Archive for August 10th, 2021

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.