Instead of a bridge, my crew spent most of our time building rock steps, primarily on Duck Pass Trail in the Mammoth Lakes basin.
The trail to Duck Pass is one of the area’s quickest routes up into the high country, so it gets a ton of usage. The first section is a series of steep dusty switchbacks through lodgepole pine forest, but then you’re up in granite country the rest of the way to the pass. Arrowhead Lake is only a mile and a half in, with a fifteen foot high rock to jump from (unbelievably refreshing after a day of moving rock, jump at your own discretion), and then Skelton Lake’s another mile and Barney Lake’s another mile after that.
For some reason, this trail somehow became THE TRAIL for cross-country running teams from Los Angeles. Every day, we would have entire high school and college teams run through our work site, forty or fifty runners at a time, once on their way up and then again on their way back down an hour or two later. I’d never worked on such a popular trail. It was frustrating to have people constantly walking through our work site, but then, on the other hand, I’ve never had so many people thank me for anything I was doing. Literally hundreds of people thanked us. A much used and much loved trail.
The trail is slowly evolving into a giant staircase. Because it’s a steep trail, gullies form and then steps are installed to try and control the gullies. The steps hold the tread in place on their uphill side, but then the downhill side of each step slowly erodes and it becomes necessary to add another step in front of it, which inevitably needs another step in front it, and so on. My crew spent the bulk of our time building new steps in front of the steps that past crews had built, and future crews will no doubt build more steps in front of ours. At times it felt a bit sisyphean.
The steps we built are western trail steps, designed for horses and mules. Each step is supposed to be 4-6 feet long so that a horse can have its front and back legs on each step before stepping onto the next one. This step, Bigeasy, we actually sited even further in front of the timber step above it because that step is overly close to the next step above it. When that timber step inevitably rots out and needs to be replaced, it can be relocated a couple of feet forward and then all three steps will have proper spacing.
Finding the rock, aka rock-shopping, is probably the most enjoyable part. Moving it to the work site is often the biggest chore. Did I mention Sisyphus?
You do develop a good sense for the shape and size of each rock as you roll or skid it through the landscape, though. We gave names to most of the big ones. Basically, if you found the rock and spent enough time wrestling with it, if it was big enough and gravity-enfused enough, then it became ‘your’ rock and you got to choose a name for it. Names were usually descriptive, but sometimes random. For instance, Clancy (a big one fit snugly between Elton and John) was named after a forest service guy who had his macho turned up to eleven. Mammoth was an early 500 pounder. Bigeasy was surprisingly painless and easy to move. P.I.T.A. (Pain-in-the-Ass) was the opposite. Melon was low-hanging-fruit. Quickie was finished quickly. The macho, male names of our early rocks led to a series of less macho names, Howard and Jeffrey, then Fabio (very handsome), then Buttercup, Jewel, and Pearl. Showtime, the Three Musketeers, Mastodon, Alligator, and Shitzy round out the list, the last of the names I remember. A few of those steps and the view from near the top of Duck Pass are below.
P.I.T.A. replaced a rotted out timber step.
Quickie rests on slickrock, somewhat visible beneath the dust.
Trail crews make their own gravel for backfill. It’s a surprisingly popular task.
Horses and people don’t really like steps so it’s important to barricade the shoulders of each step to discourage everyone from going around it. The barricade rocks are called gargoyles.
There’s a saying that good trail work is invisible. People are there to see the landscape rather than your work, and most of what you do gets buried out of site. But there is something really satisfying about a cleaned up section of trail and a dusty granite iceberg that most people will step over without ever noticing.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 at 9:46 pm and is filed under stone, trails. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.