Monday, June 30, 2014

Quota season

“All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.” 
-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River

Friday we started our trail quota season which runs until September 15th. All overnight Wilderness visitors need a permit to spend the night/s in our Wilderness year-round, but in quota season we have limits on how many total people go in for overnight trips (day hikers don't need permits here) at certain trailheads each day because it's the busy season and there's a lot of impact. The permits help us keep track of what areas are getting what amount of use so we can hopefully hone in and focus on those spots. Being able to prove how much users we have could also give us good arguments for hopefully acquiring more budget and justifying jobs like mine. It would also give us a plan of action if your mom calls us to say you never came home…we could use the locations on the permit to lay out a search and rescue. I always try to ask people I see on the trail where they are headed so I can also have this information in case I end up being the last person someone on the trail sees before getting lost. 

During the busy summer months, most Sierra Nevada Wilderness areas have trailhead quotas. Many places with quotas have a certain amount of permits you can reserve ahead of time (we start taking permit reservations on March 1st but every district and Forest is different just like every areas quota season varies a little) and then half we hold (this varies from Forest to Forest, some places have 70% reservable and 30% walk-in) for first come first serve visitors the day of (the overnight quota numbers vary from about 8-100 people on our trailheads). So if you call us and all the permits are reserved, you can still show up and probably get one of the first come first serve/walk-in permits. We and many other ranger stations in the Sierras have a line at the door in the summer mornings of people trying to get one of those walk-in permits so come early!  These quotas help us minimize impact as laid out by law in the Wilderness Act so that our Wilderness is "protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable" as well as provide "outstanding opportunities for solitude."

Interestingly, not ALL Wilderness areas require permit for overnight travel....Marble Mountains does not. Also, not ALL Wilderness areas have a quota season....Emigrant Wilderness does not. Sometimes you get a last minute few spare days off and want to do a trip so it's always nice to make yourself aware of places you can go that don't require permits or have quotas. Conversely, there are some places like Desolation Wilderness (it is the most heavily used Wilderness Area per acre in the country) and parts of Inyo National Forest sectioned off as the "Mt Whiney zone" that require permits even for day use! A lot of places in Oregon have self-issued permits at the trailhead where you write it out yourself instead of going into a ranger station or getting it through

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."
-John Muir

(sorry for weird layout/font/typographic allignment issues, Blogger is driving me nuts...)

So I had my first 4 night hitch over the past weekend. It went well, I got to do a lot of different things. Cleaning up campfires (backcountry ranger secret tip: foil does not burn, it turns into tiny annoying microtrash), talking to visitors focusing on our recent fire restrictions (no campfires in our backcountry for the rest of the summer) and on this weeks upcoming trail quota season, scouting for down trees and other trail issues. I hiked out about 20 pounds in metal grates people bring in to cook over (when we are not in fire restrictions) and never seem to pack out.

I also had the honor of opening a historic backcountry cabin for the season. It was built in the 1944 from native materials and for a long time it was stationed regularly by a ranger. It hasn't really been stationed regularly since the early 2000's but we still stay there sometimes and it's also used by other Forest Service folks…botanists, range people etc. There are some marmots that live under the cabin and they have chewed holes in the floor and pretty much taken over. I measured the holes and took inventory of the tools and hardware in the cabin so we can repair it. I got there thursday night and took off the shutters and opened the windows and then slept on the porch to let it air out over night. I sprayed all the surfaces down with bleach and while wearing one of those respirator masks (because who wants hantavirus). I swept out 6+ dustpans of marmot poop. I also got on the roof and opened the skylights which really makes the cabin feel a lot nicer.

view from the meadows the cabin sits on
lots of marmot poop
the cabin built in 1944

opening the skylights on the roof

When you buck a log, you want to put a wedge in to pry your kerf open. Saturday I went back to a downed tree with a saw I found at the cabin to take it out of the trail's way. 

Despite the fact that I knew this log would have top bind and I put a wedge in, my saw still got pinched! How embarrassing! I put in my axe as a hanging wedge and hammered the other wedge a bunch to try and open the kerf more, to no avail. So I got some rocks and sticks to put under the kerf to use as a fulcrum and used a big stick to to push the log up. This opened the kerf at the top and with the other hand I hammered the wedge in more. With the wedge in more I got the saw out!

I finished the job by underbucking (sawing from underneath, really exhausting!). To avoid the pinching I should have started underbucking sooner or put in more wedges. 
Here is the first cut, complete. The wedge not only opens the kerf but often holds the log together even after the cut is finished. Here the log is still suspended in the air and will not drop until I know the wedge out!

After we make cuts we put some dirt on the cut edges so it's not so blaring and blends in a bit better. The dirt I had was pretty dry but you get the idea.

When I was dropped off at the trail head, the Lead Wilderness Ranger who has worked in this district for 20+ years told me about a great spot that had 360 degree views…he wasn't lying.
I was grateful not only for the views but also for the breeze. On Sunday the mosquitoes really blew up. It was at the point that even while hiking I had a swarm of a dozen or so on me and was hiking with a bug net on. The only solution is to get to a windy spot so when I got here and finally got rid of the buggers I was pretty happy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

“What if a tree fell in the forest and no one knew it's biological name? Did it exist?"
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

The other week Connor and I got to make a railing for a bridge in one of the campgrounds. We made the braces out of 2 x 4s and then we felled a little tree for the railing itself. I got to do the tree felling while Connor coached and supervised, I did it all by axe which felt pretty badass. Even though the campground is not in Wilderness we still mostly used traditional tools (mainly the crosscut saw and axe) which is more fun and it's good to practice especially since there are not a ton of blow downs this winter for us to work on. I've learned pretty quick that even little trees are pretty dang heavy. I suggested we drag the entire tree over to our worksite but it became clear that cutting it to size where I felled it was a much better option....don't want to wear yourself out before you've even started the job!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What do you do?

turn, turn,
and again,
hard scrabble
steep travel
― Gary SnyderThe Back Country

So the only question I get asked more than "how did you get that job" is "what do you do." In general that what a lot of this blog is about.  We have a four person trail crew and they handle the bigger trail projects but the rangers do light maintenance too. There's lots that can happen to the trail. Drainage ditches (a little dip that directs water across the trail) and water bars (same idea but instead of a ditch it's a series of rock that run across the trail) get plugged with duff and need to be cleared or else the water might run down the trail. Brush grows in and needs to be cleared. Trees fall blocking the trail. Slough builds up and pushes the trail over. There's a lot more but these are the ones I've dealt with so far this season.

oh no a tree in the trail!
a little sawing and it's all clear!

This one we had to pull the root end of the tree a bit to get it safely down from being hung up on some other trees.

People were cutting around the trail here so we tossed some logs (right side of photo) in the trail people had made to try and keep them on the real trail.
One of my favorite tools is the folding saw. It flips into itself so it's very portable and great for clearing the brushy ladder fuel that gets in the trail's way. Notice how the tree to the right of it does not have any branches sticking into the trail because we cut them out.

Ranger Academy

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” 
So last week we went to Sierra National Forest on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada for a Wilderness Ranger Academy. We spent the week camping with other rangers learning about ranger was pretty dreamy. A big highlight of the week was taking Dolly Chapman's axe class. Dolly Chapman is a living legend. She is retired from the Forest Service but thank goodness for all of us she is passionate about traditional tools and is still sharpening many of the crosscut saws that are used at least in California and she also teaches classes on crosscut saw sharpening and there's not many people that have this skill anymore so it's a wonderful thing that she is so committed to passing on that knowledge. She also used to work in my ranger district! She is an amazing teacher, really positive and encouraging and almost makes you forget that she's totally badass and famous in the crosscut world. But I digress. The axe class. I learned so much about axes! 

Look at all those! Holy cow! A more rounded/flare on the bit is easier to pull out of the wood than something with a sharp corner which will bite in more. A double bit axe is easier to swing than a single bit or another chopping tool like a pulaski because the double bit being the same on either side means equal weight on both sides of the axe so it wants to swing true and not pull you in weird ways. We also learned about re-handling AKA "hanging" an axe which I'm hoping I will do at some point and I'll tell you guys all about it when I do!

Dolly showing someone her fleet of axes that she brought
I also got my Leave No Trace certification at Ranger Academy. We went out on a little backpacking trip into Dinkey Lakes Wilderness for a night and each person in the group got to talk about one of the seven LNT principles (Plan Ahead and Prepare, Hike and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors). Most people who backpack are at least somewhat familiar with these ideas and they are based on common issues that happen in the backcountry. I talked about respecting wildlife. I focused a lot on proper food storage because I think that is the biggest issue effecting wildlife especially in the Sierras. The Hoover Wilderness where I work just started requiring bear cans for all food and smellables (yup you got to put your lotions, toothpaste etc in there too!) two years ago when you are traveling overnight in the backcountry and two of the adjacent forests require it too (Inyo and Yosemite). What the public maybe doesn't know about, is that once a bear gets used to people food and becomes bolder in being around humans is they (Department of Fish & Wildlife) sometimes have to come in and shoot the bear. Pretty sad. So it's super important to store your food safely so we can keep our bears!

First Dinkey Lake where we camp for the Leave No Trace training

Some of the folks in my Leave No Trace training by Mystery Lake

Going to Ranger Academy felt like home. It's just this wonderful feeling to be somewhere where you relate to so many people. Before I got this job sometimes I would think "man I think about the Wilderness Act a lot and that's a little bizarre" so meeting 100+ other people that are also thinking about it, and that are really passionate about just felt really good. All these people wanting to protect this really amazing idea that's really special and unique to the western United States (not that there aren't Wilderness Areas across the country but the bulk of it is in the west)....pretty wonderful.