Archive for October 25th, 2021

GUT FEELINGS

October 25, 2021

“Let’s leave our packs here and go ahead down the trail to get the last one. It isn’t far.”  My crew leader motioned me to go ahead of him.  I left my pack, and I felt strange without it.

Worse than strange.  Not right. 

I walked ahead anyway.  We were doing a simple logout of the Betty Lake Trail, a flat, 2-mile long popular hiking and winter trail that connects the Waldo Lake Road to the trail that goes around Waldo Lake, so this was a power saw job, although earlier I started to remove with my hand saw a small 4 inch log dug into ground, and when that bound up, used my axe. The log ahead was our last log of what was going to be an easy day.  

Small unnamed lake near the Waldo Lake Wilderness

Power saw logouts are easier in some ways for me, harder in others. I have not been sworn at on a crosscut logout. Well, almost. We were pulling a stuck saw up out of a log a couple of months ago, not stuck because of what I did, and my partner, the saw’s owner, freaked out that I was pulling too hard and would break the saw. (It wasn’t too hard and I didn’t break it.)  I have been sworn at and publicly shamed on a power saw logout. Everything there is potentially more dangerous. There is a fast moving chain with teeth, rather than a slow moving piece of steel with teeth. One can damage a power saw faster and easier than a crosscut by hitting a rock or ground, and if a bind is not properly appreciated, one learns very quickly, as opposed to much cracking and splitting that precedes the answer when a crosscut is used.

Staying well back. The ribbon on the axe sheath helps me find it.

But break any log under a great deal of tension with either, and the speed of the released log and its kinetic energy, a function of the mass and the square of the velocity, is unchanged.  A large log can move 15 feet in a split second. I’ve seen it.

I hadn’t swamped for several months with a power sawyer, but the rules were unchanged: I stayed 12 feet back; some sawyers want me back as much as 20. Each has his or her own rules. I checked overhead, looked around. It’s easy to get focused on the cut, but I needed to look where the cutter wasn’t looking to make sure there were no snags that could come down, no hikers coming up the trail, the log being cut wasn’t moving inappropriately from some other log we hadn’t seen.  If wedges are needed, I have them available and the axe to pound them in with. A year earlier, as I went by a log a sawyer was going to cut, I noticed another log on a slight incline perpendicular to to the one we were going to cut. When the cut log fell, the secondary might roll, and if so, there was only safe way to deal with it. The cutter didn’t see the secondary log, which was partially hidden from his view, so I yelled to him to move over to my side. Being a bit gun-shy, I couched my words carefully, “You might want to be on this side when you cut.” The cutter moved over, cut the first log, and immediately the second log, much larger, rolled down over the trail where he had just been.  I got thanked for that one.

As I walked, I became more uncomfortable.  The trail went downhill, and the “short” distance was longer than I expected. I didn’t like being without my pack out here. Eventually, I reached the log in question, forty vertical yards below and five hundred trail yards further from where I started.  The log was cut, and there were no problems.

I was relieved and could not wait to get back up the trail to my pack. I had just made a bad decision and had gotten away with it.  Such a result doesn’t retrospectively make the bad decision good. It wasn’t. The probability was low there would have been a need for my pack, and everything worked out.  But it might not have. That was the second bad decision I made with my pack this year, leaving it to go elsewhere.  I dropped it to power brush, because carrying extra weight plus a power brusher, going uphill, was fatiguing.  A mile later, I had no pack and the group was still ahead of me. I had to go back, retrieve my pack, return, then have lunch. It was a short day, and the group was returning after having eaten, so I had to again return along the trail. Bad decision. I don’t like making bad decisions.

Not having a pack with me meant if my partner had an accident, I had no radio, no pressure bandage, no Pulaski (I did bring my axe), no way to get help. A simple day, a simple log, would have just become a major problem, preventable and frankly inexcusable.  I should have spoken up, or at the least gone back and put my pack on. I know better.  Out there, we all do. The only decision I should make is whether to fasten the belt buckle and the chest strap when I put the pack on or leave them unfastened because the distance to the next log isn’t far.  In either case, I have a pack right near me with everything I need. It’s difficult enough to do first aid in the woods; it’s shameful to have brought everything out then not have had it accessible because one was lazy and didn’t want to carry a small weight a quarter mile further.

So from now on, the pack stays with me. I will listen better to my gut feelings and act upon them.  Yesterday, I had a planned personal “this is a drill, this is a drill, saw accident, saw accident” moment in the driveway at home, where I emptied out the first aid bag from my pack to see what I have and don’t have. I really didn’t know for sure.

Turns out that I was in decent shape, but I had a few things I could add to the bag which would make it better: I didn’t have scissors or a knife, I discovered an ice pack I could use, a tube of antibiotic ointment, and some mole skin.  The clotting powder, splint, dressings, two Israeli bandages, and wraps were all there.