Archive for the ‘MY WRITING’ Category

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.

WEARING RED…AGAIN

August 22, 2022

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).

CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE

August 13, 2022

But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, you can’t please everyone
So you got to please yourself
.

(Ricky Nelson)

Last spring, the Crew cleared Separation Lake Trail to Separation Creek, descending several hundred feet in 5.6 miles through the Three Sisters Wilderness, the first of four days we would end up logging out trails in this region. Not a week later, I received a complaint passed to me from one of the Club’s hiking leaders that the lower part of the trail was brushy with plants, and because it had been wet, she and a friend got soaked when they hiked the trail.  

Garrett beginning to cut a log with dangerous side bind. The bend means the log will explode away from him, which it did. He is standing in the safe zone.He is also cutting far away from the area of maximum tension, which is on the convexity. We had two videos of this, one in slow motion.

Why didn’t you clear the brush?

I know the feeling. Several years ago, I hiked Cummins Ridge Trail on the Oregon Coast in the wilderness of the same name when I hit a stretch of tall, wet ferns about 3 miles in. I thought I could deal with the dampness without putting on my rain pants, but then I realized that wasn’t going to work, so I ended up stopping, pulling off my boots, putting on my rain pants, putting on my boots back on again, and continuing hiking, the only difference being that my wet pants were now covered and while they would not get wetter, they would certainly not get drier as long as I had the rain pants on.

Why didn’t they clear the brush?

Well, the trail is is wilderness, a place where many think there shouldn’t be signage or work done at all.  There are limited numbers of crews to do the work, which is why we have volunteer crews, like the one, the Scorpions, with whom I work. We try to log out the trails first, so we can get through them, because if the trail is blocked by a big blowdown, it doesn’t matter how up to specs in tread and width and erosion control is for the rest of the trail, one can’t use it. You can hike through brush and get wet, maybe lose the trail in places, but you aren’t trying to go under, over, or around fallen, potentially dangerous logs.

If we have time, we try to remove brush, too, but this is a massive chore. A log may be able to be pushed off or require one, two, maybe even three cuts, but those are done and the log pushed out of the way, the trail now open until the next log. Remove one, two, three dozen plants along the side of the trail and it looks the same. Remove maybe 300, and you can see a difference, until you reach the next plant. Every foot of a trail in the region of heavy brush has to be removed by clippers or loppers. How much can one remove in a day? With a pair of power brushers, which aren’t allowed in wilderness, where we can swing the brusher back and forth, we might be able to clear a mile of trail in a day.  A mile. The Crew Boss spent one logout trying to clear brush by hand over a particular difficult area of a different trail. He did perhaps 250 yards that day.  Separation Lake Trail is several miles to the creek. Even with power brushers, which are not allowed, it would take two or three days. For the record, there is another seven miles around to Horse Creek trailhead; Louise Creek Trail is comes off Separation and needs brushing, too, but it was a full day to log out 3 miles, which was only part of the whole trail.  It is wilderness, and one must understand that wilderness trips may entail more hardship. 

Working on the Louise Creek Trail.

BTW, it drizzled when we logged out the trail, so we all were soaked when we got to the turnaround point, too. So we do know how you felt. 

Bridge over Separation Creek. The turnaround point unless one wants to go another 7 miles to the Horse Creek Trail

Madam, the trail is now dry, because it hasn’t rained for a month. Good time to go.

***********

“….(Olallie Mountain Trail) Was not maintained- overgrown with brush and blow downs, We turned back. I called the Forest Service and they said trail crew just worked on it NOT TRUE. I read this  AllTrails.

Where were the work crews? Where was the Forest Service? How dare they keep these trails in disrepair?  He didn’t write that; I did.

Poor guy. He was 6 days too early. I don’t know why I should have felt responsible for the issue. I am an unpaid volunteer who got up early two mornings one week to drive out to the trailhead, including the last 13 miles on a dusty road with potholes, in order to work in the hot sun (especially the first day) with only two others, logging out 35 logs in 1.75 miles, including some difficult, complex ones. The second trip, two days later, we had seven out there, and six of us finished the rest of the trail, removing some 50 logs, including a couple of leaners and one on a hill that kept on giving every time we made a cut.  That means that every time we removed a chunk, the log slid further down the hill, still blocking the trail. We needed one person uphill to push on the log with his legs while two of us were below the trail pulling the log our way. Eventually, we moved the whole thing off the trail.

Sir, Olallie trail is NOW CLEAR. At least until the next tree falls. I don’t normally post on such sites, but I did post something more polite on All Trails. You can read it there. And no, currently, I don’t want a premium account. 

The Crew Boss spent the day brushing this–and a lot more– by hand.

NAUTICAL LOGOUT

July 29, 2022

On 30 June, the Crew worked Black Creek Trail, which traverses 3.7 miles from the trailhead at the end of FS 24 to Waldo Lake, climbing about 2100 feet.  A little more than a mile in is step-cascading Lillian Falls, after which the trail climbs steeply and steadily. We had logged out the lower 2.3 miles of trail; prior scouting by one of the Crew said there were no more logs until there was a wall of snow up at Klovdahl Creek, a mile from the end. We would have to wait for the snow to melt to do more, and in the meantime we tackled other projects. 

Lower part of Lillian Falls. There are numerous steps.

There were two obvious options to finish the last mile of the trail: one was to hike back in from FS 24 to finish the trail, which meant carrying the tools nearly three miles uphill before using them. A second option was to go to Shadow Bay on Waldo Lake and hike around the lake 4 miles on the Jim Weaver Trail that circles the lake to the other end of the trail, attacking it there. 

Closeup view of the area. The trail from shadow bay goes SW then NW.

Large scale view: Oakridge is about 2/3 down the left side and is about 25 miles west of the lake.

I had seen the possibility on a map of canoeing across Waldo Lake a couple of years ago, mentioned it, and some others had, too, for last year, two canoed from Shadow Bay a mile and a half to the trail’s end and logged it out. Last week, the Crew Boss called me and asked I wanted to canoe over to the other side to help him log out the last mile of the trail.

I haven’t been to the Boundary Waters since 2019, the best place I have ever canoed, all 69 different trips have taken there. I miss it terribly. But I am not ready to deal with airports and flying quite yet. I know several in the Club have had Covid. I am less worried about dying of it than I am of having long Covid, which will be devastating to a guy like me, who like a shark, has to be moving all the time. We are on track for 140,000 deaths from Covid annually in this country, the new variant is a problem, and I mask inside and when I ride with others in a vehicle to the trailhead. I don’t want the virus. Covid is not done with us yet, regardless of whether or not people are done with it.

I’ve thought of driving to the Boundary Waters, but it is 3 days each way, maybe 2 1/2, and it doesn’t appeal to me, although I haven’t ruled it out.

But canoeing on Waldo Lake?  Wow!  I emphatically agreed, and at 8:15 last Monday, we were at Shadow Bay with a We-No-Nah Heron canoe and our gear. I additionally had my paddle and rubber boots. It was incredibly buggy, as only Waldo Lake can be in summer, and this being my ninth summer here, I can say that Oregon finally approached Minnesota for bug issues. The NW Territories and Alaska are in a higher league with bugs, just the way they are with wilderness.

Sig and I loaded the canoe. I put my paddle in the bow, a paddle given to me in 1992 when I took my leave of absence from my practice, one that was used on 22 trips that summer and has been used only twice in the intervening 30 years, once on the canoe canal in Eugene, and once to practice my stroke three years ago after I broke my hand on Mt. Hood. I wanted to see how paddling might affect it (not enough to cancel a trip).

Wearing my rubber boots, I waded into the lake steadying the canoe while Sig got in. Then I got in the bow, and off we went, packs, saws, Pulaskis, hiking boots, lunches, and GPS, as the blue colored water passed under us, bottom plainly visible. It felt great to be pulling again, and I looked across the long expanse to the other side, the Open Horizons that another Sig—wilderness writer Sig Olson—wrote about.  Waldo is about 6 miles long,  2 miles wide in places, and 10 sq.mi., or about 40% the size of Basswood Lake.  I love canoeing open horizon country. There are no internal combustion engines allowed here, the spring-fed lake one of the purest in the world. There were two other boats in Shadow Bay, nobody out on the main body. I had a rough idea of where we were going; Sig had done this before and showed me about where we needed to head. For awhile, it didn’t seem like we were making progress, but we were making a good wake; there was light wind and eventually no bugs. 

Open Horizons. Note the color and the bottom.

A half hour later, we saw bottom again, closed on the western shore, and landed. We unloaded, pulled the canoe up on shore and put our work gear on. We stashed the paddles under a nearby bush, although there wasn’t anybody over there, and bushwhacked about 50 yards to the trail around the lake and then another 200 to the junction of Black Creek Trail with the Waldo Lake Trail, which led directly into the wilderness.

Within 100 yards, we found our first blowdown, and for the next mile there were at least a dozen more. I was able to chunk out a rotten one with a Pulaski to open up the trail, I pulled another two logs off trail, used Sig’s KatanaBoy 650mm on two more, and both of us used the 5 foot saw for the others. It was going to be 102 in the valley, and at 5400’ that translates to mid-80s. We wanted to get done in the morning if we could, and we did just that. We reached Klovdahl Creek at 1130, nearly six hundred vertical feet below where we started. We didn’t have to hike to where we had cleared from the other side, because we knew there were no logs. The wall of snow was history.

Klovdahl Creek

Years ago, Simon Klovdahl was the engineer who designed the head gates and the tunnel to start to run the water out of Waldo Lake down towards Oakridge/Westfir and generate power and irrigate Willamette Valley. For a variety of fortunate reasons, this did not work out. The lake and about 100-200 yards outside of it is National Forest; beyond on three sides is the Waldo Lake Wilderness. The Jim Weaver Trail around the lake is about 20.3 miles. I have day hiked it twice, fairly flat, many different views of the lake, different forests, and plenty of huckleberries.

Finished with the logout, we had to retrace our steps uphill in warmer conditions, with less shade, back to the lake. Fortunately, there was no hurry; each of us went at his own pace. We passed all the logs we had cut out, and at the lake was greeted by a slight but most welcome breeze. We had lunch on the shore, then reloaded the canoe. Sig asked me if I wanted to be in the stern on the return trip. That suited me just fine. We took a last look around the landing for any gear then pushed off and headed southeast towards the distant point near Shadow Bay. Rigdon Peak was to our north;  the Twins just to our left and east, Pulpit Rock straight ahead, and Mt. Ray to our right. There was a very slight following wind, and it took us only 20 minutes to get back to shallow water again. We had to make a hard left turn to get to the dock, I made a partial draw stroke out of a sweep without thinking much and turned the canoe on a dime.

Once ashore, we loaded everything back into the truck, changed out of our water gear, and headed for home.

Waldo is not the Boundary Waters, but it’s got open horizons, campsites, and plenty of places to explore. I think I’ll have to go up there later to camp. Besides, huckleberry season is soon.

Waldo Lake from the west, from Waldo Mountain. Rigdon Peak is on the left, The Twins center.

Looking due north from the SE corner. Rigdon Peak is in the distance.

“EASY DAY”

July 25, 2022

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

PREP WORK IS PART OF THE JOB, TOO

July 13, 2022

We ate lunch high above Rebel Creek, which below us would fall another 600 feet to the south fork of the McKenzie River. I lay perpendicular to the trail with my legs hanging over the steep drop a few hundred feet down to the rushing water.  I kept staring at a huge Douglas fir below that went straight up past me, ending in a crown of branches high above.  There was a 12 inch log that needed to be cut out where we stopped, but my partner and I were both ready to eat.  Often, I like to eat after I cut out something rather than before, but we had been cutting out stuff all morning, after we finally entered the Three Sisters Wilderness after a 2 mile hike in.

Rebel Rock and Creek trails were burned in the 2017 Rebel fire, and I could see areas on trees that were scorched, but not badly. My first trail work outing with the Crew was on Rebel Rock trail, on the other side of a high divide above me, and there, the burn was more significant, damaging more trees, but clearing out the understory. In any case, this trail hadn’t been cleared in 5 years, and it looked it. Back in early spring, a small crew logged out the first mile using chain saws, since they were not yet in the wilderness. They stopped at Rebel Creek where there was no bridge, and the day before a small chain saw crew had crossed the creek and cut about half a mile further up the trail.

This day, there were two chain saw crews to finish logging out the trail to the wilderness boundary, and two crosscut teams, with my partner and I in the lead. We had to first hike through the remaining uncleared area outside the wilderness, trying to find the trail in a jumble of downed logs and a lot of brush, and then, when we found the broken off wilderness boundary sign, start clearing the trail from there.  We weren’t just cutting out an occasional downed log; there were considerable amounts of brush and downed branches, the size of small trees, crescent shaped, that if one kicked or picked up properly, could be easily moved off the trail.  Then we would come to actual logs, which I could tackle with my pocket saw, Corona hand saw, KatanaBoy, or the 6 foot saw my partner was carrying. It took some time for him to take it off and take the sheath off to get it ready for use, so I would use the small saws where I could. We had removed a 20 inch log right after the boundary and a few others where the big saw was needed.

Finally, the other pair caught up to us, and we returned the favor shortly later at a place with a few trees over the trail and a 20+ inch Western cedar chest high over the trail. We were about to cut it, but the other crew told us to move on up the trail. So we left, cut out a few more logs, more brush, threw branches over the side, until we turned a corner with the 12 inch log, where we had lunch.

Western Red cedar across the trail

After, we continued to climb above the creek, slowly putting cleared trail behind us. We came to a pair of leaners and used my strap on the outer one pulling it down and getting it off the trail. The other one was stable.  A hundred yards further, I took out a four inch leaner by cutting it off near the bottom, and when part of it came down, lifted it over a root in hopes it would slide more, but it hung up. So, I made another cut, shortening the leaner and finally broke it free. It slowly dropped towards me, and I guided it over the edge. 

The leaners. We left the inner one.

Up ahead, my partner was at a big, big log. The hemlock was across the trail, several inches of ground clearance, large 4 inch diameter branches on it, one of which looked like it was supporting part of an old burnt out log that was over the one we needed to cut. From that log 15 yards up the trail were a series of trees downed or over the trail. There was plenty of ground clutter where we were.

Steve evaluating the log. The trail goes towards the upper left corner.

Log outs aren’t just 2 folks on a crosscut going from one log to the next.  Aside from all the brushing work we had to do in between logs, like the leaners, or the 2-6 inch logs that sometimes were part of the ground and could be surprisingly difficult to remove, there was a lot of prep work.

Part way through. The axe needed to be sheathed or in a log.

OHLEC, or the approach to cutting, is Objective, Hazards, Leans/Binds, Escape Routes, Cutting plan. THEN, it’s time to cut. I also consider “Overhead’ as part of the O, to remind myself to look for dead trees or other hazards right above the log to be cut. This log had several large branches that needed to be removed, one of which looked like it was supporting a slab of wood above us. It might not have been, but we don’t like surprises, and might not happen is a poor approach to cutting hazards.  

There were also hazard branches over us, stobs, or broken branches that either could support the log off the ground and might be useful left alone, or interfere with the cut log and make it difficult to roll it off the trail. Each had to be addressed, and as noted, some of these were the size of small trees we had been removing. There were also small bushes that could trap the saw briefly, get in the way of cutting, or brush our faces while working.  My partner trimmed the slab, then removed the branch that might have been supporting it, which as it turned out, it was not.  We cut off the burned slab, not difficult given its limited thickness. It took us the better part of an hour just to clear the area of hazards.

The log is cut out and more of the trail needs work. The pry log I carried is right underneath the axe.

Removing the log needs to be planned for before the cut, too. I suggested getting a pole to put under the log that would help guide it off the trail. I looked behind me at a 5-6 inch log I had cut out 30 yards back down the trail. I could cut a chunk of that out. In the meantime, my partner went up the trail and started clearing the next 15 yards of debris.

The 5 inch log was on a slope, and true to form, difficult to deal with. I was able to pull it down a little to get a long enough chunk to use.  Unfortunately, as I was cutting through, the log began to shift and slid down several feet, meaning I had to start over. There was some top bind on the log, so I did a top cut and then finished with an undercut  doing part of the work below the trail on a small flat rock, where the log was trying to slide past. Once I got the 6 foot length cut out, I moved it to the trail, the rest of the log slid down to partly over the trail, not what I wanted. 

Nobody else was coming, so I didn’t worry about the remainder and carried the pry log back. We put it under the big log and then made two cuts from the top, dropping the log on to the pry log. Once it was there, we turned it about 60 degrees, since it was easy to pivot, and then with our legs, two slight pushes, rolled it off to the side of the trail. Finally done.

I would later check the next 250 yards of trail before the next big log. I would throw several branches off the trail, and with a small pull, have 25 feet of log go smoothly by me over the edge, with minimal effort. We made almost a half mile today. There are 3 miles at least to go on the trail to finish. My partner was kind enough to remove the log I had taken the pry log from.

We’ll be back here again, but we’ve got other trails that are higher priority right now. 

Trail after the hemlock was removed, and the four other logs below it.

NOT RACING

July 5, 2022

I dropped my pack at the Horse Creek Trailhead, opened it up, took my foam pad out, sat on the ground and lay back on the pad against my pack, knees up in the air. We had just completed 13.2 miles of the Separation Lake and Horse Creek trails, logging out the middle stretch of 2.7 miles. Three weeks earlier, we had logged out Separation Lake Trail’s 5.6 miles to the bridge over Separation creek. Two weeks ago, we had done the same at Horse Creek, on the far side of the drainage, finishing 5 miles later on a ridge, climbing 1700 feet in the process. Last week, we had cleared 3 miles of Louise Creek to the snow line, and this day, we did what we called the Horseshoe Loop, with a car shuttle, even finding a few newly fallen logs since our last visit.

Horseshoe Loop; Separation Lake to right of straight line. Start was “T” by Rainbow Creek

“When did you get here?” came from Julie, well less than half my age, who showed up a few minutes later. “I couldn’t catch you!”

“I haven’t been here long,” I replied.  I don’t tell people how far they were behind me any more than I ask how long others have arrived before me. It’s not a race. Once I am in cruising mode on a trail, I don’t vary my speed too much, barring logs or beautiful spots. I can’t go faster longer, or that would be my default speed. And I don’t want to go slower, especially if there is a lot of ground to cover, time is limited, or the weather is unfavorable.

Moving a log on Horse Creek. Note the PLT, the “Precision Leveraging Tool,” many of which are lying around the woods.

I started the hike in front. However, I encountered a new log, fallen in the past two weeks after we had cleared the trail, and stopped to remove it.  I was then at the back of the group. I don’t mind being at the back as long as I can see the next person or know I am relatively close, for I know that I am still connected to the group. I moved up a place when we got to the bridge across Separation Creek. I had passed one person on a stream crossing, since I tend to go right across if the water isn’t any deeper than a foot. My gaiters will keep me dry for a few seconds at that depth.  I briefly caught up to Julie, who hadn’t hiked this trail before and wondered if we were still on the right trail. We were, and shortly afterwards, she was long gone ahead. The upstream trail part was in the 4th and 5th miles, and I was already tired, given the tools I was carrying. This was going to be a long day. We were in a canyon, and we were going to have to climb out before the long descent to the end. I tried not to think about the climb.

After crossing the stream, on a bridge that was a bit dicey, we started the logout part of the trip, 2.7 miles to the Horse Creek Trail via Separation Lake, half way, where we would eat lunch.  

Four logs later, we arrived at the campsite. We take a half hour for lunch, but I left a little earlier to avoid becoming too stiff. If I started flagging, I wanted to at least start to fall back from the front. But there were two new logs to cut out, so after two of us dealt with them, I was once again at the back. There were two stream crossings where log bridges again were narrower than I liked, not because the water was fast moving—it wasn’t—but it was deep enough that I didn’t want to have the weight of wet clothes to add to what I already was wearing and carrying.

The steep section was straight up, no switchbacks, suggesting it was an old trail, since most trails switchback to prevent erosion. Again, I arrived at a log needing removal, but the crew leader behind me told me to go ahead. I was hoping he would say that. I was in the middle of the group on a steep climb recalling  my 45 mile backpack around Mt. Hood, where leaving Tilly Jane going to 7000,’ I was taking 40 steps and stopping to breathe, then 40 more. This one I was making only 50 steps.  Two were above me, and I had no idea how they were doing it, only that I wanted to be where they were, so I kept going, 50, stop and breathe, check the altimeter, 50 more.I reached where they were, and they were again further up.  It was 600 brutal vertical feet straight up the ridge over maybe a half mile. When we reached the junction, at 3 pm, five miles yet to go, I was concerned at how slowly I did the climb. I wasn’t carrying an excessive amount of weight, my knee was behaving, and I was just doing what I could, but I felt like I was hanging on for dear life.

5 miles to go.

I told the crew leader for the third time that day I was going to start early, again to avoid stiffness.  And for the third consecutive time, within a short distance there were two new logs that we had to cut out. After removing them, I was now in the back, but we were going downhill, so the hike became easier. At stream crossings, I looked for the shallowest place and went. I had done the same on Mt. Hood. My feet were already wet and as a canoeist, wet feet don’t bother me much. They weren’t going to dry before I finished the day, so I just kept going. And finally, the cruising speed I have after several miles of hiking started to kick in. I was still tired, but my legs worked automatically it seemed, especially downhill on a familiar trail. The crew leader later passed me; I kept him in sight for the most part and finished about 5. The others came in behind me “a few minutes” later.

I might do the loop again next year, but with lighter pants, a few extra wedges in my pack, and maybe see if I can get into better shape before I do it, although at my age, better shape has a low ceiling.

STRAIGHTFORWARD DAY

June 27, 2022

The Salmon Lakes Trail was going to be an easy logout, a vacation compared to the prior week’s 13.2 mile trek through the Three Sisters Wilderness. I had scouted the trail 4 days earlier and had found 6 logs starting two miles east of the trailhead, inside the Waldo Lake Wilderness, which surrounds Waldo Lake on three sides, but does not include the lake itself. Once those logs were removed, I would hike about a half mile further to Upper Salmon Lake checking for logs. I doubted there would be many there.  It is fairly open on that stretch and the last few years has had few obstructions.

Waldo Meadows area

Half of the group would then head north up Waldo Meadows Trail where I had found another half dozen logs within a half mile, before being turned back by snow.  It was warmer, and there had been rain, so it was possible that enough snow had melted that perhaps the group could reach the junction with Waldo Mountain Trail a mile from the meadow and hike that back to the trailhead, logging it out and finishing the loop. In any case, it had all the makings of a straightforward day.

Two miles in, I took care of two smaller logs myself, moving both of them, helped cut out a third, and we all regrouped at Waldo Meadows, which was entirely visible, the snow’s having left probably not more than a week or two earlier. In summer, the plants are so high, one can hide in it. Indeed, 4 years prior, almost to the day, was the first time I saw the meadow, and I could barely find the trail. I thought that was the default view of the meadow, but the grasses and flowers are all annuals, and in early season it looks bare.

Waldo Meadows 8 June 2021
Same place 23 days later, 1 July 21

I headed to Salmon Lakes while three others in the crew with me took care of a log. The trail as expected was clear, the outflow of Upper Salmon Lake, which becomes a major tributary of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River in Oakridge, was flowing well. A patch of snow was near the lake, presumably in a shady spot or other cool microclimate. 

When I returned to the meadow, the log had been cleared, and I radioed the crew leader, who was above me on the Waldo Meadows Trail heading away. I told him we would continue logging out the trail another mile or so, heading towards Chetco Lake 2 additional miles east, before turning around. Before reaching Chetco, another trail turns northward and then west, climbing Waldo Mountain, 1000 feet above us, which now was still covered in snow and inaccessible, before descending to the junction to which other crew was heading. The full loop is about 9 miles, with 1700 feet of climbing, but the views from Waldo Mountain are spectacular.

Waldo Lake from Waldo Mountain. The paired Twins are across the lake

I put my pack on and started walking east through Waldo Meadows, the trail climbing slightly through grass, thinking that few trees are out here that are going to fall on the trail, so I will get some free mileage without logs.

I was so wrong. 

A 250-300 year old hemlock, part of a small island of a few trees in the meadow, had fallen smack across the trail, and its 47 inch diameter size gave new meaning to DBH (diameter at breast height). The downed log literally came up to my chest. I cleared a few branches while waiting for the rest to arrive.

After some soul searching and group discussion, we decided to remove the log. Making a bypass of the log in a trail in a somewhat fragile meadow is not something we want to do. We started one cut on the main log and a trimming cut on the end closer to the stump, where it had fractured. 

I’ve worked on several project logs, where most of the day is spent in one area sawing or digging. One was on the Vivian Lake trail where a tree had come down on an angle and had end bind, where the weight of the tree compressed the entire log that was lower. If one removed a wedge, it was possible to see the kerf, or the saw cut, slowly close. End binds have no easy way to cut. Last year, we had another end bind in a 30 inch log on Black Creek.  We finally had to saw parallel kerfs a few inches apart and then with a Pulaski knock out the chunk of wood in between. That means cutting an inch, maybe a little more, twice, chunking out the wood with a Pulaski, and continuing inch by inch through the diameter. This log took 5 hours to remove.

Two years ago, on Shale Ridge, in the same wilderness northwest of where we were, where I had just been certified, another log also had a bind problem, and one person spent 5 hours chunking it out while the rest of us logged out 3 miles of trail. We cut a small notch in the log for people could pass, but this was not adequate for horses, and a year later the job was to open up the trail fully. Seven of us worked together and cut a larger passage through. It turns out a huge branch which we couldn’t see had pushed straight into the ground, and only with a pry log, a lot of digging, and a great deal of time, we finally succeeded in pulling it out, which was essential to remove the round, or the cut piece. I saw the branch on my B-cert trip and had forgotten how large it was, the size of a moderate tree, explaining why it took so much effort to remove the log.  We have joked that we wanted to move the wilderness boundary sign past a problem log. 

Our current VLL (very large log) was able to be cut to ground level. Below that, however, we had to dig the dirt out and use care that the teeth of the crosscut not get into the dirt, which is damaging. Dirt isn’t good for small hand saws, either, but they are more easily replaced. We would dig out, saw, and finally use a KatanaBoy to finish the cut, which we did on the first cut after 3 hours and an hour later for the second cut, much of which was fortunately through a rotten area of the log. 

Moving the round, once it was cut, was another matter. We had to break it out of the ground and try to make the path to the side of the trail more gravity friendly. That took 3 people on as many PLTs (precision leveraging tools which were long logs used as lever), and all four of us pushing our legs, digging out blocking soil underneath, until at long last nearly 100 cubic feet of wood started to move. 

At least once it began to roll, it moved just off the trail and stopped.  Had it stopped in the middle of the trail, I think we all would have cried.

The author (right). Multiple hard plastic wedges are keeping the kerf open, or at least trying to.
The round off the trail. All that remains is a 3 mile hike out, with our gear.

BEING TESTED

June 18, 2022

“The National Crosscut and Chainsaw Program standardizes training, evaluation, safety procedures and certification among sawyers operating on public lands” managed by organizations like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. Cascade Volunteers, affiliated with the Willamette National Forest, has a saw program where volunteers may be trained and certified within the organization, both saving the Forest Service time and making certification easier to obtain and renew. We require experienced sawyers as instructors as well as in the field.

Trail work requires bucking, or cutting, not felling. We don’t bring down trees, alive or dead, unless they are small diameter ones blocking a trail or being a hazard. We do, however, cut downed trees; we need are certified crosscut sawyers (bucking).  I felled dead trees in the Boundary Waters 30 years ago, and it takes a different set of skills to do that. 

The ratings are sawyer trainee, A (apprentice), B, certified and C certified, the last able to do major complex log outs, B sawyers are able to work independently and may supervise A sawyers. A sawyers must work under B or C certs.

When I began, I was unclassified.  I wasn’t even a trainee, which was fine by me, since I didn’t know what I was doing. With time, I did more logouts and became better at handling saws, knowing what to do, and being a part of a crew. In 2020, two of us were invited to the first saw certification program by Cascade Volunteers at Fish Lake, an old way stop on the Santiam Road on what is a beautiful lake three months a year, a meadow another 3-4 months, otherwise ice covered. The first day was didactic, learning about saws and their use. It was well done, and we had some practical experience nearby.  I learned, for example, that sometimes a difficult cut can be avoided by doing two simpler ones in a different part of a log.

That night, we camped out, awakening the next day in light rain to go over to nearby Patjens Lake Trail up on Santiam Pass, where we traveled in groups of 5, three trainees, an evaluator, and an evaluator of the evaluator, to hike in and clear logs. I had hoped maybe I could go for A and B certification, rather than just A.  I spoke to an evaluator whom I knew, and he asked if I were willing to be a crew leader. I didn’t see how I could lead without having the skills, but I couldn’t get the skills if I didn’t lead. Confused, I decided to get just A cert that weekend. The day was misty, cold, with periods of rain and wind, and we were in an old burn, where dead trees fall not infrequently, more when it is windy. I knew the evaluator. I didn’t know the two other trainees, one of whom was my age, the other had never used a crosscut. We each had three logs to supervise, and we all obtained A certification. One of our trainees was not well dressed for a day of rain and wind in the Oregon Cascades in late October. He was lucky. I was told not to comment on other people’s evaluation of their logs, but I got many comments when it was my turn, which broke my train of thought, so I couldn’t process as well, and it didn’t help my score, not that such mattered too much. Still, I got certified, knew what I needed to work on, and have carried my saw card ever since..

That winter, I was crew leader twice for trail work, mostly because I knew where the trail was and what needed to be done. Last summer, while doing 25 day trips for crosscut log outs, I wondered whether I was ready to try for B certification. I decided not to push matters, did my job, learned more, bit my lip when one of the guys with the same experience as I always managed to tell me when we were out together that I was “pulling” the saw in some direction he didn’t like. 

This past winter, I was crew leader four more times, doing trail work without crosscut work, but in charge, since I was running the power brusher, teaching people how to use it, and working a trail that I knew better than anybody else out there. It wasn’t a big deal, but my being crew leader was noticed. 

This spring, I decided I wanted to try for B certification. There were two others interested, and in March we were about to go to King Castle Trail to cut out some logs when someone with a chain saw and gas cut them out a few days before our visit. End of that. I did not hear of anything else, but there an online application where I signed up asking to be considered. The same evaluator to whom I had spoken earlier said that he would be willing to take me out. He had a trail in mind, and he wanted us to log it out, doing my B cert simultaneously.

Now I was nervous. How good was I? There were some A sawyers who were likely better.  Why weren’t they upgrading?  All I knew is that I felt ready. I had been working independently for some time.

I went online to the national program and noted what the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and University of Montana were doing, looking at pages and videos. I took a practice test, read the lengthy Forest Service saw manuals again, focusing on OHLEC, the mnemonic for approach to a log: Objective, Hazards, Lean or Bind, Escape Exits, and Cutting plan. I wrote down things to remember: O for me was also to look overhead for hazards, but also on the ground, in or on the log (bees, rotten wood), around me with other people, weather, and myself. Some were constant, like the ground, others, like human factors, could vary.

I went out with my evaluator to Shale Ridge, a trail that heads south from FS 19 into the Waldo Lake Wilderness. We got to the trailhead early, and I handed both my saw and first aid cards to the evaluator. I showed all the safety equipment in my pack, put on my gaiters, knee pads, carried my strap and wedges, put on my pack, picked up the heavy bucking saw, and we headed to work.

The first log, 20 inches, was right at the beginning. This time, I was making the decision on the cutting, nobody else. Wow, this is really my show. I voiced my thoughts: the objective was to come home safely, we were to cut this log and move the round (what was cut) to the side of the trail. There was a small tree hanging over the site that needed to come down. We needed to clear the site of growth so we could saw. I and my evaluator were fresh, comfortable, and ready to work. I first cut the small tree away by making a cut into the compression side, where the trunk was concave. Then I cut the convex side, where there was tension that I had lessened by the first cut. The tree fell where I wanted it to go, and I pulled it off the trail. 

Cutting is only part of the job. A few hundred pound log or round has to go somewhere. That is why I carry a strap, and we both use our legs if we have to push. The tree I cut at the beginning will keep the log from rolling back into the trail. Shale Ridge Trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.

With the log’s hanging over the trail, there was likely top bind or compression that might bind or catch the saw, and I discussed two possible plans, with emergency exits easy for each of us. As we cut, I told my partner about my keeping a rhythm, using the whole saw, listening to the wood, the saw, watching the kerf, watching the sawdust for changes in color, and feeling how the cutting was going. When the compression in the wood bound or pinched the saw, I put in a plastic wedge and pounded it in with the poll, or back side, of my axe. If my partner pounded in the wedge, I ducked my head in case the wedge flew out, keeping my hand on the saw, feeling it start to move freely, as the pinching lessened.  We finally cut through the log, keeping the saw from falling to the ground. We couldn’t pull the saw back up through the kerf, but I could take off the handle and let my partner pull it back through. Then I put the handle back on. That used to be difficult for me but is now automatic. We cut the log on the other side of the trail and pushed it away. I sheathed the saw, and we moved on.

We cut several 24 inch logs. On one, we made a third cut, rather than to try to push it off after two, because there were only two of us, and sometimes cutting is easier than pushing. The evaluator liked hearing my thoughts. I discussed similar logs I had encountered, because I have been involved cutting hundreds of them. What worked? What didn’t?  I became tired, because we were sawing and pushing large logs. I was short of breath from doing that. By the end of the day, the human factors included “tired, so be cognizant of that.”  But I added, “my spirits are good,” for they were. I knew I was doing well.  I was caring for the saw, discussing the kerf as we cut, commenting on how the saw sounded, noting roughness when we were cutting through a knot, and the darker colors of the bark in the sawdust when we were nearly finished with the cut. 

I passed. I knew I had. We hiked back out to the trailhead, past the logs we had cut.  When I signed out to dispatch on the radio, I looked down the deserted road, seeing something that looked like a large tire 75 yards away. Except there weren’t big tires there. And it moved. It was a bear. 

Great way to end the day.