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! =)

No comments: