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The San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders is committed to following environmentally-sound construction principles and working with conservation-minded individuals and agencies to preserve and respect the natural habitat.

Depending on the trail designated for construction or maintenance, typical trail work projects may include:

  • Trail design and layout

  • Constructing steps or stairs

  • Building retaining walls

  • Trail tread brushing and repair

  • Removing debris and downed trees

  • Gabion baskets (rock-filled, wire-mesh structures used to stablize the banks) and erosion control

Glossary of Trail Terms
The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names. - CHINESE PROVERB
Little Jimmy Springs
8-1-03 - Ben White using a chain saw to clear a log at Little Jimmy Spring. Pete Fish of the Pacific Crest Trail Association looks on.


Tools Tools of the Trade

The Pulaski. Half-adze, half axe, the Pulaski is the trailbuilder's bread-and butter. The adze is used to remove duff and topsoil at the beginning of the trailmaking process and to perform basic trenching and finish work as the tread nears completion. The axe is used to cut through buried roots and saplings. It's named after Edward Pulaski, a firefighter with blacksmithing skill who around 1910 grew tired of having to carry both a shovel and an axe into the field, and did something about it. The pick-mattox, a beefed-up version of the 10-pound Pulaski, is also used heavily by trailbuilders. Instead of an axe it features a pick end for working compacted or rocky soil. It weighs about 12 pounds.

McLeod The McLeod. This lightweight half-rake, half-hoe is a firefighting tool heisted for trailbuilding purposes. Invented in 1905 by Malcolm McLeod (pronounced "McCloud'), who worked in the Sierra National Forest in California, it is used primarily by trailbuilders for finish and touch-up work after the heavy heaving and hoeing are done. It's also used for spreading duff and topsoil removed by a Pulaski to the side of the trail.

The rock bar. In every trail crew, there are people who avoid rock bar work like the plague and those who are attracted to it. Without a doubt, moving large rocks is the hardest chore. Rock bars, which weight 25 pounds and are almost 6 feet tall, are essentially long steel chisels. Their sheer weight break up recalcitrant rocks or leverage them out of the way. When all else fails, a whack from a sledgehammer to the top dooms most rocks. Whoever gets stuck carrying a rock bar is guaranteed sore shoulders the next day.

The cross-cut saw. Trail crews jump at the opportunity to use chain saws to remove blown down trees, but the heavy weight precludes using them for remote trail work. Also, chain saws are not allowed in wilderness areas. Hence the cross-cut saw. A standard model is 6 feet long with 1 1/2-inch teeth that would do a mako shark proud. These saws require the diligent efforts of two people and ,most often, trailbuilders rotate cross-cut saw work because it's so tiring. A sharpened cross-cut saw can make mincemeat of a 4-foot diameter blowdown in 15 to 30 minutes.

M.J. Fayhee, Backpacker, May 1997

Foot Prints
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Entire contents © 2003 San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders

This page was last updated September 4, 2003.