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Adventures in the Cascades

My Summer With Trans-Cascadia and OTTA.

This is my third and final blog post focusing primarily on the Cascade Crest. It’s full of stories from last summer. It’s long with tons of photos from myself and friends who were there. In case you missed a previous post here are the links:

Post 1: Discover the Cascade Crest
Post 2: Cascade Crest: The Work Begins

In April 2017, Nick Gibson (Trans-Cascadia) chatted with Adam Craig (Giant Bikes) and I about plans for working on the Cascade Crest area as soon as the snow melted. Adam is on the board of the Oregon Timber Trail Association (OTTA) and I found him to be super mellow, approachable and well spoken. It wasn’t obvious at the time, but after this point, Nick spearheaded the entire operation in the Cascade Crest. Below are some days from last summer.

Nick Gibson huffing it on Middle Fork. Photo © Daniel Sharp

First TC work event of the summer

I’ve been interested in working with the Trans-Cascadia crew for a while. Seeing videos and images of a primitive, back-country race is interesting on it’s own – yet the crews behind getting these trails in shape is another thing entirely. Ever heard of Grasshopper Ridge? Check out this link with photos from Dylan VanWeelden and words by Chris Shalbot.  You think it’s tough riding some back-country trails in a race? Try riding/hiking that course carrying a chainsaw, fuel and a digging tool! Riding is the easy part.

Some images below are from Daniel Sharp who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Westfir Lodge the night before the first TC work event of the 2017. He acted as the weekend Photographer. Great  all around guy!

© Daniel Sharp

Before heading to Oakridge, I was able to get a great donation of Beer from our main sponsor 10 Barrel Brewing. I loaded up my tools and beer, and headed out late in the evening for the Westfir Lodge.

I got to the Lodge around 10pm and found most everyone chilling in the gazebo. I hit the sack shortly thereafter. The next morning I was able to meet some of the folks from Santa Cruz Bikes as well as Alex and Tommy from TC. Alex, Tommy and Nick are the 3 partners in Trans-Cascadia. Due to the snow levels at the time it was decided we would work on clearing the Middle Fork of the Willamette as it was a lower elevation trail. The whole weekend we worked on trails that were not raced. How cool is that?

Staging. Look at all those sprinter Vans!

We were shuttled by Cog Wild to the Middle fork where we split into 2 crews.  Nick and Tommy were sawyers for one crew and Alex and I were sawyers for the other. Whoever was left swamped, raked, etc. I was the only one with a trailer for my saw, and all the others carried larger saws on their back. I don’t travel quite as fast, but I can tell you my back felt great at the end of the day :)

Alex cutting into a beast on Middle Fork

Our team started in a bit of snow and worked down the Middle Fork. Deadfall was moderate until we came across the tree above. It was elevated and twisted and had a lot of tension and stress built up inside. Took close to an hour to get it cleared.

Santa Cruz Swampers Unite!

Middle fork is a stunning trail. Very similar to McKenzie River Trail in many ways without all the traffic. Also fairly technical up high. I loved it.

Break time on Middle Fork

The first crew finished before we did so they moved on to clear most of Cloverpatch trail. Also not a trail that they raced.

The next day we had a fun yet sketchy ride on ATC which started out in the snow, and finished with some sweet loamy dirt!

© Daniel Sharp

Below is a crappy photo of Carolynn Romaine I took, who along Alex Gardner now resides in Bend. I went the weekend not knowing who she was until I saw the sticker on her bike. I felt like an idiot :)

Carolynn Romaine. Hard Worker. Amazing Rider.

Marching up Alpine

© Daniel Sharp

After our Alpine ride, we spent the day clearing brush off the top side of a steep bench cut on lower Alpine. Ticks and poison ivy were rampant. I decided to head back home when our work was complete, as the next day was Easter. Was great meeting the crew, and getting a feel for how they worked and played.

Racing Legend Adam Craig Turns Trail Steward

Adam and I started clearing some of Bend’s local trails once things dried out a bit on the high dessert before the OCC was snow free.

Below are some pictures of Adam clearing Sector 16 and SST. Check out AC’s stealthy Bob trailer which was customized by Boone. Room for his saw, his ax, some fuel and a Warlord Battleaxe. This might have been the trailer’s maiden voyage.

Getting ready at Shooting Star Shelter

Swede Shelter photo op

First Clearing Day in the OCC

On June 9th, Nick, Adam and I drove over to the OCC and parked at South Crescent Trail head. Neither of these guys had experienced the trails yet, and we were all excited to get some work done.

Just getting started on Lower S Crescent, Adam and Nick

Because we had three saws, I decided to act as swamper for the day and leave my saw in the truck. Adam pulled his trailer loaded with a Stihl 362 and Nick carried a smaller saw in his Dakine Builder Pack. Despite not having a trailer or tools to carry, I could barely keep up with Adam.

AC powering up the hill – STEEP

AC was happy

Photo by Nick of AC climbing up the meadow

Once we arrived at the meadow, Adam and Nick went ahead to the summit while I stayed back hacking away at vine maple. They never did reach the summit as the snow was too deep at the top end of the meadow. Adam tends to descend pretty fast despite having a trailer attached. If I could ride and video tape at the same time, you’d see that it’s actually quite a sight! Anyhow, the poor trailer never had a chance. As AC was heading down trough the meadow, his mag wheel flew off the trailer and proceeded to roll down through the meadow and out of sight. Doh!

Adam with with his wheel-less trailer – © Nick Gibson

Nick decided to walk down the meadow in the direction the wheel went, and I stayed back for some reason. Maybe I was tired? It’s pretty up there, so I’ll use that as my excuse.

20 minutes later Nick comes back with the wheel

Taking photos for the insta-webs

The trailer dropout was totally bent. I watched some primitive field mechanics, in which Nick and Adam placed the dropout on a large rock and tried to straighten it with a hatchet. It basically worked.

We somehow made it back down to the trucks but had to stop a couple times to mess with the trailer. The wheel was leaning to one side badly and Adam was trying to keep his speed under control.

Browder Ridge & Gate Creek

Back at the trucks we decided to tackle clearing Browder Ridge as part two of the day. I was beat, but was excited to see Browder as I had never been there. We decided Adam would use my Bob Trailer. We drove to the bottom of Gate Creek and parked one truck, and then drove to the start of Browder. We started up Browder hoping for the best. Soon we were into some moderate deadfall, and the trail was a little more primitive and unused from what we could tell.

We climbed up through some scrappy old growth and into a meadow. We were soon hiking through snow drifts which were getting deeper and deeper. At some point, it was hard to tell where the trail was but we pushed on. Adam had an inner sense of where the trail was for some reason.

The beginning of the snow drifts – it got worse

At the top of the ridge, there’s a burned area that’s pretty and a little surreal. We stopped for a break. There were rocks, which was a welcome sight.

Knowing this area might be included in the Trans-Cascadia race, we were all careful of what we posted last summer. I never tagged Nick in any photos as people know he’s affiliated with TC. I was mostly silent as to what trails we were working on. Adam and Nick were also quiet about where we were working.

AC getting after the deadfall at the top of the ridge

Trail boss Nick

Photo of Adam and I. © Nick Gibson

We finally reached the intersection with Gate Creek and started descending. What a sweet trail! It wasn’t long before we ran into a massive pile-up of down trees. This was a mess of a project and would take hours to clean up. It was also full of complex and dangerous cuts with a giant suspended tree. We looked around a bit and decided to leave this for another day as it was getting late and we were beat.

Huge project – with the trail in there somewhere

The day was very productive and it gave Nick and Adam a good idea of what the potential was in the area. We would be back.

Adam took an immediate liking to the area, and he was soon inviting Paul Thomasberg to explore and work in the area. I had been emailing Paul for six months about the OCC with the hopes he would come out. He eventually asked to be removed from my mailing list. My influence only goes so far – haha.

Gate Creek Re-route

I ended up heading back to Gate Creek a couple weeks later to deal with the giant tree mess.

Heading up Gate Creek – what a sick trail!

Once I got back to the tree nightmare, it was clear that the original trail was somewhere beneath it all. Below are some more photos of the mess.

The start – the tread showing was not the original trail

The end of the disaster

Where is the tread?

The amount of trail that was covered was probably 200 feet long in total. But the area covered by trees was 20-30 feet wide. Where to begin? I weighed my options and realized there was no sense in spending hours and hours trying to clear this devastation. I would end up creating new tread either way. There was no way to see where the tread was. I walked around the pile-up and noticed several paths which were developing as people tried to find a way around.

I noticed a pair of large trees that were close together and in between them was a down tree that looked like it had been there for quite some time. It’s nice to steer trails toward interesting features in the landscape, so I decided that we should go between these two trees. As you can see below this was within 10′ or so of the pile up.

The game plan

I got my saw out and decided the plan of attack. How much of this tree needed to move? I decided the trail would work best if it went through the trees and down the slope before leveling out again. Basically following where a lot of people had been walking from the looks of it. This would provide a couple of nice turns and also act as a slight grade reversal for water runoff.

Trail feature? Not appropriate for this type of trail, sorry.

Two cuts later, about a 20′ section of the down tree was removed, and then man-handled

I pulled out my Rogue hoe and started roughing in a left hand turn just before the mess. Basically removing light ground cover. I didn’t need to move any dirt. Only where there were dead trees did I have to dig down through the decay to something more solid.

Shot from above the two trees

The exit from between the trees

Here’s basically what this section looked like when finished. On the far left (below) are the two trees, and the trail follows to the left of this log and exits at the bottom of the frame.

Two trees at left/center of this photo

Clearing Scar Mountain

Nick organized a day up on Scar Mountain in early July. Nick and Henry Horrocks (works for Schwalbe Tires and lives in Sisters) worked West from the top with a brusher and a chainsaw. Adam and I worked East with the same. Tagging along with a rake was a friend of a friend from out-of-town who was here wanting to work. John was his name and he used a rake throughout the day.

Starting out near the top of the trail, it’s pretty clear this trail was not built for bikes. Extremely tight and steep switchbacks were there to add some spice and the trail was fairly overgrown. I started off on the chainsaw with the first tank of gas and Adam used the brusher.

Heading up to the peak of Scar

Crest of the trail with an epic view

Adam Pano

Mt Jefferson, before it caught on fire

Deadfall was moderate until we came across a large Hemlock with a smaller tree on top. We sized up the problem and proceeded to cut the smaller tree high enough that we could use it as a lever to move the root ball off the Hemlock. The cut went fine, but the three of us had a rough time getting this root ball moved. We had to heave it over and away from the standing tree in the photo below.

Slight mess

At one point I was trying to pull the tree by a small branch and the branch came off and I stabbed it into my chin. Learning experience there!

AC used some tape to close chin. Scar on scar mountain? Ended up with seven stitches

I made the first cut

Adam made the second cut

After cutting out the large tree, Adam and I switched and I used the brusher. Hard work lugging that thing around!

Soon after we met up with Nick

Nick on Trappers Butte

Great view of Jefferson on Trappers

We finished up on the top of Trappers Butte and went back down to our trucks which were at the quarry. I think AC came back and cleared lower Scar a couple weeks later.

Clearing Upper South Pyramid Creek

There’s not much elevation gain/loss on Upper South Pyramid Creek, but it’s a lovely section of trail. It’s the first trail I ever set foot on and the first trail I ever set tire upon as well.

It was clear from the first time I was on this trail, that it doesn’t get a lot of use. People parking at the Pyramids TH get more bang for the buck hiking up the Pyramids. If they park at the Crescent North trailhead, they are more likely to head up Crescent or down S Pyramid Creek.

Below are some photos from clearing the upper trail last summer. All of the trees were pretty punky and had been there for some time.

So enchanting!

Lazy, but it saves my saw blade for more work. Let it decay and fill with new dirt some other time

Not much use on this trail

End of day camp celebrated with a cold 10 Barrel

More Trans-Cascadia Work Events

I can’t begin to explain just how much work was tackled by the Trans-Cascadia crew over the summer. I was a part of several of the outings, but not all of them. One particular weekend I wasn’t able to make, the crew hiked nine miles out from the Pyramid Horse Camp with the district ranger, Nicki, clearing trail as they went with heavy chainsaws and brushers. They flagged and cleared a corridor for bikes on the old roadbed used by Eric to bypass the Middle Santiam Wilderness. It had become overgrown with hundreds of small trees that were about 2″ trunks and 6-10 ft high. A small re-route from the road to the trail was created that day as well. All in all, 18 miles or so of hiking and back-breaking work with chainsaws and brushers. 18 miles! I am sore after hiking 5 miles with my saw.

Photo by Daniel Sharp: lopper’s won’t cut it over here

Much of the trail you could barely see the tread as vegetation and branches commonly stretched across the trail to the other side. Trans-Cascadia owns four top-of-the-line brushers which mount to the body and we typically use a metal blade to cut back brush. The blades will go through heavy brush and stalks up to 1-2″ in diameter. Pretty sick! That said this specific day we were all using hand tools and this was after brushers had more or less opened the corridor.

Photo by Daniel Sharp

Brandon (USFS) also had several crews working in conjunction with TC over the summer. He has crews from the Linn County Corrections, as well as general FS workers and other groups. I know some equestrians do some work in there, and I did see them one weekend installing signs on lower S Pyramid Creek.

Photo by Daniel Sharp

Late in the summer we had a huge weekend-long event which was hosted by Trans-Cascadia and the Oregon Timber Trail. I brought a trailer full of tools from COTA, and SATA showed up with a crew as well. Around 50 people were on hand for camping and working! TC and OTTA really know how to get people out to these events. Brandon was in utter shock and stayed two nights with us. Big shout out to Nathan Fretchen from the OTTA who organized this entire event and held things together at camp.

Tori from Gracie’s Wrench, Steve Blick at Oakley and Dan Sharp from OTTA, with Nick and Nathan in the background near the food.

COTA tools on the way to the OCC

Photo by Daniel Sharp: Alex from Coeur d’Alene, ID hacking away

Making a tight switchback a little more rideable

Check out that old school crib wall!

Moss and rocks – no brush to hack!

Big tree that Brandon cleared late in the summer

Another tree cleared by Brandon with Chris in front from Coeur d’Alene, ID

Have you had enough yet? Chris in the distance

Hanging around the fire (propane)

On the last day of the work event, about 30 people rode up North Crescent – it was super cool. Nathan lugged a cooler full of drinks to the top. He’s a beast. I rode down last.

Viewpoint on N Crescent – this is Wade From Vulture

Several people heading up N Crescent

Lookout at the top of Crescent

The Bend crew – Wade, Lev myself and Marc

The fire below Jefferson really made views dramatic around this time

By the end of the weekend, the whole loop was basically cleared and brushed to some extent.

Trans-Cascadia Race

The Trans-Cascadia 2017 race spent the last two days (out of 4) in the Old Cascade Crest and it was a treat for all involved. I spent the whole race as a volunteer, and it was amazing to see so many people stoked on these trails within the Willamette Forest.

Day one, I swept Eula Ridge with Nathan. Some locals were concerned about racing on this trail, so we chose to walk down the trail after the racers with tools in hand. It was a tough day and hard work. Mostly fixing any trail damage and closing off cheater lines around lots of switchbacks. Those lines were there before the race, btw.

Eula goodness

Day 2 I rode sweep on Box Canyon with Lev at Cog Wild. The initial traverse of 8 miles was on Grasshopper Ridge and it is epic! I left my phone in my truck, so there are no photos from that day – except for this.

Party in the Woods!

We did a little work on Box Canyon before finishing the sweep.

Day Three, I was told I would be a timer at the bottom of North Crescent. I was bummed that I would be sitting all day, but I ended up having a blast! Ben at OTTA made sure all timers could build fires with fire starter packs. It also helped that I had a chainsaw with gas. Was actually super nice sitting down by the fire on a cold and somewhat rainy day and watching racers come down to the finish.

My timer spot

Kim from OTTA and Billy Bergen from Project Bike with random rider warming up

Funny enough I wasn’t a very good timer. I was way too distracted by riders and keeping the fire fed. Kim McCormack is one of the OTTA board members and an amazing rider (also part of the medical team). She came by to hang out by the fire as she was waiting to sweep S Pyramid Creek. She ended up taking over my duties as timer – thank God. Billy even helped as he had an injury from the race. Love these people!

The day was quite wet and wild

Head of the medical team and local shredder, Nic Hall

Day Four, I went out and made fires. It was cold and wet and riders and workers needed to stay warm.

Swag!

The whole summer was just a huge success and deeply fulfilling for me. TC recognized Adam, Chris Caro and myself for our help as volunteers over the summer and we all got a TC Jersey and a Trail Boss tool. All volunteers got a sweet Patagonia Jacket, and some of us were lucky enough to get hats and glasses from Steve Blick at Oakley too.

More Links and Writeups

Here’s a sweet video made at Trans-Cascadia by Sky at Transition Bikes. Most of this footage is from the OCC.

Loamatose at TransCascadia from Transition Bikes.

Soon after the event, more write-ups started to hit the Internet with much better content than I can provide. You can also find daily recaps in video and blog format for each day of the race.

Here’s a video recap of the event as well:

Race Recap from from Trans-Cascadia.

Interested in getting involved in this type of work? Hit up the TC Crew and join up for some work events. Contact the Oregon Timber Trail for other events as well. Or feel free to hit me up. I tend to head out often through the Summer and am always in need of help.

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