Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Search of the Oregon Skyline - December 2011

Almost everyone has heard of the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada.  But few have heard of the Oregon Skyline Trail.

 Pacific Crest Trail sign in Oregon
(not actual sign)

Constructed in the '20s and a marvel in it's day, the Oregon Skyline allowed the casual hiker a direct and scenic route across the backbone of the Cascades.  One could hire a packer and guide in Portland, then enjoy carefree days of beauty and solitude and pretty girls in bobbed hair on horseback.

 The route was changed frequently over the years, eventually to be supplanted by the Pacific Crest Trail, although they lived side by side for many years.  Earlier incarnations tended to hug the dry side of the Mt. Hood National Forest.  Later, due to "multiple use" pressures, the trail was routed further west, along Rho Ridge and beyond.  In the 1960s as road building and logging increased, most of this route was abandoned as well, leaving the fragmented remains to rot on the hills and revert back to nature.
An excellent (although short) writeup can be found on Trailadvocates.  Thanks Donovan H., Maharaj of Lost Knowledge  

 History of the route beyond maps is hard to come by.  I'd appreciate any stories anyone has about their experiences along the Oregon Skyline, but especially in the area surrounding the Clackamas.  

Close to the Winter Solstice, the days are very short up here in the Pacific Northwest, with complete darkness by 4:30 P.M.  But the freezing temps and buckets of cold rain more than make up for it.   

"BE AT MY HOUSE NO LATER THAN SEVEN!!!!" Don screamed at me through the telephone.  Well I hung up on that bastard in a clatter, and be damned if I wasn't at his fogged doorstep not a minute late?

It was foggy (damned foggy) as we passed the Original Certified End of the Oregon Trail (with gigantic circled "wagons" of steel and fortitude), but those Pioneer Ghosts were long gone as I bought Chai and a still warm Blueberry (yet mass produced) muffin from a roadside kiosk.  I doubt those pioneers had roadside Chai.

Foggy and gray we leave Oregon City, but then like a magic light the sun burst over the Clackamas.  

I have spent numerous times trying to find this small fragment of the Skyline Trail.  Unfortunately for me, the lower section is a tangled mess and heavily impacted by cutting.  It is also a very dense, almost tropically lush forest with thick vegetation.  Stationary thing just don't last that long.
But this time we were lucky.  After squeezing through a sea of very dense alders and young firs, we were able to pick up a section of the old trail.  Oh man our troubles were over.

It was very easy to follow.  For about 1/8 of a mile.

 long time gone

 And then we lose it in the clearcuts, popping out onto this road.
Powerlines hum in the distance along their own clearcut strip.  
The air was strangely calm.

 No longer pertinent.   Alas, abandoned too.

Well, after cris-crossing these old logging roads and my feet getting sore in new boots, we decide "the hell" with that horrible maze of recovering clearcuts, let's go back down through that strip of old growth forest.  

 Hey!  Howya doin?  We find blazes in the brush.

 Alas, sooner or later back into a clearcut.
  Fragments.  Dots on a map.  A forest is an incredibly dynamic place.  Maddening!  

 Don posing for wife

into oblivion, again

And then back to town, fueled by brewpub hopes.  The dark fog of winter has never left.

And that's what you get at the end of December.  
Down the Clackamas into Oregon City, into the night on many old roads.

Let's Sharpen (another) Crosscut Saw

In-between seasons in rainy Oregon, what better time to sharpen another damned crosscut?  Oh, summer is coming, some day...
(Please see my original crosscut sharpening write-up on Green Cascadia.  It has a more detailed description of the process.)

 I received this new 4' beast from my good buddy Kirk.  Kirk...finds many things, under couch cushions, deadbeats, from thin air.  He is always looking out for somebody else and passes on many gifts.  Well he knew I love the old crosscuts, and brought me this one from a garage sale.  I have no idea of it's history.  As you can see, it's a dual-handled one-man crosscut.

ready to get to work

 D-handle removed.  Nice shiny steel underneath!  And rust elsewhere, go figure.  The upper handle was riveted in place.

 "Warranted Superior" says the tag.  
Warran and Ted Superior were not brothers in the saw manufacturing business.
Warranted Superior medallions are found on secondary lines manufactured by Disston and other major saw makers with other brand names on the etch. Some smaller 19th century saw makers may have bought sawnuts and medallions from the bigger factories.
After 1900 or so the "small guys" were actually secondary lines of the "big guys." The small companies were bought up by bigger ones and some of their products were continued for a time. Harvey Peace is one example. Most American saws from the 20th century, regardless of brand name, were made in the works of Disston, Atkins, Bishop, or Simonds.
In the case of Disston, their replacement medallions were stamped Warranted Superior rather than "Disston." I would speculate their rationale was they didn't want their name on lesser-quality saws. Brand identity and loyalty in the U.S. was much stronger in the first half of the 20th century than it is today.

Well then, there you have it.

It's a nice vintage saw, I'd say from the 1940s-50s.  True to form, it doesn't have the same quality and heft as some of the larger and better made saws of the era.  But compared to modern products, it appears top of the line.  Funny how historic perspective distorts.  Junk, we live in an era of junk.  The only way to get real quality  is to find the old antiquated "junk" from another era.

I quickly get to work with 400 grit sandpaper and gobs of WD40.

side 1 in the works

No more rust!  The trick is to sand along the length of the saw, avoiding creating any high or low spots.  You also don't want to remove the old grinding marks from when the saw was manufactured unless the rust is really deep.  If the rust has pitted the saw deeply, then it's not worth the effort.  I wonder how many good saws are out there with mountain scenes painted upon their flanks?  Oh the travesty.

side 1 done

 ugh, side 2 more rust

 but like time it seems to melt away

As rusty as the saw was, there wasn't any pitting.  In fact, it looks like it hasn't received much use.  It only took me a couple hours to remove the rust and move on to sharpening and setting.

 In the vice.  I don't have a saw vice yet, so I just secure it to the workbench.  The arrangement works well.
This photo shows the saw just after jointing, or filing the cutting teeth tips to match the arc of the saw.

 Raker tips have been filed and are ready for swaging.

  This saw is made of much thinner stock than the larger 2-man crosscuts, making filing and swaging a more delicate operation.  I did mash a couple raker tips in the beginning until I got the feeling of the thinner metal.  The rakers looked like they had never been filed or shaped!  It took a lot of work to get their contours right.  Setting the cutting teeth was also a delicate operation.  However, it was nice to notice that many of them had retained their set from a sharpening of 50+ years ago, very cool.  I also noticed that due to the thinness of the saw, I had to go back and check the set a few times and make minor adjustments.

 ghost etch: "cast steel, economy"

 And then just like that, the saw is like new and ready for her next 50 years.  Afterwards, be sure to coat the saw with oil or it will rust.

from beast to beauty

During our Solstice camp, I warmed the old gal up on a downed cedar.  Due to it's lighter construction, it doesn't bite into the wood as hungrily as the larger saws, but it is much more portable and cuts far superior to a shorter "hardware store" saw.  It will be very useful to hike with.  All told it took me about 5 hours of constant work.  Of course, well worth the effort!  It always makes me smile to hear them sing again.  

Searching for an Unroaded Clackamas - November 2011

46 Road

It seems pretty simple, really.  It's all about getting there.  From the first tangled cow path to our insane multi-lane death strips, the whole purpose is the destination.
However, I'm here to argue that this is perhaps short sighted.
Yes, we live in an incredible age.  Time zones can be transcended with a blast of a jet engine.  No greater exchange of people, goods, or information has existed, ever.  That's a pretty big statement, and few could argue it's truth.
With our dazzling technology and rapid speed - both as progress and the rate of our travels, we are whipped through life as if on a carnival ride.  Of course this doesn't give us much time to smell the flowers - assuming they survive the trample of a billion bootsoles.  
The march of human progress hasn't been kind to our wild areas.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine even a wild thought as every view becomes evermore pixelated.  Entire habitats and ways of life are gone, beyond the scope of memory, passing like a Daguerreotype cloud.  How many have watched their favorite childhood haunts of patchwork woodlots get converted to a paved eyesore?  Gone, gone.
But as my friend Terrance is fond to remark, "1000 years of City, 1000 years of forest".  

Every seed contains a forest, every forest contains seed.

As those that have read my stories know, I am a sucker for hidden history.  Indeed, it is the only way an embodied being can transcend his own age.  Not That Long Ago, the American continent was wilderness, sea to shining sea.  The priceless fraction that remains is our last chance to swim with the infinite.

It may seem that I am a sucker for the old trails alone.  While this is true, it's not exclusively so, for they are vehicles that combine the past-present-future into a thin ribbon of dirt and duff.

Standing in the rain, watching the silent fogs crash, smelling an Indian pipe.

Don and Randy

Oh, an unroaded Cascades must have been something to behold.  Imagine the mysteries contained in thousands of miles of ancient ridges and rivers, most blocked from view by grand forests, thick with creatures both tangible and otherwise.  But like everything alive, it is not static.  The beat goes on as we continuously lose and gain equal amounts.  All of these billions of teeming souls must have an origin.

Lewis and Clark started the whole catastrophe, and the Oregon Trail sure didn't help matters.  But once nature started messing around with sentient chimps, the cat was out of the bag.  Would she swallow her own pipe-bomb?  But no black force could ever come from the womb of the Divine Mother; all is somehow sacred, all is served most holy in it's own time.  

Somehow on the banks of a mighty river and hid in the shade just beyond an asphalt strip lies remnants of another age, an age of fire and obsidian, where all are just sacred parts of a greater whole. 

Do the trails themselves have consciousness, or are they merely puppets animated by our intent?

 once a bridge, now just a dream of a bridge

 contours of another time, yet locked in this one

 forgotten swamp under winter skies

 100 years ago?  1000?  All the same.

 this way, once

onto a different kind of crossing

In "The Absence of the Sacred", Jerry Mander argues for an eternal continuation of Native ways, as they are time tested modes of sustained existence.  Granted, not every man is holy, nor is every spice of civilization.  As it is, no mortal mind can comprehend.  It is enough to offer every act to a higher power.  Let these old bridges rot, for that is their design.  But let this life be not in vain, for what are the odds of our very existence?  We a pieces of a very grand design indeed.

Green Cascadia to the Cripple Creek Trail - November 2011

Terrance at the 3 Lynx Trailhead

Winter has arrived in a resounding series of icy winds and white glops.  How does the same place of summer delight tun into a soggy slog?  But anything is better than sitting at home, especially when the wondrous Cascades slumber nearby.

Cripple Creek, like so many Clackamas River tributaries climbs from the deep canyon bottom, up to fore mentioned Cache and beyond.  The trail is quite old; however it has escaped the dotted-line notoriety of most of the old maps.  Why?  Another mystery, as the trail is well graded and practical.  It was rescued from oblivion by Trailadvocates, and now basks in silent appreciation.

During these cold winter days, the peace is remarkable, overpowering.  If it wasn't for the cold, one could melt into the scenery.  But the rising mists and rolling skies remind one that the close night will soon be at hand.  No matter, for this time holds a different spirit than the blue of summer.  The silent and almost overpowering woods are free to release their magnitudes for those bold and bundled spirits that seek more than the easy confines and pleasant comforts of our established world.  It is a good time to be alive.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

USDA Forest Service - The First Century

An interesting online publication of US Forest Service history can be found...

Tomorrow we'll be camping in the chilly solstice, the real start of the new year.
  Happy holidays to all!  Peace to you and your families.

Thanks to Offbeat Oregon History for this cool old postcard of Mt. Hood

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Quick Camp at Cache - September 2011

Cache Meadows that is.

Padme, Alexis, Phil, Erin, Malana, and Eva at the "trail X" trailhead

Similar and quite close to Cottonwood (as the crow flies!) lie another series of glacial meadows.  The area is now protected as part of the vast Roaring River Wilderness, a wild and tangled land bisected by deep eroded canyons and rivers that roar.
Of course the trip in is down a very long and very narrow gravel road built in the 1960s to "get the cut out".  This twisting road climbs over 3000'!  It seems to take forever to get there.  The roadside brush hasn't been cleared in many years, making head on collisions a distinct possibility. 

Many of the old trails survive in spite of this. 

If it were 1922, one would climb the mountains on one of several well graded trails originating from the Oak Grove Fork Clackamas Ranger Station, continuing through meadows and many directions beyond.  In 2011, most of these historic routes still make the drastic climb up the long steep flanks of the Clackamas Canyon and beyond.  
One last chance to bask in the fading summer sun.

 Once a glacier, and then a lake.

 New sign and designation for an ancient place.  What did the Indians call it? 

Other than the name, not much has changed in the past few thousand years.

 haze from ever present dry season fires

(Named for a forgotten Forest Service cache of supplies from God-knows-when.)

High Rock Outhouse - September 2011

Summer is always a brief affair in the Pacific Northwest.

For reasons better than speculation, the past few summers have really sucked. 
 Winters have been unusually wet; the rainy season of 2009-10 dumped in excess of 40" of rain than typical onto the Willamette Valley and surrounding area.  We Westside Oregonians have collectively experienced a continuous wet cloud with only a quick hiccup of sunshine in August.  Vegetable gardens fail, thick green moss clogs everything immobile.  Of course, in the high elevations of the Cascades, this translates into snow, and lots of it.

Typically, our summers are long, hot, and very dry.  This creates a unique habitat - drought tolerant trees such as conifers thrive.  Coupled with this dry heat is the imminent threat of fire, but the ecosystems have adapted to this peculiar environment.  Douglas firs have evolved a very thick bark that can withstand all but the most lethal of blazes.  It is not uncommon to see fire blackened living trees from a cataclysm born centuries ago.

smoke from forest fires nearly obscures Mt. Hood

After suffering many cold damp months, we received the blessings of true summer for a mere two weeks in September.  It was not nearly enough.  But, glories no matter how brief must not be squandered or taken for granted.

What better way to celebrate this quick gift than to restore an old outhouse?

Eva in 2010

High Rock was once a busy place.  The lofty windswept peak nearby boasted a summer staffed fire lookout connected by telephone to Clackamas Lake Ranger Station.  Built in 1925, it was gone by 1965.

The a fore mentioned Abbot Road passed by a lovely gushing mountain spring.  Here,  a campground was constructed by the CCC in the very early days of the Great Depression.  The young men created a stepped series of earthen platforms along the steep ridge, each containing a picnic table, fire ring, and space for your canvas tent.  And of course they also built an outhouse.
This type of campground was once quite common in our National Forests.  As the automobile became more and more common, dirt roads were constructed deep into the forests.  Campgrounds were seen as a necessary improvement, and were constructed and then staffed by the Forest Service.  In those days, only the hardiest of adventurers and "Sportsmen" as they were called, ventured into these spooky woods to hunt and fish and commune with nature.
As roads and logging increased, and our reliance on our technology kept a society ever more disconnected from the natural world, the camps slowly deteriorated and most were eventually abandoned.  But High Rock somehow survived.

And the outhouse!  Far more than a receptacle for one's leavings, a grand boxed throne for one's most secret of duties, it has become a sentinel from another age, a true survivor.  But it was not long for this world.


Something had to be done, or the historic structure would be lost to the ages.  The Forest Service lacked the funding or gumption to do anything; in fact the campground is no longer maintained and is now considered "off the system".

In 2010, my friend Hal and I decided to fix the old pooper.  It was too good to go.  After hauling the necessary materials from Portland, we replaced the floor, stripped old paint from the interior, and completely renovated the inside.

We decided to come back in a year and finish the exterior.  And we did, and with help too.

Stephan, king of the Gypsies


Hal and Neal


Done!  The proud crew.  Now who will be the first to poop?

Really, we didn't need 5 guys for such a small project.  But it was a ton of fun and we got it done quickly.  How thrilling to once again do "one's duty" as it was in the early '30s.

But then a Sasquatch got Neal, too bad really.

There is no parking available at High Rock for some bizarre reason, so camp must be set up right on the road.  What a motley collection of contraptions!  Imagine the looks we got...

from one end

to the other

Due to the lush spring, High Rock was spared from fires that swept the area in the teens of last century.  A strip of gigantic firs still stand guard.  In fact, ust 1/4 mile down the road the trees are much younger.
  This is a forest still recovering from a natural act 70 years previous.  The climate is harsh above 4000'.


I knew that the spring would have been a very important resource in the pre-road wilderness days of the Cascades.  I combed the steep mountain for signs of a trail, without success.  Later, upon descent I discovered this huge blaze on an ancient fir.  What a story it tells.

With the work done, it was time to relax, bond, and act like silly kids in the fleeting moments of an extended but contracted summer.  A weekend is never long enough.  Good times, great food, a lifetime of memories crammed into a couple days.


After.  Don is a hell of a cook.

What will become of that old High Rock outhouse?
Without a doubt it now lies cloaked in the deep snows of another season, but now protected from the elements and cherished like it's builders never imagined nor intended.  Until a tree fall on it at least.  Or one hell of a crap.

 Somewhere on a drifting mountain, it is still 1932 - for a time at least.