Sunday, July 06, 2008

Silver Pass Trail Crew

I just got back from a week of volunteer trail work in the High Sierra. I took the train to Fresno and worked with the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, and I ended up working on a section of trail about 3 miles south of Silver Pass on the JMT/PCT, doing mostly rock work. I originally signed up for a log-out project on a completely different but nearby section of trail, but was informed at the last minute that trip had been drastically altered in the direction of "LAME," so I just joined the simultaneous Silver Pass project. There were 2 or 3 Forest Service employees with us and 9 volunteers.

We hiked in on Saturday, a pack string brought in our tools and food, and we got to work on Sunday. The trail looked like this before.

We dug big holes, dropped in big anchor rocks on either side of the trail, put a rock between them as a step, then filled behind with crushed rocked and covered it up with dirt so it looked like this.

All of the work was extremely labor intensive, and a lot of it required a bunch of people to work together, doing a lot of standing around waiting for the right moment to use whichever tool you happened to be holding (shovel/pulaski/pry-bar/sledge-hammer).

And since we all know that I suck at cooperating, I preferred to just hit rocks with a hammer by myself all day, which was cool because we needed a lot of crushed rock to fill in the trail.

We took Wednesday off and I ran ~35 miles from camp to Selden Pass and back. On the way, I ran into the Forest Service crew from my original project. They'd completed their job (building this completely weenie bridge) in just two days, so it was good I hadn't gone with them.

The route between Silver and Selden Passes goes over Bear Ridge, with 59 switchbacks on the north side. Bombing down those at full speed on the way back and screaming out the switchback number was a pretty awesome feeling. This is me on the bridge over Mono Creek after said switchbacks.

I signed up for this trip a couple months ago after getting jazzed about trail work at the PCTA's TrailFest, and I thought only of where I'd be going, not who I might run into while there. But, in a rather awesome turn of events, my good friends Scott and Joe, who are currently attempting to break the unsupported PCT speed record (which Joe broke solo last year), hiked through while I was there. It was terribly hot in SoCal (116 degrees in Mission Creek), so hot they got big heat blisters on their feet and considered putting aluminum foil below their shoe insoles. Yikes. It's still pretty hot even in the Sierras, but they're doing well, a day ahead of schedule, and it was awesome to see them.

I also hung out with thru-hikers at VVR, ran into Squatch (maker of fine PCT documentaries), Razor (who I met on the PCT in '04), and met Slo-Ride and Shake n' Bake, who offered me a ride to the trailhead if I ever do the Arizona Trail.

Finally, on the last day of work, I got to cut out a blowdown. The rock work we'd been doing all week is important, because it prevents erosion and makes trail footing a lot more stable, but as a hiker the things that bother me most with trails are (1) not being able to find the trail because there's not clear tread or markings, (2) trees fallen across the trail, and (3)overgrown brush or trees, so it was really nice to be able to do some work that I think my fellow thru-hikers will appreciate.

Overall, I had a wonderful time. I don't think I could objectively say that the trip was well organized, since there were cooking and personnel snafus and the trip I'd signed up for didn't even happen, but the fact that someone was cooking for me seemed ridiculously luxuriant compared to my usual Snickers, Pop-Tarts and bagels, the scenery was gorgeous, I got to do a big run on the JMT, I had most of the afternoon every day free to explore, climb up random ridges, jump in cold lakes, and attempt to grab trout with my bare hands, I learned a lot about trail work from the more experienced volunteers and the very cool head FS guy who seemed to possess every imaginable practical building skill, and I got to shoot the bull around a campfire with cool people all week, so I'm certainly not complaining.

Trail work takes a ridiculous amount of man-hours, and it's not like the Forest Service or other park-type organizations are well funded, so I'd encourage you all to look into the possibility of volunteering. The PCTA has a list of organizations and projects here, the CDTA (which is seriously hard-up for some maintenance) has a list of projects here, I've started looking for projects on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, East Bay Regional Parks lists projects here, and they have several ongoing habitat restoration projects (that means pulling French Broom) listed here. Finally, there's an area group called East Bay Trail Dogs that has projects listed here. If anybody else knows of any others around here, I'm all ears.

I posted many more photos of the beautiful trip scenery on my Picasa page.
Also, I made a panorama of Selden Pass, and one near Silver Pass Lake.


  1. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Hey Garret,

    In your post you don't mention the mosquitoes -- I guess they didn't bother you? Or maybe you were always moving too fast!


  2. I especially enjoy long shots of sawing logs. I could watch that for hours.

  3. i love the hit rocks with a hammer video. how would you ever survive living in a co-op?

  4. once again i marvel at the strange (to me) world you frequent, and the, how should i say, "exotic"?, things that make you tick.

  5. NITRO9:08 AM

    Anyone interested in Trail work in Colorado? We do work on the trails going up the 14,000 foot peaks out here and at times work with the CDTA. Check us out
    The Onion, maybe we'll get your help out here. Glad you had a good time and learned a few things as well.

  6. (sings)

    Bang! Bang! Garret's silver hammer
    Came down on the rocks!

    I love the image of you hammering rocks all day.