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Major dead tree obstruction

It sure is awesome up here. Mount Hawkins Ridge Trail is high above the Crystal Lake Recreation Area basin, far enough up and not very well known that for the past 10 years or so no serious, formal trail maintenance has been done on Hawkins, so today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders has come to resume the effort to clear the trail of dead tree obstructions and to remove growth and rock from the trail.

This is the third consecutive weekend working on Hawkins, but for me it's the first time I have managed to come up to the mountains in over 6 weeks. As people probably know, I managed to ker-whack! my idiot shoulder out of its idiot socket, and while a dislocated shoulder is more embarrassing than anything else, it has kept me off of my bicycle, out of the mountains, and lacking exercise for six whole weeks, but today I'm back in the saddle! Joyness!

We met at the Gateway Information Center along Highway 39 at the base of the mountains, and promptly at 8:00 we climbed aboard our vehicles and headed North in to the mountains to the Rincon Fire Station where we acquired our trail-working tools, equipment, and materials that we would be needing for the day.

Since I'm kind of one handed I grabbed myself a single-bitted ax at Rincon and, in case we found any overhanging tree branches, a lopper, both of which would let me do light work. Going through the paperwork for today's volunteer effort I saw that three Trailbuilder volunteers had already started, getting up at 5:00 this morning to get a jump on things at first light. Awesome.

On the radio I called our Los Angeles Dispatch safety Overlords to check in and let them know that today there would be (in addition to the three forward crews already on the mountain) exactly thirteen more of us heading up to Hawkins.

Thirteen. Ha, as I keyed the microphone I paused for a moment to be mildly amused at the number that is so often associated with bad luck, so instead of reporting that there would be thirteen of us I instead reported that there was going to be myself "plus twelve." THAT should fool the fates sufficiently that I felt reassured, climbed aboard the pickup truck, then we headed further North up the mountain.

Today we were going to save some Mount San Antonio College students and some Boy Scouts join the effort, and because the trail has not seen any serious effort for over a decade, the helping hands were welcome.

We drove to Crystal Lake, through the campgrounds, to Deer Flats, then on to South Mount Hawkins Road, a four mile dirt road that leads up to the platform where the fire watch tower used to stand before it was destroyed, taking it slow and steady because the road is in very poor shape, just barely useable for affording fire access.

Trail sign

At the saddle at 7200 feet we parked, got out of the vehicles, and had a safety review, covering the day's Job Hazard Analysis and covering the Project Activity Level for the forest (which required that we stop using chainsaws at 13:00.)

Though it was getting rather cool, the Southern Pacific Rattle Snake is still out and about, plus there are scorpions, tree limbs that can break, various other hazards one might fight when out hiking or biking in the mountains, all of which was covered in the safety review. In addition the tools that we would be using today was covered, all so that people would use the tools and equipment safely.

After the safety review we hit the trail! The dirt tread had growth uprooted and removed, brush and pine needles were scraped off of the trail using McLeod tools, shovels removed rocks and tripping hazards from the trail, and once we caught up to the chainsaw teams, we split up somewhat to help dig out under dead trees and swamp for the sawyers while other volunteers continued to work the tread.

Since I had the ax I used it to knock limbs off of dead trees that were down across the trail. We de-limb the dead trees before bucking the main trunk so that limbs don't fall on the sawyers and so that once they're bucked the sections can be rolled easily off of the trail. De-limbing with an ax is quick and easy when the limbs are dry and small, but for larger limbs the chainsaw is used, so I did what I could one handed until I took a swing and broke the handle. D'oh!

This is the second tool I have destroyed in the past nine years and, standing there holding the shattered fragments of my ax with a dismayed expression on my face, the other Trailbuilders walked past me and every one of them confirmed that, yes, the price of replacing the ax would certainly come out of my pay. Alas. That would truly be a shame if I got paid.

Trailbuilders Bob, Jonathan, Tom, and Bryan were on the saws today. With 34 trees that needed to be addressed in various ways you could imagine just how tired the sawyers got considering the weight of the saws, the tools and equipment carried, the fire extinguishers, medical kits, fire shovels, and everything else that they carry.

In the series of photographs provided here be sure to check out the photo showing one of very large dead tree trunks that were bucked up today. The final cut on the puppy was a long and difficult one using the largest saw that we had which gets heavier and heavier as the day progresses until it's just too heavy to lift, it seems like.

Because all of the weight of the saw is on the left and the cutting blade is on the right, after many difficult hours of effort it gets to be easy to have the saw end up tilting toward the left and carve out awesome futuristic shapes from the log which for generations of hikers to come will forever make people pause a while and ask themselves, "Wuh?"

Clearing a series of deadfalls

LOL! For the rest of my life I get to be gently reminded of dislocating my idiot shoulder in the silliest way possible, and for the rest of Trailbuilder Bob's life we all get to kid him about his "fatigue cut" up there on Hawkins Ridge -- unless Bob hikes a saw up there some dark night when he unable to sleep and cuts it flat. -heh- What fun. I think it looks neat, something we can hike past and smile.

While working we had a grand total of of 3 hikers work their way past us which -- on a golden day like to day -- is a good indication that most people are not aware that this trail exists.

On the safety radios we got to listen to various people hunting illegally in campgrounds all through the San Gabriel Mountains, shooting from roads, shooting on hiking trails, being irresponsible and putting innocent people's lives at risk. Every year we must purchase high visibility safety vests because of poachers, an expense the Trailbuilders really can't afford since funds are needed for the tools and equipment we need for trail work. Ah well.

It makes me angry on so many levels and I find it difficult to remain professional, so I'll just shut up about what I think of the hunters in these mountains. Suffice it to say that the noise you hear is my teeth grinding. LOL. Ah well.

There was also some not-so-amusing individual that allegedly drove his motorcycle over a barricade and managed get himself on to a closed road or hiking trail, something that hikers would expect to be safe from people on motorcycles, any way. Someone he drove past got his license plate number so he'll hopefully be getting a request through the mail to come and explain it all to a Judge.

But working far above it all the turmoil below could be ignored. The cool breeze, green trees, and crisp, clean air of the mountains at high altitude was pure heaven.

It was a very successful day out. In addition to clearing just over half a mile of trail on top of what had been reworked during the previous two volunteer efforts prior to today, there were a total of 34 dead trees either lifted and carried off of the trail, else bucked up with the chainsaws and then shoved off of the trail.

Some days the volunteer trail-working effort goes so well, the work flows so smoothly, the volunteers leap-frog down the trail and proceed so well that a great deal of work gets accomplished and it's somewhat surprising when the day ends and everyone looks up from what they've been doing and take a look at what they did. Today was like that; a half mile of trail is very good progress, more so given the number of obstructions that had been down across the trail.

Much of the trail reworked

Up here on Hawkins the trees are healthy, green, and wonderful. Being so high up meant time spent gazing off in to the far distance all the way to the ocean to the West which could be seen despite the haze. There are areas which have shade and would be perfect for laying down one's sleeping bag, watch the Sun settle down and disappear, then watch the stars spread in the gathering darkness and, snuggled down in the warm sleeping bag, watch the clockwork universe wheel overhead.

Ah well, some other time. Today we got a lot of good work done, and when it was time to call it a day we climbed back aboard our vehicles, slowly made our way down the road, through Deer Flats, through Crystal Lake campgrounds, and back to Rincon where we examined our tools (those that had not been destroyed, ha!) and we were done for the day.

It looks like one more day is needed to complete the whole trail, though snow is coming and it may be that the final section of Hawkins Ridge may need to await the thaw come next spring. Until then the Trailbuilders will perhaps work along Bear Creek Trail or perhaps East Fork or Heaton Flats, working the lower altitudes until the snows melt to allow us to finish Hawkins Ridge.

* Trailbuilder Bob using the large saw
* One of the complicated obstructions across the trail that needs to be cut up
* Trailbuilder Bryan removing limbs on the dead tree before bucking can start
* Some of the first large cuts for the bucking effort
* Bob continues to work on the largest obstruction
* Tread work gets performed when the obstruction has been removed
* Trailbuilder Tom works on removing limbs from another dead tree on the trail
* Some of the extensive root structure, all of which must be cut and removed
* Trailbuilder Vincent excavates under a trunk so that it can be bucked up cleanly
* The trail after the obstruction has been removed -- the tread gets worked
* After everything has been hauled aside and the tread is worked
* Trailbuilder Bob's "fatigue cut" giuves a neat curve
* A look at one of the larger efforts for the day, many limbs
* Bryan continues to remove tree limbs -- looks like a duplicate photo
* Newly opened trail section, nice and wide the way the Trailbuilders want it
* At the saddle trailhead before the effort begins
* The trailhead sign at the saddle
* The road continues on heading to the fire watch tower
* One of the missing trail signs, the post any way
* Voilunteers gather for the safety review
* Trailbuilder Ben gives the safety review and covers the tools we'll be using
* We take a look around the Hawkins Ridge Trail
* A small obstruction across the trail, and a look at the trail before work
* Some dead trees across the trail that need to be cut up and removed still
* A closer look at the trees still be working
* Trailbuilder Bryan with full safety PPE and his personal chainsaw
* Obstruction above the ground after all the limbs have been removed
* Major effort continues. Some dead tree obstructions have a lot of wood
* The temporart use trail that bypasses the obstruction gets blocked off also
* A good photograph showing multiple efforts underway. All must be cleared
* Trailbuilder Jonathan releasing cross-tie wedge
* College students working on the tread further up the trail
* A look at the next obstruction and the trail beyond
* Some smaller obstructions were cut with a hand saw
* A look far off in to the distance looking toward the San Gabriel Dam
* Zooming in on the water behind the San Gabriel Dam
* Meanwhile the major obstructions continue to get carefully bucked up
* This large trunk gets slide rails put onder it to help it move off the trail
* Here's what slide rails look like as Jonathan places them
* I climb on top and look down. A subway tunnel gets dug under this dead tree
* Tread work and dead tree removal further along the trail
* Tread work and dead tree removal further along the trail
* Bob trims off some sharp points of a shattered trunk that bothered me :)
* The obstructions on this section are gone and the tread gets cleaned up
* A small obstruction too heavy to remove unless cut up
* Volunteer works the tread after the obstruction gets removed
* Pine needles get removed from the trail with a McLeod and shovel
* Here's what the trail looks like after it's been worked
* Here's what the trail looks like after it's been worked
* Here's what the trail looks like after it's been worked
* Ha! Trailbuilder Fred. By golly, the group's most ruggedly handsome member!
* Here's what the trail looks like after it's been worked
* Here's what the trail looks like after it's been worked
* Here's what the trail looks like after it's been worked
* Lunch break! Find some shade and relax for a bit
* Ben giving the morning's safety review at the saddle
* A panaramic look from the Hawkins Ridge saddle
* Much shovel work to dig until dead trees so that the saw can get through

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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