Archive for September, 2022

JOINT EFFORT AT PATJENS LAKES

September 27, 2022

I almost quit the Crew three years ago while clearing Patjens Loop Trail, which runs from Big Lake into the Mt. Washington Wilderness and then back out to Big Lake. Perhaps a third of the trail is wooded; the rest is in a burn that has standing dead tress that topple over during high winds. One doesn’t hike in Oregon, especially in an old burn, if there are high winds forecast, because trees lose branches or just fall over. A Club hike a few year to Patjens during a wind storm was quickly aborted, when dead trees started falling all around the hikers. 

That day only five of us logged out about two miles of trail and at one point when a hiker went by, we asked how many blowdowns there were between us and the wilderness boundary. He told us maybe 20, but two dozen minus four logs later, we were nowhere near the boundary, and when the Crew leader asked if people wanted to quit, I alone answered an unequivocal yes. That was a 13 hour day, counting the drive, and Patjens was dusty, hot, with very little shade.

Two years ago, we began a joint annual project with the Salamanders, a crew out of Salem, where we had four crews, two crosscut and two chain saw, go in opposite directions; the latter’s cutting out logs outside the wilderness and the crosscut teams hiking to the wilderness boundary to start clearing. We finished clearing 7 miles in about 5 hours. 

Last year, we did the same thing, more logs, but strong crews, and while we didn’t have a golden spike, we were happy to see the other workers and finish the loop hike on newly cleared trail.

This year, nobody had said anything about the trail. I brought it up a couple of times but was met with silence. Finally, the trail crew lead for the district asked if we could clear Patjens. I said I would scout the trail, and a few weeks back drove up to Santiam Pass-Big Lake, and got on the trail in early morning.

The purpose of scouting is to locate all the logs that need removal, and measure their diameter. If the person scouting has been on a crew before, the individual has a good idea of how many people are needed and what equipment. I had a GPS, not for the latitude longitude components, although that can be useful on Gaia maps, but just the mileage in on the trail. I told the Crew Boss that I measured the circumference of the logs and multiplied by the reciprocal of pi, but basically I divided the circumference by 3 and subtracted an inch. He had pity on me and presented me with a tape measure with a built in pi factoring for converting circumference to diameter. 

I headed south on the trail, which is covered with a fine powder. I know Patjens well and once I reached the wilderness section, went by numerous logs that I had once cleared. The higher part has good views of the Three Sisters and exceptional views of nearby Mount Washington.  Then the trail descends into a wooded area where I went by a pair of logs the cutting of which I remembered from 3 years ago, a pond where I’ve eaten lunch twice, and an open area at the half way point that invariably has a lot of cutting in an place with no shade. 

At each blowdown, I would obtain the mileage and measure the log diameter, commenting if I thought we could push the Iog off or if it were rotten. I wrote down all the information, and then went to the next. The last part of the wilderness had about a log every 50 yards for a while, but there were no large logs. I found 79 altogether, not counting a few that I removed because they were small enough and annoying enough for trail walkers. A couple I decided to push off with my legs. Altogether, 79 is a small number for Patjens, and I suggested we could even clear it with crosscut teams alone and not use chain sawyers.

As it turned out, there was a full restriction on power equipment in the forest the day we cleared the trail, anyway, so we had four crosscut teams and fourteen people. We held our tailgate briefing in a big circle at the trailhead, split into the teams and went on our way.  It was cloudy for once, with a slight breeze and very comfortable to work out in the open. 

Our crosscut teams from the west entrance leap frogged each other, but the group passing tried to go several logs down the trail, so we wouldn’t be running into each other on each log. Sometimes, we will have the other group go about 10 logs down the trail, especially if the load is expected to be light and the cutting at each log quick. Other times, with larger logs, we stay close together, so we can have the whole crew work on a log if need be. Patjens was one of the easier log outs we had. To our surprise, there had been no new logs fall in the two weeks since I had scouted the trail, despite even a strong windstorm. 

We had lunch by one of the small lakes there. There are four such ponds, none more than a few acres, but they are nice oases in the junction between the forest and the burn. Right afterwards, we met up with one of the other crosscut groups from the east entrance.  Seven miles of trail cleared, and we were back at the trailhead by 2.

Patjens was burned in 2011, and it is past the time of the most trees that will fall over. Still, we expect plenty of work there the next few years. One advantage about trail work is job security.

One of the Patjens Lakes

Three Sisters from Patjens, August 2022

We left this leaner alone because there was some risk in cutting it out and there was an easy bypass. A year later, it had fallen and the trail bypass is the new trail. Ribbon is warning of danger–here, a dangerous log, other places for hornet nests or partially cut logs.

Clearing Patjens in 2021

THE FUN GUY

September 4, 2022

Years ago as a volunteer wilderness canoe ranger in the Boundary Waters, I and the Forest Service lead had lunch at the Fall-Newton portage, just inside the wilderness, our last night out on a trip.  We heard a metallic crash in the nearby woods, so I went to see what happened, figuring it had to be on the portage.  Sure enough, about 100 yards down the trail a canoe was sitting upright in the middle of the trail. Nobody was there.

Figuring the owner went back to get more gear, I picked up the canoe, put it over my head and carried it to the lake, placing it on the shore. A few minutes later, a man showed up grateful that I had moved his canoe. He had a pack and some fishing gear with him, and my partner and I asked him where he had been.

“I was on Basswood Lake, and it was just awful,” the man moaned. It took me hours to get to the campsite because of the wind.”

“Yep.” I nodded. “We were out there. It can really be windy.”

“It rained every day.”

“Yes, it has been a wet summer,” I replied. “The difficult days are the days you remember.” I heard those words years ago, and they are correct.

“The fishing was awful.”

“Yes, you have to know where to look, but they are there.”  

The man looked at me somewhat exasperated. “And the bugs!”  He paused, looked right at me.  “Or are you into them, too?” 

I laughed. I had come across for the first and probably only time as Mr. Fun Guy. He lived in Florida, and he wasn’t coming back. 

***************

This year the Crew finished the Benson Trail, connecting FS road 640 and Scott Mountain Trail in the Mt. Washington Wilderness, about noon, 1500 feet higher, 3.5 miles farther, in,  two dozen cut logs behind us on a hot day, just in time for lunch, a shady spot with a small pond nearby. Benson Lake itself was about a half mile away, along with Tenas Lake and a few others in the area. Some of the Crew decided to go visit them. I knew the lakes were pretty, but I wanted to sit down, eat lunch, look up at the sky or the pond in front of me. I was tired, but happy we got the trail done.

Nearby pond at lunch spot

The log out was a typical day.  We had to carry our packs and take a tool: shovel, Pulaski, axe, big saw.  Logging out a trail while climbing, taking off and putting on your pack a couple of dozen times, taking out a saw, taking the cover off a saw, dealing with a downed log, is work, especially when it is hot and buggy, as it had been. I need a full day at home to recover, and I am in pretty good shape, unless my knee or Achilles tendon is bothering me, which are two current problems that receive daily ice. Drinking enough is critical.

While we were there, a man came by and recognized the Scorpion sticker on my hard hat. We are the Scorpion trail crew.  I also have a Salamander sticker as well for the Salem crew, since I have done joint work with them. He was with the Salamanders and was hiking on our side of the forest with his wife, seeing Scott Mountain, which wasn’t far away and at 6000+ feet  has a great view of the nearby Sisters and the upper McKenzie River valley.

The man was tall, dressed perfectly to be where he was, as was his wife. We started talking about what we had just logged out, and he was interested. The Salamanders work on the forest mostly to our north, where we don’t work, and he kept saying how much he enjoyed the log outs. “They are fun,’ he said, at least twice.

Fun. Wow. I can’t say I find them fun, but on the other hand, I definitely look forward to a good logout of a couple of miles of trail with a decent crew. That means we will be working together to size up what a log is going to be like to cut, where to cut it safely, and how to get it off the trail. We will maybe do a loop or have a car shuttle, but more likely we will hike back the way we came, enjoying the now clear trail. Fun? Hmm. Need to think more about it, but I liked his attitude. He talked with us for about 15 minutes before leaving. After he left, one of the guys said, “What was his name?” None of us knew.  That made me feel better, because I seldom recognize people. I do better with voices, but I had not heard this person’s voice before. I am far too reluctant to ask people’s names. Many don’t know mine, but it’s on the back of my hardhat.

Five days later, I was further north and west, working with the Salamanders on Maxwell Butte. I didn’t know until two days before whether I would do it, for the trail itself climbs over 2700 feet in 5 miles, but it is a good trail that goes into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, where I had not previously worked.

Shortly after I arrived, a tall man saw me, recognizing me from the prior week.  As expected, I did not know him by sight. This time, however, I asked his name, hearing “Bob” in return. OK, Bob is the tall guy with real blue eyes whom we ran into at Tenas Lakes.

We had a nearly full crew of 11. Beth divided us into 4 crews, and my group would log out from the wilderness boundary a mile in to Twin Lakes, about 2 miles in. We did that during the morning, while others went to Twin Lakes and worked to the top, a third group, including Bob, used a chain saw to clear logs to the wilderness boundary, while Beth worked from Twin Lakes up the Lava Lake trail. 

After lunch at Twin Lakes, we worked over a mile up the Lava Lake Trail the next hour until I caught up to my group and said that I was just plain tired. It was hot, we had cut out many logs, and I did not like each step carrying me further from the trailhead. To my surprise, the others agreed, so I radioed Beth and said we were turning around.  Within 20 minutes, all of us had turned around, including the group that got to the top of the Butte, where there are splendid views of Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson. We heard, “It must be 450 degrees up here.”

Working with the Salamanders on Maxwell Butte. Notice the deeply scooped trail.

I was the first back to the trailhead, not because I was fast, but because I was closest to the trailhead, and because huckleberries were late, I didn’t spend time picking. After dropping my unused tools by the vehicle, I lay down in shade, changing my hiking shoes for running shoes, and swallowing 500 cc of water in two gulps. I knew that I had pushed my limits for getting heat related problems, which is why I turned around. 

Others soon appeared, and we sat in the shade, talking, or in my case, just resting. I asked Beth if it was OK if I left before the last group, the ones who had been at the top, and had a lot longer day than I, returned.  She gave me the green light.

On my way out, Bob came up to the car and stuck his head in the passenger window. “I know where I know you, “ he said. “You are on the Finance and Fundraising Committee. I recognized your voice.”

Wow, that’s impressive. For one thing, I don’t talk much at the Zoom committee meetings, and my picture usually is not visible, because I eat dinner during the meeting.  Additionally, he put my presence in the field together with the voice at the committee meeting to identify me.

As I drove off, I thought about fun. Not sure today qualified as fun, but I was deeply satisfied. The Salamanders are working on Turpentine Trail in the Mt. Jefferson wilderness in a couple of weeks. It’s a bit far to drive there, but a big pile of downed trees—a jack straw—needs work, the hike is shorter, and yes, it just might be fun to do it.

Maybe.