In which we fix trail mostly by going around the really bad spots

Erosion is always on the minds of trail-builders.

On the Wet Side of Washington State, erosion of our roads and trails is nearly continual, thanks to the nearly-continual season movement of water over the surface of our Swampland home. On the Dry Side of the state, erosion can be more subtle...and then suddenly, more devastating.

We had to drive past the Nile Valley landslide in Yakima County to get to camp--if ever we needed a reminder about the need for sustainable trails that would resist erosion, this gigantic tumble of mud and rock which still (9 months later) blocks Highway 410 will do nicely as a "don't forget" piece.

Thus chastened, we examined several stretches of trail this season to see how it could be made more stable and sustainable. This piece, in particular, is a mess:

There's a little spring at the top of the incline that keeps the soil moist in summer and sloppy in winter. All of the loose gravel and sand on the trail bed has long-since washed or slopped off the trail from years of water combined with years of horse feet stirring up the muck. The material that remains is slick clay punctured by hoof-shaped divots that are almost 24 inches deep. It's a shoe-sucker at best, and a tendon-yanker at worst.
On Tuesday, we tried a little first-aid to the trail, knowing that it wouldn't be used much during the week. If the trailbed were flattened and allowed to dry, it might be useable in the future, if not for the event on Saturday.

We put up "CAUTION" markers so that the few people using the trail during the week would avoid this particular trail, to optimize the opportunity for recovery.

When we returned to inspect the site on Thursday, however, the verdict was clear: the trail was not sufficiently dry, and we needed to route around the troublesome stretch, and move the trail to the high-side of the little spring that was causing all the mess.

We brought the crew down to the trail site the following morning, and built a little re-route, about 1/8 of a mile to the side of the original trail. The new trail avoids the bottom of the hill, and instead utilizes an old elk trail to cut at a slight angle across the side of the hill, above the spring.
Then, we marked the old trail to encourage riders to avoid it, and also to label the new section so that people would know that the pirate crew was responsible for building it. Usually we try to make new sections of trails blend seemlessly with old sections, but we really wanted people to stay off the old trail in this case.
Fiddle approved the new trail and tromped along it quite happily as our first test-subject once it was finished.

The Pirate Trail Crew pauses for a photo.

Then: off to another trail repair site!

This site wasn't in a state of emergency like the first trail had been; rather, it was a "klunky" trail that ran riders down a gully and up the other side on a steep scramble that was gradually tossing the trail material down into the bottom of the ditch.

Once again, we scouted the existing elk routes,
and removed some obstacles on the ground
and in the air.
Pulaskis are the tools to use to create a deep, sturdy backcut into the top bank.

and we use McLeods to clear out and flatten the footbed.
With ten human crew members and five assisting dogs, we completed re-routing about 1/2 mile of trail in about two hours!
The finished trail is about 48 inches wide, with a sustainable grade that allows water to flow down the hill and across the trail, rather than create a gully down the middle of the trail.
If you feel stable on your own two feet while running on the new trail, you know your horse will feel comfortable on it too.
We like to make motorcycle noises while testing new trails.

Life is good. Silly, but good.


  1. You can be glad that all of your hard work was LAST week--this week temps are hovering in the upper 90's on the dry side!
    I'm impressed with all your team's efforts-that's a lot of work! Maybe it's a good thing I didn't make it--I'm a woos...

  2. Wow, that's fascinating - both the trail building and the link about the Nile Valley. In my head, geology is something that has happened, not something that happens!!

  3. That highway landslide must have been terrible. Was anyone driving on that stretch at the time?

    Wow, that's alot of sweat equity using basic hand tools. I hope the riders that come along behind your group sure appreciate it. Those hills are so very steep. Will the new trails hold up to serious belly washers and torrential rains?
    At first I thought the new trails looked too narrow and still steep, until you played the video and then I could see that they were wider and more flat.
    I think I was amazed at just how much energy your team still had left after all that manual labor! lol!


    Word Verification: laters

    Laters Alligators!

  4. Fortunately, the Nile slide happened early on a Sunday morning. While there was significant damage to private property, no one was injured or killed.

    There are continued rumors that the state intends to re-open the route; personally, I believe this is wishful thinking. More than six months has passed and the slope is still unstable. Couple that with the current economic situation, and you may see my justification.

    WV = emblecru: the camouflage insignia our troops wear.


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