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.


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