The Waptus Trip, Part One

Got back last night from a five day trip to work on trails around Waptus Lake. The end of August is the latest we have ever done this work, but it’s been a crazy season. Other trail priorities have eaten our days as we continue to chop, saw and blast. We may need t-shirts announcing “I survived the 2011 trail maintenance season and still have all my fingers and toes but my brains are gone”.

It hasn’t been that bad. I left my expectations somewhere back in July, and have not been surprised by much since then. The forest is changing and I’m curious about that. What is there to discover? What technical challenges are lurking around the next switchback? Everybody on the crew has gotten passionate about keeping tools sharp. I’ve been tuning up our crosscut saws and the others have been filing axes and hanging new handles. Our size-ups have gotten faster and more efficient–how to cut this log and move it off the trail. How to use gravity to our advantage, how to have a pole handy to use as a lever.

This trip, our main mission was to clear the PCT from Waptus Lake to Deep Lake–a mere 4.4 miles with something like 40 logs across it. Four of us did it in two days. We spoke to numerous hikers on their way to Canada. Many of them started in Mexico in late April and early May. By the time they get here, they don’t seem to be having much fun any more. They just want to finish, and each of them thanks us for our good work.

Hiking back to camp

Still happy with my new red pack, playing around with all the clever straps that allow me to attach the crosscut saw and my hard hat.

Here's Pam chopping a log that had too much bind to get our saw into.

There was work, and there was not-working. We ate, we laughed, we washed up in Spinola Creek. We had the traditional magma meal, and it took us three nights to finish off the Pepperidge Farm Entertaining Collection. Pam and I each brought extra baked goods because we thought John Morrow was going to join us. It was an effort, but we did manage to eat all the cookies without John’s help. We discovered that Rick has a gift for making ninja sound effects. We smacked bugs–why are they not dead yet? We missed the nighthawks that fly over camp earlier in the summer, but heard barred owls and a saw whet owl.

Waptus Lake

Had to make a trip from camp to the lake to admire the view. Marine air pours through the gaps in the mountains, making for interesting evening light. Bear’s Breast and Summit Chief will keep some of their snow as another winter approaches. It would be easy enough to stay there, listening to the waves lap the shore. Easy to be hypnotized by the water and mountains and bird calls echoing from the forest. I could sink down into that place. I could have stayed, and I always want to stay in the wilderness. Five days, and I was still content with rinsing in the creek and eating camp food. Five days without the internet, news of the economy or political candidates. Five days without cars, traffic or excess noise.

Instead, we broke camp yesterday morning, put on our packs and forded the river one more time. Climbed up over Waptus Pass and cut a few more logs. Hiked to where the truck was parked and noticed how strange it was to sit on a seat. Even stranger to move forward without bodily effort…and soon found ourselves rolling on pavement toward civilization. It’s a disorienting transition, one I’ve made many times.

Part of me is still there, back at Waptus.

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