100 logs on the Pacific Crest Trail

“We were able to reopen these trails thanks to many volunteer hours put in by our trail partners such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association and Trailkeepers of Oregon.”

Lynn Burditt, Area Manager, CRGNSA
 
As I sorted my gear for a challenging two-day overnight logout on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon between the Gorge and Mt Hood last June, I received word that the Pacific Crest Trail and Herman Creek Trail would be opening that same weekend. 
 
I’d been working in (and out of) the burn since January 2018, clearing the massive debris piles of rock and wood from the trails, repairing root burn holes, doing treadwork, and cutting logs to remove them from the trail.  Scouting counted over 100 downed trees of cutting size, along a 16-mile section, our job was to remove them all, or as many as we could in two days. 
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My First Logout, March 2018 on Herman Creek Trail ❤ 
 
There’s no way we could have done much of the work that Spring with the trail open, as we trigger rockfall, butt-scoot logs into oblivion down the hill, and roll fire-weakened boulders off-trail, watching their curvy, fire-hardened pieces as they explode into bits on their downhill travels.  We could only safely do much of the work with careful radio coordination, and keeping track of everyone out there.  In theory, that’s just us, but we did have occasional closure ban scofflaws show up during our work parties that Spring.  When that happens, we stop work, and one Crew Leader has to walk them out. 
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 Herman Creek Trail, as we found it, March 2018
 
So I added to my anxiety, that we’d have random humans walking up from the Gorge, as we worked out way down from Wahtum Lake, camping at Benson Way near the origin of Ruckel Creek.  I was already anxious as it was my first actual backpacking trip, and I had to carry enough water for two days because water status was unknown along the Benson plateau, no one had scouted out our overnight spot.  Teakettle Springs had water, but that was a day two spot, down from Benson Plateau.  We’d already been there the prior month, and it was pretty crisp. 
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Brian clearing out debris and filling water as Frank Jahn looks on at Teakettle Springs, May 2018
 
As we sorted out saws and tools, we were waiting on the nephew of one of the Thunder Island Brewing owners, who then showed up with a pile of growlers filled with hard cider, beer, and ales for after work on Saturday.  Taking one for the team (I don’t drink alcohol), I packed a 32 oz hard cider into my already too-heavy load.  I had four liters of water, the long crosscut saw ‘Herman Creek’ (saws all have names), my Katana-Boy 650mm folding saw, wedges, and handles for the crosscut, in addition to my overnight gear.  My pack was over 50 lbs, with tools and water.  After our car shuttle, I hefted it the first time and said to myself, “I hope I feel superhumanly strong today, because that’s damn heavy!” 
 
As we left the parking lot and the lush unburnt greenery of Wahtum Lake, we hiked into some of the worst burn I’ve seen in the Gorge from the Eagle Creek Fire. After months, you think you’re immune to the sadness of massive destruction of natural habitat, but as one of my thru-hiker friends later told me, ‘this was the saddest section of the PCT’ they had seen from Mexico to Canada. I still agree, it’s so toasted there. 
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That’s what we call a Complex Log. 
 
We chucked piles of burned bark off the trail, focusing on the logs and not the tread.  Soon falling into a rhythm, we broke into two teams of 3-4 each and started clearing.  Drop the pack, assemble the saw if needed, swamp out the site (clear the branches and debris), prep the log (remove burned bark as it dulls the saw), then cut with the Katana or crosscut.  Push or carry the pieces off the trail, fix the tread as well as we can, and move on. 
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I love my Katana-Boy, it rocks. 
 
Roberta asked us to count logs we personally finished that morning, so we’d have a strong count of how many we’ve removed.  I stopped at twenty-one, there were just so many.  Every time I dropped pack, deployed tools, worked, and picked that pack up again, it was a little harder.  
 
We finally broke for lunch at an overlook just before you climb up into Benson Plateau (Northbound), looking out into the watershed of the West Branch of Herman Creek, which escaped the fire.  No man-made trails there, it’s pristine green forest. 
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I remember thinking ‘well, at least it’s not raining’, not long before the thunderstorms moved in.  Hot air pushed by East winds off the Oregon interior met less warm, moisture laden air coming from the West. It got dark fast, as packs were covered and shells came out, ready to keep working.  The rain was steady as we moved further North. 
 
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Looking North toward Mt. Adams from the PCT as the t-storms march in 
 
There was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, as we left miles of now log-free trail open behind us.  We didn’t see a soul that first day, as we worked past Smokey Springs, right above Eagle Creek’s Tunnel Falls.  Looking down into Eagle Creek watershed was sobering, the area near Tunnel took a big hit from the fires. 
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Smokey Springs looking toward Eagle Creek and Tanner from the PCT 
 
Thankfully, the burn thinned by Benson Way, and we were in untouched forest. Most of the Benson Plateau escaped damage. We wrapped up our day’s work by 5 pm, and we left the PCT for our overnight, heading to setup camp and look for water.  I setup my tent that I’d never seen in just a few minutes (thank you, Kate, and Big Agnes!)
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My happy camp at Benson Camp
 
It’s not far from the PCT to Benson Camp, I so recommend it for thru-hikers. Fabulous clear water, just expect mosquitoes. 
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Headwaters of Ruckel Creek 
 
Camp established, we had a mission from the Forest Service to put up signs near closed junctions for Ruckel Creek Trail, so off we went after dinner on another short hike down to Hunter’s Camp.  
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Max can always count on us to have his back
 
Hunter’s Camp is SO beautiful, I must go back and camp there. 
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Growlers were heavy but oh so appreciated! Thank you, Thunder Island Brewery! 
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Sore, cold, and tired, I’m so damn happy here.  Thanks for the loan, Kate!
 
It rained all night after I went to bed.  Cold, windy rain lashed my tent, as we camped at around 3500′ asl.  Sunday morning, I made oatmeal mixed with fruit, a pouch of steaming hot love I’d been coveting since about 5AM.  We split into two groups, five of us heading North to continue the logout, the rest working the tread as they hiked back to Wahtum Lake to retrieve cars. 
 
The sun broke through as we broke camp and headed back North on the PCT. Mosquitoes were crazy thick getting out of Benson Camp, I was really wishing for helmet netting.  We were a bit tired, wet, sore, with another very full day ahead of us.  I knew about three complex logs down-trail that we left working up from the Gorge in May, and sure enough, they hadn’t grown legs and left. Bummer. 
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Sunday’s first test was a multi-hour adventure, a massive Doug Fir fallen mostly lengthwise right onto a narrow section of the trail, completely blocking it.  The branches were thicker than my arms. We ended up cutting it out in three sections.  We did extensive treadwork on the area around it, too.  You can still see the remnants as you walk by. The tread looked fabulous when we were done. Tree gone, trail almost back to spec width. 
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We hiked to the Red Rock viewpoint for lunch. That charred ridge in the distance behind me is what’s left of Nick Eaton and Groton Creek trails, some of the worst damaged in the burn. Herman Creek Trail is in the valley below. 
 
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I’ve been told I’m really enthusiastic. All I know is I’m SO happy here, so in my element. 
 
In the afternoon, We worked our way down to our last large and complex log, on the switchbacks below Teakettle.  We’d started on the beast a month prior, cutting out branches so people could at least pass underneath it on our last logout coming up from the Gorge in May. 
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Look at the size of those branches! #crosscutparty
 
Unfortunately, the thunderstorms made a repeat appearance, and this time lightning and thunder made us reconsider how long we wanted to spend on this log that day with wind, thunder, and lightning, so we packed it in and left one damn log.  ONE log! Our now very tired party marched mostly in silence as the evening approached, down the switchbacks to Herman Creek Bridge trail, to the HCT TH, and packed up. 
 
We ended up the weekend at Thunder Island Brewery, eating, drinking, and remembering.  We tallied up the miles of trails cleared, over 100 logs gone that thru-hikers wouldn’t have to step over or climb around, 16 miles of trail cleared down to the tread, holes filled, and now finally, OPEN.  
 
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I thought a lot about the past nine months as I sat there, from my first training for Crew Leader on a rainy day across the river back in November 2017, to the massive undertaking we had just completed.  Our mission was to clear the trail that was opening, and we did it.  I still remember that feeling, of sawing all day, lifting the pack over and over again as we moved work sites.  It hurt, it was hard, and I needed to do it, so I did. I’m perhaps inordinately proud of that, I didn’t allow fear to make me back away from a big challenge. 
 
When the Eagle Creek Fire roared through 49,000 acres of pristine Gorge forests in September 2017, I cried a river.  Ashes fell at home and in Portland, as daily we watched another favorite place go up in smoke. When I first walked into Herman Creek to work in March, when it was still closed, I took a ‘bio-break’ to sit and cry for what was lost.  
 
My thinking has really evolved since then. The Eagle Creek fire changed my trajectory in life from a consumer, a hiker, who uses trails, to a Steward.  When I hike today, my Silky 300 saw goes with me, and I pick up branches off the trail, cut out low-hanging ones, even clear small logs.  If there’s a significant problem on the PCT, I note it and pass it along. 
 
I’ve made wonderful new friends, learned so many skills, and I can say that I made a difference. I don’t see that changing soon, and truthfully, it’s a pretty darn great place to be.  
 
#Namaste 
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Helpful links if you want to volunteer:
 
Locally, Mount Hood Chapter PCTA:
 
Pacific Crest Trail Association Volunteer Page:

6 Replies to “100 logs on the Pacific Crest Trail”

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