On his 40th birthday, Barry Teschlog decided to take a long hike — 40 miles, in fact. Along with his girlfriend, Susan Anderson, he planned to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Snoqualmie Pass south for 20 miles to a weather station just south of Stampede Pass and then return.
What they found was a section of trail that was rocky, rooty, brushy and nasty.
They made it as far as Stampede Pass before turning around. In all, the hike was 36 miles, a bit short of their goal, but with the condition of the trail it still took them all day.
“After wallowing around in all that, it really got us motivated to start doing trail work,” Teschlog said. “You can either whine about it or do something about it.”
So he decided to take on another challenge. In 2009, after learning the Washington Trails Association would be working on that section of PCT, he joined the work crew and spent several days on the trail with the WTA.
A year later, the Pacific Crest Trail Association opened a new office in Seattle. He gave them a call and offered to volunteer. The first work parties were just a handful of people. The group kept it up, and adopted the name the North 350 Blades, North 350 because they maintain the north 350 miles of the trail and Blades because all their work involves a blade of some sort. They’ve been growing ever since.
Their first year, 2010, they did 400 hours of volunteer work. This year they had already well surpassed that by the end of their first big work party in June.
That first work party was two days of work on the Pacific Crest Trail, just north of where it crosses U.S. 2 at Stevens Pass. Eighteen volunteers worked on the trail each day, plus additional volunteers helping with support and housing. Trail work included clearing brush, improving the trail tread and creating good drainage to keep water from damaging the trail.
Mary Houston, who works in Everett and lives in Ballard, spent the weekend on the crew. It was her first time as trail crew. She’s done a tiny bit of hiking on the PCT and has more planned, including a long day hike starting on the same section where she helped work.
“I figured if I’m going to use the trail, I might as well help to maintain it,” she said.
Houston said she had always appreciated the work other trail crews had done while hiking on her own.
“It was great to be on the other side,” she said. “It was really gratifying to step back and see what we had done.”
Houston, who works for Housing Hope and has done a lot of volunteer work over the years, was impressed with how well the group managed its volunteers and made them feel appreciated.
“I felt I got what I needed as a volunteer, they made it a great experience,” she said.
She’s already signed up for another trip in August.
Before the trip started, Teschlog explained the rules for the weekend.
No. 1. Be safe.
No 2. Have a good time.
“And then, if we can manage those two,” Teschlog said, “we can get to No. 3 and get some work done.”
And the crew did get plenty of work done. All together, they covered about 1.3 miles, clearing brush and improving tread.
The trail crew that weekend was made up of many people with a strong connection to the PCT. Some had hiked all of it, either all in one go or over many years, and most had spent many hours hiking the trail or others.
Kari Obrist of Bellingham drove down to spend time working. She had hiked the lower 500 miles of the trail earlier this year and found it very hard to leave. So, she asked “How can I stay engaged in this thing that is still very important to me?”
Teschlog hiked the whole trail in 2006 and calls it “the best summer of his life, hiking the trail.” He still feels that connection to the trail and spends a lot of time hiking it.
“It’s my way of giving back to the trail for everything I’ve received from it,” he said. “I think that’s a fairly common motivation.”
Get out and help
The North 350 Blades has many more work parties planned for the season, including some overnight backpacking trips. The biggest trips are posted on www.pcta.org/volunteer/project-schedule. For shorter trips, check the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/North350Blades, or email North350Blades@pcta.org to get emails about upcoming projects.
Some of the trips:
- Big Crow Basin, Aug. 2-9: Volunteers will backpack to a base camp, where they will spend several days and work on the trail. Meal will be provided by a camp chef.
- Blowout Mountain, Aug. 14-17: Crews will regrade a section of trail. This is a good project for those who have never done trail work before. Volunteers can car camp near by and most meals will be provided.
- Snoqualmie Pass, Aug. 22-24: Crews will do tread work and clear brush. On Saturday, they’ll wrap up work in time to set up chairs and cheer on runners of the Cascade Crest 100-mile race.
- Stevens Pass North, Sept. 5-7: A backpack trip to work on the trail. Prior backpacking experience needed.
- Stevens Pass North, Sept. 6-7: A backpack trip to work on the trail. Prior backpacking experience needed.