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

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