PCTA Work Party Sasquatch Volunteer Vacation-Goat Rocks 16-23AUG
I had signed up for this trip early in the year, having hiked the area we would be working on in the recent past. I enjoy doing trail work, and it is quite educational to experience how much work it really takes to maintain a trail in the wilderness. Though I had expressed a desire to hike the PCT in 2019, this had little influence on me wanting to actually contribute to the maintenance of this trail.
I arrived to the starting trailhead at Waptus Lake the evening before on 16AUG, and some of the fellow participants were already there. I had a great night’s sleep, and the next morning, was able to meet the entire crew for our endeavor. The leaders, Justin and Dave, explained the rules of engagement, we did some stretching exercises, and off we went to a campsite (as seen above), 4.5 miles up the Waptus Lake trail. It was an easy hike, even with our packs loaded heavier than usual, and with a short steep uphill climb. The food, tools, and other provisions were being brought in by horse and mule through the agency of horse riding volunteers. The horse team passed us on the way into camp.
We helped set up the community cooking tent, then hiked about ½ to 1 mile further to assess the trail segment on which we would be working. On return to camp, we set up our personal tents, and then had dinner, cooked compliments of Justin and Dave. Each night, two of the crew were assigned to do the cooking and kitchen clean-up. Even with our help, Justin and Dave had to do the lion’s share of coordinating the food efforts, and putting out the food for each day’s breakfast and lunch.
On day 2, we commenced operations. I was involved in a team that did brushing on the trail below (south of) the Waptus Lake trail junction. The remainder of the crew went north on the PCT and started cutting down cedar trees, debarking the trunks, and installing check steps along the trail. Various portions of the trail would form large “ruts” from rain run-off, but drainage channels and check steps helped to slow the process of erosion of the trail. In the following days, I performed a combination of more brushing, installing check steps, de-berming (removing the outside edge of the trail in order to allow water run-off), and de-sloughing (removing the build-up of slough from the inside edge of the trail acquired my material coming downhill onto the trail). Perhaps Justin and Dave grew a little weary of my constant inquiry as to what and why we were doing things, but little did they know that I had a nickname as a kid of “twenty questions”.
The very last day, we worked on the trail for only a few hours, adding polish to our work. We had installed 21 Steps (sounds like a Hitchcock film!!!), and did a massive amount of brushing, and de-berming/de-sloughing/drainage structures of the trail. It was a satisfying experience.
I really enjoy all the people that I get to meet in the work party. I felt like the old goat (Alter Knacker) or (Blöde Ziege) of the group, though I believe there were 1-2 people older than me. There was Jacob, a sixteen year old kid, hoping to thru-hike the PCT next year. Beverly was a wonderful resource and a joy to work with, who had done many work parties in the Olympics. Joan was a very pleasant spirit, who shared a common occupation in the medical field. Julian, of whom I accidentally called “Marcel”. (Unfortunately???), the name seemed to stick, had hiked the PCT four years ago as “Back-scratcher”, and was most helpful in offering pointers in strategies of doing the PCT. Evan was delightful, a person I wish I could have spent more time with. Then there was Sterling, a gregarious personality who hails from North Carolina, who had an affection for finding the Sasquatch, and with whom I had many delightful interchanges. Sadly, his knee began acting up during our week of work. I hope that the knee is an easy to fix. Lastly (but not least), I mention Anne. She hails from Ingolstadt (in Bavaria, Germany), and was a true delight to get to know. I admire her willingness to come to America to get dirty working on our trails. It really touched my heart. She also was a doctor, and I felt a strong kindred spirit with her. I truly hope that we might meet again. . . vielleicht in mein Heimatland, Deutschland. Ich ehrlich liebe Deutschland!!!!!
I left our fearless leaders last, but only because they deserve special mention. They made an awesome team, and set a tone within the work party that helped everybody on the team have a great time. Justin was our fearless leader. He walked with a sprightly stride, and radiated the joie de vivre. Particularly, Justin was able to maintain qualities of a leader, such as not forming favorites within the group, and spent time interacting with each and every of the work party members. He behaved like he truly enjoyed what he was doing, which was infectious among the worker bees. Dave was a thru-hiker veteran, trail named Spatula, a bit more quiet personality, but also manifesting excellent leader skills. I loved interacting with Dave.
Several items need to be mentioned. The weather was perfect, but forest fires in the Northwest caused much haziness in the atmosphere, and leading to blood-red moons every night. The dew was quite heavy each morning. Besides my trips with a gourmet chef (John Pribyl), I have never eaten so well on a backpack trip. Superb planning by Dave and the assistance of the horse team allowed that to happen. Finally, my shoes died. I was personally attached to those shoes! They were the first shoes I had ever hiked in with which I had not gotten a blister after a multi-day hike. They took me around Rainier twice on the Wonderland Trail, and many, many other places. I had quit using them for hiking in the last few years, going to Alta shoes (light-weight hiking shoes), but needed them for WTA work parties. Thankfully, I had already purchased an exact second pair, fearing that they would some day die. They died. I noticed that the soles were coming off of both shoes the first day in. Several days later, I took precautionary measures by duct-taping the soles in a circumferential fashion to the boots. That partially helped, but by the time of the hike out, the soles were barely attached to the upper portion of the shoe. The padding of the shoe entirely decomposed, offering no cushion to the terra firma. I acquired my first (but small, non-painful) blister in many years. The shoes were in such pitiful condition, that I threw them away at the tail-head.
In the drive home, I had to make a stop at Scale Burgers in Elbe. Cora, the owner, was my cancer patient many moons ago, and over 25 years later, remained free of cancer. She came out to have a long chat with me. It’s hard to believe that Cora is in her mid-eighties and still kicking strong. The hamburger was also quite awesome.
As I finish writing this post, I finish the last of five “Tristan und Isolde”s that I have serially listened to. The opera ends with the Liebestod, an extremely demanding soprano solo forced on poor Isolde at the end of five hours of intense singing. I mention this, in that the opera ends sadly, but the trail work also has a sad ending, in that good-bye’s need to be said, and a new set of circumstances need to be engaged. Many are returning back to work. Justin and Dave, after a week of rest, must prepare for yet another work party in the Mt. Adams area, and I must seriously make a decision about whether I should thru-hike the PCT next year. My leaning is in the strong affirmative, though I hate the thought of leaving my wife for 5-6 months, and staying dirty for that length of time. I’m used to sterile operating suites that had no hint of dust. I fear river crossings. But, I love God’s great earth, and share with Bilbo and Frodo the reluctant joy of an epic adventure.