Us and Them

While that last post wasn’t that long ago, the events within were a couple of weeks older.

As soon as that week of trail work was done, I made a quick, unplanned trip home to see Goddess. I had been away for over three weeks and still had a couple more weeks scheduled, but too advantage of a gap and caught a bus ride home. I had made the same drive many times, but it was great to sit back, let the driver do the work, and enjoy the scenery. 

After a few days with Goddess, she was dropping me off at a trailhead in central Oregon. But not until we enjoyed a classic central Cascades sunset together.

Unfortunately, as I write this, that view is marred by the smoke of the Whitewater Fire in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness took hold and started to flare up while we were working. In the week since, it has exploded, dashing the hopes of thousands hoping to view this month’s eclipse surrounded by beauty. Shorter term, closures mean that this year’s PCT thru-hikers are scrambling for options.

But that’s jumping ahead. We have work to do first.

Fill that Hole

Our last project turned out to be a doozy. We got word that down the trail, in the opposite direction that we were working towards, was a washed out section of trail. So some of our focus shifted to fix the issue while the rest continued brushing the remainder of the section of trail that had been our sole focus. 

Once we got to the spot, it was obvious that it was tough for hikers but impassible for horses and stock animals. To make matters worse, it was on a steep hillside, so it would take a fair bit of work to build it up so that it was stable and would last more than just a season or two.

Here’s everyone looking at the problem and coming up with solutions before a few of us stayed behind to tackle it. The trickiest part was making the area stable, so that meant harvesting rocks from the hillside above. That alone made for some very exhilarating moments as we got the larger rocks to the site. Once we got a retaining wall built, we were pretty good at getting the rocks to stop in time. But sometimes the larger rocks carried too much momentum, debarking or destroying trees as they continued their journey, crashing through the forest as they continued downhill. Thankfully there weren’t any trails or roads below us.

It took a full day, plus a few hours the following day, to get it to a usable state. What you can’t see in the pic above are several rocks in the 300-450lb range that are holding everything together. Not only were they heavy, but they were awkward to handle and move into place, especially for the 3-4 people that we had on site at any given time. But we got it done.

Finishing this job came at the perfect time. We were shelled from a week of hard work, but quite satisfied with what we had done. 

Break for Views

On these week-long crews, we get either a half or full day off to relax or explore the area. On this trip we had an afternoon to explore. Most of us opted to hike to the top of Table Mountain, the nearest peak.

From there we had a great view of the Cascades both north and south of us. Standing on top of Table Mountain meant that it wasn’t blocking our view of Mount Hood. Nor the Columbia River. Nor Bonneville Dam.

However, the best part for most of us was the panoramic view of the volcanoes to the north.

Looking at the snow-capped peaks from left to right, that’s Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams. Plus, there’s a good look up the Columbia River Gorge. 

The restful afternoon was needed, especially as we closed out the week with some of the toughest work.

Cut that Bench 

Once we broke out of the brush, we had some beautiful mountain meadows to enjoy. The downside is that the wet ground had slowly slid as it overtook the trail. We had to fix that.

Believe it or not, the trail is right up the center of that picture. The flowers and grasses had overgrown the trail, while the last of the winter snowmelt was still seeping from the rocks to the left. A day’s work solved one of the issues.

In the distance you can see one of our newest rock stars, a young lady who had just graduated college and was enjoying her summer before diving into the corporate world. She had never spent so much as an afternoon doing trail work before this, so she did the rational thing, diving into a week-long backcountry crew with a bunch of strangers. And she loved it!

She wasn’t the only one. We had a college junior and a 40-something poet do exactly the same thing. All three spent the week grinning ear to ear.

Perhaps it was also the views.

Looking south from the middle of the meadow, looking towards the Columbia River Gorge. That’s Table Mountain in the foreground, with Wy’east (Mount Hood) peaking over her shoulder.

Please don’t ask me what the flowers are. I am quite weak in that area, although it is on the list of things to learn.

Open that Door

Just 10 miles up the trail from that Bridge of the Gods was our work area, some 25 miles away by road. The hike in would have been nice, but we needed our tools, water, and supplies to establish base camp for a dozen people for a week. Hiking is great, but in that case, driving was better.

Our goal was to open up the trail corridor which was so overgrown in spots that it was tough to even see the trail. Not to mention the volunteers.

It took all of us all day to clear 1/4 mile. The proof was in the pudding the next morning as we hiked up to our next piece of the trail. 

That is the exact same stretch of trail. Notice the pink and black striped flagging tape on the tree to the right?

Brushing isn’t exactly the most exciting chore to be done along the trail, but is often the chore with the most obvious results. Especially if you have ever experienced an overgrown stretch on a dewy morning.

That’s when it’s a hiker wash, being very similar to hiking through a car wash.

While our week was dry, anyone who would hike through here on a wet day would appreciate the work. 

And Then a Return 

To the trail, some familiar sights and some good laughs (read the link for some laughs).

Yep, it was a once again a windy skirt day on the bridge. Luckily I was prepared, so the occupants in the approaching  police cruiser just saw material.

Otherwise I doubt I would have made my next trail crew gig.

For reference, here’s a profile view of the bridge. It’s steel grating, so if you look down at your feet, you see straight to the water. If you’re someone who doesn’t do heights well, you would not enjoy this. Also, the bridge is in the narrowest part of the Gorge, so the winds are always quite gusty, which could add to someone’s discomfort. On top of that, there isn’t a pedestrian path. You walk in the narrow traffic lane and hope that the drivers are watching the road, not the view.

That said, it’s only 140′ above the water and happens to be the lowest elevation of the entire Pacific Crest Trail. 

A morning post-crossing view. As I was finishing, a southbound hiker was just starting to cross, all excited because she was finishing her section hike of Washington. Smiles for miles.

Recovery 

A relaxing holiday weekend was in store. That mean relaxing in the shade of a tree while watching a good friend work his magic on the river.

And before anyone razzes me, I had neither a license or my fly gear with me.

Oh, and a few of these may have happened. 

Milk Bath 

Another luxury is having a place to wash the day’s grime and wash the work clothes. Even if, or especially when, it’s snowmelt. That’s refreshing! 

In this case, this beautiful pool is full of glacial silt, giving it a milky appearance in the rain forest. We didn’t have access to this spot at the campsite, but it sure made for a relaxing image along the hike back out to the trailhead. 

Luxury 

Working hard for a week+ in the backcountry certainly gives you an appreciation for simple luxuries.

“You mean that I don’t have to climb a steep hillside every morning to look for a place where I won’t fall, then dig a hole? Luxury!”

Especially after having been at sites where this sign existed, yet the promised feature did not.

Trail Treads

While I managed to capture a few photos of our commute through the old growth forest, I didn’t capture much of the work we did over the next week. The phone/camera was tucked safely I’m a waterproof bag inside my pack most of the time.

The reason for that is that during our commute, we had to cross a stream that was knee-deep in spots with sketchy footing. By afternoon the flow would become quite strong as the snow above melted.

That was our first goal, to fix the water crossing so that pack animals could cross. After several hours of moving rocks to lessen the pressure on the trail and filling the washed out tread with new rocks, we had to call the job. The water was rising rapidly, we could no longer see the holes we needed to fill, and we had reached our technological and physical limits on rock moving.

So we moved up trail to cut trees.

That was the bulk of the next week, with multiple saw teams leap-frogging each other to clear trees that had fallen across the trail. While I don’t have any pictures of that work, there are plenty of examples elsewhere in this blog. The big difference between its week and any other is that as a certified crosscut sawyer, I was now responsible to lead my crew and ensure their safety in some decidedly unsafe situation. 

Our last day of work shifted our priorities. We had moved camps, now some 12 miles from the trailhead, working deeper in the Wilderness than a crew had for a dozen years or so since the access road had been washed out. I now understood why the trail was in such horrible shape through that section, a section that heard plenty of cursing from both Goddess and I. Our work this week was to prepare the trail for the next two crews who were due to follow each other overy the next couple of weeks and push deeper into the wilderness, aiming to clear and restore another 10 miles or so of tread.

Buy before that, they had to be able to get past our “spike” camp and a washed out section of tread. The only way to make it safe for hikers and horses alike was to fill the gap with rocks.

Lots and lots of rocks.

Before, looking northbound along the trail. There is one small gravel covered rock to step on. Guess wrong on the gravel and it hurts. Our pack trains would not be able to pass this spot. Oh, and everyone say “hi” to Jerry.

The opposing view, now looking southbound on the trail. That gives you a better idea on the depth of the hole. Fixing it took quite a bit more work than just simply throwing rocks in. Each piece had to be placed so that it interlocked with its surroundings. The bigger the better. Jerry is sitting on the level of the tread that we need to build to.

It took rocks like this, which turned out to be a three-person carry. To build the foundation properly, we needed more than a few of these. Also, you can see the one flat rock to the right, spotlit by the sun, that was the only reasonable step to get across this feature. 

A few hours later, this is what we came up with. Viewpoint is the same as the first picture, looking northbound. 

All in all, a pretty rewarding little project to finish out the week before hiking back to main camp to spend the night before hiking out to the trailhead the next day.

A perfect time to get some rest and get ready for the next gig.