14/Apr/07 Ice House, Mario's Mount Baldy Eagle Scout Project

Photographs are provided with the links below

Today was an Eagle Scout project up at the Mount Baldy Ice House Canyon, organized and conducted by Mario, the Eagle candidate. The project -- located in the Angeles National Forest -- consisted of removing broken and rotted wood railings along two sections of the heavily used hiking trail, and installing new support posts and new wood beams.

Though I didn't get a count on the number of Boy Scouts and parents who participated in the exercise, I'd say that there were about 40 of us on the project, including four San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders (Ben, Lou, Mike, Bron) did I forget anyone?) who provided most of the trail-working tools (almost everything except the battery-powered drills and saws.)

Work Before

As Eagle Scout Projects and candidates go, this was beyond any doubt the most well organized and best conducted Eagle project I have ever participated in. Mario had surveyed the site, evaluated the requirements for the trail restoration, acquired the materials needed, lined up the volunteers that were needed, acquired the permits and other paperwork required by the U. S. Forest Service, coordinated everything with Bron, and then when the effort was being performed, Mario took charge of the volunteers and made sure that there was an appointed Safety Officer and also made sure that volunteers had work to do and that their assigned tasks were completed.

There's been a number of Eagle Scout projects that I've volunteered on where the adults had eventually ended up making decisions, giving orders, and making sure that the job got done. This effort was unique in that the Eagle Scout candidate actually adopted a strong leadership role -- I was quite impressed.

The morning's parking lot situation was typical for the Ice House Canyon hiking trail: Very crowded. The trail is heavily used and mornings are usually crowded (I kept asking hikers if they would help us carry tools up and down the mountan. Everyone declined.)

Ben and Mike from the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders showed up at my house, pounded on the door, failed to wake me up, so Ben came in and kicked me awake while Mike grabbed one foot and started dragging me toward the door. By the time I was dragged to Ben's pickup truck, I was almost fully awake and just starting to realize I was being kidnapped.

Work Before

It's a fairly short drive from the San Gabriel River Ranger District section of the Angeles National Forest where we usually volunteer to reach the Mount Baldy District where the work site was located. Upon arriving we found that all of the Scouts were assembled though the horses and mules that the Horsemen Association (I believe they are) had volunteered for the project had not yet showed up.

A safety meeting was held in the parking lot, then tools were picked up (after additional gloves were rounded up) and a stream of volunteers headed up the trail. (Mike and I grabbed some free donuts that weren't being guarded when nobody was looking and I also grabbed three bottles of orange juice along with three bottles of distilled water, also while nobody was looking.)

The hike up to the first work site was about one mile -- not too far to go when carrying one trail-working tool, but a difficult distance when carrying a 90 pound wood beam. In my backpack I had the drinks, a Clive Cussler book borrowed from the local library, a vegetarian lunch, two monkey wrenches, two hand drills, a sledge-like hammer, and a wooden mallet.

Upon reaching the first work site, Mario and Bron conferred and then the effort began. For this project about 100 bucketful of small gravel would be needed, about 50 buckets of water, and about 30 buckets of large rocks. Many of the volunteers were dispatched to bring these materials up to the work site.

While that was going on, a number of the old rotted support posts were dug up or otherwise pulled out of the ground, and the beams on them were unbolted or had to be cut with saw blades or other, more violent means (Mike loves his sledge hammers!)

Eventually the first of four support posts arrived on the backs of horses and mules along with part of our lunch and two packs of drinking water, among other things. That stuff was carried up on the backs of Scouts up to the kitchen area, a meadow about half way between the two work sites further up the trail.

About four of the existing wood beams were still good enough to use, needing only new support posts. Eight holes of at least three feet deep were dug during the day while other volunteers worked on measuring and cutting the wood supports that would go in to the holes.

Some of us adults tried to have some fun with the younger children by asking them to climb into the holes to hold the support posts in place while we filled in the holes. All of the kids declined to be burried along with the posts. Some of the kids were asked to look for the quarter that Ben had dropped up here some years back -- a standard joke that's been going on for years... no, decades!

Everything was well planned and well executed but at times in the real world circumstances arise where projects become late. The first hitch in the day came when a woman hiking the trail (not from our group) had fallen and was laid up in the middle of the trail awaiting medical support. She had injured either a foot or a leg and for some reason that we never did discover, either she couldn't be moved to the side of the trail or there was some other reason why the paramedics (who arrived about 30 minutes after getting the call) wouldn't permit the horse and mule train to head up to the work site.

Still, with the medical response disallowing the mules for an hour and a half, the work continued at the site despite not having the longer wood beams that the horses and mules would be carrying up to us.

Work Before

The work that was done on the higher section of the trail got completed without any difficulties. Mario worked back and forth between the two work sites to ensure that all was going well. Up there at the higher work site we had a broken wood beam -- or maybe it was two broken beams -- and a single post that needed to be dug up and installed again so that it was secure. Some of the older beams that had been removed from the lower section of the trail were carried up to the higher section and were used instead of waiting for the new beams which hadn't come up the mountain yet.

The new posts, by the way, were installed properly: The wood posts had rebar inserted on the bottom to form a wide "X" and when they were were installed, gravel, water, rock, gravel, water, rock was layered down repeatedly until all three feet of the posts were covered. The new posts should not only last a long time, but they should also be rather difficult to remove in the future when they eventually rot.

All this time Ben was down in the parking lot helping with the horses and otherwise keeping an eye on the tools and materials that were staged in the parking lot. He never did manage to actually get up to the work site, unfortunately, and wasn't able to join us up above for lunch.

While work continued on the lower work site, all of the volunteers were wondering where the wood beams and the horses were. I could tell that Mario was greatly concerned and eventually he dispatched two runners to hike all the way back down the mountain to see if they could find out where the beams were.

Eventually we found out about the woman who had fallen but we also found out that one of the mules who had been carrying up the wood posts and beams had fallen off of the trail and had rolled down into the creek below. The horseman ran down and cut the packs free and then carefully worked the animal back to the parking lot, leaving the beams and saddles in the creek.

Mario dispatched a number of volunteers to go get the beams and Mike eventually came back up carrying one of them on his back, another volunteer came carrying one, and I think a third post came up being dragged by another volunteer. Those beams are heavy! The whole reason why the Horsemen had volunteered their efforts was because these beams would be damn difficult to cart up the mountain but rather than risk the horses and mules, volunteers were dispatched to carry them up themselves.

Around 2:00 p.m. we broke for lunch. There were thousands of Subway® sandwiches, lots of bags of chips, cookies, and Cracker Jack®. There were oranges, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (for us vegetarians) and because it was one Scout's birthday, there was cake! There were no cold margaritas provided, alas.

Work resumed and Mario determined that we were still missing two of the longer wood beams. He asked for any adult volunteers who could go down to the parking lot to find out if maybe they were still there and try to carry them up. (Mario and other Scouts had radios however communication down to the bottom of the mountain was a bit difficult at times.)

Mike and I went down to locate the beams, and Mike showed me where the mule had slipped off into the creek -- it looked like it would have been a pretty bad fall!

At the bottom we found the two beams sitting in the parking lot. The horses and mules were still down there and the Horsemen were attending to them. Since the beams needed to be carried up, eight Boy Scouts were asked by radio to come down and come collect them. Mike and I carried one of them (the lighter one) half way up the mountain and then left it there for four of the Scouts to carry up the rest of the way, the other four would go all the way down and bring up the last beam.

Back up at the main work site we found that we were maybe about two hours late, caused by the injury that had happened to one of the hikers and also due to the inability to have the mules bring up the longer timbers. Still, work continued with Bron getting more and more urgent as the canyon fell into shadow.

Since it was getting rather late and since Ben had been unable to make it up the mountain at all today, Mike and I asked for permission to leave and, despite being asked to stick around, we snuck off anyway, Mike with three trail tools hanging off of him, me with the heavy steel rock bar and a shovel.

Before we left, however, Mike took some photographs of how things were up until then. I think there were three posts that still needed to go in and maybe two beams to complete that section of the trail. Since this is Mario's Eagle project, we both offered to return to complete the task if it wasn't done by the end of today. Perhaps only another two or three hours would be needed since all of the digging had already been done.

Down below we met back up with Ben, loaded up the tools we had carried down, piled one of the wheel barrels into the back of Ben's pickup truck, and then paused to enjoy the quiet of the mountains and to share amusing stories about today's work with Lou who had also done a lot of hole digging today.

Some things could have gone better but Mario had done an excellent job. I think all of us agreed that it was great seeing an Eagle candidate take such a strong leadership role in their project, and we talked about how having things go wrong in an Eagle project is a good way to get some minor glimpse into the horrors of what happens on the job in an adult's real life. <laugh>

Mario had done all he could to plan and mitigate problems -- and then got a look at how things can be slowed and delayed by things that take place out of one's control. The trick is to keep going, do what can be done, and complete the job anyway, even if it's late: the usual way things go on the job out in the real world.

A good time was had by all, seems to me, and the work got mostly done and -- always important -- none of the volunteers got hurt. We all got to spend anywhere from seven to twelve hours in the Angeles National Forest getting good exercise: Another plus!

* Bron discusses today's work effort with Ben while Lou listens in
* Mario pauses for a photograph with Bron also standing in
* Mario and Bron go over some last minute staging-up details
* A safety meeting is started down at the parking lot staging area
* Mario goes over a few last minute details with the volunteers
* A photograph showing more of the safety meeting and the volunteers
* Bron apparently offering to cut Lou's head off with a wood saw
* The tools and such start to get carried up the mountain
* Here we are at one of the staging areas with Lou watching late arivals
* Mario offers work assignments at staging area where there is water
* Here's the sign post at the staging area where water will be collected
* A first look at the lower work site before work begins
* A look at the rest of the lower work site before work gets started
* Some of the beams get unmounted, Boy Scouts collect beams and materials
* A few of the old rusted bolts require some convincing to come apart
* Scout volunteers are working at the bottom of the trail
* Here's the railing from below. My backpack hangs from railing
* Lou works on some of the materials brought up by Boy Scout volunteers
* Eventually eight new holes a bit over three feet deep will be dug here
* A first look at the upper work site with broken rails
* Standing on the switchback for the upper work site to get a better look
* One of the metal posts will need to be dug up and re-seated until stronger
* I pause to look around. I do actually work in between photos
* And looking around a bit more. The forest is healthy around here
* A final look around before getting back to work
* Back at lower work site, measuring holes and new beams
* Old reusable beams have been stacked up
* Walking to some place... Can't tell when this photograph was taken
* Some older Scouts had to bring up heavy wood beams by hand
* Looks like hard work! I get to do the easy work of taking photographs
* Back at the upper site the post has been installed, beam gets cut
* Gravel to reset posts were carried up in buckets -- hard work!
* A volunteer packs the gravel, water, and rocks as it's added to posting
* Packing of new foundation continues for a while
* Mario made sure that both work sites had everything needed to continue
* Upper work site's newly-installed beam gets trimmed to size
* Um, looks like some safety equipment got left behind -- woops!
* And the new post and fresh beam look good
* Some horses and mules arrive! Is my lunch finally here? Nope, not yet
* Scouts cram in with horses and mules a bit
* Most of the holes have been mostly dug, fill continues to be collected
* Mario pauses to offer an in-camera interview with the Horsemen volunteers
* Some of the animal volunteers are getting turned around to go back down
* And most of the first wave of animal volunteers are ready to head down
* At the staging area at the end of the trail's switchback
* Here's how some of the shorter posts were carried up by horses and mules
* Some more animal volunteers arrive, this time bringing up some food!
* Pack animals -- and some horses and mules coming up ahead of them!
* Because lunch came, we break for lunch at around 2:00 p.m.
* Some of us made ourselves comfortable and had lunch brought to us
* Another photograph of how lunch went
* Subway® and various other things were offered for lunch
* Final look at the work crew. My camera was full by now, alas
* High density photograph taken by Mike
* High density photograph taken by Mike
* High density photograph taken by Mike

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