North Cascades Trail Skills College

All smiles after a Waterbars and Checks class at the 2019 North Cascades Trail Skills College. Photo by Aaron Peabody.

North Cascades Trail Skills College

The North Cascades Trail Skills College is a free weekend event for volunteers to learn about trail maintenance and stewardship. Beginners and experts alike can benefit from Trail Skills College courses like Crew Leadership, Tread Reconstruction and more.

Trail Skills College is offered free of charge in an effort to inspire stewardship of trails. In exchange for attending the training, we encourage you to volunteer at least 16 hours of work on trail projects in the coming year.

The 2022 North Cascades Trail Skills College has concluded. Check back soon for information about next year’s event!

When is it?

The 2022 North Cascades Trail Skills College was held on July 15th-17th, 2022.

Where is it?

This year’s event was hosted at the Washington Alpine Club’s Guye Cabin. See here for more details and directions. Classes will meet at the cabin each morning, before travelling as a group to the trailhead where their class will take place.

Are meals and lodging available?

We have reserved a number of bunks in the cabin for participants staying overnight– there are three dorms: a male dorm, a female dorm, and a mixed-gender dorm. Tent camping will also be available outside. You will be able to select your lodging choice when registering for the event.

We will be providing meals throughout this year’s event– from Friday dinner (7/15) through to Sunday lunch (7/17).

How much does it cost?

PCTA Trail Skills College events are free for all participants.

What classes are offered this year?

In 2022, we offered the following courses:

Intended for those new to trail work who want to learn how to cut brush and small logs to help clear a trail to proper specifications. After discussion of general safety protocols, students learn about safe and effective use of hand saws and loppers. This class also includes how to complete an early-season trail survey to identify and report major problems, especially blown down logs – their numbers, locations, and sizes.

Water and gravity constantly threaten our trails and thus we must learn how best to deflect them. This course begins with basics of hillside hydrology and how trails work when they shed water properly.
Includes introduction of “trail eyes” and basic trail design concepts, as well as how to recognize tread erosion patterns. Hands-on practice removing slough and berm, and effective cleaning and maintenance of existing water bars and grade dips.

Are you interested in helping certified sawyers to clear trails, but don’t have much experience working with or around saws? Regardless of if you aim to become a certified sawyer yourself, learning to be a safety-conscience saw crew member is an important place to start. This class provides field experience with crosscut saws and axes, but most of the principles are also applicable to chainsaws. Therefore, this class is the place to start, no matter what trail clearing tools you expect to use in the future.

The session begins with an introduction to crosscut saws and axes of various types, and how they work. It then covers their safe and effective use, including a review of trail clearing specifications, safety equipment, the forces of tension and bind, and the practice of situational awareness.

This class is an introduction; it does NOT provide saw certification, which is required for those who wish to be lead sawyers.

For curious trail workers who want to understand why so many trails are in bad shape because of how they were made. Learn how better design and layout makes trails more sustainable and less prone to erosion. This class serves as an introduction to different trail design standards appropriate for different kinds of trails. This class is for anybody interested in these topics, but students with some trail building and maintenance experience will benefit the most.

Where earthen rolling drain dips are not feasible, drainage features
are sometimes armored using rock or log. Learn contemporary techniques to build water bars. The class will include a review of “old school” waterbars, and how to convert “old school” waterbars to a more effective design. Furthermore, learn how to install rock and log checks where tread is gullied and cannot be drained, or in other situations requiring tread armoring

When it is not possible to move water off a trail by outsloping the tread, installing a drain, or building a water bar or other drainage structure, sometimes we need to actually elevate the trail above the water table by constructing what is known as a turnpike. Typically these are built using two parallel log or rock walls, with the space between filled with crush, dirt, and/or gravel. 

This advanced class will go over the design and construction of turnpikes– be prepared to get muddy!

What should I bring?

  • Layers work best as outdoor temperatures, weather, and your activity level will vary through the day. Follow
    the layering system for your work and camp clothes. Long pants are required to conduct trail work. Long
    sleeve shirts are recommended for sun and insect protection and in some areas are required for trail work.

    • Layer 1: Long underwear tops, bottoms, and socks; made of lightweight wool or synthetic material.
    • Layer 2: Mid-weight wool or synthetic pants and shirt. Can be more than one layer; bring additional
      layers if you get cold easily. Cotton is not advised.
    • Layer 3: Rain coat or other water/wind resistant coat or poncho and rain pants.
  • Sturdy boots with slip-resistant tread that offer firm and flexible support. No sandals or sneakers
    while working on the trail but you may want these in camp. Saw students have specific footwear
    requirements. See the Crosscut & Chainsaw Training page.
  • Warm hat and warm gloves while at camp.

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Pillow

  • Sealable plastic container to pack lunch in
  • Plate / bowl for breakfast and dinner
  • Silverware
  • Cup / insulated drinking mug
  • Water bottles / hydration pack

  • Sun protection: sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, lip balm
  • Insect repellant
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Daypack
  • Alarm clock

  • Camp chair (compact)
  • Supplemental snacks
  • Camera
  • Bandana
  • Safety gear (i.e. hard hats, gloves) will be provided throughout the weekend. However, if you have safety gear that you would prefer to use, please bring it with you.

What should I leave at home?

Please do not bring pets to Trail Skills College.

As with any camp, please do not leave valuables in your tent during the day. Plan on either storing your valuables on you, in your vehicle, or leave them at home

When will registration open?

Registration is now closed.

Can’t wait?

Don’t forget, you can learn new trail maintenance skills by volunteering on a PCTA trail crew any time. Most crews don’t require any previous trail maintenance experience. Knowledgeable and experienced crew leaders are on site to teach you the necessary skills.  Visit PCTA’s online schedule and the North 350 Blades Facebook to find trail projects near you.

If you have questions about Trail Skills College, contact PCTA’s Volunteer Program at [email protected].

 

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