With the Sawyers.

Our PCT crew this year cleared trails near Devil's Postpile. This was back in early June; I'm a bit slow to post...

Work came from the aftermath of a terrific windstorm last December. Thousands of trees--many big Lodgepoles or Red Fir-- were up rooted. Revealed in this event was the fact that many forest giants grow a huge buttress of roots against the prevailing winds. Unfortunately, they do this by redirecting the simple radial pattern of root growth so that everything swings around to oppose the usual zephirs; leaving a fatal weakness on one side... Storm gusts coming from 180 degrees knocked these over like ninepins. A huge mess resulted. Oddly, the damage is spotty: all down in one grove, adjacent trees for a hundred yards entirely spared. So other things equal, the forest can take it.

Mostly, we work from a trailcamp on the PCT. For this we took places in a camp near the DP Ranger station. It was odd having this delightful valley to ourselves, as the road beyond Minaret Summit(always with restricted access) was closed for the cleanup. Most of the handful of(relatively primitive) carcamps in the valley were choked with fallen trees. Our spot was pristine. Furthermore, we'd illicit access to the hotspring that feeds the old showers closed for the last few years in Red's Meadow. As I understand, that was done because they failed despite 100 years of perfect service, to meet some modern codes...

Ironically, the years of starving the skeletal trailwork staff still maintained by the govt. led to an administrator dipping into emergency funds to flood the place with chainsaw crews. These folks did good and necessary work along roads and in campgrounds; but were challenged to properly address the trails. Not understanding the trail, they often cut detours around fallen debris to expedite things. This made for extra work for the trail people.

Our contribution involved the traditional approach of clearing with handtools, notably restored vintage crosscut saws. For me personally, this was a great chance to practice and get certified to use these remarkable tools. Developed entirely by empiric engineering over the 80 years or so before the onset of mechanical saws in the 40's, they've never been equalled. In fact, the few contemporary blades made for the limited market of wilderness-area workers are nearly worthless. Hence the great pains taken to find the old saws and restore them. This is a formidable task that few are up to... One of our crew is a retired Lawrence Livermore machinist(only the best are up to the intricate work involved in the chinese puzzleboxes of atomic munitions); and he'd had only indifferent success working on his prized saws after considerable instruction. A determined fellow, he'll eventually get it right.

Most would be surprised to learn how wonderfully these cut. It's not much exaggeration to say they are easier--although slower-- to use than the finest chainsaw. Fine tapered steel blades describing a perfect arc, with precisely aligned rakers and teeth just glide through the wood. A well-tuned blade 'sings' with a pleasant vibration as it zips through the wood. The art is in placing cuts and wedging them to prevent entrapment of the blade. Actually slicing a 36" log is done in a few minutes.

The cut pieces, hugeous as they may be, are readily moved away with iron bars. Of course, the skillful sawyer tries to plan things so the cut section drops and rolls away without need for these efforts. It is a great pleasure to work with people who have these skills. As we worked, crews in the valley cut with lots of piercing howls and blue smoke; while huge loaders manoevered in to place the logs aside or into the trucks of firewood contractors. A clearer metaphor of 'progress' would be hard to imagine.

Posted by icosahedron icosahedron, August 01, 2012 15:55


Photos / Sounds


Red Fir Abies magnifica




June 4, 2012


Pix from my trailcrew week; this year cleaning up after this spring's severe storm that took down innumerable trees. Of these, the "magnificent" fir was the most troublesome to crews because of it's size.
A curious mechanism led to much of the damage: that of the trees' buttressing against the prevailing winds by orienting much of their root structure against those consistent forces. A picture of a root mass illustrates this; with almost all of it's mighty roots circling around to oppose these winds. In the cyclonic events of the big storm, the wind came from the exact opposite direction.


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