River’s Edge

At the river's edge
At last! At the river’s edge.

Monday, November 25, 2019

I spent a few hours out here yesterday, a well-deserved break after a nearly week-long conference. I was tired and had a headache; I was done peopleing, and I knew the fresh air would make me feel better. Plus, I had talked to a tree trimming service last Monday about trimming the dead, rotting branches from that cedar tree on the southwest corner of the property where I want to build. There are also a few neighboring trees I’m thinking about having removed, too. Quite a few on the property have a significant lean, and from seeing and dealing with all the deadfall, I know their roots don’t run deep. So, sadly, it is time for them to go. The trimming service said for me to mark the trees and they would come out and give me an estimate.

I hung yellow ribbons on about a half dozen on the south end of the property, and then picked up my tools and headed to the north end. Bluff trailI was thinking about that really tall tree on the river bank below that had fallen. Instead of falling into the river, it had fallen against the bluff. It was so tall, the top had landed into the trees along the top of the bluff and had gotten stuck, curving upward toward the sky. At one time, I had thought about trying to see if I could access the river from that area, but the tree was in the way. It had taken down several others with it, creating an impenetrable snarl of twisted branches, tree trunks, soggy moss, and underbrush.

I climbed down the muddy, slippery trail along the edge of the bluff to take another look. This trail is perilously close to the edge; I had to watch carefully to ensure I didn’t step in any soft spots or lose my footing. It had been a few months since I had checked out this area; it was overgrown a bit. I had to hit it with the machete a couple of times to clear the path again.

The trail dead ended at the fallen tree. The slope downward increases at this point, creating a bit of a hole between the tree and the ground. I looked down through the opening and could see a smaller cedar tree sticking up through the snarl down below. The tree was still healthy and standing, and the river bank looked relatively flat. If I could get down there, that might be a good camping spot. It looked big enough.

Potential pathsI got out my chainsaw and started cutting away some of the dead wood. The bluff gives way to a very steep slope in this area, leading down into the ravine, just before the creek joins the river. Although the slope is steep, it is not a sheer drop, as it is along the river. It might be possible to descend the slope, especially since it didn’t look to be too far; perhaps twenty feet.

I spent an hour cutting away limbs and tree trunks until I had used up both chainsaw batteries. Except for one small tree that had been knocked down when the taller one fell, I now had a pretty good path cleared. I set my tools aside and climbed over the small tree. It was pretty awkward for me since my left knee doesn’t bend very much. My foot kept getting tangled in the remaining branches and underbrush, but I managed. Vines provided support lines as I made my way carefully to the fallen tree.

I was surprised to see a slope on the other side of it. No drop off! In fact, the slope looked less steep than the one going under the tree. And, it was relatively clear. Just this big fallen tree, the rotted tree it had fallen across, and a few shrubs. But no branches or other deadfall. Pretty much a nice, clear path down to the creek. If I had some rope, I could probably climb down.

But, I was tired and it had rained pretty hard while I was working. Plus, it was beginning to get dark already. I decided to come back another day.

Another day…Looking up rope

That “another day” was today. I stopped at Home Depot and picked up 100′ of 1/2″ rope on my way. A hundred feet should be more than sufficient.

When I got there, I wasted no time. I cut up the one small tree blocking the path, removed a few more branches, and then tied my rope to the fallen tree.

It was pretty scary. What if the drop on the other side of the tree was greater than it looked? I might have difficulty getting back over. What if the slope was steeper than it looked? Or my hands weren’t strong enough to grip the rope? What if I got stuck on the log? Would I be able to get off? What if…?

Looking up the ropeI really wanted to get to the river, and “what ifs” weren’t going to help.

I pushed them aside, wrapped the rope around my hand, and swung my leg over the log. I could touch the ground on the other side. This part, at least, was doable.

I swung my other leg over. Success! Nothing else was blocking my path to the creek. I could, at least, make it down that far.

The rope creaked and stretched under my weight, but I knew it would hold me. This was 400 lb. rope, more than sufficient for my weight.

I slowly started backing down the slope, rewrapping the rope around one hand as I descended. My other hand held a small folding shovel, my machete, and a handful of rope.

Looking up the ropeIt didn’t take long, and I was down as far as I could go. The slope was still pretty steep; one hand was firmly wrapped in the rope to keep me from falling. The creek was a couple of feet below, but it was full of rotten logs. It would not provide a place for me to stand unassisted.

The standing cedar tree stood just to my right, on the other side of the rotted log. The rotted log was pretty massive, but it was also soft. I hacked at it with my machete, removing layers of moss, dirt, bark, and a few inches of wood. It was waterlogged; mud flew everywhere, even into my eyes. Pretty soon I had significantly reduced the diameter of a four-foot length. It was now narrow enough for me to climb over, but the ground dropped away pretty steeply on the other side. I couldn’t tell just how far the next step would be.

Again, doubts filled my mind. What if I couldn’t get back over? I had my shovel with me; if I couldn’t get back over the log, then I would just have to find another way. The fallen tree leaning against the healthy cedarI was now only about eight feet above the river bank. I had to continue. I could see the roots of the fallen tree, leaning against the healthy cedar. The ground it stood on was nicely level and could accommodate several tents, if it weren’t for the fallen tree.

The river was just beyond the fallen tree. All I had to do was step over that rotted log.

I swung my leg over. It was awkward, and the handful of log I’d grabbed for support just crumbled away. But, my foot touched the ground. I made sure my footing was solid and swung my other foot over.

I did it! I’d reached the river!

I could tell from the length of rope I’d used that it was about 34 feet from where I’d climbed over the tree at the top of the steep slope to the bottom. My estimate of a 40-foot drop from the top to the river was pretty spot on.

I used my machete to hack away at the underbrush blocking my path. The biggest problem, though, was that fallen tree. It had fallen from the neighboring property across mine and must have been close to 100 feet tall. River!It leaned all the way from the river bank across the stream, where it had grown, up across my river bank, up my bluff, up across my property at the top, and into my trees, almost all the way to the road. It was massive.

I turned and checked out the little creek coming down the ravine. I had thought it would be my best bet for accessing the river, but I could now see it was full of rotted stumps and logs. I’m not sure it would be possible to clean out all the heavy, waterlogged deadfall. I’m glad I hadn’t put too much effort into it. Moreover, the spot I had come down was completely hidden from the road. I could build a path here, and nobody would even see it. If I had built a path through the ravine, it would have been easily visible, at least part of the year.

I was happy. I have my river. And I have a place where I can hide away. I can pitch a tent here, launch a small boat or kayak, or go swimming in the summer. I have my waterfront. All I have to do now is figure out how to build a path down. I’m hoping the tree trimmer will have some ideas on incorporating that massive fallen tree into building a path. I’d hate to see that beautiful log go to waste. If not, I’ll figure something out.

Looking southI didn’t stay too long. I had forgotten to swap batteries in the charger, so I had only one with me, and I had already used it quite a bit to cut trees and branches up above. And, it was already getting dark, especially with the sun being blocked by the trees and bluff.

It didn’t matter. I was happy. I will come back another day with a fully charged chainsaw and more tools and tackle that tree. Although I can’t cut up the tree itself, I can trim the branches so I can go under it to get to the riverbank on the other side.

And, some day when the water level is lower, I can cross the river and search for the other end of my zipline.

The adventure continues!