Maintaining the 2,663-mile, world-renowned Pacific Crest Trail isn't as much of a headache as it is a foot, back, leg and arm ache.
A never-ending, colossal amount of physically grueling work goes into keeping the popular path clear for hikers, equestrian riders and other trailgoers, and it takes a like-minded skill set to ensure the job is done right.
"It's hard work," said Lauren Everall, breathing heavily while hand-sawing through a downed log with a 5-foot long, lance-toothed crosscut saw. The retired piece of logging equipment still is an important tool for trail workers on the PCT, about half of which meanders through 47 federally recognized wilderness areas — where power saws are off-limits.
Everall, 29, of British Columbia, was one of about 40 hiking enthusiasts who pitched camp at Hyatt Lake last week for three days of trail building and maintenance workshops organized by the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
The third annual Big Bend Trail Skills College is one of seven similar multi-day workshops the PCTA organizes in Washington, Oregon and California annually to attract volunteers and teach them what it takes to keep the PCT in proper shape.
Friday, before regular classes started, a handful of students completed a basic saw crew course that included chainsaw and crosscut saw demonstrations, and a chance for everyone to hone their skills with the tools.
"This is really stretching it for me ... I'm not use to work like this," said Helene Mussuto, 55, of Klamath Falls, preparing to start a Husqvarna chainsaw.
Mussuto, who started hiking about seven years ago, is a member of the Klamath Trails Alliance and hikes everyday, "so I need to make sure I know how to keep these trails maintained for others." "I use to be afraid of the woods," she said. "But I slowly became comfortable as I built my skills."
Dennis Taugher, 70, of Klamath Falls, and founder of KTA, said he plans to take everything he can from the trail skills college and apply it to maintaining hiking trailing around Klamath Falls.
The KTA is a partner of the Sacramento, Calif.-headquartered PCTA, which partners with an array of and organizations and agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, state forestry and parks departments, and many private nonprofits.
Annually about 88,000 volunteer hours go into maintaining the PCT, said Jennifer Tripp, PCTA trail operations manager.
About 8,000 of those are spent on the about 450-mile "Big Bend" section of the trail, from McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park in California to just north of Crater Lake National Park, said PCTA regional representative Ian Nelson.
The section of the trail is named after where the PCT bends into the Castle Crags Wilderness south of Mount Shasta before curling back along the Siskiyou Crest and into the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument south of Ashland, Nelson said.
David Greenfield of New York said he is staying on the West Coast through the summer while three of his friends hike the entire PCT, called "through hiking." Attending the trail skills college seemed like the perfect idea, he said.
"I have done some trail maintenance on the East Coast but never taken any classes. I've always loved the outdoors. ... Now that I'm semi-retired, I finally have some time to enjoy things like this," Greenfield said.
The trail skills colleges are no place for back-breaking work, Nelson said. That comes with crew outings and depends on the type of work being done.
"This isn't where your going to spend all weekend digging new trail. It's not about the volume of work we get done. It's about teaching the students quality skills," Nelson said. "Not everyone is going to come back a do serious work on the PCT, and that's OK. We want people to learn and enjoy their time while they're here. ... Of course, we would love it if everyone did come back."
The PCTA has plenty of volunteer opportunities, Tripp said, and volunteers can physically exert themselves to whichever level they'd like.
"We welcome pretty much everyone, no prerequisites," she said. "We couldn't do our work without volunteers, and there are plenty more opportunities for people who do want to volunteer with PCTA."
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.