Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0906.jpeg
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.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_3952.jpeg
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. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1568.jpeg

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….

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_4357.jpeg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_5886.jpeg

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.

 

QUIET HEROISM

September 5, 2019

There are only three fires burning in Oregon in early September, and none is anywhere near the west Cascades.  It’s been a great summer with near normal temperatures and even some rain, for the first time in six summers I have been here. Few have heard of the Eureka Ridge fire, and for good reason: no fire was called that this year.  But, had it not been for a few amateur astronomers, we would have had a nasty conflagration not far south of us.  

In late August, several from the local astronomy club were observing the night sky from a dark site, and science fiction writer-amateur astronomer-has done just about everything Jerry Oltion writes “Some rocket scientists were shooting guns down on the knob below our observing site …which has happened before, so we didn’t think much of it until we noticed they had a fire going. They seemed to be shooting into the fire, and every now and then there would be a big flare of flame, as if they were shooting explosive rounds.”

Reminded me of Arizona in April 2017, where an off duty Border Patrol person was firing explosive rounds in the desert during one of the windiest, driest months of the year, and started the 45,000 acre Sawmill Fire in eastern Pima County.  

“We saw three people milling around…so we figured they were putting it out. The first one [fire] never quite went all the way out, though. The sky got darker, and we figured these fine specimens of human intelligence were camping out…until we watched their car leave. With the fire still burning. 

We were so incredulous that we thought they must have left somebody there, and maybe one of them had driven off to get more beer or something, but the fire began to grow and eventually we saw a small tree catch fire and whoosh into flame like a torch.”

They tried to create a firebreak—with their feet—and called 911 with a GPS reading of the location.  It took two hours for a fire team to appear on the scene. In the meantime, they discovered the shooters had been firing at propane canisters. “We found  a number of them, each with a bullet hole all the way through. They had started a fire and set up propane tanks in front of it and when they burst a propane tank they would get a huge fireball. Spectacular, I must admit. And what could possibly go wrong?”

“When they did…arrive, they put out the fire in short order. They sprayed down the flames with water, then ripped apart the log pile with axes and Pulaskis (probably the single most effective firefighting tool made) and sprayed water on the smoking remains until they had a mud pit.”

This was an easy fire to extinguish.  An hour later, it would have been off to the races. By morning, there would have been a smoke plume, and a few million dollars and weeks later there would be another ugly scar on the land. 

All because of the gun culture.

Yes, the gun culture.  I know this isn’t fair to the majority of gun owners who lock their guns up when not using them, are knowledgeable in gun safety, want background checks to be universal, and obey the law.  But the few ruin it for the many, and frankly it’s time the gun culture got punished for the bad apples just the way I have for my whole life.  Just like I got sworn at or things thrown at me when I rode the bike, because of a few bad apples who ran lights, flipped off cars, and hogged the road, those who shoot up road signs, shoot early on the weekend, leave messy campsites with beer bottles, shell casings, and other trash left behind ruin it for the good guys.  Rich doctors who play golf and don’t take care of their patients? I was harangued once when I got to a consult late on a weekend day, because I had seen half a dozen others, and was greeted by, “Did we pull you off the golf course?”  A few blab about patient records and we have HIPAA.  Patient dumping occurred by some, and we got EMTALA.  Sloppy labs in offices, and we got CLIA.  Jerks in the wilderness, and I have to get a permit.  Life can be hard.  When the gun and the logging culture intersect, a lot of logging leaves slash piles that may well have been what these people used as a backdrop for propane canister shooting.  

I had to obey traffic laws on the bike or risk a ticket.  Fair enough. I had to make sure our ED did a medical evaluation on every patient or we could be sanctioned.  Fortunately, I had good professionals who did it, much as it was a big inconvenience at times. Gun owners need to obey gun laws or risk the same.  I didn’t start a 45,000 acre fire in Arizona or leave a burning fire in the Umpqua drainage in Oregon. 

I doubt these people will be caught, and if so, they aren’t likely to be punished.  They are men in the outdoors, not outdoorsmen. To me, they have just forfeited their right to own firearms.  They have the mental illness called terminal stupidity, and even the president thinks that mentally ill should not be in possession of guns.  At least today. If push came to shove, he’d cave on that, too.

Amateur astronomers were heroes.  Jerry recommended bringing more than a telescope to Eureka Ridge next time—five gallons of water, a shovel, and a Pulaski.

TIMBERLINE TRAIL BACKPACK

August 23, 2019

I took one more look across nearly three feet of rushing water at Muddy Fork to a wet rock, next to a larger one that I would grab with my hand, to stop my momentum.  

Then I led with my right foot.  

Something went badly wrong.  The next thing I knew I was thigh deep in the stream, leaning over the larger rock, backpack having moved up and over my head.  I had missed.  I slipped out of the pack, put it on the bigger rock, retrieved my walking stick, which fortunately floated, and noted that my left hand hurt. 

A guy came down the bank and asked if I were OK. I said I was.  “That’s why you undo your chest strap and belt before crossing,” I said. Had mine been attached, I probably would have fallen backward, getting everything wet, having twenty more pounds to carry, and likely ruining everything I had.

“Those your sunglasses floating over there?”  I looked downstream. They were.  I sure would need them, so I sloshed over and reached down to get them.  I felt one hearing aid.  I did not feel the other.  That’s bad. My phone was dry, amazingly, but I briefly saw my pink and full water bottle downstream before the current carried it away.  My GPS was gone, and a source of water purification, the Steri-Pen, ruined.  

I had gone from a good start to a long day—3 miles in a bit over an hour—to being in trouble.  I took stock of things.  I actually had three GPSs along on the trip, and the lost one was a backup to my new one, since the switch was iffy and one day soon it would not turn on.  I had a spare but empty water bottle in the pack, opting to go with one bottle on the trail to save weight.  My hat, which I had liked, was gone, but I had a bandana that might help. I had three other ways to purify water.

The good start was gone.  My hand was a problem, now a little swollen over the muscle between the thumb and index finger, but it wasn’t terribly tender.  I thought whether I should come out at Top Spur Trailhead, about 5 miles ahead, or go back to Timberline Lodge and abort the hike, about 15 miles behind me. I didn’t want to retrace my steps, so I thought I would wait until I got near Top Spur to decide.

I was hiking the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood, one of the iconic hikes in the PacNW.  One can start at several places and do the loop, and I got the idea a year ago, after doing three day hikes in the area,  It’s 38.3 miles officially, with 9000 feet of vertical gain/loss.  

It’s obviously not easy. Indeed, it ranks up with Alaska as the hardest hiking I have ever done. One can hike further in a day on the Timberline; 10 or more mile days are almost unheard of in Alaska, where 6 is a good day and 4 typical.  The rivers are much more difficult to cross in Alaska, but the sheer vertical on the Timberline is far more.  Alaska has solitude; Timberline has trail runners.  

I drove to Timberline Lodge two days prior, parked and got on the trail early, heading clockwise.  There is a lot of up and down initially, then a long, steep descent into Zig Zag Canyon.  The first river crossing was straightforward, but the climb out was steep, about a thousand feet into Paradise Park. I was hiking steadily, but that would be the last time I hiked that distance uphill without taking a break. Eventually, I left the meadows full of wildflowers to drop a couple of thousand feet to the Sandy River, realizing that my legs bothered me more on the descent than ascent. I purified water at Rushing Water stream and then stayed at nearby Ramona Falls that night, camping  in the nearby cool hemlock-fir forest with other groups nearby.

Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge parking lot
Descending into Zig Zag Canyon
From Paradise Park
Ramona Falls

After I got out of Muddy Fork, I had to purify water. My Steri-Pen turned on then turned off, and my filtration system wasn’t working.  That left boiling or a chlorine tablet, which took 4 hours for 4 ppm. I didn’t want to boil, and I didn’t want to wait four hours, so I took a chance, chlorinated, and hiked for an hour without drinking, having a relatively flat stretch of trail and reaching the junction of the McNeil Point trail in about an hour.  My hand didn’t feel too badly, and I decided to go on.  Coming out would have required finding a driver for the forty-odd road miles back to Timberline, which I didn’t want to do.  The trail, which I had been on a year ago, climbed steeply and was relentless, getting me eventually back to the altitude I was at when I began the hike.  I had lunch at Ladd’s Creek, perhaps one of the most beautiful spots I saw, with several species of wildflowers present: paintbrush, lupines, valerians, and others. I then hiked through Cairn Basin, with many open areas in a park-like area, to viewpoints of Mt Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier to Elk Cove, where I camped about a quarter mile from a stream, getting my filtration system to work again, and soaking my hand in the cold water. I got the tent up, got some food in me, did as little as I could and fell asleep early.

I got up once that night and saw the night sky from a dark spot—6000 feet on the north side of Mt. Hood. I got lost among the stars, because I am so used to city lights that seeing 3rd, 4th, or 5th magnitude stars as bright has become foreign.  I woke up one more time to light on the tent, so I knew the Moon was up.  

Soon, it was 5:30 and I needed to get moving, since I had to pack with mostly one hand.  My left hand was discolored, the blood underneath the skin movable. Somehow, I had to get out of there and hike out the following day.  I one-handed getting dressed; keeping my support hose on the night before made the socks and hiking shoes easier to handle. The gaiters would keep my feet dry for shallow streams, assuming I could put them on; nothing would keep me dry for the big ones.  

I was off before 7:30 headed towards Cloud Cap, crossing six downed logs on the trail, huckleberries I could swipe as I walked by, and came to Coe Creek.  This had a steep drop, and I started to go upstream looking for a log bridge.  I stepped, and WHACK! hit my head on a rock. This was not going well.  I kept putting my hand over it and didn’t see any blood, so I began the long climb out of there, which had me doing my short walks with frequent stops to breathe.  At least I forgot about the hand.  And my head. Eventually, I started to go downhill, noting Eliot Creek far below, which I would reach by a steep descent through many switchbacks to the bank of the creek, which was light gravel with little traction.  I looked upstream and down for a safe spot to cross.  The current was fast, even in morning, and I finally found aa place where I could get to mid-stream fairly easily.  I unbuckled my chest strap and hip belt and stepped in. 

This time, I talked the crossing over to myself.  OK, get to the rock.  Good, Mike.  Now check the bottom with your pole, to make sure there are no surprises.  No?  Good.  Now sidestep across.  Yes, the water is cold, but good.  Current is really strong, so bend forward facing it and go side to side.  Yep, that’s it.  Good.  The pole is fine, so one more step and yes, you are across.

It was then I had to climb half a mile and 500 feet.  But Cloud Cap had water, and I would need a drink when I got there.  I puffed up the switchbacks one at a time, taking frequent breaths.  I was no longer hiking 1000 feet vertical without a break.  Fifty to hundred trail feet was about it.

The water hadn’t been turned on in Cloud Cap.

To be continued….

FLAWED SYSTEM

July 26, 2019

I reached the junction of Deer Butte Trail with Hand Lake Trail, turned left on the latter and started ascending.  I was 3 miles into a 17 mile hike in the Mount Washington Wilderness that would reach Scott Mountain and then loop back to where I had just turned.  At least, that was the plan.

I took a break, which I try to do every hour or three to four miles, so I don’t get behind on fluids or food.  I took off my day pack and took out a sport drink with no calories but electrolytes.  It tastes good and I will drink it,  But something was funny about the pack.  Something too light funny.  Something missing.  Where was my second water bottle? 

Oh, it must be down further in the pack, I thought, but a quick check did not show it, as I re-shouldered the pack and started hiking uphill.  I felt fine, not sweating much, and I just took a couple of sips of fluid. Plenty was left.  But my mind was replaying what happened to the second bottle.  Was it in the car?  It seemed unlikely, since I had taken everything I needed from the car.  

The day was warm, a thermal trough laying over the Cascades, which would make it quite warm today. Still, the forest I had been in was cool, and I hoped I could get to the next junction, about three and a half miles away, in a little more than an hour.  Maybe I could deal with the fluid problem, although I had my concerns.

The hike entered a recent burn and the footing became more difficult  The soil is disturbed in a burn, and while the trail had been cleared last year, the blowdowns removed, there were many new trees down already, typical after a burn.  I was chronicling the number, size, and location of each for the High Cascade Forest Volunteers to log out, which could easily involve me, and the tree branches were frequently sharp, penalties for carelessness falling, which I did once, sharp points waiting on the ground.

I had done the 23.5 mile Duffy Lake Loop three years earlier through the B and B burn, hiking several miles in a moonscape and nearly half the whole hike in a burned area. 

Jorn Lake, Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, B and B fire aftermath, August 2016

There were hundreds of blowdowns, and I almost turned around eight miles in.  I should have.  Carrying two liters of water, I was bone dry when I came out after nearly eight hours.  Fortunately, I had kept some water in the car.

Mt. Washington through the burn area, Hand Lake Trail

Trail with Douglas fir blowdown blocking it

I finally reached the junction, had more water and started to hike towards Scott Mountain, but I didn’t like my pace going uphill, and I had another thousand feet of climbing to go. 

I stopped.

I’m turning around, I said to myself. I will have lunch, look at the maps, take stock of things and do this hike differently. Most of the time when I say stop, I quit.  Only on Duffy Loop did I keep going, and as mentioned, it wasn’t a great idea.

I had never forgotten water on a hike here before, and I was annoyed with myself, but I quickly put the annoyance aside to deal with the fact I had limited water and the maps showed the best way back was the way I came.  There was no sense in worrying now about what I did wrong.  I felt fine at the moment, but I needed to put in some serious miles. There were two lakes near the trail on the way back if worse came to worse.

I got up and started walking, but something didn’t feel right.  I was descending.  I took out my GPS and it showed me making new trail, rather than retracing my route.  I was going the wrong way.  I went back to the 3-way junction and still turned the wrong way.  Well, there was only  one other route, and that one was correct.  My shadow was ahead of me, so I was going north, which was what I wanted to do. It bothered me that I went the wrong way on the trail after lunch. I noted that maybe I was more tired than I should be, maybe dry, maybe not, but I was making mistakes I shouldn’t and needed to leave.  I made a similar mistake 20 years prion in Tennessee on the Appalachian Trail. I sat down to take a break and got up to walk.  When I saw a road that wasn’t supposed to be there, I realized it was a road I had crossed earlier.  At the same time, I saw some familiar brush where I had encountered a snake on the way up.  I quickly turned around and almost ran up the trail, as if running would remove my embarrassment at having messed up.  I was tired then, too. This day, I was again reminded that I can get off trail and make significant mistakes.  Fortunately, it was a gentle reminder. I had a short climb to a ridge, descent another 2 miles in the burn, get into the woods, and finally reach the trailhead.

Not having the second bottle of water turned out to be a good thing.  I think with two, I would have tried to do the whole 17 miles, and in my condition I wasn’t going to do well.  I was tired enough when I finished after fourteen.  I saw the two lakes on the route that I might have missed otherwise, because they required a walk in from the trail.  I remembered, when I got to the car, that my wife had put several liters of water in the trunk in case of an earthquake’s hitting if I were away from home.  And I realized that while I had properly placed my Steri-Pen in the pack, I needed the thicker plastic water bottle, not the thin sports drink bottle, to safely use it.   The next day I added chlorous acid pills to the pac for another means of purification.  

Another reason I forgot things is because I deal with two different packs each week, my work pack, which has gloves, my hand saw, loppers, ear and eye protection, and most of my first aid kit, and my day pack for hiking, which has more clothes.  I needed to have a checklist for both of them, rather than depend upon my memory.   I now have three different ways to deal with water on the trail, two first aid kits, sterilizers, and leave two water bottles on the hood of the car the afternoon before hiking or working trail. Spare running shoes go in the trunk so I can change footgear after a hike.  

Tomorrow and Sunday I day hike and work. This will be a good opportunity to see if I have fixed the system.

Kuitan Lake, inside the Mt. Washington Wilderness


Robinson Lake, just outside the Mt. Washington Wilderness

THE DAY I FINALLY JOINED THE CREW

July 20, 2019

We picked up our saws and started hiking steeply uphill on Waldo Trail west of Waldo Mountain.  I figured we had at least 600 feet of elevation gain ahead, so I looked at my altimeter and estimated a bit more, 200 meters. It’s difficult for me to hike an unknown trail without knowing where I am regarding elevation and distance.  Many would say I am too focused on those things.  True, but I don’t ask how far it is, how much climbing there is, and what time we will get there. I know.

I was with two others, the crew leader with our volunteer trail group, the Scorpions, and a well-known sawyer from a nearby town, who not only uses saws but is the central Oregon expert in sharpening them.  

I hadn’t done trail work in 25 years when I first started doing it in Oregon. The trail work I did in Minnesota was a very different kind where we cleaned campsites, dug latrines. checked peoples permits and instructed them how to canoe safely and care for the wilderness.

I tend to try new fields, learn new vocabulary, new skills, starting at the bottom and working my way up.  I gain competence that suits me, then I move on, not giving up what I have learned but seeking another new adventure.  I have done this with medicine, statistics, astronomy, meteorology, canoe tripping, German, leading hikes, and even writing.  I don’t leave these fields: I tutor statistics, I still observe the sky, the weather, watch German TV, write, lead hikes and canoe trip. I just don’t do as much of them.  My latest interest is trail work.

I had little experience using a 2-man crosscut saw, no experience repairing trails, and constantly needing correction and instruction. Few knew me, and I wasn’t considered much of an asset.  I did a two night trip in the wilderness last summer, helped cut a lot of logs out, hurt my knee, and stayed away from work for about three months. In the winter, a lot of low elevation trail work nearby made it easier for me to go out again for a few hours, and I started doing more.

We had a rough winter, with a lot of trees down on the nearby trails, and I was a swamper, the person who helps the chain saw cutter remove the logs and cleans up the smaller debris.  I didn’t miss a chance to go out, making about two dozen consecutive trips into the woods with the group.  People at least knew me, knew I was out there, but I still wasn’t considered too valuable, at lease in my eyes.  

Two days prior, I had worked in the Diamond Peak Wilderness clearing logs, two of which were north of 25 inches in diameter.  One had serious binding, meaning there was compression of part of the log which made the saw bind or stop cutting.  It took our threesome 3 hours to cut the log out.  We had to keep plastic wedges in the first cut to keep it open and prevent the second cut from binding as well.  I learned a lot from that day, but my arms were dead tired and I was expecting to leave early on the next outing in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.

We started with a 24-inch diameter log that could be pushed downhill, except there was not a lot of room for it on that side.  I made the counterintuitive suggestion that we push it the other way, even slightly uphill a few feet, because we wouldn’t have to push it far to get it off the trail. My way worked well, and the crew leader was pleased.  He hadn’t thought of pushing it the other way.

I worked with the sawyer, also named Mike, on the first 15 incher.  He was experienced, and I expected a lot of criticism. The log was dry, my arms were not as sore as I expected, and I was careful to sight along the saw so that it was straight and not bent.  Bends make it difficult to do a straight cut.  We cut through it smoothly, made a second cut, and pushed the cut log off the trail. No corrections made. The day was going better.

About a half mile up the trail, we had another issue where the log was above the trail and we had top bind, where the top wood was under compression and the lower under tension.  I suggested we cut underneath, since tension leads to a tendency for the cut to open rather than to close.  This would be an “under buck,” and I thought of it because I had encountered this same type of problem two days prior.  We put the saw into position below the log, cut upward, and I just let the saw cut with a trace of upward pressure. It seemed right, and I could hear the saw sing, a sound that meant we were doing it right. We cut through the bottom part of the log, and it dropped, the saw remaining away from the ground, which is important to avoid damage to it.

On the next cut, the sawyer said that despite my being new to this, I was cutting well.

I was stunned,  This was the first compliment I had had ever about my sawing or trail work.  I have been out with the group forty-seven different times, over four hundred volunteer hours, into four wilderness areas, three national forests, and I had never once heard “Good job” applied to me as an individual.

I thanked him, and we moved on and under bucked a second log.  We were making good progress along the trail.  I had stopped counting how many logs I had cut out, but it was a lot.  We were finally descending, after climbing about a thousand feet, far more than the six hundred I expected.  My arms felt good; nothing was difficult.  I was careful how I cut, trying not to force the saw, and I felt confident.

On the next log, when I suggested an under buck, Mike looked up at me and the crew leader, held up a hand with three fingers, and said, “I can think of only three people I will do an under buck with.  You are doing a great job with it.”

Wow, I was not walking on the trail any more.  I was floating.  

Later on, Mike showed me how to get part of a log off the ground using wedges and a small log. On one log, I asked him where he wanted to start, and he said, “You tell me.”  I did, thrilled that my reasoning was good and I had read the log correctly. 

We finished our part of the trail, hooked up with another crew that did a nearby trail, and walked three miles out of the woods to the cars.  Sure, I was tired, I had a long drive ahead home on a lot of dirt roads, and I would be leading a 12 mile hike the next day.  But I’d do fine.  I knew the area. 

I also knew a good teacher, one who could both instruct and positively reinforce a student. Both matter a great deal.  I had long wondered whether I would ever fit in to the trail crew.  This was the day I realized my skills and work mattered.


The two Mikes under bucking a log. Author in orange hard hat. Waldo Lake Wilderness.

Two of the crew taking some pulls at a 26 inch Western hemlock. The wedges in the top of the log are keeping the cut open. Diamond Peak Wilderness.