Friday, July 8, 2011

Volunteer Vacation Part 4: Finishing Work

Day 7 - Work day
June 23th Thursday

I pack my sleeping bag and roll my ground pad before getting out of the tent. I'm trying to practice so when it rains I can do it with a bit less pain inside the tent. When I get out of the tent I toss everything else out also so the tent is empty. I pack my back pack as I go about knocking down everything. Which leads me to a gear discussion! The Big Agnes down Grouse Mountain sleeping bag I'm using for the first time is great. I like that it doesn't waste filling on the bottom of the bag, as that area gets compacted anyway. My sleeping pad fits and stays in a pouch on the exterior of the bag. Inside the bag there is a sack that works as a pillow. I have been putting my liner and a sweat shirt and it works fine as a pillow that doesn't run away since it is attached to the bag. The bag is plenty warm and very comfortable.
I am also quite happy with my 1-person Mountain Hardware Sprite 1 tent. For a one person I have enough room for my boots and my back pack inside the tent with me. I can hang a rope inside for a clothes line and hang a light from for reading. It's easy to setup and just an all-around comfortable piece of gear.
I am also using Mountain Hardware gaiters. They are the smallest I could fine. The required adding a strip of Velcro to the back of the boot to hold it down. They effectively keep debris out of my boots and they are lower than my socks so there is no discomfort.
After everyone is packed up and has their bags loaded with divided group food we set off for Company Creek. I take the lead and Joni follows 20 or 30 yards behind. Josh takes up the rear to make sure everyone in between is okay. Looking at the ground, and taking short steps, using hiking poles, and going slow enough not to get over-heated and exhausted takes much concentration. Soon We arrive at the bench, well before everyone else. Howard comes puffing up, saying he always sounds like that. Shortly the rest are in view. Joni and I start again just as they stop. Mostly to get out of the way, but also to be able to go the pace we want to go without being alone. Joni gives me plenty of space for both of us to have solitude, but keeps me in view for safety. The hike seems to go very quickly, the pack taking my thoughts away. One of the first days I noticed Bill would take very tiny but fast steps as he got to very steep sections of trail. I decided to try that method and found that it made the hills much more bearable, the weight of myself and the pack never being exposed to only one leg for a long period of time. I think this way really is advantageous to reducing energy consumption.
The views, the meadow, the mountains, and streams flow quickly by, I keep my posture upright, glancing where my feet are to go so I don't trip. The hiking poles, as always, help tremendously to keep footing and to pull myself up the incline. Soon enough we roll into camp and toss off our packs. The colorful bear pinata survived unscathed! I was half expecting to see bits of plastic and parts of apples scattered about in some macabre scene of fruity destruction.
I pull out the food bag and take my pack over to where my tent site lays. My site is slightly separated from the others and more difficult to get to. My tent site is down the river bank, about splitting the difference to the river and camp. However closer to camp, there are a bunch of maples that are very difficult to navigate, and it is much easier to get to my site by going through the rest of the tent area.
Where I pitch my tent the ground is very soft. The loam is springy and makes for a very comfortable mattress. The sound of the river is loud, so I know I will sleep like a rock!

After all of us have put up and stowed and stashed our gear we eat a quick lunch before heading out to work up the trail or back to finish up the first meadow. For a few tenths up the trail is in good condition, under the cover of the forest only some woody shrubs show any sign of encroachment. Right before another meadow lies a huge 3 foot diameter tree across the trail. Howard begins working on it. Knowing that it cannot be removed without months of swinging a Pulaski or a type of tool (cross-cut saw or chain-saw) that we don't have, Howard takes his time to put a step into it so it is easier to traverse. The next meadow is even worse than the first! It is nearly totally obscured in some places, with over hanging maples sagging into it as well. The Crew with the weed whips attack the meadow with a vengeance. A bit further ahead, between two meadows Josh and I come upon a very long tree across the path. From the path one can look up into the woods and see the the trees shattered trunk is ~150 feet up. There will be several cuts to get this off the trail, but it is green wood so the Pulaski is the tool for the job!

Josh and I first take turns chopping into the log here.
Then here, balanced on another log.
We continue chopping into the log. After the second cut the log is still too big to move or even leverage out of the way. It will take one more cut to make it manageable. But this evening it is not going to happen! We knock off at 5:30 and save the rest for the next day.
Josh, the cook at heart, begins making a macaroni and spinach dish that Joni has been raving about all week. They scored the missing secret ingredient from the kitchen at the restaurant in Stehekin the evening before. Besides making way too much the meal was planned perfectly! It was such a great back country meal!
A merry little fire crackled in the fire ring, giving us heat as the day cooled off. Joni, in her now characteristic way was freezing and got too close to the fire, an ember puts a hole in her Patagonia down jacket and later her pants!
After food is eaten and wine is drank, dishes are washed and bear bags are hung. I gladly go lay down on my earthen mattress, cradled by the sound of the river I slip off into sleep quickly.

Day 8 - Work day
June 24th Friday

I wake to a chilly morning! The elevation gain makes a difference this early. Liz and Bette are already up, with a warming fire going and coffee brewing. After dropping the bear bags we get out food for breakfast and lunch, and we cut up apples - trying to get them gone! Neither Liz nor Bette slept very well, as their tents were on a slight incline so they kept sliding down hill all night.
This is our first full day of labor, in that there is no extended hike to get to the work site and our day bags and lunches are staying in camp. We grab our gloves, water, and I grab a couple snacks and we head out to where all of us left off.In Josh's and my case we get back to the log, both of us doing something a bit easier for about an hour to warm up. Liz and I walk to the end of the next terribly over grown meadow and each of us pick a side of the trail and lightly and quickly weed whip our way back - this makes it a bit easier and much less intimidating on the next time through to do the finishing work. After working back to the log Josh and I take a few hours to get through it and move it off the trail.

Forward on the trail again to yet another meadow Josh and Howard work on a blow down as I go yet further forward still to the end of the meadows and after a few tenths of a mile I come back and weed whip the last meadow twice quickly on each side of the trail. I don't know how far forward the polishing will get, but I wanted to be able to at least say we finished the meadows.
At lunch we have a coffee break and I half-fix the loppers with a stick and some rope. Howard's idea of pulling down the cross and using the nail doesn't go over well and causes minor tension in the Crew.
I use the loppers for a couple hours after lunch right beyond camp, working very very slowly. I must say I hate the loppers! After 20 minutes of work you look back and see you have come 60 feet on the trail. So annoyingly slow. The worst part is that I could go back and do the same area for the same amount of time and still miss things. As I finish the worst 2 hours of the entire holiday Sanya walks up behind me and startles me - I was away in my own mind mulling over Howard's dis-like for crosses and my dis-like for loppers and how I missed Cara and how much longer until I got to stop using the stupid loppers. Sanya and I chatted for a bit before heading up the trail to find Josh.
I finally got to my pre-determined stopping point - about 600 feet of trail lopped - and hiked forward to the rest of the Crew. They were all stopped just prior to the last meadow, most everything else looking fantastic, wide open, and clear of debris. The CCTC really know how to make a trail look good!

We sit and talk with Sanya for awhile, she leaves an extra walkie-talkie battery and more nutmeg! It was very nice of her to come up and check in on us! I'm also glad she got to get up on a trail she hadn't been on and see what we had done.
At this point I hike to the end of the trail that we have seen to get GPS coordinates from my camera to give to Bill. As I wait for the camera to find the satellites, as it was being slow, I jogged up the trail to see if I could find 5-mile campsite. After jogging a quarter-mile further up and still not finding it I turned and walked back to our furthest point. Upon getting the coordinates we all walked back to the campsite.
The normal evening campsite routine ensued. Cooking, and chatting, hand-warming around the fire, finally washing dishes, brushing teeth and hanging food. After a long day of working hard without the relative ease of some of the day hiking in we were all pretty tired. I was glad we were finishing the following day. I was ready to get back to the valley floor.

Day 9 - Last Work day
June 25th Saturday

I continue the routine this morning of packing before I exit the tent. I slept well, but woke a few times thinking something was around. The ladies are up again with a fire going. I enjoy the fire and some coffee. As everyone packs up I wander around the campsite trying to absorb as many memories and feelings as I can. I want to carry this wonderful place with me. I want to be able to close my eyes on a cold winters day and instantly recall the sound of the water and wind, the smell of the river and forest, the soft caress of sun light filtered through a screen of maples leaves. This place is special, and will hold a special place in my mind and my heart. I walk into the Cathedral, possibly for the last time in this life.
I notice the shallow pool by the camp is even shallower, possibly the cooler last couple days has impeded the melt of the snow capped peaks. I hope across from rock to rock, turning to get pictures of the comfortable little campsite nestled in it's glade.

On the sand bar on the other side of the pool I find bear tracks. The picture doesn't do it justice, the claw and pad prints were completely defined in the pebbles of the sand bar. Last night a large bear went nosing through the campsite, probably 20 feet away from my tent! She had no interest in me, however. I guess the smells of our cooking made her investigate, or perhaps she crosses through here regularly on her nightly rounds.

After breakfast we pack up everything, before heading out we cache tools for whenever the next Crew gets up to these parts. We get the GPS position for the cache and hang the tools in a tree covered in plastic. We jokingly said we wanted to make a pirate map for Bill to find them - I think that would be a brilliant idea!
The remainder of the tools we took in hand to do some polishing work on the way down. With hiking poles lashed to our packs and tools in hand we went as a group slowly down the trail. We stopped in a few places to rack or weed whip the areas we deemed unfit. Most of the trail was fine, but we wanted the trail to be better than fine!
As we hiked down, again I often paused and gazed and these gorgeous sights that I would never see exactly as I saw right then, and may never see again. I couldn't let the last opportunity slip by just so I could make it to the bottom of the hill in record time. All of us were a bit nostalgic already, our pace was slow and full of stopping to smell the roses and see the sights. After a near flawless week filled with hard work, good talks, laughter, and cheer it was sad to be passing out of that back into society. Even as the reality of the place, the laid back nature of Stehekin, was just setting in, we packed our gear and head out.

At the bottom of the trail we lined up for a group shot. I asked Josh to move the truck over so we could set the camera at a good height for us to be gathered around the trail-head sign. After he parked the truck in it's new position a tiny chipmunk tumbled out of the wheel, shook his head and ran clumsily off! I think he was already making a home of it, or at least taking a nap in there!

Having one more night here in the valley before leaving in the morning, we went back to Harlequin Camp to the same campsite, and to hang out with the same frisky mule deer. We pitched our tents and took our turns taking piping hot showers. The water felt marvelous on sore muscles and dirty skin after being in the back country for a few days. I can see now how much I will appreciate a hot shower when I hike the AT!
After we cleaned and smelled less like sweat and more like flowers, Bill came by. He had an offer for Josh to go to him to Walmart. The real Walmart. In Chelan. By plane! Bill also mentioned something about taking others of us up in the plane if there was enough day light. I didn't get my hopes up for the second part, I was just happy Josh got to go! Bill and Josh left for the errand.
The rest of us took a cruise down to the landing. We bought some knickknacks for loved ones, and beer for the BBQ we were invited to at Bill's house in a little while. We sat on the deck, soaking in a very pleasant afternoon, drinking a beer. The views across and down Lake Chelan looked like an oil painting - the lighting impossibly perfect. After awhile of enjoying the moment we headed to Bill's.
In Bill's yard I could see a fire going in a pit to the side. His wife, son, and dog were waiting for us. We gathered and gave her our thanks. The picnic spread covered two tables, all the fixings one could think of, even chocolate chip cookies and other desserts. This families hospitality was astounding! I felt like they were welcoming us as family with open arms! We sat around the fire talking and eating, enjoying the afternoon.
A plane was heard. It's always easy to know when Bill gets home! A few minutes later Bill and Josh drive up, Josh has a big smile on his face, obviously a good experience. Bill says, "Who's next?" We all look at each other, and I suggest Shortest Straw. Liz, Joni, and I throw our names in on it. Bette and Howard abstain. I pull the first straw, I can't tell it's size. Liz and Joni both pull theirs - and theirs is the same length, meaning: I WIN! Giddy I get in the truck to head over to the air strip.

Bill explains the Husky is the bush plane used a lot in Alaska for being able to land on sand bars and having enough guts to get up and out of short valleys. The plane is a two seater, and I sit behind Bill. I get all strapped in and we have a quick radio check and safety check. Bill starts the plane and slowly makes his way down the runway, he mentions he has seen a bear fairly often at the end of the runway hanging out. No bear tonight though! Bill turns the plane around and we pick up speed, soon rushing down the strip, and then.... we are free from the constraints of gravity! At first I am apprehensive, looking and taking pictures helping to keep my mind off of the fact the in a vehicle lighter than my car I am soaring through the sky. Higher and higher we go, up the valley we I'd rode a bike a few days ago. The sun was incredibly bright, blindingly. The mountains on either side of us reflecting the evening glow. Below the tree tops a sea of dark green, in the distance and quickly approaching a small lake became visible. Bill continued to pilot the plane up the valley, pointing out Agnes Creek and following that valley. Beyond where we hiked the mountain-sides became impossibly rugged looking, snow and glaciers creeping down the sides of the mountains. Dead end valleys with waterfalls tumbling trough them called out to me. My mind jumped from apprehension and wonder to thoughts of exploration and awe. How hard would it be to get to those secluded places? When was the last time a human explored those places? Since there is no reason and no pass to cross I expect not many people have been in those secret places. I want to be in every one. I want to see every leaf and rock. I want to hold my arms to the sky and soak in the majesty of this land! The ride is intoxicating!

The higher we climb, the more apparent the snow covered tops become. In the valley I see a snow peak in the distance. Up here, this world apart in the sky, surrounded by these flying castles of snow, it is so apparent that another world is lost upon me. We crest a pass and get into Company Creek valley. Bill points out where 5 mile campsite should be located. He also points out the pass where Company Creek turns into Devore Creek Trail. The pass looks so tough! It is up an incredibly steep incline! Several thousand feet in a few short miles, looks very very tough hike. OH! I want to come back and do it! I want to taste, even briefly, this world in the sky with my boots on the ground!
Bill makes a few circles over Company Creek. I can see our trail! I can see where we cleared the meadows! I can even pin-point the Cedar Cathedral - awesome! I do get to see them again. The perspective of seeing everything I hiked in seconds rather than minutes or hours makes me marvel at the power of flight. As we head back towards the landing strip we bank out over the Stehekin landing and I see Bucknard Orchard below, it's much larger than I thought. The valley spread out below is beautiful, as we sink lower I can pick out details I have seen from the ground, rushing closer. As we hit the runway and begin slowing down I take a video, and I see several deer grazing to the side of the air strip. Bill executes the landing perfectly and soon enough I am climbing out of the bush plane, I am giddy, and speechless, all I can do is grin and thank Bill for the opportunity.
Back around the campfire in Bill's backyard Bill offers to make one more trip into the sky. Liz and Joni flip a coin. Joni wins. As they walk back toward the plane Bill pauses and calls Liz over. After a brief talk all three leave for the air strip. Come to find out, together they were light enough to cram into the back of the plane. He took both of them up at the same time! I'm very glad they got to both experience it! The joys of flight has a much newer meaning to me.
We stayed up later this night than any other the entire week. After many confections and some drinks we sleepily went back to the campsite just down the road and went to bed here in Stehekin for the last time.

Day 10 - Travel day
June 26th Sunday

The story draws to an end. Reliving through telling has been very good for me. Having these thoughts and memories floating around inside my head, ready to be half forgotten had me worried. I am sure I have forgotten many of the specifics of the trip already. What I haven't forgotten was what I felt when I was there. I really tried to convey that here in this blog, so years from now on some low-day, or during a cold snow-day, I can look back and fondly remember the feel of the Washington sun on my face, hear the rushing waters, see the nodding plethora of wild flowers in my minds-eye, and smell the pine trees. I hope I've learned something, not only from living the experience, but from re-writing it and reviewing it, and trying to boil down all the inane memories into something enjoyable to read, something that not only I can identify. Life is about learning and love. I constantly strive (aka struggle) for both in all things!
This last day went pleasantly enough, with all the packing and hustle of leaving a place. We stopped by Bucknard Orchard and read it's history and stepped back in time. The property was gorgeous, as it was from the sky the evening before. We made a few other short stops at the Bakery and the craft store before boarding our boat.

One final story about the giving nature of the people in Stehekin. A woman was celebrating her 90th birthday and wanted to see some Petroglyphs on the other side of the lake. Her grand-daughter asked if there was anyway her grand-ma could get a ride over. A token act of volunteerism was required, and the grand-mother got to have a cruise over with us as we were on our way out. I'm glad she had the idea, I'm glad we were able to go with her! To see ancient history painted on a wall and to know others had been here before and loved these mountains too...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Volunteer Vacation Part 3: Day Off

Day 6 - Off day
June 22th Wednesday

I just can't sleep in! Going to bed as early as we do every night makes for lots of sleep and an early rise just to get out of the tent. Fortunately Bette and Liz are also early risers, so I have good company while we wait for the others to rouse - Josh and Joni typically the last two to roll out by 15 minutes to 45 later. I don't mind though, I like relaxing over several cups of coffee and don't like to feel rushed.
This morning, being our day off, is especially relaxing. We have talked about what we wanted to do today. At first I thought about trying to do a strenuous solo hike, possibly hiking the Company Creek to Devore Creek loop, but after seeing how the trail is, knowing that the elevation gain would triple what we had already climbed, and knowing the mileage of 25 miles is as the crow flies - not including elevation (making it more like a 30 mile loop), I ditched the idea. I want to come back and do that loop... over the course of several days!
The evening before everyone had mentioned wanting to rent bikes. I had seen some bikes by the yurts that looked available to the trail crews, so we decided to check those out instead of renting a bike for $25 for the day.
Josh and Joni get up soon enough. We walk over to the yurts and check out the bikes. We find six that are in good enough condition to ride... but only just! Several don't change gears. Mine has only front brakes. Howard says he hasn't rode a bike in 30 years, and was a bit apprehensive about riding. He was going to take the truck and meet us where ever we were going if he didn't feel comfortable. But, as the sayings goes, he didn't forget. We all climbed on our bikes and biked across the trestle bridge and down valley towards the bakery. Since this was a free day no food was scheduled for the day, so I suggested we go to the bakery to pick up something for breakfast and lunch.

 The couple miles down valley to the bakery are incredibly pleasant. The morning air is crisp in the shade, and chilly when we pass by a creek - the glacial run-off water locally cools the area around the rushing of the water. We pass a sign for Bucknard Orchard on the right and Rainbow Falls on the left, the waterfalls is viewable as we pedal by it. We bike past the old school and the new before reaching the Bakery.
The experience of biking by the same things already driven by is very enjoyable. The breeze rushing by, the scents and closeness to surroundings brings everything in more focus. The old trucks, flower beds, lives and history of the people all become more apparent.
We park our bikes in front of the bakery and go inside. The sweet smell of baking goods fills the air in the shop. The display case has a large selection of huge delicious pastries covered in nuts, glazed in sugar, covered in fruit. All scream that they are the most delicious - I tend to believe them all! I settle on a sticky bun larger than a brick and coffee to wash it down. I also get two slices of cold pizza for lunch.
After we all leisurely eat we saddle back up. We have planned to cycle to Agnes Creek for an out and back hike once we get there, and a chance to see the PCT briefly. At breakfast we also decided to stop at the school house and Rainbow falls, since they were right off the road.
The old school house is unlocked and we walk in. There are historical displays inside, as well as pictures of classes past and a very old map of the world. Reading the history of Stehekin is very interesting. It doesn't take us long to read through the displays in the small schoolhouse.

A short ride later we take the cut-off to Rainbow Falls. The falls can be heard as a loud roar as we pedal to the trail head. The trail is very short to get to the viewing area for the falls. Later Bill explains that this trail was just completed a few months ago, allowing people to view the falls much closer up and in more of it's grandeur. The lower viewing area is gorgeous, and the temperature drops immediately by 10 degrees. As I take the trail to the higher viewing area, the trees begin dripping slightly then pouring like they are raining. The mist from the falls is thick, and drenching the trees. It becomes very cold! The view is gorgeous but so mist drenched I cannot linger! I snap a few pictures and even take a small video, but a few minutes is all I can take before I'm hurrying back to the warmth of the sun. The bracing coldness makes me feel wonderful! The warm sun dries me and my mind expands! I feel so ALIVE!!!

I pedal back down to the main road with a huge smile on my face. The ride back to Company Creek road goes quickly on the blacktop. Once there we continue up Stehekin Road, the road turning to gravel. Going up stream we go up hill slightly a lot. It doesn't seem like it, as the road goes up steeply and then has some descents. But we are constantly gaining elevation. Sometimes I ride in the front, and pedal hard to get in front and take pictures as the rest of the Crew catches up; at other times I ride in the back, slowly going and enjoying the surroundings and the day.
The road follows the river passing fewer and fewer homes and cottages as we go further. We pass beautiful sun-lite fields framed beyond in mountains, more wild-flowers by the roadside grassy swales and fields fill the view and complete the relaxation. Very little traffic passes a couple cars and the Park Service bus, everyone slowing and waving. We ride by the Ranch that we have heard about. There is supposed to be a restaurant there. The place looks great, cottages behind a field with the lodge behind.

The road passes through dark green forest bordering the river, and more open pine forest at slightly higher elevation. The road begins a more steep ascent, the river going from broad and winding to more narrow and much more swift. After some hard pedaling I arrive at High Bridge. This is where the Park Service bus makes it's last stop. We are also close to Agnes Creek Gorge Trail. Sanya is said to live at the Park Service cabin here. Very secluded, and very nice. I see a small water pump down in the river to bring water up to the cabin.
The bridge is very cool looking, over a high rocky part in the river. Here the river is noisy and has huge swells from the rocks just below the surface. After all arrive we decide to stop here for lunch and a few moments of relaxation after the stiff hill to get here.

After eating we cross the bridge and immediately run into a very steep hill. I know the trail should be very close, so I gear down and work hard to get the bike up the hill. Soon enough I cross the PCT and find the Agnes Gorge Trail. Happily, I get off the bike. A couple minutes later (the smart ones) Joni and Bette walk up the hill, "one look at the hill and that was it". Brilliant!
Bette didn't wear her hiking boots, so she has no plans to hike fast. So her and Liz hang back, Joni Josh and myself hiking off quickly in the front. The trail doesn't gain much elevation, mostly following the hillside elevation profile making for an easy trail. The 2.5 mile trail goes quickly - occasionally in old forest, other times the view opened up, leading around cliffs, crossing a few streams, and occasionally through hot meadows. In no time we get to the main attraction. The river goes through a squeeze, swirling and foaming over rocks, the other side of the gorge very steep. I climb down next to it and take many pictures. I climb over rocks and trees, looking down the river, beyond a few waterfalls and rapids, a waterfall streams down the cliff face joining the river. This marvelous glade is totally enchanting. Plenty of things to see and climb on over and around. Totally worth the hike out here!

 We stay for awhile enjoying the sights and sounds. Soon enough we head back down the trail. We stick together, I hang back to snap some pictures of the group. The hike is quick, enjoying the easy walking and light conversation.

 Back at the trail head we head back towards camp. Considering how long it took us to get there, we are expecting it to take as long. We are very surprised at how quick we get back. There was a lot more uphill to get to High Bridge. The uphill was deceptive though, and we didn't even realize it. Going back was smooth and easy. I got out front and tried to pedal as hard as I could, first to get photos of everyone, then just to go. I wanted to pedal hard and work my butt off for the fun of it. Liz kept up the entire way, neither of us were killing ourselves, just pedaling hard. I feel if she wanted to she could have passed me at anytime and left me in the dust!
Back at camp much quicker than expected, everyone but Liz and I took showers. We were just hungry and didn't mind going to dinner as dirt-balls! Once everyone was ready we climbed into the truck and drove to the Landing. Once there we met Bill's wife, whom works at the restaurant. Our server was a very nice woman by the name of Melissa. She mentioned her boy friend was hiking the PCT and I started asking a bunch of questions, "Where's he at on the Trail?", "Is this his first time?", "Did he meet you here while he was doing the Trail previously?". Bill was saying Stehekin is the last resupply stop for the final push to the termination of the PCT at the Canadian border.
We drank a few beers and had an excellent dinner. It was so nice to be served and not have to clean up dishes!
As we climbed back into the truck I got behind the drivers wheel and everyone else jumped into the bed of the truck, I got to chauffeur them all! Next time we used the truck I jokingly demanded that they all ride in the cab so I could have the back to myself!!
Back at camp I packed up as much as possible, transferring the gear I didn't want to carry into the back country into the duffel bag I planned on leaving in the truck. Tomorrow we backpack into the back country! I hit the pillow quickly, tired and content!

Next: Finishing Work

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Volunteer Vacation Part 2: Starting Work

Day 3 - Work day
June 19th Sunday

I woke with the brightening of the sky. I got out of the tent and started gathering ingredients for coffee and lunch from the bear box. As everyone else was rousing, we drank our coffee, made with a hand-held cone filter dripper - it worked very well, much easier than a percolator for camping. Josh and Joni determined we were having eggs and hash browns and prepared those. I made PBnJ sandwiches for the day. Each of us had brought a container to hold our sandwiches, which worked out well.
As the sun rose, it finally breached the far mountain, sending brilliance into the campsite and warming the chilly morning air. I went and stood, face into the warmth soaking it in pleasure!

Not much better than the morning sun!

Ranger Bill was giving us time to settle in, and he had some errands this morning. We didn't have much to do besides camp chores until 10am. Howard had the idea for us to come together and do group stretches as a team building exercise. At first I thought it was corny, but afterwards I changed my mind about that. It was a very good idea. Not only to help us stretch, but to look each other in the face and say something beyond just light chit-chat.
Limber now, we packed away the last of the food goods into the bear box and grabbed our day bags with water and lunch. We headed out to behind the airport where a couple trees were down. We climbed out of the pick-up and began following the Stehekin River Trail, that eventually connects to the Company Creek Trail. The first blow down was extremely tiny, not more than a stick, following the trail a bit more we found something slightly heftier, but still only took minutes with the saw. This section of trail is often used by locals on morning walks. The trail was clear and comfortable up to the other end of the runway where Bill awaited.
That work finished, we got back in the vehicles with our tools and headed to the formal trail-head of Company Creek. Bill gave us a safety debriefing with Howard's help, on the proper way to carry tools, and how and where to sit them when not in use on the trail-side.
As we began the hike Bill explained the lower part of the trail needed little maintenance - the real mission was much further up. As we went along we kicked lose stones and pine cones from the trail. The first couple tenths of a mile is relatively flat, at which point the trail cuts into the hillside as a steep switch back. There were a couple drains pointed out, correctly installed, and further up one that needed a bit more help. Joni, Josh, and myself dropped off to begin working on a few problem area a few tenths beyond the first vista. Josh and Joni began weed whipping the soft plants encroaching on the trail, and racking the debris created.

img from: used from Google imgs
The blade is serrated and sharpened. You swing it back and forth to mow down soft tissue plants. The woodier plants require a pair of loppers.

I have a shovel and a Pulaski. The Pulaski has an axe on one side and a mattock on the other, it can be used for digging tread or chopping trees - very useful tool (and my favorite!). I re-work all drains that I see for the next .3 mile or so - digging out the bottom of the drain, adding rocks and rebury. Hopefully it will act as erosion control. As I slowly make my way up the trail I soak in the occasional break in the trees - oh what gorgeous trees! The understory is pleasantly green with grass, with a profusion of purple flowers nodding in the breeze.

Behind me Josh and Joni make the trail look awesome, nice and open and clear. We get to a good stopping point, the trail changing from gentle zig-zag to a ridge walk. The trail crests piece of land, going up hill the land falls away very quickly to a deep canyon, at the bottom lies Company Creek. On the right side of the trail the land slopes off into forest. The trail splits the difference and goes up steeply between these two choices!

 As we begin lunch Bette comes down to tell us after we finish eating Bill wants us to skip a section of the trail and met the rest of the group at a meadow further up. Drinking a cup of coffee and enjoys snacks and the sandwich, the three of relax for a bit before packing it in and heading up the trail. We pass some where recent evident work has been done on a section of the trail. Getting to a beautiful wild flower be-speckled meadow, the world opens up behind us. A awesome view down into Stehekin Valley becomes immediately viewable. The sun streams down into the opening, lush green grass and shrubs around the edges of the clearing are in stark contrast to the large primordial trunks standing just behind them. The trail winds itself through this magnificence to where the rest of the group stands in the shade at the top of the meadow.
Bills' plan for the meadow is to have one group work on the tread-way, adding a large boulder to the top of a drain. The rock must be sunk flat with the trail and supported by other rocks and soil. The rock itself can't wobble in the slightest. The other meadow project is to make a bench of natural materials, either rocks or a log or both. I pick this project and begin scouring the woods for something appropriate. Up the hill a bit more I find a down log that looks like it could be made to work. Liz takes a turn chopping at it.

After the lower section of the log is separated we all help dragging it drop hill to the top of the meadow. Next we go back up the hill to find some rocks to make bench ends so the seat is comfortable. We roll and carry some rocks and stack them up to make a stable and comfortable bench. After pruning the extra limbs Bill, Liz, Bette, and I enjoy our labor by sitting and gazing into the valley. Interestingly there seems to be no human habitation in the valley, the tree cover on the floor covers any sign of roads and homes. Even the airstrip isn't visible.

Quality Assurance testing!

Bill thinks the bench may not last the season. Rocks are great places for grubs and ants to hide. He believes the bears will see these rocks as a great thing to roll over looking for tasty treats. There shouldn't be anything living under the rocks for awhile, so I hope people in the vally can come and enjoy the view for ahwile before the ursas come and destroy our labor! Bill mentions many locals come up to the meadow, and I can see why. The view is wonderful, and it isn't a far hike up from the valley floor.
The entire group gathers around the trail as Bill, Howard, Josh, and Joni continue working on the drain. We gather different sized rocks for them to try to Tetris into correct positions. The rocks must be solid enough for horses and boots to not knock loose. They do a great job, and soon the trail looks whole again, all the work hidden by a layer of dirt. When I hike a trail now, I will not only think about all the obvious trail maintenance, but also the hidden work, the work that is buried but totally necessary to keep the trail from washing away. I so often just hike and rarely think about what I'm stepping on unless I trip. The efforts of volunteers everywhere so we can enjoy a view in the mountains is astounding!
We head up trail a small distance further and clear some more over grown trail for 30 minutes before hiking further along to cache the tools for the evening. We reach the edge of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and come on the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. Bill explains there is less funding for the wilderness area, and thus much less work done to the trail going forward. Our true mission lies beyond these borders. How bad could these trails be? Tomorrow we will get a glimpse. We cache the tools behind a large log off the trail and turn downhill to return to camp.

On our way down we stop for a break at the meadow again, just to test the bench again. The view will probably stop us here every time we come down this trail. We head down and out, I critique my own work as be descend - could I have done better? Did I do enough? It will have to do, as I now know we have larger fish to fry (or bushes to whack, if you prefer!) in the wilderness now behind us.
Back at camp we take turns showering, how wonderful hot water feels on used muscles! Josh tries soaking his feet in the chilly river and gets a 4 second high score. On the way back from the bathroom I take a peak at the group campsite, and it appears water has been recently through the camp. While it is very pretty, it makes me glad I didn't set up a tent there! There was a mule deer in camp, very brave - she just gazed my way. This reminds of the deer in the Shenandoah.

We cook dinner, and sit around the campsite chatting, but mostly just tired. We look up a few wildflowers we saw in Howard's wild-flower book. Everyone gets so sleepy after-wards we don't stay in this world for long. While eating dinner we see a couple ducks fly up river then later float down, they have odd markings so Howard looks them up in a wildlife book - turns out they are Harlequin Ducks, the name sake of our campsite - very appropriate! We clean up, we gather wood for fire, take one look at it and decide not to light a fire, rather we all head for bed! The muscles are kind of sore, I can definitely tell I did something other than sit in a cubicle today, and I love it!

Day 4 - Work day
June 20th Monday

More in the groove, we are up with multiple coffees in hand and breakfast in our bellies when 9am rolls around for us to head to the work site. Bill meets us soon enough and we head back to the large (2 parking spot) lot for the trail-head of Company Creek. On our way we stop through the 'Mall' otherwise known as the trash compactor. The Park Service provides recycling and a place for trash to residents so the residents would have a dumping area in the valley to attract bears. Things that people don't want, old clothes, espresso machines, whatever else is left for awhile before compacting and hauling off. It's a great place to pick up free thrift stuff. We also grabbed a few more tools that we think we might need at the top.
The hike to the top is just as beautiful, my jaw still drops when I see the first vista. We pause at the meadow again, sitting in the shade in the warming morning sun. After another stiff hike to the park boundary we stop for a snack on a couple large logs.

 The weather seems to be perfect, warm but not hot. We hike around a few corners and Bill drops off a few people to clear the trail. Liz and I head forward with Bill to round a corner to see a huge dead tree blocking the path, on the steepness of the hillside. The root ball is pulled all the way out of the ground up hill and the tree seems to be teetering on falling down further. Before we attempt a push we begin trim work on some limbs, next we top the tree, then we start hacking into the larger trunk that may get held up by another tree. The outer few inches of the tree is very soft, it crumbles with a beating with little resistance. Towards the center of the tree the wood is much harder and work slows. We three take turns swinging the Pulaski at it, then we switch to the saw for a bit. Finally I go up the tree and teeter it a little, as big as this thing is it's really moving! We get Josh and Joni, myself, Bill, and Liz to start rocking the thing back and forth. And CRASH! It impressively rolls down the hill off the trail and stops with a thud a few yards off the trail. If it's fall hadn't been broken so soon, it would caused mass destruction further down the hill... darn!
The rest of the crew finished clearing the back trail and we picked up our tools and headed further up the trail. Rounding a corner Company Creek became visible, off in the distance in the ravine to the left. Rushing white-water and small waterfalls roared up at us. Under a shady pine Bill dug a bench into the embankment and sat, calling a lunch stop. We ate our packed lunches with a great view down the Creek valley to the Stehekin and of Company Creek. After enjoying the food, talk, and view for awhile, we picked up our tools and headed on. Bill told us about a creek that we should travel to eventually, we should stop and clear the trail of any dead-falls of debris, but not to get bogged down on brushing the trail.
We did find a couple trees that needed clearing, all small. After 30 minutes of walking (plus time to clear the downed trees) we made it to the stream, only a few feet wide, running across the trail. The cold water felt very refreshing after dipping a handkerchief in to it. We also refilled some of our bottles of water. I dipped my cup in and drank, figuring there isn't much between the stream and the snow it is melting from!

Joni showing the timber who's boss

Directly after the stream the trees cleared and a meadow opened up. Clearing this and other meadows was the real reason we were here, and they really needed clearing too! Bill told us that there was a campsite on the other side of the meadow that we were on the verge. Howard and myself volunteered to go and find it. Bill had to g back down to Stehekin a bit early for an errand, Bette and Liz volunteered to go with him so he wouldn't be alone. Joni and Josh started some light clearing at the beginning of the meadow. As Howard and I moved through the meadow we stopped to clear some low hanging branches and other bigger stuff. The meadow is rather over-grown, but not terrible, the trail is visible mostly. There is one 'island' of trees in the meadow along the trail, as it goes up and over a hill. Down on the other side the brush gets more thick, the wildflowers and verdant greenery of the grasses and shrubs and explosion of life. The heat and humidity is thick in this minor jungle. Looking up and to the right a couple beautiful waterfalls are clearly in view. Underfoot the ground is occasionally marshy, in 2 places a stream comes and joins the trail for a short period.

On the far side of this first meadow there are two large trees, with rocks lining a path between them. Hanging on a tree a sign states 'Cedar Cathedral Camp'. Following the path between the trees, it drops 5 or 6 feet quickly, the trail garnished with an iris, into a small green glade. Here soft grasses grow, mingled with tiny wild flowers. A couple benches made from slabbed wood are positioned around a small fire ring. Directly beyond the fire ring is a small still pool. The roaring of the creek is close by, but the small cove catches water behind and island and sand bar, leaving it nearly motionless and less than a foot deep. The small glen doesn't have room for any more than a couple tents, however, so I will need to search around for a place to put all our beds.
More interestingly, across the cove, hangs another sign. Saying just 'Cathedral'. There seemed to be no path to the cathedral without getting wet feet. I looked to the left and saw a back way, having to climb up over and through some maple trees. Once through, I see enormous, previously hidden cedar trees. Arrayed in a small grove. I waled the path between them to a open spot that had two benches facing the trees. The feeling of near reverence seemed to echo around the place, the cedar lofting high above, their great torsos larger than any cedars I had seen before. The given name Cedar Cathedral became very apparent. Someone had nailed a cross into a dead portion of one of the trees in front of the benches making it a sanctified church in someone's eyes.
I marveled at the beauty of the trees, and that from the campsite, feet away, the cathedral was completely obscured. I climbed back through the maples and told Howard about it. He climbed back to take a look. I went in search for a campsite. Back on the main trail I saw a likely spot, unfortunately on the other side of some logs. I climbed over to check the potential, and there seemed to be enough spots for all of the tents. Satisfied we had a place to live, I waited for Howard before heading back to the rest of the group. He asked if I noticed the cross, he didn't seem to like the fact that it was there.
Joining with the Joni and Josh, we stashed the tools by the stream and headed down the valley towards home. The next day we had our work cut out for us. Howard and I would clear campsite, Josh, Joni, Liz, and Bette would begin working on the meadow - Liz and Bette starting at one end and Josh and Joni working towards the other. Bill would not be coming with us - we would be on our own. Bill had left a radio with Josh in case of an emergency and instructed him to check in the morning and out in the evening.
The trip down the trail went quickly, I brought up the rear so I could get some pictures of everyone.

In the valley and back at camp, Joni had found that she had a broken water bottle that needed replacing. I offered to go into Stehekin as well. The sun was out and the day was incredibly gorgeous. I went in and bought a deck of cards and another snickers bar as well as some beer for everyone. Joni found a water bottle, not cheap, but it says Stehekin!
Back at camp we lite the fire briefly after dinner, but it was very windy and chilly after the sun hid beyond the mountains. We put the fire out after a half and hour. I went to bed and read for a bit before sleeping through the night.

Day 5 - Work day
June 21th Tuesday

As we packed our lunches, we decided to take some additional food for when we were doing the back country camping. We figured it would be much easier to take up a few extra items to do in our day packs rather than carrying the same stuff up along with all our gear. Howard stuffed his bear canister full to leave and the rest of us took a few items. I grabbed a couple bags of apples.

After a brisk morning hike, stopping to rest at our bench, and to get a group photo. We made it to our work-site for the day. We discussed what we were going to do on the way up and everyone dived right in, eager to get things done! As Howard and I went across the meadow to start on the campsite we stopped and sawed down a couple trees. This is where my instinct to just man-handle things out of the way and his to precisely cut became very apparent. I wanted to break this branch in seconds. Three quarters if the way through the cut I say, "back up I can break it." he says, "give me five more minutes of sawing" one more saw stroke and the things breaks due to it's own weight! On we move up the meadow back to the campsite. I clear a path to the cathedral, not an easy path, but mostly just some brush and low hanging branches. Next I begin working on the tent sites, as Howard clears out some branches in the camp-site-proper. I clear the larger plants with stickers, and moved some branches and debris. I will need a rake to be able to do a more thorough job. After we break for lunch Joni and Josh begin also clearing the campsites, as that is priority for the next time we come back up here. Josh finds a few smaller logs and makes a step way over the larger log into the tenting area. Between the rest of us we clear enough spots for everyones tents. In the afternoon I also grab a weed whip and do a portion of the meadow as well as use the loppers to get rid of a place with lots of shrubs. I get several decent before and after shots of the work that was done this day.

As the day was winding down we had to hang the food we brought so no animals would get into it. Howard's bear canister would be fine left on the ground, but not everything would fit. Bette had a very brightly colored, but sturdy bag that we used. The bright colors were just a tease to any passing animal! We all surmised that the bag might not make it through the day we would be gone. We head back down the hill. Sore from a very hard day of swinging whip, rake, Pulaski, and all the other implements. We all need a day off, and tomorrow we get one!

Next: Day Off