Photo Essay: Trail Building in Maxhla Didaat
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Maxhla Didaat, a Gitxsan territory belonging to the House of Gwininitxw. I was part of a crew working on building trails for trap lines in the territory, which is located about 100 km north of Kispiox, “BC.”
We flew to Maxhla Didaat aboard a small turbo Otter plane with pontoons for landing on water, in this case small lakes. The flight took about an hour and soon we were in a very isolated valley, about 10 km south of the upper Skeena River.
Our hosts were a couple living at Maxhla Didaat, raising their five-month old daughter and trapping. The area where their cabin is located had a forest fire sweep through a few years ago, so all around the cabin there is standing dead trees, greying over the years but dry for use as firewood and building materials.
Our daily routine was pretty simple. We’d wake up, have breakfast, and then head out to the trail. A previous work crew had already cleared a trail about 2 km into the forest, so we’d trek in and begin working. After 3-4 days, we ended up bringing our sleeping gear and setting up a base camp, as we were hiking in 3-4 km in order to get to work. We built a lean to and a fire pit, where we’d cook our breakfasts and dinner.
Most of our work consisted of demolishing or moving old rotten trees that had fallen down and were blocking the path, or flattening sections to make it more even. But we weren’t just making a foot trail. It had to be wide enough for a quad, so about 4 feet wide. A couple of times we built small bridges over streams.
There were about 6 people working. 2 would usually blaze ahead with chainsaws, cutting up larger blow down trees, saplings etc. Then the rest of us would follow behind, moving cut up sections of trees, etc.
Since I’m not that familiar with a chainsaw, I worked on clearing the trail, using either a Pulaski or Mattock. These are specialized tools used by forest fire fighters or geologists. The Pulaski is an axe with an adze-style blade on the back. It’s great for tearing apart old rotten trees and digging up earth. It weighs about 5 lbs. The Mattock, on the other hand, is like a very large adze with a pick on the back, and is meant for rocky ground. It’s a lot heavier than the Pulaski, and when you try to use it on rotten tree trunks that are still a bit firm it sinks in and then you have to struggle to get it out. Mattock’s suck.
The area is in a sub-boreal zone, and with fall in full swing, everything was pretty wet. Most of the trees were either Spruce or Balsam Fir, with a few avalanche Alders along the sides of streams. Unlike the Kispiox area, where there is lots of Aspen and Birch, the Alders were the only deciduous trees around. We also passed through a couple of forests of Devil’s Club. Most of the ground was covered in moss, as were the rotting trees and stumps. Temperatures ranged from around 2-3 degrees Celsius in the day, to about -2 degrees Celsius at night. Luckily for us, it only really rained once, and that was at night.
Check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/maxhladidaat/