Archive for June, 2021


June 28, 2021

A couple of years ago, in winter, I worked widening a trail near Upper Trestle Falls, above Brice Creek in the Umpqua National Forest.  I had significant job constraints: a rock cliff on one side and a 50 foot drop off down the other on the other side, with maybe 4 feet of usable space between.  

Cold day at Upper Trestle Falls

The work was safe enough; I had room to maneuver, could work a little with the Pulaski while standing just below the trail, digging into mud, clearing branches, moving rocks, establishing drainage—all the things that one does with trail work.  I had about 60 feet of trail to work on, and at 11:30, I took a break for lunch.  

Nobody else from the Crew was nearby; they were filling in root wads a half mile back down the trail, trying at least to re-establish the trail, an honorable job I have done as well, but I didn’t see any point in hiking back there for lunch.  A few weeks earlier, on the other side of the ravine, I was again working solo at lunch time, decided to hike back to the Crew to eat, arriving as they were just finishing lunch, and then had to rush mine to rejoin the group. I look forward to lunch all morning; I am a morning person and do my best hiking and trail work early, and lunch in the woods if I am camped out is my favorite meal.  I usually have a protein bar sometime between 9 and 10, a holdover from 30 years ago in the Canoe Country, when doing trail work, I needed extra calories, so I downed a large Hershey bar in mid-morning.  It may not have been healthy, but it really perked me up.  Three decades later, doing trail work, or hiking, I have a mid-morning snack. It’s a little healthier but tastes just as good, and I look forward to it just as much.

At lunch, I get to sit down, take off my hard hat, lie down against my pack if I wish, and relax while I eat my sandwich.  Some of the crew have their lunches made by their spouses. Mine would laugh if I asked her to.  I’ve been making my lunch since I was a latchkey kid, some 65 years ago, and I know exactly what I want, adding a few more calories when I am doing trail work. I do not like being hungry on the job. 

This lunch spot was special. I had a bird’s eye seat at Upper Trestle Falls, and I can stare at water for hours.  I watched the water hit the creek far below and drop towards Brice Creek, then the Coast Fork, the main Willamette, and finally the Columbia before entering the Pacific Ocean. I wasn’t too concerned about the distance the water was going to travel. I was savoring my food, relaxing for the thirty minutes I allotted myself to finish raisins, chocolate, and apple, get a good drink, and steel myself for finishing this part of the trail before going back down and working on a root wad.

Behind the falls, on the trail

Sometimes, I have lunches at overlooks near the trail, other times, it’s just on a nearby log, with a place to put my foam pad and weary body, and stare at the woods across the way.  On Gold Point Trail, I relaxed against the steep backrest of the cliff behind me, staring at a tree that I suddenly noted had at least nine holes drilled in it for various nests, a woodpecker apartment building. You see a lot more in the woods when you can stop and just stare, without specifically looking for something. Trail work gives one plenty of chances to do that. Last week, lunch was near Lillian Falls below us, in lovely shade before we headed off to a remove a series of large logs that would be in bright sunshine, although when I played my cards right, I was able to wrangle the side in the shade to do my cutting. Lunch marks the half way point of the work day, it is the end of the best work I am going to be doing, and I need to pace myself carefully for the rest of the day, both working and for the hike back out of there.  I’ve still got an extra protein bar in the lunch bag; somewhere in the backpack are more calories. They need to be swapped out for something with a more recent expiration date, and I am not sure where they are, other than I know they are in there, along with a small bottle of water that is always good to see when it’s a hot day, and I have been vigorously hydrating.  

I usually don’t talk much during lunch. It’s sort of “Let your victuals close your mouth,” I learned as a kid.  Of course, if I am alone when I eat, that’s easy, but I usually don’t have much to say, so I listen and get a close look at the woods around me.  The nice thing about the Crew is we don’t talk politics.  I’m frankly hard pressed to remember what we talked about at the last lunch.  Maybe nothing. The other guys are just as hungry and tired as I am.  

A month back, on a rainy day at Erma Bell Lakes, I sat down in the woods in a relatively dry spot. I took off my hard hat and put on a wool hat that I had fortunately remembered to bring along. It was chilly, about 50, but I was fine until about 15 minutes into lunch, when I began feeling cold.  I cut the time short, got up, changed my gloves to dry ones, shivered a little it, and followed the rest of the guys down the trail to the next log. Lunch was necessary, but movement was more so, and I wouldn’t be warm again for an hour and three more logs cut out. 

Right after lunch on the Erma Bell Lakes trail

Half hour passed, time to get up, get the stiffness out of me, and get back to work.  Want people to have a good experience on this trail.

Working on a root wad in the rain in December, an honorable way to spend the day.
Oregon Anemone near Lillian Falls
Lunch spot at Vivian Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness


June 19, 2021

Black Creek trail connects the lower elevation Cascade Foothills, about 3300’ elevation, to Waldo Lake, which 2000’ higher, is definitely in the high country.  It parallels the area where Klovdahl was going to build a hydroelectric plant using the water from Waldo Lake and a few thousand feet of gravity to provide water to the Willamette Valley.  Fortunately, that venture failed, and the one time I hiked Black Creek, the penultimate final outlet to the Salmon Creek, and then the Willamette, I didn’t see evidence of the work from a century ago.

The Crew got word that the trail was almost impassable due to fallen logs, some of them huge, so we scrapped the plans we had for other work, many of the places still having snow present anyway, and the next work day headed 22 miles out of Oakridge to the northeast, the last eight on a road studded with serious potholes.  The only other time I had been there it was buggy, the road equally bad, but it was apparently too early this year and at least there were no bugs.  We regrouped at the trailhead, divvied up equipment, having a 7-foot crosscut saw, a 5-foot felling saw, a couple of D-handles, Katana Boys, hand saws, loppers, Pulaskis, and even a Peavy, for turning and removal of large logs.  

We replaced a missing trail sign at the beginning, then within 200 yards entered the Waldo Lake Wilderness, immediately finding several downed logs to remove, crossing several small side creeks, all the while hearing Black Creek to our right, as we slowly ascended. I did extensive trimming, or brushing, with loppers, of the encroaching Vine maples and salal, and we slowly gained a few hundred feet of elevation the first mile, removing about a dozen log obstructions, either by saw, by foot, or both, making good progress, until….

Replacing a trail sign with a new one. I know some are not in favor of signs in the wilderness. This sign is still outside the wilderness. I don’t have strong feelings about signs; I don’t want hikers getting lost, either, which happens in spite of signage.

This log was mostly rotten and cut more easily. The person in the yellow helmet will soon need to move, as he is in the path of the log when it breaks loose. He knew that.

We encountered The Log.

At 30 inches diameter, I have seen many bigger. I helped cut a 36 inch one near the North Fork of the Willamette River three years ago.  This particular log was part of a 250 foot tall Douglas fir that fell across the trail, and we were cutting the middle part of the tree.  Both ends were out of sight from the hill above or the drop into the creek below.  Because of the moderate angle the log had with the trail, the possibility of end bind, where the sheer weight of the tree above the area we were working would compress the wood throughout the diameter, was a consideration.  Worse, there was little room underneath the log, so we couldn’t place a saw under it to underbuck or cut upwards, which is another trick for when the log binds, or “grabs” the saw when cutting.  

Binds are a matter of physics: if a log is bent convex upward, the top fibers are under tension, and cutting them will tend to be easier, and the log parts upward, often with unexpected force, so one needs to be careful, but at least the saw doesn’t bind.  Cutting on the opposite side, at the bottom, of such a log is cutting into compression, and there the fibers grab the saw, where one can no longer cut.  We will call that “bottom bind.” If the bind is bad enough, the saw gets stuck. This sometimes happens if one takes a long break while sawing. It only takes a few minutes for the compression to reform after a cut and fix the saw like concrete.  That can ruin one’s time schedule. It can be difficult to rescue the saw, and nobody but nobody wants to leave a stuck saw in a log, especially a chain saw. Aside from the expense and the danger, it is a rookie error.

Top bind is the most common, when the log sags a little, and it binds at the top, so we carry hard plastic wedges to hammer into the kerf or cut to keep it open. We may put in 1 top wedge, then maybe 1 on each side, and I’ve cut with seven placed. We keep wedges in a pack, but I additionally carry two in my back pocket, because it’s faster to give one to a sawyer than it is to rummage through a pack finding one. The 2-man crosscut saws have a way to remove the handle at each end, so that the saw may be slid through the log at the same level where the cut was to remove it.  Often, that solves the saw problem. Side bind is very dangerous as failure to recognize it can lead to the log’s appearing to explode right at one. I’ve seen a log suddenly part 15 feet to the side and have a video of it somewhere. Given the weight and the speed, this can kill.  Each cut has safe and unsafe zones. Sometimes, the unsafe ones are fine until the cut is well along, and at that point the cutter there must stop, get out of the way, and let the partner finish the cut.

End bind, which we faced, is bind throughout the cut. If one removes the wedge, one may see the kerf actually close in real time.  When this happens, we have to “chunk the log out,” which means making a second cut a few inches from the first, then use the adze end of the Pulaski to cut out chunks of wood, put the saw in at the new top of the log and cut again, on two sides, then repeat chunking. Each cut might be 2-3 inches before we bound up.  Divide that into 30, and there are a lot of stop-chunk it out-continue times.

We had an additional problem: to get any depth at all with the Pulaski, we had to cut in the middle of the two cuts, so we could remove any significant pieces of wood.  We were cutting the log three times, maybe 2 inches at a time.

I was part of a pair who worked further away for the second major cut, which gave the initial cutters a break.  With some effort, requiring my sawing for a good 15-20 minutes at a time not seeing my partner because of the log, the wood finally parted, the ease maybe due to some interruption in the end bind made by the first cut.  Or good log karma.  Anyway, I didn’t complain. 

Having chunked out half way. 

Using my rest time to take a picture of what I had cut through. Notice that it is impossible to see the other Sawyer. The handle has been rotated 90 degrees to keep it from digging into the ground. The saw needs to be pulled through as far as possible to get the sawdust out of the gullets, the large elliptical blank areas in the saw.

We had hoped that removal of the downhill piece would make uphill work easier, but it did not. We had to chunk out the whole diameter, periodically trying the 650 mm Katana Boy or my 500 mm one, my Corona hand saw, and two long saws we had. I think we felt anything new might be better, and the person trying it began with high hopes, only to realize that thick wood, bind, bad log karma, and fatigue would soon stop any measurable progress.

Eventually, we reached a point where the log started cracking, and we were able to crack it away.  We had gravity finally on our side, and when the log reached the edge of the trail, off it went, four pairs of legs against it to push it away. It will decompose elsewhere, recycling into new soil, new huckleberry bushes, new trees, and homes for insects worms, and other small forest life.

It took 6 of us 5 hours to remove The Log.  There were two or three more this size in the next half mile to Lillian Falls. We would be back the following week.

Leaving the job site. The end of a Peavey is in the foreground. The sharp hook and the point can be used for two sharp connections with the log, allowing one to pivot or move it. At least in theory. We did use it at the end of the job to move the log. We used every tool we brought.