Saturday, September 3, 2011

Putting "Labor" into Labor Day Weekend

Today I spent the day at one of my very favorite places in the whole world...the Pacific Crest Trail! I talked Mark into signing up with me on a trail maintenance crew on a section of the PCT near Herman Creek, in the Columbia River Gorge. We enjoyed perfect weather (88 degrees, but we were in the shade most of the time) and met some great people on our 7-person crew.

 Everyone wears hard hats on a trail maintenance crew. I wore mine proudly today...I wasn't just out there hiking, I was working!

The Herman Creek area is so beautiful. We couldn't have asked for a lovelier place to spend the day. The section of trail in this photo did not need any maintenance, but it gives an idea of the scenery.

Here is our destination: a nasty, ankle-turning bit of talus or scree. It was difficult to walk across this section, and I watched my step carefully, remembering my nasty fall a few weeks ago. It was daunting to think that we would be able to repair this rocky section of trail in just one work session.

Who would have guessed that the primary tool used to repair trail like this is...a bucket! What that trail section needed was more rocks, and we were the "horsepower" to bring the rocks to the trail. Specifically, smaller rocks, as in gravel. Here's a photo of Mark demonstrating his manly bucket technique. I've often wondered where the trail gravel came from over my years of hiking. Did someone push a wheelbarrow full of gravel all the way from the trailhead?

Nope. When you need gravel on a trail, you scout it out. Here's another crew member, Steve Queen (he's the president of the local chapter of the Pacific Crest Trail Association), mining the "gravel pit." Earlier in the spring, trail maintenance had to be performed right here, because a (new) small stream had sent a bunch of gravel and rocks down on the trail. So our savvy work crew leader knew that we had a good source of gravel about 1/8 mile from our talus trail.

 Here's a shot of Mark up above the gravel pit, sending more rock down for us to shovel into the buckets.

Mark enjoys a welcome break for the crew. We hiked 2 miles to our work area. Then we carted uncounted buckets full of gravel from the "pit" to the scree section of the trail. Every round trip was 1/4 mile...every four round trips added another mile to our "hike." I logged over 24,000 steps on my pedometer today! I'm sure I'll sleep well tonight, but I think I'll be feeling it tomorrow.

Before we dumped our buckets of gravel, another crew member would be arranging the scree into as flat a surface as possible. Here Leif is leveling the scree with a pulaski.

And Jeanette is arranging the rocks by hand. How many times have I carelessly hiked over sections of trail that cross talus slopes, with never a thought to the work it takes to make this into a good section of trail?

Greg dumps yet another load of gravel. I swear he was sprinting up and down the trail with those buckets. How did he do it??
But that work really did pay off. Here's our fantastic crew leader, Bill Hawley, checking out the new tread. Bill was patient with us newbies, very knowledgable about trail repair, and tireless. He kept us all working safely without any nagging.

In the above photo, you can see where the loose rock is still on the trail in the bottom of the photo, and the rest of the trail is looking...WOW! So much better already! I snapped this photo when we were about 1/3 of the way up our section of trail.

A closeup shot of the trail improvement. Bill's left foot is on the improved trail, and his right foot is on the "before" section. Bill told me that it's a great compliment when hikers don't even realize that the maintenance has been done. It just looks like good trail. But I can tell you that I will never look at sections of trail like this in the same way again. When they are lovely to hike on, I'll know it's because someone sweated on a trail crew!

Leif checks out the new tread. Can you believe that we've almost finished repairing this whole section of trail?! When we first arrived, and Bill told us we'd be improving the trail section one bucket at a time, I thought to myself, "Yeah, right." I had no idea how quickly a crew of only 7 people could fix such a treacherous section of trail.

Mark and me on the way back to the trailhead. (Did I mention that we also had to hike two miles out after all that work, to get back to the car...) Here we are at the crossing of Herman Creek. Most of the trail back to the trailhead was downhill, which sounds great in theory, but in practice...ouch! Downhill hiking is so hard on knees and toes. I was the "slowpoke" of the crew, but everyone was patient and good-natured about my plodding pace.

Good by, Herman Creek! It was lovely to spend time with you today. I am sore and sunburned, but I am so glad I could "give back" to the amazing PCT.


Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Nice job! My hat goes off to both of you. Love you.

Anna said...

That is pretty cool.

Sarah said...

Wow Kathy! That's awesome that you guys got the chance to help out with something like that! I bat you're so sore after. :)

Mike Koponick said...

Sounds like fun! It's nice to help out on something you use a lot. There are a number of groups that help maintain some of the local parks in different townships here and I think it makes a HUGE difference for the community.

Dorothy said...

How interesting! I'll think of people like you and this crew next time I hike along a nice section of trail. Thank you!

Katie Lewis said...

Ooh, Mom, you're looking so skinny!