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Poodle Dog brush along the trail

Today was day 3 of the Islip Ridge Trail restoration and maintenance project taking place in the aftermath of the Curve Fire which left a great many dead trees down across the much-loved trail.

The history of the Islip Ridge Trail has its start with the Trailbuilders, details of which can be found

here on the Los Angeles Times article. (Trailbuilder Bron notes that the actual completion year for Islip Ridge was 1989, not 1990 as is reported in the article.)

The day began early with Trailbuilders and other volunteers getting their things together and heading toward the San Gabriel Mountains Gateway Information Center located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains above Azusa, California across from mile post 17 along Highway 39.

It was a rare honor for one of our new volunteers to raise the Flag above the Visitor Center while we waited for 8:00 a.m. To roll around after which we packed in to our vehicles and headed North to the Rincon Fire Station where we collected tools and contacted our Dispatch Overlords via radio to let them know that there would be 11 of us working within the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

Because I had miscounted how many volunteers we had on Day 2 of this effort, this time I was careful to ensure that I counted properly, asking Trailbuilder Jeanette and Christopher to count everybody and tell me what numbers they came up with. (I blame my inability to count on too much Metallica and possibly Nirvana screaming into my brain over the years.) When everybody came up with 10, I let Dispatch know and we were ready to head North in to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

The first set of downed trees for today

The Caltrans gate continues to be very difficult to get through because the locks and the rotor lock-distributor engineering is simply wrong! Just wrong! It becomes an intelligence test every time anybody wants to get through that gate and I suppose that's part of the fun but it's still frustrating.

While Lou hammered at the gate I got out of Tom's pick-up and walked around, and a bicycle rider going past asked me where my bicycle was. LOL! I think it's my hat that everybody recognizes since it's somewhat unique. It's a real working-cowboy's hat, hideously dead cow skin that's seen decades of harsh Mojave Desert living before being donated by the world-renowned adventurer Desertphile to try to keep my brains from basting in the hot Sun any more than it already has.

Today was cooler than it had been the previous week, and one Hell of a lot cooler than it had been on the first day of this effort. Still, standing in the sunlight of the morning's growing heat we went through the daily safety run-down, including a quick review of the day's Project Activity Level (PDF file) which included the need to stop all chainsaw activity promptly at 13:00 today.

After the safety review we hit the trail and strung out along the first 2.25 miles or so, hiking up to where the first of the remaining downed trees were, some volunteers doing trail clearing in the lower altitutes, other volunteers using loppers to cut back brush, other volunteers using McLeods, and others donning the Kevlar safety chaps, helmets, ear protectors, eye protectors and all that happy stuff to equip-up to buck up as many downed trees as we could before our 13:00 cut-off time.

We only had enough safety-trained and certified sawyers to operate two of the chainsaws today while other volunteers swamped for them. Typically when clearing trails of downed trees that block the trails during Summer months we need as many certified sawyers as can operate all of the available chainsaws with volunteers trading off back and forth, allowing one sawyer to rest while the other works.

Searching for the rest of the trail

Winter and otherwise cooler weather allows sawyers to work for longer periods of time without extended rest periods but during hot weather Trailbuilders take things carefully and slowly with considerable attention to staying rested and alert to the point where saws are set aside and remain unused for lack of a rested, certified sawyer.

Despite running only two of the saws, there were about 10 downed trees bucked up and removed from the trail while a larger number of tree limbs were cut up and dragged out of the way if only to afford volunteers access to higher elevations.

We did not get as much trail cleared as we would have liked, but on the plus side Trailbuilder Mike, Lou, and Jeanette as well as Eddie and his friend managed to clear long sections of the trail of plants, leveling out the tread and returning sections back to the pristine condition that the trail had a reputation for in years past.

Six of us on the upper point of the day's effort came up against a very large tree down across the trail and from time to time we all examined the problem and considered safe ways to remove it.

I'm not an expert in such things though Trailbuilders Ben, Tom, and Lou have a lot more experience than I do in safely bucking such large trees. I was in the effort to clear Mount Waterman which had trees that large across the trail. In that effort we used crosscut saws which made the effort even more difficult and time-consuming but we got everything done safely.

I asked Mike how he would consider attacking the tree in part to see how his brain worked and to see if he had a safe way to do it that would be different, less time-consuming than the Mount Waterman effort which took as much as five hours on a single downed tree that looked like the one before us. On Day 4 we shall see how it is accomplished and it should be educational for all of us.

Any place where the first and second bucking would be done would mean that a large, heavy section would drop anywhere from maybe one and a half to two and a half feet, and the subsequent bucked and free sections stood a chance of moving down hill after being dropped. Without a doubt one of the more experienced sawyers will make the decisions on this tree when we return for Day 4.

One thing we did on Mount Waterman was the use of tie wedges (see Crosscut saw training for some commentary on tie wedged.) A tie wedge is a wedge that is places across the curf even as other wedges are driven in to the curf to hold the bucked sections apart. Tie wedged keep radial movement from occurring while one is cutting but also they can hold everything in place after the cut is completed.

The last large tree we left uncut for next time

In Mount Waterman on the largest bucking cuts we made, we ended up with the crosscut saw being used two-handed with a volunteer working on either end up-slope and down-slope. With about 20% of the holding fiber still left to go, one handle would be removed and tie wedges would be pounded tighter, the up-slope sawyer continuing until all the holding fiber was removed. With everybody at a safe distance, the tie wedges would be knocked lose one by one until the bucked section dropped safely.

When we return for Day 4 of this trail repairing effort, we shall see if that's how the experts attack this problem.

We were only about five minutes away from the 13:00 cut-off time for the chainsaw use so we set everything together in to a pile and decided to examine the condition of the next trail sections. Mike went forward and climbed for some altitude and could not find the trail so I started walking along the hillside and climbing higher and higher also trying to find some indication of where the trail is.

A late lunch break was had while I continued to walk around in a futile effort to find the rest of the trail until Ben yelled up that I should come down and rest a bit.

Jalapeno bagels! Lunch was quick though relaxing, laying out in the shade and thinking that the numerous dead trees down on the hillside were covering the trail, collaborating with the heavy brush to keep us from finding it.

After lunch Tom ducked under the large tree down across the trail and swung around it, climbed over the tree and back down on the far side and informed us all that he had found the missing trail! Ha! It was only 10 feet above us; the downed tree had come down right at a switchback. How embarrassing for those of us who had climbed all over the place trying to find it.

After collecting all of our equipment, tools, all that happy stuff we once again took inventory and started heading down the mountain. I hopped ahead of everyone else who had come past the first mile since I wanted to get to the trail head and see if the wood paint I had brought was a match for the trailhead sign so I could expunge the spray paint.

Coming down the mountain was hot but a whole lot easier than the climb up had been. I came down at full speed chugging water most of the way down and arming sweat out of my eyes until hitting the flat ground and in to the shade at the bottom where I paused to look at the trail sign.

At the parking lot Lou and I moved the ice chests containing cold water in to the shade then I picked up the paint, a brush, and a screw driver and walked back to the sign. Annoyingly the paint I had brought was the wrong shade, I need something much darker which meant that the sign out not be cleaned up today. Ah well.

After returning to the parking lot I continued to drink water until the rest of the volunteers got to the lot. The Sun was heading far West by that time so the heat was coming in at a slant by then, but the cold water made sitting in the shade easy and comfortable.

Some of us headed down the mountain while the rest of us headed to the Visitor Center to examine what repairs will be needed to the outside before the campgrounds re-open. The wood railing and seats need to be sanded and painted (the same dark brown as the trail sign) and the window woodwork in the back of the Center also needs to be sanded and painted.

After examining the Center we packed up in to our vehicles and returned to Rincon, dropped off equipment, informed our Dispatch Overlords that we were finished for the day, and headed down to the bottom of the mountain where we abandoned Trailbuilder Lou and we were done for the day!

The only other thing of note was that when I peeled off my battered shoes I discovered that my sock on my right foot was covered in blood and I had managed to scrape-up my right leg just a bit some how. Huh? I don't remember being hit by anything but perhaps while searching for the trail I climbed over something and banged up the leg a bit.

Scraping off the ticks, poison oak, poodle dog, leaches and all that nonsense in the shower, I also cleaned my leg and, not seeing any bone, decided I'd survive!

And what fun it was, too! Day 4 of the Islip Ridge effort is scheduled to take place on the 21st of August and we should see a large number of younger volunteers lending a hand to clear the trail of bucked sections and remove the many branches and such that the first 3 days of effort did not bother removing. On that date some of hope to get started an hour or two earlier so that we can extend the amount of time we have working with the saws.

* In a rare honor a Trailbuilder volunteer is permitted to raise the U. S. Flag
* At the Islip Ridge trailhead, we have our daily safety run-down
* Volunteer Christopher contrives a make-shift hat from the hot Sun
* Poodle Dog Bush -- avoid this stuff!
* The flowering Pootle Dog bush
* Close-up of Poodle Dog. The small sharp spikes grow along the main stem
* Trailbuilder Tom pauses on the climb up to rest a bit
* Pausing a moment on the climb up to the work site
* Medical kit, safety chaps, other debris staged up at the first cut of the day
* Chainsaws, back packs, we take inventory before work resumes for the day
* The first downed tree across the trail gets examined before bucking
* Tom and swamper tackle a large downed tree while the other team goes ahead
* Trailbuilder Ben joins the forward team
* Heavy brush in the aftermath of the Curve Fire along the trail
* Ben leans forward to examine the technical aspects of Tom's bucking effort
* I climb the hillside to try to locate the rest of the trail
* After searching for a long time, Tom finds the trail right above us
* A very large tree that will need to be safely bucked and dropped
* Trailbuilders Mike and Ben watch Tom up on the ridge above us
* Mike cleared the ground under the next large bucking effort
* After the end of the chainsaw cutting, we again take inventory
* Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) growing in clumps all over the San Gabriels
* Dodder stranling cianosis (spelling?)
* Hiking back down after the day's chainsaw effort
* Hiking back down after the day's chainsaw effort
* Hiking back down after the day's chainsaw effort
* Hiking back down after the day's chainsaw effort
* Hiking back down after the day's chainsaw effort

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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