Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Work Party

As a member of the Backcountry Horseman of Washington (BCHW), I had the privilege of spending last weekend participating in a work party to repair a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The goals of the weekend were to build two bridges, replace another that had collapsed, and redirect a section of the PCT that had been washed out for years.

The United States has thousands of miles of trails in the wilderness. Winter, and the never ending onslaught of nature, take their toll on these trails. Once upon a time, the United States Forest Service used summer work crews to perform trail maintenance in the wilderness. A victim of ever shrinking budgets, they have, for the most part, been forced to discontinue their efforts. Much of this work has now fallen on the shoulders of volunteers. The Pierce County Chapter of the BCHW, of which I am a member, has teamed up with the Tahoma and Enumclaw chapters, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) to adopt a 35 mile section of the PCT, between Crystal Mountain and Government Meadows. Bear in mind that much of this section of trail can only be reached on foot or horseback. While the USFS has little budget for this work, they do provide tools, and through grants received by the PCTA, hay and water for the horses, as well as food for the workers was supplied. What is needed is labor.

We were operating from the Government Meadows Horse Camp. This accessed via National Forest Development Road 70. For the first ten miles it is a paved, windy road. After that, it becomes a dirt, windy, logging road. When traveling a dirt road, towing a horse trailer, and you reach sign that indicates a 12% grade, you will crease the seat a bit. And although I was traveling 10-15mph at best, I was throwing up quite the cloud of dust. This is the view from the drivers window on the way up.

I'm sure that by this time, Smokey was certain that he had died and gone to hell.

I arrived early Friday afternoon. People had been arriving and working since late Wednesday. After checking in, I saddled up, and headed out on the trail to one of the designate work sites. Shortly I began to pass riders who were heading back to camp. Talking with them, I learned that work had stopped for the day, and most were headed back. I decided to continue riding, to see the trail and enjoy the solitude. Soon, I reached the first section of trail that had been rerouted. It was a nice series of switchbacks that led up to the place at which the trail crosses the 7080 Road. At this point, it was still necessary to ride about 100yds up the road to pick the trail back up. Turning back onto the trail, Smokey and I headed another mile or so down the trail, before turning back.

This is a view of Blowout Mountain from the trail:

Returning to the 7080 Road, I soon realized that I had not paid as much attention to the location of the trail as would have been wise, since the new signs had not yet been posted. I wasn't lost, just geographically misplaced. We went up and down the road a few times before I finally spotted the freshly turned dirt between two small trees. Picking the trail back up, we rode back to camp.

Saturday morning, we ate breakfast at 7:30. This was followed by a riders meeting, and work assignments. Lunches were picked up, horses saddled, tools loaded on the pack horses, and then the teams would set out for work. I was on a team of six that would be posting new signs, assisting with the final section of trail that was being rerouted, and then helping to complete the bridge that was being replaced. An active group to say the least.

On the trail:

Smokey and his new found friend tied up at the trail work site:

Where are those darn horses hiding?

While chainsaws and weedwackers were available to clear the brush, the work of trailbreaking fell to basic hand tools, such as shovels and pulaski's. After our stint on the trail, it was time for our group to return to Government Meadows to assist with the bridge. Government Meadows lies along the Naches Trail. This was a trail that used by wagon trains back in the day.

Government Meadow:

Signs at the Government Meadow Cabin:

From what little I can find, Mike Urich was a trail worker back in the first half of the twentieth century.

Upon arriving, the task of gravel hauling became our primary focus. This involved shoveling gravel from the bed of a pickup into wheel barrows and then hauling it 100yds to the bridge.

This provided one of the highlights of the day: The Pickup Ride. To get more gravel we had to drive about a mile downhill on a dirt road to where a dump truck had deposited the rock pile. Now, this "road" might be considered a road to jeepers, but to those of us riding in the back of the 25 year old F350, it was anything but. And the driver seemed to have forgotten that there were six of us in the bed. More than one of us was nearly bounced clear of the pickup. The cackling laughter coming from the cab of the truck didn't exactly help, either.

Arriving bruised, but intact, we shoveled a huge pile of gravel into the pickup, then traveled uphill with the load. For some reason, I had a mental image of the tailgate fallling up, and being washed out in a cascade of rocks and dirt.

Back at the worksite, we shoveled the gravel out, then back for more. The second and third trips were a little less chaotic. It may be related to the threats that were levied at the driver, but I could be wrong.

The bridge complete, we headed back to camp. After watering and feeding the horses, we settled in to await dinner.

We were fed like royalty at this event. Chicken Friday night, steak on Saturday, with no shortage of food. A huge breakfast each morning, and an ample sack lunch for the trail. The evening entertainment was anothe of the highlights, courtesy of Denny, a colorful old mulerider, who is a talented guitarist and singer. His repartoire consisted of country songs, none newer than 30 years old. In his words, modern country music is "rock and roll with a twang".

Sunday consisted of some minor trail work, and the major endeavor of breaking camp. I rolled out around noon, dirty, hot, sweaty, and tired, but with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction at having played a small part in something that is bigger than me.

Some hikers happened upon one of the work crews, and stopped to help them work for awhile. This is IMPORTANT. I will discuss why in my next post. As my picture of the cabin at Government Meadows fell victim to my shoddy photography skills, I was searching online when I came across this post by one of the hikers involved.

How cool is that?


Buck said...

A victim of ever shrinking budgets, they have, for the most part, been forced to discontinue their efforts.

A major mystery, this, in light of the HUGE deficits we're running these days. I'm half-serious. I'd much rather see the Forest Service get all that money ACORN is getting but I ain't in charge.

Now that I've got THAT out of the way... Good On Ya, BR. Ya done good and had what looks like a helluva good time, as well. Can't beat that with a stick.

Buckskins Rule said...

I don't get it either, Buck. They could create oodles of summer jobs, and actually provide a tangible benefit. Maybe that's why they don't do it.

And yes, I did enjoy the hell out of myself. There's probably something wrong with me, but I enjoy that kind of work.

Christina LMT said...

Good for you, BR! I fear I'm far too lazy to join in a project like that. But if someone needs somebody to call people on the phone (from the airconditioned comfort of an office), I'm there!

Daphne said...

I'd like to trade lives with you for a week, Buckskin.

Buckskins Rule said...

Christina: If we ever need someone to call out the troops, I'll keep you in mind!

Daphne: I don't think I would trade experiences like this for all the money in the world. But I do appreciate the sentiment.

Daphne said...

Seems to me you've crafted a fine life, Buckskin.

Props, my friend.