Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dix from Round Pond - Trail Clearing 2011-09-10

In a nutshell, I had a great time hiking with kindred spirits while clearing the trail from the Round Pond trailhead to the summit of Dix. I made the acquaintance of several forum members and shared a picture-perfect day with them in the High Peaks.

The trail-clearing team met at "Malfunction Junction" (intersection of routes 73 and 9) at 7:30 AM. Metal gates barred traffic from entering route 73. We were escorted by Ranger Lapierre to the Round Pond trailhead where Pete Hickey distributed the trail-clearing tools and described the day's work. The group had received special dispensation from the DEC to use chainsaws.

The trail-clearing event treated its participants like VIP's: highway closed to the public, private escort to the trailhead, exclusive use of the trail, the first to explore the woods after the storm, snacks and beverages served afterwards. All of this royal treatment for the price of sawing wood. 

Pete asked for three volunteers who could "run up to the summit of Dix" and clear blowdown during the descent. Not having hiked in over a month, I initially declined but changed my mind when I saw that one of the volunteers was hauling a chainsaw. How hard could it be to keep up with someone loaded down with 12 pounds of motorized saw?

During the hike, I had a suspicion that the sprightly gentleman moving effortlessly up the trail with a chainsaw, was none other than the indefatigable "JoeCedar". I asked and he confirmed. The blindingly obvious answer to my question was 'depends on who's carrying the chainsaw'! 

Armed with chainsaw, axe, and bow saw, Joe, Chris (Crepuscular), and I left the trailhead at 7:45 AM and headed to Dix. Joe led us and directed our trail-clearing activities. We cleared minor blowdown with a bow saw, typically limbs less than 5" in diameter, and mentally noted the location of significant deadfall.

Joe pointed out that once the chainsaw was out of his pack and put to use, it would be too hot to stow and would need to be hand-carried. It would be better to hand-carry it during the descent than the ascent. Therefore the plan was to start with the highest deadfall, requiring a chainsaw, and work our way down until we met the crew working their way up. 

It had been thirty years since my last visit to Dix via the northern approach and all I recalled was that it was steep. Joe confirmed my recollection when he informed us that the final mile rose 1500 feet. Stopping to saw deadfall was a welcome break. I remarked that trail-clearing was like an odd biathalon: hike, stop to saw wood, repeat.

There was ample work for the bow saw and more so for the chainsaw. We arrived at the summit at noon, paused for a half-hour's lunch and then began our descent. The chainsaw was deployed shortly before the intersection with the Hunter's Pass trail. At the intersection, Joe sliced the deadfall into manageable sections. I propped up one section, bearing trail-markers, so that it would continue to be of use. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Joe displayed a mastery of carving up deadfall. He explained that it was nothing like sawing logs for firewood. A tangle of fallen trees is a dynamic system involving trees tensioned by the fall or by the weight of other trees. There are stresses that, if improperly released, can inflict serious injuries. One needs to assess the physics of the situation before making the first cut. Even a single fallen tree requires some study in order to avoid making a cut that jams the chainsaw or worse.

I watched as he made V-notches to relieve pressure, cuts from above, below or both as required. Joe observed the log's movement as the cut progressed and listened to the chainsaw's drone, extracting it quickly when it sounded like it was being slowed by excessive pressure. Once done, Chris and I moved in to discard the remains.

After a tree was sliced up, its branches and sections of trunk were tossed off-trail. Heavy sections were stood upright and than toppled into the woods. Chris mused that some of the deadwood displayed a nasty sense of humour given the way it refused to go quietly. Bouncing back, rolling unexpectedly, or taking one last swipe with an errant branch, are 'little pranks' that kept you wary. One ornery log comes to mind because, despite repeated efforts, its five-foot long, foot-diameter, water-logged carcass, kept rolling back into the trail eager to flatten our toes. Eventually it succumbed to brute force and it now lies quietly off-trail. 

Joe summed up the conditions as being no worse than in the Spring. There were many instances of toppled trees but nothing that made the trail impassible. The run-off flushed the brooks clean of debris but did not overrun the banks. There was no devastation that required re-routing the trail but there was enough work to keep us busy for the day.

Being the first on the trail allowed us to walk a pristine path free of bootprints. It also let us easily spot animal tracks, most notably some impressive ones belonging to a bear. However, to my mind, the most unique find was the remains of a trail marker within a tree. Joe had sawn through a substantial snag and exposed a dark hollow containing fragments of rusted sheet metal and nails. It was a trail-marker that had been engulfed by its host tree. "BigNSlow" counted the rings from the hollow to the bark and estimated that forty years had passed since the marker was 'internalized' by the tree. Imagine the odds of sawing at the precise spot containing the marker! 

Comparing paw-prints.

Exposed remains of a trail-marker engulfed by a tree.
In addition to trail-clearing, I learned about the new privy design. I had asked if anyone remembered a 'wilderness-compliant' outhouse introduced (I believe) in the 80's. It was a simple wooden box surrounded by a low fence. When you sat on the box, your head remained visible and served as an indicator of occupancy. For those requiring total privacy, discovering the new design probably caused them consternation (and possibly constipation). I was informed that the latest design goes a step further and retains the box but discards the fence! At the lean-to, I saw a new privy and it looks like a sturdy lock-box to store bear canisters. Of course, that would be a mistake.

We met the second team shortly before the slide. We joined forces and Joe continued to saw deadfall until we reached the area cleared by the remaining team. Upon our arrival at Round Pond, we met Pete who was sawing through the last vestiges of a large fallen tree. All teams were back and, led by Pete, we hiked out to the trailhead where we arrived shortly before 5:30 PM.

Heading back to the trailhead.
We had been informed that route 73 would re-open at noon but it was still free of traffic. We later learned that the engineer responsible for approving the repair work was a no-show so the road remained closed. We eagerly ate the supplied snacks and refreshments and spent time socializing on the shoulder of a traffic-free highway. It was a great crowd whose company I thoroughly enjoyed and I hope we get to meet again soon. 


See all photos.