Rincon Environmental Education Center

Today was the best training session that that the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders has organized since evah! Volunteers from forests and organizations around Southern California were asked to send trail workers to attend formal rigging and safety training offered by the Trailbuilders, paid for in part by the REI company which promotes outdoor activities and coordinates forest volunteer activities of their own.

This was a 2 day training event with about half of the 33 student volunteers camping out in the forest, a fairly cold weekend in the Angeles National Forest but still comfortable enough for those of us who brought a tent and two sleeping bags like I did! Of course I don't mind having freezing cold feet in the night since it builds character and man! I got a lot of character built Saturday night in the cold forest!

The Trailbuilders and literally all of the other volunteer groups which attended the training have worked with rigging hardware before to various degrees, all of us using ropes, blocks, winches, hoists and other equipment for trail work close to the ground. What probably none of us has ever had has been formal classroom and in-field training from experts on rigging so this weekend we had volunteers with little experience with rigging mixed in with volunteers who have decades of rigging experience getting a refresher on safety and getting good ideas for efficient trail working methods.

The company that we bought in to give us our training is Off The Beaten Path which also has a Facebook page. Almost all of the equipment that was used in the field training was provided by the Trailbuilders though other forest volunteer groups brought some of their own hardware, including a massive griphoist capable of loading 8,000 pounds!

The first day of training consisted of a morning of classroom instruction on the simple machines, stuff that most of us got when we were in grade school, including how to figure simple math ratios that are used to ensure that the loads one works with does not overwhelm the working and breaking limits of the various components of the system being used to manipulate that load.

Full class room

Coffee and doughnuts provided by the Trailbuilders helped to keep the students alert and focused however from the first hour of the class everyone could see that everyone was fascinated, alert, and highly focused on the training we were getting, something that lasted through the whole two days. There was no fooling around, nobody falling asleep, no chatter among ourselves, all 33 students remained tightly attuned to the instructor's efforts, occasionally asking questions and describing briefly things they had done in the field, getting feedback on how efficient or not such previous tasks had been accomplished.

What we had were volunteers who are highly dedicated, very motivated people who leaped at the opportunity to acquire skills and experience, training that didn't require a fee to attend since volunteer groups and individuals often find it difficult to acquire funding for needed tools and equipment, leave alone formal instruction like this, we got a crowd that appreciate and desire such classes as we had this weekend.

Of utmost concern during the in-class training was the safety aspects of working with heavy boulders, tree trunks, and in some cases worked timber, concrete, and steel, all of which unpaid volunteers might be expected to utilize safely and with competence.

The Trailbuilders, people may recall, built the John Seals Bridge across Laurel Gulch along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River which consisted of getting lumber cut, milled, drilled, treated, and delivered to the Rincon Fire Station where the bridge was assembled and worked to completion, disassembled, and then transported by helicopter to Laurel Gulch.

What most people who saw that achievement didn't see was the rigging hardware that was applied to that project, including the computation of load weights and distribution that was performed to determine suitable helicopter platforms, cable limits, and rigging hardware needed for the delivery, all of which was worked out in advance with the assistance of professionals of such solid competence and experience as we had during our training session this weekend.

After the morning of classroom review we took to the field to take a look at how levers, inclined planes, and pulleys work to apply mechanical and situational advantage with considerable time spent showing how such advantage is a trade-off between Newtons of effort applied to perform work, and the distance over which that work is applied.

Demonstrating cable grip device

The hiking trails that we establish in the Western United States, for instance, utilize long distances and reduced degrees of inclination whereas in the rest of the United States trails that progress through mountains are generally steep, trading shorter distances at the cost of much steeper inclines.

The amount of work performed when hiking a trail is the same regardless of distance-verses-incline ratios however the amount of effort applied gets to be wildly different depending upon the distance-to-incline ratio.

After getting a review of safety and the basic physics and math of utilizing the simplest of tools, we got to participate and observe how blocks and ropes worked in real life by tying off to a tree and applying a pulley, setting people on both ends to establish a tug of war scenario which got more and more one-sided as additional pulleys were added to the system.

For the first day of training the most amusing thing was the deliberate attempt to break the shear pins in one of the Trailbuilder's griphoists. The machine is rated at 4,000 pounds of working load limit (WLL) and we had rigged the machine in line with a measuring device using two trees as anchors so we could pump the hoist and see at which point the shear pins would break.

Well, we tried a number of times to measure the points at which the pins would break however we cranked until we achieved 6,400 pounds which was the WLL for the weakest component in our system after which we stopped cranking. Since the pins would not brake even well beyond their limits we removed the hoist from the system and handed it to the Trailbuilders to extract the pins and examine them, replacing them with spares.

What was amusing was that after pounding with a hammer and using a bearing-puller on the handle, the thing would not come apart -- which was not at all surprising once someone actually looked at the machine and saw that someone had welded the thing. LOL! No wonder the pins would not break! D'oh! So that means the organization will need to grind off the weld, rework the pump handle, install fresh pins and re-test to ensure the pins sheer properly.

Moving boulder

That was pretty much it for the day. Since it was cold and getting dark quickly there was a last round of examining our work areas for tools and equipment scattered about, collecting them back to our main staging area and leaving the current rigging in place for the morning's resumption.

Dinner was left over doughnuts, fresh coffee, and mixed nuts while laid back in my sleeping bags reading Moonseed by Stephen Baxter wherein the Earth is once again destroyed utterly through no fault of our own other than humanity's willful, comfortable ignorance. LOL. I always like novels where everyone dies -- and I mean everybody -- for some reason probably stemming from traumas suffered during my precious, tender up-bringing, but when we're all irrevocably snuffed though our own stupidity, griphoist by our own petards, as it were, I find myself checking the book out and reading it more than once. :)

Morning, and the second day of training resumed with some more in-class instruction, getting a look at not only more ground-based rigging efforts but also arboreal rigging where large loads are transported above ground to minimize the impact to the ground but also to provide options for transporting loads across rivers, up and down steel slopes, and other environmental realities that makes ground-based efforts either very difficult or impossible.

Most of the volunteers will not be performing this kind of rigging because we lack enough healthy tree anchors in our forests to work with, but also because it's rather rare to actually need to take an operation through the air. If we work along a river or stream, there are suitable boulders to work with on either side of the river that we need not sling rigging across the river and work in the air.

At the same time the trail workers often do establish stepping stones across rivers and streams that are seasonal, but we usually haul boulders along the ground when water flow is either non-existent or minimum, working on the ground. Air operations is very rare, if it's done at all, and is only something that is done by volunteers who have literally decades of experience. Safety is the issue here. If there's a job that needs to be done, volunteers examine and evaluate it, and if it's beyond their training, volunteers simply don't do it.

After the classroom we again took to the field, this time working with a large boulder in the grounds of the Rincon Environmental Education Center where we were getting our training. In addition to dragging the boulder around and applying situational advantage to re-vector forces away from the volunteers working with the rigging, we also saw how we could utilize rigging to flip boulders over and across the ground, minimizing erosion and damage to the ground.

Rigging the first hazard

After lunch we took to the nature trail next to the Education Center that the Trailbuilders had established many year ago, taking a look at two hazard snags that needed to be brought to ground safely before children could come and hike the trail during the Summer.

Normally we would buck the trees as they leaned, doing so carefully and slowly, examining and evaluating the lay of the hazard and reducing it little by little until the hazard is eliminated. Many times, however, it is easier and safer to pull the hazard to ground and then buck it up with chainsaws and then remove it from the trail.

We took considerable time working with pulling the largest hazard down to ground first since I was worried that it might take us in to the evening when it gets dark, and tacking the worse hazard first seemed like a good idea in the event we ran out of daylight and could not get to the second hazard.

Here was some very good instruction. Working with another 4,000 WLL griphoist that the Trailbuilders had we managed to shear the pins, allowing people to see how the pins are extracted and replaced in the field while also seeing what happens when the pins give way, something we amusingly could not demonstrate on the first day of class.

At the same time we had to evaluate the working load to see how we might improve the mechanical advantage using a block or two, reconfigure the rigging so that the effort at the hoist would remain less than 4,000 pounds while also increasing the loads at the dead tree end while still not exceeding those components' working load limits.

It was enough to add a power block to the system which cut the load on the hoist by approximately half while doubling the pull on the tree while also doubling the lay length of the wire rope going through the hoist.

It took time to get the first hazard to ground since in addition to installing a moving power block, once the power block met the stationary block and the tree was still not grounded two volunteers worked forward while avoiding the unsettled tree, reworked the rigging safely to tighten the sling, then the hauling was resumed, finally bringing the tree to ground.

Swapping shear pins in the field

The second hazard was also a good way to examine the safest way to eliminate the leaning tree which had been broken about 5 feet above ground, shattered but still with a lot of holding fiber. Because the tree was shattered and splintered, it was obvious by examining it carefully that it should be easy enough to loop a choker sling on the top fragment pull the fibers apart, slowly dropping the hazard to ground.

Normally volunteers like me would simply apply the sling, anchor the griphoist to a healthy tree, and haul away from a safe distance however it was pointed out again -- as had been pointed out many time during the training days -- that pulling the tree to ground that was meant that the person pumping the hoist would have force heading straight for her which, in an equipment failure situation, could mean a less safe operation than a second option which we instead employed.

We used a second tree midway between the working load (the tree we were breaking and pulling to ground) and the anchor tree (upon which the hoist was attached though another sling) and attached a snatch block. As the volunteer cranked the hoist, force was vectored toward the midway tree rather than directly at the person working the hoist, improving overall safety at the expense of adding a minimal amount of friction to the system.

By this time it was getting cold again and it was time to start ending the class. There was the need to scour the grounds inside and outside of the fence to ensure that every piece of equipment was collected, every scrap of litter was picked up, scratches carved in the ground were patted back in to place, the classroom facilities and the toilets swept out and everything cleaned up, a final effort that took about 2 hours since there was a lot of equipment to account for.

Let's do this again, if possible. We need to get together a second class that is more advanced which covers the use of more tools that might reduce effort and increase productivity in the field while again underscoring safety, an advance class that perhaps has fewer students but consists of 3 or 4 days of highly detailed training, doing actual field work on projects that are needed to be done in the Angeles National Forest.

We might organize a second, advanced training effort though for that we'll need to ask students to assist with the cost of holding such training. But that's for the future, if ever, but for now 33 students have gotten ourselves some highly valuable training for which the REI company, the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, and the U. S. Forest Service deserve a much heart-felt "thank you." The people who attended learned a lot and can bring their training back to the groups they participate within, imparting some of what they learned, all to the benefit of the forest and to hikers, bikers, climbers, backpackers, and everyone who recreates in the forest.

Photographs of the training are offered below but also check out the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclest Association photographs.

Mitch photographs.

Note: The Pacific Crest Trail Association was also represented in the training this weekend.

* Environmental Education Center
* Staging up the rigging equipment
* Two of the griphosts that the Trailbuilders use
* Close up of the wire cable and blocks that will be used during training
* Shackles, slings, chain, other rigging equipment
* Many different types of shackles, some round, some flat, working rope
* Some webbing and a port-a-belay device, among other equipment
* Fiber rope and a rock bar
* The students gather around the instructor in the field to review equipment
* A wire cable gripping device is described and demonstrated
* The larger griphoist that the Pacific Crest Trail Association has
* The instructor demonstrates how wire rope is threaded through the hoist
* Details of how the hoist mechanism engages forward and backward
* A blue composite rope commonly used in rigging is described
* A force measuring device is described and demonstrated
* A wifer view of some of the rigging equipment
* Instructor and student demonstrate ways to apply a sling
* Another cable-gripping device in among PCTA hardware
* Rock sling shown being used on a wood stump
* Common chaining of a rock demonstrated on a wood stump
* Chain-clasping hardware shown being used to tighten chain on a wood stump
* Chain being applied to a trash container to demonstrate other shackles
* Another photograph of rigging equipment in the stage-up area
* The instructor describes how the PCTA's wire-rope-gripping device works
* The force-measuring device close up
* Students apply chain to a sample boulder to be moved
* Griphoist, sling, and anchor
* Midpoint block used to revector force
* Sling, hook, cable eye
* Sling used to attach midway block to revector force
* An improvised friction belay and shackle
* Griphoist, force measuring device, and sling
* Far anchor using a sling
* A closer look at the force measuring device and griphoist
* Moving the boulder along the ground
* A good look at the use of shackles and chain on the boulder
* Back to trying to shear the safety pins on the griphoist
* Floating block while the boulder is being moved
* Floating block while the boulder is being moved
* Examining the griphoist whose shear pins refuse to break
* Student cranks away at the hoist
* Attempting to remove the handle and swap the pins on the welded hoist -- LOL!
* Flipping the boulder end-over-end
* Rigging in place while more instruction takes place at the second hoist
* Digging under the boulder to apply chain in a new configuration
* Now a strap is used on the boulder along with a block
* Shackle applied to chain on boulder
* Shackle applied to chain on boulder
* A look at the first hazard in the nature trail
* A very heavy anchor tree for midpoint revectoring of force is selected
* A choker configured strap on the working load
* Midpoint block and strap for the first hazard
* Tension applied to the first hazard reduction effort
* After the shear pins break we get a look at replacing them in the field
* The handle is successfully removed from the griphoist
* Trailbuilder Josh holds the shattered pin fragments
* A closer look at the working load with a new power block added
* The hoist reassembled now that the rigging has been reworked
* The hazard starts to come down to ground
* Classroom instruction
* The classroom is full, we had 33 students, everyone highly focused
* Students gather around the equipment staging area
* Students gather around the equipment staging area
* Students gather around the equipment staging area
* Students gather around the equipment staging area
* Instructor covers what we will be covering in the field for the day
* Tug-of-war with a single block, then 2 blocks, then 4 blocks
* Tug-of-war with a single block, then 2 blocks, then 4 blocks
* Tug-of-war with a single block, then 2 blocks, then 4 blocks
* Threading wire rope through a griphoist again
* SHowing the two anchors being used to try to shear the pins on a hoist
* A look at the boulder moving effort after it has been moved
* The second hazard before it is addressed and pulled to ground
* On-going effort to bring the first hazard fully to ground
* On-going effort to bring the first hazard fully to ground
* Cable minders ensure the working main cable is carefully tended
* Another look at the first hazard and where it's located
* On-going effort to bring the first hazard fully to ground
* The first hazard fully down on the ground

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