Archive for August, 2021

I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE

August 25, 2021

The young woman knelt down next to the gray squirrel at her feet and opened a bag of peanuts. Oh no, I thought, not this again.

I was at the top of Spencer Butte on the Club’s Wednesday hike, not planning to stay long because I could both smell and see smoke in the valley.  The air quality wasn’t great, and I didn’t bring my N95. A young boy about 2, a young woman in her late teens, and an older woman came up and stopped about 10 yards from where I was sitting.  Disciplining strangers is often unwise. 

I had to say something, or at least I was going to be angry with myself if I didn’t: “Please don’t do that,” I said in a voice that asked, rather than demanded. The woman stopped and looked over at me.

I continued, “They will get fat and die, because that is not their usual food.” I then looked at the young boy. “They also will bite, and I have seen that happen.”  Indeed I had, at the Grand Canyon, years ago, when a young boy screamed bloody murder after being bitten by a squirrel right outside the visitor’s center on the rim.  I think several of us there smiled. Experience is a great teacher….She stopped feeding. Others from the Club arrived on top, and I don’t know what later happened. Unfortunately, the squirrel was already fat and it was quite likely someone would feed it more that day.

I thought later I should have walked over and explained so many reasons why not to feed the wildlife: they won’t look for their natural food, they will spread fleas as well as a risk of diseases like tularemia, Lyme disease, and salmonella.  Feeding squirrels turns them into pests, not pets; the week before, 5 squirrels came at me from the points of a pentagon as I opened a protein bar to eat, after I got to the top. This isn’t good and it isn’t fun. Years ago at the top of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, we had to move where we ate lunch, because the squirrels were practically walking on us to get food.  We thought then it was ridiculous and sad, and it still is. The outdoors is not a petting zoo.  Feeding squirrels is not leave no trace.

Perhaps my saying only that it will kill the squirrel eventually and that they may bite might be enough.  But I doubt it.

Three years earlier, when 15 of us in the Club were up on top in the same place, one person started feeding a squirrel. I exploded, “Don’t do that!” I yelled. The guy kept feeding, saying “It is organic.”  I was so angry, both at him, as well as the fact that nobody else in the Club said a word, that I hiked down immediately and went home. Even 2 years later, the guy occasionally brought up the squirrel incident in a sotto voce comment similar to what my mother did when she was angry but didn’t want to make a scene. He and I were once friends but haven’t spoken much since.  He doesn’t like rules, doesn’t like being told what to do, although he has told off mountain bikers who had the same right to the trail as he, and thinks he knows what a squirrel should eat. He also sees me as a hiking competitor, although I decided to walk away from the notion of competition, which I find can be toxic.

Don’t feed wildlife: animals should if anything want nothing to do with you. My goal is to observe an animal and then back away without their obviously showing they were aware of me.  They probably were aware, but if they didn’t change their activity, I wasn’t being a pest. I have a fond memory of the August day on Kekakabic Lake in the Boundary Waters in 1986, where I snuck up to a beaver while in a canoe, got within a few feet, then backed off quietly without disturbance. I got my look; today, I would stay further away, but the main thing was that I didn’t disturb the animal enough so that they expended calories or catecholamines moving away.

* * *

The individual above was camped on Basswood Lake with me when after lunch he asked whether it was OK to throw an apple core into the woods.  Excuse me? This is an outdoorsman or a man outdoors?  Really? After all the Boundary Waters instruction campers have about leave no trace, which means no cans or bottles, clean out the fire area when you leave, don’t cut green trees, use only the wood you need, be sure the fire is dead out when you are off the campsite, and carry out your trash, it’s OK to toss an apple core? No, I replied. Here is the garbage bag for the trip. We no longer burn trash, either, which got rid of bulk, but polluted the air. It is the 21st century, not the mid-20th, when while we should have known better, we didn’t. At Crow Lake in Canada, we sunk cans in the middle of the lake every day.  Amazing.

Looking across to the campsite on Basswood Lake where I kept one apple core from littering. This is not pristine wilderness, but that doesn’t mean it should be a dump, either.

Four times at lunch now, when I have been with the Crew in the woods working, someone has tossed an apple core into the woods. I cringe when I see this. Apple trees don’t grow in the wilderness. Apples themselves are food but not natural food for animals. They are litter.  OK, a trail maintenance crew hardly is leave no trace, cutting out blowdowns, hacking away growth near the trail, and digging drains along or in the trail, but the idea is not to leave food scraps around for animals to find.  It is unhealthy for them and nothing degrades the wilderness experience quicker than seeing someone else’s garbage.  I have to figure out now how to deal with the apple cores and not annoy the Crew.  The first step is to watch where the core went and quietly go pick it up, put it in a bag, and carry it out. I am, after all, wearing gloves, and the weight and bulk are non issues.  The next step might be to put the plastic bag in the center of the lunch area and ask people to drop their apple cores there.

After all, if I need to be instructed on the saw occasionally after 50 days going out on 2-man crosscut saw crews, it’s only fair that perhaps I should instruct others who have been going into the woods maybe 50 years about leave no trace ethics. The world has changed.

EATING THE ELEPHANT

August 10, 2021

I was the first one there. Oh man, What a mess.  There were three large logs on and over the trail, having fallen in just the right way (or wrong way from our viewpoint) to land directly on the trail, not across it, where we could make two cuts and be done with the log. Nope, one was chest high and over the east side of the trail, there were two on the ground in the middle, and at the south end were two more broken off logs, 15 feet long each. Most call this jumble a jackstraw; when scouting a trail, I referred to it as a “mess,” as I did above.

Several of the logs had branches that in themselves were significant work to remove with a hand saw. While I was waiting for the others to join me, I removed about ten of them.  Nothing could be done without their removal, in order to increase visibility of the log, and get a better idea of how it will behave when cut, and it is something that the first person there can do. Like vacuuming at home, or doing the dishes, one doesn’t announce to the others the completion of the job.  It is assumed someone will do it, and this time the job fell to me.

Working on this area is dangerous in at least two different ways: first, removal of the smaller branches is not major cutting, which means it may be done with less preparation and more unpleasant surprises as results. The second is with all the sharp protrusions, falling can be really nasty. Seeing these on a hike is potentially a hike ender.

Looking at the mess, we all just wanted to bypass it, for this area on the trail has had bad blowdowns for the last three years I know of, and the year before that the Crew spent 8 weeks on the trail and probably some right at this spot.  Last year, I spent three long days clearing the 6 mile trail. 

We were 5 and tackled the logs with a plan by splitting the crew in two and working from each end. This increased our production and kept us out of each other’s radius of danger.   Then, it was a matter of starting, focusing on the task ahead, not worrying about how long it was going to take. It would take a while. The day was going to be warm and smoke already present from fires south of us would give over to thunderstorms in the afternoon, but it was hazy already and humid. After hiking in nearly three miles in with full gear, we were plenty warm.  

Two other logs were across the trail about ten yards to the south, and they were dealt with by two cuts each. The larger logs parallel to the trail were cut in about 12 foot intervals, enough to be useful and still be manageable to move off the trail, where there was limited room due to thick brush and small trees adjacent.  We used my strap, a cut tree for a pry bar, and three pairs of hands or legs to move everything we cut.  There was a lot of discussion about where we wanted the log to go, what needed to be removed or done, and who would do what.

Plenty of work for everybody except the cameraman, who was taking a break. Note the haze.

Little by little we had more room, the trail began to be recovered, and we could start to see what needed to go and what could stay.  Fortunately, the logs were green enough to cut easily, and the only problem we had was a log that had cracked. Normally, one would think dealing with a cracked log would be less work, cutting through the crack, but that is a bad idea.  We tried to break the log apart with a Pulaski and ended up with the mass of wood fibers going in several directions, making a cut almost impossible and prying out the wood difficult enough.

Two 12 foot logs that were at the north end of the mess were pushed off rather unceremoniously.  Any way that worked we used, along with several methods that didn’t work.

After a morning’s work, we were left with two more cuts, one to make the trail a little wider, and as that occurred, we decided the second cut, which would do the same, was not necessary.  

Clearing the trail itself required the same philosophy.  There were hundreds of logs down, and each one needed to be evaluated, the cut planned and completed, and the log moved.  The only way to do that was one stroke of the saw at a time, one cut at a time, one log at a time, one bite of the elephant at a time.  Hand Lake Trail is famous for downed logs, because most of it had been burned over in 2010 in the Scott Mountain fire, and after several years, dead trees start falling over with the wind—or without it, for that matter. Every dead tree was a candidate for falling in addition to the live ones that had blown over. We would return here, but we weren’t sure when. Thunderstorms rolled in about 2, so we left, and lightning struck north of us in the Mt. Washington wilderness, starting yet another fire, leading to the closure of the trail the next day.

Hand Lake Trail in the burned area, 2020.

Hiking out of the Mount Washington wilderness. The Three Sisters are in the background, the volcanic debris from 1800 years ago is to the left.