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When the saw stops working

The Crystal Lake Recreation Area is open again! Because the snow has mostly melted, that means that the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders are able to move off of their Winter schedule and back on to their Summer schedule, and that includes the Windy Gap Trail in the Angeles National Forest.

Windy Gap is a much-loved trail, very popular with hikers and even people on bicycles. Though the area burned in the 2002 Curve Fire there is still a large number of trees that survived however there remain a large number of dead trees that continue to fall.

Today the Trailbuilders set out to clear as many of the deadfalls from the South Mount Hawkins road up to the Gap as possible since numerous reports about problems along the trail continue to come in through emails, often with awesome photographs, some of them showing Sutter Walls that have been inundated with rock.

The plan was to remove as many deadfalls as we could and also take a look at the condition of the Sutter Walls to determine whether any had actually been damaged or destroyed.

Ben from the Trailbuilders come by my house to pick up myself, volunteer Bryan, and volunteer Christopher up for the day's effort, showing up just as we managed to get our stuff together, cramming water in to old packs since we knew it would be hot day.

From there we headed off to the Gateway Information Center at the base of the mountain where volunteers were gathering for a tree planting that was taking place as well as for the trail work for Windy Gap. Because I was asked where the volunteer group was, I did my best to hijack tree planting volunteers to join the trail effort but was unsuccessful. :( (I later saw that the tree planting was successful and that Subway provided lunch!

Hey now! Why didn't I get lunch! Ah well, I ate enough dirt and ash today I didn't have room for sandwiches anyway. LOL!

A jumble of dead trees across the trail

Also it was great seeing friend BK come to Gateway to join the tree planting effort, it's awesome seeing people who love the wild as much as I do getting their hands dirty, getting exercise and sweating to plant growing things that should last for generations, with any luck!

From Gateway we headed North to the Rincon Fire Station to gather tools and equipment and from there we continued North to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

We stopped in at the now-open Cafe up there for a quick look around but since we were anxious to get to work we quickly wound our way to the Deep Flats Group Campground where the road to South Mount Hawkins could be acquired but we found the upper road covered in enough rubble that most of our vehicles could not cross it.

Taking the lower road we made it to the Group Campgrounds and to the start of Mount Hawkins but once again we found that the road had been inundated by enough rock and sand that most of our vehicles could not make it up to where we wanted to start working.

No problem! We turned around and parked along the road to Deer Flats where the Windy Gap Trail crosses it. From there we split in to generally three teams, one team working on the trail that headed to lower elevations so that the trail could be widened, cleared, and brush cut back, two other teams consisting of chainsaw crews which would work while climbing in altitude.

We had 4 chainsaws and 5 qualified, trained sawers. One of the large saws refused to run, however, and only two chainsaw teams could work due to the need to have swampers and safety oversight since the trail was in use, and the Trailbuilders require eyes on both sides of all work efforts so we had enough people to make up two teams.

The crews with the larger saw would tackle the large deadfalls, the 14 inch saw would take care of smaller trees, leap-frogging as needed.

The first team removed what appears to have been 8 blockages across the trail, the second team a total of 7 though toward the end of the day the two teams kind of merged. Still, about 15 blockages were removed from the first .7 mile of the trail.

One of the pairs of hikers that came across our work informed us that from the Gap down to where we were (a total length of 2.1 miles) they counted 44 blockages, some of which consisted of two or more trees in a jumble, some of which are snarls of tree limbs which will take significant time to cut and remove safely.

Newly cleared trail

Of course there were comments about the rock slides that we had hoped to get to today but, alas, the volunteers work one section at a time and while chomping at the bit to see what needed to be done further up the mountain, we stayed focused on the effort at hand.

It was great fun! About the middle of the day's effort the second team's saw stopped working and Bryan broke it down, cleaned it out, adjusted it, smacked it around a bit, and when it continued to refuse to run set it aside. About five minutes later it decided to continue running and there was no further trouble.

But while the saw stopped running a single-bit ax was used to remove a six inch downfall. The trick with using an ax on something like this is to not be timid. Because the saw stopped for a while I asked if one of the fresh volunteers would like to hack it apart with the ax and the usual way an ax is applied is to come down straight with one hand on the top of the ax, the other hand around the middle.

That way does work though it is a lot of effort and will take longer than desired. After the first volunteer needed a break I took the ax and WHANGED! away at the deadfall while laying the blade on its side, taking full-body swings while holding the ax both hands toward the end.

No need to get angry with it but ya gots to show it who's the boss.

Each swing takes a greater effort than less aggressive swings, but one gets chunks of wood liberated from the curf with each heavy-handed swing than with less enthusiastic swings so it's done faster with fewer trading-off for rests when it's done aggressively.

Meanwhile Bryan got the smaller saw running again and continued up the trail while the ax effort finished below. It was awesome watching volunteers use the ax to cut up a significant deadfall. It was a reminder of how it used to be before gasoline.

While working on the trail a hiker on a bicycle came up and asked for me by name which was awesome. I had sent email suggesting he come look for the guy bent over covered in dirt, grasping his sides and trying to avoid heatstroke so that he would know it was me and so he did! Awesome. (I tried to press a trail working tool in his hands so he could join in the fun but alas he declined.)

Then we were done! We collected everything, tried not to leave anything behind, and returned to our vehicles on the Deer Flats Group Campground road.

Newly cleared trail

One of the Trailbuilders had problems with her car which allowed me to grab some cold water and rest in the shade while the other volunteers practiced their valuable burglary skills working to open the car. Ha! What fun! Eventually the assumed nefarious background of one not-to-be-named volunteer jimmied the puppy open and we were off!

We paused to rest at the Visitor Center and to meet with the caretaker operating the small Cafe. Because of the awesome hard work that volunteers have been doing we were offered discounted rates for whatever we might want.

I have been getting emails by hikers, bikers, climbers, and picnickers about how wonderful the chili beans have been and I read in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune someone reported that the best burrito they have ever had was got at the Cafe this past week, but I asked for french fries. The hot sauce and cracked peppercorn that I added to the fries were wonderful! Since my lunch was dirt, tree bark and ash (washed down with water) the fries really tasted great.

Because I and other volunteers were covered in dirt and ash I worried that I might get kicked out in to the cold snow and rain but the Cafe owner was gracious, friendly, and very happy seeing so many people out enjoying the mountain as much as he does. Such awesomeness!

All too soon it was time to climb in to our vehicles and head down the mountain. We stopped by the Rincon Fire Station to examine our tools and put them away until next time. Trailbuilder Ben took the large saw that refused to run back home to scold it, Trailbuilder Bryan took his smaller saw back home to clean, and we were finished for the day.

What a wonderful day out. There was plenty of time to step aside and look at the mountain or gaze across the canyons in to the far distance, and time to get clown to the ground and examine the flowers or the termites. Such efforts are a mix of adventure, exhaustion, victory, occasional defeat, and refreshing pauses to enjoy the day.

* The access to South Mount Hawkins is damaged enough that we dare not cross it
* Another look at the road to South Mount Hawkins
* The road to Deer Flats Group Campgrounds have water running across it -- Joy!
* Hikers are out in numbers today! Joyness!
* Hikers mentionm that there are 44 deadfalls on the 2.1 miles of trail
* We gather for the daily safety review
* Trailbuilder Bryan has chainsaw repair tools
* The Windy Gap Trail sign on thge road to Deer Flats Group Campground
* Extensive damage to the traul caused by running water
* Extensive damage to the traul caused by running water
* Extensive damage to the traul caused by running water
* The first deadfall that the second chainsaw team tackled
* Another section of newly cleared trail
* The next two deadfalls that the second chainsaw team tackled
* The first chainsaw team has the bigger saw and tackle the large deadfalls
* The first very large deadfall took a lot of work to examine and safely cut
* Bron with full safety equipment and clothes bucking
* The next two deadfalls taken care of by the first chainsaw team
* Deadfalls bypassed by the second team and left to the first team
* While the smaller chainsaw decides to stop running for a while, an axe is used
* Deadfalls some times get picked up and removed by hand without cutting
* Another deadfall along the trail flat to the ground
* Much of the deadfall could be removed by hand but cutting is still needed
* Meanwhile the single-bit axe is used on the stubborn deadfall
* Almost through the downfall using the axe
* The smaller chainsaw gets running again after some cleaning and cussing
* Looking back at a second team's cleared deadfall
* Another look back at a second team's cleared deadfall
* The first team continue to buck up the larger deadfalls
* One of the large deadfulls bucked to clear the trail, more still needing work
* The larger cuts require planning and discussion since they're technical
* The next set of deadfalls the second team will remove with the small saw
* The second team's sawer looks like he's been doing some work!
* Another look at the volunteer after setting down the saw for the day
* Volunteers examine the deadfall still blockiing the trail somewhat
* A newly-cleared section of trail
* The trail for the first .7 miles has been entirely cleared

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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This web site is not operated or maintained by the US Forest Service, and the USFS does not have any responsibility for the contents of any page provided on the http://CrystalLake.Name/ web site. Also this web site is not connected in any way with any of the volunteer organizations that are mentioned in various web pages, including the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders (SGMTBs) or the Angeles Volunteers Association (AVA.) This web site is privately owned and operated. Please note that information on this web page may be inaccurate.

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