Monday, October 21, 2013

Chainsaw Training and Trail Building with the NCC

 Nighttime fun at the campground
Our week started off with a day in the classroom at our Field Office. Throughout the lesson, we learned felling techniques as well as different parts of the saw, and safety instruction. It was a lot of information that was thrown at us the first day of training, but a must before we were allowed to operate the saw. That evening, we made the 4-and-a-half hour trek to Indian Valley, set up camp and cooked dinner. The next day was focused on maintenance and troubleshooting on the saws. We were ready by our usual time of 7 am, with our breakfast eaten and ready to learn more about the saw. It was a cold morning, probably in the high 30's, yet the warmest morning that we would experience that week.

The morning started as usual, with our safety circle (because it was our first day with the chainsaw it was longer than usual), and a stretch to get our muscles moving and blood pumping. In the safety circle we discussed all the hazards related to the chainsaw and felling trees, as well as how to mitigate those hazards. That first day, we learned the ins and outs of the saw with regard to maintenance and cleaning, as well as chain sharpening. It was cold, and the 5 of us were huddled around the saw, taking it apart and learning troubleshooting from our Crew Supervisor, KV. Once we were versed on maintenance, troubleshooting, safety and felling techniques we were ready to operate the saw.

Chainsaw safety and operation
Wednesday morning, we woke up with our normal routine, and drove out to the site for our first day operating the chainsaws. Once at the site, we started with stretch and safety circle, which we do every day, so we do not get complacent, ensuring a safe work environment. Wednesday and Thursday, as well as Friday morning, involved limbing and bucking of the trees. Limbing is the process of cutting off the limbs, and bucking is cutting the fallen limbs into appropriate lengths. We were critiqued on our technique, as well as our body mechanics, to make us feel confident for future tree felling projects. On an additional note, it snowed on Wednesday, and when we woke up Thursday morning there was even more snow on the ground, which got me stoked for winter. Thursday morning was probably the coldest of the mornings, with temperatures dipping into the mid 20s, but even with the cold it was a fun and exciting week.

Limbing and bucking practice
The next week, the week of 10/15-10/18, we were scheduled to be in the only location we could work at, the Spring Mountains. Because of the federal government shutdown, we were not able to work with any of our other project partners. All 6 of the Las Vegas crews and the 2 Reno crews would be sent to The Springs mountains to work. Our crew, Crew 6, was sent up to Mack's Canyon along with 3 others crews. Mack's Canyon is an offshoot canyon accessible from Lee Canyon. There is beautiful dispersed camping available there with no facilities, so if you want to get away from the summer crowds, here is the place to camp/hike/relax. There are plenty of trails and peaks to be summited here such as Mack's Peak (easy class 3 scramble), and The Sisters, which consists of 3 peaks.

Our crew was designated to work on a reroute section in Mack's Canyon. Reroutes are done for a number of reasons such as increasing/decreasing the length of the trail, or creating better tread (walking surface) that is less steep and more sustainable (which allows for the trail to exist without having a large impact on the environment). The hike into the reroute was just under 2 miles, a nice warm-up for the long workday.

Return to trail work
Once on site, the reroute we worked on over the course of the week was a bit more intensive than our previous trail builds; this trail contains limestone rock in the tread. Much of the time was spent on chipping away at the rock in the tread to make sure it was at a reasonable level and safe for horses and hikers, to minimize the tripping hazard. Not everybody on the team enjoyed the rock work. I personally enjoyed sitting at the rock chipping away at it, making it into my vision of how it will blend into the tread. One thing we all try to keep in mind is what we refer to as PMA (positive mental attitude), because sometimes the work can be frustrating. Keeping a PMA is a skill that will not only help us in trail building, but I believe it is a skill we can take with us and use in our future careers. With all of the intense work we did, we still had fun as a crew and enjoyed our time with the other crews in close proximity - sharing tools, talking and enjoying our time in the mountains together.  

Trail reroute in Mack's Canyon - before and after

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Flash Flooding in Great Basin Nat'l Park

My first 8-day project was at Great Basin National Park, which is about 6 hours north of Vegas and right on the border with Utah. The first day consisted of driving there and working for a few hours, clearing some trees from the sides of the road up to our campsite, then going and setting up camp. Our campsite was about 30 minutes from the main road, up a dirt road into the mountains. The whole drive up the road, and the whole way to the park initially, I was just staring out the window at all the beautiful mountain scenery. Everywhere I go around here is so different than anything I'm used to on the east coast, and I find myself constantly mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains and the cool colors of the rock. At first it was almost like being on another planet. I'm getting more used to it now, but I still think it's amazing to look at.

Day 2 turned into quite an adventure. In the morning we had to drive about an hour to get to the site where we were working, then we had to hike about 2 miles carrying our tools. Then we worked for about 4 hours maintaining a trail that was starting to get overgrown, then we hiked back the 2 miles to the trucks, leaving our tools cached at the work site so we could come back to them the next day. As we got back to the trucks it started to rain, so we tried to get out as quickly as we could. While we were driving down the dirt road, we started to see water flowing over the road from the hill on one side, which was worrying because of the potential for a flash flood. We thought we were doing good and were going to beat the water down the mountain until we came around a corner and saw tons of water coming down the mountain from the road that was about to intersect with ours. We stopped to assess the situation and it turned out that the huge flash flood, although not a danger to us where we were parked, came dangerously close to the road a little bit farther down, so we couldn't drive past it. We radioed to the park rangers to see if they could come pick us up, and it turned out that the flood had washed out a part of the road farther down so the rangers couldn't get all the way to where we were. The only solution was to leave the trucks where they were and hike down the road to where the rangers could pick us up. By that time the flood had calmed down a little but had not died down completely, so it wasn't dangerous to walk but debris had been pushed onto the road by the water so we couldn't drive to where the rangers were; walking was the only option. We made it to the rangers without any incident, found a safe place to jump across the water, and they drove us back to our campsite.

Then the next day was a little of a logistical nightmare because we had no trucks and still had tools stuck at the work site. The plan we came up with was for the project partner to shuttle us by crew back to the trucks and then we'd go back to the work site to get the tools. But since the trucks were about an hour away from our campsite the shuttling process took hours, the first few of which my crew spent waiting at our campsite for the project partner to come back for us. Once we got back to the trucks we only really had time to make the hike to the campsite, get the tools, and then leave again, so that's pretty much the only thing my crew accomplished for the whole 10-hour work day. Those two days reinforced yet again how much plans can change in this type of work.

Day 4 was back to actually getting projects done. We didn't go back to the original work site for obvious reasons, so we moved on to the next project. This one involved hiking 4.5 miles from our campsite over a mountain and into the valley on the other side. The hike was really steep on the way up and the way down, and it took us over 2 hours of the hardest hiking I'd ever done to actually get to where we were working. Once we got there, we worked on removing downed trees that were blocking a path so that more work could be done on the trail later on. Then we had to hike the same 4.5 miles back over the mountain. So after hiking 9 miles, we were all pretty tired at the end of the day.

Day 5 we hiked the same hike again, but this time it took less time. I think we all went faster just so we could get it over with sooner. The work was pretty much the same, but it rained for parts of the day so we were all slightly less enthusiastic because of that. Rain is never very motivating when you have to be outside all day. Day 6 we hiked the same mountain for a third time, and this time was by far the hardest because I was so tired from the other 2 days of the same hike. By that point in the week we had hiked almost 40 miles altogether, so I was really struggling. On the way back up the mountain in the afternoon I felt like I had to stop every 2 minutes to catch my breath. I had learned in the past few days that I was one of the slowest hikers in the group on the steep uphill sections, and that last day was even worse than usual. But eventually I made it, and was really happy that it was the last time I had to do that hike.

The last 2 days we did more of what we'd done the first day - clearing trees from the sides of the road. The last day we only did about an hour of work because we had to drive back to Vegas and then do about 2 hours of "de-rig" once we got there. It was a long, tiring, but good week, and the 5 days off afterwards were great. There were challenges and ups and downs, but all-in-all it was a great start to the year at the NCC.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pearls of Pahranagat

With endangered birds in the balance,
Cat-tails with claws
And cows on reconnaissance,
The marsh in the midst
Gave us reason for pause.

From whence the fence
could no longer dispense
any defense
of any culpable consequence,
We do not know.

But hence,
no expense was spared.
Each NCC crew member pared.
To set the stage
For a full fence repair.

Not a feather to be lost.
Nor a breast to be sauced.
We readied our cat-tail salads
To be tossed.

With brush cutters and weed eaters in our paws,
Each cat-tail and bull rush reminisced us of our in laws.

And when the cutting came too condensed.
We each looked over our shoulder
To see whom among us was the most dense.

Kaitlin cut claw to claw.
While Lizzy laid down the law.
And Alison left the ranchers in awe.
Nate's bush was seen as far as Utah.

But Paul's pitch fork took the cake.
While I was left with only a mooo and an ache.

"The Valley of Shinning Water"
Has a special place in our hearts.
Water in craft.
And shimmering in art.