Archive for the ‘MY WRITING’ Category

SEE YOU ON THE TRAIL

September 17, 2021

I met Anne quite by accident at one of the 23 drive in max-vax clinics at during the 11 weekends my wife and I worked there. We were at all at Autzen Stadium except for one, when we worked at the community college. Sometime in April, my wife and I were working the car line going to the vaccinators. We were in Lane 1 or 2, the busiest lanes and the last to close. We thrived on the work, the people’s thanking us, and probably the fumes.  We filled out vaccine cards so the vaccinators didn’t have to, spending the process. Our change became standard. Early that day there weren’t as many cars coming through our line, matters were running too slowly for my comfort, and for the comfort  of one of the vaccinators, who never in the time I knew him was ever too busy. I complained to one of the leads who was making the rounds, and he pointed to the first check in spot, near the road leading to the stadium, from which people were sent to us. They looked overwhelmed.

Meeting of the check-in people at the start of the clinic. One was well out of college and had her birthday. She was 1/3 of my age.

I walked over there, learned how the system worked and asked if I wanted to work there. We had enough people taking care of the cars in the line, so that day I worked check in.  This was the initial point of contact, where we had to pass out clipboards, use iPads to check people in, and ensure they didn’t run over the traffic control person on their way to one of 14 lanes. It required a lot of quick moving, dodging cars, and using a touch screen in bright sun or rain.  Anne was one of the leads there, and when the line of cars let up a little we got to talking about life and soon enough about hiking. She was new to it and was curious about Cascade Volunteers and the trails in the Cascades. I wrote down the names of several which I thought she would like.  Some I had just helped log out a few days earlier the week. 

I would work the check-in line three more times, although my preference was to get into the sea of cars, 14 lined up, collecting clipboards, checking information, filling out vaccine cards, giving advice, fielding questions, all in the 6 miles a day and 6 hours I walked from the vaccinators to the check-in point, over and over again.

After the last drive-in clinic in June, the regular volunteers returned a few days later to get T-shirts that celebrated our service. When I arrived to get mine, I met Molly, a hard charger who had run the UO volunteers and a good share of the rest of Autzen.  We both had deep respect for each other.  I didn’t see anybody else I knew. I got the wrong size shirt, as it turned out, so when I returned two days later, the last day to get the shirts, Molly said that Anne had come through right after I had and was upset that she missed me. I figured I probably wouldn’t see  her again or anybody else with whom I had worked, because I thought this experience was final. Still, I am old enough to have seen people I never expected to see again and seen places I never expected to see. 

Sure enough, a month later, at a pop-up clinic vaccine event at a high school, I ran into Anne.  I showed her a couple more pictures of one of our logouts and added a few other trails that were not too difficult but would get her and her husband well into the backcountry. 

My wife and I started doing more vaccine events when the delta variant arrived. Rather than one every couple of weeks, it became two a week. It affected my hiking schedule, just like the main vaccination event affected my snowshoe schedule back in spring, but to me this helping out for the duration is a high priority. I still had trail work on Thursday, and there were trail working events on Tuesday that were not too far out of town where I could work and then get to a clinic.

Besides, this hottest summer on record featured smoke throughout the American West, and we were no exception. I was going to canoe on Waldo Lake and then realized being out there in smoke was not going to be healthy. So I cancelled that, along with many possible weekend hikes I planned, those few weekends I wasn’t recovering from trail work.  Anne and her husband got to Yellowstone and loved the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, also my favorite part of a place I haven’t seen in 50 years.

Waldo Lake from Waldo Mountain, before the fires.

Last Friday at the Lane Events Center, we had our usual meeting just before we started vaccinating. It was announced that Anne was leaving after the event to take on another job. Given the workload public health employees have had, there has been turnover. Nobody came on board expecting to deal with a pandemic. At the end of the clinic, I walked up to Anne and wished her well.  I said the appropriate words, “Take good care of yourself, Anne. See you on the trail.”

***

I wrote the following for the Obsidian Bulletin, the Club magazine, asking for Club hikers to send me information about trail conditions so I could update the Web Page for the trail page for the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests:

“Please be careful in dealing with blowdowns. Some are unstable, there may be dangerous sharp branches; it is easy to fall, unsafe to try to climb over some, and trail erosion may have occurred. I’ve been turned around more than once by a log that I felt I could not safely go up, over, around, or under. Turning around sometimes is virtuous. These days I prefer to deal directly with such logs with the right tools, people, training, and protective equipment.Stay safe out there, and always remember that hikes may take longer because of snow or blowdowns that weren’t there the last time you came through. See you on the trail.”

***

Last week, the Crew had to log out the Benson trail on the west side of Scott Mountain in the Mount Washington Wilderness. We were to meet in Springfield where six of us would travel in two vehicles.  I was early, and as I drove in, I saw several familiar people there, but they weren’t part of the Crew; they were Club members, meeting for a hike. The Club has specific meeting points for hikes, and many hikes in the McKenzie Ranger District meet at this place.  I am leading a hike to Four-in-one Cone in three weeks and I will be meeting here, too.

Place on the Benson Trail a third of the way to the Scott Mountain Trail. The red bushes are huckleberry.

Snow on the rim of Four in one Cone; Mr Washington in center; Mt. Jefferson in distance. Three-fingered Jack is just to the right of Mt. Washington.

I got my gear ready for the logout, since I wouldn’t be driving, and then went over to talk to the group. They were hiking Broken Top, a long drive to a place I haven’t been and really should see. One of the hikers works with the Crew; he and I have almost switched roles—he does a lot more hiking with the Club these days and I don’t. On the other hand, I’ve been out with the Crew about 5 times a month for the last couple of years.  They left a little before we did, and rather than say good-by, I again said, “See you on the trail.”  

I occasionally do. I saw another Crew member on Waldo Lake Road last winter, going towards Betty Lake on cross-country skis as I was returning on snowshoes.  I have seen Club members on Larison Rock Trail, at Eagle’s Overlook over Odell Lake, while I was leading a snowshoe trip, I saw my barber, a past PCT thru-hiker, while I was clearing Brice Creek trail in the Umpqua National forest. 

Out in the middle of Betty Lake.

“See you on the trail” is goodby to people who know what is out there, in the Cascades, the Coast Range, the Rockies, the Quetico-Superior, the Brooks Range, where there are wild rivers, places where few know.  Or even places where many may go, but they weren’t there when you were. You may have gone on a weekday, when it poured rain, there was deep snow, or had blowdowns that you could get around and get back deep into that special country.  As my years of being on the trail are now limited, the term has new meaning: “See you on the Trail”—Capital T— now means wherever the Trail leads, to the back of beyond in the wilderness…beyond the last jumping off point, last hike, backpack, campsite.

See you on the Trail.

GETTING IT RIGHT

September 5, 2021

I was further behind than I wanted or expected to be and needed to catch up with the rest of the Crew as we worked north from the start of the Diamond Peak Trail, near Emigrant Pass and Summit Lake. We were leapfrogging each other, and I took the first blowdown, four smallish firs across the trail, by myself.  They turned out to be a bit more difficult to remove, having fallen deeply into the ground, and I used my axe and three saws—small hand saw, Corona, and KatanaBoy 500— liberally to where I could cut them, dig them out, and pull them off the trail.

Unnamed Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness, at the southern end of the Diamond Peak Trail.

At last, everything cleared and I moved on up the trail passing by a nice, small lake, where I saw Josiah checking out a 14-inch log over the trail.  I liked working with him; he had a wealth of experience about cutting and the superb judgment that came with experience.  The log was resting on a stump at one end and supported on the ground a good 10 yards’ distant.  I thought one cut on the opposite side of the trail from the stump would work, and I was half right.  I knew the log would have top bind, but it had been lying there for awhile and looked like it might be easy to cut from the top.

“Let’s underbuck,” said Josiah, quietly. “It will be easier.”  I was a little surprised, but I also realized there should be no binding at all from below, as we would cut through tension. We started working and I watched the kerf open up from below, exactly as it should.  We got almost to the top, pulled the saw out, and Josiah tried stepping on the log with no effect, then I hit it 3 times with the 1.5 kg poll of my axe, and still nothing happened. So, we cut all the way through, held the saw up so the falling log wouldn’t carry it into the ground. I grabbed the cut end and wrestled it off the trail, using the stump as a pivot. 

Not all crosscut saw work is cutting from the top through the log. Some is done from underneath, underbucking. While it is easier in principle to buck (or cut) from the top, because gravity pulls the saw into the log, the bind or compression of the wood is a more critical factor. Logs suspended between two points are likely to sag slightly in the middle and have compression of the fibers on the top side or top bind, which will tend to grab and hold the saw. If the top bind is not too extreme, then it is possible to cut through, using hard plastic wedges to keep the kerf or the cut open, assuming enough of the saw is in the cut so that a wedge may be placed, without striking the saw.  

Standard top cut with wedges placed. The poll of the axe in the background (the part without the blade) is used to pound wedges in. Notice the axe is in the log, not lying on the ground.

If there is top bind, then there is tension on the bottom, and cutting there should be easier. Underbucking is one of those tasks that I seem to do right, without knowing exactly why.  I learned that two years ago, out in the field with one of the more experienced sawyers in the region.  We were underbucking a log, and because I was with a good sawyer, I didn’t want to mess up. I was gently guiding the saw upwards, not pulling it up hard against gravity but just enough to let the saw cut. That was the trick. As I did that, the saw cut through well, and the man on the other end gave me the first compliment I had ever received in the then 47 times I had been out with the Crew. He told me I was one of the top three underbuckers he had worked with.  The Crew leader heard that.  It was a good day.

Since then, I have done a lot of underbucking, most of it good, occasionally some not. Having to underbuck a 21 inch green log the entire cut is torture. Some logs are on the ground and can’t be underbucked. Others should be underbucked early in the cut to remove compression and prevent slabbing, or having the log split longitudinally as it is cut in two.  It’s a matter of judgment and art.

There is another reason to underbuck, and that is to keep the saw from striking the ground. Nothing dulls a saw worse than cutting into dirt. When I got my certification last fall, one of the other candidates accidentally let the saw go Into the ground. I was looking elsewhere at the time, but I sure remember hearing the owner/certifier yell at the cutter.  Typically, when we get close to cutting through from the top, we slow down, make the cut shorter and have our hands ready to pull up the saw when the log drops, so as to not carry the saw all the way through to the ground. 

Underbucking.

On my third time out with the Crew, three years ago, I remember instruction being given to one of the members about underbucking after part of the top cut was made. What struck me odd was that coming from below, one does not want to aim for the kerf at the top but slightly off to the side of the log that is not going to drop. I later read about this, understood the reason, and then I did it when I was cutting smaller logs by myself. I didn’t need to underbuck, but I did it anyway, aiming as described.  By doing that, when the saw reaches the top part of the cut, even if a half inch away, the log will likely fall, and the saw is within the safety of the stable part of the log and will stay away from the dropping log. It’s kind of neat.

Last summer, we had a nephew of one of the Crew members for the season, and I worked with him a lot. We bucked out many logs last year, and we underbucked several. I liked working with him. He didn’t have a fast cadence, so I could keep up and work on keeping my end of the saw straight, letting him have enough saw to cut with, two important factors in bucking.

This past week, I found myself with another member of the Crew on an underbuck. We had enough room to get the saw under the log, and as we cut upwards, he kept saying his cut was perfectly aligned. Mine was not, but I noted with some pleasure that it was only about a half-inch offset in the proper direction away from the upper cut.  A little after the two cuts met, the log dropped, and there was the saw, protected inside the half-inch offset that I had made. It’s just slick, doing it right, and having everything turn out according to plan.

Notice how the left end of the saw is protected from the falling log by the offset of the underbuck.

I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE

August 25, 2021

The young woman knelt down next to the gray squirrel at her feet and opened a bag of peanuts. Oh no, I thought, not this again.

I was at the top of Spencer Butte on the Club’s Wednesday hike, not planning to stay long because I could both smell and see smoke in the valley.  The air quality wasn’t great, and I didn’t bring my N95. A young boy about 2, a young woman in her late teens, and an older woman came up and stopped about 10 yards from where I was sitting.  Disciplining strangers is often unwise. 

I had to say something, or at least I was going to be angry with myself if I didn’t: “Please don’t do that,” I said in a voice that asked, rather than demanded. The woman stopped and looked over at me.

I continued, “They will get fat and die, because that is not their usual food.” I then looked at the young boy. “They also will bite, and I have seen that happen.”  Indeed I had, at the Grand Canyon, years ago, when a young boy screamed bloody murder after being bitten by a squirrel right outside the visitor’s center on the rim.  I think several of us there smiled. Experience is a great teacher….She stopped feeding. Others from the Club arrived on top, and I don’t know what later happened. Unfortunately, the squirrel was already fat and it was quite likely someone would feed it more that day.

I thought later I should have walked over and explained so many reasons why not to feed the wildlife: they won’t look for their natural food, they will spread fleas as well as a risk of diseases like tularemia, Lyme disease, and salmonella.  Feeding squirrels turns them into pests, not pets; the week before, 5 squirrels came at me from the points of a pentagon as I opened a protein bar to eat, after I got to the top. This isn’t good and it isn’t fun. Years ago at the top of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, we had to move where we ate lunch, because the squirrels were practically walking on us to get food.  We thought then it was ridiculous and sad, and it still is. The outdoors is not a petting zoo.  Feeding squirrels is not leave no trace.

Perhaps my saying only that it will kill the squirrel eventually and that they may bite might be enough.  But I doubt it.

Three years earlier, when 15 of us in the Club were up on top in the same place, one person started feeding a squirrel. I exploded, “Don’t do that!” I yelled. The guy kept feeding, saying “It is organic.”  I was so angry, both at him, as well as the fact that nobody else in the Club said a word, that I hiked down immediately and went home. Even 2 years later, the guy occasionally brought up the squirrel incident in a sotto voce comment similar to what my mother did when she was angry but didn’t want to make a scene. He and I were once friends but haven’t spoken much since.  He doesn’t like rules, doesn’t like being told what to do, although he has told off mountain bikers who had the same right to the trail as he, and thinks he knows what a squirrel should eat. He also sees me as a hiking competitor, although I decided to walk away from the notion of competition, which I find can be toxic.

Don’t feed wildlife: animals should if anything want nothing to do with you. My goal is to observe an animal and then back away without their obviously showing they were aware of me.  They probably were aware, but if they didn’t change their activity, I wasn’t being a pest. I have a fond memory of the August day on Kekakabic Lake in the Boundary Waters in 1986, where I snuck up to a beaver while in a canoe, got within a few feet, then backed off quietly without disturbance. I got my look; today, I would stay further away, but the main thing was that I didn’t disturb the animal enough so that they expended calories or catecholamines moving away.

* * *

The individual above was camped on Basswood Lake with me when after lunch he asked whether it was OK to throw an apple core into the woods.  Excuse me? This is an outdoorsman or a man outdoors?  Really? After all the Boundary Waters instruction campers have about leave no trace, which means no cans or bottles, clean out the fire area when you leave, don’t cut green trees, use only the wood you need, be sure the fire is dead out when you are off the campsite, and carry out your trash, it’s OK to toss an apple core? No, I replied. Here is the garbage bag for the trip. We no longer burn trash, either, which got rid of bulk, but polluted the air. It is the 21st century, not the mid-20th, when while we should have known better, we didn’t. At Crow Lake in Canada, we sunk cans in the middle of the lake every day.  Amazing.

Looking across to the campsite on Basswood Lake where I kept one apple core from littering. This is not pristine wilderness, but that doesn’t mean it should be a dump, either.

Four times at lunch now, when I have been with the Crew in the woods working, someone has tossed an apple core into the woods. I cringe when I see this. Apple trees don’t grow in the wilderness. Apples themselves are food but not natural food for animals. They are litter.  OK, a trail maintenance crew hardly is leave no trace, cutting out blowdowns, hacking away growth near the trail, and digging drains along or in the trail, but the idea is not to leave food scraps around for animals to find.  It is unhealthy for them and nothing degrades the wilderness experience quicker than seeing someone else’s garbage.  I have to figure out now how to deal with the apple cores and not annoy the Crew.  The first step is to watch where the core went and quietly go pick it up, put it in a bag, and carry it out. I am, after all, wearing gloves, and the weight and bulk are non issues.  The next step might be to put the plastic bag in the center of the lunch area and ask people to drop their apple cores there.

After all, if I need to be instructed on the saw occasionally after 50 days going out on 2-man crosscut saw crews, it’s only fair that perhaps I should instruct others who have been going into the woods maybe 50 years about leave no trace ethics. The world has changed.

EATING THE ELEPHANT

August 10, 2021

I was the first one there. Oh man, What a mess.  There were three large logs on and over the trail, having fallen in just the right way (or wrong way from our viewpoint) to land directly on the trail, not across it, where we could make two cuts and be done with the log. Nope, one was chest high and over the east side of the trail, there were two on the ground in the middle, and at the south end were two more broken off logs, 15 feet long each. Most call this jumble a jackstraw; when scouting a trail, I referred to it as a “mess,” as I did above.

Several of the logs had branches that in themselves were significant work to remove with a hand saw. While I was waiting for the others to join me, I removed about ten of them.  Nothing could be done without their removal, in order to increase visibility of the log, and get a better idea of how it will behave when cut, and it is something that the first person there can do. Like vacuuming at home, or doing the dishes, one doesn’t announce to the others the completion of the job.  It is assumed someone will do it, and this time the job fell to me.

Working on this area is dangerous in at least two different ways: first, removal of the smaller branches is not major cutting, which means it may be done with less preparation and more unpleasant surprises as results. The second is with all the sharp protrusions, falling can be really nasty. Seeing these on a hike is potentially a hike ender.

Looking at the mess, we all just wanted to bypass it, for this area on the trail has had bad blowdowns for the last three years I know of, and the year before that the Crew spent 8 weeks on the trail and probably some right at this spot.  Last year, I spent three long days clearing the 6 mile trail. 

We were 5 and tackled the logs with a plan by splitting the crew in two and working from each end. This increased our production and kept us out of each other’s radius of danger.   Then, it was a matter of starting, focusing on the task ahead, not worrying about how long it was going to take. It would take a while. The day was going to be warm and smoke already present from fires south of us would give over to thunderstorms in the afternoon, but it was hazy already and humid. After hiking in nearly three miles in with full gear, we were plenty warm.  

Two other logs were across the trail about ten yards to the south, and they were dealt with by two cuts each. The larger logs parallel to the trail were cut in about 12 foot intervals, enough to be useful and still be manageable to move off the trail, where there was limited room due to thick brush and small trees adjacent.  We used my strap, a cut tree for a pry bar, and three pairs of hands or legs to move everything we cut.  There was a lot of discussion about where we wanted the log to go, what needed to be removed or done, and who would do what.

Plenty of work for everybody except the cameraman, who was taking a break. Note the haze.

Little by little we had more room, the trail began to be recovered, and we could start to see what needed to go and what could stay.  Fortunately, the logs were green enough to cut easily, and the only problem we had was a log that had cracked. Normally, one would think dealing with a cracked log would be less work, cutting through the crack, but that is a bad idea.  We tried to break the log apart with a Pulaski and ended up with the mass of wood fibers going in several directions, making a cut almost impossible and prying out the wood difficult enough.

Two 12 foot logs that were at the north end of the mess were pushed off rather unceremoniously.  Any way that worked we used, along with several methods that didn’t work.

After a morning’s work, we were left with two more cuts, one to make the trail a little wider, and as that occurred, we decided the second cut, which would do the same, was not necessary.  

Clearing the trail itself required the same philosophy.  There were hundreds of logs down, and each one needed to be evaluated, the cut planned and completed, and the log moved.  The only way to do that was one stroke of the saw at a time, one cut at a time, one log at a time, one bite of the elephant at a time.  Hand Lake Trail is famous for downed logs, because most of it had been burned over in 2010 in the Scott Mountain fire, and after several years, dead trees start falling over with the wind—or without it, for that matter. Every dead tree was a candidate for falling in addition to the live ones that had blown over. We would return here, but we weren’t sure when. Thunderstorms rolled in about 2, so we left, and lightning struck north of us in the Mt. Washington wilderness, starting yet another fire, leading to the closure of the trail the next day.

Hand Lake Trail in the burned area, 2020.

Hiking out of the Mount Washington wilderness. The Three Sisters are in the background, the volcanic debris from 1800 years ago is to the left.

NOT REALLY HELPFUL

July 6, 2021

We encountered the first log, a 300+ year-old tree that had fallen and rotted partly away. It was difficult to go over or around, but someone had cut a notch in the top and two holes on the side for foot placement. We used them to go over the log, deciding we would remove it on the way back.

The Crew leader and I were on a section of the Winberry Divide Trail, not far from Lookout Point  Reservoir, the trail neither long enough nor high enough to attract a lot of use, but it clearly had had some love in years past, judging by the “turnpike” structures where still intact logs denoted an edge of the trail.  Most of the tread was becoming overgrown by Thimbleberry and other big-leafed plants, and we were trying to recover the path that could connect Fall Creek to the north with the reservoir to the south.  

We had split our crew in half; the leader and I were to log out part 3 of the trail, having logged out part 1 a month ago.  We would then retrace and log out part 2 from the top, on which the other two members of the Crew coming up from below using the power brusher.  I hadn’t been sure when I signed up with which group I would be working.  I like swamping or helping for log cutting with power saws, so I can look at the binds and predict what I think the log will do. On the other hand, the Stihl one cylinder 26 cc displacement power brusher with a starter cord can be fun to cut with.  The leader put me with him, and we started up the trail. The recent heat wave had ended, but humid warm air surrounded us.  I was glad I wore a thin shirt.

As we continued, I cleared encroaching brush at eye level, not trying to deal with the mass of thimbleberry that flowed over the trail, since that was better suited for the power brusher.  We soon encountered a second log that had been recently cut. 

Again, not by us.

A little further up were two more cut logs.  Sort of. In between them were two on the ground that were tripping hazards, especially in the thick growth, and the logs that were cut had ends that still extended out over the trail.  It was passable but not adequately logged out. The leader cut out the first log in one place, and I was able to lift and toss it into the blackberry patch near the trail. He trimmed back a second log so it was not over the trail, while with my Corona hand saw I cut out a small 3-inch log, also a hazard, but which had been left behind.  

The leader decided to turn around, figuring most everything would have been cut, if not ideally, and we would head in the opposite direction back to the start, head down Trail 2 from the other end, logging it out and joining up with the power brusher duo.  I suggested we cut out the first log we encountered, which we did over the next half hour with multiple cuts from above, so we could remove smaller chunks before the last remaining large piece.  The rotten wood gave way easily, and we had the trail cleared quickly.

Returning towards the starting point, we removed a pile of overhanging branches near the start of the trail, continuing downhill to link up with the others.

The trail is passable, unless one is tall or on a horse. It’s a lot of work to clear this and more dangerous that one thinks, for branches intertwined with each other often have a lot of force if the tension is suddenly released by a cut. I’ve seen a small branch knock off a hard hat and send a person’s glasses ten yards into the woods. Winberry Divide Trail.

This isn’t the first time we have encountered “rogue cutters,” who often are those who want to go further into the woods and bring their own saws to clear obstructions.  Earlier this year, three crosscut sawyers wanted to log out Gold Point Trail and found it had been already logged out. That’s unfortunate, because the log out was probably with a chain saw, and the top in early season is off limits to chain saws, not because it is in wilderness—it is not— but because of Peregrine Falcon’s nesting on nearby cliffs.

It also meant that a crew carried all their equipment up a couple of thousand vertical feet for naught.  I know that feeling: the year before, I had carried a chain saw to the top of Trestle Falls trail to log out about a dozen downed logs.  I had scouted the trail myself a few weeks earlier. Someone had logged out the trail, and it would have been nice, saved a lot of time and effort—the saw was a heavy load to carry up 700 vertical feet—if they had notified someone what they had done.

Someone like me, who maintains the trail page for the Cascade Volunteers Web site, and would like to have an updated list of trail conditions from competent people, so we don’t scout trails that have previously been scouted, and we don’t send crews to clear trails that have been previously cleared.  We also should not have to finish work that should have been finished, like the clearing of brush at the beginning of the trail, or work that had been started, but not finished.

In 2018, the upper part of Ollallie Mountain Trail was partly logged out and I was with the crew that had not been informed.  We have a problem where some do log-outs in areas where chain saws may not be allowed, where the Forest Service is not aware of work being done, where Workmen’s Comp Laws will not apply, in the name of “Have Saw, will Cut.” Often, the minimum distance to pass is cut, and logs may be left in the middle of the trail, so the work has to be redone—or at least finished.

The leader and I worked our way to a pile of several 16” diameter logs, one of which had been removed, and two others, each of which had two cuts half to two-thirds the way through the log, and no further. Perhaps the saw broke, perhaps they ran out of gas, or perhaps they couldn’t cut further. Ten yards further a log was left in the middle of the trail.  The problem with rogue cutting is people’s leaving logs that also need to be cut, like those at ground level that can be tripped over. Or, as just described and I have seen this earlier in the year, where a log was cut and the round (piece) left, not even pushed off the trail.

We haven’t cut anything yet. This is how we found the logs

This is amateur hour.  Three years ago with a hand saw, I started to cut out a long 4-inch log up on Hardesty Mountain, but just as I began, I suddenly realized the log had some side bind and I hadn’t a clue what might occur when I cut.  I quit, shook my head at my ignorance, walked away and never did that again. Six score days out on the trail with experienced people, I am beginning to approach competence.

The sawyer made the first cut outside the perimeter of the other two cuts, and 15 minutes later, we pushed the last round off the trail and went to deal with the log in the middle of the trail.  He cut it once into two parts, then we sat on the ground and used our combined four legs to push each section into the brush on the side, off the trail.

Log found in the middle of the trail. Sitting down and putting legs on it is far easier than pushing with arms. I have learned, however, that such effort is akin to hiking perhaps a quarter of a half mile, and one does pay for it when hiking out.

For those who want to help: join a crew, and if some logs are beyond one’s ability, leave them—uncut.  But once you start cutting, finish.  Don’t forget to push the round off the trail. That’s part of the job, too.

LUNCH TIME WITH…OR WITHOUT THE CREW

June 28, 2021

A couple of years ago, in winter, I worked widening a trail near Upper Trestle Falls, above Brice Creek in the Umpqua National Forest.  I had significant job constraints: a rock cliff on one side and a 50 foot drop off down the other on the other side, with maybe 4 feet of usable space between.  

Cold day at Upper Trestle Falls

The work was safe enough; I had room to maneuver, could work a little with the Pulaski while standing just below the trail, digging into mud, clearing branches, moving rocks, establishing drainage—all the things that one does with trail work.  I had about 60 feet of trail to work on, and at 11:30, I took a break for lunch.  

Nobody else from the Crew was nearby; they were filling in root wads a half mile back down the trail, trying at least to re-establish the trail, an honorable job I have done as well, but I didn’t see any point in hiking back there for lunch.  A few weeks earlier, on the other side of the ravine, I was again working solo at lunch time, decided to hike back to the Crew to eat, arriving as they were just finishing lunch, and then had to rush mine to rejoin the group. I look forward to lunch all morning; I am a morning person and do my best hiking and trail work early, and lunch in the woods if I am camped out is my favorite meal.  I usually have a protein bar sometime between 9 and 10, a holdover from 30 years ago in the Canoe Country, when doing trail work, I needed extra calories, so I downed a large Hershey bar in mid-morning.  It may not have been healthy, but it really perked me up.  Three decades later, doing trail work, or hiking, I have a mid-morning snack. It’s a little healthier but tastes just as good, and I look forward to it just as much.

At lunch, I get to sit down, take off my hard hat, lie down against my pack if I wish, and relax while I eat my sandwich.  Some of the crew have their lunches made by their spouses. Mine would laugh if I asked her to.  I’ve been making my lunch since I was a latchkey kid, some 65 years ago, and I know exactly what I want, adding a few more calories when I am doing trail work. I do not like being hungry on the job. 

This lunch spot was special. I had a bird’s eye seat at Upper Trestle Falls, and I can stare at water for hours.  I watched the water hit the creek far below and drop towards Brice Creek, then the Coast Fork, the main Willamette, and finally the Columbia before entering the Pacific Ocean. I wasn’t too concerned about the distance the water was going to travel. I was savoring my food, relaxing for the thirty minutes I allotted myself to finish raisins, chocolate, and apple, get a good drink, and steel myself for finishing this part of the trail before going back down and working on a root wad.

Behind the falls, on the trail

Sometimes, I have lunches at overlooks near the trail, other times, it’s just on a nearby log, with a place to put my foam pad and weary body, and stare at the woods across the way.  On Gold Point Trail, I relaxed against the steep backrest of the cliff behind me, staring at a tree that I suddenly noted had at least nine holes drilled in it for various nests, a woodpecker apartment building. You see a lot more in the woods when you can stop and just stare, without specifically looking for something. Trail work gives one plenty of chances to do that. Last week, lunch was near Lillian Falls below us, in lovely shade before we headed off to a remove a series of large logs that would be in bright sunshine, although when I played my cards right, I was able to wrangle the side in the shade to do my cutting. Lunch marks the half way point of the work day, it is the end of the best work I am going to be doing, and I need to pace myself carefully for the rest of the day, both working and for the hike back out of there.  I’ve still got an extra protein bar in the lunch bag; somewhere in the backpack are more calories. They need to be swapped out for something with a more recent expiration date, and I am not sure where they are, other than I know they are in there, along with a small bottle of water that is always good to see when it’s a hot day, and I have been vigorously hydrating.  

I usually don’t talk much during lunch. It’s sort of “Let your victuals close your mouth,” I learned as a kid.  Of course, if I am alone when I eat, that’s easy, but I usually don’t have much to say, so I listen and get a close look at the woods around me.  The nice thing about the Crew is we don’t talk politics.  I’m frankly hard pressed to remember what we talked about at the last lunch.  Maybe nothing. The other guys are just as hungry and tired as I am.  

A month back, on a rainy day at Erma Bell Lakes, I sat down in the woods in a relatively dry spot. I took off my hard hat and put on a wool hat that I had fortunately remembered to bring along. It was chilly, about 50, but I was fine until about 15 minutes into lunch, when I began feeling cold.  I cut the time short, got up, changed my gloves to dry ones, shivered a little it, and followed the rest of the guys down the trail to the next log. Lunch was necessary, but movement was more so, and I wouldn’t be warm again for an hour and three more logs cut out. 

Right after lunch on the Erma Bell Lakes trail

Half hour passed, time to get up, get the stiffness out of me, and get back to work.  Want people to have a good experience on this trail.

Working on a root wad in the rain in December, an honorable way to spend the day.
Oregon Anemone near Lillian Falls
Lunch spot at Vivian Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness

TURNING AROUND IS UNDERRATED

May 30, 2021

I realized at 1:30 pm that we were over 3 miles from the trailhead with all our work gear and still going further away. We had to hike out at some point and drive home, making for a long day, and I was beginning to think I needed to say something to the crew leader.  Some leaders have a good sense of time on trail; others seem to be able to work non-stop all day. I ran into both kinds in medicine, too, and the group with whom I practiced was full of the latter, which is one reason why I ultimately left. I’ll admit it; I get tired, I get hungry, and I can’t go-go-go for 12 hours.

The four of us had done good work, cutting out two dozen blowdowns on the trail to the west side of the Erma Bell Lakes, a trio of lakes in a beautiful forest due north of Waldo Lake. But it had been rainy, temperature in the upper 40s, and at lunch I had cooled down. My wet gloves did not help.  I was saving the dry ones for later.  I at least brought a wool hat to use during lunch, but I had the hard hat back on, and cutting out two small logs had only slightly warmed me up.

We ascended another 100 vertical feet into snow patches and at a trail junction held a powwow. It was obvious the loop the leader wanted to do was out of the question, but he wanted to go on to a second junction with the trail up the east side of the Erma Bells.  I committed to the 0.8 miles to the junction and hoped to arrive no later than 2.  

Logs like this that fall along the trail often require multiple cuts. Between Middle and Lower Erma Bell Lakes, Three Sisters Wilderness,
May 2021. Once the second cut was made, the four of us pushed the log (600-800 pounds) to one side of the trail using our legs.

Within 200 yards, we had encountered more snow and another blowdown. This section was going to take longer than 30 minutes.  One of the others, Sig, and I cut out the obstruction and pushed it with our legs off the trail into the snow. He commented to me that walking in snow was going to slow us down.  I thought that it would also cool our feet, which isn’t what I wanted, especially since they were finally warm.

About an eighth of a mile from the junction, I started walking on snow the whole time. The other two members of the crew stopped and said they wanted to go on to the junction and up the east side back to the vehicles.  I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know the trail, there would be snow for at least the next half mile or even more (I would later learn the trail would remain at the snow level for about a mile and a half), and unknown numbers of blowdowns would be an issue.  They would scout the trail, but that would slow them down even more. This was a long day, I was tired, and warmth required me to keep moving–preferably towards the trailhead.

I was concerned when the leader said his GPS had us at 6 miles in. Mine said 3.8, and a sign I had read at the beginning said our hoped destination was 4.5 miles. My GPS, map, and sense all confirmed each other. He was operating with a faulty GPS.  Since we wouldn’t finish the trail, I suggested we come back another day and log out the eastern side of the trail and the far southern end of the loop.  That was thought to be reasonable, but we ended up going our separate ways, Sig and I back the way we came; the other two’s continuing on around.

They were experienced and good hikers, but it was late in the day and they were tired, too, whether or not they appreciated it.  I was back at the car in an hour and a half, Sig a few minutes later. We knew the trail, we knew it was clear.  He was going to wait for them; as assistant crew leader, he let me leave.  By then, I was warm, mostly dry, and just tired, but not unduly so.

My decision was right and smart.  The other two, who knew the trail, were in good shape and did not have any problems. We each made our choices.  They did encounter deep snow and at least 40 various sized blowdowns. I would not have enjoyed dealing with that.

I’m not afraid of turning around. I did it on the hike to Young’s Rock a few years ago when I encountered a huge blowdown with drop-offs on one side and a cliff on the other, all snow-covered. I looked at all options to go over it and finally decided to turn around and head back.  It was a good decision. One day this past winter on snowshoes, I turned around and retraced my steps, not finishing a loop. That was the right decision, too. Only twice can I remember stopping and checking the situation before deciding to continue. Once was my first hike on Obsidian Loop, when I was in a snow field and actually took a few steps back before turning around and going on. I had a GPS for the first time and realized I could have my track traced rather than turn on the instrument and see where I was. I had a tough hike, six consecutive miles off (but near) the trail, but I completed the loop—without snowshoes. It was a great hike but not the smartest thing I have done.

Blowdowns blocking the route, Young’s Rock Willamette NF, April 2016. My walking stick is about 1.3 m in length. The log was cut out about a month later.
Small Lake on Obsidian Loop (7000′ or 2100 m.), where I was probably the first to see it that season. Getting away with something doesn’t mean it was safe. Obsidian Loop, July 3, 2014.

The second was doing Duffy Loop, which the map said was 19 miles but was actually 23.1.  At 8 miles, I realized the GPS was either over-reading the mileage or the map was wrong. I sat and decided what to do and decided to continue. It was a long day. I had lunch at the 13 mile mark in a nice woods and watched my water carefully.  The problem with that approach is that water needs to be drunk, not conserved, on a hot day.  The west side of the loop back to the main trail was in an old burn and had blowdowns and no shade. I got back to the car where fortunately I had water and drank heavily.

I should have turned around.  The other mistake I made was not to stop and drink out of a stream. I risked giardia, but it would not have been dumb.  Now I add a water purifier to my pack along with chlorine tablets.  

I don’t regret the times I turned around. Either I didn’t have the legs that day, I had a bad map, or trail conditions were worse than expected.  Trail not yet walked is seldom flat with no obstructions. There are instances where feeling like one has to do the distance is akin to summit fever of mountaineers. I have endurance, but I am old and have nothing to prove and a lot to hurt.

I’ve been accused of being too analytical and neither enjoying the hike nor the view.  When I am in the woods, I do monitor myself, the GPS, the map, the sky, and the conditions. I can’t exclude the possibility of an unexpected medical problem, but that’s what InReach is for.  I can exclude as much as possible getting lost or in over my head.  I know many in Search and Rescue. I don’t want to have them go out there to rescue me from my own sins.

For the record, I identify wildflowers, birds, and can describe the trail a year later. I also know whether I want to do the hike again. Obsidian Loop I’ve hiked 11 times; Duffy Loop I will never hike again.

THE ROCK AND THE FLOWERS

May 22, 2021

So THAT was the rock Jim was talking about, around which he wanted me to dig out, because the trail would be safer behind the rock than the foot wide passage on the creek side, where a misstep would lead to a nasty fall.  There was a 10 foot formerly burned log on the adjacent hill that dived into the soil by the rock. What was I going to dig out?  The log was in the way, and nobody could go under it. 

The Rock

I had a Rogue hoe with me, not quite as good as a Pulaski for serious digging, but good enough in the soft soil of Fall Creek. I easily dug out what I could then stopped to think about the whole matter.

The Crew was restoring Fall Creek Trail, a national historic trail supported financially by some retired Forest Service employees and volunteers like us, who drove there on our own dime, with our own tools, and worked on our own time. On a somewhat drizzly morning, six of us crossed Fall Creek on a wet log well above the water.  I had been over this log a week before under dry conditions; this time I crossed crawling.  It didn’t help the previous night I awoke with a premonition I was going to fall off the log. I didn’t feel safe standing, and besides, I had knee pads. I crossed without incident.

Crossing the creek.

We hiked uphill a quarter mile, where we had logged out the week before, repaired several hundred feet of tread and began work from where we had left off.  I was sent to “swamp” (help) a crew member with a chain saw, so he could log out everything beyond to where the trail reached its highest point.  Once we did that, my job was then to descend to the creek and take care of rerouting around the rock and to repair a small piece of the trail that I had left several weeks earlier. I had been upset with myself about not having done more than place a small log with some rocks at the edge. The trail was not quite a foot wide, twice that or a bit more would be much more safe.   

The sawyer trimming before cutting the log. This would take three cuts plus a lot of smaller brush removal.

It was an easy hike down, I found the spot that needed widening, and a few yards later saw the rock and the log.  If I could deal with the rock, I could have lunch and then deal with the easier matter of widening the trail. But how?  I pushed on the log, and it at least gave a slight bit of motion.  I climbed up the steep, soft slope, grabbed some grass and put my legs into the log.  Not much happened, but I felt a little give.  

I returned to my pack and took all three saws I had, a small hand saw, a 14” hand saw, and my Katana Boy 500 mm saw.  I also took the thick cloth tape I had out of my pack, a wedge, and took another look at the bottom of the log.  I couldn’t cut out too far above it, because the whole log would come down on me.  But I could cut near the rock, so I began with the Katana Boy, finding it good for a while before it bound up.  I then switched to the 14” saw, finding some of the log rotten and easily flaked off. I stuck the wedge in and pried, removing more material.  I finally cut through, and the log shifted downward a couple of inches. 

That was encouraging, and I went up the bank and pushed some more.  The log moved a little, but not much.  I cut more off the bottom, tried pushing, and did it again.  Each time, the log shifted a little. I finally went up the bank and pushed, this time actually moving the log out of the depression it had formed. There was another burned out branch from a log that was holding up progress, so I removed that, too.  I pushed some more, and the log shifted about ten degrees. Now it had to be removed or marked as a hazard with colored tape, announcing to the world the person who had caused this was a rookie.  Couldn’t have that happen.

So, I pushed hard, and the log finally paid the gravity bill, slowly rolling off the hill to the trail, then bouncing off the trail, rolling down almost 100 feet to the creek.  All that remained was to clean up the soil that came down.  The bypass would be fine, and I was pleased with my result.  

Rock without the log with a bit more cleanup to do.

I ate lunch, listening occasionally to the chain sawyer working on logs back up the hill.  I don’t set out to eat lunch alone on trail crews, but frequently I end up in places where I do.  The creek was beautiful, the light rain more than welcome, and I had a big part of my job finished.

I then started widening the trail, working below the edge of the trail standing on loose soil, my knees anchored at the edge. With the hoe, I pulled plant material off the inner or “strong” side of the trail, easily getting into subsoil or mineral soil, which we wanted to have on the trail. The width was just over a foot, with places where erosion could easily destroy the whole trail.  I dug up small and large rocks, placing some at the “weak” or outer edge, piling the dirt at the edge and some of the grassy clumps as well, which retained their soil and I hoped would transplant. 

I was limited by large rocks on the inner aspect of the trail, which I couldn’t remove.  I also noted two lovely False Solomon’s seal plants in full bloom, right above the narrowest part of the trail.  Normally, we cut out plants; the ubiquitous Sword ferns were cut off along with Maiden Hair ferns with their black stems. They grow back quickly enough. There was a carpet of moss, too, which I hated to pull up, but I did and tried to place it on wet soil.

But I wouldn’t cut out the False Solomon’s seals.  They were the nicest I have ever seen.  So I let them hang over the trail, after photographing them and smelling the gentle, sweet smell they have. In a few weeks, they will have gone to seed and hopefully have spread their genes elsewhere.  Some time next year, we can come by with a power brusher and remove the dead stems and maybe see several big new plants.

I was finished here. The trail was wider, the bypass around the rock more than adequate, and the False Solomon’s seals saved.  When I told Jim that I had moved the log out of the way, neither embellishing my actions nor discussing the flowers, he just looked at me, nodded, and said, “Good.”

PEOPLE ARE INTERESTING

April 28, 2021

As I finished checking the registration forms from the three people in the vehicle at the vaccination clinic at Autzen Stadium and took two vaccination records, an elderly woman in the back seat showed me a scrap of paper that had once been her vaccination record.  I told her I would make a new one.

“My dog ate it!” She said, obviously embarrassed. 

I couldn’t resist. “Sort of like your homework?”  The two in front broke out laughing, and so did the woman. Yes, people are interesting. 

I learned that simple fact from my mother, a sociologist, who earned her Master’s degree in 1955, when I was 7 and women were supposed to be at home, not getting degrees or even teaching college level classes, which she would do.

They were supposed to be taking care of their children, disciplining them if necessary (which it often was in my home), shopping, taking them to doctor’s appointments, cleaning the house, and making the meals, although in my case, as the youngest, I learned early to make my own lunch, and I have done so for nearly 7 decades.

My mother would often point out interesting-looking or interesting-acting people when I was out with her, clothes, relationships, commenting, “People are interesting.”  If a couple were a tall man and a short woman, she was interested. They weren’t of different colors back then, which today she would find fascinating; same gender couples were not on our radar then, and I’m not sure what she would think of the biological fact that gender is not a simple dichotomy. 

When an airline ticket agent told my mother he had a lot of problems to deal with and couldn’t help her, my mother asked him to tell her his problems. He did.  Then she said she had listened to him, and now it was his turn to listen to her. She was interesting. And got her problem fixed.

I never forgot that.  When I practiced neurology, I observed people for a living, but I was less concerned with the unusual aspects my mother pointed out in favor of the specific physical attributes I needed to know.  A good neurologist doesn’t have patients put into the examination room but prefers to call them personally from the waiting room, where he or she notices their ability to hear, watches them get up, walk, and talk—all complex neurological functions—without their realizing they are being observed. I had many a patient diagnosed before I shook their hand, which was another part of the exam. I learned that three times as many women accompanying their patient-husband came into the exam room without asking as did men accompanying their patient-wives.  I knew that because I counted them. That’s real sociology.  When I still had time to go to the Tucson Symphony, I would watch people walk, diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease, steppage gaits of a foot drop, hemiparesis, and cerebellar disorders; I would listen to speech of one with a tremor, all sorts of neuropathology to notice. People are interesting.   

When my wife and I started volunteering full weekends at Autzen, we checked paperwork for legibility and completion, filled out vaccination cards or made new ones (if the dog ate it), and explained the remaining process of getting a vaccine and waiting around afterwards. We had more human contact the first day we were out there than we had had in the prior year, and that is no exaggeration.  

We saw the whole gamut of people who lived in western Oregon—mostly white, but Black, Hispanic, men, women, and non-binary, because I could read the checked box or see under medical conditions “transitioning.” There were all sorts of accents. I guessed right that two women were Iranian from their names, and I surprised a woman who was Turkish by telling her I thought she was by her name. Fathers brought daughters, mothers brought sons.  Three generations of people were occasionally in the vehicle, a teenager in the front, the middle-aged driver, and the grandparent in the back, with a date of birth that was close to mine.

Five men were crowded into a Prius wagon, the only “fiver” I have had to date. They alone moved the needle that was Oregon’s vaccination percentage.

I also noted handwriting consistent with familial tremor and the micrographic writing of Parkinson’s Disease.

I like numbers, so I was interested in birthdays, how quickly I saw a second person with the same birthday I had already encountered. By the 23rd person, the probability is more than half that one birthday will repeat.  I saw people born on 9/3/93, 9/9/99, 6/6/66, the last the week before I graduated from high school.  There was an 6/8/68 woman whose daughter just missed being a 9/4/94. I’ve seen five with my birthday and scores of people born in December, where I say, “good month to have been born in,” just like 1948 was “a good year to have been born.” My wife counted lefties. It’s more difficult writing in the driver’s seat if one is left-handed.  Ever think of that?  

I saw a couple drive up in a contractor truck, man white, woman Asian, partners in the company as well as life. I saw one pair pulling their trailer, planning probably to be on the coast or up in the mountains that night, my wondering which it would be.  Some vehicles were barely running and had a a lot of miles on them, as did the driver.  One car overheated and had to be pushed out of line.  Others were late model Lexuses or Mercedes’ driven by teenagers or young adults.  I wore knee pads, because I often filled out the vaccine card on my leg, and I knelt on the rocky surface of the parking lot, where I often made eye contact with drivers of vehicles close to the ground.  Or, I had to reach way up to the driver to give him back his vaccination card, chugging sound of the diesel in my ear.

How people age was always interesting. I saw an Asian woman 4 days older than I who looked much younger. I have seen people ten years younger than I who look much older.  One Black man told me, “I don’t like these numbers,” pointing to his date of birth. I told him I had a good six years on him, but he looked good. 

Many were in a celebratory mood, a few grumpy.  That’s fair. It’s been a long 14 months, people are tired of the pandemic, the wait for vaccines has been long, and the wait in line that day no fun.  One lady shooed me away from her vehicle for being too close, despite my being double masked and outdoors, and when she would soon have a vaccinator touch her.  

Some drove down the wrong lane, for Lane 1 had two parts, the edge being for walkers and cyclists but just wide enough for an ATV service vehicle to pass.  I’ve had to have the drivers back up, and one lady was superb, backing up faster without a camera than I can with one.  She was embarrassed; I told her that she wasn’t the first, and her back up skills were great. The prior day, an 81 year-old missed the directions I had given her when I worked the initial check in and drove off down the same wrong lane with several of us chasing after her van.  I had a sense she didn’t understand my directions and should have repeated them.

One group of young people streamed music to get vaccinated by.  We have had Teslas and a truck that was vibrating so badly I couldn’t write on the driver’s side.  Another truck drove through with a loud screech every time the driver braked. I had a brief conversation with one man who saw my “Gates of the Arctic” hat and wanted to go there. He had “The Look”*: someone who wanted to see the open spaces, free flowing rivers, caribou, bears, the circular path of the summer sun, and the tundra’s coming alive. I told him it was worth doing and hoped he would.  

We tell people to take a picture of their vaccination card. My wife adds “put it in a safe place, and then take a picture of the safe place so you can find it when you want it.” There is a pause, and then the people in the car just laugh. People are interesting, but in that way, of putting things away and not remembering where they are, we are much the same. 

Fourteen lanes getting ready for the onslaught.

*They had that look in their eyes—maybe I should call it The Look—which others have seen from me. It’s a far away gaze of longing, of thinking about wild country, of rivers that run free and few people in the Lower have ever heard of, like Aichilik, Nigu, Itchilik, Alatna, Hulahula, or Kobuk.  It’s mountains and remote valleys, wild country, open horizons, where the Sun in summer travels in a circle above the treeless tundra.  It’s slogging through tussocks, rivers, swamps, and in bear, caribou, Dall sheep, wolverine, and moose country.  It’s hiking on residual ice, or aufeis, and bugs in June, blueberries and crowberries in July, rain, autumn colors and the return of night in August.  It’s the most difficult country to hike that I have encountered, also the most beautiful.  It is a country that kicks one’s butt, until finally one accepts it with the simple words, “It’s Alaska.” Everybody up here who has worn The Scent understands that.

THIRD BRIDGE

March 31, 2021

We had a short hike to the third failed bridge on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, a Wild and Scenic River that runs from Waldo Lake to Westfir, Oregon, where it empties into the Middle Fork of the Willamette. It had rained on the way to the trailhead, but the rain had stopped, and the five of us were ready to deal with what we thought would be the easiest of the three failed bridges we were tasked to totally decommission.  I had looked forward to the day, remembering a short hike, a smaller bridge, spending a short time there, and then we would have removed all the failed bridges.

The hike was not as easy or as short as I remembered, uphill from the start, trail muddy and slick, my pack, including an electric reciprocating DeWalt saw and a battery, a Pulaski in my right hand, meant I was carrying 30-40 pounds going uphill.  I had hiked to the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene the day before, and my legs reminded me that every step.

We arrived at the bridge, which looked the way I had remembered it two months earlier. It was angled down to the stream in a V, a good 20 degree angle going down and 30 degrees going up the other side. A big log lay on the far side. 

The bridge. Notice what happens to the green on the right side, across the stream.

Having decided to work on the far side, I crossed the bridge, holding the wooden rail that we would soon cut off, being careful not to slip. The rails were then removed with a chain saw, falling into the creek. The log on the far side was removed and slid into the creek. There were about 70 planks remaining that needed to be removed.  These were chemically treated and we wanted to keep them out of the river. Each was nailed into large 24-30 inch diameter stringer logs below using 8 inch helical nails, meant for staying.  That meant also that they would resist being removed. 

By us.  Five to six nails per plank.  Do the math.

The crew leader told us to pace ourselves, and I took that to heart.  The rain had started again, although I only noticed it by seeing drops splashing into puddles. Wearing a hard hat has advantages.  The planks were attacked by the other four with pry bars and crow bars to try to loosen the nails.  The first few planks were removed easily with the nails in them. My job was to cut the nails out with a grinder, rather than trying to knock them out with a small sledge hammer.  The grinder worked well, the nails smoked, then bent, so I could then remove the molten end and stack it on a nearby log, where we would later collect and remove them.

Crew member grinding off the visible nail on a stringer, stream below.

For the first few planks, I just had to move them a few yards on level ground to where I was stacking them, using the long nails as handles.  When I had the plank in the stack, I cut off the nails, then went to the next plank, which began to become further downhill from me, as the crew continued working.  The ground was getting progressively muddier.

About forty planks remaining.

While some of the guys could pick up a plank and actually throw it, it was all I could do to pick one up; throwing was impossible.  I would raise the end, try to pull it a couple of steps uphill, rest it on the muddy ground, then rinse and repeat.  There was a lot of rinsing from above.  

It was also a bad day for tools.  he grinder suddenly stopped grinding a nail, and after hearing noise but not seeing any motion, I discovered that the disk had had a catastrophic failure, disappearing into the woods somewhere at 120,000 rpm, leaving behind a small arc of a piece near the center.  There was no telling where it went. I was glad to have a plastic shield on my hardhat, and not just for Covid protection.

We had about half the bridge apart by noon, at which time it had been raining significantly for 2 hours, so we ate standing, after we had crawled up the bridge with now every other plank removed. 

In the afternoon, we worked up from the bottom of the V, where the planks were harder to remove. We started using the grinder on those nails that the disk could reach, the reciprocating saw on the other nails. We left behind nails in the log stringers, which needed to be removed with the grinder.  The thin cawsall blades lost their bright yellow paint within seconds of being used. After about the fourth or fifth nail, they broke.  Two other disks broke on the grinder, too, although that was not with my use.

I was now taking each plank, sliding it to the bottom of the V, then lifting and tipping it towards the far end. I slid it up a wet, slippery stringer, keeping myself between the plank and the creek, until I could push it off on to semi-solid swampy ground.  I then crawled over the stringer, pulled the plank up to the pile, put it in place, catching my breath, and then going down to help on the next one.

We are all volunteers.

At one point, where I had a decent look at the bottom of a plank, so I could use a crow bar on a nail, my foot slipped off a small log, and I fell into the stream.  I moved back, realizing that (1) my gaiters were doing a good job keeping water out, and (2) they could only do that for a few seconds, before I got my feet wet.  I flopped a bit, like a blue fish out of water, as I tried to get out myself, and finally recovered my footing.  We cut the nail out with our remaining saw blade before it broke.  That was the end of that remaining blade, and even if it hadn’t broken, the batteries were all dead.

I was beat. I wasn’t doing the work the others were, but the lifting of each of the thirty-five planks under my jurisdiction was plenty.  I counted the number of planks left—15, then eventually 14, and finally down to 3.  At this point, we were all told to come across the stringers, since they were going to be the next thing cut, and crossing the stream at stream level appeared dicey, not something any of us wanted to do. 

I crossed to the north side of the stream where we had arrived. The crew leader used the chain saw to cut out the last two planks that we were unable to salvage.  He then cut the large stringers, which dropped into the stream.  We were done. The sun came out, and we dragged our weary selves and tools back to the vehicles.  This was by far the toughest bridge. We were all experienced with the work, but everything about this bridge was more difficult.  

Next year, the hope is that three replacement bridges will be built there.  I’m still trying to decide whether I want to be in on that job. 

Maybe in low water.

The bridge has been decommissioned and the stringers will eventually be carried away. My stack was on the far side, right of center, and the green patch is just a memory.

Notice the nails that need to be trimmed. All the tools are carried in and out. The North Fork is about 200 yards downstream