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Project Clearwater — Expedition Four

2013-12-28

Project Clearwater — Expedition Four

#11 channel, upstream view

The forecast called for light rain all day, but when you’re going to be working in the bayou, what’s a little clean water but a refreshing rinse?  It helps, I suppose, that all our work so far has been completely human powered — a bit of water has never shorted out a handsaw.

We arrived at Highland Road Park for the usual 8am launch, and the very light rain actually made things easier.  Dragging a canoe full of gear over wet grass is almost like a little sleigh ride (for those of us from places that are familiar with hard or fluffy water).  In fact, one of the canoes decided to launch itself down the bank into the bayou, but it missed us and was waiting back at the bank by the time we were setting out.  (We have very well trained canoes.)  The water levels were normal in spite of the apparently negligible rain, and after a leisurely 45-minute, two-mile paddle, we arrived at our current nemesis, the first of the big three blockages, #11.  It looked just as it did when we left it last time, but not for long.

Which old winch? The winchin' winch.

We started by deploying the winch on land and pulling several large key pieces out of the jam and up onto the bank.  A telephone-pole-size tree trunk was first out, followed by a large branched tree sculpture and a few more large logs that were easily accessible.  Then it was time to deploy the winch canoe.  One of us manned that while the others walked out on the jam to start attacking it with saws and loppers and world-class pick-up-sticks skills honed over years of practice.

As we cleared the left-downstream side to a maintainable width, we piled the pulled wood into an interlocking mass on the opposite side downstream, where the jam had already silted in a nice mud shallow.  Looking at the results of old work we’ve done, this seems to be quite stable over time and should reduce the amount of downstream jam recurrence.  For “smaller” logs, about canoe length or less, we just manhandle them aboard and heave them out into the new mass.  For things like the full-size multiply-branched tree in the above photo (the “log” across the channel to the far bank at water level is part of the same tree), it’s all in the mechanical advantage.  We set the winch and just drag the entire mass around until it’s clear of the new paddle channel.  (In case you’re wondering, we use this for the winching work.  It’s fantastic, and the “clink-clink-clink” reminds me of a roller coaster.)

#11 channel, looking downstreamWe winched, pulled, sawed, lopped, and otherwise attacked the blockage for seven hours before we and the day were about used up, and then it was time to paddle back.  There’s still something shallow in the middle of the channel, and we didn’t make it all the way through, but it’s pretty much open on the downstream side.  The causes of the jam should be just about gone, and the remaining jam is primarily floating wood.  It may take a good chunk of another work day to finish it up, but we should be able to declare it clear and head downstream next expedition.

Blockage #12 is moderate but shouldn’t take more than a few winch pulls.  Blockage #13 is an almost minimal downed medium tree.  Blockage #14 splits the difference between #12 and #13.  Those three should be easy to knock out once #11 is done, either in the same expedition or the following, but after that comes #15, the *largest*, most *epic* logjam in all of Bayou Fountain.  Even with powered mechanical help, #15 seems certain to take more than one trip.  Once we’re through it, however, there are only nine more blockages, only one is a major log jam (#19).

I for one am definitely feeling the effects of all yesterday’s manual labor, but we’re all quite looking forward to getting back out there to put this one in the books and make actual distance-measured progress.  If only we knew how many tons of waterlogged wood we’ve shifted so far.  It would likely be impressive.

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