Cloud Peak Wilderness, Bighorns

  • October 01, 2017
  • Posted by Mitch Lassa

We had been working with the Forest Service for a few days building rock cairns, digging new tread, and preparing to build a puncheon that would span a small stream. This was all part of our project to reroute a section of the Edelman Trail. The old trail traveled through a wetland area, a valley which was also right in the path of cattle drives. By rerouting the trail up into the hills, the trail would be less of a muddy mess and it would help protect the wetland area from human traffic. Our project sponsors, Ashley and Fred, were two knowledgeable and easy going guys. They had been making this project enjoyable with jokes and a few laughs. We had fun working with and learning from them.

On one of the last days, we were knee-deep in the stream, wrestling with rock bars, trying to move boulders that were sunk in the mud. Ashley had one foot balanced on a small island of grass and the other on a point of rock just above the water. I don’t know how he didn’t fall in. The boulders needed to be removed in order to make room for a gabion basket. The gabions would be placed on either side of the stream and filled with rocks. The puncheon was to be built on top, anchored by the gabions.

These boulders were not going to move, even after a triple rock bar attack. We needed a new strategy and so we set up a griphoist. A strap was wrapped around the first boulder and attached to a rope and pulley system. We passed the rope through the griphoist, cranking it by hand, and were able to drag the rock out an inch at a time. Now, with boulders the size of engine blocks resting on the banks, we were able to smooth out the holes in which the gabions would go. Soon the baskets were placed and filled. Puncheon stringers were anchored with rebar, which spanned across the stream, connecting the two baskets. We nailed on wooden cross boards and tread last. And the bridge was built!

As part of the Historic Preservation crew, I’ve really come to enjoy all of the construction-type projects like this. Each build has been exciting and a great learning experience. We’ve built sunshades in the Tetons, fences in the Crazy Mountains and the desert of southern Wyoming, and now a gorgeous and solid puncheon in the Bighorns! Not only this, but each project this season has been unique. We’ve been quite lucky in that aspect. Injuries, bad weather, and vehicle breakdowns, however, are another story! One thing that has been a pleasant surprise is variety of work. Not only can we use cross cuts to saw a series of downed trees, but we can just as easily hike twenty miles in one day to install new trail signs. We can use sprayer packs to treat invasive weeds and also thin out conifers in vital sage grouse habitat.

I’m thankful for the places I’ve been, the skills I’ve learned, the challenges I’ve faced, and the friendships I’ve gained in MCC. It’s been an adventure, one that’s well worth having, and one that I’m glad to have shared with my crew.


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