Tired from the California sun and eager to see Northwestern forest, our crew had our first hitch in the state of Washington. The Goat Rocks Wilderness on the Number 96 trail in Gifford Pinchot National Forest to be exact. It also marked the first hitch where we would be pushed to the limit physically and mentally. Two whole weeks in the backcountry without contact with the outside world, a list of projects that included repairing failing turnpikes, a rock wall installation and putting in check steps.
The sun pierces through the weathered holes from my blue nylon dome, water crashes vigorously from Goat Creek's rapids drowning out all other noise until Andrea gives the gentle 'coffee is ready' call. My day begins...
This was by far the coldest hitch we had, which usually lead to sun bathing first thing in the morning to warm up. The walk to work was only a 1/4 mile up the trail to begin with.
The first couple of days we had Greg Baxter from the PCTA giving us a hand and even gave us a lesson on check step installation. Although we knew we had bigger and badder task to handle up the trail we wanted to get a few checks in to warm up.
Accustom to lopping, minor tread work and shorter hitches this hitch took us to our limits. It was also the first time where we were set free to work on projects alone and without Sterling over our shoulder as he was away at a family gathering. At one point Jesse was digging an earth drainage, Andrea was armouring a creek, while Nate and I each set checks.
Working our way up to the turnpikes we armoured a creek that was running into the trail and de-bermmed more tread. Once we made it up to the turnpikes we picked our battles clearing out most of the failing structures so that the water would flow. It got to be quite messy. With each swing of the tool mud would splatter our work pants. We were able to 3 turnpikes flowing again by cleaning out organic matter alone. The other two needed more work.
The first failing turnpike we fixed was also the first time we got to put Feliciana took work. We cut 3 sections of cedar timber from a down cedar up the hill from our project site. We replaced the rotting timber with a two tier timber support to the left of the culvert on the downhill side and a one tier support on the right. We supported the left downhill side of the structure with a rock wall directly under the two tier timber supports. Surprisingly this only took our crew a day and a half to finish.
As we felt good about our first turnpike repair we pushed ahead to the big fix of the hitch. About a mile from camp a turnpike had begun to erode downhill making it unsafe for horses and pack animals to get by. First and foremost, we collected rock, we collected so much rock we had rocks for days! We replaced the uphill and downhill side of the turnpike's rotting timber with rock. The first rock for our biggest and best rock wall to date was a scary 4 feet off the trail. I knew when I saw Sterling set the rock that he wasn't playing around and neither was this rock wall. It took the best of us over the next 3.5 days. Two or three of us would usually be finding these massive rocks while two others work on the dry masonry art of setting these >200lbs beast.
It's safe to say after two weeks in the Goat Rocks that we came, we saw and we were challenged on all levels of trail work.