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Bucking with a crosscut saw

Wow, today was one of the most awesome volunteer days yet. Here it is February and the snows have held off mostly, and today's weather was perfect for carrying up the awesome crosscut saws, shovels, McLeods and other tools and clearing the remaining 7 or so dead-falls across the trail while working to clear rock slides from Windy Gap Trail.

Volunteering with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders in the Angeles National Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains is always awesome fun but for some reason today ended up being special. All of the tasks got completed so that was part of the fun, and it's always nice bringing up the crosscut saws even though I could not operate one since I forgot to bring a long-sleeve shirt.

Mixed in among the volunteers today were several students from Mount San Antonio College. For some reason I had thought that today was the day we would have from 70 to 110 volunteers, most of them from Cal Poly so I bought along the major trauma kit and other things to be prepared for a large number of volunteers. I guess my brain has been baked by Summer heat so much under my hard hat that I get some misfires. LOL!

The work crews were organized in to creating two fast-attack saw teams, each one consisting of a sawyer and at least two swampers, each with a medical kit, Kevlar safety chaps, hard hats, eye protection, heavy gloves and everything else needed for one's PPE. Additionally there would be teams working the tread at the lower elevations and teams working on clearing major rockfalls along the trail, including areas of Sutter Walls which have been virtually inundated with rock.

Parts of Windy Gap burned in the 2002 Curve Fire so there are dead pine trees and occasionally dead oak trees that continue to fall on the trail, some of which are major obstructions which must be climbed over, under, or get diverted around, so Windy Gap has been needing fairly constant attention over the years and will continue to need to be cleared until all the growth comes back and the dead trees have all come down.

Windy Gap is one of the most loved hiking trails within the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. It affords access to Little Jimmy Campground as well as eventual access to Angeles Crest Highway and parts of the Pacific Crest Trail and access to Baden-Powell . Lots of people hike it and many more run up and down the mountain.

Bucking with a crosscut saw

I was on the forward saw team carrying up some of the equipment. A previous survey the week before showed us that we had from 7 to 9 tree trunks that needed to be bucked up and removed, and one major root ball that would prove to be a difficult effort that was of a diameter at the upper edge of our crosscut saws' capabilities.

And what great fun it was! Going from obstruction to obstruction we hiked up, dropped out equipment and packs, took a drink of water, then laid in with the saw, pounded wedges, then shoved and pushed until the trail was clear, then we'd pack up and hike to the next, leaving some of the clean-up for the volunteers doing the follow-up tread work.

By lunch break we had almost attained the Saddle. We had bypassed the root ball with the intention of returning for it on the way back down. (Lunch break was saltine crackers, mixed nuts, and lots of water.)

The remaining obstructions and intrusions of trees on the trail were bucked up and removed and then we headed back down to take a serious look at the massive and difficult root ball. Root balls can be problems because most times they contain rocks and dirt embedded within dense wood which will dull or damage crosscut saws as well as chains on chainsaws.

Crosscut saws are not cheap, vintage saws (which are the best!) can cost from around $250 to over $400, and cutting through rock is a disaster for volunteer groups which must rely upon rare donations for our tools avoid cutting through dirt and rock, leaving things on the trail if we must to avoid damaging our previous equipment.

This root ball posed a number of problems. Some of the wood was hard and sound while some parts of it were rotted and mushy. Since it was on a slope parts of the wood were under compression while others were under tension. Secure footing for the sawyer was also a task to perform before any sawing could be done once the sawyer developed a plan for bucking.

The overall need to avoid rocks and dirt meant that the root end of the cut would be heavy once the cut was completed, and it was a question of whether the section could be moved by hand with metal rock bars.

The volunteers got to work on it, assisting the sawer by removing material as it was cut, moving rocks and tree bark to keep it out from underfoot of the sawyer, taking turns keeping the wedges positioned and driven as the rotted wood parted until eventually the cut was completed after taking a considerable amount of time.

Much pushing and shoving of the bucked root ball then commenced accompanied by some verbal obscenities until the whole mess was finally strong-armed off of the trail. Finished! Joy!

Returning down the trail we met up with a large rock side removal effort and joined in. The Mount Sac and other volunteers had managed to clear a very long and difficult section of trail of literally tons of rock, focusing upon areas that were the most dangerous and then concentrating on an area of Sutter Wall that had been filled with rock.

A whole lot of trail got worked today, so much so that Windy Gap is clear and awesome from end to end.

* A major rock slide gets shoveled out and removed from the trail
* Looking acrossthe mountains to the South from Windy Gap
* There are some spots of shade along the trail
* Fred climbs to the top of a deadfall to see about freeing it up
* Ha! There I am trying to look all manly and stuff
* At Windy Gap Saddle we pause for a photograph or two
* One long section of Sutter Wall that has been inundated with rock
* Another obstruction gets examined, bucked, and removed
* Volunteers examine an obstruction and come up with a plan for safe removal
* Sawers with full PPE use crosscut saw to remove the obstruction
* Another three intrusions on the trail get examined as tools head to the site
* While waiting for the sawyer we take a look again to the South
* After bucking and removal we work the tread a bit to clean up the area
* The next obstruction gets delimbed and examined
* Taking a look toward Big Cinega which has many dead trees across the trail
* Back at Windy Gap Saddle
* One of the trail signs at the Saddle
* Another sign at the Saddle
* The Pacific Crest Trail sign at the Saddle
* Trailbuilder Bryan carries the crosscut saw back down the mountain
* Trailbuilder Bryan carries the crosscut saw back down the mountain
* A final look South from the Windy Gap saddle
* Lunch break! Trailbuilders in the distance. Note the root ball on the trail
* Trailbuilder Fred wears his new chainsaw safety boots
* The root ball project gets worked with full safety PPE, wedges, everything
* Volunteers work the wedges and shovel while sawyers work the root ball
* The root ball finally gets removed! Time to clean up the area
* Trailbuilder Bron pauses a moment to repair a Sutter Wall
* Sutter Wall fixed! Looks as good as new!
* Back at the long Sutter Wall being cleared of rock
* Back at the long Sutter Wall being cleared of rock
* Back at the long Sutter Wall being cleared of rock
* Volunteers working on this rock fall did one whole lot of hard work
* The far end of the Sutter Wall clearing effort
* Once boulders are removed, shovels can also be used
* Darn! The trail is looking good through the rock fall!
* A section of the rock fall effort that has had some removal, needs more
* We take a look at the down slope where a great amount of material was dumped
* At the end of the clearing effort we take a look at how well it went
* This whole area had been filled with rock, now it's cleared
* Another Sutter Wall where all the rock has been cleared
* Trailbuilder Lou establishes soil rention rock wall

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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