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Sheep Mountain Trail Project

Alaska Volunteer Projects Glacier View Activities Sheep Mountain Trail

A woman swing back an axe in the wilderness

Sheep Mountain Trail Project

This season, the town of Glacier View allocated some funds for trail development at Sheep Mountain Lodge.  Specifically this was to create a new route up Gunsight mountain, a peak on the Sheep mountain massif. This path connects to their cross country ski trails.

Sheep Mountain Lodge

At mile 113 on the Glenn highway, about 10 minutes east of MICA Guides, is where the historic Sheep Mountain Lodge sits. Sheep Mountain and MICA have long had a good working relationship. The interns working and living at MICA were happy to put in some community service hours to develop new trails, gain experience, and skills.

Tools and Crew

Starting in the middle of June, two of us interns plus Don, the owner of MICA, and his two dogs set out to the site of the new trail. We brought with us some pulaskis, tools with both an axe and an adze on the head. These are used frequently in trail building and wildland firefighting. They can be used as a shovel and a brush cutter for trimming the edges of the trail.

A seasoned trail builder himself, Don talked us through the basics of using both the axe and the adze on the pulaski. First, we cut out squares of the top layer of sod, then pull them out with the adze. We used this first day to cut back the brush approximately 3ft on either side of our existing 3ft trail. This created a total of 9ft of open space. Though our section of trail that needed to be cut and built was quite short, working with just two people made it a monumental task.

We only got about 15 or so feet done by the end of the first day. No matter, Don assured us that we would be back with more hands next time. A benefit of doing work for a company that does helicopter tours was that the three of us also got a ride up in Mark, Sheep Mountain Lodge’s owner, R44 to “scout out the route” on the first day. Riding in a helicopter has been on my bucket list for years. Needless to say I was excited. 

Teamwork Dreamwork

a team of people swinging axes on a trail

The crew of MICA Guides clearing new trails to connect the Sheep Mountain trail system further

By the time we got back for our second day of trail building, it was already July. This time we had a crew of five instead of just two. It felt like we got about ten times more done than the first day. Part of the reason for the speed with a larger group is the technique used. Everyone lines up equally spaced on the trail and slowly works their way forward. The idea for this method is the first person cuts out the sod and starts taking some pieces out. The people behind them further this process, until the last person in line is doing the fine details like smoothing out a flat surface and removing pesky roots.

In our process, we found it helpful to have one or two people move ahead to work. They removed large alder root masses that took a lot of time and energy to get rid of. This let the rest of the group breeze through. By the end of the second day, we were all exhausted. We felt proud of the huge amount of work that we had got done in a few hours. Pro tip, always bring a wireless bluetooth speaker when doing trail work, it makes things a thousand times more fun. 

Local Trail Blazers

Our third and last day at Sheep mountain was spent with a whopping group of 7 MICA interns. We even had our very own trail crew expert, a local Glacier View resident named Carl. Carl was a favorite with us, he seemed to forget the fact that he was likely more than three times our age, as he worked just as fast if not faster than us. This master of the trail had the knowledge of years of building trails all across the American West.

Carl was very interested to know how we were able to play whatever kind of music we wanted all the time. We made sure he got introduced to streaming music. By the afternoon of the third day, we had made it to the creek that crosses our trail. We were almost finished with our trail. Here, on the loose rocky stream bed, Carl taught us how to build rock steps and flatten a path in the side of the cut banks of the creek. This only took us about 45 minutes, after that we were done with our part of the new Gunsight mountain trail. 

Written By: Mel Geiser