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