Delimbing the first tree

Today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders continued work on the Winnona Trail within the Crystal Lake Recreation Area which starts at the lake's parking lot, winds its way up to Islip Ridge and eventually gives hiking access to various places such as Windy Gap and Angeles Crest Highway as well as a number of other trails.

And what fun it was, too! This would be the last day of working to remove the dead trees down across the hiking trail for the Summer since the Trailbuilder schedule shows other obligations for the immediate future which lead well in to the expected season of snow,.so one last drive to buck up as many downed trees as we could was made today while further below Trailbuilders also worked to restore the trail, removing Yerba Santa from the trail, cutting back or removing brush, and generally working the tread on the trail.

It was a good day for the effort since the day was cool and though we were above the heavy cloud layer smothering the cities below, the temperatures were cool enough so that we didn't run out of water this time. Ha!

We met at the Gateway Information Center at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains along Highway 39 across from mile post 17 and promptly at 8:00 a.m. we packed in to vehicles and headed North up in to the mountains, pausing at Rincon Fire Station to sort through the tool box and collect equipment we would need today.

The big tool box we keep at Rincon had been relocated and the equipment inside had been shifted around and generally shook up only a little bit so we were able to straighten some things up, go collect the safety fuel lock-box that had not made the move, get our Kevlar safety chaps and helmets, bright safety vests (because poachers and other drunks with firearms need a visible target to shoot at) and eventually we continued on up the mountain to Crystal Lake.

The first tree has been removed

Today's safety rundown was quick and brief since all of today's volunteers were long-time Trailbuilders. Mike #1 was back for the day after spending over a year volunteering further up North, and Mike #2 was with us, as was Bron, Ben, Jeanette, Vincent, Christopher, Bryan, and myself. Since today's Project Activity Level (PDF file) indicated that we could work until 13:00 with the gasoline powered saws before we must stop using them. (We also routinely examine the general Job Hazard Analysis which volunteers working within this regime often work within, an example of which can be found here (PDF file).)

I used our safety radio to call in to our Angeles Dispatch Overlords who provide radio safety oversight for volunteers, allowing contact with fire fighters, medical rescue, law enforcement, and Forest Service management, letting Dispatch know where we would be and how many of us would be working on the trail.

The last day of effort we had lightening strikes along Mount Waterman and points North which were walking generally South toward us and dumping a lot of water in the region to the point where a flash flood alert was issued by Dispatch. (Staying informed by radio is a major safety aspect of volunteer work.)

We split up along the trail. The sawing teams would need to hike up about 3 miles.

We had three qualified and certified sawers today, Mike #1, Bryan, and myself, and we had three saws, one of them a 12-inch, very light saw that was expected to be used to remove limbs. Each sawyer, however, is required to have a swamper assigned to him or her and since the forward team consisted of Mike, Christopher, Bryan and myself, we could only operate two of the saws.

We hiked up to where we had stopped bucking on the previous day's effort, passing three obstructions along the way that were newly fallen and will need to be removed, eventually. At the first work site we examined the chainsaws and started working on getting them running for the day.

The best-laid plans of mice, as the saying goes... The 12-inch saw's pull-cord handle broke so Bryan had to crack open the saw and fix that. Mike's saw started right up however the third saw took a fair amount of time to get running. Within the first hour of effort, the 12-inch saw's pull-cord snapped and that was the end of that saw's usefulness for the day since new pull-cords are not part of our usual repair packs.

Examining the next cut

Mike and I formed one team with Mike sawing and I swamping. Christopher and Bryan formed the other team with Bryan sawing and Christopher swamping. Both teams had a large medical kit, shovel, fire extinguisher, Kevlar safety chaps, helmets, ear protectors, face guards, fuel, and oil.

The first downed tree was a difficult one, consisting of numerous limbs on a tree about 60 feet long which was laying directly along the trail, and Mike and I worked on that obstruction while the other team headed up the ridge to the next blockage.

While limbing the tree we noticed that the saw was "four stroking," Bryan called it, it was not running correctly in that at high speed the saw's noise had a staccato briiipppp! to it and usually the saws operate without much visible smoke however today we had more smoke than expected.

Regardless, work continued until the tree could be bucked and then shoved off the trail by laying on our backs and shoving with our feet. After cleaning off the trail we packed things up and continued on up the trail.

The other team had managed to clear a very large jumble jack straws pile of trunks, limbs, bark, and brush which I had expected would need half a day to clear but they had managed to remove after about an hour.

13:00 O’clock came too quickly and while we managed to get some major blockages removed, we did not make it to the point where the trail meets the Islip junction, nor did we manage to get to where the trail is obscured enough to warrant flagging the trail.

Then came the need to collect all of the tools strung out along the half mile or so below us. Three chainsaws, two repair kits, lots of bottles of fuel and oil, two medical kits, chaps, helmets, ear protectors, face guards, wedges, shovels, three McLeods an ax, a pickaxe, a heavy rock bar, and various other tools had to be carried down in addition to whatever personal equipment we had (radios, water, and such.)

On the way down we passed Vincent and Mike #2, and because we were pretty heavily loaded down with tools and equipment, they lent a hand, and Mike carried the heaviest saw down the rest of the way -- which was good because I was pretty exhausted by then.

Also along the way we got to see how much of the trail had been re-established and re-worked by the rest of the volunteers today, with large sections of that sharp bush I think is called "Buck Thorn" having been removed in places where hikers had to go around it.

Around 15:30 or so we assembled in the parking lot at the trailhead and took stock of where we were, sorting through the tools and getting an idea of what we might have left up there that will need to be retrieved after the snows melt.

We packed up and headed back down to Rincon where we dropped off our tools and equipment, informed Angeles Dispatch that we were done for the day, and then we were done!

The next volunteer day is 30/October/2010 and it is expected that we might work along Upper Bear Creek Trail with a number of Boy Scouts to see what the condition of the trail is and to make sure that the trail is reasonably safe and useable.

* Ben White gives the morning's safety run-down at the trailhead
* Christopher gets safety equipment in place
* Bryan with the 12-inch chainsaw
* Mike with his safety equipment
* At the first downed tree effort of the day Mike reports on in the radio
* After a considerable amount of limbing on the first downed tree we see progress
* Half of the first tree has been bucked up and removed
* The first project has been completely delimbed and the larger bucking starts
* The first major obstruction has been cleared
* A set of hazard trees are carefully bucked and removed from the trail
* We pause to take stock of the first hazard tree after removal
* Mike and christopher examine the lay of the next downed tree
* Bryan gets safety helmet in place before the next bucking
* After 13:00 we start heading back down the mountain
* Mike at the end of the day complete with fire-resistant clothes

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map

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