Scoured

This morning

Flash floods are uncommon here–I always think of the desert southwest, and waves of mud and debris sloshing through arroyos. No arroyos in the Cascades. But about two weeks ago, a powerful thunderstorm parked itself over the Teanaway and cut loose. The rain came down suddenly and hard. Parts of the mountains slid down with the water. Tons of rock were rearranged in a short time.

What’s so interesting is that the places that slid are avalanche chutes in the winter. The angle of the slopes are perfect for sliding, whether it’s snow or rocks that come down.

In some places, the chutes are scoured down to bedrock. In other places, Piles of shiny dark Teanaway scree are deposited. In Bean Creek, the high watermark is several feet above the normal summer flow. Streamside alders were stripped of bark and leaves, and stand bleaching in the sun like bones.

Yesterday I scouted up Beverly Creek, and found nearly a quarter of a mile of trail affected. The most impressive change was a big wall of rocks on top of the trail along the edge of a new channel. In the photo, you can see the top of Sam’s hard hat where she surveys the work ahead of us. At the bottom of the photo, you can see where the trail disappears.

We worked all day on 100 feet of tread. Boulders were pried out and moved. I filled the gully with rockwork to support new tread. We dug. We sweated. When you’re hot and tired and no cognitive ability remains, brute strength and sheer stubbornness is all you have left. When that fails, it’s time to go lie in the shade for ten minutes until you can rally for another try.

This afternoon

It’s not perfect, and it’s not that pretty. But it’s passable. A horse could walk over it without lunging or breaking a leg.

Where we dug into the Great Wall of Rocks, the fine soil is still wet. There’s still mud buried in the flow, a reminder that this just happened and that the Teanaway is geologically active. We think of mountains as stable and unchanging. But they are in motion all the time and we only notice when something drastic occurs. What seems drastic from a human perspective is just part of the big scheme of things. I walked across the slope above the trail, and crossed over other ridges of deposited rocks now covered with wildflowers. Grasshoppers jumped away from my feet, and fluffy white clouds sailed east through the blue sky.

Mountains have moved before, and sure enough they will move again.

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Scenery or Flowers?

Anemones in the Teanaway

The most difficult dilemma of my day–with just a little time for photography on the fly, do I point the camera at flowers? Or magnificent mountains under a blue sky? The easy stuff was hiking, kicking rocks and flicking sticks off the trail, cutting logs and brush. Crossing snow on slopes was a little trickier, digging boot treads into the sun-softened mush.

Ran out of water two miles from the truck. Next week I pack another quart, or the water filter. This evening I rehydrate and rest.

And that dilemma? Turning the or into and was most satisfying.

The DeRoux Trip

Warning sign, mostly to alert people to our bad smells, bad singing, and shrieks of laughter

As near as I can tell, the DeRoux Spur Trail was built around 1936 or 1937. That’s when the Forest Service laid out a route that followed a 10% grade up a steep sideslope, over a ridge, and down to the Middle Fork of the Teanaway River. Prior to this new construction, herders drove sheep straight up and over. From old photographs, I can tell that the country had all burned around the turn of the 20th century, so forage would have been plentiful.

During the past 70-something years, the trail has seen heavy traffic, mostly horses. The soils are unstable, always drifting down the slope with gravity. The trail has slid and slumped, growing narrower and more precarious. We have tried various fixes, from installing log cribbing to blasting rock from the backslope of switchbacks. What we have learned is that tread stabilization techniques are fairly successful. The trail needed a makeover.

We applied for a grant to do the work, and were given $30,000 to fix it up. We started last year, and have the rest of this field season to finish. This past week, we tackled the tread furthest from the road. Every morning we hiked the 2.5 miles from camp to the work site.

Installing rock cribbing and widening tread

Cribbing is a way of stabilizing the downhill side of a trail, where it tends to be soft and slumpy. We like to dig a shallow trench and place a single or double course of rocks. It’s also possible to use a log and secure it with wooden stakes pounded into the ground. You use whatever is easiest, but rocks last longer. The backslope on the uphill, or cutbank, side of the trail is excavated, and the dirt pulled over the cribbing to create a bench-like tread. Ideally tread should be about 24 inches wide.

It’s a process, and the crew has gotten pretty good at it. Cooperation is necessary, with some people gathering rocks, others digging the trench and placing the rocks, and finally everyone gets to excavate. As digging proceeds, the ground has surprises for us. Outcrops are revealed, and the pick-mattock specialist (Jon) bashes the crumbly serpentine rock to smithereens. Sometimes there are roots to be dug out and cut.

Yours truly putting the finishing touches on restored tread

It was hot and dusty. When our brains had baked enough in the sun, we crawled to the nearest shade to swill water. Then back to it. After the end of two days, we had completed 810 feet and felt the righteous satisfaction that comes from knowing we have made the trail a safer and more sustainable travel path for the recreating public and their livestock. And the view from the office wasn’t bad.

Headwaters of the Middle Fork Teanaway

Another Garden

Dodecatheon pulchellum (I think)

There is the garden I create and tend, then there are gardens that are more wondrous. Jon and I visited one yesterday, where the headwaters of the North Fork of the Teanaway River rise. The water is roaring as the snow melts. Every little side channel is rushing, and there are pocket gardens of moss and yellow stream violets. The best part was all the shooting stars.

They are members of the primrose family, and bloom in great swathes in wet meadows early in the summer. They like damp places. Much of the Teanaway is dry and rocky, so it’s even more amazing to find so many of these pink comets blazing against the green.

And of course, being tree-hugging bunny-lovers, we were happy to see that someone had left this message on a tree by the trail.