"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Workin' Our Tails Off

This was no “ya pays yer money, ya takes yer trip” into the depths of Haleakala crater. I’d made a solemn promise to Ranger Ted that—if I were allowed to go—I would work my tail off on whatever chores he assigned me.

Permission was granted; project not disclosed. Only after we reached the far side of the crater at an area known as Paliku (pah-lee-COO), did I learn what we were there to accomplish.
Before I let you in on the project, I need to explain something about going into the crater.

Anyone can go. You pay your money to an outfitter, who will lead you on a guided horseback trip a couple miles down and a couple miles back. He probably does longer and perhaps overnight trips, too.

In the center of the photo are riders with Pony Express, an outfitter that takes clients into the crater by horseback.

Or, you can walk in. “In” is a bit—no, a whole lot misleading. “Down” would be much more accurate. There are a couple other routes, but most folks start at the Visitor’s Center observatory at the top of the crater road. The elevation there is just under 10,000 feet.

Hikers are told to yield to horses, and stand quietly beside the trail. Some places are steep and narrow, and accidents can and have happened with spooked horses.

You walk down a number of switchbacks on a trail called “Sliding Sands.” Obviously, this trail traverses a steep slope covered with black sand. Once you reach the floor, there are trails in several directions, and you MUST stay on the trails.

Side trail to cinder cone, with hikers.

Now, back to work. When we arrived at Paliku (pah-lee-COO), on the far side of the crater, Ranger Ted pointed to a picturesque wooden fence that was the closest boundary of a large horse pasture. We were to take that down, and replace it with a cable rail fence.

Our project was to take down this old rotted fence and replace it with new posts and cable

Ranger Ted didn’t know it, but he was talkin’ my language. Demolition is something I can really get into. I would have started right then, but I thought it would be best if I could get my knees working again, so I decided to wait until morning. Until then, I would occupy myself settling in to my corner bunk in the Paliku cabin. We had brought sheets and pillowcases with us, so we busied ourselves with making up our beds. There were pillows and gray wool blankets for our use.

While fresh Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets baked in the oven of the cabin’s wood burning stove,
I unloaded my saddle bags. I wanted to keep my footprint in the cabin as small as possible, so I stashed all the clothing and Australian duster raincoat under my pillow. This not only kept that stuff out of the way, but made it easier to read in bed, with a flashlight tucked alongside my neck, or with the small reading lamp I’d brought.

That's my bunk, the bottom one behind Andy.

Holly, Betsey and I removing all the wire holding the fence together.

After all the wire was off, Betsey started pulling nails from the 1x8 boards, which would then be cut up for firewood. All metal had to be saved, because it would be carried out of the crater. We pulled off the batten board that covered joints, and anything else that had been added over the years to prolong the fence’s use. Then came the fun part.

Made short work of that fence. Except for the wretched posts. Some were 4x6” treated posts, some were metal posts with a flange that were driven two or three feet in the ground. Pulling, prying, digging, cussing—all were required to pull those posts. Along with brute male strength.

In the meantime, Ranger Ted, Andy, and Bruce were working on the short leg of the L, pulling out the old posts, digging new holes, and installing new, treated posts. When all the posts were in on that leg, Ranger Ted summoned me to help him, while the guys continued with posts on the long leg, and Holly and Betsey pulled nails and stacked boards.



Ranger Ted had a heavy, heavy, hard, dense chunk of wood that had been one of the old fence posts. Twisted and rotted on the outside, with beetles crawling through tunnels in the wood, I wondered why he was using it for a horizontal brace at the end of the run.

The mamane wood horizontal brace.

Then he asked me to hold it up while he marked it for cutting. Criminy! That thing was heavy. As soon as I had a chance, I grabbed the cutoff and looked. Inside was the densest wood I have ever seen, as dense as the diamond willow found in Alaska.

Mamane fence post in outer pasture.

Mamane tree in pasture.

Close up of mamane tree branch.

On and on we worked, post holes, braces, holes, pulling 3/8”marine grade stainless steel wire rope (cable) through the new posts. By late, late afternoon, the assigned portion of the new fence was done. The original plan was that Ranger Ted and his next crew of volunteers would do the final section, from the gate to the barn.

The completed part of the fence.

Not-so-early the next morning, a bedraggled , tired crew started on the next section of fence.

Holly and I try to remove a steel T post that's driven deep into rocky ground.

Demo went okay, but digging those wretched post holes in rocky ground was miserable, hot, back-breaking, hard work.

Andy backfilling and tamping rocks into the hole.

L to R: Betsey, Danaielle, Bruce, Whitney, Holly, the post hole crew.

Bruce removing old gate, and Betsey pulling nails from boards.

Sometimes one crew had to wait for another crew to finish its assigned task. That’s when Danielle and Whitney brought out the cookies to restore our energy.

Unknowingly, they created a bad habit, one that would rear its ugly head many times the rest of the afternoon.

A tired crew driven to the ground by Ranger Ted, who is--at the far right--the last man standing.

While we were all lying on the ground, the subject of climbing the vertical walls around us came up. Then someone mentioned that there was fencing on top of those ridges, and pointed out where the fence posts could be seen. Out came the binoculars and the 22mm lens. Sure enough, some pour souls had built fences on those ridges to keep feral animals out of the park. That seemed to do much to restore our energy by putting our project into perspective.

See anything that looks like a fence on that ridgeline?

See that lone white fence post?

How about now? I see several. You should be able to click on these photos to enlarge them to full screen. On the opposite side of these peaks is rainforest.

Danielle scratching our initials into the gate hinge post concrete, the only one in concrete.

The entire crew helped pull cable through the posts, and Ranger Ted used a come-a-long to stretch it tight.

By now even Ranger Ted was tired, but he WAS pulling the lower cable through with a come-a-long.

Danielle caulking all the holes.

Finally, it was time to put the finishing touches on the fence. Wedges were driven in the holes to hold the cable tight and where the cable was pulled through, the holes were caulked.

The fence was finished.

Bruce loading up the tools.

Obviously the fence posts followed the contour of the uneven ground, which is why they don't look the same height. Pele had a great deal to do with that, as lava and lava rocks are not easy to dig in.

I asked a couple people to look. Neither could detect any sign of a tail on my posterior, though as close to the ground as it was dragging, it was hard to see.

Promise fulfilled, Ranger Ted. Ask me back any time.

1 comment:

  1. Favorite line so far: "Demolition is something I can really get into."