A Day in Big Basin with the SCMTS Trail Crew

August 18, 2023
We recently announced our work in Big Basin so we decided to send an office guy (Jack) out to spend a day in Big Basin with the professional SCMTS Trail Crew…

Risk = consequences + likelihood. A lot runs through your head every morning when gearing up to work in Big Basin…the redwood limb that landed just a few feet away from you last week, the forester in the news last month who lost their life to a random tree that fell, the intense heat, the physical demands of running a chain saw all day… it can be a lot.

Now eight weeks in, those thoughts aren’t much different than day one. And they shouldn’t be. What our crew is doing in Big Basin is without a doubt, the most intense work and job site they have experienced. Get a glimpse of what a day in their boots is like below…

6:03 AM

Before the sun calls the day, the crew meets at the yard to pick up equipment followed by a 45-minute drive up Highway 9 to Big Basin. Bronwen, pictured below grabbing an extra bike from the shop for the office guy.

7:16 AM

After getting through a few gates and gearing up, the crew sets off on ~30-minute bike and hike to the job site. Not a bad commute.

7:52 AM

Once onsite, step 1 is always safety checks and equipment maintenance. Every chainsaw is taken apart, cleaned, greased, and sharpened. An unmaintained saw is a dangerous saw. There are no awards for speed–slow and meticulous wins the race.

9:01 AM

The crew. L to R: Bronwen, Justin, Bruce, Mason, Chris, Andrew. Don’t let the pants and long sleeves fool you, it’s hot by 9 a.m. out in the backcountry. Pants and long sleeves are for protection from the elements and equipment. Sawyers have an extra layer on in order to run a saw—Bronwen wearing chaps and Chris wearing some pretty sweet logger pants.

*Sawyers & Swampers

Sawyer and swamper teams at work. A ‘sawyer’ is the crew member running the saw, a ‘swamper’ is the crew member clearing and piling the brush as it’s cut. It’s vital for both the sawyer and swamper to be paying serious attention at all times (for ~4 straight hours in the hot sun).

9:41 AM

That is why you wear chaps. Bruce’s chain threw after it got snagged on some dense Ceanothus and left the mark to prove it on his chaps. Bruce was unharmed, and after a brief stop to make sure nothing was damaged, he got the chain back on and was back in action.


Also referred to as California Lilac or Blueblossom. This plant has just about taken over out at Big Basin. Ceanothus is a fast-growing shrub, known to germinate in severe burn zones. It’s currently about 10 feet tall in any direction you look and our crew often resorts to using a GPS map in order to determine where the trail is.

11:06 AM

This burnt, hazard tree was hung up on some dead branches right over the trail tread, creating a pretty dangerous scenario. Bruce and Mason took turns ‘walking’ the tree down (making multiple cuts to the bottom of the tree). It was a bit stubborn but after a few cuts and a rope pull, the tree fell free. A lot of people in this industry will tell you that hazard tree removal is the most dangerous part of the job.

12:16 PM

Arms shaking and clothing drenched in sweat...time for lunch break. Lots of PB&Js, a full block of cheese, a leftover burrito, and resident vegan, Bruce, had about 8 peaches. The crew’s worked an early schedule to avoid the hottest part of the day, so lunchtime usually marks the end of their saw work for the day. This leaves time to clean up, perform equipment maintenance, record supplies, and hike out. The thermometer was reading about 81 degrees at this point but it felt more like 101 in the sun (and it wasn’t even a hot* day).

2:08 PM

Back at the trucks after the hike out. Fieldwork is done for the day, but the crew still has to get back down to the shop to drop off the truck and equipment. We also found out it was the new guy’s (Mason) birthday, so of course we serenaded him with a happy birthday tune.

4:56 PM

Back at the shop…a little traffic on the way back into town extended the day longer than we hoped and made it an 11-hour day, open to close. Long one. Luckily, it was a Friday. Today’s shop closing meant closed for the weekend!

This day’s final tally was 306 feet of trail cleared, which is a really solid day for the crew. Now while Jack gets to go back to his comfy desk, the crew will repeat this process for the next month and a half, ahead of a prescribed burn. More to come on this project!

Learn more about our work in Big Basin here and also see what’s next for the State Park here. Or consider supporting the work we do here.


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