Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gifford-Pinchot National Forest Wilderness permit system

“distance is not for the fearful, it's for the bold. It's for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone in exchange for a little time with the one they love. It's for those who know a good thing when they see it, even if they don't see it nearly enough”― Meghan Daum

I got my seasonal lay off for my job at the end of September. Al's district isn't laying him off until the end of October (he started later than I did, we both end up having about a 5 month season) so I came up to the Columbia river gorge where he works until his season ends. While he's at work during the week, I have been volunteering with the local ranger district, doing many of the same things I did down in California but it's neat to see how things vary forest to forest and district to district.

The biggest difference here is the permit system. In the Hoover Wilderness where I worked, you need a permit only for overnight travel, here in Gifford-Pinchot National Forest you need it even for day use in their Wilderness areas. They track their Wilderness use very closely and use the permit system to apply for grant money. Also, instead of going to the ranger station to get a permit (what we have people do for the Hoover Wilderness), here you just self issue at the trailhead. That's very user-friendly which I like. Since my district has seasonal quotas on trailheads, we can't do this. We regulate how many people enter our more popular trailheads during the busy season to ensure a degree of solitude...Wilderness areas that are less visited don't need to do this.

Here's the box at the trailhead in Indian Heaven Wilderness, you open it and there are blank permits inside. (Love that routed lettering inside the box!) 

The permits are carbon paper, the top white copy gets left in the box and the bottom manila paper portion is the user's. The idea is to use the little elastic strap to put it on your pack. It's a bit wet up here right now for this to work but I have come across a couple people who did in fact strap it to their pack.

I come in and unlock this bar and slide it out, lift up the little board, and collect the filled out permits! I love these little boxes, such a lovely simple design...perfectly in line with the Wilderness state of mind.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Virginia Lakes trailhead sign 9/27/14

"Oil the saw, sharpen axes,
Learn the names of all the peaks you see and which is highest-
there are hundreds-
Learn by hear the drainages between
Go find a shallow pool of snowmelt on a good day, bathe in the lukewarm water."
-Gary Snyder

We got help from Friends of the Inyo who brought up all the supplies for the project...thanks!! The project was to dissemble a trailhead sign board and put up a new one. The old sign board was down in an area you can't see from the parking lot which makes for a confusing trailhead. As it turned out, the sign posts were also rotted so that when we tried to dig them out the just broke apart. So we were putting a new signboard up in a visible location with new wood. It was an amazing day to be out in the field as the first snow of the year had happened the night before and it continued to snow the entire day as we's pretty magical to have the privilege to witness that first snow in the mountains.

So first thing's first, we had to take down the old sign:

We laid it out on the ground to take some measurements to use as a template for the new sign. We kept the salvageable parts of this signboard to put up next season at a trailhead that doesn't have a nice big display like this.

Now for the new parts! We had to trace and cut out new boards:

and sand everything:

Friends of the Inyo had come with the title boards already stenciled. They were then routed out to create that lovely debossed/engraved lettering. Here's Chip routing the "HOOVER WILDERNESS" letters:
You may be wondering "What are these power tools doing in Vick's Wilderness blog!" And the answer is that we were neither working in, nor was this sign within the Wilderness boundary. The boundary is about half a mile up trail.

Once we had all the pieces cut to the correct sizes we sealed them to protect them from the elements.....they got a linseed oil or water sealant finish. In the winter the boards (except for the posts) are taken down so they don't get destroyed in winter weather. Some other forests go around wrapping all their wood signs in tarps for the winter.

We then start digging the holes for the posts. These holes were about 3' deep and came to be after hitting many rocks. Some of the rocks we hit were removed but a few forced us to slightly move our hole forward or back, redigging the hole. I got to use a new tool today, the post-hole digger! In the photo below Matt (on the right) has it. You put it into your hole and pull the handles away from each other to get a scoop or dirt and you pull it out and push the handles back together to dump the dirt somewhere.

We sunk the posts into the ground and filled them in making sure they were level and about the same height:

Then gouges were sawed and chiseled out for the cross boards to sit in:

Then we drilled holes for everything and bolted it together. Had to make sure things were level so we marked with pencil where the boards needed to be drilled first...

Look at this funny drill with forward grip! I'd never seen a forward grip like that before but the bit on this drill was so long and to get through the 6" of wood it definitely helped to get the force needed to make it through.

It's done! Look how awesome it turned out! These boards get posted with a trail map, fire regulations and other rules and regulations of the area.

Thanks again to Friends of the Inyo! This was such a fun project. Thanks to Matt Losse for the photos too!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

end of season trail work projects

"Writing is like the life of a glacier; one eternal grind." 
-John Muir

I feel like I say this every post, but I haven't been so good at updating this. That's what this post's quote is referring to. The end of the 2014 season has come and gone and with it a lot of things in life that required my attention that were not this blog.

Towards the end of the season, one of the gals from the trail crew, Cavi, left early to start school. About a month later another member, Phil, left for another position in Sequioa National Forest as a trail crew leader. That knocked our trail crew down to two people. Since the crew was small and the post-Labor Day slow-down that happens in the Sierras in full effect, our boss said the rangers could go out with the trail crew and help them with their projects. It was a great way to end the season. I am very grateful that my co-workers are so personable and easy to live and work with and it was wonderful to get to spend the last few weeks of the season on trail with them. It was also great to have a change of pace in the work. The trail work I do as a solo-patroling ranger is pretty've seen it.....mostly brushing and lopping out the trail corridor and cleaning drainage dips in the trail. To go out and do bigger projects with other people who I could learn new things from about trail maintenance was very cool.

We cleared the trails of rocks and other debris like encroaching plants:

and roots:
We do this to keep people on the trail more which creates less impact on the surrounding environment. When there's bushes and things growing into the trail people tend to walk a bit off the trail which can cause various problems one of them being trail braiding.

I don't have a good "before" photo of this trailbraiding but you can imagine what it looked like when you see the "after" photo....basically a trail right next to a trail. In this case it wasn't from folks feeling pushed away from the trail because of vegetation but was probably because the trail was muddy in the spring or perhaps the trail was hard to see in the early season when there's still snow which created a second trail parallel to the original. We opted to cover up the lower trail to keep people a wee bit further from the riparian area which is generally more sensitive to impact. Also because of the way things erode (gravity), trails over time tend to shift downslope, so if we had decided to keep the lower trail open, eventually it would probably creep closer and closer to the water. This diagram from the Forest Service Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook illustrates trail creep it pretty well:

To close the lower trail we dug it up, aerating the soil on the trail we were closing to hopefully encourage plants to grow back in and cover it up. We also put duff and logs in to make it unappealing to hike and as well as having things to hopefully decompose into and enrich the soil again with the hopes to promote the grass and willows to grow in on their own. Here's Kelsey and I working on closing down the trail:

and here's what it looks like after we aerated it and added all the stuff onto the trial we were closing:

Another issue we worked on in a few different areas was trail trenching. Ever been hiking and the trail turns into a big trench and you're walking a foot below the ground surface? It's the worst right? Hopefully your friendly neighborhood trailcrew is there to help out. In these first 2 photos, not only did we have the trenching to consider but also the fact that the trail was gaining elevation. That means we had to put in some steps to hold in the material we were filling the trench with. Here's Kelsey using the pulaski to dig out a hole for one of the steps. The downward force of folks stepping on these rocks steps makes it important to pin them in to keep them more secure and from blowing out over time. In this photo we have already installed the pinner rocks that will help hold the main step in. You can see the main rock for the step there on the right.

Once the step and pinner rocks are in we fill in all the airspace around these big rocks with smaller rocks and than smash them into smaller smaller rocks. Then, the trench also needs to be filled with rock. Here's Kelsey doing just that with the single-jack....this small rock fill is called rock crush or just "crush."

Same concept different area. This area was flat so we didn't need any rock steps to retain the crush. We just filled it in with lots of rocks, smashed them into smaller rocks, and then filled that in with sand and dirt:

Now what should happen is, the water that runs down the trail and over time creates this sort of trenching will now run under the trail through the rock crush we laid in for it. Here's a diagram from the Forest Service Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook:

Pretty much all these photos were taken by Matthew Losse, thanks Matt!