Rudy examines double down blockage

Saturday morning was another early volunteer day, and Bryan and I were up before the alarm clock awoke so that we could get packed and be ready for Ben to drive up and carry us off in to the mountains for another wonderful day of clearing hiking trails in the Angeles National Forest.

Today we cleared Half Knob Nature Trail, a fairly short trail of about half a mile which forms a look, both trail heads appearing along the main paved road leaving to the U. S. Forest Service Visitor Center within the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

And what fun it was, too! We met at the Gateway Information Center at the bottom of the mountain, and promptly at 8:00 we sorted out the vehicles we would take, climbed aboard, then headed 13 miles North on Highway 39 to the Rincon Fire Station where we collected tools and equipment then headed further North in to Crystal Lake.

Along the way we encountered a baby deer standing on the road which walked toward our slowed vehicles for a bit and then turned and climbed the hillside and out of view. We say that Caltrans had relocated their gate from mile post 29.67 to around mile post 32, the new gate position being at the Valley of the Moon which affords easy hiking access to Upper Bear Creek Trail.

Crosscut saw! Awesome!

Lots of things were in bloom with huge yucca blooms spiking the mountain sides, lush poison oak enjoying the sunlight, everything growing green with red, yellow, blue, violet, and orange busting out everywhere. Snakes were also out in large numbers.

Jeanette, Katrina, Mike, Rudy, Lou , Victor, Ben, Bryan, Bernie, and myself -- that made ten of us yet somehow I managed to get the count wrong. It took a lot of effort to try to contact our Dispatch Overlords to report the location where we would be working until I eventually tried a different radio, and then when I contacted Dispatch, I said there were only 9 of us.

Ah well. Whatever our actual numbers were, the day's team was awesome. From one end to the other the entire trail got cleared of downed trees, limbs, and brush, and sections of the trail – particularly one of the trail heads -- received tread work which helped to ensure trail definition.

Two chainsaws were brought up, complete with fire extinguishers, hard hats, goggles, face masks, ear protestors, and brand new 10-layer Kevlar protective chaps, an extensive medical kit, and gloves, everything that is required in protective clothing and safety equipment when working with gasoline powered tools in the forest.

Difficult downed tree removed using crosscut saw

A long two-handled crosscut saw was also brought up which was a good thing because one of the chainsaws simply would not start no matter how much effort was spent trying to get it running. We had enough sawers with safety certification cards to operate two saws, and enough swampers to haul and dig and to watch for hazards, but finally after no success, the second saw was brought up the trail and it started on the second pull.

The volunteers were awesome, fanning out in clumps to address downed trees, limbs, and brush and coordinating the effort. The crosscut saw was sweet though it takes some getting used to. I'm always more than paranoid about safety, and working with a large saw like that can be just as hazardous as working with a running saw, but we start each day with a safety run down which includes being aware of what's going on around you, and today's team was bright, cognizant, and productive so everything jelled and jelled safely with fun.

While working we paused to observe a deer, a doe, a female deer walk down the trail toward us and give us a looking over while we cleared the bark from the trail after turning off the chainsaw. It's likely that nearly all of the deer have not yet learned a healthy fear of humans so, being curious mammals, they visit to look us over.

Some fairly large trees were bucked up and removed from the trail, and other trees were sectioned up and moved to the side of the trail to afford a place to sit and look South toward the distant San Gabriel Valley and the cities below whose lights can be seen at night though are obscured by haze during the day.

The last snag of tree limbs and tree trunks took the longest to clear and took the most effort. After the first cut was made with the crosscut saw, a second cut was made with the chainsaw and maybe a gallon of water or more started coming out of the cut which made me wonder if the fuel tank had some how been breached.

The water lubricated the cut being made, and as the chain would bog down in the wet curf, the clutch would continue to try to drive the chain, making me fear for the wear on the clutch which might have started getting sawdust inside of it as well. We took a break to add fuel and oil to the saw then resumed cutting, eventually getting everything cut down in to sizes small enough to remove from the trail.

Dense blockage has been cleared

One thing we need to do is get more people formally trained and certified in sawing Chainsawing and crosscut sawing isn't a simple matter of wearing the right protective equipment, standing at the work site, and cutting. A large part of sawing is looking around before and during the cut, looking up, checking to see where people are, which direction people are moving, and keeping an experienced eye on the wood sections when there's first movement, all the way until the sections stop moving and show no signs of instability.

The San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders have a great deal of experience and formal safety training, yet we need more people qualified and fully trained to lend a safe hand to the effort. The Trailbuilders tend to get paranoid about safety which is why their safety record for decades has been spotlessly clean.

Lunch was crackers and water followed by more water.

Since we had brought a woodsman ax along, I removed its fake dead cow skin cover and did some limbing on the last trail blockage to see how well the ax could tackle it. The ax worked very well, removing chunks of wood in large pieces with each strike. For the downed trees that were removed today, the ax would have worked but would have taken all day and a phenomenal amount of hard work to cut through even the smaller trunks that were cleared.

When all was accomplished, we hiked to the trail head and to the vehicles there. Bryan opened up the balky chainsaw and worked with it some more, then got it running some how. Some times that's just the way it goes, for no discernible reason a saw will refuse to run despite having spark, fuel, air, and compression then suddenly it will decide to work. “Flooded” is the usual diagnosis yet I at times think the things deliberately annoy, refusing to run when they just don't want to.

After packing up the tools we headed to the pump which draws water from an underground cistern where we filled up our water containers before heading back down to the Fire Station.

It was another fine day to be out getting exercise and lending a hand, getting things ready for Crystal Lake to re-open some time later this Summer, with luck.

* Volunteers staging up to handle the first major downed tree
* Lots of branches and brush to remove before the sawing can begin
* Limbs, brush and bark removed, safe access to the downed tree is acquired
* Sawyer wearing full safety equipment while mentor observes and coaches
* Each cut is discussed and planned
* Notice the new Kevlar safety chaps -- 10 layers and wrap-around
* The next blockage requires hand saws and some effort to clear
* Rudy examines the next significant blockage which is a double fall
* Victor and Rudy after the first crosscus is made examine the next cut
* The crosscus saw is sweet! It cuts very well, the saw is maintained well
* Lou examines the next significant downed tree across the trail
* Sizing up the first cut with the crosscut saw
* That downed tree is cut and moved to line the side of the trail for seating
* The final effect after the crosscut saw is used
* Meanwhile the chainsaw has dropped a large sectition at the first blockage
* Rudy in the foreground and Mike in the background after chainsaw clears trail
* The first major blockage has been cleared and cleaned up
* The final blockage is a snag which will be taken care of after lunch
* The volunteers relaxing during lunch break
* The volunteers relaxing during lunch break
* Bryan waits for lunch to be over. Note the extensive safety equipment we use
* The crosscus saw is used on the last snag trunk
* Ben takes up the chainsaw use on the last downed tree. Note fire extinguisher
* Swampers remove limbs and brush as the sawer gains access and sections things
* The last snag blockage is removed and now the trail looks great!

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map

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