Archive for September, 2021

SEE YOU ON THE TRAIL

September 17, 2021

I met Anne quite by accident at one of the 23 drive in max-vax clinics at during the 11 weekends my wife and I worked there. We were at all at Autzen Stadium except for one, when we worked at the community college. Sometime in April, my wife and I were working the car line going to the vaccinators. We were in Lane 1 or 2, the busiest lanes and the last to close. We thrived on the work, the people’s thanking us, and probably the fumes.  We filled out vaccine cards so the vaccinators didn’t have to, spending the process. Our change became standard. Early that day there weren’t as many cars coming through our line, matters were running too slowly for my comfort, and for the comfort  of one of the vaccinators, who never in the time I knew him was ever too busy. I complained to one of the leads who was making the rounds, and he pointed to the first check in spot, near the road leading to the stadium, from which people were sent to us. They looked overwhelmed.

Meeting of the check-in people at the start of the clinic. One was well out of college and had her birthday. She was 1/3 of my age.

I walked over there, learned how the system worked and asked if I wanted to work there. We had enough people taking care of the cars in the line, so that day I worked check in.  This was the initial point of contact, where we had to pass out clipboards, use iPads to check people in, and ensure they didn’t run over the traffic control person on their way to one of 14 lanes. It required a lot of quick moving, dodging cars, and using a touch screen in bright sun or rain.  Anne was one of the leads there, and when the line of cars let up a little we got to talking about life and soon enough about hiking. She was new to it and was curious about Cascade Volunteers and the trails in the Cascades. I wrote down the names of several which I thought she would like.  Some I had just helped log out a few days earlier the week. 

I would work the check-in line three more times, although my preference was to get into the sea of cars, 14 lined up, collecting clipboards, checking information, filling out vaccine cards, giving advice, fielding questions, all in the 6 miles a day and 6 hours I walked from the vaccinators to the check-in point, over and over again.

After the last drive-in clinic in June, the regular volunteers returned a few days later to get T-shirts that celebrated our service. When I arrived to get mine, I met Molly, a hard charger who had run the UO volunteers and a good share of the rest of Autzen.  We both had deep respect for each other.  I didn’t see anybody else I knew. I got the wrong size shirt, as it turned out, so when I returned two days later, the last day to get the shirts, Molly said that Anne had come through right after I had and was upset that she missed me. I figured I probably wouldn’t see  her again or anybody else with whom I had worked, because I thought this experience was final. Still, I am old enough to have seen people I never expected to see again and seen places I never expected to see. 

Sure enough, a month later, at a pop-up clinic vaccine event at a high school, I ran into Anne.  I showed her a couple more pictures of one of our logouts and added a few other trails that were not too difficult but would get her and her husband well into the backcountry. 

My wife and I started doing more vaccine events when the delta variant arrived. Rather than one every couple of weeks, it became two a week. It affected my hiking schedule, just like the main vaccination event affected my snowshoe schedule back in spring, but to me this helping out for the duration is a high priority. I still had trail work on Thursday, and there were trail working events on Tuesday that were not too far out of town where I could work and then get to a clinic.

Besides, this hottest summer on record featured smoke throughout the American West, and we were no exception. I was going to canoe on Waldo Lake and then realized being out there in smoke was not going to be healthy. So I cancelled that, along with many possible weekend hikes I planned, those few weekends I wasn’t recovering from trail work.  Anne and her husband got to Yellowstone and loved the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, also my favorite part of a place I haven’t seen in 50 years.

Waldo Lake from Waldo Mountain, before the fires.

Last Friday at the Lane Events Center, we had our usual meeting just before we started vaccinating. It was announced that Anne was leaving after the event to take on another job. Given the workload public health employees have had, there has been turnover. Nobody came on board expecting to deal with a pandemic. At the end of the clinic, I walked up to Anne and wished her well.  I said the appropriate words, “Take good care of yourself, Anne. See you on the trail.”

***

I wrote the following for the Obsidian Bulletin, the Club magazine, asking for Club hikers to send me information about trail conditions so I could update the Web Page for the trail page for the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests:

“Please be careful in dealing with blowdowns. Some are unstable, there may be dangerous sharp branches; it is easy to fall, unsafe to try to climb over some, and trail erosion may have occurred. I’ve been turned around more than once by a log that I felt I could not safely go up, over, around, or under. Turning around sometimes is virtuous. These days I prefer to deal directly with such logs with the right tools, people, training, and protective equipment.Stay safe out there, and always remember that hikes may take longer because of snow or blowdowns that weren’t there the last time you came through. See you on the trail.”

***

Last week, the Crew had to log out the Benson trail on the west side of Scott Mountain in the Mount Washington Wilderness. We were to meet in Springfield where six of us would travel in two vehicles.  I was early, and as I drove in, I saw several familiar people there, but they weren’t part of the Crew; they were Club members, meeting for a hike. The Club has specific meeting points for hikes, and many hikes in the McKenzie Ranger District meet at this place.  I am leading a hike to Four-in-one Cone in three weeks and I will be meeting here, too.

Place on the Benson Trail a third of the way to the Scott Mountain Trail. The red bushes are huckleberry.

Snow on the rim of Four in one Cone; Mr Washington in center; Mt. Jefferson in distance. Three-fingered Jack is just to the right of Mt. Washington.

I got my gear ready for the logout, since I wouldn’t be driving, and then went over to talk to the group. They were hiking Broken Top, a long drive to a place I haven’t been and really should see. One of the hikers works with the Crew; he and I have almost switched roles—he does a lot more hiking with the Club these days and I don’t. On the other hand, I’ve been out with the Crew about 5 times a month for the last couple of years.  They left a little before we did, and rather than say good-by, I again said, “See you on the trail.”  

I occasionally do. I saw another Crew member on Waldo Lake Road last winter, going towards Betty Lake on cross-country skis as I was returning on snowshoes.  I have seen Club members on Larison Rock Trail, at Eagle’s Overlook over Odell Lake, while I was leading a snowshoe trip, I saw my barber, a past PCT thru-hiker, while I was clearing Brice Creek trail in the Umpqua National forest. 

Out in the middle of Betty Lake.

“See you on the trail” is goodby to people who know what is out there, in the Cascades, the Coast Range, the Rockies, the Quetico-Superior, the Brooks Range, where there are wild rivers, places where few know.  Or even places where many may go, but they weren’t there when you were. You may have gone on a weekday, when it poured rain, there was deep snow, or had blowdowns that you could get around and get back deep into that special country.  As my years of being on the trail are now limited, the term has new meaning: “See you on the Trail”—Capital T— now means wherever the Trail leads, to the back of beyond in the wilderness…beyond the last jumping off point, last hike, backpack, campsite.

See you on the Trail.

GETTING IT RIGHT

September 5, 2021

I was further behind than I wanted or expected to be and needed to catch up with the rest of the Crew as we worked north from the start of the Diamond Peak Trail, near Emigrant Pass and Summit Lake. We were leapfrogging each other, and I took the first blowdown, four smallish firs across the trail, by myself.  They turned out to be a bit more difficult to remove, having fallen deeply into the ground, and I used my axe and three saws—small hand saw, Corona, and KatanaBoy 500— liberally to where I could cut them, dig them out, and pull them off the trail.

Unnamed Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness, at the southern end of the Diamond Peak Trail.

At last, everything cleared and I moved on up the trail passing by a nice, small lake, where I saw Josiah checking out a 14-inch log over the trail.  I liked working with him; he had a wealth of experience about cutting and the superb judgment that came with experience.  The log was resting on a stump at one end and supported on the ground a good 10 yards’ distant.  I thought one cut on the opposite side of the trail from the stump would work, and I was half right.  I knew the log would have top bind, but it had been lying there for awhile and looked like it might be easy to cut from the top.

“Let’s underbuck,” said Josiah, quietly. “It will be easier.”  I was a little surprised, but I also realized there should be no binding at all from below, as we would cut through tension. We started working and I watched the kerf open up from below, exactly as it should.  We got almost to the top, pulled the saw out, and Josiah tried stepping on the log with no effect, then I hit it 3 times with the 1.5 kg poll of my axe, and still nothing happened. So, we cut all the way through, held the saw up so the falling log wouldn’t carry it into the ground. I grabbed the cut end and wrestled it off the trail, using the stump as a pivot. 

Not all crosscut saw work is cutting from the top through the log. Some is done from underneath, underbucking. While it is easier in principle to buck (or cut) from the top, because gravity pulls the saw into the log, the bind or compression of the wood is a more critical factor. Logs suspended between two points are likely to sag slightly in the middle and have compression of the fibers on the top side or top bind, which will tend to grab and hold the saw. If the top bind is not too extreme, then it is possible to cut through, using hard plastic wedges to keep the kerf or the cut open, assuming enough of the saw is in the cut so that a wedge may be placed, without striking the saw.  

Standard top cut with wedges placed. The poll of the axe in the background (the part without the blade) is used to pound wedges in. Notice the axe is in the log, not lying on the ground.

If there is top bind, then there is tension on the bottom, and cutting there should be easier. Underbucking is one of those tasks that I seem to do right, without knowing exactly why.  I learned that two years ago, out in the field with one of the more experienced sawyers in the region.  We were underbucking a log, and because I was with a good sawyer, I didn’t want to mess up. I was gently guiding the saw upwards, not pulling it up hard against gravity but just enough to let the saw cut. That was the trick. As I did that, the saw cut through well, and the man on the other end gave me the first compliment I had ever received in the then 47 times I had been out with the Crew. He told me I was one of the top three underbuckers he had worked with.  The Crew leader heard that.  It was a good day.

Since then, I have done a lot of underbucking, most of it good, occasionally some not. Having to underbuck a 21 inch green log the entire cut is torture. Some logs are on the ground and can’t be underbucked. Others should be underbucked early in the cut to remove compression and prevent slabbing, or having the log split longitudinally as it is cut in two.  It’s a matter of judgment and art.

There is another reason to underbuck, and that is to keep the saw from striking the ground. Nothing dulls a saw worse than cutting into dirt. When I got my certification last fall, one of the other candidates accidentally let the saw go Into the ground. I was looking elsewhere at the time, but I sure remember hearing the owner/certifier yell at the cutter.  Typically, when we get close to cutting through from the top, we slow down, make the cut shorter and have our hands ready to pull up the saw when the log drops, so as to not carry the saw all the way through to the ground. 

Underbucking.

On my third time out with the Crew, three years ago, I remember instruction being given to one of the members about underbucking after part of the top cut was made. What struck me odd was that coming from below, one does not want to aim for the kerf at the top but slightly off to the side of the log that is not going to drop. I later read about this, understood the reason, and then I did it when I was cutting smaller logs by myself. I didn’t need to underbuck, but I did it anyway, aiming as described.  By doing that, when the saw reaches the top part of the cut, even if a half inch away, the log will likely fall, and the saw is within the safety of the stable part of the log and will stay away from the dropping log. It’s kind of neat.

Last summer, we had a nephew of one of the Crew members for the season, and I worked with him a lot. We bucked out many logs last year, and we underbucked several. I liked working with him. He didn’t have a fast cadence, so I could keep up and work on keeping my end of the saw straight, letting him have enough saw to cut with, two important factors in bucking.

This past week, I found myself with another member of the Crew on an underbuck. We had enough room to get the saw under the log, and as we cut upwards, he kept saying his cut was perfectly aligned. Mine was not, but I noted with some pleasure that it was only about a half-inch offset in the proper direction away from the upper cut.  A little after the two cuts met, the log dropped, and there was the saw, protected inside the half-inch offset that I had made. It’s just slick, doing it right, and having everything turn out according to plan.

Notice how the left end of the saw is protected from the falling log by the offset of the underbuck.