Roam

Oregon/ Mark O Hatfield Wilderness/ Herman Creek Trail to Herman Creek Bridge, Pacific Crest Trail to Eagle-Benson and return 20 miles/4775′ e.g./10 hours
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Oh girl dancing down those dirty and dusty trails
Take it hip to hip, rocket through the wilderness
Around the world the trip begins with a kiss

Roam if you want to
Roam around the world
Roam if you want to
Without wings, without wheels
Roam if you want to
Roam around the world
Roam if you want to
Without anything but the love we feel

– B-52’s, Roam

 

I had a friend who once told me, he really hates snow.  I was really surprised, given his love of the outdoors and hiking. ‘So you don’t even like snowshoeing?’, I had asked. ‘Nope, hate it. I’ll carry them for miles, only use ’em when I have to.  Snow just gets in my way, keeps me from doing the hikes I want to.’  I love to ski, snowshoe, make snow angels, so his words really surprised me.  ‘I will always love snow’, I told him.

 

Yet here I sat, scouring Google Earth with Halfmile’s PCT overlay, and NOAA’s daily snow report overlay, looking at the undeniable while planning our weekend Pacific Crest Trail/Herman Creek Trail adventure.  There was a lot of snow left above 4500 feet, near Wahtum Lake, on the HCT side, and it was in my way.

 

Having wandered through there in all seasons, I knew it would add too much time to our usual PCT/HCT loop, meandering through the relatively featureless landscape of trees and beargrass under snow with GPS in hand, route-finding.  Too much snow for a twenty-five mile plus day loop.

 

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My mind and heart are already pushing for the big hikes of summer, those all-day affairs where you pick a long target, and just roam all day (and often well into the night).  I’m already blessed that ten minutes from any trailhead, my mind quiets, my heart is calm, and everything else is just…somewhere else.  It’s the ultimate in-the-moment place and activity for me, no anxiety or runaway thoughts, just putting one foot in front of the other, until we run out of trail.

 

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Lower Herman Creek Trail 
I picked the better of the two climbs out of the Columbia River Gorge, on the PCT vs. up Herman Creek.  I love both trails dearly, but the rapid rise out of the Gorge to the Benson Plateau on the PCT is a real gem.  Like Mt. Defiance, it’s steep and long, but unlike Defiance, it’s really pretty. You climb through 4000′ from nearly sea level in about seven miles, most of that in a three mile stretch below Teakettle Springs.

 

We found the small HC Trailhead lots crowded with cars by 8:20 AM, a formerly unheard-of density of aspiring hikers for this sleepy spot.  With Multnomah Falls and Larch Mountain closed due to new rockfall, plus the Instagram popularity of hiking to Indian Point for photos, there’s nothing left up in the lot anymore on a weekend by 8:30 AM.  Thankfully, they virtually all turn left away from the beautiful trails heading deep into the interior, and we’re alone again.

 

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Bridge yoga at Herman Creek Bridge, a staple for me 😀 (Kate photo)

 

These trails are inexorably linked for me to the many trips I made last year as a volunteer with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, clearing these fire-damaged trails in the wake of the Eagle Creek Fire.  I worked so many hours, over many months last Spring and into early Summer, hiking into the PCT or HCT with a hard hat, tools, and determination to do everything I could to repair the damage.   I met the most marvelous people of formidable spirit, we accomplished things beyond what was considered possible.

Now, the trail itself stands as living memory for me.  Here, at the bridge trail junction, ‘oh yeah, the huge hole and there’s Bill’s rock work. You’d never know the trail was missing last March.’ One of the beauties of trail work is if you really do it well, almost no one notices what was done.

 

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The damage here in this small section took multiple work parties to fix 

 

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When you get to the junction of Herman Creek Bridge Trail and the PCT, and take that left up the hill, you settle in for a long climb.  The long switchbacks take you back and forth across the face of the ancient volcanic flows, clawing its way up to the Benson Plateau, an area of incomparable beauty relatively untouched by the fires.  On the way, we pass log after log, most have a story. 

 

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We spent three hours on removing this stubborn log, due to complex binds and the steep slope it sat upon (Kate photo). The ‘before’ photo from April 2018 is below. 

 

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Setting up to roll the upper half once cut.  It was a monster Doug fir, felled by the fire

 

I noted the location of newly fallen logs, to pass along to the volunteer PCTA Caretaker of this section.  Thankfully, there were only about three locations that will need a logout crew with a crosscut saw to remove.  Last year, we removed twenty-seven from these switchbacks in one day.

 

Job security, the forest that just keeps giving 

 

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Looking across the Columbia into Washington, at Table Mountain and Greenleaf Mountain

 

We walked past the huge stump snag where we’d cut out a surprisingly tough piece blocking the trail last year.  We’d cut it, beat it with axes, and finally broke it by jumping up and down on it.

 

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Helgi, cutting the base in April 2018

 

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What a crew.  Hiked 4,000 feet, 12 miles, and worked ten hours in one day. I’m on the upper right with my trademark dirty face. Working in the burn is so messy. 😀 

 

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Empressing hard, May 2019 on the same stump

 

Up we went, past memories,  root burn holes long filled with stones and soil, to the Red Cinder Rock viewpoint.  Both Kate and I noticed looking over at Nick Eaton ridge, the spaces between the burned trees look so much greener this year than last.  Nature knows how to recover, she doesn’t need our help.

 

We had already climbed most of the elevation to be gained, so we took a break and took in the views.

 

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May 2019 – Mount Adams capping my Warrior II.  Nick Eaton ridge to the right, so much more green this year!

 

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June 2018 – yeah I wear the same clothes a lot – I’m actually considering a new system of hike-specific outfits, totally beside the point – look at NE ridge, so brown last year. 
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Heading up past Teakettle Springs, we stopped to check the water flow, which is still really good.  It’s spring water.

 

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COLD water, felt so good on my face

 

The fingers of fire reached up from Eagle Creek in spots here, severely burning some areas but not most of Benson Plateau.  When we first came in, it was hard to find the trail in spots.  We scraped half a foot of needle-cast off the trail last year one day, later took one hundred logs off it over two days. It was really a mess.

 

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Close to Benson Way side trail, on the PCT, looking South

 

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Lovely trillium on upper Teakettle section 

 

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Branch swirl did not burn, go figure

 

Once you gain the plateau, you’re in for a treat of ridge walking in deep forest.  The trail only rises about 600′ more between Benson Way and Wahtum Lake, so you can really make some time up there on a long day hike.  Or stroll, saunter, it’s perfect for everything.

 

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Stubborn snow patch hanging on up on Benson Plateau, in the beargrass. North and west-facing slopes still holding onto a bit as of 5/11/2019

 

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NOAA maps were spot-on in predicting the snow amounts

 

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Near our turn-around for the day at Eagle-Benson Junction

 

We hiked out to junction with the PCT and Eagle-Benson Trail, still closed as it descends from the PCT into Eagle Creek below Tunnel Falls.  The area near Smokey Camp is still the worst burn I’ve seen in the Eagle Creek fire area.  It burned before maybe fifteen years ago, so twice-burned now, it’s pretty crisp.

 

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We stopped for some late afternoon snacks, thought briefly about heading to Wahtum Lake over the remaining snow patches, but the thought of late afternoon wandering down upper Herman Creek with my GPS in hand, fading light, eleven miles left to go, wasn’t attractive.  As a rule, we’re packed with all the essentials and ready to spend the night if needed, but I try avoid walking eyes-wide-open into situations that land us there.  No tracks, one hundred percent snow-covered, it will wait a few weeks.

 

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If you look closely, you can just see Mt. Defiance poking its dome up over the ridge on the right, in the distance

 

We stopped at a side viewpoint and looked South, toward Mt. Tomlike, Chindere Mtn, and Mt. Hood.  It’s one of my favorite viewpoints, it really ties together what it means to hike from Hood to the Gorge.  It’s quite an adventure, and though I’ve hiked about every piece of the PCT from Timberline Lodge to the river, I’ve never done it all at once.  Maybe this is the year.

 

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Tomlike from the PCT.  Besides the usual path from Wahtum Lake, there’s a user/offtrail route from the North, off Herman Creek Trail.  It’s a spectacular ridge walk. 

 

Trail work habits die hard. Besides tossing branches and rocks as we hiked, on the way back, I removed over two dozen small logs from the trail with my trusty small Silky hand saw.   I cut a few that pushed the capabilities of my little saw, but using techniques I’ve learned with my Katana-boy saw on bigger logs, I was able to remove some really annoying blowdown.

 

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Being a good steward of the trails

 

 We skipped down the trail (literally, at times) in the beautiful light of the afternoon. The lighting all day was just magical, such contrasts and beautiful sunshine.

 

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Cleared a big stack o’logs off here in 2018, you’d hardly know it now

 

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Crossing the scree fields in the late afternoon sunshine. Cascade Locks below.

 

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Looking up, near same location. Sometimes we hear Pikas here

 

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Happy hikers. Kate and I love to hike all darn day. 

 

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You really have to love a two-hour downhill. Well, mostly. 😀

 

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I can’t resist a good bridge 😀

 

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Looking back across from HCT to the PCT. The latter runs diagonally across the far ridge. 

 

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HCT below the bridge trail junction gets a lot of traffic. Good thing we reworked all the lower tread last year, it’s getting hammered now. 

 

We crossed Herman Creek again, the sun setting now, almost ten hours since we passed the same spot in the morning.  It’s such a magical spot.  I’ve cleaned a lot of tools down in the creek after a long day of trail work.  Hiking through here for fun seems almost like cheating.

 

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We ambled back to the jeep, our first pass through here complete for this year. We’ll go back again soon and do the entire loop, once the snow finishes melting out.

 

We’ve also been intrigued with making some new loops heading up Nick Eaton/Gorton Creek trails, checking out Greenpoint Mtn on the way up to Wahtum Lake, return on the PCT.  It’s a bit more climbing (5800′ vs. 5600′ e.g.) but a little shorter at 22-23 miles than the full loop, which usually runs around 25-ish.

 

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The roaming season has just started, so we’ve got time before the snow flies again.  Now, someday, backpacking this on snowshoes, that’s another adventure!

 

#Brunoapproved

 

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Eagle Creek Redux

I laid on my stomach, arms spread widely, grasping desperately for anything to stop my slide toward the cliff edge.  Rocks fell behind me, making ghostly sounds as they struck trees far below.  I thrust my fingers into the root ball of a shrub, slowing myself, but not stopping my progress toward oblivion.  I was falling, out of answers and options. As I slid, I looked back over my shoulder, I thought, ‘I’m going to die. Who will tell my Mom’?

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That’s me up next to Rigby, five minutes before I fell, April 30, 2017

Still on my stomach, looking left and a little upslope, I spotted a small oak tree, and I gave up my grip on the shrub that was slowly pulling out of the ground, and I leapt for it, making a last-gasp effort for the little oak.  I got several fingers around the base of the trunk, and rolled to my left, rocks now falling in a steady stream a hundred feet or more, down into the forest below.  I hung in place with one hand gripping the tree, having arrested my fall for the moment.  After several minutes, I swung my body so I could get both hands on it, and pulled myself out of the slide path.  I’d survived, if I could get off the rock pile and thirty meters back up to the ridge.

Telling my friends to stay back and not trigger another slide, I inched my way so slowly back up to the ridge top where I’d fallen from.  Moments before, as I’d turned a corner near the top, all the rock I was scrambling on had slid out from underneath me, sending me toward an unsurvivable fall over a hundred foot cliff.  When I neared the top again, strong arms pulled me over, where I collapsed, sobbing uncontrollably in the aftermath. I’d almost died, and my psyche was utterly traumatized by the experience.

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Eagle Creek Trail with High Bridge in the center distance, April 2017

We were in Eagle Creek, before the fire, nearly two years ago this week.  We’d left the trail above High Bridge, turning to the West up a long ridge off-trail toward the Tanner watershed and Dublin Lake.  It was an eleven-hour odyssey, worthy of its own telling.  We finished before dark, twenty-plus miles and over five thousand feet of elevation gain that day.  That night, the nightmares started.  In my dreams, I’d not stop falling, and I’d see my body lying at the bottom of the cliff, third-person view.  I died over and over again, every night for a month.  I’d wake up shaking, covered in sweat, every night, until I didn’t want to sleep anymore.

Six weeks after my fall, I’d been experiencing intermittent pain in my lower right abdomen, near my beltline area.  I finally woke up one night in June in excruciating pain.  Another Emergency Room visit, where I passed out repeatedly from the pain despite the strongest IV pain killers available.  I’d had undetected internal injuries, and now a serious infection.  Finally I had relief with a nerve-blocking agent injected directly into the nerve bundle. I was so sick.  I had to cancel out of my Mt. Saint Helens Climb, my week-long backpacking trip to the Enchantments, all gone as I went on a month of forced rest.

Later that year in September, the Eagle Creek fire burned almost fifty thousand acres on the Oregon side of the Gorge, including Dublin Lake and Tanner Butte.  We will likely never do this route again, the fires having destabilized all the steep slopes in that area.  Because of the fires, I’d never been back to Eagle Creek since that day, the trail remains closed to the public, with arrest and steep fines awaiting those who would test the closure.

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Aerial view of Dublin Lake after the Eagle Creek Fire.  It’s really sad up there now.

Now, I was back.  Since 2017, I’ve been a volunteer with the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), working in the burn area of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.  We had crews working in Eagle Creek, down from Wahtum Lake to Seven Mile Camp last Fall, but a trail running fall and injuries had kept me away, until last week.

I’d signed up with a PCTA work party to work clearing trail between Fern Creek Bridge and High Bridge, about four miles in from the Gorge trailhead. Other volunteers had carried temporary planks in prior weeks, so we could cross the compromised Fern Creek bridge somewhat safely, one at a time.

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Fire-damaged Fern Creek Bridge with temporary planking screwed down tightly 

Our goal was to remove all the logs and clear a path to High Bridge, so it could be safely evaluated by engineers from a contractor engaged to replace both bridges.

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Fern Creek bridge from the trail, pre-fire 2017

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Fern Creek same viewpoint, 2019 post-fire.  Amazingly, the tree to the left, right on the trail, didn’t burn completely.

I was working with a chainsaw crew of three, our mission to remove as many logs as we safely could. It’s significantly dangerous working cutting blowdown in Eagle Creek, there are unsurvivable drop-offs right off the trail in so many places.  We worked on a four-log pile near High Bridge with no room for error.  If you tripped, fell, or got snagged on something going over the edge, it would be your last series of mistakes. It takes a lot of focus to ensure every step you make is a safe one.

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Eagle Creek, April 2019 

Walking in, past Punchbowl Falls, over Sorenson Creek, I felt a wave of familiar memories.  Hiking in a rainstorm here, three years ago, possibly the wettest hike I’ve ever done with water cascading off the cliffs down onto the trail.  My first trip to Tunnel Falls and the ‘Vertigo Mile’, where the trail is blasted out of the cliff wall, as are many sections of Eagle Creek Trail. Hand cables line multiple sections, giving you a little more security. Much of the trail was blasted out of the Basalt cliffs back in 1915-1919, and was immediately popular, with 150,000 visitors in 1919 alone.  The views are spectacular, no less so now after the fires are out.

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Eagle Creek between Fern Creek Bridge and High Bridge, April 2019 

Not yet into the Wilderness with its crosscut-only saw restrictions, we used chainsaws to remove log after log.  Most were a bit complex, having slid down the steep banks usually end-first into the trail.  Sometimes, you have to cut them multiple times just to clear the trail, as the log just keeps sliding down as you remove one section after another.

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Logs that just keep giving.  We left the largest for another day this week, to return with a longer and more powerful chainsaw.

Many of the burned logs fill with water, their ends opened by fire having burned off the root ball.  They literally spit water as you cut into them, and the pieces weigh so much more than normal, being utterly waterlogged.  We sent many torpedo logs over cliffs, down into the creek below.

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Well, that’s inconvenient. Yep, that’s the trail under all that debris

Rockslides are all along this section, and pieces of the trail have fallen or been knocked off.  Our little saw crew did a fabulous amount of work, the three of us removed twenty-three logs last Thursday.  The rest of the work party and two seasonal Forest Service employees worked on the tread, making safe passage over the slides.  The amount of work done by a dozen or less PCTA volunteers in a day is always so impressive.

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Lots of work left to do before this trail opens again 

For me, the day was very special.  There was no avoiding the memories of my fall, I had to accept some really hard lessons about avoiding exposure and scrambling.  I stood on the trail near High Bridge, looking up at the ridge we climbed two years ago.  It seems impossibly steep to look at it now, the understory, moss, and brush all gone.

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All smiles just above High Bridge in April 2017, you can see the trail below.  It’s a 3-4 hour climb to get over to Dublin Lake from here.

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Much of the ridge itself can be seen now, an ancient rockpile with its moss burned away.  In its current condition, I cannot imagine how it would be more uninviting.  Criss-crossed with burned fallen trees, dotted with rock slides, I think I’ll not take that route again in my lifetime.

I will come back, likely again and again, to work on this lovely trail so it may again be enjoyed by thousands of people every year.  I’ll come out for day work, then move to overnight weekend work parties when the snow melts out on the higher section.  I spent most of 2018 working in the woods, in the burn, helping to open the PCT and Herman Creek Trails.  The Forest Service is saying August for new bridges at Fern Creek and High Bridge, so it’s quite possible some portion of Eagle Creek trail will also reopen later in the Fall.  It will need more ongoing work as trees and rock keep coming off the steep slopes, but it will be a grand day when the temporary gates and signs come down, and everyone again can enjoy its incomparable beauty.

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Akhtar, Rigby and I walking back from the Tanner system to the Eagle Creek TH, April 2017. Thanks to Craig G. for many of the 2017 photos. 🙂 

Helpful Links:

Eagle Creek Hike:

https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Eagle_Creek_to_Tunnel_Falls_Hike

PCTA Volunteer Opportunities:

Volunteer

PCTA Mount Hood Chapter Eventbrite page for work parties:

https://www.eventbrite.com/o/pacific-crest-trail-association-mount-hood-chapter-15326589343

A really cool video showing a slide where we worked:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagle Creek Fire

I am sorry for the Eagles this day
I am sorry for the owls, ravens, hawks, songbirds, even the noisy jay
I am sorry for the pikas, chipmunks, squirrels, who would steal my lunch scraps
I am sorry for the majestic Elk, the deer, bobcats and lions of the mountains, I marvel at the rare sight of you, moving with ease and beauty
I am sorry for the fish, the snakes, my beautiful lowly banana slugs, the bees and butterflies
I am sorry that Man alone, of all creatures on this Earth, has lost the knowledge how to live in harmony with Nature
I am sorry that Man again has filled your magical home with smoke, fire, and death
I am sorry, I would do anything to reverse this, to restore your lives and homes
I am sorry, I honor your lives, extinguished by the thousands every hour of this terrible day
I am sorry, I hear and feel your souls, all crying out in fear, pain, and mortal agony
I am so very, very, terribly sorry, I pray that the universe will forgive us.

– Me, September 2017

😭 I read this poem and a few others at Mother Foucault’s Bookstore in Portland last year. My partner’s poetry and art were featured in an anthology. Both of us now participate in the 31 Days of August Postcard Poetry Fest. There’s a signup then you get a list of 31 names in your group. It was so fun and writing every day while traveling and playing in the summer sunshine gave extra inspiration. ❤

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:

Burn Area Trail Work Days

~These trails are closed, the PCTA is working under the invitation of the Forest Service.
There are stiff fines (and plenty of hazards) for ignoring these closures!~

I’ve been working in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Burn a lot these last few months. I am a volunteer Trail Crew Leader In-training, with the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

We’re filling holes left by root burns, removing burn debris, clearing landslides, logging out the burned, down trees off the trail (we don’t fell trees as a rule). In some of the severely burned areas, the trail disappears and we have to re-establish the tread.  Everywhere, there are rocks. Landslides of rocks, rocks on the trail, rocks upslope waiting to fall on you. Fire-tempered boulders often split and leave sharp edges.

So what is a typical day like? Our work days run 8AM-5:30PM. You have to be committed to being on-time, working all day (if anyone leaves, all of us have to, because they take one Crew Leader away and we need two for burn area work). We lay out our tools and each pick up a load, grab your hard hat, and head up the Herman Creek Trail as a group. Last logout I carried an axe, a hand saw, cross-cut long saw, and the handles for it. Plus 3 litres of water, lunch, spare clothes, and my ten essentials.

First time through an area I know so well was a shock. The green gone from the forest floor, trees burned and down, it literally made me cry to see it. Subsequent trips, it just now looks like a forest healing from a fire. There are new views, places you didn’t even know where there with all the thick undergrowth and moss everywhere. The Gorge is a giant rock pile, now really obvious even in the forest.

A Logout Party means our primary targets for the day are the downed logs.  We carry more saws than trail tools, fewer hoes and such. It also means we are working over longer sections, taking out logs crews working on the tread and clearing could not remove. It’s far more hazardous, and the PCTA offers three levels of certification for Sawyers – A, B, and C.   Swampers work to prep the logs and cut, clean up before and after, under the supervision of a Certified Sawyer.

(to be continued)

 

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All smiles 🙂
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Crosscut on a largish log across the Pacific Crest Trail.
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It’s sooty, muddy, and hard work
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Saw love ❤