Hiking up to the blast site

We're finished! Well mostly. The 68-foot-wide blast area on Upper Bear Creek Trail has been completely fixed and it looks great. We will need to see what the High Country Riders horsemen have to say about the trail section, but for now the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders and the many helpful volunteers who have been working on this trail section can focus on other things.

Today we had 19 volunteers though when I called us in on Dispatch over the radio I reported 21 of us since I can't count that high with my shoes on. To be fair, Trailbuilder Bron is big enough for two so I was only off by one and some times we lose Boy Scouts and such in the wilderness so at the end of the year the overall volunteer count just sort of evens itself out anyway.

And what a wonderful day it was, too! Bee attacks, poison oak, sunstroke, and exhaustion! Oh man, sure beats relaxing in front of FOX News with a bottle of Jack Daniels in the morning, don't it?

The first two miles of the trail was on the agenda for today, and of course the last bit of work needed on the blast site's trail section was needing done today. Two weeks ago I looked at three areas where tree limbs were on the trail past the blast site heading up to Smith Mountain Saddle so those were also on today's schedule to take care of.

Hiking up to the blast site

The volunteers left the Gateway Information Center (Highway 39 at the base of the mountain at Mile Post 17) sharply at 8:00 a.m. and headed up to the Rincon Fire Station about 12 miles North of Gateway. There we collected tools and equipment, gathered some cargo packs to assist in carrying tools down, then we headed to the Valley of the Moon and the trailhead.

Right now Caltrans still has the highway close at around Mile Post 30, bless their mechanized hearts, so we had to get through their gate and drive another 3 miles to the Valley of the Moon and the Upper Bear Creek Trail trailhead.

Now interestingly enough the barricades and warning signs cautioning people not to use the trail past the blast site had been removed and piled up on the side of the trailhead. There's no way of telling whether the United States Forest Service did that or whether a hiker coming up from West Fork Road hiking the 11 mile trail end-to-end removed the signs and such, yet in my humble opinion it's just as well since that gap that closed the trail has been fixed.

We got our tools sorted out and while Ben was giving the safety rundown covering the tools, flora, and fauna that might be safety hazards, I took one of the cargo packs and strapped a chainsaw to it along with kevlar safety chaps, hard hat, ear protectors, goggles, face shield, and my own backpack to the cargo pack, then while the safety review was still going, I headed slowly up the trail.

Hiking up to the blast site

I know, those of us who skip safety meetings are the first to die. To be honest, nobody ever said I was very bright other than my mother who was biased since I was always her favorite.

The blast site is around 2.25 miles up, yet the first mile is fairly steep and we gain a lot of altitude in that first mile. My first chainsaw site was about 2.5 miles up and the second projected chainsaw site was just short of the Saddle. Despite having hit the trail ahead of the others, many of them passed me on the way up, prompting the urge to trip them on the way past, an urge that I thankfully suppressed though it was a heroic effort!

Upon getting to the blast site I found that the volunteers had already checked out the site and were getting out their tools. I got some video of the condition of the trail as I walked past it on the way up to the first chainsaw site, and to me even before this last day of repair it looked like the tread was already perfect.

That trail section originally started out as a 12-foot-long gap in the trail which was very dangerous to cross, needing safety rope tied in to the fractured granite to safely cross it. A whole lot of volunteer work went in to that spot with horses, explosives, and a ton of sweat and hard work which turned the section in to a 68-foot-long and very wide and safe section.

Hiking up to the blast site

If a paid contractor had been asked to come up and repair that, figure the number of hours, equipment, and materials that went in to repairing that gap and the expense would have been many thousands of dollars. Instead volunteers who love the opportunity to get out in to the forest to hike and get exercise were able to repair the gap for a fraction of the cost to the USFS and ultimately to the beleaguered tax payer.

A win for everybody! And there is a warm and fuzzy sense of accomplishment for trail volunteers to look back at the tread they cleared and the brush they cut back at the end of the day, going home and returning to work on Monday, carrying some measure of pride with them for a while.

Upon getting to the first chainsaw site I set all of the protective clothing and equipment in place and fired up the new 18 inch chainsaw. This is the first time that the saw was to be used and though it had been run for a minute or so about three months ago, it had never been used before today.

Joyness ensued when that puppy fired right up on the third pull. I climbed up the hillside a ways to start cutting from the top down, removing all of the burnt and split tree trunk from where it had grown, not just removing the limbs that were encroaching on the trail. Cutting further back and proactively taking care of problems means we don't have to come back in six months and do it over again.

The new saw cut through the old dry tree limbs like butter and it was zip zip zip and I was done. It took more time to gather up the sectioned remains and remove them from the trail than it did to cut them up.

Hiking up to the blast site

Everything got strapped up to the cargo pack once again and I hiked up to the second chainsaw site. Three things needed to be done there and the first one took three quick and easy cuts, the weight of the saw itself enough to cut through without having to press down on the blade.

Curiously the second downed trunks to take care of was a pair of trunks that the Trailbuilders had cut and removed from the trail in previous years. The trunks lay in a ravine so over the years as the trunks slowly slide down their ends encroached further and further on to the trail.

The Trailbuilders always like to proactively cut back things so when they orignially cut that up they must have climbed up the ravine a long way to section it up. Still, as those trunks continue to slide their way down over the years they eventually start to re-encroach on the trail.

I got the first trunk removed no problem, but on the second trunk the chainsaw started getting caught in the curf. Since there was no top bind that didn't make any sense to me at all. There were a lot of ants disturbed by the saw boiling out of the wood but they weren't clogging up the works, the poor things, they were too busy running for their lives.

Eventually the chain just stopped running though the engine was screaming along without problems. Turning off the thing I noticed that the blade wasn't particularly hot and in fact the chainsaw itself wasn't hot except for the spark arrestor which smoked my gloves when I touched it.

It didn't take long to locate the problem: Burs had formed on four of the runners that travel inside the grove along the edge of the blade so the burs were keeping the chain from traveling. Attempts to force the sprocket to drive the burs through the blade rail only made the problem worse.

Well that was it for the chainsaw today. Lacking a metal file I couldn't remove the bur and continue. I thought about giving the chainsaw a good cussing, maybe stomping around in anger and annoyance and things but if I did I would really be cussing my own lack of foresight since it wasn't anybody's fault but my own -- and certainly not the chainsaw's fault which did its job.

Using a wedge and a rock I finished splitting the twin trunks and got that off the trail but that left the last major downfall 40 feet away which still needed to be removed.

I was going to leave it and see if someone had a metal file back down at the blast site but instead I started breaking off limbs from the last clump of limbs in the trail. That actually worked very well, I got all but two limbs removed just by grabbing hold and pulling them until they shattered.

Hiking up to the blast site

That left two limbs still in the trail and a lot of boysenberry or raspberry or blackberry (I couldn't decide which it was) left growing on the trail. While digging out the branches and rocks under the plant I got attacked by a bee that would not go away.

I took off my bright yellow hard hat and dropped it since we were trained to see if the bee or hornet is after it instead of the human under it, but the bee kept diving after me. I flapped my arms and ran up the trail screaming like a little girl but the bee kept after me.

When I stopped and continued to waved my arms I watched the bee zoom in to my face at high speed and as I moved to slap it I got stung just before I killed it.

It's a damn shame I didn't have a video camera running. It would have been great seeing such a rugged, macho manly man flapping around screaming and when stung standing there scraping at his face yelling, "Ow! Ow! Shit ow!" Yeah, great fun!

Poison oak and then bees. I'm putting in for my Trailbuilder Purple Heart.

Hiking back down to where the volunteers were working on the tread I got to see how much progress they had made. Several of the areas where the trail had virtually disappeared had been restored and a rock retaining wall going up was almost completed and looked wonderful. Nobody there had a metal file so I continued on down to the blast site.

At the blast site George and Vincent said they would go back up to the downed tree site and see about hand sawing it apart to remove it from the trail. Leaving the chainsaw and cargo back behind we went back up and, while watching for bees, George got the two limbs removed and George and Vincent dragged the trunk down off the hillside and off the trail.

Chainsaw missions accomplished!

While many of the volunteers headed up to Smith Mountain Saddle to take a look at the Designated Wilderness, I returned to the blast site and got the cargo pack loaded up again, adding a Polaski to the pack. Bron and I were pretty heavily loaded so we worked our way back down the trail fairly slowly -- no point in humping it at full speed since we would have to wait for the Saddle-viewers to come down anyway.

Along the way we passed the work sites that the tread working volunteers had cleaned up and once again I was impressed with how much work volunteers can do when they jump in to it. A whole lot of berm along long sections of the trail had been knocked off, allowing water to flow off of the trail. Rocks and thousands of pounds of dirt had been removed at some of the worse places.

Along the way Bron picked up a very heavy piece of rusted metal junk that should have been hauled away a long time ago (which should have been hauled out by the paid contractor who worked up there five years ago, in fact) and carried it the rest of the way out of the canyons, another good deed for the day!

Reaching flat land once again and dropping the cargo pack I contemplated which body part ached the most, my knees, my neck, my back, my headache, or perhaps my feet which I really couldn't feel any more any way.

In the end I stood there lusting at the tractor skip loader in the parking lot, wishing it was unlocked with the key in the ignition so I could steal that bad boy and claim it as fair salvage for the Trailbuilders. All it takes is a band of red paint around the climbing-aboard handle and it would have belonged to the Trailbuilders, all nice and legal.

After everyone got back to the trailhead we packed up and started heading down the mountain, some of us returning to the Fire Station, some of us heading straight down to the cities below. I informed our Dispatch that all 21 of us (ahem) were safely out of service and we were done for the day.

Photographs! We have them!

* Things are in fog right now but we will climb above it
* The Gateway Information Center where the Trailbuilders meet
* Other volunteers in the Angeles National Forest getting an early start
* At the Rincon Fire Station we go through the tools and equipment to bring up
* We have packed up and are going to start heading to the trailhead
* Matt and Will are volunteering today once again
* Wayne is on the move -- he's always blury!
* Staging up at the Vally of the Moon. Nice tractor! I'm going to steal it!
* Ben goes through the safety rundown for the day's activities
* Looking down at the safety meeting. Definately going to steal the tractor!
* At the blast site I take a look at the stream I cleaned out -- poison oak!
* Before disappearing around the ben I take a look at the distant highway
* The first set of tree branches clogging up the trail
* The second set of trunks that need to be cut and removed
* The blast site: Looks good to me!
* The view generally South from the blast site
* The blast site: View from the other end also looks good
* We collect the tools and get ready to pack them out
* Tools on the trail -- I love this job!

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