Fall surveying on the Pacific Crest Trail

As the weather cools and the days get shorter, the other PCTA regional representatives and I often find ourselves in the field for an on-the-ground look at the trail before the snow falls. Whether it’s with a volunteer leader to scout a future trail project or an agency partner to see an issue that may need future attention, nothing can replace field time on the PCT.

Wednesday Sept. 28 was just such a day for me. I joined the Klamath National Forest’s Sam Commarto for a day on the PCT south of Etna Summit, just north of where the trail passes through the Russian Wilderness. It’s an outstanding section of trail with far-reaching views and some spectacular rock work built many years ago. Most of this has withstood the test of time. That said, there were some significant rock walls that we wanted to get our eyes on to see how they’ve been holding up.

Klamath National Forest’s Sam Commarto investigates a rock wall.

Klamath National Forest’s Sam Commarto investigates a rock wall.

While Sam and I identified some minor tread issues, the rock structures that we surveyed looked really good. Well-designed and constructed rock work on trails can be quite impressive. I had not seen the section in some time and it was one of the last sections of the PCT on Sam’s district that he hadn’t seen yet. Almost five years ago, Sam joined the Klamath National Forest’s staff, and works in the Salmon-Scott Ranger District. He spent the two years before that working for PCTA. We’ve worked together on a number of PCT projects over the years and know each other well. Time on the trail gives us a chance to catch up on the past season’s accomplishments as well as to start thinking about the work to come next year.

Here I am hiking up the PCT. Even if I wanted to, I can't stop myself from investigating the tread's quality the the trail structures that I walk over.

Here I am hiking up the PCT. Even if I wanted to, I can’t stop myself from investigating the tread’s quality and the trail structures that I walk over.

“During the summer, I can hardly get out to visit each of the projects happening on the District, and it’s not uncommon for a wildfire to clear two weeks or a month of the time I thought I had for field work,” Sam said. “This is a crucial window for me to get out into the field, after the crews are gone and before the weather changes, to look at recent work and scout future projects.”

Field time with agency partners is not only an opportunity to discuss the physical trail, but also a great time to catch up on all things PCT. While we’re away from our computers, phones, and other distractions associated with the office, we can discuss issues such as how a wildfire affected the trail or the status of an agency planning process.

Looking north to the Marble Mountains.

Looking north to the Marble Mountains.

I try and get on the PCT with agency partners as much as possible during the field season. These folks certainly appreciate the opportunity to get outside on the trail. And sometimes, the remoteness of a project area may necessitate a multi-day trip, such as the one I have scheduled later this month with Fremont-Winema National Forest staff into the Sky Lakes Wilderness.

Looking down on Smith Lake.

Looking down on Smith Lake.

Planning for PCT projects takes time. PCTA staff, agency partners and volunteer leaders work together to identify and prioritize necessary maintenance and reconstruction projects. While the summer affords some opportunities to visit potential work sites, it can also be a particularly busy time of year since our volunteers are out and about working on a variety of projects. Much of the trail outside of Southern California will often have snow on it by Thanksgiving, so between the approaching winter and holiday season, the various partners on the PCT find themselves trying to get a look at what they can in the fall. As many of us know, this can be a particularly beautiful time to be on the PCT.

You can support work like this by making a donation to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Author: Ian Nelson

Ian Nelson has been the PCTA’s Regional Representative for Northern California/Southern Oregon for more than ten years. He is based in the beautiful Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon and enjoys exploring the many wilderness areas in the region.