Found some poop on the Fowler trail this week:
Generally, I like to build with stone. It’s fun to work with, looks great, and when done well, stone structures last and last.
But stone has its limitations. I’ve spent the last two weeks building a pretty massive staircase out of pressure treated lumber.
Here are a few of the reasons I chose lumber over stone for this project:
- It’s a big project that had to go fast. Building this beast out of stone would have taken months even if the nearby rock was good for building.
- The nearby rock is copious, but it’s also crapious. There are some semi-decent rock sources within a few hundred yards – but the transit time would have doubled the project length.
- The bottom of the stairs is near the path of the spring water flow. That’s not insurmountable, but would have easily added weeks of build time to divert the drainage and build an ample footing.
- The slope is made of mineral soil mixed with ball bearings. My hunch is that with the significant weight of stone steps and no bedrock in sight, stone stairs would eventually slump into the hillside. Wood stairs with stringers should float on the surface.
- Wood stairs facilitate rebar anchors. Every tread and stringer has multiple 5′ lengths of rebar hanging into that slope. There wouldn’t be an easy way to anchor that much stone.
- Small crew size, and delegate-able tasks. In fact, for most of the build, the crew size was… me. I’m very lucky to get occasional busloads of helpers from Boulder County Justice Services. It worked well – I didn’t have to train anybody: me build, you haul timbers.
And if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that the Rattlesnake Gulch trail is open. Get out and hike/ride it quick – fall weather like we’re having makes it one of the best trails on the front range.
And if you’re looking for more incessant chattering, here’s a copy of the bulletin pictured next to the stairs.
Saw this over at John Shaw-Rimmington’s blog this morning:
This work is stunning. The backstory is that the waller, Sean Donnelley, did this all with a very limited source of rock available on site. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the humbling experience of walking up to a bunch of rock, thinking “hey, I’ll build a wall with what’s here”, and a few days later realizing that I only succeeded in slightly rearranging some rocks and inventing new curse words.
I’ve had plenty of time recently to reflect on hubris – my own and others’ – with regards to walling. It is very easy for the uninitiated (and incurious) to imagine that building with stone is trivially easy. “How hard could that be?” “It’s just stacking rocks. Whatever. “If I had that rock, I could have built that wall.” I think Mr. Donnelley’s work blows that kind of narcissistic thinking out of the water.
The guy I learned a everything I know about building walls from always says something to the effect of: Learn to build fast, then learn to build nicely.
As a novice, that didn’t make one bit of sense. It seems like trying to learn juggling by just throwing lots of balls fast. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do everything I always do, but faster. That does not go well.
But the maxim is starting to make more sense – the quickest way to go faster is to eliminate the extras.
- Use fewer tools. My current project is about 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead. I started by dragging out all my fancy schmancy hammers and chisels in a wheelbarrow, and as the month has gone on, I’ve left more and more tools in the van. Today, I built a lot of wall with two hammers:
- Be decisive. I get myself tied up thinking about the next stone, the stone after, the stone on top. Pick a stone, shape a bit if needed, place it, move on.
- Hearting is fun. It’s a nice break to play a quick game of small rock stacking after some intense big rock stacking.
- Rules will be bent and/or broken. Yep, there’s a big, fat, traced stone and a weird triangle stone in that picture up there. Sometimes a stone really locks in and makes sense, but doesn’t abide by all the rules. That stone is a loner, Dottie. A rebel. I’ve tended to abandon prudent, good stone placements to find try and find the one that fits all the rules perfectly.
Now for the less smart stuff – aka the painful, I’m not learning as fast as I’d like to stuff…
- I’m not always careful about how I lift rocks. Some days, I use knees and hips and feel great at the end of the day. Some days, like today, I lock my knees, lift big rocks, and my back is totally worked after eight hours.
- I’m spoiled rotten by typical Colorado weather. It’s usually hot and dry, or warm and dry, or cold and dry. A few straight weeks of drizzle and mud have thrown a muddy wrench into the drizzly works, and I have no damn idea what kind of clothes stand up to rock work and stay warm-ish.
The “learn to build fast” idea makes sense in another important way. It’s not just saying “throw stones together quickly” – but it is saying that efficiency is a good focus for a tyro.
Wall is coming along.
The Rattlesnake Ramble is on September 13th this year. It’s a footrace to benefit the Action Committee for Eldorado. ACE has worked with Eldorado for decades to build trails and maintain/install fixed hardware. Quite frankly, if you’ve hiked a climbing access trail or clipped a bolt in Eldorado, you should donate (scroll to the bottom of the ACE home page). And if you’re feeling gnarly, run the ramble.
Jack, the power wheelbarrow, a griphoist, and I did some more trail prep for the ramble yesterday.
Nice to work in one of the most scenic power-wheel-barrow-ing venues in the world.
There are four stages of learning:
- Unconscious incompetent – you don’t know what you don’t know – novice
- Conscious incompetent – you know that you don’t know much about what you’re learning – apprentice
- Conscious competent – you know relevant concepts, you can get a task done adequately – journeyman
- Unconscious competent – you don’t have to think about your craft while producing master level works
As a side note, I think we live in a time where some unconscious incompetents tend to imagine themselves as masters of their subject – just because they say so, because they attended a motivational talk, because the internet… This is unfortunate.
I suspect that these stages aren’t discrete. I hope that master craftsmen realize that they’re novices in some ways, and I know that novices can put out high quality work sporadically.
As far as rock work goes, I’d like to imagine I’m breaking into an apprentice level of work. I’m logging enough hours stacking rocks that what I don’t know is becoming VERY apparent. That’s hard to sit with, but invaluable. And as always, I get a heck of a nice office to work in.
There are some broad types of actions human critters take to get through natural disasters.
- Survive the disaster itself
- Immediate recovery efforts (short-term, clear goals)
- Big disaster recovery projects
Let’s just say that #3 is my least favorite. BY FAR. Last fall’s flood made a mess – but natural resources are incredibly resilient from natural disasters. Unfortunately, the things done in the name of “disaster recovery” can be more challenging to recover from.
Fortunately, as the contractor season is drawing to a close, I’ve been able to get rolling on a few plum projects. I think projects are a great avenue for reflecting AND getting moving again.
One of those projects is reseeding and erosion mat. With a bag of native seed mix and a few strangely cumbersome rolls of aspen/coconut mat, volunteers have been able to do a lot of slope stabilization and mitigate a lot of invasive weed habitat.
One my job duties (that goes well in spite of my best efforts) is wrangling stewardship volunteers. As the contractors began leaving, the volunteers came back in droves. 607.5 volunteer hours this month. h/t to The Dawson School, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Boulder County “Fast Tracks”, and others.
For a personal project, I started work on a retaining wall at the East end of the park. It’s amazing to see that even nature has routines. At 10:30, the flies fly; at about noon the rattlesnakes pass through; and at 2:00 the rain starts. And somehow rocks find good places on the wall.
A thought from all of this: Correlation isn’t causation, sure – but take time to enjoy correlation, coincidences, and other moments of providence…
Yep, that’s right. Three college degrees, numerous certificates of accomplishment, and today, I made hand-crafted, artisan, free-range mud balls. Would that I were kidding – the fertilizer is even organic.
These objects of excellence are actually seed bombs. Several groups of junior high students are going to volunteer this week, and part of their time will be spent lobbing muddy orbs of seed, fertilizer, dirt, and clay at some unstable slopes. It’s kind of a clever trick: sending people out onto the slopes to plant will do more damage than good.
If they work, I might publish my recipe (which is less about quantities and more about technique).
After a brief hiatus, I’m back and making less sense than ever!
We started work repairing a blowout on the Streamside trail.
Moving rock into the repair area is challenging. There are no clean lines to hang a skyline, there’s no good quary of rocks directly above the site. After a few months of occasional study and lots of pondering, I realized there is no good solution, just some solutions that are slightly less bad than others.
We got to work on the first least bad option this week. The good news is we partly cleared a landing to stage rocks. And learned some stuff. So that’s nice.
Learning 1: Tripods in a boulderfield may cost more time than they save. We were really confined to placing tripods on a few flat-ish surfaces, and 4×4’s really like to skid off of polished river rock. In short, there was a lot of slip sliding tripod adventure. We got some rocks across the creek, which is good.
Learning two: Sometimes reading the grain of a rock really works. Really really. I saw how this rock was splitting in other spots, and with minimal wedges made a nice 3′ x 3′ split.
Learning #3: 3/8″ feathers and wedges work well. 1″ feathers and wedges work well. I have no end of troubles with 3/4″ feathers and wedges – the wings of the feathers bend really easily, I’m not sure they split the rock here any better than 3/8″ wedges. I’m going to try some 1/2″ next week. I also might make a “punch” that sits over the top of a 3/4″ wedge head – so I can drive it cleanly.
Learning IV: We did some straight sledge/slab splitter work – split slabs without resorting to feathers & wedges. Really nice splits – hard work, but really clean, almost natural looking edges.
Learning cinque, AKA Angles on either side of spars, AKA ratio of side span to center span.
Behold, the humble and amazing suspension bridge:
There are three “spans” of the bridge: the center span and the two side spans. I’ve been pondering something for a while: why are either of the side spans usually half the length of the center span? Because of the cruddy available spots for a tripod, we found out the hard way.
By way of diagrams (generated with the truly friggin’ awesome Algodoo). Imagine a decent tripod setup, now imagine what happens as you scoot one of the tripods (towers, spars) away from the center, towards the anchorage:
Because of the available “flat” surfaces and anchor points, we ended up with a tripod very close to an anchorage – and I watched the rigging carefully as the line went up (I kinda knew it wasn’t going to work). The shorter the side span becomes, the more force is directed on the top of the tripod towards the center of the span.
I suppose one could anchor the back leg of the tripod – but that seems to me like that would introduce some exciting new forces into the system. Better to build the system so forces point straight down on the top of the tripod/spar…