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Photographs are provided at the bottom of this web page. Video of the photographs as well as videos of the tree cuttings are also provided.

28/Jul/07:

Mount Waterman Project

28/Jul/07 -- Mount Waterman, Twin Peaks, Three Points, Buckhorn

"Only the strong will survive."

July 28th, First Day

Saturday was July 28th, the start of the trail clearing project which quickly became known as "The Ordeal." Those of us who lived had fun, I should note since it's possible that prospective volunteers reading this write-up might be contemplating joining us some time in the future. And since we all survived, we all had fun.

Saturday began like so many others: A restless night spent dozing off and on, coming fully awake at Sunrise with the renewed realization that life from now on can't be expected to get any better. When I had achieved the age of 40 such mornings culminated in distressed screams upon waking however now, six years later, I'm down to the audible groans to greet the rising Sun.

I stumbled from one wall to the next, managed to get my computer turned on and searching for email, then I started throwing things into my old canvas backpack, topping it off with a laptop computer and a video camera (actually a web camera, suitable for indoor light only but modified with a lens from my sunglasses.)

The instant I finished responding to email and cinching up the last rope strap on my backpack, Mike drove up and we piled my backpack on top of his forest tools and I crammed myself into the passenger seat of his car, sitting next to his six foot long crosscut saw. With Benny Goodman and a whole slew of really old dead guys coming from the speakers, we took a short drive to the meeting place.

At the meeting place there waiting for us was Ben and Janette (I can never get her name spelled properly, even after being told how it's done a dozen times.) Brad and another volunteer met us and promptly at 8:00 a.m. we left the meeting place and drove up to the Rincon Fire Station of the San Gabriel River Ranger District of the Angeles National Forest along Highway 39 (also known as Azusa Blvd. also known as San Gabriel Canyon.)

At Rincon we met Tom, John, Larry and Dan, and together we numbered ten. We would lose Ben and Janette later on but we would gain Phil for a grand total of nine crew working this week end -- and what a week end it was!

From Rincon (after acquiring the special permits that were needed) Mike officially logged us in to the Forest Service roster of volunteers and USFS employees working on the project and then we headed North toward Crystal Lake, past Crystal Lake, along the section of Highway 39 that remains closed (due to parts of the highway having slid into the canyons below) and up on to Highway 2 -- Angeles Crest Highway -- which is also closed due to parts of the highway missing.

From there we headed approximately West toward where we would enter into the Mount Waterman hiking trail and the beginning of The Ordeal.

Those of you who might know a little about me know that I like low technology in favor of high technology, and my backpack of choice is no different: Old when it was bought second hand in the mid 1970's, the backpack became even more the worse for wear after being slit open lengthwise by a bear up at Crystal Lake when there were a bunch of Boy Scouts up there cooking hot-dogs one night. Argh!

Because my pack is old technology and the straps are macramé (which I did myself with green twine) Ben suggested that I might live to see the project through to its end if I were to strap my old back to one of his organization's cargo packs. That turned out to be a very good idea since without a doubt I wouldn't have made it with my narrow, flesh-eating macramé straps.

Mount Waterman Project

Two weeks ago we had squirreled away 10.5 gallons of drinking water up at the base of Twin Peaks on the saddle, and because of the heat and the effort we would be putting in this week end, we knew that we would need all the water we could get.

Because of this some Sierra Club members carried up at least 16 bottles of drinking water and left it at the Mount Waterman / Twin Peaks trail split with a sign letting other hikers know they should leave it alone.

In addition to all that water we each had brought what we hoped was enough water for two days of heat and fortunately, accounting for all the water that we ended up using during the two days, we all had plenty and most had a container of water left over when we finished the effort and hiked back down to the Buckhorn trailhead.

Whew! And I think it was a close thing, too, since another two hours in the heat might have drained us dry of drinking water. (Actually we would have cut the second day short had we seen we wouldn't have enough water to see the project through to completion.)

Since we started with 8 people -- six volunteers, two USFS people -- we broke into two teams, each with a crosscut saw, and each with wedges, ax, shovel, and whatever else is needed for this kind of work. Since I knew that Mike would be on the largest downed tree across the hiking trail (twice across the trail since it fell on a switchback) and since I knew that would be the most technically challenging bucking, I asked to join Mike's team.

Team A -- the higher quality, most excellent, better looking team members team -- consisted of myself, Mike, Tom, and Dan. Team B -- the lower quality, less handsome team -- consisted of John, Larry, Brad, and the younger volunteer -- the guy who runs six miles every day regardless of the weather. Later on in the first day Phil would join the A team (though he's not nearly as pretty as the rest of us in A team to officially qualify.)

At the trailhead Mike went carefully through the Job Hazard Analysis evaluation and all workers stepped through it and commented on the aspects of the JHA. When that was completed we shouldered our equipment, picked up tools that we would hand carry into the wilderness, then we started up toward Mount Waterman.

It's not a difficult hike up to Mount Waterman, and it's not that difficult to get to Twin Peaks and from there up to Three Points. Carrying tree bucking equipment makes the effort difficult, and doing it in hot weather makes the effort fairly brutal.

As it was I was fairly lightly loaded. In addition to my camping equipment, food, enough water to drown cats in, a laptop computer, a video camera, and my book to read at night, I got a two edged ax which I really enjoyed carrying (since my bright yellow safety hat and the double bladed ax upped my overall manliness considerably!) and I got the long-handled shovel to carry in my hands.

Mike was carting up about twice the weight I was porting, and he also had a Forest Service radio pinned to his chest -- along with a GPS receiver, FAX machine, and some other unidentifiable bit of electronics I didn't inquire about.

Mount Waterman Project

At the first downed tree the group split into our two teams, the team I was on continuing on up the trail and the other team stopping to take out that first tree that needed to be removed.

The hike to our team's first effort wasn't a difficult one despite adding more water to everyone's backpacks once we made it to the water bottles that the Sierra Club members had stashed for us. Along the way, incidentally, we talked with many hikers, all of which thanked us greatly for our efforts -- the efforts done this week end as well as all the countless hours we and other volunteers have done in the past.

Hikers love us!

The first large tree was, as I said, a technically difficult one. Tom is very good at these things -- he's got an engineering talent -- and Mike has a lot of experience with the crosscut saw and with bucking difficult trees. (Mike was responsible for our safety and John was responsible for our health AND safety -- the USFS works glove-in-glove with its volunteers ad safety is the top priority.)

The first thing that everyone agreed upon was to swamp out the bark, branches, and other debris surrounding the area so that we would have a safe working environment. The sawers made sure that they had escape routes away from the tree that they are cutting, and they constantly made sure that their escape path was kept free from people standing in the way in case they needed to walk quickly away from the tree.

The second thing we did was to remove all of the branches from the sections of the downed tree that we would be removing. Removing the limbs is a safety issue however doing so makes it easy to roll the bucked log off of the trail. Removing the branches took a great deal of time.

There's a great deal of discussion about the tree to be bucked, how it lays, and the general lay of the land. We also discuss possible circumstances which might occur, such as hikers coming from either direction so that we know in advance what to do and how to handle anything that might crop up during the cut (this was important because on the second day we did get some hikers at a critical point.)

Safety. That's the word that matters on these things. Cutting apart downed trees isn't something that's totally without risks. Even when the tree is laying flat on the ground, using a six or seven foot long saw comes with a certain amount of risks. When the tree is on a hillside supported in a number of places, sagging or otherwise binding in other places, the risks increase -- so safety is a big issue on these kinds of efforts.

The actual cutting took time however a great deal of time is spent evaluating the task, progressing for a bit, and then stepping back to re-evaluate the task again to see if anything has changed and to see if any new approach should be discussed.

The final part of the bucking effort consisted of placing the first cut on the tree up on the high point above the upper trail section. This cut started out with a great deal of rotting wood and bark removed such that when all was done, we had about three feet to get through. When the first cut was completed, overall the lower section of the tree moved perhaps a quarter of an inch -- it turned out to be a highly skillful cut, aided greatly by the removal of the limbs and ground cover.

Mount Waterman Project

The second cut was a bit more complicated since the wood was harder and it involved a bit of a compound cut. We wanted the section that dropped to pivot a number of degrees while dropping and to side roll a bit as it did so. In the video of the first section dropping out we see it worked perfectly: one last draw on the crosscut, noise from the holding wood fiber separating, the sawyer gets time to step back, and the section drops and rolls about four feet, perfectly aligned to be shoved off the trail and over the side.

With the successful bucking of the first section of the downed tree, we looked at what had been done and we decided to not start the third cut which would clear the lower section of the hiking trail. The amount of time we had spent sawing and cleaning the ground already was enough. Coupled to the hike we had done, we decided we would do the smart, safe thing and finish the tree in the morning.

We hiked to the Twin Peaks saddle and all nine of us went off into our own separate directions from there. Tom and I stayed on the saddle and we got to listen to a tree fracture, splinter, and then fall about 100 feet or so from us just as it started getting dark and the Moon hadn't risen yet (the JHA specifically mentioned not sleeping under hazardous trees, by the way. We slept out in the open on the saddle.)

Most of the other workers went either up to the top of Twin Peaks or to the helicopter landing pad however I decided that the additional half mile hike there and back would kill me so I dropped my stuff there on the saddle, stumbled around on sore feet, and had dinner -- crackers, mustard and green olive sandwiches, and Good N Plenty candy -- with about a half gallon of water!

You would think that all the exhaustion would have led us all to sleep well. I don't think any of us did. There were flies bothering most of us -- only Tom had brought a netting to keep the flies away. I don't know if anyone brought a tent but I don't think anyone did since we were already loaded down enough with the weight of our tools and stuff.

So the only way to sleep was to cover our faces with shirts, sleeping bags, and other hot, stifling things, just to keep the flies off. I found that I could cover myself with my sleeping bag and prop the unzipped side open on my removed boots so that I got cool air and the flies rarely learned to fly under the sleeping bag flap to try to suck my blood. It was still a fitful, dozing kind of rest that rarely got to the actual sleeping point.

While lying there out in the open I could watch the bats swoop around in the twilight and the gathering dark. The night sky was filled with them, swift creatures darting in pseudo-random vectors seemingly burning up their delta-vee in pursuit of acrobatic fun. Instead they were hunting the insects and, since I was becoming murderous thanks to the endless annoyance of the flies, I welcomed the air show.

Since it was extremely silent most of the time (with only the wind and high-flying jet aircraft occasionally rising above a whisper) I was able to listen to the bats echo-locate their insect meals. individual bats in my hearing range used two distinct frequencies of sonar but within those two frequencies the individual bats pulsed at differing rates.

As a bat swooped and dove hunting its dinner, it would echo range its surroundings with a constant rate of pings, disappearing into the dark if it didn't find anything nearby. When a bat found something close, it would increase or decreases the rate at which it issued its pings and I could watch it home in on an insect as it did so. Once the bat acquired its meal it would resume its trolling rate of ping.

Mount Waterman Project

When a bat encountered something larger than its dinner -- another bat or a Good N Plenty -- it would alter its ping rate for a moment and then it would dodge away and resume its normal trolling ping rate until it found something small enough that would be worth eating.

The air show was a good one. The acrobatics would have made Russian jet pilots turn white with fright. And to my left, King Jupiter rose above the horizon, followed by his mistress, the Moon. As evening drew on and I could not sleep, high clouds moved in from the North East and turned the ground below dark once again. A wind kicked up and high above me the clouds started breaking up, turning the ground below into a patchwork of brilliantly lit splotches surrounded by pitch dark.

I prefer the dark and the quiet.

Did I mention the aches and pains? The blisters? Did I mention the Sunburn? I recall mentioning the inability to sleep the previous night and the difficulty sleeping this night, but I don't recall saying much about how deleterious the day had been to my general, overall health. An accurate assessment was made as I lay there and (an hour past midnight) I realized that I felt damned good! Day one had been successful and nobody had gotten the least bit hurt. With that realization -- and with my sleeping bag over my head -- I got a few hours of fitful sleep.

July 29th, Second Day

There was no point in knowing what time it was when I woke up, and in fact I don't wear a watch since time is in any event an illusion, something that is equated to money, and since we're volunteers who aren't paid, the money equaled zero and thus the time was likewise unimportant. Time only becomes an issue when we start to run out of it so whatever time it was, we got up in time.

Um, also we don't wear watches, rings, or anything else like that on these projects since such things can get caught in our tools. And that's a Bad Thing.

I got my backpack lowered from the tree that I had hung it in since the bears around these parts like to shred things -- including people who they suspect might be holding something tasty. I topped off my water container and strapped a gallon container from our stash to the top of my borrowed cargo pack, then I left the saddle and headed toward the work site.

When I got to the tree to start the second day, I got there ahead of everyone else enough for me to take a little walk around the place. A side trail that leads from the switchback we were clearing down to the bottom of a ravine that normally carries water held some promise however I found the ravine to be utterly dry. Had there been any water at all I would have afforded myself a cool bath, scrubbing off the encrusted dirt and dried blood and snot (okay, so I'm not nearly as pretty as I like to claim I am.)

Since the place was dry I sat on the shaded trail sideways, dangled my legs off the trail and out into space, leaned back against the hillside, covered my face with my old leather hat, and tried to sleep before the rest of the crews resumed work.

The third cut was started and the other team headed toward Three Points where six or seven other downed trees were across the trail. The third cut on the big tree that we bucked was done slowly and with extreme caution.

The two-handed crosscut saw was used until there was about four inches of holding wood, and then one handle was removed from the saw and the cut continued with one sawyer. A tie wedge was hammered across the cut to hold the bucked section in place in case any side bind was present and the cut continued.

Mount Waterman Project

Three wedges were used while the cut progressed until at the very end the saw was removed and the wedges were hit with a hammer, then the sawyer stood back, waited, watched and listened, and then hammered again. With a whack of the hammer we got noise from the holding wood and some movement.

The sawyer stepped back, waited, checked the position of all the other workers once again, and then stepped forward to strike a wedge once last time. With the final whack the holding wood parted and the final section of the big bucking dropped away -- exactly where and how it had been predicted. Success! Damn! We are good!

Dan did most of the finishing trail restoration work after the bucked section had been shoved off of the trail, using a McLoude tool. At the end the switchback looked great!

After packing up the tools and calling the other team on the radio, we headed toward the other team, met up with them at a downed tree across the trail that they were working on, then we passed them to work on the next downed tree in line. We leap-frogged each other until all but the very last tree was removed from the trail (the last one is something that people just step over but John and Larry will return to remove it later.)

At one large tree -- about two or two and a half feet wide -- we had some difficulty in that we appeared to have top bind AND bottom bind. The saw was pinched regardless of whether we worked from the top of the tree or from the bottom so it was giving us difficulty.

Phil suggested that we cut the hillside side of the tree first, dig out the dirt from under that section, then sit on the section so that the top bind on the lower part of the tree would be removed. The second cut would go slowly enough so that everyone could vacate the tree once the sawyer got to the single-bucking point.

This worked well. After making the first cut on the other side we tried to top cut, found we still had a problem, remove a supporting branch from the bottom, found we still had a problem, tested under bucking from the bottom up, found that slow and exhausting, then we dug out the dirt and sat on the tree, allowing the second cut to be made from the top.

A metal wedge followed by a rolling wedge kept the cut open and eventually the people sitting on the log could leave.

About two inches of holding wood remained when three hikers approached my side of the log (the same side that Mike the sawyer at the time was on.) We had discussed this eventuality and we asked the hikers to pause a moment since we were at a critical, unsafe-for-hikers point in the cut. The sawyer and the rest of us continued the effort and watched to make sure the hikers didn't approach.

About half a minute of more sawing and the section of the tree dropped. Some shoves and the bucked section was rolled off of the trail -- and we got some welcomed thanks from the hikers who continued on toward Buckhorn.

Eventually all of the downed trees on the schedule got bucked up, including two trees that weren't on the schedule but needed to be moved just because we were already in the field. All nine members gathered and then we started the virtual Death March back to the paved highway some three or so miles away.

I called it the "Death March Segment" since that section of the trail crosses over exposed San Gabriel Granite rock and given the 100 plus heat, some areas were kind of like a furnace. One section that we crossed, by the way, was a meadow complete with dense grass and ferns.

Mount Waterman Project

Water seeping from the hillside under ground waters a large and spread area so there's a micro ecology stuck in the middle of the trail that is completely unique from all the rest of the trail. Trees grow above the grassy ferns and, in fact, the trail itself at times disappeared under the growth. It was the perfect place for me to pitch my tent in the cool shade, far from other humans, emerging from time to time to demand water from any hiker who might come within range.

It was during the Death March that the blisters on my left foot all kind of merged together and, ironically, that made each step more comfortable than they had been back when there were several smaller blisters. Disgusting, ain't it? Toss in a nose-bleed from the heat and exercise (which several people pointed out to me) and you get a better idea of how it was.

Um, actually I like to lie a lot -- or at least try to make things sound more exciting than they actually were. A quick nose-bleed, one major blister, exhaustion, and Sunburn was actually extremely fun.

We should do this every week end.

Larry, the six-mile-a-day-runner, and I think one or two other volunteers exited the trail at the Buckhorn trailhead, followed by John and myself which paused at times to try to locate some major asshole who was shooting a firearm somewhere in the forest.

Hitting the flat paved road with all of our gear was kind of strange. Sailors being at sea for any length of time might hit land and find it just as strange. The feet get used to being cantered a bit to the left to brace against the slight slope of the hiking trail that allows water to roll off of it and when getting to flat land, the inclination toward resisting the slight leftward-leaning list translates into mild vertigo.

Some how we had humped the Death March quickly enough that we were about an hour early ahead of Ben and Jeanette who eventually arrived to take us back down to Rincon. At Rincon Tom replaced a flat tire on his vehicle, the tools were put away (after being inspected) and then we headed back down the mountain. One broken two-edged ax was left for Ben to repair.

We should do this again. It's not something we should do every week end or once a month, but it's something we should do maybe four times a year. Smaller, less difficult tree removal projects are done all year around, of course, but they are half-day or one-day projects and they're usually on trails which are short and thus don't acquire a great deal of hiking with tools and water to get to before the work can be done. Also we usually use gasoline powered chainsaws when we're not working in the designated wilderness.

These efforts are vital, however. Hiking trails are used frequently, some getting large numbers of hikers, and hiking trails are greatly appreciated. When a downed tree alters a trail and people walk around, they'll create a trail which may not be exactly safe and which may cause unacceptable erosion. Many times people will climb over or under a tree and that also conveys a certain amount of hazard to the hiker.

Tree removal is a constant need and the people who use such hiking trails really do appreciate the effort that volunteers and United States Forest Service workers put forward to re-open trails and to keep trails reasonably safe and open.

Mount Waterman Project

On the flip side I find myself extremely privileged to volunteer and work with such super people. I've said it again and I'll always keep saying it: The San Gabriel River Ranger District Forest Service people are the BEST USFS people anywhere in the United States, and the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders volunteers who join forces with the USFS so often are without question California's premier trail building and restoration organization -- bar none!

This effort was a blast. It was fun, it was difficult, and it certainly stretched me to my limits -- and beyond. I'm looking forward to the next project -- hopefully after my feet have had time to recover.

If you think you might like to get involved in something like this, you can contact Lois Pickens (USFS) Volunteer Coordinator (among other things!) at the San Gabriel River Ranger District Headquarters in Glendora, California, or you may contact the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, both organizations which can be located by performing a Google search.

I can't guarantee you that you'll have fun, but I can guarantee you that you'll get experience and exercise. Oh man and how.

Still Photographs

* Looking around the Rincon Fire Station area
* Looking around the Rincon Fire Station area again
* Looking around the Rincon Fire Station one last time
* Mike gets us through the Forest Service gate
* At the Mount Waterman Trailhead we assemble our tools
* Larry the USFS guy who works REALLY hard
* Brad, Tom, and Mike
* John and the USFS Jeep that I want to steal
* A look from the trailhead across the highway before the safety meeting
* We ste through the JHA one item at a time, focus is on safety
* Here is everyone at the Job Hazard Analysis going through the assessment
* Hikers continually use this trail up to Mount Waterman
* It's time to get the tools distributed and packed up
* On the start of the Mount Waterman trail
* And another look along the trail. Camera in one hand, shovel in the other
* A look into the wilderness from the hiking trail
* The trail is in really good shape all along its many miles
* The forest appears to be healthy and managing in the rainless heat
* We pause along the way from time to time because of the heat
* We get to our first tree -- the major tree cutting effort
* The limbs get removed and the ground around the tree gets cleared
* Note the slope of the tree that we will be bucking
* Limbs are removed with ax and crosscut saw -- as well as with a hammer
* Here is the first section removed and the ground not yet cleaned up
* This is the second section of the trail that still needs to be cleared
* On the hike from the work site to Twin Peaks saddle
* Tom fixes a hot Ready To Eat (MRE) meal of some rotting animal at the saddle
* The second day back at the big tree we roll away the second buck
* More of us get involved in rolling away the second bucked section
* And the trail has been cleared! Success
* Dan takes notes of some kind from time to time along the trail
* We head off to other trees that need to be cut up and removed
* Another tree that needs to be removed from the trail
* As I recall, this downed tree took one cut and then a lot of shoving
* Same tree, I believe, with limbs removed
* This tree was cleaned up and removed by the other team of sawyers
* The other team had a lot of branches to remove first
* A look around as we hike to the next tree to be removed
* The next tree to be cut up and moved off of the hiking trail
* Another look around the area while we hike to the next tree
* I think that the other team took care of this downed tree
* And another look at a tree being cut apart
* After a tree gets removed, the trail around the area gets cleaned up
* Laugh! John poses for the camera at a difficult tree
* A close up of the six foot long crosscut saw. Note the safety gear
* Further up the trail after the difficult tree was finally cleared up
* And that was the last tree in our schedule so we start to head down
* At the trailhead we wait for Ban to come pick us up

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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