Archive for the ‘trails’ Category
One of the fun parts about backcountry rock work is searching around to find the rocks to build with. One of the most laborious is then moving the chosen rocks to the building site. Some wilderness crews use a come-along or grip hoist, but most do it with human power, rolling their rocks downhill to the trail with their hands or a six-foot long rockbar. Here are a few backcountry sayings, born of many hours of wrestling against gravity:
Skidding is better than rolling, rolling is better than lifting, lifting sucks.
Stones come in three sizes: hernia, double-hernia, and too small.
If you can carry it, it’s too small.
The other tool that represents trail crews for me, along with the Pulaski I showed in my last post, is the Mcleod, a combination rake, hoe, and tamper. It doesn’t make a big first impression, but it’s surprisingly useful, a mainstay on trail-maintenance and fire-fighting crews. The straight edge is the primary business edge, kept sharp enough to cut through roots and useful for cleaning and grading out a trail. A lot of people don’t notice, but trails are never built completely flat; they always have a slight outslope so that water will flow off them. Classic Mcleods are built from a single piece of steel welded together (even older ones were built so that the handle could be removed for easier transport, but I’ve never actually seen one of those) and are useful for checking the outslope of your trial; you can just stand them upright, and they should tilt one or two inches to the side, instead of plumb, if the outslope is correct.
Newer Mcleods, the only ones I’m seeing now, have a bolt at the bottom. They still function for tamping, but you can’t check the outslope on a hard-packed trail with them. A water bottle laid on its side then becomes the low-tech, backcountry level of choice.
A ranger for the Sierra National Forest, Malcolm Mcleod, designed the first one around the start of the century, and his name provides one of the only tool jokes I know:
What is the difference between Mick Jagger and the Scottish people? Answer below the jump. (more…)
The laying of a trail…becomes not only a pleasure in itself, but an inducement to plan a better way of life, to construct worth-while things, or to weave a better product in the loom of our being. Earle Amos Brooks, A Handbook of the Outdoors quoted in Lightly on the Land: The SCA Trail-Building and Maintenance Manual
Don’t cut your foot with the axe. It will not add to the pleasures of camp life. Jeanette Marks Vacation Camping for Girls quoted in Lightly on the Land
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the ways I got started doing stone was by leading trail crews for the Student Conservation Association. Trail work turned out to be a good way to learn about stone; trail structures need to be strong — everything gets kicked by horses and mules — and they are supposed to look natural and unobtrusive in the landscape — no one is there to look at your pretty rockwork, they’re there to look at El Capitan — and there’s a deep interest in building things to last, much more so than I generally find in froncountry construction. I haven’t done a crew in five years, but I’m doing one for the next month in the Inyo National Forest out of Red’s Meadow near Mammoth Lakes in California.
If you’ve never heard of the SCA, the homepage explains that “members protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and community green spaces in all 50 states,” most commonly in the form of trail crews made up of high school or college kids with adult crew leaders. The SCA has a blog that features cheerful, muddy people in hard hats building trails and doing various conservation-type things.
I thought I might post some more about trail work, but it’s been hectic trying to finish all my work before I go. I’ll be in and out of the backcountry for the next month, but posts will continue to appear through the magic of the interweb. Comments will still go through, but I won’t be replying here or on anyone’s blog until I get back at the end of the month. If anyone is hiking from the Red’s Meadow trailhead in August, look me up and bring ice cream. Happy Trails.
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