Construction Journal Entry Week of 12/30/12

1/2-4/13 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Wednesday through Friday.

I skipped going up last week because it was still too dangerous up there. On the way, I stopped and visited with Uncle Charles. I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 1:00 and found that my parking place had been scooped out by someone. It was pretty much the same space I had scooped out by hand two weeks before, but there had been quite a bit of new snow and there was evidence of a big machine working in there.

It looked like that same machine had cleared away the snow and debris from around the PUD transformer and also from around my power pole. I suspect it was the PUD who had been in there checking that everything was OK. But I really don't know if it was them or Mike who had scooped out my parking place. I was sure glad the electrical equipment was OK.

I had to do a little more shoveling to be able to park the truck, but that didn't take too long. I could see that several more trees had fallen since I had been there but for the most part, I was able to use my old trails.

The first thing I checked was my water supply. I was happy to find that it was still running strong. The next concern was whether power was back on, which it was, and then I went down to the crawl space to see whether any pipes or my water heater had frozen and burst. I was really happy to find no evidence of a problem. The water heater was working fine and had a supply of hot water ready for me.

The heaters were also all working fine so the cabin was nice and warm when I went in. I leave the thermostats set at 52º which causes the inside temperature to stay at about 60º. I built a fire in the wood stove to warm the place up a little better, and then I had my lunch.

I skipped my usual nap and went right outside to work. My plan was to clear the snow off the concrete staircase and get to work bucking up that big log that was across my driveway. I shoveled off the back stoop and the back porch stairs first.

It was obvious that the view had opened up somewhat. The second half of the double tree outside the crawlspace door—the one that Robert Ferrel had climbed—was no longer there. It had fallen down in the direction of the concrete staircase. Good thing I wasn't on that staircase at the time.

The tree had fallen right across the staircase at the intermediate landing but the log was about 4 feet above the landing so I was able to duck under it after I had cleared away the snow. I shoveled off the entire staircase and then got an axe and cut away the branches to make it easier to duck under the log and get up and down the staircase. It was starting to get dark about then so I quit and went in for the night.

On Thursday morning, I built a fire in the wood stove and I had just finished cooking my breakfast when the power went out. I prepared my coffee on the wood stove as I ate my breakfast wondering what to expect about the power.

When I finished my breakfast I checked the phone and found that it still worked. I tried calling the PUD number to either report my outage or to get information about known outages. I got no answer.

I called Mike Tutino and learned that his power was out too. He told me that there had been some wind gusts early that morning and that some additional trees or branches must have fallen and knocked out the power.

The power came back on at 9:00 but promptly went back out at 9:05. But by 9:30 as I was getting ready to go outside, it came back on and stayed on.

I gassed up my chainsaw and took it outside, but I couldn't get it started. I wore myself out trying. I brought the saw into the cabin to warm it up while I caught my breath and recuperated. When I went back outside and tried again, the saw started right up.

The first thing to do was to clear the log from the concrete staircase. I cut off the branches and bucked up the log for about 25 or 30 feet where it went over the staircase. I bucked it into firewood length pieces and just left most of them stay where they fell. I cleared the ones that fell on the steps so that I had a nice clear staircase to walk on.

With that done, I gassed up the saw again and took it down to work on the big log across the driveway.

Before I could start cutting, I had to make a work space up against the log. That was hard work. The ground was piled high with broken tree branches and these were covered with a couple feet of snow. So if you tried walking on it, you might be able to stand on a branch, but if you stepped off of it, your leg would sink in up to your crotch in the snow.

I used the shovel to pack the snow down to make a platform, removing loose branches as I went, or using the branches as part of the platform. I shoveled most of the snow that was on top of the log into the big hollow space under the log. I tried to pack the snow under the log so that when the log would fall after I cut through it, it wouldn't have to drop so far. The snow under the log also kept me from slipping off my platform and sliding under the log.

The plan I settled on after sizing up the log and considering how I was going to cut it, was to cut a vertical wedge-shaped piece out of each side of the log leaving six inches, or so of wood between the wedges. Then I was going to plunge cut through the six inch part and cut down out through the bottom. I figured that would let the log break and fall without binding my saw bar.

I cut the vertical wedge out of one side of the log and then climbed over to the other side to the platform I had made over there. I started making the first vertical cut for the second wedge at the top and let the saw bar cut straight down so as to leave about 6 inches to the pervious cut. Once the bar was about halfway through the log, I let it go in as deep as it could and continued the cut to the bottom of the log.

When the saw bar got three inches or so from the bottom, the log broke and fell down about a foot. That opened up the kerf at the bottom so that the saw came right out. I then cut a series of parallel kerfs in the top, both going down from the top and also cutting up from underneath. I wasn't sure exactly how the wood was going to move when it was cut completely through and I didn't want it binding up my saw.

My method worked fine because when the cut went all the way through, one side of the log fell another six or eight inches and once again the saw came out of the kerf without binding.

I felt elated that I had been able to cut through that log but I was super exhausted. I felt sick, a little shaky and light-headed. I was super thirsty and figured I was probably dehydrated. There was no question that I needed to take a break. It was all I could do to carry that saw back up the stairs to the cabin.

It was 11:50 when I went in which was perfect timing for a lunch break. After lunch, I took a short nap, but I was back outside with my saw ready to go by 1:30. I made more snow platforms to be able to get at the log from two other places and I used a modification of my wedge method to cut the log in two more places. Since the log had parted after one wedge cut and just one kerf from the other side, I dispensed with the second wedge and just made a vertical kerf perpendicular to the log on the other side. That worked well for the second cut through the log, which I made about 10 or 12 feet up from the first cut. But on my third cut, another 10 or 12 feet up, I got the saw bar stuck in the kerf when the log fell.

Fortunately it was stuck at the very top of the log with less than an inch of the bar sticking out the top. I freed it up by cutting the wood away with an axe. It was a little humiliating and a lot of extra work, but at least I was able to free the saw and nothing was damaged.

On two of the cuts, I tried to cut a firewood length round from the adjacent log. After a lot of hard work I was able to cut both of them, but I was unable to get either of them loose. I wanted to roll the round out away from the trunk so that I could walk through without having to climb over the log.

I'm sure that one of the rounds has a big branch sticking out on the underside and that is why I couldn't move that one. The other one was stuck because the cuts on either side were not parallel and the wood was wedged in. I just didn't have the strength to muscle it out of there.

The diameter of the log at my first cut was 29 inches. At the higher cut the diameter was 30 inches. My chainsaw bar is only 20 inches so I need to go at it from both sides.

With the log now cut into six pieces, I was ready to quit for the day. There were the two long pieces of the log at either end, the two 10-foot or so pieces, and the two firewood rounds. I went in for the night completely exhausted. I soaked in a hot tub full of water for about an hour before I felt like getting up and fixing my dinner. My body would recover after getting a good meal and a good night's sleep so I felt pretty good about what I had gotten done.

On Friday morning I didn't really feel like working much and I needed to leave early anyway. So after breakfast I shoveled off the five inches of new snow that had fallen overnight and cleared off the concrete staircase. I had brought four 10-foot 4x4s with me which were still in the truck and the only work I planned to do before I left was to haul those 4x4s up to the cabin.

With the working platforms I had made I could now step over the big log at one of the cuts. But there was still no way to walk from there over to the truck. I used my shovel and the same technique I had used to make the work platforms to make a trail from the log to the truck that I could walk on. That was quite a bit of work but I got it done.

Rather than carry the 4x4s on my shoulder, as one would normally carry a 4x4 like that, I decided to drag them over the snow at the end of a strap. That worked slick. Pulling the 4x4 and getting my footing were two independent operations. I could take a couple steps along the trail without worrying about the 4x4. Then, with my feet secure, I would turn around and slide the 4x4 up toward me so that it was alongside me. Then with all that slack in the strap, I could negotiate my next few footsteps along my precarious trail including stepping over the big log.

Then when I got to the concrete staircase, I simply walked up dragging the 4x4 behind me. After getting the first 4x4 up the hill and stacked under my scaffolding, I decided to carry my gear down to the truck on the downhill trips and bring a 4x4 up on the return trips. So I closed up the cabin, made the three more round trips, and left for home at 10:30. I felt pretty good that things are getting back under control up there.

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