Saturday, July 30, 2016

Colorado Trail, Days 6 & 7 - How to Build a Trail

     Normally, I keep my photos nature or animal-oriented, but if you are out enjoying nature, how much do you think about the trail you are walking upon. How much do you think about how the path was scoped out and chosen, how the trail was constructed, who constructed it, how many people it took to make that trail, how long it took, the consideration of drainage, safety, and existing flora through the path. How much do you think about that?
     Before the Colorado Trail Crew, I can honestly say I never thought about that. But from now on, I will! A lot goes into building a proper trail and it sometimes takes a village to get the work done, plus lots of time, food, and tools, and food, food was very important!
     For this post, if you are a hiker, bird watcher, or a lover of nature, if you visit parks- city, state, national, whatever, then you should care about the places you go and the work that goes into keeping them accessible to you. So for this post, I want to share a little look into what we did, work-wise, on our Colorado Trail Crew at Hancock, along the Colorado Trail within the San Isabel National Forest:

Early to rise: Breakfast was served at 7am. On the crew we had to sign up for a certain number of chores. For this crew we had to take on four chores. I liked cooking, so most of mine involved food prep. Breakfast cooks had to have breakfast ready to go by 7am. Food was prepped on 6ft folding tables, food was cooked on propane stoves (in the background). And there was ALWAYS coffee, that was very important! Food was always prepared under these large tents, so rain or shine, food was always on!

Before going out onto the trail, you had to pack your own lunch. So if you were on lunch prep, this also had to be ready and laid out at 7AM. Lunches were simple sandwiches, PB&J, cheese, or cold cuts. A variety of snacks were also available and I learned that we had three breaks, morning, lunch, and afternoon. So extra snacks, especially a nice salty one, like chips or crackers were a good choice.
There is no plumbing, this "water buffalo" was our drinking and cooking water source. Hand and dish washing water came from Chalk Creek, behind our camp. I drank a lot of water, and one very much needed to do so! The spigot for filling is to the right of the license plate. We only really half emptied it, not sure what its filled capacity was.
And this is how we washed dishes. Boiled stream water would be added to 4 buckets used to wash your mess kit in this order: 1. Get the chunks and gunk off with regular water and a scrubber, chunks are discarded into a strainer and bucket for trash. 2. Soapy water and scrub. 3. Rinse with regular water. 4. A dip in a Clorox solution to sanitize safely.
Our communal tents. The right tent is the kitchen. The left tent was full of camping chairs where we'd eat and hangout.
This trailer served as a pantry/storage. Anytime we were away for camp or sleeping, trash and other food stuffs/goods were stashed in here to keep away from bears and any wayward travelers. Inside were coolers for perishables, and boxes were packed and labeled for each day containing non-perishables. Our aunt made amazing menus and edits for dietary restrictions and was responsible for all the food on this trip, which even included appetizers-- now that is camping in style!
Gear for the trail, hard hat, daypack (with lunches and water-- and camera...) and rain gear. Afternoons were the time when rain and storms would typically roll through, so always be prepared! I also wore it to keep bugs off me during breaks, because they were relentless, on any exposed skin you had- they were biting!
Where my husband and I lived for 6 days. It was cold. Even with cold weather sleeping bags I wore many layers to seep, including a hat and gloves. I sometimes shoved a jacket to the bottom of my bag to keep my feet warm, even with 2 pairs of socks on. But otherwise the inside was our sleeping bags, bed rolls, and our pajamas. Much of our other stuff remained in our car, especially with consideration for wildlife, specifically bears.
Vistas on our walk to our work site. At this point it is just around 8:30/9, the sun is just FINALLY warming you up as it breaks over the peaks surrounding our camp. This was a very glorious and happy time as we would celebrate the sun's rays with excitement and many of us basked in them like sun-worshiping lemurs (I went primate over reptile, because I didn't want you to think we laid out on a rock or something...).
I am on the right walking with one of the crew members (this is husband camera vision). I have my rain gear on, still warming up, bandana on under my helmet to keep the sun and bugs off my neck. Jeans or long pants are required as well as sturdy hiking or work boots to protect yourself. The weather was pretty perfect to work in pants and a tshirt without getting too hot or too cold.
More husband camera vision, up the railroad grade road we hiked yesterday.
This trail lead the way to our worksite area.
A three-toed woodpecker, life bird! These guys were pretty plentiful in the area we were in.
Me on a section of trail I created! I am pretty proud of it. The rock work just a little further back was done beautifully by other crew members.
Those little blue flags also mark the "critical edge" of the tread we are making. That is the edge of the trail, so we create trail in from those flags. The tread is supposed to be about a foot long, but clearance around the trail is to allow riders on horseback through. The trail is marked all the way up the slope and the flags guided us as to where we build.
Also created on the approximately 12,000' of trail we made, a really beautifully constructed switchback. It involved a lot of rocks, chopping apart fallen logs, and adding lots of mineral soil from a borrow pit. Borrow pits are where you can grab mineral soil from to add to the tread of the trail, when you are done, the pit is covered up and blended back in to the forest.
From the bottom of the switchback.
Duff, is the soil that contains a lot of organic materials. This soil does not hold together and is not appropriate for tread (where you walk) on a trail. The layer of duff had to be cleared to a layer of mineral soil (containing minerals, and sometimes very clay-like), which is appropriate for tread. Sometimes the duff layer was very, very thick and that meant you had to really work hard to create tread-- because you don't want your trail to become a giant hole, for water to gather, and in general, it's a hazard. So for this, small egg-sized rocks filled in the tread and mineral soil on top of that to create a proper and safe walking surface for human or horse.
It felt good to work the arms this trip. Another requirement besides pants and boots were hard hat, eye protection (from soil, twigs and chipping rocks), and work gloves. I even put a hole in my work gloves-- I really love manual labor and I do really get into a sort of beast mode. It reminded me of my keeper days where my favorite activities were things like shoveling snow, hauling and transporting bales of hay, and carrying bags of feed.
And that tool is a pulaski, you could chop away layers and lever rocks out of the ground plus use the axe end to chop roots. There was so much chopping, it was really fun!
My most favorite tool for use in building is the flat looking rake thing, it is called a McLeod (you say it like McCloud). It is a firefighters tool, usually- but it proves to be a multipurpose trail building tool. It rakes, it chops, it stomps, and it can be used to assess the grade of the trail, as it is not supposed to be completely flat. A 5% grade was to be had do that water could not pool up and just continue on down the slope. By placing the McLeod on its flat surface on the tread surface, if the pole leans past the metal face of the tool, it is too steep, the pole should lead juuuust to the edge of the metal, as if you tied a string to the tip of the pole, the other end would touch the edge of the tool's face.
At the days end, we hiked back to camp, and on this particular day, also carried our tools back. This day was also exciting because in the morning they cleaned out our port-a-potties, which were relatively clean to begin with but, with constant use by 20 people and anyone who snuck into our camp when we were away, fresh bathroom facilities were very exciting.
This white tailed jackrabbit lived around the bathroom area, I bet he/she too was happy the potties were clean!
A sweet little moth appears to glance backwards at me from the grass in camp.
     So the point of this post is really about, don't take the places you explore for granted. They are maintained in a way to allow people to get close to and to be able to experience nature in a safe way. Remember that someone did that for you, some trails are built by volunteers who are passionate about a wild place and who want to give back. So if you ever come upon volunteers working in your favorite wild place to explore, thank them for what they are doing! So many people hiked through camp simply just to say thanks, many of them knew our uncle, he was like a wilderness rock star. It also is heart warming to see people who love this wild place, love the trails, and love to create something that they and other can enjoy and doing all this work voluntarily.
     And every single person on our crew was so kind, it was great hearing stories from different people from different places. I highly recommend taking a trip to work on a crew, it is a unique and truly memorable experience that any lover of nature, hiking, and the outdoors should not miss! To learn more about how to volunteer on a crew, check out the links below:
- Colorado Trail Foundation:
- Volunteer on a Crew:
- "Treadlines" Newsletter:

One last thanks to this amazing crew, the Colorado Trail Foundation, our uncle, and this trail crew was dedicated to his wonderful friend, and friend of the Colorado Trail, Gudy Gaskill. Thank you, Everyone, it was so lovely to spend this crew, my first, and certainly not last, with you all!!!