The past 3 days Dean and I have spent hours outdoors hiking. We began at Lower Shake, walked up to Upper Shake campground and continued on a connecting route to the Pacific Crest Trail. After a few miles we took another connecting trail that took us back to Upper Shake and we walked back down to Lower Shake and back to our truck. That was somewhere between 5-6 miles total. We were pleasantly worn out after hibernating for over a month with very little hiking or exercising.
The next day we parked the truck and hiked up another part of the Pacific Crest Trail that crossed the road. The trail went up and up until we decided it was time to turn around and go down. We did the same hike the following day and this is where I want my story to start.
In 2013 the whole mountainous region around the Oaks Camp and Conference center was on fire. It burned high on the many mountaintops and down the mountain sides, but stopped before it did any damage to the camp. When we were volunteering for the camp in 2016 there were still miles of PCT closed to hikers because of that fire and one other. They had to detour along Lake Hughes road down miles of Pine Canyon Road until they came to the area across the road Dean and I hiked from.
As we walked higher and higher and went around and up switchbacks for hours, we paused and looked down at the valley below us – always changing as we saw it from different heights and angles. The scenery right in front of us changed also. It went from scrubby shrubs to large trees, many of them evergreen. On the trunks of some of them were burn marks – up from the ground about 4 or 5 feet. Lying on the ground were countless trunks of dead trees and branches. We’ve seen this before in wooded surroundings but never to the extent as this.
Observing the trunks on the ground I noticed that many of them had been cut by saws. Continuing on our trail I discerned that this was why the trail was closed off for years – the trees had fallen over the trail to such an extent that a hiker could not get over so many, many fallen obstacles. It had taken years to cut up the trunks and push them off the trail.
The memory came back to me from 2016 when Dean and I were hiking up the Shake trail for the first time. When we got to the top at Upper Shake Campground there were 20 or more men dressed in orange with chain saws and other tree equipment. As we passed each other I thanked each one for their work as we did in Wisconsin when encountering any trail maintenance volunteer. After they passed I turned and took a picture of their retreating backs. It wasn’t until I was back at our camper and enlarged th that I noticed writing on the back of their shirts – OCC PRISONER. I guess they had no choice, but I am still grateful they did it.