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PCTA Trail Crew: Sierra Buttes

In mid-July I drove out to Sierra City, a town just down the road from PCT Mile 1195, for a few days of volunteer work with a PCTA trail crew. The project I was on is a multi-year, ongoing project to construct new trail and incorporate existing trail into six new PCT miles in the Sierra Buttes.

This was my first trail crew experience, and I think I lucked into a truly great one: building brand new trail with an awesome group of crew and volunteers, surrounded by gorgeous Sierra scenery.

I got to dig out roots, break up boulders, and build a rock retaining wall that will (theoretically?) last decades. I learned the names of tools—single jack, double jack, rock bar, cutter mattock, pick mattock, Pulaski, McLeod—and how to use them. I dug holes, wrestled rocks into place, jumped on them to make sure they were stable… I ended up with sore muscles that I didn’t even know I had (forearms?!) and bruised my shins from kneeling in the dirt working.

The people were great—a mix of PCTA staff, American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew, and volunteers who ranged from semi-retired Bay Area tech folks to college kids road-tripping from Oklahoma. We were on our way to the work site at 7AM every morning and ended every day with a trip to the river for swimming—which was desperately needed because we were DIRTY. I even managed to make time to drive a few thru-hikers from town out to the trail.

It was a hugely satisfying experience to be out there for such a short time and yet be able to walk away having made such a visible difference in the creation of the trail—even if the last step in rock wall construction was covering it up with dirt and branches to make it disappear.

Being near the PCT and around thru-hikers again also just felt good. It made me remember that feeling of forward progress. Of walking all day and finding a new place to sleep every night. Of how much beautiful land there is to see. People even called me Bucket again.

Perhaps my proudest moment, however, came right before I headed home. I was outside the Sierra City general store, a major resupply point where there’s always a crowd of hikers lining the porch, and a guy came up to me and asked if I’d started my hike at Scout and Frodo’s (trail angels in San Diego who host hundreds of thrus every year). I said yes—I had dinner there the night before starting the trail—but, uh, that was last year. He blinked at me, and I realized he thought I was a current thru-hiker. I laughed and asked if that meant I really looked that dirty. Which I suppose I did—huddled on the steps of the general store with a Gatorade and an ice cream sandwich, poaching the wifi, grubby fingers jabbing at my iPhone.

Once hiker trash, always hiker trash.

And learn more about volunteering with the PCTA on their website!

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