Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

THE STRAP

July 16, 2021

While waiting to start the weekly hike up Spencer Butte, I watched a new person put her gaiters on her calves and ankles upside down.  Normally, I don’t correct people, but this particular issue was something she was going to want to get right. 

“I had a heck of time learning how to use those,” I said. “Let me show you the trick.” And I did. I learned about gaiters from watching people put theirs on. I learned about hikes, pronouncing certain words, names of tools, people’s families, interests, and much more from listening to others, often when I wasn’t part of the conversation.  She was grateful for the instruction and we’ve become good friends. 

When I started with the Crew, I first carried what was in my hiking pack. But I watched what others wore, what they carried, what they used. When I cut a finger, I had a bandage, but one of the others had some clotting powder, so I added clotting powder to my first aid kit. The other day, another guy used a small piece of wood to stabilize the Pulaski when prying up a log to make my cutting easier, so I am going to add a piece of wood I have had for some time and hadn’t yet added. I’ve watched good people cut, and I try to emulate them. If I am cutting and my partner changes, I know whether the new cutter is better or worse than the previous one. I have struggled cutting with one partner and then with a change either the wood got easier or the partner was better, usually the latter. I listen to the log, I watch the sawdust, the noodles, or curved pieces of wood that appear with a good saw that is being used properly.  I ask questions and if I don’t understand, I ask more questions.  

My pack has more things I need and fewer things I don’t need.  I never skimp on water.  I always throw in a rain jacket, even if it is 90 in July.  It can get cold at night if I have to stay out.  I now wear knee pads—and like them.  My shirt is white, so it shows dirt—and blood—but is cooler and has bug repellent.  I wear gaiters to protect my calves and to keep me dry in stream crossings. They have the side benefit of keeping my double-knotted laces from loosening when I walk through brush.

I have a KatanaBoy 500 and Corona hand saws in my pack. If we come upon a 4-6 inch log across the trail, I can deal with it without the saw carrier having to take off the shield and have it ready for two people to use. I can catch up.  I did a lot of that this past week.

It’s what I carry in my pockets that has had me become a go to guy in the woods.  In my right front pocket, I carry a small pocket folding hand saw.  It’s great when I want to do some trimming or minor cutting of a small branch that people walk into on the trail without having to take off my pack. It’s not a lopper, but I can use it as a pair of loppers. In my back pocket, I carry two plastic wedges.  When we cut a good size log, we often need to drive in a wedge or two to keep the kerf or cut open. Many carry wedges somewhere in their pack.  Invariably, they are cutting when they want one. After rummaging in packs more than once, I decided to put a couple in my back pocket, because when a wedge is wanted, it is wanted now.  It’s appreciated.  Sure, my wedges wear out faster from use, but they are cheap.  

I have my phone/camera in one pocket and a GPS in the other; the GAIA app on the phone gives me a second GPS. I’m the one who takes pictures. Anybody can do it, but nobody seems to other than me. So, I have a lot of pictures of crew members and virtually none of me.  That’s OK. I don’t go on Facebook, so I don’t need digital narcissism. The Crew likes the pictures. The founder of the Crew, who no longer can go out, likes them, too. He used to reply. Then the replies got briefer. Now he doesn’t reply, but I still send them.

I have a bottle of WD-40 in my pack. A couple of years ago, I saw a stuck saw in a log sprayed with it to see if it would cut better.  Some guys swear by it, others swear at it. I know, it is hydrocarbons in the forest.  I carried it for two years and one day took it out of my pack along with the wedges when we were doing a non-crosscut trail job and I wanted to keep weight down.  Well, sure enough, we had to cut out a root wad, and when the leader asked me for wedges, I had none.  When I got back to the car, I made sure I always had wedges and WD-40 in my pack, even though one crew leader will never use it. He was very clear about not using it—ever.

A month later, that same crew leader, while sawing a 36 inch log on Black Creek, a log that was exuding pitch like a leaking faucet, had his 7 foot saw get stuck and finally pulled out near the end of the cut, which was finished with a KatanaBoy. His saw had more pitch than a loquacious salesman, and he asked if anybody had some WD-40.

Guess who had it in his pack. I wish I had recorded his voice. Within seconds I was spraying his saw to dissolve the pitch that was fouling the blades and was going to foul his gloves when he tried to carry it. Nobody else had any.

Recently, we were part of a 15 person, 5 saw team with another crew, on Patjens Loop trail, a 7 mile hike through the Mt. Washington Wilderness, that cut out 140 logs, most of which were not big. Some of these could be moved off the trail by hand, others could be moved off by Pulaski, and I discovered the 12 foot strap I carried in my pocket could be used to pull a log off the trail.  If successful, pulling a log off trail may obviate one cut, in some instances, all cuts. If one is cutting out 30 to 40 logs a day, anything to avoid an extra cut is a big deal.

The first time I used the strap, nobody was interested. I put it on anyway and moved the log.  On others, with nobody around, I used it to good advantage.  After lunch, when we were more tired, and we had made one cut on a log, I took the strap out of my pocket, put it around the end, and two of us moved the log off the trail.  

Two logs later, we needed to get a cut log over a hump to move it off trail. I put the strap on it, two of us lifted, and that was that. Later, even more tired, people started looking to me for the strap. It took a few seconds to pull it out, was another means of lifting and pulling, where using only the legs is one-dimensional pushing. One of the other crew members offered to buy it from me. I told him it’s not like straps are real expensive at Jerry’s here in Eugene. The next week he came with his own strap.

We had a leaner that we left, because it was too much work to deal with at the time, significantly dangerous, and there was an easy bypass around it. As I looked closely at the leaner, someone asked, “anybody got red ribbon to mark this off?”

Of course I did.  I had thirty or forty feet of ribbon on a roll.  I saw someone who used it two years ago, then went to Jerry’s and bought my own. No problem.

THE LOG

June 19, 2021

Black Creek trail connects the lower elevation Cascade Foothills, about 3300’ elevation, to Waldo Lake, which 2000’ higher, is definitely in the high country.  It parallels the area where Klovdahl was going to build a hydroelectric plant using the water from Waldo Lake and a few thousand feet of gravity to provide water to the Willamette Valley.  Fortunately, that venture failed, and the one time I hiked Black Creek, the penultimate final outlet to the Salmon Creek, and then the Willamette, I didn’t see evidence of the work from a century ago.

The Crew got word that the trail was almost impassable due to fallen logs, some of them huge, so we scrapped the plans we had for other work, many of the places still having snow present anyway, and the next work day headed 22 miles out of Oakridge to the northeast, the last eight on a road studded with serious potholes.  The only other time I had been there it was buggy, the road equally bad, but it was apparently too early this year and at least there were no bugs.  We regrouped at the trailhead, divvied up equipment, having a 7-foot crosscut saw, a 5-foot felling saw, a couple of D-handles, Katana Boys, hand saws, loppers, Pulaskis, and even a Peavy, for turning and removal of large logs.  

We replaced a missing trail sign at the beginning, then within 200 yards entered the Waldo Lake Wilderness, immediately finding several downed logs to remove, crossing several small side creeks, all the while hearing Black Creek to our right, as we slowly ascended. I did extensive trimming, or brushing, with loppers, of the encroaching Vine maples and salal, and we slowly gained a few hundred feet of elevation the first mile, removing about a dozen log obstructions, either by saw, by foot, or both, making good progress, until….

Replacing a trail sign with a new one. I know some are not in favor of signs in the wilderness. This sign is still outside the wilderness. I don’t have strong feelings about signs; I don’t want hikers getting lost, either, which happens in spite of signage.

This log was mostly rotten and cut more easily. The person in the yellow helmet will soon need to move, as he is in the path of the log when it breaks loose. He knew that.

We encountered The Log.

At 30 inches diameter, I have seen many bigger. I helped cut a 36 inch one near the North Fork of the Willamette River three years ago.  This particular log was part of a 250 foot tall Douglas fir that fell across the trail, and we were cutting the middle part of the tree.  Both ends were out of sight from the hill above or the drop into the creek below.  Because of the moderate angle the log had with the trail, the possibility of end bind, where the sheer weight of the tree above the area we were working would compress the wood throughout the diameter, was a consideration.  Worse, there was little room underneath the log, so we couldn’t place a saw under it to underbuck or cut upwards, which is another trick for when the log binds, or “grabs” the saw when cutting.  

Binds are a matter of physics: if a log is bent convex upward, the top fibers are under tension, and cutting them will tend to be easier, and the log parts upward, often with unexpected force, so one needs to be careful, but at least the saw doesn’t bind.  Cutting on the opposite side, at the bottom, of such a log is cutting into compression, and there the fibers grab the saw, where one can no longer cut.  We will call that “bottom bind.” If the bind is bad enough, the saw gets stuck. This sometimes happens if one takes a long break while sawing. It only takes a few minutes for the compression to reform after a cut and fix the saw like concrete.  That can ruin one’s time schedule. It can be difficult to rescue the saw, and nobody but nobody wants to leave a stuck saw in a log, especially a chain saw. Aside from the expense and the danger, it is a rookie error.

Top bind is the most common, when the log sags a little, and it binds at the top, so we carry hard plastic wedges to hammer into the kerf or cut to keep it open. We may put in 1 top wedge, then maybe 1 on each side, and I’ve cut with seven placed. We keep wedges in a pack, but I additionally carry two in my back pocket, because it’s faster to give one to a sawyer than it is to rummage through a pack finding one. The 2-man crosscut saws have a way to remove the handle at each end, so that the saw may be slid through the log at the same level where the cut was to remove it.  Often, that solves the saw problem. Side bind is very dangerous as failure to recognize it can lead to the log’s appearing to explode right at one. I’ve seen a log suddenly part 15 feet to the side and have a video of it somewhere. Given the weight and the speed, this can kill.  Each cut has safe and unsafe zones. Sometimes, the unsafe ones are fine until the cut is well along, and at that point the cutter there must stop, get out of the way, and let the partner finish the cut.

End bind, which we faced, is bind throughout the cut. If one removes the wedge, one may see the kerf actually close in real time.  When this happens, we have to “chunk the log out,” which means making a second cut a few inches from the first, then use the adze end of the Pulaski to cut out chunks of wood, put the saw in at the new top of the log and cut again, on two sides, then repeat chunking. Each cut might be 2-3 inches before we bound up.  Divide that into 30, and there are a lot of stop-chunk it out-continue times.

We had an additional problem: to get any depth at all with the Pulaski, we had to cut in the middle of the two cuts, so we could remove any significant pieces of wood.  We were cutting the log three times, maybe 2 inches at a time.

I was part of a pair who worked further away for the second major cut, which gave the initial cutters a break.  With some effort, requiring my sawing for a good 15-20 minutes at a time not seeing my partner because of the log, the wood finally parted, the ease maybe due to some interruption in the end bind made by the first cut.  Or good log karma.  Anyway, I didn’t complain. 

Having chunked out half way. 

Using my rest time to take a picture of what I had cut through. Notice that it is impossible to see the other Sawyer. The handle has been rotated 90 degrees to keep it from digging into the ground. The saw needs to be pulled through as far as possible to get the sawdust out of the gullets, the large elliptical blank areas in the saw.

We had hoped that removal of the downhill piece would make uphill work easier, but it did not. We had to chunk out the whole diameter, periodically trying the 650 mm Katana Boy or my 500 mm one, my Corona hand saw, and two long saws we had. I think we felt anything new might be better, and the person trying it began with high hopes, only to realize that thick wood, bind, bad log karma, and fatigue would soon stop any measurable progress.

Eventually, we reached a point where the log started cracking, and we were able to crack it away.  We had gravity finally on our side, and when the log reached the edge of the trail, off it went, four pairs of legs against it to push it away. It will decompose elsewhere, recycling into new soil, new huckleberry bushes, new trees, and homes for insects worms, and other small forest life.

It took 6 of us 5 hours to remove The Log.  There were two or three more this size in the next half mile to Lillian Falls. We would be back the following week.

Leaving the job site. The end of a Peavey is in the foreground. The sharp hook and the point can be used for two sharp connections with the log, allowing one to pivot or move it. At least in theory. We did use it at the end of the job to move the log. We used every tool we brought.

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.”

SAW SENSES

October 15, 2020

Steve and I looked at an 18 incher blocking the trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  It had been down for awhile, the bark gone, which was nice, but needed to be removed. We both looked at the log, with enough space underneath to probably have a slight sag or top bind, meaning the cut from the top might start grabbing the saw as it cut through compressed fibers.  Well, that’s what wedges are for, to keep cuts or kerfs open.  He took the sheath off the 6 foot crosscut, and each of us took a handle.

We confirmed that we wanted to cut mostly straight through, and it didn’t matter which side we started from.  We both got into position, which for me was kneeling on the ground, worked the teeth a little bit into the log so they grabbed, and started sawing, pull smooth and hard, relax for partner, smooth and hard, relax, over and over again, 20, 50, 100, 200, 150, 100,….

It went well. First, I could feel how smooth the cut was. I could hear the saw sing a little, and could see the kerf, or the line of the cut, staying open, not closing, and I noted a good pile of sawdust accumulating with a few “noodles,” thin strips of wood that occur with a good saw.  Still, about half way through the log, I was thinking we could use a wedge to keep it open a little more, and Steve suggested it aloud.  I pulled an orange hard plastic wedge from my back pocket, because I like having wedges immediately available, and with a nearby axe, pounded it into the top of the kerf.

When a wedge opens up the kerf, anyone holding the handle of a saw that is in the cut can feel a decrease of compression: the saw is loose again.  We cut further, and finally got to the end, the log’s dropping part way to the ground.  The saw was wedged in the kerf, so I took off the handle, so I could pass the rest of the blade to Steve to pull it through the narrow space.  There was a time when I took a couple of minutes taking off or putting on a saw handle. Now, it is almost automatic.  Sawing with a well-known instructor, I once removed a wedge prematurely, which was met with one of those comments, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that,” because getting the saw out would be more difficult. Stuck saws are bad.  Sawing into the dirt is a sin. 

We started on the other side of the log, had the same experience, and that end dropped, too.  Sometimes, when both cuts are made, the log drops and if there is a downhill, immediately rolls off the trail without assistance.  That is nice. The trail was flat, and the cut log was still held in place.  I stuck a wedge between the cut part and the rest of of the log, hit it once with the axe, and the whole cut log dropped to the ground.  That was real nice.

We still weren’t able to push it, however, and weren’t sure how stuck it was.  We both sat down on the ground, put our legs against the log and pushed. This is easier on the back and allows one to use the strength of the legs.  The log shot forward about 6 feet.  That was super nice. We finished pushing it off the trail, and Steve sheathed the saw, ready for the next one. 

There are probably thirty folks on the Crew, but each work party has somewhere between 3 and 8. The first group I ever went out with had about a dozen, but this summer it has been mostly 3 or 4.  With three, one can get relief at the saw, which can’t happen with two. With four, one can have pairs leapfrogging each other.  With more, it is possible to do serious trail clearing.  The amount of sawing can still be considerable, as it was last week, when we worked solidly for about 6 hours, excepting a short lunch break.

I’ve been on the other side of a saw with many different people.  When I started, three years ago, any time someone asked me if I wanted a break, I said yes.  This year, I stopped saying yes and began offering my services. I’ve noticed a significant drop in the number of times my technique wasn’t optimal; indeed, one of the crew members told me the other day I was “so ready” for the saw certification class coming up, for which he had recommended me. 

A month ago, in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, the two of us were cutting out a log, when he was trying to give instruction to another guy in the crew.  He started pulling the saw to his left.  I can now feel when my partner’s technique isn’t quite right, and I said to him, “Hey boss, you’re pulling left.”  

“Really?”  

“Yep.”  He was.  It was the first time I had ever told anybody, although I had seen it happen often.

Along the way, I have found people with whom I would share a saw any time and a few where I would just as soon limit my exposure.  Earlier this summer, one guy, who is a lot larger and stronger than I, told me that I needed to give him more saw, meaning that I was pulling more and not letting him pull it back. That seemed odd, since once we are done pulling, we relax, keep our hands on the handle, allowing our partner to pull the saw. With the new position, my hands were slammed into the log every time he pulled back.  I said maybe it was easier for him, but not for me, thinking that this wasn’t supposed to be a competition to see who could slam the other’s hands more.  

A couple of others tend to pull the saw to one side.  The saw has some flexibility, and if it is pulled to one side, it doesn’t cut cleanly through the log, making work harder.  One can’t simply close one’s eyes and pull-relax-pull. The saw must constantly be sight aligned with the kerf, which is the best real-time information we have as to what the bind of the log is.  If there is top bind, meaning the fibers are being compressed, as the saw cuts from the top, the fibers in the log will tend to compress or grab the saw, stopping progress.  If the kerf is opening up, we are cutting through tension, the opposite, and the cut will be easier, which one probably has already noticed.

Not only do I have more endurance, I hear, feel, see, and now beginning to sense what is going on. I can feel different types of wood as we are cutting, the difficulty caused by binding, I can see the noodles of cut log when the saw is sharp and the wood the right consistency, I can monitor sawdust, and I can see the change in color that heralds the end of the wood and cutting into bark. I can hear the cracking suggesting that the log is almost cut through.  Later that day, Steve wondered what he was feeling, looking over at my kerf.  I showed him the knot that we were too close to, apologizing for guiding us there.  I should have started the cut about an inch away.

It’s clear now what I need to take in the woods and where everything is. Indeed, my day pack has changed in part from the one I have used with the Club to one I use doing trail work, which is comfortable, and in which I have a better first aid kit, marking ribbon, extra wedges, clothing, lubricant, hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, emergency supplies, a lopper, and a hand saw, food and water, and my Katana Boy 500 mm strapped to the back.

The author (back), Diamond Peak Wilderness. The wedge is keeping the kerf open, which is tending to close due to top bind or compression.

The author with one type of 2-man crosscut saw, S. Willamette Trail, March 2020.

Occasionally, it is possible for two pairs to cut simultaneously. Waldo Lake Wilderness.

TWO MORE AT THE RAINBOW BRIDGE; ANOTHER WITH A NEW HOME

July 25, 2020

Back in December 2010, my wife brought home a jet black kitten from the barn in Benson. The little guy had been wandering around in the stall area and clearly needed a home.  No mom cat was seen, so I got a call to get a room ready at home, my wife would stop by the vet on the way, and a few hours later, this small guy found himself in a warm room, with food, water, and a person who lay on the floor, two legs becoming a good place for him to lie.  He still does that.

The kitten did not want to be alone. He was an absolute feral hellion.  We dealt with it for two days, until my wife said there was an orange kitten down at the barn, too.  We had one of those discussions about a multi-year commitment—do we take this kitten, too?  Our first two cats were littermates, and they did fine and were not a lot of work.  We adopted three—now two—brothers, seventeen years ago, and they were easier to care for than one cat. 

We decided to capture the kitten, and the next day, after being pulled off the wall, put in a carrier, and hauled to the vet, another small, orange fluffy thing entered our house and promptly hid in a bathroom drawer.  She—for she was a she— was found under the paper in the drawer, some place that looked impossible to be, but she was found with the Sherlock Holmes approach that whenever everything else is completely ruled out, what is left, no matter how improbable, is the answer.

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SoFi and Bad Boy, December 2010

We called her SoFi, with that spelling being the German term for eclipse: Die Sonnenfinsternis, or just SoFi. I was beginning to learn German at the time, and I wanted a German name for her. And so SoFi entered our lives, found her brother, Bad Boy, because there wasn’t a day then–or now, for that matter– that he wasn’t bad, the two of them entertained each other, and my free time at home soared.

The two kittens played with each other, slept with each other, and were fine, so long as we didn’t try to catch them.  Bad Boy sat on my legs; SoFi never did. Touching her was a big deal. One weekend, her poop got stuck on her hair between her legs; my wife was working in Phoenix, and I had to wait 24 extra hours until she got home. Both of us were miserable waiting. Together, we caught SoFi in a kitchen cupboard and barehanded cleaned her, getting nasty scratches in the process.  We had annual vet appointments, but we had to first capture them, which we did by cornering them some place.  Bad Boy gave up easily. SoFi did not. Later, she discovered a kitchen drawer accessible from below and slept there. Once we knew she liked the spot, we would check by gently testing the drawer.  If it felt stuck, there was a cat in there.  At first, both of them would stay in there, but as they grew, there was room enough only for her.

When they were three, we moved, and the high point of the packing was catching SoFi in fewer than five minutes. She traveled well to Oregon but disappeared in the new house.  We knew she hadn’t gotten out, but where she could hide was anybody’s guess.  I went into a closet and opened a nightstand to get something out and by chance discovered the bottom of it felt a little too warm.  I checked underneath it on the back, and found SoFi wedged in it. 

The first summer, whenever I took a shower, I sat on the recliner afterward to read. SoFi would jump up on the back, put her paws around my forehead, and lick my wet hair.  I didn’t dare move suddenly, or I would have had halo marks on my skull, like those who have to have their necks immobilized.  

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The recliner is about 45 years old and has survived about two dozen cats. It is falling apart, but when we moved, it never occurred to us not to bring it.

She and Floyd, a tuxedo male who came from a hoarder, had an unusual relationship. He was neutered, she spayed, but Floyd looked at SoFi as a girl friend.  They would sleep together at times; at other times, SoFi was pinned down by him, finally growling and wriggling loose. 

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When she was 8, we were able to catch her to clip her paws, a major step forward.  Later that year, she started allowing us to pet her.  We had two new cats come into the house; SoFi did not like the female, staring at her, trying to get around the gate we had set up, and being basically obsessed with grabbing her.  We called SoFi “killer.”

But as annoying has having a gate in the middle of the house came a very different change. The Killer allowed me to pet her, first where she was sleeping, and then I was allowed to pick her up and put her on my lap, much to our surprise.  She liked having her cheeks rubbed, and she purred and wanted as much of it as she could get.  After 9 years, she was becoming a house cat.  She would meow and quiet down only if I stroked her in the right spot.  All those years she could have had that if only….

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Only took 9 years with Killer to be able to do this without needing a transfusion.

During the pandemic, all the cats got far more affection than they did normally.  In mid-April, Floyd died after a short illness that appeared to be lung cancer.  SoFi seemed fine afterwards.

And was until a Sunday morning in June when she suddenly stopped eating and had some vomiting. This occasionally happened with a hairball, but that evening, she screeched and vomited.  The next morning, we found her in a corner where she had never been before.  She was taken to vet emergency where they found her in moderate renal failure with a phosphorus level off the charts. Her white count was low with some odd looking cells suggesting perhaps leukemia, and the vet recommended euthanasia.

I was stunned, so much so that I had to think about it for a couple of hours.  How could a cat so happy two days ago be dying?  I realized that as much as I wanted the lab repeated, it would not be for 24 hours, and she was not going to be any better. That afternoon, SoFi died.

SoFi’s loss, along with that of Floyd, at 14, made a house with a lot of cats suddenly appear very empty. Every time I fed the cats in the morning, I found myself looking at the dining room table, where SoFi wanted to be fed. I still see her flying through the air, landing on the climbing post, ears back, attacking the sissel.  

We have old cats now, and we will have more deaths sooner rather than later.  This was one death I wasn’t expecting, not that any are easy. 

Another at the Rainbow Bridge to meet.

While a cat can never be replaced, we did have a vacancy, and the Humane Society had many who needed a home. Flick, the third cat we have had with a name from “A Christmas Story,” joined us. We can’t save them all, but like the man throwing the starfish back into the ocean, we can save that one.

And a little bit of ourselves, too.

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THE JOYS OF CURIOSITY AND COUNTING

April 25, 2020

I miss hiking.  I miss snowshoeing, my last one five weeks ago now, when I soloed into Arrowhead Lake in the Diamond Peak Wilderness with nobody out there.  I knew I would not be going any time soon, and I fondly remember that special day.

Snowshoe tracks on Arrowhead Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness March 2020

I am fortunate enough to be able to go out and walk, and nearby Alton Baker Park, straddling Eugene and Springfield, has miles of trails in meadow, oak savannah, and riparian zones.  I  cross Alton Baker to get to stores by the UO, and I’ve walked the entire 16 mile river bank loop on both sides.  Occasionally, I do a loop from Knickerbocker Bridge to Autzen Bridge and back through the park coming home.  It is about 4 miles and goes along the Willamette and then the canoe canal.  For the first week, I did my usual walks that I had done before.  

Then I decided to add more distance, going further downstream to the deFazio Bridge.  Because it is spring, I started counting the number of different wildflower species I saw.  I have a good app from the brother of noted trail writer William Sullivan.  For the past two years, I have used the app and a few other books to identify well over 150 species of wildflowers on my hikes over the course of the season.  I almost hit 200 last year.  In the park, I could usually hit 20, and one memorable day got near 30.  

Mind you, many of the wildflowers are weeds, but many of them are pretty, and I’m a non-native here, too.  I started by walking through a neighborhood over to the parking lot by Autzen stadium, past Cuthbert Amphitheater, where I have seen a couple of concerts, down to the duck pond, and the center of the 1 to a billion solar system model, and then upstream along the river to Knickerbocker Bridge and back home.  It is somewhat more than 5 miles and fairly quiet.  There are interesting birds, too.  Two of us are making an analemma at local noon throughout the year near where the big “Sun” is. I get to see rushing water leave the duck pond to go to the Willamette, then the Columbia, and finally the Pacific.  Or the atmosphere.  

But I couldn’t have imagined what I was going to see in the way of flowers.

With wildflowers, like birds, or stars, observing is quite simple: you look, if you don’t know what something is, you try to find it in a book or ask somebody, and eventually, if you see it a lot you know what it is, and after a while know its habitats. What you need is curiosity more than anything else, and I was lucky enough to have a lot instilled in me when I was a kid.  It ranks up there with reading as one of the greatest gifts I’ve received.  In Tucson, I did birding on my neighborhood walks, being called the Bird Man, and 20 species in a day was great.  The Christmas Bird Count included my neighborhood, and then I would push 30 species. I found that telling the difference between a pyrrhuloxia and a female cardinal was easy, whereas earlier I thought it impossible.  Verdins had different calls, depending on the time of year; we had rock wrens in the neighborhood and I heard an occasional canyon wren, in addition to the ever-present cactus wren, the state bird. I am very auditory; I remember people by their voice rather than their face, and I do birding the same way. I may not see a spotted Towhee, but I sure can tell when I hear one.  Lately, however, I have been spotting them more easily.  It’s practice and knowing what to look for.

Two weeks ago, I saw twenty species of wildflowers on a walk for the first time this year.  As I walked through the neighborhood, I saw a non-native pale blue violet growing outside someone’s yard.  By Autzen Stadium, I saw my first California poppy, and by the Science Center I saw the first camas of the year, a lovely five blue petaled plant.  I found a stretch near Frohnmeyer bridge where within 100 yards there were over 20 different species. I saw Hooker Fairy bells and realized the past couple of years I had misidentified a Woodland buttercup.  I went nearer the river and saw a Money plant, 4-pealed pink flowers. Larkspurs and Plumed Solomon seal were everywhere, along with Trilliums and Fringe cups.  Someone picked an Iris that I needed for my count, but a week later two more sprouted.  Near them were a cluster of Fawn lilies.   I learn more each year from the mistakes I have made.  Last year, I learned about salsify flowers, this year, I realized there were three kinds of geraniums with different sizes and leaves. I am picking up on grasses, too.  A few days later, I hit thirty species and ended the day with about 35. I figured that would be the top number. 

Camas

The app is great: I open it, make sure I have the right part of Oregon, the right week, and the right elevation. That decreases the flowers to about half, or 1800.  Wildflower (vs.  conifer, other tree, grasses, etc.) color, number of petals, size of blooms, whether leaves are alternate, opposite, apical or basal, the environment (Disturbed, alpine, rocky, riparian) bring the numbers down often to a dozen, sometimes to three or four. Then I can look at a map, read the description, and see if this is the plant.  

As the weather got sunnier, the counts rose.  I hit 40, then 45, and even 48, getting a sow thistle, Persian speedwell, and yellow oxalis in the last 20 yards, when I wasn’t expecting anything. That’s the other thing about observing; you have to always hope there is something there and at the same time be happy just to be looking and seeing what is there. Sort of like fishing.  I identified a Torlinga crabapple tree, then looked at my feet where I was almost standing in a patch of Lesser Periwinkle.

Today, I was musing how the single dogwood blossom I had seen for the past week had finally gone. For whatever reason, I looked up, which apparently I had not done, being more interested in ground blooms. There above me the whole tree was abloom. Fabulous.

Dogwood

A lot of times, I need to try different colors of the petals to make sure I am not missing something else.  I don’t identify everything but close to 90%.  I write them down when I get home and count them when I am out there.  I count a lot of things, always have, every day, often without thinking and often without knowing what I will do with the counts.  I watch the birds, too.  The other day, a Canada goose landed on the duck pond. As he landed, his feet extended and briefly, he was skimming the water like a water-skier, minus tow rope.  I had never seen that before.  There is a lot of interesting stuff in nature, but one has to look, and it helps if one both knows what one is looking for and at the same time, have the joy of looking for its own sake. One memorable morning in Nebraska, dancing cranes made the whole Platte River bounce for about 2 seconds.  I saw it myself.

https://michaelspinnersmith.com/2018/04/09/the-morning-the-platte-river-danced/

Canada geese young

This past week, I topped 50, then 52, reaching 56.  Some wildflowers are starting to fade. Oregon grape will be gone soon.  Someone picked the iris and the salsify, but I found another salsify near the river and two new irises have appeared.  The Wild roses are blooming now, and one of the plants I could not seem to identify turned out to be Miner’s lettuce.  That gave me 57 for today. And it was raining.

I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a chance to go back up Spencer Butte and this summer into the high country.  Trail work also means a chance to see new wildflowers.  But I am so happy I started looking where I hadn’t looked before.  

It’s remarkable what one sees.

Ladybug on English plantain
Fawn lilies
Plumed Solomon’s seal
Hooker Fairy bells
Red Columbine

YOU GOT AWAY WITH IT, BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT SAFE

February 3, 2020

I got an email from the Boss-founder of the Scorpions Trail crew with whom I work.  He sent an attachment out containing a Facebook video of horseback riders in the Brice Creek drainage, where we have spent collectively nearly 1500 hours, probably near 100 for me alone, removing logs, rebuilding the trail, digging in the mud, moving rocks, often in rain, snow, in rather cold temperatures.

The video, taken from a horse, showed two women riding on a narrow rocky trail on a steep hill 75-100 feet above Brice Creek. A pair of dogs were running along, too.  As the video progressed, I could see more of the familiar trail to me, as the women went between the two parts where we had cut out a log, the horses barely fitting through.  The one woman showed was not wearing a helmet.  

Being somewhat impulsive, I immediately posted a comment, despite my exile from FB commenting.  Then I deleted it.  Then I wrote the Boss.  Then I deleted that email, too. I wish more commenters would follow my lead. OK to write, get it out of your system. Then delete it, unless you really feel the same way a day later. You probably won’t.

The women had no business being out there, despite the plethora of positive comments from other riders discussing the difficulty of the trail. This trail is marked as dangerous at the entry points, because there is still a lot of instability and holes from where trees fell, and what was once a known trail to the Forest Service has changed significantly.  In short, we don’t know where all the danger points may be.  Some may be in spots we thought were safe. 

Not wearing a helmet when riding a trail horse is astoundingly poor judgment.  My wife, who has ridden for more than sixty years, always wears a helmet as well as a chest protector.  She has fallen from a horse before, has been kicked by one, and has been slammed by one.  

Having dogs loose on the trail is not only against the rules, which says dogs must be leashed, but creates another form of danger.  Yes, horses can be good and sound, deal with dogs properly, and all that, but horses are animals, and we all know the “He never did that before,” comment, which usually is said as an apology to others or as an answer given when one arrives in an emergency department.  

What if the two, horse and rider, met a mountain biker coming full tilt the other way? I’ve had that happen hiking and had to jump off the trail. What if the trail collapses? “It never collapsed there before”?  The horse and rider’s going down the cliff is going to lead to at least one death, maybe two.  What is the chance that might happen?  I don’t know. But I bet if they rode that area 25 times, something bad probably would have happened.  That’s a 4% risk of serious injury.  If the Scorpions had that sort of risk, we wouldn’t be allowed in the Forest.

What disturbed me equally were the comments were a mixture of “Wow, great trail to ride” and “not me.”  There was not one comment that took the rider to task the way I did above.  

“We got away with it, so it was OK.”  Yes, many said that just before Challenger, which 34 years ago last January blew up 73 seconds after lift off.  O-ring fraying had occurred before and without problem until that day.  The engineers were against a liftoff in cold weather, because they knew the properties of the rubber O-rings.  They were overruled.  “We have had leakage of gasses before,” said others, “and nothing bad happened.”  

* * *

Earlier in the week, I attended a Club meeting, the officers looking for ways to get new hiking leaders. Safety and accident prevention came up, and one of my colleagues spoke to a picture posted on FB by one of the hikers with whom I was with on Mt. Hood, crossing a log bridge, the log 7 feet off the water.  Six of seven went across the log, some walking, others straddling it with their legs and scooting across.  I looked and looked for a safe place, finally facing upstream, used my hiking pool as a prop, and was across in 10 seconds, minimally wet. Had I not done that, I would have turned around and gone back. We have had a hike once in the area where someone fell in a similar situation and needed to be evacuated.  “We can do it.  We can do anything,” has been said by some of the members. No, we can’t and shouldn’t.

* * *

The head of the trail maintenance committee for the Club is not shy about criticizing those of us who do not have his expert trail maintenance skills. I was working with him well up the west side of the Butte when there was ice on the trail, putting in wood markers. I slipped once on a hill but caught myself.  Coming back down, I started to slide on the trail and only a tree’s being in the right place stopped me.  We shouldn’t have been up there, and I didn’t speak up because while there was a chance I might get hurt, there was a certainty if I spoke up that I would be yelled at.  This is not a safety culture.

  • The 1979 jet crash in Oregon was basically due to junior crew members who failed to convince the captain that the plane was running out of fuel and that his fixation with the landing gear was secondary.
  • I once was given a chest tube in the OR by a cardiac surgeon and told how to put it in. When he asked me if I understood, I nodded. I didn’t understand, but to me, winging it might work; admitting I didn’t know, “No, I don’t understand,” would not have. He had already driven me to tears in the OR once. I ended up placing the tube wrong, it bonked the surgeon in the mask, contaminating the tube.  He swore, threw the tube on the floor, thereby contaminating his gloves, too.  He had his OR nurse, a toady, do it for him. She smirked at me.
  • I still have trouble telling senior people on the trail crew when I see something unsafe, the classic one being not lifting properly. The culture is not adequate so long as I feel that way.

* * *\

When I was in the Navy, my corpsmen once treated a drug overdose with Narcan, saving the man, but didn’t tell me until days later.  I was ashore overnight when it happened.  They were afraid I would write them up for being quiet about a sailor who used drugs. I thanked my men for what they did and told them quietly they had to tell me about everything that happened in sick bay when I was not there.  Everything. No yelling, no write-ups.  I simply had to know.

We have to look out for ourselves and each other on the trail.  We do it with respect and caring, not to score points, not to get even with someone else, not to be angry that someone is doing something unsafe.  I am new to trail work, unlike many others with whom I work.  I want to learn, but I don’t learn by being yelled at, and I remember those times. I teach math, and I teach it to many who are new to the concepts they are learning, whereas I have known those concepts for more than half a century. I try to be patient, find ways to explain it better, the rules, the shortcuts, the need for practice, and reinforce them when they are doing it right.  Students often say they understand my math help when their body language says they don’t have a clue.  I have to address that safely. “You look like you aren’t quite seeing that, correct?” In the right tone of voice. It’s my job to help them. I want them to learn, not to suffer.

SEVERAL MONTHS AT BRICE CREEK

January 15, 2020

In the first ten yards there were two large trees down over the Brice Creek trail, blocking access and part of the view down the trail, although when I stepped off the trail to look through a gap in the mess, I could see more downed trees ahead. By large, 24-30 inches in diameter. They definitely were not the step over variety, but rather the too high to climb over, too low to go under variety.

One of our group in the Scorpions Trail Crew had actually walked the entire 5.7 mile trail and said the whole trail was like this. It took her 4 hours to do it, and she is a trail runner.  Maybe she flies, too, which would explain the 4 hours. I hike at a decent pace, and a couple of months later, with far less to scout, I quit after about a mile, because I felt the blowdowns were too dangerous to negotiate. 

Brice Creek is 25 miles east of Cottage Grove, Oregon, a popular place to go to hike, picnic, camp out, see waterfalls, swim in the creek, and cool off in summer.  Further up the road and uphill leads to Bohemia saddle and mines, other places to go, but Brice Creek is a gem of the Umpqua National Forest. Unfortunately, their sawyer was seriously hurt doing work earlier in the winter, and they had nobody to clear trails.  That’s how we got called.  

The Scorpions themselves began 14 years ago, after a Forest Service employee retired and realized that some of the trails she liked were not getting maintained and would soon be impassable if nothing were done. She and Ron Robinson, a retired executive, started the organization, and Larry Dunlap, a retired ED physician, was part of the original group. There are about 90 members, and I began as a trail scout, hiking the trails, taking pictures of the blowdowns, putting GPS coordinates in them, and getting the information back to Ron. 

I had heard from a couple of hikers in the Club who had worked on a trail hauling rocks, saying it was a bad idea to try to work for the Scorpions. But I felt I should go out and see what they did and see if I liked it. I had to sign a waiver, and I didn’t need any training, Ron’s saying that I would get plenty of OJT with them.

On a dark morning at 7 am,  mid-December, 2017, I met up with a group of about a dozen in Springfield, headed out to Rebel Rock Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness. It’s about an hour and a half from town, and we arrived at the icy trailhead with the temperature somewhere in the twenties, and a bunch of old guys pulling out Pulaskis, 5 foot long crosscut saws, McLeods, Pick Mattocks, a rock bar, and a Peavey.  Mind you, I only knew about saws and Pulaskis, and that was because I had done trail work in the Boundary Waters back in 1992. We each matched an arm with a tool and started hiking.  I figured we would go in about a quarter mile, but we hiked for more than an hour, uphill, before we reached the blowdowns.  Twelve hours later, I was home, really tired, realizing how out of shape my arms were, figuring we had cleared maybe a half mile of trail in addition to a 9 mile hike that gained 2700 feet of elevation.  

By the time I started on Brice, it was eighteen months later and 40 more times out with the crew. I had stopped for 5 months, not sure I wanted to do it again, but again signed up for the early morning departures, long drives, hikes in, chain saws (if outside the wilderness), cross-cuts if in the wilderness, trying to stay safe, do my part, stay hydrated and fed. 

We tackled Brice Creek with multiple saw crews, the way we had other low elevation trails that the winter storm had plastered.  There was cutting to plan, pushing cut logs out of the way, trimming branches so the cutter could get to the trunk, clearing 12 or more inches of often frozen, always wet branches on the trail so we could get down to dirt. The days were long, the work hard, wet, and cold, but we gradually cleared the trail of major blowdowns over several weeks.  It was gratifying to see the trail again reappear and be usable. Many of us swampers (not chain sawyers) moved to the high elevation trails to clear them in the summer.  I left Brice in early July to go up into the Waldo Lake and the Diamond Peak Wilderness, clearing several trails and getting an excellent mental map of the trail system, the geography of the place, water sources and campsites.  

As fall came, there was a need to do trail work on Brice. The trees that had fallen had root balls that came out of the trail, leaving a big hole. We needed to clear the dirt, rocks, branches and route the trail either through the hole, fill the hole, or route the trail around the hole.  Fortunately, there were three entrances to the trail, so the hiking in was limited, leaving more time for work.

Upper Trestle Falls remained, however. There had once been a small railway where the trail was, and from that area two trails went to a lovely waterfall a mile and a half up and 700 feet climb. This had been logged out, blowdowns removed, over the summer, but now the trail there had to be rebuilt, too. 

First job was for me to go in and scout the trail.  I did that with the Gaia app giving me the trail, the contours, and a way to photograph the trail defects with location.  I mapped about thirty spots in the 3 mile loop and a hiked seven more miles to check out other parts of the trail.  Now the weather was different, with a wetter, much muddier trail, and significant work to be done with tools being carried uphill.

The eastern portion of Brice Creek Trail, with the triangle at the right the two branches to Upper Trestle Falls.. The waypoints are areas I felt needed work. There were about ten more on the right side part of the loop that also got work.
View from behind Upper Trestle Falls, at the highest point of the loop.

The pictures really do tell the story.  So here are some.

The mess of logs and branches on the trail.
Starting after a lunch break. One can tell this because two people don’t have hard hats on.
Sometimes, we cut steps through logs, especially if there is a risk that if we cut them all the way through, there might be unintended slippage of what is left behind.
I’ve worked with a dozen different sawyers, and it is my job to be there immediately with something if they need it, requiring anticipation, and to stay out of the way while cutting is occurring, but watching for anything that might suddenly become a hazard that the Sawyer can’t see.. Along the way, I start learning about where the log compression is and what we think will happen when it is cut. We think will happen.
Brice Creek was always nearby, with nice views of many pools, rapids, and cool spots.
A typical pair of blowdowns. In the high country wilderness, these must be cut with two man crosscut saws.
This requires extensive digging out below and above and rerouting the trail slightly to the right.
The trees were about 300 years old.
Four people, one day.
Part of my scouting. I took this out with a small hand saw.
The close tree above the trail has to stay, because if it is cut, there is a good chance the whole downhill part will slide down to a road below. It is safe and possible to walk under it.
The original trail was where the log on the left is. We moved it by digging out in the obvious mud and making a more gentle gradient. The log at the top can’t be removed safely in winter, so a streamer was attached,
Before
After. The sawdust was from cutting two smaller logs nearby as well as the big one.
The author, left, with the “flying” trail scout, doing work on the Upper Trestle Falls trail on a day with snow flurries and temperature in the mid-20s. (-4 C)

INTRODUCING FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO THE WILDERNESS

December 20, 2019

Mark and I paddled up to a small island on Knife Lake in the Boundary Waters, where four people were starting to take down a tent.  Mark was a seasonal ranger in the Superior National Forest; I was a volunteer wilderness ranger for the summer.  We were patrolling a large stretch of the Kawishiwi Ranger District, a working canoe trip.

The four were two young couples, and they were not camped at a designated campsite. That was a rule violation, but before writing a ticket, Mark suggested we learn what happened.

The canoe scraped the shore, and I hopped out, steadying the canoe for Mark.  

“Hi there, how’s it going?” Mark said, getting out and looking around.

“Not very well.  Didn’t sleep well,” one of the men replied.  We looked at the tent, noting it was pitched over a bunch of one to two inch diameter roots. There wasn’t a tent pad on the island.  They couldn’t have slept well.  A pad on a rock would have been better.

“This is not a designated camping site, so you will have to move. Why are you here?”

“We were on another site, but a bear came, so we paddled over to this island last night for safety.”

The two men had traveled together in the canoe country before and thought this would be a great trip to go with their wives.  I thought back to the previous afternoon, when a large thunderstorm complex drenched us and thought of how that might have felt to the women.  

“Oh, bears are excellent swimmers,” Mark told them, and I saw one of the women wince.  “When are you coming out of the woods?”

Simultaneously, one man said, “Tomorrow,” his wife said, “Today.” 

What works for a couple of guys going out in the woods often won’t with their spouses, or the rest of the family, either.  One can have the greatest weather for a trip and then the same time next year have the worst possible canoeing weather.

* * *

Another time, out with the late Mike Manlove, we pulled on to a campsite in a heavy rain, just to check permits.  A monstrous storm had hit the night before, dumping three inches of rain, and Mike and I were fairly wet. We found a family of four in a decent size tent, dry and warm, at least to me, but the adults didn’t look happy, the kids looked bored out of their minds, and all I could think of was “Hey, you guys are dry.  I’m out here soaking wet and will be this way the rest of the day. You’ve got it great!”  They didn’t see it that way.  His wife was doing dishes, cooking, and trying to keep the place clean, mostly what she probably did at home, only in a tent, not clean herself, and had fewer conveniences, like running water where she wanted it.  The kids wanted to be hanging out with friends.

* * *

Solo, I have nobody to blame other than myself for anything that goes wrong.  Weather forecast in error? My problem. Read the map wrong?  My fault.  Or the mapmaker’s, which I occasionally used. Trip on a root? Pick up your feet. Knock over a pot full of boiling water, putting out the fire? Only me to blame. 

The first time I took my wife into the canoe country, it was too difficult a trip. We stayed on schedule for two days before I finally got sense enough to realize we weren’t going to continue that way. I was still new enough to the area that I let the outfitter route us into Kahshahapiwi Lake, a beautiful lake, except the only easy way in and out is from the north, and we were coming from the south.  I still remember seeing my wife slide down a beaver dam in the mud near a swamp that was the outlet of the lake.  We later did some rerouting, salvaging a decent trip.

We did annual trips for about 25 years, during which time we kept a list of what we needed to take and what we didn’t.  Our packs got lighter, and our meals got better. Experience makes one faster and more efficient. Before we both got too old, we could single carry a portage. Then we started
“one and a halfing” them, where I would carry over and come back half way. She would carry half way, then go back to the beginning and carry all the way. Finally, we just double carried. How we did the work changed; the enjoyment remained the same.

Getting the line up to hang food. Lake Insula, 2006. Below, the one clear day on the 2007 Insula trip, where we had to report on the condition of all 43 campsites.

I took a few friends into the woods. One went on three good fishing trips with me, even including Kahshahapiwi (from the north); we saw a lot of nice country and caught some fish, too. Another was a scoutmaster, quiet, but liked being out there. 

The last time I took a friend there, it didn’t work. I should have been aware when he texted me a couple weeks before the trip with the long range weather forecast. “Rain and wind equals misery.”  

I don’t think that is the case, unless one is not dressed for the conditions and has to keep moving.  I won’t say travel in wind and rain is exactly exhilarating, but it is memorable, and I have vivid recollections of such weather in Algonquin, Temagami, Alaska, and the Quetico-Superior. To be able to travel for days packing wet, unpacking wet, and trying to stay dry and warm is a challenge.  Being able to accomplish it is rewarding.  

Wet day in Alaska. Aichilik River backpack in the Brooks Range, 2009.

He had done more backpacking than canoeing.  I’ve done a lot of both.  The two are different in terms of gear—one can carry a lot more on a canoe trip, and one is usually a lot wetter on one, too. To make it easier for him, I unloaded the canoe from the water, wearing boots, so he didn’t have to get wet.  I’m used to wet feet on canoe trips.  He, like so many I’ve met in Oregon, didn’t like wet feet.  The two of us had different viewpoints of the canoe country. I think to him, it was another place to check off on his outdoor list. He asked at lunch one day if it were OK to throw the apple core into the woods.  No, it isn’t. Leave No Trace means just that. He liked whiskey in the evening. I didn’t drink.  He wanted to sleep late; I don’t.  Late starts mean having to deal with more wind.  I learned that the single most important question I can ask a travel companion is, “are you a morning or an evening person?”

Things came to a head the last full day, when the prior night’s rain and wind left his tent wet, and he didn’t want to pack it that way.  I’m used to doing that, and this was a three hour day to a campsite where we could soon get everything dry.  No rain was forecast.  I got him moving, but he wasn’t happy about it, and finally just threw the fly in the canoe, very uncharacteristic for someone who was quite neat.

We got to the campsite with plenty of time to dry everything. Yes, we could have waited to leave, but then campsites get taken and things like wind and dark happen. That was the beginning of the end of our friendship. The next year, I went solo, with a lot of wind and rain. 

I loved it.  Great trip.  

 

Hidden Bay, Basswoood Lake, 2018.