Week 6: Hitting the Trail Hard (June 24 – July 5)

So I just got back from Child’s Glacier last week and after working for the past eight days straight we had a nice long weekend to sit, relax, and clean up all of our gear. Usually I’d be all about taking advantage of a few days off and I’d try and go camping somewhere, but seeing as to how I was just tent camping for work for the last week I was alright with having a few lazy days around the bunkhouse reading and relaxing, and the fact that the weather wasn’t very nice either helped to keep me inside.

Up until this point nearly all we’ve been doing has been brushing and clearing trails, well this week we hit Eyak River Trail pretty hard equipped with double jacks (sledgehammers), picks, polaskis, rock bars, jackhammers, a few brushers, and chainsaws. We were all more than happy to welcome more physical labor in place of brushing. In addition to a change of work we found out that we have an SCA group of volunteers that will be working with us for the next three weeks. SCA stands for the Student Conservation Association, and these kids are all about 18-21 and have gone through a few weeks of training to do trail work. They had a short stint at another location before coming here for three weeks, and after they leave Cordova they will move on to another location to help out with trail work there.

So on Monday all fourteen of us grabbed gear and headed out to the Eyak River trail head, and even though we had other work to be doing, I was stuck brushing yet again with a few of the SCA kids. We cleaned up around the trail head a bit and then moved on down the trail to continue clearing brush for the rest of the day, and unfortunately we didn’t quite get finished so on Tuesday my morning started with some more brushing and we finally got it all wrapped up by that afternoon. Which meant that I got to trade in my brusher for a sledgehammer and I was set to work breaking rocks apart that were tripping hazards in the trail. Which, after brushing for the last several weeks, I was happy to be swinging a sledgehammer.

Eyak River Trail brushing.jpg

While I was out brushing with a few people on those first two days, the rest of our crew was hard at work busting up rocks, digging tread into the trails to provide a good walking surface, and fixing a few sections of trail that required using a jackhammer to carve a walkway into a rock face. On Wednesday, I was put on the jackhammer crew along with Luke and Kelly, we busted out a large rock that was a nuisance on the trail, as well as carved a step into another large flat rock that was a very slippery surface to be walking over. The jackhammer was a bit of a pain to start and was very finicky, and it definitely required a lot of weight pushing down on it in order for it to be efficient.

Luckily we were working in the area when the salmon berries and blueberries were just getting ripe so we had plenty of snacks while working along the trail. The salmon berries are very similar to a raspberry and grow wild all over Cordova, as well as the blueberries.

On our last day working on the Eyak River Trail I was working with our boss, Schmalzer, to build a section of step and run boards over a swampy section of the trail and up onto the muskeg which is like a wet mossy plain. Step and runs are usually made of 2×12 boards sitting on a split log, which is simply a log that has been “ripped” in half with the flat side facing up to provide a good base for the 2×12 treated lumber to sit on.


step and run trail construction

The image here shows step and run being built on a rather flat surface, in our case we would have to stack three to four 2×12 “spacer” boards on the end of each “run” or long stretch of board which would make the steps taller. We struggled to find a method that would work well due to the slope of our site, as well as the abundance of mud and muck that we were building on top of. We were able to get the first “sill” or split log that runs horizontal to the 2×12’s, in place but after that the steepness of the slope proved to be an issue and we spent several hours testing out different plans and alternate methods and ultimately came to a stand still in production. Further on up the trail another group of our crew were working on a much flatter section of the step and run to replace a few split logs that had rotted out, while the remaining crew members were working on smashing out a few remaining rocks and digging some new tread on the lower portion of the trail. All together by the end of the week we made a good amount of progress on the trail, but there is still a good bit to get done yet, but we’ll be back in a couple of weeks here to hopefully finish everything up.

On Friday, I went hiking with Kelly, Jessica, and one of Jessica’s friends from town up the Heney Ridge Trail which we worked on a few weeks ago. The hike was great, it was only about 9 miles or so round trip, and view from the top was amazing! the trail started out nice and flat right out on the coast and went inland through some nice forest, over a lot of step-and-run as well as many bridges, it was clear that there was a lot of work put into this trail at some point. After meandering through the forest for a little ways, we began to gain elevation, it was a pretty gentle climb at first, up and up over a long section of step-and-run called the stairway to heaven across some muskeg. Then the trail climbed up through some switchback sections and up above the treeline pretty quickly. Once we got above the treeline there was a great view back over the bay and out to the islands, but we didn’t stop to take in the view for too long before we were climbing again. We made our way up and across some rolling hills and suddenly, as far as I could see, the ocean stretched out in front of me.

Heney Ridge Trail view hiking.jpg


The view was incredible, I didn’t want to stop there, I only wanted to climb higher. So I looked to my left and saw a peak rising sharply to my left that rose a couple hundred feet higher yet, I jokingly asked the group if they wanted to climb it and to my surprise Jessica said that she had been up on top before. Next thing I knew we were all on our hands and knees scrambling up the steep slope, holding on and praying we didn’t slip.

Even though it was a pretty sketchy little scramble up, the last bit of a climb was so worth the amazing view from the top!

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The hike back down is always the most dreaded part of the hike for me, this was especially true after this hike. I didn’t want to leave such a beautiful view, and I certainly didn’t look forward to getting back to the car, but I was definitely happy that we went out and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

The very next day, I joined Kim and Luke in a hike up to Crater Lake for a nice afternoon stretch before heading on over to the Smyke’s house for a pie party. People from the forest service as well as some of Jessica’s friends from town all showed up bearing pies ready to enjoy a good evening.

On Sunday I helped with the set up of a large main tent and tables for the Fourth of July celebration in town, and afterwards a bunch of us all joined in a community softball game for the evening with some cool people that we met while helping to set up the tent. Monday we enjoyed the Fourth of July festivities in town including a soap box derby car race, free lunch (burgers, hot dogs, chips, and fresh salmon), free pie, and plenty of childrens activities. We helped to tear down all of the stuff that we set up at the end of the day and then closed it off with another softball game yesterday evening.

Now I’m going to close it here as it looks like I’m heading over to a friend’s house to enjoy some pizza and play settlers of catan for the evening. I’ll be heading back out to Child’s Glacier here this Thursday for another week so my next post will come a little late, but I promise I’m going to try and get you guys all updated as soon as I get back!


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