Thursday, August 18, 2011

Quartz Creek

Wassa Jr. goes on his first backpacking trip!
It's also always cool with you can carry a giant
saw in your pack. (Okay, maybe not giant, but
I bet it's bigger than anything you carried into the
For the first time since I finished the Pacific Crest Trail, I was heading back into the backcountry. This time, it was with the Washington Trails Association. After all, if you're going to sponsor our participation in the Hike-a-Thon, wouldn't you like to know what kinds of things the money is spent on? =)

Amanda and I camped at the Lewis River Horse Camp overnight--which was exceedingly convenient since that's where I was to meet for the Backcountry Response Team I had signed up for at the unholy hour of 8:30 AM. (Needless to say, I usually wake up much later in the morning than that!)

Little did they know, I planned to bring my little friend, Wassa Jr. Wassa would be going on his first backpacking trip!

Shortly before the appointed time, cars started pulling up. In all, there would be six of us. Well, seven if you include Wassa Jr: Ryan, Carol, Chris, David, Kurt, and myself. No, I'm not referring to myself in the 3rd person--the trip leader was a nice fellow named Ryan.

Who, as it turns out, I met twice before. The first time I met him was April 23, 2010, at approximately 3:43 PM in the afternoon. I usually don't know this sort of information with such precision, but this was an exception moment for me because it was the exact time I started my PCT thru-hike. I didn't blog about it that day because it didn't seem important, but there was one other hiker at the border when I started my hike. He wasn't thru-hiking--just planning to go as far as Agua Dulce then it would bump up to Washington because he had a job with the WTA that would be starting. I happened to photograph my watch when I started, and I looked up the photo and could find the precise time I started my thru-hike. =) I took the photo only a few minutes after I met Ryan, the other hiker at the border.

Ryan, who as it turns out, I met a couple of times before.
Never thinking I'd ever see him again, I didn't think about him again. At least not until I bumped into him again in southern Washington on September 2nd. I don't know the exact time, but I distinctly remember meeting two trail maintainers from the forest service while hiking with Hui, and that was the day I hiked with Hui. (I had to cheat to check my blog, though--I didn't know that date off the top of my head.)

I didn't mention this encounter in my blog either--since I had failed to note him the first time I met him, it seemed strange to mention him this time. But it seemed like a bizarre coincidence to run into him a second time more than 2,000 miles later in a completely different context. He explained that he was between gigs with the WTA and was doing some work for the forest service at the time, and he mentioned that he was at the PCT kickoff earlier that year. I didn't recognize him, but the story sounded familiar, and I realized--that's the same guy I met at the border! Only him and my mom were the only two people who actually saw me at the Mexican border!

And, once again, I didn't recognize him this time either--except that after he found out I thru-hiked the PCT last year, he mentioned that he was at the kickoff last year and I thought, "Wait a minute.... I've heard this story before! In fact, I've heard it twice before!"

Wassa kept wanting to stop to eat berries.
And so for the third time, our paths would cross.

We made introductions, Amanda drove off into the wild blue yonder, and the rest of us picked up some hand tools and headed off into the backcountry along the Quartz Creek Trail.

We didn't really go far--only about two miles, just to the other side of a small tributary of Quartz Creek that would get our feet wet. No bridges, though a couple of others crawled under and over giant trees and bushes along a log jam to cross without getting their feets wet. It looked like too much effort to me, though, and I charged directly across.

Along this creek would be our camp for the next three nights.

But before we set up camp, Chris told us a wild story. This would be Chris's first backpacking trip. Ever. He bought a brand new sleeping bag, a new compression sack for it, and tied it poorly to his pack. He said he thought about running a rope through it or something to make it more secure, but ultimately, didn't bother. This would prove to be a huge mistake because just as he was going down that last big hill down towards the creek, his sleeping bag escaped and bounced down a cliff.

Trying to get over the river on the log jam seemed like
more effort than it was worth to me.
Ryan and Chris would go back across the creek and try to retrieve the sleeping bag, but eventually they came back empty-handed. They could see the sleeping bag resting on a nook on a cliff, but the cliff was too unstable to get down to retrieve it. Chris was in the backcountry. Without a sleeping bag.

This would be a very discouraging development for anyone. Even more so for someone who had never spent a single night in the backcountry. Chris thought about going back and quitting before he had even begun, but decided to try doing without. The nights were relatively warm, and with extra layers of clothing and a tent to trap warm air, he was going to try to stick it out without the sleeping bag.

As for myself, I brought no tent at all. The weather forecast was favorable, so I decided to carry nothing more than my tarp as shelter, and to only set it up if it actually started to rain. Otherwise, I would be cowboy camping.

I also brought a bear canister. I wasn't particularly worried about bears, but I had no intention of carrying all of my food with me to the work site every day, and I didn't want to leave it in camp unattended. Even if no bears happened along, some rodents would undoubtedly take advantage of such a situation. So, as much as I hate carrying them, I brought along my bear canister this time.

David (right) and Chris (minus a backpack) decided to ford the creek like I did. =)

No other mishaps happened for the rest of the day, and by sunset, we were all ready to hit the sack.

The next morning, though, it was time to get our hands dirty and do some work. We donned our hard hats and gloves and hiked another mile or so north along the Quartz Creek Trail. The trail was a wreck. Especially where large trees had fallen across it. The forest service already sent in people to cut out the large logs blocking the trail (although they didn't finish it all!), but the trail was still covered with bark, sawdust, pinecones, branches, and other debris and severely overgrown after years of neglect. The Quartz Creek Trail made the list of "endangered trails" in Washington last year. We were to fix that. =)

Wassa tries on my hard hat, but it doesn't
really fit very well.
I set up Wassa on a nearby log to be a supervisor. He's very good at that. *nodding*

My first task was to cut down a tree that was growing a bit too close to the trail. It was a few inches in diameter and stood probably about ten feet tall. Not exactly a giant among trees, but that's just as well because we didn't bring a cross-cut saw. Nope, just small hand saws, but that was enough. Timber!

Then I picked up a grub hoe and started bring the trail to life. It didn't take long before I declared the work backbreaking. Or at least back-aching. Along with my arms. It's exhausting work. When we got to the first major part where large pieces of bark blanketed the trail where some large trees had fallen, Ryan said we do some swamping first. "Swamping?" I asked. Yes, swamping. It seems that's the technical term for throwing debris off the trail. Learn something every day! =)

So I did some swamping, then picked up Pulaskis, grub hoes, and McLeods--whichever was needed at any given time--and brought the trail to life. Barely discernible at times, we brought it back to life.

My favorite activity was whacking trees, logs, and stumps with a Pulaski. Half axe, half grub, it could chop through anything given enough time. On the second day of work, even Wassa took a few swings with the Pulaski.

Speaking of Wassa, everyone on the team looked out for him. Once, I picked up my pack and some tools to move them further up the trail, and Carol saw Wassa still sitting on a log playing supervisor behind me. "But... what about Wassa?! Are you forgetting Wassa?!"

Carol and David sitting in camp.
No, I wasn't forgetting Wassa. My hands were full. I intended to move my pack and tools ahead, then return for Wassa. Sometimes Kurt would pass where I was working and stop to look around--looking for Wassa. He knew wherever I was, Wassa wasn't far behind.

Our last night in camp, I decided to dress up with a tie and a fancy collared shirt. It was an extravagance, but a tie and shirt didn't take up much space, and I thought it would be amusing to put on something as useless as a tie on a backcountry adventure. =) And anyhow, it was a Wallace and Gromit tie. How could I not wear it?!

By the end of the trip, we figure we restored about a half-mile of the Quartz Creek Trail. After we finished our work, we hiked back to where we started working and walked the entire length of our work--which seemed like an astonishing amount for just six people, five of which are purely volunteers. What paid for these tools and paid the salaries of the trip leader (Ryan, in this case)--donations to the WTA. The money Amanda and I have raised so far probably covers all of the expenses for several of these kinds of trips.

On the forth day, we hiked out again, back to the trailhead. Amanda wouldn't be there to greet me--she was off in Zurich working (and hiking!). But David volunteered to drive me to Tacoma, where he lives, which is close enough to Seattle that I could catch buses and trains the rest of the way to Seattle.

We didn't cut out this large tree, but the trail
is barely visible under all of the debris left
behind. Note Wassa supervising from
his perch on the log.
He dropped me off by the train station in Seattle, but alas, the last Sounder train direct to Seattle had already left for the day. I really like riding trains and was a little disappointed I couldn't take the train to Seattle.

I walked across the street and started looking at the transit maps at a light rail station for a hint about which bus I'd need to catch to get to Seattle, but I had only been looking for a few seconds when a light rail train stopped and a hippie-looking guy popped his head out asking where I was going.

"Seattle," I told him, and he proceeded to explain exactly which route I should take and where the relevant bus stop was located. There was a bus stop on the other side of the block, but he suggested I ride the free (free!) light rail two stops down and there was a bus stop he'd point out to me directly. Sweet. I jumped in.

I chatted with him a bit between the two stops learning that he had recently been arrested and everything he carried had been confiscated. And that he almost lost a leg last week trying to hop a freight train. He grabbed onto a ladder of a moving train and his foot slipped through the rung nearly cutting off his leg.

Wow, my life is boring. =)

When I arrived at the anointed stop, I got out and checked the bus schedule. Yep, there it was. Bus 590, 592, and 594 all went to downtown Seattle. Excellent! The next bus should arrive in 15 minutes or so.

This is the same photo as the previous one,
except taken after some of the work in fixing
the trail had taken place. It's the best
before and "mostly" after photo I have.
It was dinner time at this point, and I had to pee something awful, so I popped into a nearby Subway store to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. When I came back out, a nice old lady was sitting at the bus stop and I sat down next to her, asking if the Seattle bus had already come and gone. I didn't think so--I even took my Subway order to go to help insure I made it back before my bus came and went, but it must have been early. My bus had indeed come and gone without me. The horror!

What to do? What to do? I know, I'll eat my sandwich, and that's what I did. =)

Another Seattle bus would arrive in another half hour. As it turned out, I misread the schedule and the buses came five minutes earlier than I expected. Oh, well, no big deal.

I paid my $3.50 fair to Seattle, a little concerned about how long it would take to drive to Seattle. Buses always make all those stops seemingly on every block, taking every non-freeway road they could throughout the area. I never road the bus between Tacoma and Seattle before, and worried the trip might take hours.

As it turned out, the bus made one more stop in Tacoma, got on I-5, then headed directly to Seattle using the carpool lanes without a single stop between the two! Dang! In rush hour traffic, the bus was probably faster than driving your own car! Yeah! Wee! I never enjoyed a bus ride so much. I'm not sure I've ever been in a bus going freeway speeds before. =)

Again, Wassa supervising the work we had done.
The bus started taking the ramp for the West Seattle Bridge--the very ramp I'd have taken to get home, but I knew the bus was supposed to go downtown--not West Seattle. The left-hand side of the ramp leads to West Seattle. The right-hand side, however, exited into the south end of downtown. I got off at the very first stop in Seattle--near the corner of Spokane St and 4th Ave. (Only a couple of blocks away from the world's first Costco.) Perfect! I couldn't have imagined a better place for the bus to have stopped unless it gave me door-to-door service!

I could have taken another bus into West Seattle, but at this point, I was only a few miles away from home. My pack was relatively light now that I'd eaten most of the food that was in it during the backpacking trip. The air was crisp and cool. And I felt like walking. So I walked the rest of the way home.

My Quartz Creek adventure was officially over. All told, I figure I hiked about 14 miles along Quartz Creek during those four days. Not exactly big mile days, but very satisfying ones.

And please, if you haven't sponsored Amanda and I yet, please consider doing so! Even a dollar can help sharpen or fix a tool!

Wassa checks out the poor quality of the trail.

This log was sticking out part way into the trail. (That greenery on the right is actually
the trail--it just hasn't been cleared yet.) I had a lot of fun lopping off the end with
this Pulaski. It makes a very satisfying thud when it bites into the wood. =)
Wassa takes time off from supervising to climb a tree. =)

Wassa also hiked out to this small waterfall along Quartz Creek.

I found the refracted light on the rocks in Quartz Creek hypnotic. =)

Chris tries on a new kind of hat--totally vegan, too!
Wassa finally does get his hands dirty with real work, using loppers to trim
branches hanging over the trail. He finds them awkward to use,
however, and gives up quickly.
Then Wassa gives the Pulaski a whack or two.

Talk about burying the hatchet! Or the Pulaski, as the case may be. =)

A boy with his moose. =)

Wassa tries to walk a mile in my shoes.
(He doesn't get far!)
I stored Wassa in my bear canister overnight to protect him from
marauding bears. (It would also give him an excellent perch to watch
marauding bears eating me if they had the inclination.)
Back at the trailhead at the end of the trip, Kurt prepares to a take
a group shot with his camera and tripod. (Alas, I do not have the
picture he took to share. Not yet, at least!)


Okie Dog said...

Love the quartz rock in the creek pic. Calendar? So how'd it go for Chris with no sleeping bag, did he complain of aches and pains? That story seems incomplete....

wassamatta_u said...

Wow. Wassa Jr leads a more interesting life than I do! Glad you took good care of him.

Ryan said...

Chris complained about being uncomfortable, but I guess it was tolerable since he stuck around for the whole trip! He had aches and pains, but then we all did from the work we were doing. I'm not sure he'd be able to distinguish those pains from the no sleeping bags pains. =)

-- Ryan