Archive for May, 2021

TURNING AROUND IS UNDERRATED

May 30, 2021

I realized at 1:30 pm that we were over 3 miles from the trailhead with all our work gear and still going further away. We had to hike out at some point and drive home, making for a long day, and I was beginning to think I needed to say something to the crew leader.  Some leaders have a good sense of time on trail; others seem to be able to work non-stop all day. I ran into both kinds in medicine, too, and the group with whom I practiced was full of the latter, which is one reason why I ultimately left. I’ll admit it; I get tired, I get hungry, and I can’t go-go-go for 12 hours.

The four of us had done good work, cutting out two dozen blowdowns on the trail to the west side of the Erma Bell Lakes, a trio of lakes in a beautiful forest due north of Waldo Lake. But it had been rainy, temperature in the upper 40s, and at lunch I had cooled down. My wet gloves did not help.  I was saving the dry ones for later.  I at least brought a wool hat to use during lunch, but I had the hard hat back on, and cutting out two small logs had only slightly warmed me up.

We ascended another 100 vertical feet into snow patches and at a trail junction held a powwow. It was obvious the loop the leader wanted to do was out of the question, but he wanted to go on to a second junction with the trail up the east side of the Erma Bells.  I committed to the 0.8 miles to the junction and hoped to arrive no later than 2.  

Logs like this that fall along the trail often require multiple cuts. Between Middle and Lower Erma Bell Lakes, Three Sisters Wilderness,
May 2021. Once the second cut was made, the four of us pushed the log (600-800 pounds) to one side of the trail using our legs.

Within 200 yards, we had encountered more snow and another blowdown. This section was going to take longer than 30 minutes.  One of the others, Sig, and I cut out the obstruction and pushed it with our legs off the trail into the snow. He commented to me that walking in snow was going to slow us down.  I thought that it would also cool our feet, which isn’t what I wanted, especially since they were finally warm.

About an eighth of a mile from the junction, I started walking on snow the whole time. The other two members of the crew stopped and said they wanted to go on to the junction and up the east side back to the vehicles.  I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know the trail, there would be snow for at least the next half mile or even more (I would later learn the trail would remain at the snow level for about a mile and a half), and unknown numbers of blowdowns would be an issue.  They would scout the trail, but that would slow them down even more. This was a long day, I was tired, and warmth required me to keep moving–preferably towards the trailhead.

I was concerned when the leader said his GPS had us at 6 miles in. Mine said 3.8, and a sign I had read at the beginning said our hoped destination was 4.5 miles. My GPS, map, and sense all confirmed each other. He was operating with a faulty GPS.  Since we wouldn’t finish the trail, I suggested we come back another day and log out the eastern side of the trail and the far southern end of the loop.  That was thought to be reasonable, but we ended up going our separate ways, Sig and I back the way we came; the other two’s continuing on around.

They were experienced and good hikers, but it was late in the day and they were tired, too, whether or not they appreciated it.  I was back at the car in an hour and a half, Sig a few minutes later. We knew the trail, we knew it was clear.  He was going to wait for them; as assistant crew leader, he let me leave.  By then, I was warm, mostly dry, and just tired, but not unduly so.

My decision was right and smart.  The other two, who knew the trail, were in good shape and did not have any problems. We each made our choices.  They did encounter deep snow and at least 40 various sized blowdowns. I would not have enjoyed dealing with that.

I’m not afraid of turning around. I did it on the hike to Young’s Rock a few years ago when I encountered a huge blowdown with drop-offs on one side and a cliff on the other, all snow-covered. I looked at all options to go over it and finally decided to turn around and head back.  It was a good decision. One day this past winter on snowshoes, I turned around and retraced my steps, not finishing a loop. That was the right decision, too. Only twice can I remember stopping and checking the situation before deciding to continue. Once was my first hike on Obsidian Loop, when I was in a snow field and actually took a few steps back before turning around and going on. I had a GPS for the first time and realized I could have my track traced rather than turn on the instrument and see where I was. I had a tough hike, six consecutive miles off (but near) the trail, but I completed the loop—without snowshoes. It was a great hike but not the smartest thing I have done.

Blowdowns blocking the route, Young’s Rock Willamette NF, April 2016. My walking stick is about 1.3 m in length. The log was cut out about a month later.
Small Lake on Obsidian Loop (7000′ or 2100 m.), where I was probably the first to see it that season. Getting away with something doesn’t mean it was safe. Obsidian Loop, July 3, 2014.

The second was doing Duffy Loop, which the map said was 19 miles but was actually 23.1.  At 8 miles, I realized the GPS was either over-reading the mileage or the map was wrong. I sat and decided what to do and decided to continue. It was a long day. I had lunch at the 13 mile mark in a nice woods and watched my water carefully.  The problem with that approach is that water needs to be drunk, not conserved, on a hot day.  The west side of the loop back to the main trail was in an old burn and had blowdowns and no shade. I got back to the car where fortunately I had water and drank heavily.

I should have turned around.  The other mistake I made was not to stop and drink out of a stream. I risked giardia, but it would not have been dumb.  Now I add a water purifier to my pack along with chlorine tablets.  

I don’t regret the times I turned around. Either I didn’t have the legs that day, I had a bad map, or trail conditions were worse than expected.  Trail not yet walked is seldom flat with no obstructions. There are instances where feeling like one has to do the distance is akin to summit fever of mountaineers. I have endurance, but I am old and have nothing to prove and a lot to hurt.

I’ve been accused of being too analytical and neither enjoying the hike nor the view.  When I am in the woods, I do monitor myself, the GPS, the map, the sky, and the conditions. I can’t exclude the possibility of an unexpected medical problem, but that’s what InReach is for.  I can exclude as much as possible getting lost or in over my head.  I know many in Search and Rescue. I don’t want to have them go out there to rescue me from my own sins.

For the record, I identify wildflowers, birds, and can describe the trail a year later. I also know whether I want to do the hike again. Obsidian Loop I’ve hiked 11 times; Duffy Loop I will never hike again.

THE ROCK AND THE FLOWERS

May 22, 2021

So THAT was the rock Jim was talking about, around which he wanted me to dig out, because the trail would be safer behind the rock than the foot wide passage on the creek side, where a misstep would lead to a nasty fall.  There was a 10 foot formerly burned log on the adjacent hill that dived into the soil by the rock. What was I going to dig out?  The log was in the way, and nobody could go under it. 

The Rock

I had a Rogue hoe with me, not quite as good as a Pulaski for serious digging, but good enough in the soft soil of Fall Creek. I easily dug out what I could then stopped to think about the whole matter.

The Crew was restoring Fall Creek Trail, a national historic trail supported financially by some retired Forest Service employees and volunteers like us, who drove there on our own dime, with our own tools, and worked on our own time. On a somewhat drizzly morning, six of us crossed Fall Creek on a wet log well above the water.  I had been over this log a week before under dry conditions; this time I crossed crawling.  It didn’t help the previous night I awoke with a premonition I was going to fall off the log. I didn’t feel safe standing, and besides, I had knee pads. I crossed without incident.

Crossing the creek.

We hiked uphill a quarter mile, where we had logged out the week before, repaired several hundred feet of tread and began work from where we had left off.  I was sent to “swamp” (help) a crew member with a chain saw, so he could log out everything beyond to where the trail reached its highest point.  Once we did that, my job was then to descend to the creek and take care of rerouting around the rock and to repair a small piece of the trail that I had left several weeks earlier. I had been upset with myself about not having done more than place a small log with some rocks at the edge. The trail was not quite a foot wide, twice that or a bit more would be much more safe.   

The sawyer trimming before cutting the log. This would take three cuts plus a lot of smaller brush removal.

It was an easy hike down, I found the spot that needed widening, and a few yards later saw the rock and the log.  If I could deal with the rock, I could have lunch and then deal with the easier matter of widening the trail. But how?  I pushed on the log, and it at least gave a slight bit of motion.  I climbed up the steep, soft slope, grabbed some grass and put my legs into the log.  Not much happened, but I felt a little give.  

I returned to my pack and took all three saws I had, a small hand saw, a 14” hand saw, and my Katana Boy 500 mm saw.  I also took the thick cloth tape I had out of my pack, a wedge, and took another look at the bottom of the log.  I couldn’t cut out too far above it, because the whole log would come down on me.  But I could cut near the rock, so I began with the Katana Boy, finding it good for a while before it bound up.  I then switched to the 14” saw, finding some of the log rotten and easily flaked off. I stuck the wedge in and pried, removing more material.  I finally cut through, and the log shifted downward a couple of inches. 

That was encouraging, and I went up the bank and pushed some more.  The log moved a little, but not much.  I cut more off the bottom, tried pushing, and did it again.  Each time, the log shifted a little. I finally went up the bank and pushed, this time actually moving the log out of the depression it had formed. There was another burned out branch from a log that was holding up progress, so I removed that, too.  I pushed some more, and the log shifted about ten degrees. Now it had to be removed or marked as a hazard with colored tape, announcing to the world the person who had caused this was a rookie.  Couldn’t have that happen.

So, I pushed hard, and the log finally paid the gravity bill, slowly rolling off the hill to the trail, then bouncing off the trail, rolling down almost 100 feet to the creek.  All that remained was to clean up the soil that came down.  The bypass would be fine, and I was pleased with my result.  

Rock without the log with a bit more cleanup to do.

I ate lunch, listening occasionally to the chain sawyer working on logs back up the hill.  I don’t set out to eat lunch alone on trail crews, but frequently I end up in places where I do.  The creek was beautiful, the light rain more than welcome, and I had a big part of my job finished.

I then started widening the trail, working below the edge of the trail standing on loose soil, my knees anchored at the edge. With the hoe, I pulled plant material off the inner or “strong” side of the trail, easily getting into subsoil or mineral soil, which we wanted to have on the trail. The width was just over a foot, with places where erosion could easily destroy the whole trail.  I dug up small and large rocks, placing some at the “weak” or outer edge, piling the dirt at the edge and some of the grassy clumps as well, which retained their soil and I hoped would transplant. 

I was limited by large rocks on the inner aspect of the trail, which I couldn’t remove.  I also noted two lovely False Solomon’s seal plants in full bloom, right above the narrowest part of the trail.  Normally, we cut out plants; the ubiquitous Sword ferns were cut off along with Maiden Hair ferns with their black stems. They grow back quickly enough. There was a carpet of moss, too, which I hated to pull up, but I did and tried to place it on wet soil.

But I wouldn’t cut out the False Solomon’s seals.  They were the nicest I have ever seen.  So I let them hang over the trail, after photographing them and smelling the gentle, sweet smell they have. In a few weeks, they will have gone to seed and hopefully have spread their genes elsewhere.  Some time next year, we can come by with a power brusher and remove the dead stems and maybe see several big new plants.

I was finished here. The trail was wider, the bypass around the rock more than adequate, and the False Solomon’s seals saved.  When I told Jim that I had moved the log out of the way, neither embellishing my actions nor discussing the flowers, he just looked at me, nodded, and said, “Good.”