Monday, July 30, 2012

Tree Fairies and Other Shenanigans

This tree that had fallen overnight I decided to cutout myself....
...and not tell anyone. =) You can see where I already
started sawing on the left. (That red dot on the tree is the
Corona handsaw resting in the cut I had started.)
I woke for our second full day of work to sprinkles. Just a hint of them, but definite sprinkles, which was of some concern for me since I had failed to set up my tarp. It wasn't supposed to rain! Rather than set up my tarp, I just pulled out my tarp and threw it over me. We were planning to break camp and move up to Solo Tarn to be closer to the work, so setting up the tarp just to break it down in an hour seemed counter-productive. I just hoped it wouldn't start raining hard and crossed my fingers.

It didn't stop raining hard, though, and eventually the sprinkles stopped, and I got up. I ate breakfast (granola cereal) and packed up camp. I didn't move quickly, though. Marcella planned to bring up the rear of our group to make sure no stragglers got left behind and Larry was never far from her, so I knew Team Buzzsaw would be running later than all of the other groups.

I did go ahead without them, but I was still one of the last people to leave camp. I wandered up the trail, hiking alone, and made it just past the avalanche shoot when I saw a tree fallen across the trail. It was hard to miss: on the slope to the right, but the end stuck about chest high over the trail. We had cleared this section of trail of fallen trees already--this tree had not been here when I hiked down the day before. How utterly inconsiderate of the tree to fall down in the middle of the night.

This is totally a staged photo--I was really sawing with
both hands, but I wanted a picture of me sawing and I
needed one hand for the photo. So I'm just holding the
saw here. =) My hands were getting tired anyhow, so
they needed the break!
Most of our group had already walked past this tree, but I wasn't surprised that they didn't stop to cut it out--all of our tools were still up the mountain where we had stopped working the day before. They couldn't cut it out even if they wanted to without their tools, and I started continuing ahead then stopped in my tracks.

I actually did have tools. I wanted to cut a couple of small branches on my way back to camp the day before so I carried the Corona handsaw, my hardhat, and my gloves--possibility making me the only person who actually had all of the required equipment in order to work. I turned back around and studied the tree closer.

It was a rather large tree for a Corona--if we had a cross-cut saw, we'd probably have used that--but it did look small enough to be doable with a Corona. I walked around the fallen tree. It looked like it had been dead for quite some time and snapped off from a snag on the uphill side of the trail. The snag still stood upright. I looked in the trees above and didn't see anything remotely dangerous about the work location. With the end of the log dangling in mid-air, I knew I wouldn't have to worry about the saw binding as I cut down into the log. It was also small enough that I didn't have to worry about it rolling or falling and hurting me. All-in-all, I decided, this tree looked positively easy. I could totally do this. It was practically a setup for a one-man job.

The trail is clear! My work is done.... =)
My only concern was that the folks who run the WTA sometimes tend to be a little over-protective in terms of safety and I worried that Gary might not be happy if he knew I took out this tree by myself. On the other hand, I also knew that Marcella and Larry--along with a couple of other folks were still behind me on the trail. Even if I did miraculously somehow manage to injure myself, it would likely be just minutes before one of the others wandered along. In fact, they might even catch up with me before I finished. And I kind of liked the idea of cutting out my very own tree without any help or advice from anyone. Just one tree, all for myself. This might be the only opportunity I would get....

It also occurred to me that when the people behind me caught up with the people in front of me and started to compare notes, the folks in front would talk about that tree that had fallen overnight and the folks behind me would have no idea what they were talking about. "How could you miss it?" the folks in front would ask. "You'd have run right into it!" And the folks in back would be completely baffled at the mysterious tree that didn't block their path. And I'd be the only person who knew what really happened. =)

Or maybe they wouldn't compare notes, and when we came out the next day, the folks who saw the log would expect "one last log" to cut out near the avalanche shoot, then be baffled with it was mysteriously cut out already. Perhaps they'd blame it on tree fairies or something. Another mystery for the ages. (Or at least until they read this blog!) I rather liked the idea of doing that. But it meant I had to work quickly and finish before anyone caught me cutting the tree out.

It was here, when I started taking close-up images of my
work that Joanna walked up on me.
So I dropped my pack and donned my gloves and hardhat. At least if one of them walked up on my working by myself on this tree, they'd see I'd have the proper attire on. =)

I took a couple of before photos, pulled out the Corona saw, and started sawing. The sawing went quicker than I expected considering the size of the log, but I worked hard trying to finish before anyone walked up on me. After about ten minutes of cutting, the log started "talking"--creaking, clearly about to break at any second, then I started cutting with just the very tip of the saw in short strokes. (I don't want to get the whole blade caught up as the log crashed to the ground.) And finally, CRACK! The log broke loose and crashed to the ground. Perfect!

The log I cut out was a pretty good hunk, and I sat on the uphill side of it and pushed it off the trail with my legs in less than a minute. I was done, and nobody was none the wiser! =)

I took off my gloves and went to take a couple of "after" photos when Joanna walked up on me. Damn! So close to getting away with it!

She looked at me, with a kind of curious expression.

"Admiring your handiwork?" she asked.

"Yeah, well, something like that...."

I don't think she realized that I had just cut out that log--perhaps she thought it was a log I cut out the day before--but she certainly looked at me suspiciously. Probably because I still had a hardhat on and had taken off my pack in the trail. If I just wanted to take photos of my work, I wouldn't have had to put on the hardhat or taken off my pack.

Joanna joins my "secret tree fairy society"
and takes a photo of me posing with my "kill." =)
I figured the best way to keep this a secret was to confess the truth, so I fessed up about having just cut down the log that had fallen overnight. She offered to take photos of me with my handiwork, and I picked up the Corona to pose, then stopped and told her to wait until I get my gloves back on. If anyone saw these photos, I didn't want them to think I was working without gloves on! So I retrieved my gloves, whipped out the Corona and posed by my handiwork. Joanna promised not to tell anyone, and that the secret was safe with her. =)

I packed up my tools, put my hardhat back in my pack, and we started back up the trail.

I caught up with the rest of the folks ahead of me several miles up the trail where they stopped where we had cached the tools the night before, and I "complained" bitterly about that "inconsiderate" tree that had the indecency to fall over the trail overnight (but, of course, neglecting to mention that I had already cut it out and enjoyed every minute of it).

I waited there for the rest of Team Buzzsaw to catch up, which took a little over an hour, and we all started moseying to the top of the ridge to Solo Tarn--our destination for camp. We didn't plan to stop and cut out any of the trees along the way. Our goal was to get to the top and set up camp, and along the way we'd get a better sense of how much work was left to free the trail of fallen trees. After setting up camp, we'd work our way back downhill cutting out the blowdowns.

I started counting every tree that was blocking the trail. It didn't matter how large or small the tree was, but I counted it if it actually crossed the trail completely. A few trees poked out into the trail but didn't actually cross it, and I knew we'd have to cut those back further, but I decided not to count them. Hikers would walk past and not even realize the tree was there--these trees didn't block hikers at all, but they would block horses. So basically, I was just counting "hiker" obstacles rather than the horse obstacles. Ideally, we'd take care of both types of obstacles, but realistically, if we found ourselves running out of time, it was better to at least get hikers through. Better to block just horses than horses and hikers!

Marcella walks up towards Solo Tarn, but the snow
isn't a good sign....
Ultimately, I counted 51 fallen trees that fully blocked the trail and an unknown unknown number of trees that partially blocked the trail that would have only caused problems for horses. Combined with the estimated 30 trees our group had cut out the day before, that meant that there were a total of about 80 trees that blocked these few miles of trails, every single one having to be cut out with hand tools.

Near the top, we started seeing patches of snow, and at the top--at Solo Tarn--the terrain was blanketed in snow a couple of feet deep. Our destination for the night was completely covered in snow. Solo Tarn, our expected water source, wasn't even visible under all of the snow. We looked around on the ridge to see if we could find anywhere the snow might have melted out where we could set up camp but found nothing. The entire ridge top was covered in a solid layer of snow.

So we went to plan B: We descended back down the PCT below the snow level to a small creek crossing and "stealth camped" in a completely unofficial campsite. Obviously, our camp was anything but stealthy--with 11 people in our group on a steep hillside, that's absolutely impossible, but I use the term in the sense that there were no established sites where we camped. Everyone found relatively clear areas among the trees. I decided to set up camp directly on the PCT. I'm a big fan of Leave-No-Trace and it's pretty hard to leave a trace on a hard-packed trail. It also meant that I didn't have to clear the area of rocks, branches, pine cones, and other debris which saves a lot of effort for me. I didn't worry too much about blocking other hikers by setting up camp on the trail. With all of the snow above us, it seemed very unlikely that any hikers would be passing through. We didn't see even one the day before. And anyhow, if I was wrong and a hiker did come along, it was easy enough to get around my campsite on the trail. =)

Solo Tarn--yeah, definitely a problem with
setting up camp here! (Note the two figures
in the foreground--they're both carrying
cross-cut saws.) That depression
near the right is Solo Tarn was supposed to
be our water source for the camp.
As as we arrived, the sky started spitting out a few raindrops. Just the lightest of sprinkles, but the clouds looked mean and we started hearing thunder bouncing around the mountains. We didn't see any lightning, but it was probably just as well we couldn't camp on top of the ridge. It probably wouldn't have been the safest location during a thunderstorm.

Worried that the rain might let loose completely, I did set up my tarp in the trail this time and threw all of my gear under it. Then we stopped for lunch.

Marcella complained a little that we were already eating lunch and "hadn't cut out a single tree yet."

"Don't worry," I told her, "I did cut out one tree. Team Buzzsaw has one tree to its name today."

I didn't elaborate, though, and didn't tell her I cut out the tree without any help from someone else. =)

With lunch done, we headed out to finally do some real work for the day.

At this point, we were well into an old burn area. This whole area had burned in 1994 in the Waptus Fire, and every year, the dead trees would fall over on the steep slopes blocking the trail. This was the same area I logged out fallen trees back in 2007, and it's a wonderful place to work. Because there are few live trees around, the views are absolutely stunning. And due to the steep slope and lack of trees, log that are pushed off the trail often times go careening hundreds of feet down the slope turning potential energy into kinetic energy and crashing through the brush, logs and trees with a terrific noise. It's quite satisfying to watch.

Larry scouts for campsites above Solo Tarn,
but all he finds are fantastic views and
a heck of a lot of snow. It's mid-July for crying
out loud!

Ultimately, Team Buzzsaw cut out five more trees that afternoon. (Four full-sized trees, and two "half-trees.") Two of them turned out to be real crashers and a joy to watch careening down the slopes. Unfortunately, neither of them I managed to get on video since I was either the one who pushed them, or I didn't think they'd go very far so I didn't bother to film it. I did film one tree that I thought would likely be a "crasher" but it turned out to be a dud. (But it is amusing to watch our disappointment at the tree not moving as enthusiastically as we had hoped.)

At the end of the day, we walked back to camp about five minutes away. Nobody else was counting the number of trees they cut, but there were 12 trees above our campsite--every one of which our group got cut out. And I wasn't sure how many below our campsite had been logged out, but if it was comparable, that would have made 24 trees for the day--about half of the 51 trees I counted that were blocking the trail--and that was after we spent the whole morning just hiking up to our new campsite. Yep, I thought, we can definitely get this cleared up by the end of day tomorrow. *nodding*

Please, if you haven't done it already, consider sponsoring me for the WTA's Hike-a-Thon. Your contributions go towards trail maintenance projects like this one! Even if you can only contribute five or ten bucks, every little bit helps! Thanks!

Marcella watches downslope along the switchbacks for hikers to make
sure the coast is clear before we push another large log down the mountainside.

I set up my tarp directly on the PCT. Although it's kind of hard to see the PCT
in this photo. Behind the tarp, the snow buries the trail, but you can see a bit
of it in front of the tarp.

Marcella relaxes on the trail.

The others threw this rope over a tree leaning over the trail to hang their
food from during the night. I thought it looked a bit cool, though, and
went back to take a photo from this unusual angle. =)

Larry pushes a log off the trail, but it turns out not
to be the spectacular crasher we were hoping for.... 
Our group sitting around chatting after dinner. You can see me and my tarp
set up in the background. =)
This is a wonderful photo that Joanna took showing a lot
of the damage the trail takes from falling trees each year.
Larry took this photo of me cutting out this log with a cross-cut saw. =)
Marcella is ready to take over when I get tired of sawing.
Marcella and I cutting out another log. What a fantastic place to work!
Just look at that view! =)

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.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Team Buzzsaw

Jeff carries a cross-cut saw across a log spanning a creek.
I left you hanging with me stranded at a trailhead with a bunch of strangers and Amanda driving off to Seattle. Technically, it was true, these were a bunch of strangers, but being part of a Washington Trails Association (WTA) work party, clearly they were good people.

Gary was leading this expedition, eleven of us in total. Our mission: To log out the Pacific Crest Trail from Lemah Meadows to Solo Tarn where we heard reports of countless trees blocking the trail. We were loggers.

Gary separated us into smaller groups--three groups of three and one group of two--and I was hooked up with the husband and wife team of Larry and Marcella. Each team would carry one cross-cut saw (kind of a requirement for logging, no two ways around that!), so Larry carried the saw. Marcella carried an axe. And I grabbed the grub-hoe and loppers. I worried about the loppers--I wanted to log out trails, I didn't want to be stuck cutting back vegetation, and really, that's all the loppers were good for. So I was a little hesitant about taking those at all, but Marcella seemed keen on bringing them along and since my pack was unusually light (I left most of my backpacking here four miles up the trail at Pete Lake), I volunteered to carry it.

I had the choice of a pulaski and a grub-ho for the other tool I would carry, and ultimately settled on the grub-ho because it was lighter. I kind of assumed that a pulaski would be more useful since it had an axe on one side, but that seemed redundant since Marcella already carried a dedicated axe. So I wound up carrying two tools that I felt better suited for building tread and cutting back vegetation than logging.

All of our tools were hand tools. We would be hiking into a wilderness area where gas-powered tools such as chainsaws are not permitted. Everything had to be done the old fashioned way, which frankly, is the way I like it best. Chainsaws are so loud, obnoxious, and noisy. A cross-cut saw might be slower, but I enjoyed it more.

We all carried Corona handsaws--perhaps the most useful tool for loggers other than the cross-cut saw itself.

This little fellow decided to visit me while
I was sitting in the sun waiting for the
rest of Team Buzzsaw to catch up. =)
It wasn't until a couple of days later that I got to thinking about our team--Larry, Marcella, and myself--and brought up the idea of a team name. Larry suggested Team Buzzsaw, and I immediately agreed. I think Marcella rolled her eyes at this point, which I took as her sign of "Okay, whatever." =) So we became Team Buzzsaw, but for the first couple of days, we had no name.

Gary asked me how the trail ahead was and if there were any logs blocking the Pete Lake Trail--our side trail to the PCT. I told him about one log crossing the trail, suspended about chest high stuck between several trees, just past Pete Lake. Beyond that, I didn't know the condition of the trail.

"Well, maybe we can do something about that tree."

Yes, maybe we could. We had cross-cut saws now. =)

With safety talks over, tools handed out, and teams assigned, we headed out.

The hike was non-eventful. We all hiked at our own pace, and I jumped ahead near the end to retrieve the gear I left at Pete Lake. I was stunned, however, to see that the tree blocking the trail I had described so vividly to the others had already been cut down! What the hell happened? It was there four hours earlier when I hiked out, and it was obvious that someone had come along and cut it out, but who? Where? The only people around was the camp of Boy Scouts on Pete Lake. Did they do that for a merit badge or something? At least they would have done something useful than take up large quantities of space in the backcountry, but I was a little disappointed that we couldn't cut it out ourselves.

I repacked my backpack with all my gear--all 42 pounds of it--and walked back to the tree where the rest of Team Buzzsaw was admiring the work.

"Is this the tree you were talking about?" they asked.

This would be Team Buzzsaw's first challenge.
"Yep, and I'm absolutely baffled at what happened. I swear, just four hours ago, this tree was BLOCKING the trail!"

We continued up the trail where, a short ways up, we caught up with two woman who were logging out another tree blocking the trail. The tree fairies! I knew they existed! They worked for the forest service or something and had been told that a pack string of horses needed to get up to Lemah Meadows so they were sent in to clear the trail for horses. A misunderstanding, to be sure, and they were doing all of the work we intended to do. Once that was all settled, though, they left the rest of the trees for us and they started working on other trail maintenance projects.

Team Buzzsaw did cut out two logs blocking the trail that afternoon on our way to Lemah Meadows, and the sheer number of logs blocking the short path between Pete Lake and Lemah Meadows was encouraging. Looks like we'd have plenty of work ahead. =)

The trees we cut out weren't particularly noteworthy. The rested on largely flat ground, they weren't especially large, nor posed any technical difficulties. Just a couple of average, run-of-the-mill fallen trees for Team Buzzsaw to get its hands dirty and get used to working together. =)

In related news, if you want to help fund this kind of important trail work, please consider sponsoring Amanda and myself in the WTA's annual Hike-a-Thon! These tools aren't free, and it helps enormously to keep our hiking trails open for business--especially as state and federal governments get stingier about funding trail maintenance.

Here we've cut out the log and put a skidder under it to help us roll it off the trail.

The view from camp near Lemah Meadows.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Amanda Goes Backpacking!

I weigh my fancy new pack.
Last week, I took Amanda backpacking. She's pestered me for years to take her backpacking, but she sets high expectations. She wants a flat trail. And beautiful scenery. And "not too far." Then she scoffs when I suggest the Alki Beach Trail. Sheesh!

As it turns out, I needed a ride to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness just east of Seattle since I planned to go on a Backcountry Response Trip (BCRT) with the Washington Trails Association (WTA). Rumor had it that dozens of logs had thoughtlessly fallen across the trail blocking horses, thru-hikers, and other backpackers along the PCT. And as it turns out, I was already familiar with this area, and I knew that from the trailhead to Pete Lake was--for a backcountry trail in the Cascade Mountains--surprisingly flat. And the view from Pete Lake was pretty darned sweet. And surely Amanda wouldn't have any complaints about a backpacking trip here, right? Especially if she brought large quantities of wine. =)

So off we headed to Pete Lake. We stopped in North Bend for lunch and picked up important gear like cheese and salami which I forgot to pack in Seattle. (Fun fact: The cheese and salami that I did originally buy for the trip are still sitting in the refrigerator.)

Amanda's not a big fan of driving on dirt roads, so I think she was happily surprised to learn that the trailhead only required a mile or so of unpaved roads to reach. Even the unpaved portion was very well graded without any washboards to make the ride unpleasant.

A few cars were already parked at the trailhead, and I hoped most of them were just day hikers or fisherman so we'd have Pete Lake to ourselves during the night. On weekends, that place is a certifiable zoo with the parking lot overflowing with cars. On weekdays--not so bad.

Amanda wanted to bring a tent, something I felt wasn't necessary, but since I had already loaded my pack up with close to a week's worth of food and carried a heavy bear canister, she was tasked with carrying the "lightweight" backpacking tent. (The terms "lightweight" and "backpacking tent" should never go in the same sentence together.) I strapped it to the back of her pack--my old pack that I used to thru-hike the Florida Trail, and we tried our packs out on a handy little scale Amanda bought as a birthday or Christmas present (I don't really remember which) for me a couple of years before. It's actually meant to weigh one's bag for flying purposes, as the packaging claimed, but I used it to weigh my packs and know how much weight I carried.

Amanda is not enjoying the weight on her back!
My pack came out to 42 pounds--on the high side of things, but most of the time, I wasn't carrying a 3-pound bear canister, a week of food, and four liters of water. The amount of water I carried really was ridiculous--this trail had plenty of water for the grabbing along the way. I just didn't want to stop and refill the water. I took the bear canister since I intended to leave my food unattended all day long as I did trail work and didn't want squirrels and other critters getting into my food. If it kept out bears as well, that's good to, but frankly, I worried more about smaller animals. Seeing a bear is pretty unusual in the wilderness.

This would also be a good time for me to test my new pack. Mostly purple (I do like that color), with a bright "don't shoot me, I'm a hiker!" orange top, and a silver racing stripe that made me look cool, it was another one of my homemade contraptions and, until now, was completely untested. =)

Amanda's pack weighed in at a hefty 30 pounds--the maximum weight that the pack was designed to hold. The tent made up a significant portion of the weight, but she was determined to bring it along in case the bugs were bad--not an unrealistic expectation.

I filled out the paperwork at the self-permit station as Amanda headed down the trail. "I'll catch up," I told her.

I did catch up, perhaps a hundred feet down the trail, which Amanda was bitterly complaining about the weight of her pack. I felt bad, but my pack was already filled to capacity and I wasn't sure what I could do to help. So she plodded along slowly, which was okay by me. We weren't in any rush. By my estimate, we had over seven hours until dark to cover just four miles. Amanda could certainly take as much time as she needed.

Amanda fords a creek.
After a good half hour or so and several rests, she loosened the shoulder straps and immediately felt better. Just by looking at her, I didn't realize she had tightened her shoulder straps so much, but once she figured out that they shouldn't be so tight, she practically zoomed down the trail. Not skipping, perhaps, but the number of rest stops decreased dramatically and her top hiking speed doubled. Wow--what a difference!

I think she started having more fun at this point.

With her large pack and inexperience carrying such heavy loads, she decided to ford a couple of the streams that a more sure-footed person might have crossed using fallen logs. I do believe those were her first deliberate stream fords, and she took to them like a fish in water. (On an unrelated note, we didn't actually see any fish in the water.)

Late in the afternoon, we finally arrived at the scenic Pete Lake with beautiful, snow-covered mountains as a backdrop. In the late afternoon, those snow-covered mountains are kind of washed out. The light really isn't ideal and it's definitely a much better view early in the morning.

We were also a little disheartened to discover a camp of 20 or so Boy Scouts already set up there. I was a little angry at them since I knew the maximum group size in this area was 12 and the Boy Scouts clearly and deliberately violated that rule. Aren't they supposed to be teaching kids to respect the wilderness and follow the rules?

I scouted up the trail a bit further looking for a campsite away from the scouts and found a nice one overlooking the lake. I went back and retrieved Amanda and we set up camp.

Amanda seems to be enjoying herself more since she
figured out her shoulder straps were too tight.
Immediately, we started setting up the tent. I pulled out all of the poles and started snapping them together, but the cords that were supposed to provide tension and keep them all together seemed unusually slack. Like they had rotted and no longer had any elasticity to them. How bizarre.....

This did not go over well with Amanda. No, not at all. She lugged that tent miles into the backcountry, and by golly, she didn't want her efforts to be in vain. But clearly, there was nothing we could do to fix the problem at this point. The tent was a bust.

"But you can become one with nature!" I assured her. "You won't feel claustrophobic in a tiny little tent!"

It didn't really help matters, though. In fact, it might have annoyed her even further.

What did help, however, was the small, plastic bottle of wine she carried. Nothing like a little alcohol to sooth the nerves. =)

Amanda also started a small campfire in a nearby fire right which she seemed to enjoy. Amanda has a real knack for starting campfires. I can't seem to get them started even when I have a large bottle of denatured alcohol and dry wood at my disposal, but Amanda's the MacGuyver of starting camp fires. Which is kind of ironic since she's more than little nervous handling lighters, afraid she'll burn herself with them.

With her wine in hand, now Amanda's truly a happy camper! =)
I worked on dinner, and Amanda said that she enjoyed watching me in my "natural element." I imagined the narrator from a wildlife documentary describing my actions in a whisper: "Now the hiker is cooking dinner with an ingenious little soda can stove. It appears that he's pouring what they call denatured alcohol into the stove, but he appears to be having some trouble with his lighter. Wait! There it goes! He got it going!"

Bugs did bother us all evening, but I didn't consider them to be especially bad. I've suffered through much worse, but to listen to Amanda, you'd think we'd been attacked by biblical plagues the likes the world has never seen. Shortly after sunset, the bugs finally went away for the night and we slept in peace.

 The next morning, we woke up bright and early. I did so out of necessity, planning to hike back to the trailhead to meet up with the rest of the members of the WTA work party, check in, and carry any back any tools I would need. I left most of my stuff in camp--especially the heavy bear canister stuffed with food. No sense carrying that all the way to the trailhead just to carry it back to Pete Lake a few hours later! Amanda left early only because I did. I guess Pete Lake without me just isn't the same. =)

Amanda enjoys her campfire.
Without the week of food weighing down my pack, I took the tent for Amanda and bounded down the trail without her. Even with the tent, my pack was considerably lighter than on the trip out. I hustled to the trailhead where a couple of WTA members had already arrived. Amanda made it back out 40 minutes after I did but before we had started the hike back to Pete Lake.

Amanda drove off, having to fly to work later that evening. And I hiked back up the trail after adding a small Corona saw and a grub hoe to my gear.

But I'll save that story for my next post.....

In the meantime, it's that time of year again for WTA's annual Hike-a-Thon! You'll see some of the work that the WTA does to help preserve and maintain Washington's hiking trails and scenic places in my next post, but they're a wonderful organization to work with and support. So please consider sponsoring me. This year, I'll spend much of August thru-hiking El Camino de Santiago through Europe and I intend to bribe anyone who donates at least $5 with a postcard from somewhere along my hike. =)

I read my Kindle--my new little backpacking toy for when I'm hiking through
Europe. (Would you believe it--they don't have a lot of English language books
in France, Spain OR Portugal!)

Sunrise over Pete Lake