Archive for June, 2022

STRAIGHTFORWARD DAY

June 27, 2022

The Salmon Lakes Trail was going to be an easy logout, a vacation compared to the prior week’s 13.2 mile trek through the Three Sisters Wilderness. I had scouted the trail 4 days earlier and had found 6 logs starting two miles east of the trailhead, inside the Waldo Lake Wilderness, which surrounds Waldo Lake on three sides, but does not include the lake itself. Once those logs were removed, I would hike about a half mile further to Upper Salmon Lake checking for logs. I doubted there would be many there.  It is fairly open on that stretch and the last few years has had few obstructions.

Waldo Meadows area

Half of the group would then head north up Waldo Meadows Trail where I had found another half dozen logs within a half mile, before being turned back by snow.  It was warmer, and there had been rain, so it was possible that enough snow had melted that perhaps the group could reach the junction with Waldo Mountain Trail a mile from the meadow and hike that back to the trailhead, logging it out and finishing the loop. In any case, it had all the makings of a straightforward day.

Two miles in, I took care of two smaller logs myself, moving both of them, helped cut out a third, and we all regrouped at Waldo Meadows, which was entirely visible, the snow’s having left probably not more than a week or two earlier. In summer, the plants are so high, one can hide in it. Indeed, 4 years prior, almost to the day, was the first time I saw the meadow, and I could barely find the trail. I thought that was the default view of the meadow, but the grasses and flowers are all annuals, and in early season it looks bare.

Waldo Meadows 8 June 2021
Same place 23 days later, 1 July 21

I headed to Salmon Lakes while three others in the crew with me took care of a log. The trail as expected was clear, the outflow of Upper Salmon Lake, which becomes a major tributary of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River in Oakridge, was flowing well. A patch of snow was near the lake, presumably in a shady spot or other cool microclimate. 

When I returned to the meadow, the log had been cleared, and I radioed the crew leader, who was above me on the Waldo Meadows Trail heading away. I told him we would continue logging out the trail another mile or so, heading towards Chetco Lake 2 additional miles east, before turning around. Before reaching Chetco, another trail turns northward and then west, climbing Waldo Mountain, 1000 feet above us, which now was still covered in snow and inaccessible, before descending to the junction to which other crew was heading. The full loop is about 9 miles, with 1700 feet of climbing, but the views from Waldo Mountain are spectacular.

Waldo Lake from Waldo Mountain. The paired Twins are across the lake

I put my pack on and started walking east through Waldo Meadows, the trail climbing slightly through grass, thinking that few trees are out here that are going to fall on the trail, so I will get some free mileage without logs.

I was so wrong. 

A 250-300 year old hemlock, part of a small island of a few trees in the meadow, had fallen smack across the trail, and its 47 inch diameter size gave new meaning to DBH (diameter at breast height). The downed log literally came up to my chest. I cleared a few branches while waiting for the rest to arrive.

After some soul searching and group discussion, we decided to remove the log. Making a bypass of the log in a trail in a somewhat fragile meadow is not something we want to do. We started one cut on the main log and a trimming cut on the end closer to the stump, where it had fractured. 

I’ve worked on several project logs, where most of the day is spent in one area sawing or digging. One was on the Vivian Lake trail where a tree had come down on an angle and had end bind, where the weight of the tree compressed the entire log that was lower. If one removed a wedge, it was possible to see the kerf, or the saw cut, slowly close. End binds have no easy way to cut. Last year, we had another end bind in a 30 inch log on Black Creek.  We finally had to saw parallel kerfs a few inches apart and then with a Pulaski knock out the chunk of wood in between. That means cutting an inch, maybe a little more, twice, chunking out the wood with a Pulaski, and continuing inch by inch through the diameter. This log took 5 hours to remove.

Two years ago, on Shale Ridge, in the same wilderness northwest of where we were, where I had just been certified, another log also had a bind problem, and one person spent 5 hours chunking it out while the rest of us logged out 3 miles of trail. We cut a small notch in the log for people could pass, but this was not adequate for horses, and a year later the job was to open up the trail fully. Seven of us worked together and cut a larger passage through. It turns out a huge branch which we couldn’t see had pushed straight into the ground, and only with a pry log, a lot of digging, and a great deal of time, we finally succeeded in pulling it out, which was essential to remove the round, or the cut piece. I saw the branch on my B-cert trip and had forgotten how large it was, the size of a moderate tree, explaining why it took so much effort to remove the log.  We have joked that we wanted to move the wilderness boundary sign past a problem log. 

Our current VLL (very large log) was able to be cut to ground level. Below that, however, we had to dig the dirt out and use care that the teeth of the crosscut not get into the dirt, which is damaging. Dirt isn’t good for small hand saws, either, but they are more easily replaced. We would dig out, saw, and finally use a KatanaBoy to finish the cut, which we did on the first cut after 3 hours and an hour later for the second cut, much of which was fortunately through a rotten area of the log. 

Moving the round, once it was cut, was another matter. We had to break it out of the ground and try to make the path to the side of the trail more gravity friendly. That took 3 people on as many PLTs (precision leveraging tools which were long logs used as lever), and all four of us pushing our legs, digging out blocking soil underneath, until at long last nearly 100 cubic feet of wood started to move. 

At least once it began to roll, it moved just off the trail and stopped.  Had it stopped in the middle of the trail, I think we all would have cried.

The author (right). Multiple hard plastic wedges are keeping the kerf open, or at least trying to.
The round off the trail. All that remains is a 3 mile hike out, with our gear.

BEING TESTED

June 18, 2022

“The National Crosscut and Chainsaw Program standardizes training, evaluation, safety procedures and certification among sawyers operating on public lands” managed by organizations like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Cascade Volunteers, affiliated with the Willamette National Forest, has a saw program where volunteers may be trained and certified within the organization, both saving the Forest Service time and making certification easier to obtain and renew. We require experienced sawyers as instructors as well as in the field.

Trail work requires bucking, or cutting, not felling. We don’t bring down trees, alive or dead, unless they are small diameter ones blocking a trail or being a hazard. We do, however, cut downed trees; we need are certified crosscut sawyers (bucking).  I felled dead trees in the Boundary Waters 30 years ago, and it takes a different set of skills to do that. 

The ratings are sawyer trainee, A (apprentice), B, certified and C certified, the last able to do major complex log outs, B sawyers are able to work independently and may supervise A sawyers. A sawyers must work under B or C certs.

When I began, I was unclassified.  I wasn’t even a trainee, which was fine by me, since I didn’t know what I was doing. With time, I did more logouts and became better at handling saws, knowing what to do, and being a part of a crew. In 2020, two of us were invited to the first saw certification program by Cascade Volunteers at Fish Lake, an old way stop on the Santiam Road on what is a beautiful lake three months a year, a meadow another 3-4 months, otherwise ice covered. The first day was didactic, learning about saws and their use. It was well done, and we had some practical experience nearby.  I learned, for example, that sometimes a difficult cut can be avoided by doing two simpler ones in a different part of a log.

That night, we camped out, awakening the next day in light rain to go over to nearby Patjens Lake Trail up on Santiam Pass, where we traveled in groups of 5, three trainees, an evaluator, and an evaluator of the evaluator, to hike in and clear logs. I had hoped maybe I could go for A and B certification, rather than just A.  I spoke to an evaluator whom I knew, and he asked if I were willing to be a crew leader. I didn’t see how I could lead without having the skills, but I couldn’t get the skills if I didn’t lead. Confused, I decided to get just A cert that weekend. The day was misty, cold, with periods of rain and wind, and we were in an old burn, where dead trees fall not infrequently, more when it is windy. I knew the evaluator. I didn’t know the two other trainees, one of whom was my age, the other had never used a crosscut. We each had three logs to supervise, and we all obtained A certification. One of our trainees was not well dressed for a day of rain and wind in the Oregon Cascades in late October. He was lucky. I was told not to comment on other people’s evaluation of their logs, but I got many comments when it was my turn, which broke my train of thought, so I couldn’t process as well, and it didn’t help my score, not that such mattered too much. Still, I got certified, knew what I needed to work on, and have carried my saw card ever since..

That winter, I was crew leader twice for trail work, mostly because I knew where the trail was and what needed to be done. Last summer, while doing 25 day trips for crosscut log outs, I wondered whether I was ready to try for B certification. I decided not to push matters, did my job, learned more, bit my lip when one of the guys with the same experience as I always managed to tell me when we were out together that I was “pulling” the saw in some direction he didn’t like. 

This past winter, I was crew leader four more times, doing trail work without crosscut work, but in charge, since I was running the power brusher, teaching people how to use it, and working a trail that I knew better than anybody else out there. It wasn’t a big deal, but my being crew leader was noticed. 

This spring, I decided I wanted to try for B certification. There were two others interested, and in March we were about to go to King Castle Trail to cut out some logs when someone with a chain saw and gas cut them out a few days before our visit. End of that. I did not hear of anything else, but there an online application where I signed up asking to be considered. The same evaluator to whom I had spoken earlier said that he would be willing to take me out. He had a trail in mind, and he wanted us to log it out, doing my B cert simultaneously.

Now I was nervous. How good was I? There were some A sawyers who were likely better.  Why weren’t they upgrading?  All I knew is that I felt ready. I had been working independently for some time.

I went online to the national program and noted what the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and University of Montana were doing, looking at pages and videos. I took a practice test, read the lengthy Forest Service saw manuals again, focusing on OHLEC, the mnemonic for approach to a log: Objective, Hazards, Lean or Bind, Escape Exits, and Cutting plan. I wrote down things to remember: O for me was also to look overhead for hazards, but also on the ground, in or on the log (bees, rotten wood), around me with other people, weather, and myself. Some were constant, like the ground, others, like human factors, could vary.

I went out with my evaluator to Shale Ridge, a trail that heads south from FS 19 into the Waldo Lake Wilderness. We got to the trailhead early, and I handed both my saw and first aid cards to the evaluator. I showed all the safety equipment in my pack, put on my gaiters, knee pads, carried my strap and wedges, put on my pack, picked up the heavy bucking saw, and we headed to work.

The first log, 20 inches, was right at the beginning. This time, I was making the decision on the cutting, nobody else. Wow, this is really my show. I voiced my thoughts: the objective was to come home safely, we were to cut this log and move the round (what was cut) to the side of the trail. There was a small tree hanging over the site that needed to come down. We needed to clear the site of growth so we could saw. I and my evaluator were fresh, comfortable, and ready to work. I first cut the small tree away by making a cut into the compression side, where the trunk was concave. Then I cut the convex side, where there was tension that I had lessened by the first cut. The tree fell where I wanted it to go, and I pulled it off the trail. 

Cutting is only part of the job. A few hundred pound log or round has to go somewhere. That is why I carry a strap, and we both use our legs if we have to push. The tree I cut at the beginning will keep the log from rolling back into the trail. Shale Ridge Trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.

With the log’s hanging over the trail, there was likely top bind or compression that might bind or catch the saw, and I discussed two possible plans, with emergency exits easy for each of us. As we cut, I told my partner about my keeping a rhythm, using the whole saw, listening to the wood, the saw, watching the kerf, watching the sawdust for changes in color, and feeling how the cutting was going. When the compression in the wood bound or pinched the saw, I put in a plastic wedge and pounded it in with the poll, or back side, of my axe. If my partner pounded in the wedge, I ducked my head in case the wedge flew out, keeping my hand on the saw, feeling it start to move freely, as the pinching lessened.  We finally cut through the log, keeping the saw from falling to the ground. We couldn’t pull the saw back up through the kerf, but I could take off the handle and let my partner pull it back through. Then I put the handle back on. That used to be difficult for me but is now automatic. We cut the log on the other side of the trail and pushed it away. I sheathed the saw, and we moved on.

We cut several 24 inch logs. On one, we made a third cut, rather than to try to push it off after two, because there were only two of us, and sometimes cutting is easier than pushing. The evaluator liked hearing my thoughts. I discussed similar logs I had encountered, because I have been involved cutting hundreds of them. What worked? What didn’t?  I became tired, because we were sawing and pushing large logs. I was short of breath from doing that. By the end of the day, the human factors included “tired, so be cognizant of that.”  But I added, “my spirits are good,” for they were. I knew I was doing well.  I was caring for the saw, discussing the kerf as we cut, commenting on how the saw sounded, noting roughness when we were cutting through a knot, and the darker colors of the bark in the sawdust when we were nearly finished with the cut. 

I passed. I knew I had. We hiked back out to the trailhead, past the logs we had cut.  When I signed out to dispatch on the radio, I looked down the deserted road, seeing something that looked like a large tire 75 yards away. Except there weren’t big tires there. And it moved. It was a bear. 

Great way to end the day.

HYBRID VIGOR, JUST NOT HYBRID HIKE

June 11, 2022

I had such a great time clearing rocks and small trees from FS 23, I decided on a recent Monday to check out FS 24 and check for obstructions.  FS 24 leads to trailheads for the Waldo Lake Wilderness, trails which are still under snow, being mostly above 4500 feet.  The road in to them is notorious for a lot of leaners (trees that are in the pre-fall condition) and downed trees. The Forest Service cuts out the big logs that block the road, but there are a host of smaller trees and other obstructions that scratch the vehicle and are not easy to avoid. If the trees or brush allow passage, even with the high pitched squeak on metal, few want to get out of the vehicle and clear them. In one direction, the trail is calling; in the other direction, people are too tired to get out of the vehicle and do more work.  On log outs, we always talk about clearing something minor on the trail “on the way back,” but it seldom  happens. We consider ourselves trail workers, although now I am adopting some back roads.

Two years ago, we had a chain sawyer help us on the Waldo Mountain Trail. The first mile was out of the wilderness, so he and I took care of the logs there. On his way home, he cut out several logs that were encroaching on the road. It was a pleasure to drive back. We need to do more of that.

Two days before I was going out to scout 24, I got an email from one of the Crew asking if I were free “next Monday” to help out to scout another trail, doing a car shuttle with him. Next Monday was tomorrow when I got the email, but I reasoned that I could help him scout the trail and then take the short drive to Oakridge and beyond to check out 24. 

The job was easy: I’d drive to Hardesty Trailhead; he and I would take his truck up Goodman Creek Road to the middle trail head for Eagle’s Rest Trail, then hike back down, scouting the trail for downed trees that needed to be cleared with a chain saw.  We’d get to the bottom,  I would drive us both back up to where we started, and we’d depart in separate vehicles. Four miles, elevation change: minus 1200 feet. Nice hike. Two hours, max. My big contribution came before the hike when I told my partner that we didn’t have to scout above the middle trailhead. The Crew had already cleared that part of the trail and I had walked down to the middle trailhead. That knowledge saved us several miles of hiking.

The weekend was rainy, although Sunday afternoon wasn’t, and Monday wasn’t supposed to be too wet, at least in the valley. Further east, conditions were a little different. Actually, a lot different. I don’t do day hikes out of town without taking some sort of rain gear along. Still, not impressed that there might be more rain than I expected where we were going, I put on some old rain pants and wore an old rain jacket. After all, it was 4 miles of downhill. I have rubberized rain gear, but hiking in it in warmish temperatures did not appeal to me. 

The problem I had was this was a hybrid hike: it wasn’t a typical day hike, because we were checking out logs and might be removing small brush. It wasn’t a work hike, because we wouldn’t be cutting out the logs, so I figured I did not need my saws, knee pads, gaiters, or both my trekking poles. I could have both a day hike pack and a trail work pack like some, but that duplicates everything. I can move something like a first aid kit back and forth, but that is easy to forget, and I have done that. I use one pack, and if I am on a day hike, I remove the wedges, the sharpening stone, the axe, and the radio. They all go in the trunk of the car in a box that I keep things that I may or may not use on the hike, like an extra bottle of water, a warm hat, or a second hand saw. Hybrid hikes have me now rethinking the whole process.

The trail was downhill, we would shuttle, and we would be working a short time. We both knew the trail was muddy and had stream crossings, but it was easy.

In other words, I was over confident and somewhat underprepared. I wore jeans under my suboptimal rain pants, because I work in trail jeans. I never hike in them. My rain jacket hadn’t been recently waterproofed; my rubberized gear for work is waterproof. I wore a hat, not a hard hat, and I had one trekking pole, not two, even though I wasn’t carrying anything. I just plain forgot to put on my gaiters and knee pads, although they were in the trunk of my car. The gaiters would keep my feet dry when I plowed through streams. I forgot my hearing aids that morning, although given the rain, that was a smart move. Even a monkey eventually hits the right key.  I did wear my heavy boots, although I wanted to keep them dry, because I had a saw certification test the next day, and I would need all my working gear dry and in order.  When I left Eugene, it was cloudy. Ten miles later, it was raining. The rain subsided for a while, but maybe a half mile into the hike it started to rain significantly.  A lot.

When one changes a routine, unless there are strong checks present, there is a high probability that something will be forgotten or go wrong.  Note to self: next time you change a hiking system, take 5 minutes to write out a new checklist. And use it.

We got wet. That was not unexpected. We found 15 logs that needed cutting, also not unexpected. Two of the logs were long enough to cross the trail twice. Another was 48 inches in diameter, and it would require a large saw bar to cut. I asked my partner how he got over that big log, since I went uphill around the root wad, where there was a small trail made by other users, and then came back down. He clambered over it, telling me that at one point, he was spread out on top of the log, holding the bark, and hoping he would not slide down the 20 degree angle into the stream. I shuddered, but I did feel like I made a smart decision. My rain gear is smooth, and I feared I might start sliding downhill on the fir express. 

Brad near the 45 inch log.

It took us only two hours to complete the hike. The brush was dense and wet, and I was first to pass through it.  When we finished, we loaded our gear and our wet selves in my car and I drove up Goodman Creek Road to return my partner to his truck. I stayed until I heard it start, then I drove back down and home, both front seats wet. I wasn’t going out that day to look at FS 24. I was wet, not cold, but not in the right condition to do road clearing, either.  It took my jeans two days to dry inside in Oregon humidity. 

Tomorrow I go for my B crosscut (bucking) certification. I plan on wearing my work clothes, knee pads, gaiters, having my saws and axe with me, along with wedges, a strap and hopefully a functioning brain.  I hope everything dries in time.

ROAD WORK

June 9, 2022

My left knee has bothered me off and on for a few months, the problem beginning last winter after a strenuous snowshoe up to Fuji Shelter from Waldo Lake Road. There is an easier way to get to the shelter, but the way I took had fewer people, and yeah, it was more difficult, the way I like it. Anyway, I got better and then snowshoed again, not as far, but apparently far enough to bother the knee again. Three more weeks off snowshoes and I repeated with another snowshoe, not too strenuous, but apparently my knee continued to protest. No change.

Canada jay with Diamond Peak in the background. Fuji Shelter

I was looking for a hike that I hadn’t done, interesting, and not too strenuous. A friend told me last year about Pool Creek Falls up FS23 out of Oakridge towards Vivian Lake, 19 miles uphill. We actually were driving by the trailhead at the time, but I couldn’t see anything. Turns out that at about mile 13, there is a small grassy pullout, and if one looks carefully, there is a trail. I had been by this a dozen times or more, usually dodging a big depression in the pavement there—AKA “sunken grade.” 

I drove up FS23, dodging a 75-100 yard long pile of rocks in the downhill lane 7 miles up and a few scattered rocks further on.  I stopped at a grassy area,I parked the car, saw the trailhead sign, visible only when one was not on the road. I got my gear on, and started up the trail. When I had gone about 20 yards on the trail, I realized I had to be on the other side of the stream to my left and had to turn around..  Great start.  I crossed Pool Creek on a bare, slippery log that fortunately needed only one foot to briefly touch, then started switchbacking up the muddy path.

To help my knee, I used trekking poles, rather than my Saguaro walking stick. I like the stick, a veteran of 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail, several national parks, including Gates of the Arctic in Alaska, where it was invaluable in stream and rock pile crossings.  The trekking poles supported my weight better than a single pole, and other than having to cross two close logs, the first by crawling over, the second’s having a notch cut through it, the trail wasn’t too bad; a quarter mile put me right in front of the falls. Simply beautiful.  Close to the road, but not easy to reach. 

Pool Creek Falls

I hiked another quarter of a mile around the falls and uphill, before I decided that I was by myself, there was plenty of mud to slip on, and I didn’t need to be adventurous. I turned around and slid back down. My knee was still fine, and I wanted it to stay that way.

Back at the car, I tried to go further to the Vivian Lake trailhead, going four of the 6 miles before I hit snow, which rapidly deepened. I stopped well before I was going to get stuck and turned around. 

On my way back down 23, I again saw a small tree across the the road.  I had driven over it on the way up, but I don’t like doing that and had time, a saw, and ability to take care of the problem. So I did.  There are several roads into trail heads in spring where there are blowdowns. The Forest Service cuts them out, sometimes with scanty clearance. It’s amazing what people will do on a road to avoid hitting a blowdown or getting out of the vehicle to deal with it. I plead guilty. The drive to Horse Creek Trailhead is a veritable zig zag from one side to the other. On the way in, we want to get started on the trail and don’t want to stop to clear the road. We’ll get it on the way out, except when we drive out, we are all so tired, we don’t. And so nothing changes. The rocks that had fallen on FS23 needed to be removed as well.  One can dodge these rocks, but on a trip to a work site along Hills Creek Reservoir a few weeks earlier, the driver thought his pickup would clear such a rock. A moderately loud scraping noise—the kind that makes you immediately think “oil pan”— told us we hadn’t. Fortunately, there was no damage, and on the way back I got out and removed the offending rock along with a few others. Remembering that day, I decided to clear rocks on this road as well. It was a nice day to work.

As I came down further, there was a tree branch over the opposite lane. Sure, it could be dodged by uphill traffic, but it was better if I cut it out. So I did. My knee was not bothered by road work, and there seemed to be a need for it. I finally reached the long stretch of rocks from where a good chunk of cliff had collapsed from the winter precipitation. There was mud over part of the road and a rock field out in my lane and even part of the other lane. This was a hazard. 

I turned off the engine, put on the flashers, since I was parked in the middle of the road, fortunately on a straightaway, so I would be easily seen in time. Anyway, I hadn’t seen a car since I had left Oakridge. The first two rocks were tossers, but then there were push hard rocks, lift and roll rocks, hike rocks, like a football, and a couple that weren’t going anywhere without a front end loader.  I worked my way down the road, wishing I had brought a shovel and a rake, but I had gloves and I had—uh oh not on—a hard hat. If ever there were a place I needed a hard hat, picking rocks out off a road below a cliff would seem like a good idea. I went back to the car and put on my hardhat. Twenty minutes later, the rocks were clear. The mud might last, or the next rain might wash it off. Then again, the next rain might bring down more rocks. Still, the road looked a lot better. I drove down to the nearly full reservoir and had lunch in the sun. Nice day for a hike and a little road work.

Before
After

This weekend, I am going up FS 24 to one of the Waldo Lake Wilderness trailheads. I don’t expect to do much hiking yet: the trails go well above 5000 feet, and there will be snow. But the roads will be heavily traveled by people this summer, people too busy to stop and clear the road going in and too tired and eager to get home to clear it when they leave. Maybe I can help.