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[TR] Staic Point - cutting the gnar 10/24/2009

David Yount

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Trip: Staic Point - cutting the gnar


Date: 10/24/2009


Trip Report:

Static Point Trip Report Work Party 10.25.09


Saturday at 5:00am my electronic wrist watch alarm sounds, that’s my alarm clock. I casually gather some warm clothes, several pair of work gloves, a retired pack, a few bottles of water and scraps of food. As I merge onto I-5 northbound I swallow a caffeine pill; I went to bed at 2:00am and I have some driving ahead of me, beginning from Tacoma. I reach Monroe’s Fred Meyers by 7:00am.


I don’t like their chainsaws. A quart of bar oil, a 1-gallon plastic gas can, earmuffs and a donut complete my shopping. I finish the donut before I reach the cashier - how convenient it is to get chainsaw supplies and a fresh donut from the same store. At Home Depot I quickly consider the two makes and several models of chainsaws they offer. I settle on the cheaper brand (Homelite) but not the smallest saw (16-inch). I select the 18-inch because that model comes with a hard plastic storage case. At a gas station I fill up my vehicle’s tank as well the new gas can. After adding the 2.6 oz tiny bottle of 2-cycle synthetic oil to the gas can I head out on my day’s adventure.


Sultan Basin Road has been repaired earlier this month and is no longer closed. Last month I tried to climb at Static Point but the road was under repair and I didn’t know about the Kellogg Lake Road bypass. That climbing day turned out fine, as we continued on US-2 to Index, Plan B. But after roping up and beginning a warm up on Princely Ambitions it began to sprinkle, then rain. Retreating from the rock and huddling beneath a thick tree canopy we stood silently listening to the music of the individual rain drops cascading down thru the leaves. After 15 minutes of this meditation my partner joked we cold always keep driving east for better weather. I asked if he had been to Snow Creek Wall. When he replied, “not yet” I told him I had a good idea, Plan C.


We drove to Leavenworth, selected a rack, cruised the approach and saw one party. They were down low on Outer Space with another party waiting on the ground; this was looking like a very, very long day. I told him we would do Outer Space but first a different route, to let those other parties time to move out of our way. So we moved left and discovered the start for Orbit. What a joyous route! I’m not certain about the usual and customary last pitch, but when I saw a nice offwidth crack I stopped looking for other solutions to finish the final 40 feet. Scrambling back down to the base of Outer Space we found one party still on route, but up high. I gave the best pitches to my partner, we summitted again, scrambled down to our packs, hiked down to the creek, cruised down the trail and flicked on our headlamps nearing the parking lot just as night fell. Then drove back home, Tacoma, nineteen hours door to door. But I digress, that was my last trip to Static Point.


This trip to Static Point would not be denied by the road. After about 11 miles on Sultan Basin Road the pavement ends and the nature of the road changes completely. It’s quite steep and has many switchbacks. But the dirt road is so amazingly wide that it beckons would-be rally drivers to flat-track the sharp corners; which is not me. I pass a truck that must have been having too much fun because it’s front end is deep into a side ditch so steep that the 8-inch lifted rig on 40-inch wheels is high centered, it’s rear wheels on the road, front wheels in the deep ditch and the center of the truck underbody resting on the side of the road. There’s nobody around but I still feel bad I can’t help.


I reach the Olney Pass registration station, I register, and take the right fork to the South Shore Road. I notice they don’t include “climbing” on the registration as a purpose to visit the watershed, so I write it in. A few easy miles later I cross the bridge and shortly after I park on the right at the spur road. This is where the walking begins.


Before I get out of my car I decide I’m curious to get a feel for the entire recreation area so I keep on driving onward. I pull off for “Site 2,” there are 5 Sites around the Spada Reservoir. Site 2 has a crude boat not recommended for any but hand launch boats. Further along, Site 3 has a broad soft surface ramp down to the water. The water level is quite low. As I casually drive down the ramp I hear and feel the front wheels sinking into soft sand. Oh shoot! I’m not in an honest 4-wheel drive, just my all-wheel drive Subaru wagon; I may be stuck until another soul comes sightseeing. With a smooth head and a soft finesse on the clutch, I coax my sinking ship backward onto firm ground. Site 4 has a long paved boat ramp, but I’ve already seen the water up close from my car so I decline the opportunity. The road was reported as closed after Site 4, with Site 5 only accessible as a walk-in, but I drive merrily along. Site 5 is a viewpoint, with a short walk to a higher viewpoint. At such low water level, the reservoir reminds me of the off season stump farm of Keechelus Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. All Sites have pit toilets, picnic tables, and plenty of parking. Strange feeling is it looks like almost nobody visits these sites, ever. Like the last time a family had a picnic was well over 15 years ago? I read on the website these Sites were developed in 1991; I wonder if they were ever used?


I keep pressing on, climb a hill, descend and find the road permanently blocked just past Grieder Lakes Trailhead. A map shows a 3-mile hike to visit both lakes, lower and upper. With the road closed, the hike to Boulder Lake is increased by a 2-mile road walk adding to the 4-mile trail hike. Camping sites (picnic tables?) with a pit toilet are advertised for Boulder Lake; with the drive-in Sites looking completely unused I wonder what I’d find in such a seeming remote Boulder Lake?


With no more road to explore I turn my car around and return to the spur road. It’s been 20 years since I’ve operated a saw so I take a quick view of the instructions; mostly I remember cutting thick viney things or thin branches far from the trunk can be challenging or ill advised. Oh, and using the tip of the saw blade is rarely a good idea and the chain tension should be checked regularly and don’t forget to refill the bar oil when refilling the gas.


Now I sit down to devise some way to carry the rather large plastic saw case strapped to the back of my pack, with the 1-gallon gas and the 1-quart bar oil inside my pack, with clothes, food, etc. And a 24-inch bowsaw secured to the side of the plastic case. For the rest of the day I would walk slowly, carrying the chainsaw in my hands, turning it on to cut my way through the tangled messes, always with my large pack on my back with the saw’s plastic carrying case strapped on. I hadn’t planned on this, I would rather cut without my pack. I don’t enjoy the weight on my back, but I quickly grew dissatisfied with removing my pack to cut, then putting it back on to walk. The cutting happened so frequently, I learned to cut while wearing the pack.


I left the car at 11:00am and just around the first corner I found a large excavator, parked. Then I came to a rather large gorge, with steep sides. The excavator had cut a gorge into the spur road, allowing certain passage of the natural water feature that likely used to pass thru a large culvert beneath the road’s surface. There would be about eight more of these, some of them 25-feet deep! It would be pleasant if a volunteer group created something more than the present mere suggestion of a trail up and down these steep slopes. Finally I reached the pair of boulders that marked an historic parking spot for climbers. The road up to this point needs no pruning, it is very wide and clear. I estimate this segment at 0.75 miles.


Passing between the boulders the character of the road changes, because this final segment has already been abandoned a long time ago. I’m happy to remove the saw from it’s case, taking the weight off my shoulders. Since the saw was strapped onto the back face of the pack, my shoulders were feeling the force of the saw rotating backward; my waistbelt didn’t have much of the load.


In early October many people online offered to show up for a trail work party in late October; I was looking forward to an organized effort. When several weeks passed and it was already late October I figured I would advertise my solo intentions, hoping to inspire. My first plan was to carry my tools and supplies thru the bushwack to the approach trail, then cut as I returned to my car. One advantage is I’d be working as I walked downhill, rather than uphill. A bigger consideration is I would have knowledge of the entire spur road’s condition so I’d know where the worst sections were and leave alone minor sections.


Just after passing between the pair of boulders I immediately realize I need my saw, now. I could only proceed reasonably if I was cutting a path thru the gnar. And so the blood letting began. I walk, I cut, I walk, I cut, I leave the trimmings where they fall, I continue pushing up the forgotten roadbed. Then I run out of gas. I refill the gas and the bar oil, check the chain tension, then resume with nature’s crew cut. I throw the chain and quickly hit the kill switch. I didn’t know chainsaw’s were so easy to derail.


Great! I’m getting a feel for the flow of work but I might be dropping my now useless 42cc chainsaw and continuing with just my backup saw, a 24-inch manual bowsaw. Well, I do like to tinker so I break out a 2-foot white towel and lay the broken saw down. I figure out how to remove the clutch cover. I remove the chain and the bar, then look carefully at the chain, inspecting the cutting teeth but more poignantly the drive teeth. I place the chain in the bar and pull the chain thru several full rotations; I find one drive tooth that must be slightly damaged, it does not move freely thru the channel in the bar.


I reassemble the saw and adjust the tension in the chain. There’s a sticky link but it seems to move well enough? I start it up and the saw struggles slightly with the friction from the damaged piece of chain. After several more small trees are felled the chain is moving smoothly again. I continue carving my way thru small alder trees and larger blow downs crossing the road, and run out of gas. As I’m refilling, adjusting tension and eating some food I hear some general thrashing behind me. If it’s a bear, then I’ll be annoyed. Just moments ago I had a very effective defensive tool if involved in a bear fight. Now I have 10 pounds of plastic and bits of metal. I see movement behind me. Yes, another person is walking the spur road, he’s picking up and tossing all the debris I’ve created. I take off my earmuffs and my gloves and walk back to meet him.


A capable looking fellow, dressed in comfortable clothes based on function and experience far more than technology and fad, sporting a nice pair of hand pruners and a folding tree saw, both in sturdy leather holders, well worn work boots with the steel toes plainly visible, moving reliably and efficiently, never in a hurry, obviously at home outdoors doing physical work. “Don Brooks” he says. I am honored; I post an open invite for trail work and Don Brooks shows up. The first guidebook I bought was the 1979 second printing of Fred Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide. The second guidebook I bought was 1982 Don Brooks and David Whitelaw’s Washington Rock. Whereas Beckey’s was an alpine guide, Brooks’ was a rock climbing guidebook with far out precise topos. I could enjoy a climb just by savoring the detailed information printed on the pages.


We speak briefly. He asks me how far the approach trail is, are we close? I have no idea, I’ve never been here before. I walk back uproad, start up my saw and continue the adventure. The saw is running almost continually. Then I bind the chain in a horizontal tree overhead. Don walks up to me and lifts the sagging tree, freeing the chain, explaining I should have used on undercut because the horizontal tree was in tension since it’s canopy was hung up in other trees. Makes sense. I’ve felled and limbed and bucked lots of trees, 20 years ago. I’ve never walked along and used it like a light saber, slicing trees from all sort of angles and elevations. I’m keeping an eye on the chain tension.


I fill the fourth tank of gas and a short while later I throw the chain again. The white towel comes out, I perform the surgery, back to cutting. Don’s never in plain sight behind me. I might catch his head bobbing or his arms swinging trees clear from the road, but we’re never really working together. And I’m so mighty thankful for his work. Before I knew I had help I hoped to toss the cuttings myself when I returned down the road, but I knew well I would have no taste for that heavy work. In order to move uproad with all available speed I was choosing to make as few cuts as possible, leaving the trees whole. I was making it easy on myself, but creating thuggish work for tossing the cut trees. I throw the chain a third time; I’m not operating this tool as skillfully as I could be, but I am getting skillful at fixing it. And I fill the fifth tank of gas.


Don comes up to me and lets me know he’s headed back, thanks me for all the cutting. I watch him leave, he continues pulling 2-foot and 3-foot trees right out of the ground with his hands. I am growing weary of the hard work. I am growing somewhat bored with the never ending sameness of the work. I am growing impatient to finally reach the approach trail. I really wanted to dash up the trail to see the rock. So I make a revised plan, I’ll only turn on the saw if I can’t comfortably make it thru a section. I hope I’ll only need it a few times. I hope I’m very close to the trail.


I’m ducking under blowdowns. I’m stepping over blowdowns. I’m thrasing between young alders. Sometimes I’m thrashing while I’m ducking or high stepping. Madness. I employ the saw, too much. I need to let go, stop trying to finish the work. I need to focus on reaching the trail. For the first time today it begins to sprinkle; I put on a wool shirt. It rains a little harder; I add another wool shirt. Then I come to a large creek cutting thru the road. Looking up the wide streambed I see granite slabs. These look similar too….. brings back memories, I think of the south face of Mt Garfield near North Bend and I also think of Exfoliation Dome’s granite sidewalk near Darrington, and I see Static Peak up high. What a gorgeous view. Gorgeous because it simply is. Gorgeous because I recognize this from the descriptions I’ve read; I’m almost there!


I cross the flowing creek and immediately come to a culvert on the road, half full with sand, and a cairn on the left side of the road. I stash all my gear inside the culvert. At 4:30pm I begin the hike up the trail. Some parties took 3 hours to reach this point, I took 5.5 hours. It turns out that Don and I had made it about 60% together, up the spur road. Though there was significant distance after I stopped cutting, the road was in much better condition, there wasn’t that much left to cut.


There are few approaches steeper than this. I really enjoy the trail. It’s quite faint in many places and in three spots recent blow downs have obscured it. It follows along the bank of the large creek, only leaving the creek near the very top. Climber’s trails just aren’t made like this anymore. This type of trail was created by people that had personally experienced many 100’s of miles hiking and backpacking, they had broad experience with trails. Though far too steep to be considered a good example of an enduring National Forest trail, this trail does a good job. I reach Static Point 30 minutes later, I was carrying nothing. I would expect it to take me over 40 minutes with my typical climbing pack.


Whitehorse slabs in New Hampshire, right next to Cathedral cliffs, both in North Conway, that’s what this looks like. The first 3 pitches of any of the routes I see are remarkably friendly, though the first bolts were 40-feet off the ground, the super low angle slab granite looks tempting even in tennis shoes in a light drizzle. I’ll return to scamper up many of these tasty lines.


I return down the trail in less than 20 minutes, carrying nothing but leaving pink flagging tape to assist others. Another visit I’ll finish the spur road trail work and then continue my efforts up the approach trail. The trail will need hand pruners, folding tree hand saw, bowsaw and plenty of work.


Traveling back the overgrown spur road at a good hiking rate takes me 15 minutes to reach where I stopped cutting. Then I increase my speed and reach the twin boulders in another 15 minutes. A final 15 minutes sees me at my car. I estimate it’s over 1 mile from the twin boulders to the approach trail. So I estimate it’s about 2 miles from the South Shore Road at Spada Resevoir to the approach trail. As I walk where Don and I worked to improve the conditions on the spur road I am delighted. Don heaved my cuttings well off the road, most of them were well out of sight. I made most of my cuts near the ground for the vertical trees, or for the horizontal trees I pushed thru thick underbrush and made cuts well off the sides of the trail. As I walk down the enjoyable road I almost can’t tell the prior condition, I can’t tell any work had been necessary.


Don Brooks, thanks so much for showing up ready for hard work.


Dave Yount.




Static Point is a climbing area that has a longer season and much better climate than many western Washington areas and it’s closer than Index. With 800-feet of clean rock, most routes are 6-pitches tall.


The approach involves 2 miles of walking along an abandoned road and then a final 45 minute trail. The last mile of road has been abandoned quite some time ago, it is no longer maintained, and it is in dire need of heavy pruning. Chainsaws, bow saws, folding tree saws and hand pruners are all useful.


DNR and Snohomish PUD know about this issue and they were pretty amenable to our going up there and cutting Alder trees from the abandoned road so as to maintain a walkable path.


Saturday October 24, 2009 I will be headed out with a saw and extra gas. I’m not organizing a meeting time because my plans need flexibility, but I would suggest and dearly hope that individuals will coordinate a general meeting time for a group effort.


Presently the weather looks perfect for this type of volunteer work; cool but not wet.


Dave Yount.



Static Point climbing area on Static Peak - driving and hiking and approach trail descriptions




Sultan Basin Road - 13 miles

Nf-6129 South Shore Road around Spada Lake - 2 miles



[if gate is closed: Nf-6129 around Spada Lake - 2 miles]

Decommissioned spur road / trail - 2 miles

Approach trail 45 minutes uphill


East on US-2 to the town of Sultan. Take a Left on Sultan Basin Road at the east end of town. About 11 miles after leaving US-2 the pavement ends and the road becomes steep. Many steep switchbacks later you reach the registration station above Spada Resevoir and the pair of gates at Olney Pass.


Sometimes you must park at the registration station if the right gate is closed. The right gate is the South Shore Road, take this. The two miles (on road Nf-6129 around the reservoir / lake) to the decommissioned spur road is gently and consistently downhill (fast and easy on a mtn bike). When you arrive at a large bridge, the spur road is just past on the right and is blocked by several boulders and a large snag placed crosswise.


You hike 2 miles on the spur road/trail to reach the approach trail on the left. The old decommissioned spur road is somewhat gone and now consists of very large mounds that were built to shore up the drainages that cross the old road. Impossible to mtn bike this. Some of these gorges are 25 feet deep!


The first 20 minutes the road is great, except the treacherously steep gorges. Then you reach two large boulders in the road. The remaining mile often feels more like a trail than an old roadbed and would benefit from an organized work party every several years. You know you’re getting close when you have to squeeze around the end of a culvert in the road; later you come to a major drainage, a large granite wash, and you get a clear view up this gully past some slabs to the top of Static Peak.


Just 50 feet on the far side of it you'll find a culvert just sitting on the road, half full with sand, a rock cairn on the left side of the road/trail to get you started up the approach trail. Fortunately the old road runs into the main stream shortly after passing the "large granite wash." So if you are unsure at all just keep hiking until you hit the big stream then backtrack a few yards to find the approach trail.


The lovely but steep trail up the hill has some blowdown issues at the start and is certainly losing ground over the many years. I can tell this trail used to have a wide flat tread and was well tended for; high up on the trail a cedar over 2-feet diameter fell across the trail and it was cut and removed a long time back.



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