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Ben offers a safety meeting

We found Lost Ridge Trail! At times there was some doubt because the trail goes through the Curve Fire burn area and dead trees are still falling, at times obscuring the trail completely.

On Saturday morning I crammed a Pop Tart in to my backpack, added some water, and headed to the Gateway Information Center at the bottom of the San Gabriel Mountains along Highway 39 (Azusa Blvd.)

At the Gateway Center I met with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders and there we lied and told improbable stories to each other until students from the California Polytechnic University in Pomona joined us (See, if I'm not mistaken Keith And Jean Kellogg Honors College)

From there we left at 8:00 on the dot and headed Northward about 12 miles to the Rincon Fire Station, collecting the tools we would be using today, called in to our Dispatch overlords on the radio to let them know where we would be working today, and then we all headed further North in to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area of the Angeles National Forest.

And what fun it was, too! The last time that the Trailbuilders had been to Lost Ridge Trail was, according to my admittedly incomplete notes, back in August of 2006, and that work day was the day we managed to complete trail maintenance end-to-end, starting alternatively from the Lake Road trailhead or the Deer Flats trailhead.

The first major trail blockage

Today we started from the Lake Road end of the trail. There were 20 of us on the day's project which turned out to be a good number of volunteers since it allowed us to spawn off a chainsaw team of four while having a dedicated and enthusiastic team working on removing Yorba-something (a plant that grows well after a fire) from the trail and redefining the trail.

I was on the chainsaw team since that is a manly, rugged job and I'm a manly, rugged kind of guy -- despite the obviously jealous comments to the contrary suggested by my less fortunate Trailbuilder colleagues. There was plenty for the chainsaw team to do since trees had continued to fall over the period of time when we had last worked on the trail.

With the main team working on the trail tread, the chainsaw team hiked ahead to start removing the first of the deadfalls.

One of the things that the Trailbuilders does on trail maintenance like this is to look at what's happening around the trail so that things don't become actual problems later. Because of this the first cuts that were made were on downed tree limbs that were encroaching upon the trail but not actually blocking the trail yet.

Also hanging limbs that are over the trail that either impede the hike or eventually will impede the hike were cut up and removed. Over time all of that stuff would slowly work its way down the hillside and block the trail, so such things are gone after and get removed proactively.

Somewhere in the day lunch was had and while we took a quick break the fog rolled in and it started getting cooler (literally and figuratively.) I always like the fog in the mountains. I think about the Stephen King novel where a rip in reality is created by scientists and out from the rip rolls the fog, bringing with it some THINGS that fly whicker-snick out of the obscuring fog to latch on to people's faces and suck their brains out.

After the first major blockage is removed

Sure, having one's brains sucked out through one's nostrils would be an improvement for some of my Trailbuilder colleagues, but I think I would enjoy it also. Thing is, any whicker-snicker eating my brain might find it already heavily damaged because of endless injections of Pearl Jam, Metallica, and Nirvana.

At one point a switchback in the trail had been obscured by a snag of downfalls and I wasn't too sure about where the trail was supposed to go. The chainsaw team walked around the area and we decided we were on track, but I couldn't be entirely sure. Ben came up and told us we were on track so we got back to it and removed the snag and kept going.

Personally I think everyone on a chainsaw team who seem responsible and serious should have some time on the chainsaw if they would like some provided there is all the required safety equipment and some safety instruction is had before hand. Chainsaws by themselves can be dangerous enough yet additional hazards in the forest -- more so when the forest has burned -- require additional cautions and additional instructions.

There was certainly enough downfalls across the trail to allow everyone some time on the chainsaw after the task was evaluated and talked about.

One really annoying hang-up took us some time to think about. A tree limb was hanging over the trail locked in by one other large tree limb and a thinner limb above it. Unfortunately the only way to remove the threat was to cut at where the limb forked from the main trunk but to do that would mean holding the saw above my head and cutting.

Tread work redefines the trail

Ain't gonna do that! Never under any circumstance do we cut over our heads despite how quick and easy it might be, and this cut would have taken a while. Instead one of the saw team handed the running saw to me after I stepped up in to a lower fork of the tree to where I could hold the saw almost horizontally and cut.

After cutting half way through I wasn't comfortable, turned the saw off, and stepped down to re-evaluate the thing. We all discussed it, trying different things. Eventually the whole mess was pulled down by getting enough volunteers on one end of the limb and pulling, then everything let go and the mess was safely down.

Situational awareness slumped a bit when the sawer came to a previously cut tree limb to cut it back some more and Lou and Bernie were working on rebuilding a rock retaining wall on the slope of the trail. Lou would have been showered with wood chips had the cut proceeded however Lou told the sawer that sawers need to check around them and make sure that all other volunteers are clear before any sawing begins.

So I screwed up, that was my job to instruct the sawer. I was constantly watching where the sawer put his hands and feet and where the tip of his saw was, and I was making sure that the chain break was always set every time the sawer moved, so I wasn't paying enough attention to where the other volunteers were, and neither was the sawer.

With that set of three downfalls cleared up, we continued up the trail to the next problem.

While this was going on, the main team working on the trail tread was making phenomenal progress, and from above the hillside looking downward along the trail being worked, I could see how much of a difference was being made.

Bernie cleared the trail around three deadfalls

That first major downfall area was being worked and while we had not been sure where the trail was previously, looking back I could see that the other volunteers had scrubbed out the trail, worked the berm, and had removed the growth completely, re-establishing the trail.

Looked great! Hard work, of course, but that's part of the fun.

The next tree limb to cut and remove was hiked to. The sawer had on all of his protective equipment and had walked around the task a couple of times, evaluating how the cut should go and checking to see that the area was clear.

Before he started the saw I asked him where his first cut would be and where he would be standing. He showed me so I asked him where we should send the obituary, making sure as well that he had life insurance. LOL! He re-evaluated the most probable fall of the hanging limb he would be working on then picked clear and safe ground. After the cut the limb dropped cleanly and safely right where he had originally planned to stand.

The final cut of the day was probably the longest, requiring various stubby limbs to be removed from the tree trunk that was wedged between other tree trunks and right across the trail.

After that was cut for some reason the rest of the chainsaw team decided to pick up the bucked up sections, carry them around, and roll them down the hillside in to the rock gully below.

Personally I was tired, scratched up in many places, and ready to call it a day, so I had no energy for picking up tree trunks. Still, I got the additional exercise on video.

Fully restored trail section

And then we were done for the day! We need to return for another three days or so, it seems to me, to finish the trail and get it ready for when the campgrounds hopefully re-open this year. The areas that did not burn should be in pretty good condition but we won't know until we return.

On the way back down the trail I got photographs of the excellent tread work that had been accomplished today. From where the final cut had been made all the way back to the trailhead the trail was fully defined with no obstructions, and all of the growth on the trail had been uprooted.

We packed our tools in to a pickup truck, climbed in to our vehicles, then headed out of the campgrounds, pausing for a while at the rock bridge that Boy Scouts and Trailbuilders had constructed at the Lake Trail trailhead before heading back down the mountain to Rincon Station.

Overall it was a very good day. The volunteers were bright, sharp, and focused from the start of the volunteer day to the end, and a whole lot of work got done. Hopefully everyone had fun! I sure did.

Photographs! We have them!

* At the Rincon Fire Station we collect our tools
* Ben offers a safety meeting before work begins
* Ben talks about rattle snakes, bears, and other hazards
* Volunteers observing the morning's safety review
* This is the first major trail blockage, this one at a switchback
* The chainsaw team pause to have their picture taken after the trail is cleared
* The fog starts to roll in
* The trail starts to shape up, stumble hazards are removed, trail gets defined
* Another tree trunk gets bucked up and removed from the trail
* Safety personal protective clothing and equipment for the chainsaw
* The trail continues to be worked behind the chainsaw team as the fog comes in
* A set of three trail blockages with lots of dense dried brush
* Firm footing and a proper stance carefully cutting back the bloackages
* Bernie has cleared the trail around and under the bloackages
* Lou works on re-building a rock retaining wall along the trail
* Sizing up the last cut of the day
* The last downed tree trunk for the day is heavilly filled with termites
* After the trunk is bucked up, the sections get removed from the trail
* The trail blackage is removed
* On the hike back down the trail we take a look at the excellent tread work!
* You can see a lot of dead trees and brush surrounding the trail
* More tread work
* I catch up to the rest of the volunteers
* Here we are back at the trail section that I had difficulty locating before
* Ben volunteers to carry out the chainsaw!
* One last look at the fully cleared trail section

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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