That line headed the email the leader sent out last week to the whole Crew and interested parties in the weekly summary of trail work.  I had to read the words again: “Easy Day.” Say what? We had a 10-person crew for logout of the Erma Bell and Mud Lake trails, the former being a 9 mile loop around the three Erma Bell Lakes in the Three Sisters Wilderness; the latter’s adding a smaller loop south past Mud Lake to Taylor Burn. That’s enough people, right?

Well, by the end, I didn’t think the day was easy; I was beat. On the drive to the trailhead, we encountered a large maple that fell on the Aufderheide at MP 6 requiring the four of us in the vehicle to exit. Two of us cut the maple with a hand saw and a D-handle saw; the other two picked up debris and cleaned the road. Here I was, a half hour from starting to work, and we already had done a tough one. At the trailhead, we split into two groups, one doing a lighter log load on the west side of the lakes, the side that allows one to actually see them.  I wanted to hike the east side of the loop, having logged out the west side the prior year, when snow at the higher south end prevented us from finishing the loop.

It was buggy, about as buggy as I’ve seen in Oregon, but I was the only one not wearing bug netting. I’m lucky; I don’t react badly to mosquito bites, and I figured—correctly, as it turned out—that once I started working, it wouldn’t be too bad. We got on the heavily shaded trail, fairly flat, which crosses the Skookum River entering the The Three Sisters wilderness.

The trail splits after the first 0.7 miles. There was a single log down early that I started to move off the trail, pushing without success with my legs, finally waiting to get help from two more behind me.  Log moved,  I soon turned eastward, where the two others ahead asked me, at the second log, to cut the branches that hung down. They had the big saw and were going to cut just larger logs, skipping the small stuff. I had three different size smaller saws and took care of the branches. As I moved forward again, I caught and passed the pair’s working on the next log. I soon cut out three small logs and pushed four others off the trail. Some I had to break apart to do so, but they broke easily and it didn’t take much time to move them. I was briefly passed, and then, as there was a bigger log, I would again be out in front.

I have had easier days. I crossed a stream that was fairly deep, managing to stay dry with my gaiters on that allow me approximately three seconds to do my business in 12 inches of water before I feel it. Three seconds was enough.  From the crossing, the trail climbed steadily until I encountered a pair of 6 inch logs. I had the D-handle with me, a 4 foot one or two person saw, and was able to cut out the first, having to make two cuts to do each and move them off the trail. I moved along and found small trees across the trail. Some I could move myself without cutting, others I had to cut, some on the ground I could lift an end and move; others were not so easy. I moved at least 10 logs without cutting. That took a lot out of me. I cut out another 5 small ones, but each one, along with some of the ones I moved without cutting, required me to take off my pack, do the job, and put the pack back on.  When I used the D-handle, I had to unsheath it, use it, and then put the sheath back on. I finally fell behind, because of some of the cutting I was doing went slowly. I was, however, finally becoming competent with sheathing the D-handle quickly.

Further up the trail, I saw the two who had leapfrogged me looking a pair of logs, one about 12 inches, the other twice as much. As I approached, one asked how my face was, since he was using a bug netting. I was doing fine. He was having trouble adjusting his netting; it’s hard to wear under a hardhat or even over a hard hat. He and I cut out the smaller log  and then the three of us took turns with the larger log, a nice one, where I could stand, take long slow strokes, and rock back and forth, almost like a dance. 

Further along, briefly with the pair, I came upon another log.  Two of us cut it out, and I suggested we lift and move it on top of a nearby downed log. We did that, and the log rolled down and away.  Moving the log itself is an important part of cutting. It is very seldom that one finishes a cut and the log drops and rolls to where one wants it.

At the next large log, about 15 inches, the pair told me to go on ahead. I soon encountered a mess of branches from several small trees that I needed to move out of the way. As I worked, the Crew leader called me on my radio suggesting I eat where I was, somewhere ahead of them. I asked if he could dispatch for the noon report, since I was busy. He said he would, I finished my log and moved to a shady spot, where I had lunch, along with the mosquitoes. I have taken to eating my lunch nearly horizontal. I can hydrate, eat, cool off, and look up.

After lunch, there were only two more logs to remove before we reached Williams Lake, nearly 5 miles into the hike. I had a choice to either go on and finish the loop, or go back the way I came.

Last year, I had a similar choice on the other side of the trail and opted to go back the way I came rather than forward on to snow on a trail I hadn’t been on before. That was a smart decision. I got back a lot earlier. This year, I decided to continue, past Williams Lake, loop around back along the Erma Bell lakes, the way I did the prior year. That trail is in much better shape, there was more shade, no creek crossings, and it is scenic.

I wasn’t hiking fast, I took a break, but otherwise I kept a steady pace and expected to see several back at the parking area, since I had further to go. Nobody was there, but they came soon after. 

I was tired. Normally, I try to take pictures. But working alone and the volume of work made photography a lower priority. Cutting, breaking apart, pushing logs, and putting my pack on a couple of dozen times took a lot out of me. I do not wish to work two or even three consecutive days, like I did four years ago. I find myself puffing after just pushing logs with either my hands or my feet; pushing a log with the legs is like hiking a significant distance. Erma Bells ranks as “moderate” for an Obsidian hiking group trip. But the Club members don’t have to size up and remove logs. Still, I’d rather do this work than just the hike. I have helped make the trail passable and know the area so much better.

Falls between Middle and Lower Erma Bell Lakes

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