Massive oak blocks trail and provides a sawing challenge
By Bob Fuller, West Hudson Sawyer
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference certified sawyers and swampers (assistants to the sawyers who help carry equipment; help analyze blowdown for the safest way to cut; provide crowd control; and watch out for danger, such as movement of the tree being cut) are frequently out sawing to keep the trails clear. Depending on storm activity, hundreds, if not thousands of blowdowns are cleared every year from the trails by our dedicated volunteers.
Steve Zubarik, one of our many sawyers, also maintains the blowdown list for Harriman/Bear Mountain State Parks and coordinates the efforts of the sawyers in this area. Recently he received a report of a massive oak blowdown at Brooks Lake; after inspecting the site, he noted that this was a major cutting job that would require rigging and a larger-than-usual sawing crew to safely remove the tree from the trail.
On Oct. 14, Steve, Erik Garnjost, Chris Reyling, Kim Waldhauer, and I got to work clearing the trail.
This was an extremely large and heavy oak that had broken off at the base and was resting on a steep slope perpendicular to the trail. This was a major sawing job that would require great care to be safely cut and removed from the path.
After careful inspection and planning, the first step was to put a sling (yellow in the picture below) through the crotch of the tree and attach a belay line to an anchor tree to make sure the fallen oak would not slide down as it was being cut. This was done by myself and sawyer/master rigger Chris. We removed any loose rocks that had been dislodged by the tree in order to provide safe footing in the area. Erik then began sawing.
The section of tree blocking the trail was over 24 inches round. It had to be carefully cut from both sides, with wedges pounded in as needed to keep the kerf—the slot made by the saw—open. This was done by using an angled cut, and the plan was for the upper portion of the trunk to slide by the lower trunk without pinning the saw in the cut. Erik finished the first cut, separating the main trunk into two pieces, and the top section of the tree slid by the lower section—just as we had planned. (Of course, that’s not always what happens in the world of sawing blowdowns.) This pulled the belay line taut.
Erik and I finished cutting sections from the main trunk, then Erik cut the smaller trunk. As each piece was removed the main trunk would rotate, but was prevented from sliding by the belay line. Then it was time to safely lower the main trunk and get it completely off the trail.
We attached another sling (green in the picture) to the upper part of the trunk and set the rope puller to two trees off to the side. Slowly, as Chris tugged with the rope puller, I belayed, and Erik and Steve rotated the trunk with rock bars and pick-mattocks, we moved the trunk down and to the side—but it was still perpendicular to the trail, with the trunk now completely blocking an adjacent portion of the path.
We removed the belay. At Steve’s suggestion, Erik used a rock bar to pop the trunk off a rock that was holding it from moving down farther. That caused the trunk to quickly slide down the slope, out of the way.
With the tree safely cut and cleared from the trail, it was time to clean up and go to the next blowdown—another slider tree on the Popolopen Gorge Trail, which was easily taken care of thanks to the expertise of this crew.