Volunteers organize the tools and equipment

It's Summer already despite what the calendar says. :) Seriously, today was a fine Summer day, perfect for working on hiking trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. Today we have around 50 students from Cal Poly, a number of members of local hiking and bicycle riding clubs, volunteers with the Fisheries Resources Conservation Corps, and the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, returning once again to the Winnona Trail (a.k.a. Winnona Cutoff a.k.a. Islip Trail) to work the tread and remove as many obstructions from the trail as possible before day's end.

All counted there were 67 volunteers on the trail today, forming in to teams and groups to address parts of the trail that needed plants removed from the trail, brush that needed to be cut back from the trail, the tread itself to be reworked to repair erosion damage, rock retaining walls to be repaired, stair steps to be reseated, and dead trees down across the trail to be bucked up and removed.

Three crosscut saws were brought up and three chainsaws were brought up. Together with many McLeod trail-working tools, shovels, rock bars, loppers, axes and other equipment the volunteers spread out along the trail after the morning's Job Hazard Analysis safety meeting held at the trailhead parking lot. The Project Activity Level for the day stated the need to end the chainsaw use early so the chainsaw crews headed up the trail quickly, leaving significant obstructions behind for the crosscut saw teams to handle so that the larger obstructions could be removed at the higher elevations quickly.

And what an exhausting climb it was, too! Holy damn, I found myself out of breath for some reason after the first mile, unable to keep up and lagging behind but happy to note that since I had team 2's chainsaw they couldn't start without me. LOL. The lead chainsaw team I could hear already at work far above me but some how it took me many rests to get up to where the other saw crews were waiting for me at the first effort.

Obstruction across the trail gets bucked

Some of the safety-certified sawyers today had just had their training refreshed a few weeks before so we implemented the newly-required rule that the swampers who work close to the sawyers also wear the Kevlar safety chaps, ear protection, and hard hats, more so for the crews who would be providing wedges and driving them with the ax and would be watching above the sawyers for hazards.

All of the obstructions that the saw team I was with had worked on had been trees that had fallen across the trail in the year and a half that passed since the last time that the Trailbuilders had worked on this trail. All the chainsaw teams were working toward attaining the obstruction that had been marked with the number 44 back then, but before we could get there (and hopefully beyond) we needed to clear everything that had come down recently.

While working on simple obstructions that didn't pose any real difficulties, far off in the distance I would see some of the Cal Poly volunteers working the trail and on occasion hear some laughter and the metallic clank of tools against rock. It sounded like they were having fun though I could see they were making a lot of good progress on the way up.

The only significantly difficult tree that we encountered was a hazard tree leaning to rest on the top of an upright tree. The base of the hazard tree was shattered but there was significant holding wood where rot was encroaching. The Trailbuilders have examined this hazard every time we passed it over the past 3 years or so and decided it was fine at the time yet today we took a serious look at the hazard and decided we would pull it down before it could fall down, possibly on a hiker.

In previous years the holding wood was strong enough to hold against strong winds yet poking around with an ax we could see rot was gaining ground making the possible uncontrolled fall something of an increased hazard. To mitigate the issue we came in with the smallest chainsaw, carefully extracting holding wood and examining the results until there was just enough solid wood to hold against gravity.

A great deal of time was spent on this since what we wanted was a slow, controlled drop of the hazard on to the ground right exactly under where the hazard was hanging, then the trunk would be at a safe place to be bucked up and get removed from the trail.

A section of newly-cleared hiking trail

When the stump was undermined and holding, volunteers were posted on either end of the trail segment and a single experienced volunteer worked his ax to lever the hazard off if its stump, removing the last fragments of holding wood, dropping the hazard slowly right where planned. Joy! Some digging to excavate clear ground under the tree allowed it to be bucked up and remove.

The second chainsaw team continued up the trail and met up with the first chainsaw team, clearing all of the obstructions that the forward team bypassed on their way to obstruction number 44. By that time we were looking at a watch and deciding we had better start heading down the mountain since we had 2.5+ miles to go to get to the trailhead.

On the way down we met up with other volunteers and everyone headed down to meet the volunteers who were gathering at the trailhead. Along the way we got to look at the truly awesome work that the volunteers had accomplished on the trail. They had removed a great many Yerba Santa and Ceanothus plants from the trail, worked the tread, and cut back a lot of brush from the trail.

Done! We took a bit of a rest and then got in to our vehicles and either headed home or returned to the Rincon Fire Station to examine our tools and equipment before storing them away again.

And what great fun it was, too! Sore legs, tired feet, good exercise all builds character. :) So does Sunburn, poison oak, all that happy outdoor fun!

* At the Rincon Fire Station we gather our tools for the day
* At the Rincon Fire Station we gather our tools for the day
* Three chainsaw teams are assembled since we have 3 certified sawyers
* Trailbuilder Ben working to oraganize the tool collection
* Still at Rincon getting everything together
* Safety Job Hazard Analysis and Project Activity Level gets discussed
* Trailbuilder Bob covers the flora, fauna and tools that we'll experience today
* Trailbuilder Bob covers the flora, fauna and tools that we'll experience today
* Still at the morning's safety review
* Volunteers start stringing out along the Winnona trail
* One of the larger obstructions for the forward chainsaws
* Here is a large dead tree across the trail. Trailbuilder Ton examines the cut
* Climbing over the work effort to examine the down slope some more
* Trail gets worked around an obstruction being examined by Trailbuilder Bob
* To safely remove obstruction Trailbuilder Bryan carefully cuts Ceanothus brush
* With obstructions removed, sawyer cuts while swamper stands ready with wedges
* Obstruction half removed but more work is needed to fully clear this
* Far off in the distance I can see volunteers pausing for lunch
* Sawyers keep their PPE in place during lunch break
* A hint of Ceanothus. This plant has very sharp spines and it grows well
* Reviewing a hazard tree, examining the holding wood and considering reduction
* A hazard tree gets its rest stump carefully undermined.
* Hazard tree gets undermined and carefully pulled down, now it ust be bucked up
* A look at the closed section of Highway 39
* There are bicycle riders on the closed section of Highway 39
* After tree number 44 gets bucked, the forward teams take a quick break
* A look at the health of the trees where we stopped for lunch
* Volunteer Lam holds loft a McLeod as we start thinking about heading down
* Hiking back down to the rest of the volunteers, we look at the trail work
* The hike down, looking at the trail work the volunteers have done
* The hike down, looking at the trail work the volunteers have done
* This burned tree is a hazard we need to keep an eye on
* Lots of awesome trail work done here. Yerba Santa uprooted and removed
* We catch up to some of the other volunteers but still have 2 miles to go
* The hike down, looking at the trail work the volunteers have done
* The hike down, looking at the trail work the volunteers have done
* Another look at the area of the hazard tree after volunteers worked the tread
* Another look at the area of the hazard tree after volunteers worked the tread
* Looking up-slope this bucked tree may be a problem in years to come
* A nice long section of trail completely reworked by volunteers -- awesome!
* I try to catch up with other volunteers in the distance
* Another long section of freshly completed trail work
* A look at trail work through an area that had many dead trees removed
* Another long section of freshly completed trail work
* Another long section of freshly completed trail work
* I'm still trying to catch up to the volunteers -- I'm exhausted! Slow down! :)
* The rest bench along Winnona that Trailbuilder Bron's son built years ago
* The trail at the bench has been repaired completely
* Some how neither the crosscut saws nor the chainsaws got this removed
* Another section of trail that has been completly reworked
* Almost back at the trailhead and I managed to catch up!
* Sonme of the few patches of snow left along the trail

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