Archive for January, 2023

GOOD TIMING-short version for Cascade Volunteers newsletter

January 10, 2023

There were only three of us working a short day on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, a wild and scenic river that flows out of Waldo Lake into the main Middle Fork just below Westfir. We had two vehicles, because I had  both power brushers in my car, and there was only room for me. I might be the only guy in the crew without a truck or other suitable hauling vehicle; for a while, I was the only one who didn’t know the difference between an Italian grinder and a DeWalt grinder. The former you eat; the latter can cut metal.

DeWalt Grinder working on a nail

Our job was to brush out the northern end of the North Fork Trail, starting from its northern terminus and moving south along the North Fork of the Middle Fork River. That’s three norths and three forks, but I can only use one fork on a grinder, not the DeWalt one.

The Crew has worked a good share of the trail two years ago, logging it out, deconstructing three failed bridges, and filling in root wads.  We hadn’t been back until now, and while the Traill had recently been logged out, it needed to be brushed. The forecast was for rain, which had started in Eugene, but the front had held up, and it was dark but dry at the trailhead. Good day for brushing.

We started off with two brushing and I acted as swamper to move everybody’s gear up the trail with them.  If I am behind the brusher, the way I like to swamp is to move two packs forward, along with a rake, then drop the packs when I am close to the brusher.  Then I rake the trail back to where I started, trying not to fall backward or trip over a blackberry runner that has my leg. When I reach where I started, I pick up anything else, like fuel, and move it forward. It’s a real bummer if one is in the groove brushing, which doesn’t last too long, runs out of fuel, and has to go back a quarter mile to get more. It’s also a bummer to want a drink, or lunch, and have to walk back a half mile to get the pack. On Winberry four or five years ago, I was by myself with the brusher, got a mile past my pack to the end of where I needed to go, had to walk back all the way to get my pack that had my lunch, and when I got back to the brusher, the rest of the group was on their way back to the vehicles, having eaten lunch. 

When it was my turn on the 25 cc Stihl brusher. I put on my yellow hard hat with ear muffs attached. I like brushing; I have reached a point where I can troubleshoot the beast. It starts for me right away (that would be fewer than five pulls) even having been stashed in the rain for a week. I went ahead cutting low to the ground, swinging the brusher back and forth across and the trail to the sides, and worked my way uphill for a third of a mile before a gradual descent.

Stihl power brusher with blades folded for storage

We stayed dry until about 11, when it became flat out dark suggesting the front was moving in. With a hardhat on and a motor running, the only way I can tell it is raining is to look at my shirt or gloves. If it is raining hard enough, I can then see it come off the hardhat in rivulets. My gloves were wet, but my shirt wasn’t as I started the descent to the creek, swinging the brusher, cutting out plants near the trail, occasionally a thick blackberry bush, sometimes repeating the swing to cut out some ferns that I had missed. Blackberry bushes are difficult, because in addition to having thorns they can grab feet and trip, and some of the stems are thick.

Soon enough, I arrived at the creek, followed by the other brusher and the swamper moving the packs. We had deconstructed this bridge two years ago in the rain and mud. Two of us went into the water further than we had planned. I remember moving about 20 good sized heavy planks up on to the bank, briefly carrying, mostly pushing and cursing from below. The remains of the bridge looked about the same as they had then. I went down to the stream, discovering the the logs were smooth like ice, and the crossing, while safe enough, would be significantly more difficult if we tried to pass a brusher from one person to another. Once we were across the stream, we would have to come back, too, an important reminder in the woods when one does an out and back hike. You have to get back.

Deconstructing a failed bridge, 2021

One of the guys asked me what my goal was for the day.  I didn’t have one other than to take a crew out, brush the trail as far as we could get, and not overdo ourselves. Stopping here seemed reasonable.  None of us wanted to go further. We don’t take a formal vote on such matters; usually we are all in agreement.

It would rain harder on the way back to the vehicles. We ate lunch in one at which time it was pouring.  Nobody commented that it was nice we weren’t on the other side of the stream working. The brush would be there another day. It was a good feeling to be on the way home after a productive day’s work in the woods, especially when we beat the rain.

Brushing the Hardesty Trail, 2022.