Archive for the ‘MY WRITING’ Category

DIFFERENT PATHS BUT KINDRED SPIRITS

November 16, 2021

I was tired as I drove out of town to a winery for the annual volunteer appreciation night. Earlier that day, I had hiked several miles at Fall Creek, swamper (helper) for two chain sawyers, rebuilt some trail tread, where it was wet and muddy, falling four times on the big leaf maple leaves that hid wet rocks.  

It was dark, raining hard, and a long drive on narrow roads to the winery, but I wasn’t planning to either drink or eat.  I was on the Board and needed to show my face, hopefully clean after the day’s work. The appreciation night was late in the year, because in summer, we are all out working trails and lakes. For introverts like me, especially a tired one, barely out of the shower, and having to work the next day, I just wanted to hide out somewhere among the fifty or so, make sure I was seen by the right people, and then leave. I had to get up early for another day of trail work, and didn’t yet know on the drive home I would be dodging opossums.

I was pleasantly surprised that the room at the winery was large, with high ceilings, a mask rule, with everyone’s complying.  I saw several from the Crew, four of whom I had seen at vaccine clinics when I worked there, advising each the best time to show up.  I saw people from the Club as well, and I figured altogether I knew 20, which for me was remarkable. I got some water and sat down at a table by a wall near the exit, so later I could quietly depart.

A tall man in his forties, wearing a Forest Service uniform, came by. His name badge read “Erik,” and I apologized for not getting up, telling him I was too tired from the day’s work and just wanted to sit. He laughed and understood, seating himself across from me.  He was from the Detroit Ranger District to our north, where I don’t hike or work often, but he knew enough of my area that we were able to talk about places we both knew. He mentioned that he had done a lot of rock work on a trail near Marion Lake, making a slide area easier to hike through. Rock work means picking up rocks (lift 1), putting them in something (2), carrying that something (3), then taking them out of that something (4), and finally putting them in a new place (5).  If I start moving rocks on a Crew job, my arms are going to feel like lead within 15 minutes. Erik looked like he could hold his own. He added he had hiked in a lot of wilderness areas in the past but didn’t offer any details. 

He asked where I got the carafe of water and cups, and I told him he could have the water, and there were cups at the bar.  While he was up, the trails person in the Middle Fork District came by and I briefly got up to tell him about the day on Fall Creek, his district, where we worked, having to leave six big logs between 20 and 40 inches that were too complex to cut, because of root balls above and the steep drop below. It wasn’t clear what would happen, and I told him we were going to have a well-known C-rated sawyer take a look. 

When I sat back down, Erik had returned, and for some reason, I guess to be social, I asked him whether he had worked in other forests, given his age. To my surprise, he hadn’t. “I was an electrician for 20 years and lost my job in the Great Recession. I didn’t know what I was going to do, so but I knew I liked hiking, so I spent time in the wilderness. I liked it so much that I decided I wanted to spend my life supporting public lands.”

Impressive.  He had changed his career in middle life. Just like I did. Lot more successfully, too, although I have no regrets. That takes guts and the ability to recognize that opportunities may appear in the worst of times (like being unemployed), then realizing that behind door #1, wilderness hiking, lies a chance to reinvent oneself in a completely different career.  Risky? Yep. Ageism rears its wrinkled head everywhere, and failure always looms, although I learned much from failing.

For me, asking more questions seemed to be pressing beyond what I thought proper but I was on a roll and continued: “Where were the wilderness areas you hiked?”

Erik came alive. I could see it in his eyes. “I hiked the PCT, (wow, I knew what was coming next), the Appalachian Trail (yep, exactly), and the Continental Divide Trail (oh my).”

“In other words,” I said, “You’ve done the Triple Crown,” short for seven thousand miles of backpacking across the US on three classic hiking trails that every avid hiker or backpacker in the US knows.  He had hiked through 96 wilderness areas alone on those three trails. Erik also mentioned several long trails in the South, including the Pihnati Trail, 300 miles in Alabama, that I had never heard of, plus 1300 miles hiking in Florida from Key West to the Panhandle. This guy was amazing, the kind of person I’d like to be when I grow up. And I am nearly 73.  All I’ve done is the southern quarter of the AT, and that was 22 years ago. I hoped I would go back, but I won’t. I never was a thru-hiker, let alone a Triple Crown hiker, but I backpacked far enough and long enough to reach the point where I didn’t feel right without a pack on my back. That’s how you really know you’ve been out in the woods. I wonder if he had done a thirty mile day. I should have asked him.  I wonder if he downed a quart of ice cream in one sitting, the way I did in Virginia one night. Damn, that was good. Or walked across the treeless Balds in a pouring rain, the way I did. I bet his adventures were far more, and I briefly contrasted Erik with another guy with whom I worked a few weeks back.

We were hiking out of the Mount Washington Wilderness when he asked me how many trail miles I had that year. The lack of an appropriate past participle made the question unclear, but I guessed correctly he meant trail miles cleared, and I replied about a hundred, which I had been tracking. He then said he had about four hundred and six hundred the prior year. I was annoyed, being sucked into someone’s narcissism in my airspace. For one thing, I counted trail miles cleared, not miles hiked in and out, otherwise my number would have been larger. For another, I probably cleared way more than my share of logs that day. I dislike one-upmanship, especially on the trail. I had had a good day’s work out there and then felt like a slug, listening to this guy brag.  

Erik was different. I felt uplifted when I listened to him, glad I asked him where he had been. I was in the presence of someone special, who rediscovered the outdoors through adversity, experienced places I will never experience, but can still appreciate, and then changed his career to care for these public lands. I, too, changed my career, I have experienced some wonderful things, and in my retirement volunteer a great deal of time to care for public lands. We are kindred spirits who took very different paths in life to end up in the same table that night.

When I left, not sneaking out early after all, I told Erik how impressed I was with what he did, and the look in his eyes showed his appreciation. 

It rained all the way home, but I didn’t hit any opossums. 

GUT FEELINGS

October 25, 2021

“Let’s leave our packs here and go ahead down the trail to get the last one. It isn’t far.”  My crew leader motioned me to go ahead of him.  I left my pack, and I felt strange without it.

Worse than strange.  Not right. 

I walked ahead anyway.  We were doing a simple logout of the Betty Lake Trail, a flat, 2-mile long popular hiking and winter trail that connects the Waldo Lake Road to the trail that goes around Waldo Lake, so this was a power saw job, although earlier I started to remove with my hand saw a small 4 inch log dug into ground, and when that bound up, used my axe. The log ahead was our last log of what was going to be an easy day.  

Small unnamed lake near the Waldo Lake Wilderness

Power saw logouts are easier in some ways for me, harder in others. I have not been sworn at on a crosscut logout. Well, almost. We were pulling a stuck saw up out of a log a couple of months ago, not stuck because of what I did, and my partner, the saw’s owner, freaked out that I was pulling too hard and would break the saw. (It wasn’t too hard and I didn’t break it.)  I have been sworn at and publicly shamed on a power saw logout. Everything there is potentially more dangerous. There is a fast moving chain with teeth, rather than a slow moving piece of steel with teeth. One can damage a power saw faster and easier than a crosscut by hitting a rock or ground, and if a bind is not properly appreciated, one learns very quickly, as opposed to much cracking and splitting that precedes the answer when a crosscut is used.

Staying well back. The ribbon on the axe sheath helps me find it.

But break any log under a great deal of tension with either, and the speed of the released log and its kinetic energy, a function of the mass and the square of the velocity, is unchanged.  A large log can move 15 feet in a split second. I’ve seen it.

I hadn’t swamped for several months with a power sawyer, but the rules were unchanged: I stayed 12 feet back; some sawyers want me back as much as 20. Each has his or her own rules. I checked overhead, looked around. It’s easy to get focused on the cut, but I needed to look where the cutter wasn’t looking to make sure there were no snags that could come down, no hikers coming up the trail, the log being cut wasn’t moving inappropriately from some other log we hadn’t seen.  If wedges are needed, I have them available and the axe to pound them in with. A year earlier, as I went by a log a sawyer was going to cut, I noticed another log on a slight incline perpendicular to to the one we were going to cut. When the cut log fell, the secondary might roll, and if so, there was only safe way to deal with it. The cutter didn’t see the secondary log, which was partially hidden from his view, so I yelled to him to move over to my side. Being a bit gun-shy, I couched my words carefully, “You might want to be on this side when you cut.” The cutter moved over, cut the first log, and immediately the second log, much larger, rolled down over the trail where he had just been.  I got thanked for that one.

As I walked, I became more uncomfortable.  The trail went downhill, and the “short” distance was longer than I expected. I didn’t like being without my pack out here. Eventually, I reached the log in question, forty vertical yards below and five hundred trail yards further from where I started.  The log was cut, and there were no problems.

I was relieved and could not wait to get back up the trail to my pack. I had just made a bad decision and had gotten away with it.  Such a result doesn’t retrospectively make the bad decision good. It wasn’t. The probability was low there would have been a need for my pack, and everything worked out.  But it might not have. That was the second bad decision I made with my pack this year, leaving it to go elsewhere.  I dropped it to power brush, because carrying extra weight plus a power brusher, going uphill, was fatiguing.  A mile later, I had no pack and the group was still ahead of me. I had to go back, retrieve my pack, return, then have lunch. It was a short day, and the group was returning after having eaten, so I had to again return along the trail. Bad decision. I don’t like making bad decisions.

Not having a pack with me meant if my partner had an accident, I had no radio, no pressure bandage, no Pulaski (I did bring my axe), no way to get help. A simple day, a simple log, would have just become a major problem, preventable and frankly inexcusable.  I should have spoken up, or at the least gone back and put my pack on. I know better.  Out there, we all do. The only decision I should make is whether to fasten the belt buckle and the chest strap when I put the pack on or leave them unfastened because the distance to the next log isn’t far.  In either case, I have a pack right near me with everything I need. It’s difficult enough to do first aid in the woods; it’s shameful to have brought everything out then not have had it accessible because one was lazy and didn’t want to carry a small weight a quarter mile further.

So from now on, the pack stays with me. I will listen better to my gut feelings and act upon them.  Yesterday, I had a planned personal “this is a drill, this is a drill, saw accident, saw accident” moment in the driveway at home, where I emptied out the first aid bag from my pack to see what I have and don’t have. I really didn’t know for sure.

Turns out that I was in decent shape, but I had a few things I could add to the bag which would make it better: I didn’t have scissors or a knife, I discovered an ice pack I could use, a tube of antibiotic ointment, and some mole skin.  The clotting powder, splint, dressings, two Israeli bandages, and wraps were all there.

THREE DIMENSIONS

October 2, 2021

First time I ever wore an N95 in the woods, I thought, puffing my way up the steep trail out of Blue Lake in the Diamond Peak Wilderness.  I was carrying a Pulaski, my work pack with 3 liters of water and lunch, three different hand saws, work clothes and heavy boots.  We had to climb 1000’ vertical to the ridgeline, where we were going to log out the central part of the Diamond Peak Trail in both directions from the junction. It was not Covid, but smoke that was the issue; humidity, heat, and exertion made wearing the mask impossible. I finally took it off.

Blue Lake

One of the first logs was 5 feet above the trail, which I wanted to ignore. But the Crew leader wanted to take it out. When he put the saw over it, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut that without a step stool.  I looked left, saw a much lower place where the log was resting, and convinced my partner we should cut there first.  We did, and the log eventually dropped.  We then worked on the original part, finally cutting it and moving it off the trail. 

The rest of the day included a great deal of difficulty in cutting out each log, which I learned, only the following week, was due to the saw’s not having been sharpened in 3 years. The issue wasn’t necessarily that I was weak; I certainly was affected by the heat. And using a dull tool.

When a 2-man crosscut sawyer bucks (cuts), the blades cut when pulled towards oneself. When the pull is complete, ideally when the opposite handle on the other side is near the log, the sawyer relaxes and lets the partner pull the saw the other way.  Relaxing doesn’t mean letting go but gently guiding the handle back to the log, like the heart in diastole, as the partner pulls. It is important to pull in a straight line, so the saw cuts straight. If one pulls to one side, the saw, being flexible, will bend, but the kerf or cut is narrow, and the saw teeth will no longer cut in the groove made by the rakers or mini-chisels that are on the blade with the teeth.  Used properly, the saw cuts smoothly and sounds better, too. The saw sings when all is right.

The author (back) on the Diamond Peak Trail, 2020

It is easy to pull to one side if one gets tired, the sawing position is sub-optimal, the log is difficult to cut because of bind or type of wood, or the saw itself is not sharp.  Most of the time I cut, it was a good day when nobody commented about my cutting. The most common comment I heard is “you are pulling,” which I took to mean I was pulling right or left. 

I have had a great deal of On the Job Training—OJT—but little teaching, and as a teacher myself, that bothered me. I had no mentor, the logs were plenty, and cutting them out was the priority.  I was then and even now usually the junior member of the Crew. Additionally, I was a newcomer to the state. Oregonians, I learned early from one person in the hiking Club, care about length of time here. In Arizona, where I previously lived, we joked that a native had been there 10 or more years. Nobody cared really how long one had lived there, and I don’t remember anybody’s talking about third or more generation Arizonans, but one hears often about multi-generational Oregonians. For the record, I am a native Californian, when the state was tied with Pennsylvania for second in population, and Kentucky had more people than Florida.  

I did my work, tried not to pull to one side, stayed quiet even when I could see, across the saw, that others were pulling to one side. I thought of mentioning that but stayed quiet, because perhaps I was wrong. Finally, on Diamond Peak Trail last year, I was cutting with my Crew leader while he was trying to carry on a conversation with someone else.  The cutting became more difficult, I saw my partner’s saw pulled far to his right, no question now, and said, quietly, “Hey Boss, you are pulling right.”

“Really?” Oh yeah. He was.

This year, two other issues came to light, both again on the Diamond Peak Trail. The first was dull saw. We proved it the following week when four of us were tackling the same log at the same time, I was on the dull saw, and with a head start, the pair with a good one finished before my partner and I were two-thirds done.

A month later, I was out with a crew member who joined a couple of years before I did, native Oregonian, mentored by one of the most experienced sawyers in the area.  We were cutting a large enough log so we couldn’t see each other, and at one point he told me that I was pulling.  I muttered something, relaxed my stroke slightly, and wondered how he could know I was pulling when he couldn’t see either me or the saw.  It didn’t make sense. I thought about that incident the rest of the day, wondering whether I had reached my maximum level of incompetence for the job, since I seemed to be doing better a year earlier, and 53 days out with the crew on a crosscut event ought to have made me fairly experienced.  

In the middle of the tangle

A week later, we were near the same spot, since there was an enormous tangle of downed trees to remove, along with some 30-inch diameter ones on either side. My group started with a pair of logs, one large and near the ground, a smaller one about 4 feet above the trail. Beginning with the smaller, I thought the cut was too close to the trail, thinking it was obvious if we cut there, when we cut the next log, the first would get in the way. We needed to cut it about 2-3 feet further away from the trail. My partner, an experienced C level sawyer, moved the saw a foot, not enough, I felt. We cut the log. 

Another view of the tangle. Notice the underbuck, cutting from below.

We then began cutting the bottom log on the opposite side of the trail, finished it, and turned to where we had been cutting earlier. It was obvious now to everybody, not just me, that the end of the first log we had cut was blocking the exit for the one we would be cutting. The other two in the saw crew took care of it, cutting it 2 more feet away from the trail.  

Sort of like I had suggested.  It’s like a doctor’s not listening to a nurse. Sometimes, the junior person is right. 

A more significant incident transpired on the following log, 30 inches in diameter. I was sitting as I pulled, and looking back on the incident, the saw was angling slightly towards the ground, rather than horizontal. For some reason, my partner corrected me using a phrasal verb for once: “You are pulling down.”

A light flashed. A voice in my brain, the part that runs mathematics so well, said, “z-axis.”

We were, after all, working in three dimensional space. It’s just that my pulling examples had always meant the xy-plane, left or right, and I equated pulling with that plane.  I was pulling down, and I might do that when cutting if I were sitting. It never seemed to matter. For the rest of the day, and there would be a lot more cutting, whenever I sat or knelt, I let the saw ride horizontally across the kerf, or the cut. Standing, I was fine, automatically.  Sitting or kneeling, I was not. That was the problem I was having.  Maybe there was hope, after all.

Pull is a transitive verb. It has an object that may take an adverbial prepositional phrase.  We live in 3-D space. Wood has three dimensions.  Please give clear directions. I am competent in both English and math.  With time, I may even graduate from an A sawyer to a B one. But I’m old; I can’t keep hiking up hills with a lot of tools and cut out logs many more years, N95 or not.

Occasionally it is possible for two pairs to cut on the same log, although driving a wedge in to keep a kerf open for one pair may increase the bind for the other. The top saw is steeply angled to the log in order to allow the cutter on the left to work.(The hypotenuse, however, is always longer than either of the two sides.)

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.