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Swamper digs out under the rootball

The sound of dawn breaking accompanied by the patter of rain falling woke me up this morning -- another wonderful day to volunteer maintaining hiking trails in the mountains! Joyness! I threw off my sleeping bag, grabbed my shoes, checked the radios, stuffed everything in my backpack, then noticed it was only 5:00 in the morning and went back to sleep.

The next time dawn breaks, I vowed, I'll check the actual time to see if I can believe it. Eventually the alarm clock spewed its discordant jangle to drill a hole through my head and I bolted upright to slam my clenched fist in to the clock's unyielding plastic face, silencing it now and forever, I think.

Ben from the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders came by to pick Bryan and myself up when the time finally arrived and together we drove to the United States Forest Service wonderfully new Gateway Information Center at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains along Highway 39 to await the gathering of volunteers which would include students from San Antonio College!

Promptly at 8:00 we all climbed aboard our vehicles and headed North on Highway 39 towards the Rincon Fire Station to collect our tools and equipment for today's volunteer effort.

Today we would be clearing downed trees across Windy Gap Trail which meant checking the Project Activity Level to ensure we would be permitted to use the chainsaws as well as the Crosscut Saws.

At Rincon we collected McLeods, loppers, Kevlar safety chaps, hard hats, gloves, and other Personal Protective Equipment, gasoline, chain oil, heavy metal rock bars, tool box for the saws, fire extinguisher, medical trauma kit, shovels, all that happy stuff!

Mt. SAC volunteers work to clear the bucked section

On the radio I checked in with our Los Angeles Dispatch overlords who watch over us when we are in the field to let them know where we would be working. After Angeles confirmed recording where we would be, our Forest Service oversight also checked with me over the radio to confirm our day's effort, perhaps somewhat amused that the Trailbuilders would once again be enjoying the freezing rain, rugged intrepid adventurers that we are who doesn't afraid of a little weather! (note 1)

We then drove further North in to Crystal Lake, through the Deer Flats Group Campground and on to South Mount Hawkins Road and to one of Windy Gap's trailheads where the Big Cienega trailhead also starts. At the trailhead there was a safety meeting covering the day's Job Hazard Analysis where we covered the likely flora and fauna we might encounter which we might wish to avoid, then we hit the trail!

Since this would perhaps be the last day this season we could use the chainsaws on Windy Gap before the snows come and make clearing trees a bit more difficult we attempted to take care of as many dead trees across the trail as possible, volunteers hurrying up the trail to see how many obstructions could be removed as quickly as possible. Since we had 19 volunteers we formed basically two saw teams and crews working the tread of the trail.

We eventually got to a series of three huge trees down across the trail in one area where the circumference of each was at the upper range of what the chainsaw could take care of. While the chainsaw crews worked those three trees, the crosscut saw and tread crews headed further up the mountain where I could hear them working as they worked their way up, the crosscut saw singing and echoing through the canyon.

Here's the thing about the Trailbuilders: "Good enough isn't good enough," if the trail isn't right they'll spend the day making it right. At the point where the three huge trees fell across the trail people and other critters had established a new trail up-slope of the obstructions, and while the new path around the obstruction was steep and could have been left as it was, it wasn't right, and while we could have bypassed the obstructions and gone on ahead to clear others, the chainsaw crews spent the rest of the day fixing this one area.

Mt. SAC volunteers clear obstructions and work the tread

While the sawyer looked over how to clear the first obstruction the other volunteers blocked off the temporary trail using tree bark, branches, rocks and other debris while uprooting plants along the actual trail to re-establish it right up to the blockage, making comfortable standing places for the sawyer. Eventually the saw got to work bucking up the tree carefully.

The first obstruction was a very difficult one for a number of reasons. Not only were each section very heavy but the up-slope section consisted of a major rootball which affords difficulties that trunks do not in that there are often rocks embedded in the rootball and the rootball is usually much wider than the trunk which grows from it which makes using any kind of saw on the rootball impossible, not unless you wish to sacrifice a chain or your crosscut's teeth on the problem as they dig through the embedded rock and dirt.

After the first obstruction was bucked, it was left alone to await the metal rock bars for removal and then the next two were bucked and removed from the trail, then the first obstruction was worked in an effort to remove it from the trail. This is where the chainsaw crews stalled on the trail for the rest of the day.

The college students were awesome in that they took to the day's cold, wet adventure with enthusiasm, working the tread and removing bucked-up tree sections with dedication that was wonderful to see. Mount San Antonio College has previously sent a number of groups of volunteers to the Trailbuilders for working in the mountains and always without exception their students have been willing and able to work in weather, some times to exhaustion, and they've always done so without complaints and enjoyed the exercise.

I think it's a testament to the College's professors, instructors, and extra-curriculum coordinators that the student crews work very hard, with a will and dedication while enjoying the day in the mountains, despite the heat, wet, or cold. You see in these young people a drive for success, a willingness to learn and to lend a hand, to ask questions and to figure things out for themselves. The Trailbuilders have talked about Mount SAC students being awesome before, and today was another good day.

Eventually the crosscut crews returned down the mountain to where the chainsaw crews were still struggling with the first massive downed tree which we had managed to move around safely but still had not managed to remove from the trail. The tread had been fully restored so all that remained was three massive bucked sections to remove. All volunteers then joined the effort to chip away at the rootball and -- finally! -- to remove it from the trail.

Mt. SAC volunteers remove debris from Sutter Wall

Once the rootball was removed, the two remaining sections were removed quickly, the tread under the last cleared obstruction was cleaned up, then we all stood in the freezing rain and decided it was time to head back down to the warmth of the cars.

At the trailhead we collected our tools, made sure that we had not left anyone standing frozen on the trail, then we headed to the main parking lot where some of us had awesome homemade chili beans and coffee at Adam' s cafe to warm up a bit before headed back down to Rincon to examine and store our tools and equipment. After informing our Angeles Dispatch overlords that we were through for the day, we headed back down the mountain, leaving the fog and rain behind.

And what great fun it was, too! We found some of the Sutter Walls along the trail had been damaged however Mt. SAC volunteers cleared the debris behind the walls so that eventually we can come up, retrieve the walls, repair them, and restore them. A whole lot of work got done today, and any day spent in the mountains is a good one.

(note 1) Yes, I know, "doesn't afraid of" isn't proper Queen's English, it's an Internet meme! Look it up.

Angeles National Forest.

* We gather our equipment at the Rincon Fire Station
* Chainsaw crews working the first obstruction across the trail
* The trail is supposed to go through here however that tree blocks the trail
* This temporary trail works around the obstruction. We much block this off
* Bron watches safety oversight and swamps for Tom as Tom saws slowly and carefully
* Lou and other volunteers work on re-establishing the actual trail tread
* The obstruction lay of the land and suggested cuts continue to be discussed
* Swamper clear out from under the rootball
* Mt. SAC volunteers work to move bucked section off of the trail with rock bars
* The rootball continues to be a difficult problem and refuses to move
* The next obstruction fell across a Sutter Wall which survived just fine
* Volunteers return to the rootball problem
* Trailbuilder Bryan takes a nap in the rain during lunch break
* Further up the trail Mount SAC volunteers clear obstructions and work the tread
* Volunteers removiung debris from behind a Sutter Wall which was damaged
* Back at the rootball, all volunteers lend a hand trying to remove this
* Some of the tools get collected and some volunteers head to th trailhead
* The sawyer and swampers slowly chip away at the rootball
* The fog and rain sweep through getting heavier as it gets colder
* Working in the fog on the mountain is an awesome experience
* The final obstruction is removed! And a very good work day it was

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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