Monday, May 10, 2010

Trail Work: Dungeness River

This weekend was my first time volunteering on a hiking trail. I've been using hiking trails in Washington since I was probably 2 or 3 years old, and I figure it is time to start giving back. The idea to volunteer last weekend came about at the end of March, when I spent 12 hours sitting on my ass, playing WoW and watching March Madness one lazy Saturday. At the end of that Saturday where I accomplished next to nothing, I signed up for this overnight trail work day in the beginning of May. I didn't realize it was Mother's Day weekend until a week prior... sorry Mom!

I woke up at 4:00am on Saturday morning, and was out of the house by 4:30am. I drove down around Tacoma, up through Gig Harbor and the trail head is just south of Sequim. I arrived at 8:00am for the 8:30am departure, which turned into a 9:00am departure when a few of the other volunteers arrived late due to a website time discrepancy. The view from the forest service road leading to the Dungeness Trail is amazing:

We had about a dozen people for the first day, and I was the youngest. There was a couple in probably their early 30s, and everyone else was 40+, most over 50 and retired. There was one other newbie, a 40-something mom who came out by herself for Mother's Day, to the bewilderment of her teenage boys. "You want to go out, sleep in the cold, with no bathroom, and work on trails for Mother's Day?!"

I wasn't really sure what to expect, this being my first time doing trail work. We each grabbed two tools from a nice arsenal:

The hike in to our work site was just over a mile, and I made the mistake of not wearing my work gloves--my hands were FREEZING by the time we got to the work site. I should have known better when I saw all of the frost on cars parked at the parking lot overnight. The crew leader had checked out the site on Tuesday and said the parking lot had snow all around the edges (which had melted away by the time we got there Saturday morning).

We spent about 30-45 minutes scoping out the washed out trail and options for a new trail. There were actually several different routes we could go, and the shared leadership was a really cool thing to be a part of. Some of the very experienced trail workers asked my opinion, and I had no idea, but said what I thought looked like a good route and then we would discuss the pros and cons of the different routes (and of course go with their expert opinion--but it was fun to at least talk about the different routes). We settled on a route that went way high up on the hill, mostly to avoid another wash out in the next few years. This meant more work, but work that will last longer.

My first problem to work on happened to be a patch of Devil's Club in the wettest part of our work site. I dove in and enacted vengeance on Devil's Club for all of the stings I've gotten over the years up at the cabin. Damn you Devil's Club!!

We broke for lunch, and in the afternoon I spent some of my time finishing the Devil's Club spot, then moved to working on clearing out the end of the trail of roots and rocks--filling in holes with rocks we dig out and generally leveling the trail as we go.

I was pooped when we got back to the parking lot and camp site. I took a picture of my boots from my work in the trenches, and then fell asleep in my tent as soon as my head hit my sweatshirt-converted pillow.

My nap ended in time for dinner, which was hamburgers provided by the crew leader. She also provided breakfast and two trail pass parking passes, which I can turn in for a year-long Northwest Forest Pass (hello hiking this summer!). We sat around the campfire for a few hours after dinner, telling stories and playing the game "What am I?" Kind of like 20 questions. We spent about 45 minutes trying to guess this one guy's "What Am I?" and eventually knew that he was a children's toy and that children play with his head and open up his head and there is more fun stuff inside...

Mr. Potatohead.

I slept like a rock. I really should have spent some time looking up at the stars, but I was running on about five hours of sleep and grubbing or moving rocks all day.

Sunday we decided to leave the muddy Devil's Club section of the trail alone, because the mud is up to your shins and it isn't going to dry out anytime soon. We did dig a trench, to flow water into one lane, which will hopefully drain out the section of water so volunteers can make the intended trail in the next trail work party. Instead of playing in the Devil's Club, we had some fun projects involving huge trees that had fallen in our new route.

Don brought a 6ft saw on Sunday, and I'll quickly describe the process. We scout the entire tree, which means climbing up the hillside a hundred feet to see if anything will happen if we cut where we are planning on cutting, and doing the same below our cutting spot. Sometimes the trees will fly up after cutting through it with a saw, depending on where other trees are applying pressure to the downed tree. This tree is relatively safe, because it is wedged between a few trees, and the base of it has already been cut for the old route, so not much pressure is being applied by the massive root section.

First step in the cutting process is to ax in a starting spot for the saw.

Two people then saw back and forth until the saw is fully into the tree by a few inches. Then someone hammers in wedges to the top of the cut, to make sure the saw can get out of the cut. When the wedges were placed into this first big tree we cut, I was told to get up on the saw and work with the other newbie to finish the cut. There is a dangerous side and a safe side to each tree cut, and I got the dangerous side. The footing was bad, and when the saw broke through, the tree would be coming my way. We struggled a bit to get started, but then we had a really good flow going and made quick work of the tree until the crew leader told us to stop and have Wayne finish off the cut from one side (which involves taking a handle off the saw and just letting him cut if from his side.

Four saw cuts from Wayne and the tree trunk fell to the ground, and a branch none of us saw whapped down right where I would have tried to escape to... I got lucky there! Everyone else was surprised by how close of a call that was, as usually the call to swap to a one-person saw is done much earlier, for safety reasons. Once the tree dropped, we had to make another cut. I got to sit out the first half again, but we swapped sides for the second half and I got to cut from the safe side, and also finish off the cut by one-manning the 6ft saw. They told me when I "hear the tree talking to me, get the saw out and go!" I heard the tree crack numerous times and got the saw out and got out of there, but nothing moved. They said they would have made fun of me if we were loggers, but since we're all just volunteers, they liked my cautiousness.

Eventually I one-manned through the entire tree and it just sat there. The wedges at the top, and the force from the lower part of the tree apparently held it up, so we had to kick it to the side to get it to thump down.

Lunch on Sunday was great. We completely lucked out on the weather this weekend, with just a slight drizzle on our way back to camp Saturday afternoon. The sun at lunch also attracted a butterfly, which seemed very comfortable both on me and my bagel:

After lunch we took a brief walk up the trial another 1000ft and came to a big land slide. I used the landslide to skid down to the river. I spotted a tree crossing the river and I thought it would be amazing to have a picture taken up there, but I'd never try to cross it.

Then on our way back Don gave it a shot, so I raced back to the beach spot to snap a photo, unknown to him!


We spent the rest of the day cutting and moving more big trees, and finishing up tidying up the trail for hikers and horses. Our last project of the day had the entire team working together to push, pull, and man levers to get a big tree out of the middle of the trail and up over another downed tree.

Overall, an amazing weekend, and I look forward to volunteering again in the future on trails. It really is a lot of work, and we only worked on about 300ft of a 6 mile trail. Great weather for the weekend, great people, and we stopped early enough on Sunday that I even made it back to Seattle in time for dinner with Mom!

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