Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Cut Out Logs

I helped install this water bar in 2007.
The middle picture is how it looked
during my thru-hike of 2010.
And the bottom photo is how
it looks today. That jacket I'm wearing,
surprisingly, is the only piece of
gear I had during all three visits. =)
I sleep in late, throwing protective
clothing over me to keep
the mosquitoes away.
I slept in late this morning. In fact, I slept in late every morning on this work party since everyone decided to get started by around 7:00 while I generally woke up at least an hour before that. I tended to wake up with the sun, and the sun gets up pretty darned early in July. =)

So I snuggled comfortably in my sleeping bag and as the morning mosquitoes got going, I would throw a shirt or jacket over my head to keep them at bay. One of the downsides of camping without a tent!

Eventually, though, I actually got up and started moving. It was a beautiful morning too!

Each of the smaller teams left as they got ready, and I headed out with the rest of Team Buzzsaw passing a couple of teams that had already stopped to log out some trees blocking the path.

We passed on old water bar that I helped install back in 2007. It's easy to identify because it's the only water bar between Lemah Meadows and Solo Tarn, so I took photos of it to compare later with the photos back from 2007 and more that I took during my PCT thru-hike of 2010.

And finally we reached a couple of nice blowdowns just before an old avalanche shoot. In fact, I convinced Larry and Marcella to skip the one further back from the avalanche shoot and hit the one closer to it with the beautiful, wide-open views. When we finished with it, we could backtrack the 30 feet to the other blowdown. And anyhow, this one closer to the incredible views was significantly larger and would be more difficult to cut. If another team caught up to us before we finished and wanted to cut out the smaller blowdown, that was fine. But I wanted this one with the views. =)

View from the avalanche shoot.
A couple of days later, a park ranger--John--would meet up with our group and tell us a little about this avalanche shoot because he was working the area back when it happened. The small clearing, back in the day, used to be a vibrant, thriving forest until an avalanche punched through sometime in the early 1990s. Apparently, it left the trail quite a mess with hundreds of trees stacked and piled high. John said he's a little disappointed that you can't see the awesome destruction of the avalanche anymore. The trees have largely rotted and those that are left are covered with brush and vine maple that hide the incredible, destructive powers of the avalanche.  Many thought they'd need to get an exception to the "no chainsaws" rule in wilderness areas, but they sent a team out with cross-cut saws and it took them a solid week to clear the section of trail, not even a tenth of a mile long, through the rubble.

It's hard to imagine such powerful forces walking through the area now--so peaceful and tranquil. In fact, that avalanche shoot is one of the few incredible viewpoints along the lower edge of the slope we were now ascending. (Although, based on my 2007 WTA work party, I can attest that it's a lot more difficult to maintain since the tall trees no longer crowd out the small vegetable that likes to creep up onto the trail.)

We shed our packs, put on the required hard hat and gloves. Also required: a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and boots, but we already wore those on the hike up.

Step 1: Examine the tree and surroundings.
Logging out a tree is pretty simple in theory. Step one: we examine the blowdown. We walk around it noting stuff like if it's root ball is still attached to the ground (if it's not, it's much more likely to slide down a steep hill or roll over and hurt someone). We look up to see if there are any dangers overhead that might rain down on us as we do our work. We look for tension and compression on the tree to identify the best places to make our cuts. In areas of compression, the saws can (and do!) get stuck as the wood pinches the saw blades. Getting a saw stuck is a huge hassle--and if it's bad enough, it might even require us to get help from another team to saw out our own saw. So we want to avoid that.

So we all walk around the tree, looking for dangers and form a plan of attack.

Then we moved on to step two: cut away all of the small branches and stobs sticking out from the main trunk. They make logs hard to roll. Sometimes, this is a good thing when we want to make sure that a log doesn't roll onto one of us, but in this case, on the relatively flat terrain of this area, they would just get in our ways. So we took out our Corona handsaws and lopped all of those branches and stobs off.

Now we just had the big trunk blocking the trail, and we decided to cut it out with two cuts--one on each side of the trail. Larry worked on knocking off a lot of the bark with dirt at the cut. Dirt will clog and dull a sharp cross-cut saw faster than you can believe, so we already tried to "clean" the cut first by knocking off the bark where the dirt would be.

Step 2: Get rid of all the branches and stobs.
We also used loppers to cut down some of the vegetation near the cut. The loppers turned out to be incredible useful for this purpose over and over again. The vegetation would grow low, near the ground, where were were trying to cut and get in our way, so we'd lop it away to make room for our work.

And Marcella took the honors of doing the cut with the cross-cut saw. In hindsight, it probably would have been easier had we put handles on both ends of the cross-cut saw and had two people saw, but we didn't and suffered as a result. The log was suspended over the trail meaning that the compression was on top of the log, and sure enough, the saw started binding as it got deeper into the cut. Eventually, we started underbucking--which is absolutely exhausting and not fun at all. With a cross-cut saw, the bulk of the effort goes into pushing the saw back and forth and gravity pulls the saw down to do the actual cutting. Cutting under the log meant that not only was gravity not helping, but was actively working against you.

Step 3: Clear the cut of dirt. Larry does that here.
Eventually, though, we managed to cut through the log. Along the way, another team caught up with us and decided to take out the smaller log we had skipped. They took it out and passed us while were still working on our first cut.

I was put in charge of the second cut which went marginally easier than the first cut, but not by a whole lot. Finally the cut was made and I was ready to finally push that hunk of log off the trail before Larry stopped me.

"You want to get a picture of your cut first?"

I looked down at the cut, with two wedges still in it, and said, "Yeah, I guess I should." The sheer difficulty this log has caused us made me want to just forget about it, but I should get a record of it. Just in case I later decided I didn't want to forget about the log. =)

So I took a couple of photos then we all got behind the log and pushed it off the trail.

We headed up the trail in search of other logs blocking the trail. We passed other recently cut logs--obviously work from the teams ahead of us--then finally passed the other teams to take the lead where we finally found some more trees blocking the trail.

Step 4: Cut! Go, Marcella! Go!
The rest of the logs that day didn't pose as much trouble for us as that first one, and by the end of the day, our group had cleared several miles of the PCT from blowdowns. Team Buzzsaw's total for today was 7 1/2. We decided that any tree that was blocking the trail but didn't actually require a cut on the main trunk to get out of the way counted as a half. The half-tree might still require a lot of work on our part such as limbing and the collective efforts of several of us pushing the trunk with our legs to move--they were still serious trees in their own right and not trivial to move--but since we didn't actually have to log the tree out, we called it a half for our counting purposes. This is in no way an official way to count logged out trees. It just didn't seem right to count them as a whole tree, so as a team, we just decided to call them half-trees. =)

I wasn't sure how many trees the other teams logged out, and none of the others seemed interested in counting. Some of our trees were challenges that took significant amount of time and effort to get through while others were relatively quick and easy to dispose of, but for the day, our total stood at 7 1/2. Assuming the other three teams did about the same (and honestly, I have no idea if they did or didn't), that would mean our group collectively cut out 30 trees that day. Awesome!

I start clearing dirt and bark from our second cut.
We stashed our tools off on the side of the trail--no sense in carrying them all back down to camp just to carry them back up the trail the next morning. I did keep my handsaw, though, so I could cut down a couple of smaller branches that poked out into the trail but technically didn't block it for hikers. The PCT is a horse trail so a few of the logs that fell wouldn't have blocked hikers at all, but they might have caused issues for pack animals carrying large loads. They were generally small, though, and I figured I'd hit them with the handsaw on my way back to camp. The grub-hoe, cross-cut saw, loppers, and our axe stayed where we cut our last tree for the day, though.

I work on cut #2 while Marcella watches and hammers in the wedge. You can actually
see the second tree that had crossed the trail in the background, but it's already been
cut out by a passing team. (Those two logs still across the trail we put there
to help roll the big log off the trail after the second cut is done.)
My cut, completed!

The cuts are done, and we placed the two smaller logs across the trail
to help make it easier to push the big log off the trail.

Our job here is done. Time to move up to another log!

We never saw any bears, but Marcella did find these scratches--clear
evidence of bears in the area. =)

Here's an interesting setup. The log I'm cutting is resting on top of the log I'm
sitting on, and the log I'm sitting on is kind of in the way of the log on the left.
The other two logs are small enough to push around--but we can't
get to them until after we get rid of the big one that's holding them all
down. That tree I'm sitting on we called a "half" tree for counting purposes
since it requires quite a bit of effort to free it from the bigger tree,
but once it was freed, we didn't actually have to cut it. (We didn't count that third
tree at all since it wasn't actually "blocking" the trail, but we still pushed it
down slope since it was uncomfortably close to the trail.) And finally, note the
tree in the background in the sun that's sticking out into the trail. That's the one
we'll be attacking in the next two photos....

Marcella examines this tree sticking out into the trail.

I had the honors of cutting this log out. It was a relatively quick,
uneventful job. No limbs to hack off, one quick cut (no binding!),
and easily pushed off the side of the trail. No sweat....

I took this video hoping we'd catch a terrific crash as the log rolled down the steep slope. Unfortunately, the terrific crash never happened so the video isn't particularly exciting. I still find it strangely amusing, though, as we're all disappointed at the uninspiring show. =)

 And another reminder--the Washington Trails Association is warming up for another Hike-a-Thon, and we'd very much appreciate it if you could sponsor Amanda and myself this year! Your contributions to towards supporting work parties just like this one, preserving and maintaining trails around Washington state.

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