the bucket, eventually 100 yards, then empty it one rock at at time. That was one trip. Eventually, I decreased the load in the bucket, preferring to walk more than to carry more.

That winter, I did more rock work at Fall Creek, building a rock wall along a trail. I again had a bucket and had to find rocks. When one does trail work, there is a quick appreciation for places where there are a lot of convenient rocks or a lot of good soil. The finished rock wall looked nice, but within a year, a storm destroyed most of the trail, including the part we worked on, and a Sisyphus crew is now working on it. No good deed goes unpunished.

Rock work in the pouring rain, Fall Creek, February 2019

Two years ago, we did rock work on Brice Creek in the Umpqua National Forest, a popular ten mile trail along the Creek of the same name, where the crew leader one day asked us to dig rocks out of the trail and out of walls along the trail. I was more experienced by then and didn’t say anything, but I had noticed walking to the start of the job that there were many soft holes in the trail where rocks had been removed. I think the idea was to have the trail wheelchair accessible, but the holes just made it more difficult to walk on, let alone push a wheelchair.  I don’t mind rocks on a trail. I use them to push off when hiking. If wet, I am careful walking on them.  That day, we used pry bars and a 9 pound hammer that we swung at a rocks sticking out of a wall as well as out of the ground. At that point, Lacy J. Dalton’s song “The Boys of 16th Avenue” came to mind, and I did wonder why we were doing this. I wasn’t alone, either. That was about as tired as I’ve ever been after a day.

Areas needing work on Brice Creek Trail. The clear spots had already been done.

We use rocks for stabilization, we use them for steps,  and we pull some out so we can get at decent soil underneath to help rebuild a trail. More than once, after carrying a large one, I’ve dropped it on the trail, only to have it land wrong and roll off, crashing down below. That’s a bummer.  Other times, like yesterday I was carrying one, dropped it by mistake, and it ended up being a perfect step where it landed.  Rock karma.

Fall Creek Trail, November 2019

Occasionally, I see a few on the dirt road coming or going. Then I have to decide first whether I can get the car over it without hearing a horrid “Clang,” or whether I should get out of the car and move it, so that I and nobody else has to think about it.  That’s where I try to use my feet.

Because I think if I so much as touch a rock, I am going to be really tired at the end of the day.

Last day working before the lockdown, Fall Creek, 12 March 2020

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