WEARING RED…AGAIN


I looked at the log on the side of the trail, tempted to leave it where it was. The trail wasn’t blocked badly, it was hot, and the log looked heavy. We had another two miles to log out.

Then I said to myself, you’re in charge, so deal with it. I picked up the end on the trail end and lifted the log up to the uphill side. I didn’t like that, however, for I knew it was going to roll back into the trail sooner or later. So I went above the log, sat down, put my feet against it, and gave it a push. It rolled down across the trail on to the other side.

Much better.

In nearly 200 trips I have taken with the Crew, someone else was in charge, responsible for posting the work party online, ensuring we had permission, filling out the comms (communication forms with the Forest Service) report, setting the meeting point, radioing in our location and number to Eugene dispatch, holding the tailgate session at the trail head as a final check before we headed into the wilderness with saws, Pulaskis, and other tools to clear them.

Six times I had led, but on non-wilderness trails where we had to fill in root wads, do tread work, or power brushing. I can carry a power brusher, I can start one, and I know how to use it, so those were easy. Winter trail days are shorter, closer to home, and if the weather is not suitable, we just leave.

Logging out a wilderness trail is something in which I have participated 75 times. Twice this week on Olallie Mountain, I was to be the Crew leader, in charge. It was my job to have the equipment there, to know what needed to be done, to be responsible for what went on, to radio in to the Forest Service before and after. This is a job of a B-certified sawyer, and when I got my certification, I expected and was expected to do this.

The first day, there were only three of us: one well experienced who just wanted to be out in the woods; the other with some experience, but not as much as mine. We worked our way up the trail, all of us staying together, plenty of good ideas from the oldest, but for the first time, I was the person of record. We moved about three dozen logs over a mile and a half, making good time, until we reached a 17 inch one over the trail.  I called a time out for lunch, because I knew this log would take time, and we needed to sit, eat and to cool off. 

It was different being in charge. It always has been for me. When I was at Pathfinder in Algonquin Park in the sixties, I went from a camper to third man, second man, and finally head man, in 1967. There was a long, not always pleasant learning experience on the way, as I grappled with how to lead without being a jerk but still getting things done and helping the campers have a good trip. The person in charge always thought of the whole group. Like all head men at Pathfinder, I wore the red neckerchief. The canoes were red, the email address today contains the word “redcanoes,” and they enjoyed my blog post on the subject years ago. I wore my red neckerchief on solo canoe trips the past forty years, for it reminded me of those days. I even put a red neckerchief on the teacher’s desk by me the first day I substituted in a math class as the teacher of record, nobody else responsible. Eleven years later, I had my red neckerchief on again at Pat Saddle Trailhead for Olallie Mountain, for I was again in charge, doing my work, but watching everybody else, where they were were, and then schlepping my pack up Olallie.  I made sure nobody was lagging or looking badly. I realized it was I who needed to be listening to the radio chatter to make sure there were no new fires on the forest, for this time of year, we have to be ready to move out of there quickly.

After lunch, we had to underbuck the low end of the log across the trail, cut it from below, because sawing from above was going to lead to binding. Then, as the log dropped, as it would, we were able, with a strap, to pull it to one side on a long, concave piece of trunk that we had removed earlier, where the cambium was unbroken and slick. With the cut end of the  log on it, with one pulling from each side and my pushing with my legs from the far stump, the log slid slowly but definitely on the cambium layer off the trail. The whole process took over an hour, and after a couple of more logs removed, we headied back down the mountain.

Two days later, I had a more typical crew of seven to deal with the rest of the trail. We met at the usual place in Springfield, drove 40 miles to the Aufderheide Road, which connects the roads to Santiam Pass and Willamette Pass, to and across Cougar Reservoir dam, 15 miles up FS 1993 to Pat Saddle trail head. At the tailgate safety session which I led, I outlined the day’s plans. We then started hiking 1.75 miles in to where I had finished two days earlier.

We have to hike in some distance, often 3-4 miles, before we begin logging. It’s a long hiking day by itself, and that doesn’t include the multiple times putting the pack on and taking it off, plus all the saw work. We reached the area I had turned around, and started work. 

After I had pushed the log off the trail, the next one across the trail had 30 additional feet of above the trail on a hill. When we cut out the round over the trail and pushed it off, the remainder started to slide down the hill, covering the trail again. That is most annoying. Cutting again was likely to produce the same result, so we put a person on the hill pushing the end down towards two of us below the trail, who pulled and guided the log over a smaller one below hoping it would more or less smoothly move down the hill. It worked; problem solved. 

At lunch, between two fire scarred areas where there was shade, I asked to carry the D-handle saw, so we could have three saw teams working at once in the afternoon. We had a couple of leaners where we needed a strap on one part, cutting off the end in the ground or pulling it up, while pulling hard on the top strap to bring the tree down to where we could cut it, in the case of the first, or if it were off the trail, just leave it, which was the second. When everybody is working well, there is a lot of give and take, exchange of ideas, people quietly helping to lift when two others have stubborn top bind but don’t need a wedge. Nobody keeps score; we just are out there to open up the trail.  In that way, we leapfrogged our way up the rest of the trail and finished by 2. It helped that the last, steep half mile to the top of Olallie Mountain had been previously scouted and there were no logs to cut.

Everybody hiked down safely, including the Crew Boss, who was not leading, who spent the day cutting brush off 200 yards of trail, all by hand.  We had some cold drinks, discussed the day, signed out with dispatch, and headed home. We’ll be back next year.

Chris with a typical log; a leaner with some bush needing to be cleaned up; most of the way through; South Sister; a high meadow at about 5000 feet (1500 m).

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