Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
Hiking: There's good hiking despite rain November 9th, and now snow topping the trails. If the ground isn't frozen, probably avoid two areas: 1)East Side trails with logging activity; 2)West Side trails between Y & Z.
Biking: please don't bike now, the trail surface is soft and unfrozen. We need to protect the surface of the trail so it's smooth when it freezes and we start grooming for x-country skiing.
Loggers have been working two separate timber sales on the East Side: 1)the vicinity of the Otter Slide and Far East trails (those trails are the furthest 'east' trails), and 2)the 'Red Pine' timber sale (north of the warming house). Click here for a map showing trails the loggers may be using.
November 20: dusting
November 19: 1.5" fluffy, wind blown snow
grooming & MOWING
If the weather is favorable, we'll consider grooming the ski trails as the gun deer hunts wind down in early/mid December.
Our new workhorse has arrived!
After selling our 2014 Gator to a private party, in early April we finalized plans to purchase and modify a 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 Deluxe side-by-side that now makes its home at the Blue Hills Trail.
Beginning in February, recognizing it was time to replace our Gator, here's the process we followed...
- Researched UTVs that would meet our needs
- Researched industrial strength tracks that would be superior to the Camoplast tracks we've used since 2014
- Inspected and test drove several UTVs
- Visited the nearest Mattracks dealer (Winter, WI) for a first hand look
- Spoke with groomers at ski trails with experience using the Honda Pioneer, and Mattracks.
By late March, we felt the Honda Pioneer 1000 was a good choice for our new UTV. And Mattracks became our choice for a tougher set of tracks. Recognizing the need to pay attention to our space limitations (the doors opening into our storage shed are 83" wide and 83" tall), we...
- Downloaded specs for Mattracks and the Pioneer
- Made multiple careful measurements of the Pioneer
- Realizing the vertical fit would be close, we decided to purchase the Pioneer (with a backup option of modifying the storage shed doors)
Recognizing the current Coronavirus Pandemic has greatly disrupted supply chains and the availability of manufactured items, we felt fortunate to locate a UTV that could fit our needs (a 2020 Pioneer was available at Zacho Sports Center in Chippewa Falls). We made a down payment on the Pioneer. Simultaneously, we ordered the Mattracks from TRACKIT trail grooming located east of Winter, WI (just before a big price increase). Zacho Sports Center did nice work adding a front receiver hitch, interior storage compartments, front and rear LED lights, special dashboard rocker switches to operate our grooming implements, and a second stronger battery to handle the extra electrical load.
Once all the modifications were completed on the Pioneer, we sealed the deal and chose May 12th as the day to transport the Pioneer from Chippewa Falls to Winter (Wisconsin) where the tracks were installed. Then from there to the Blue Hills Trail -- all in the same day. A HUGE THANK YOU to John Waldron for his time and mileage (220 miles that day) as he trailered from Rice Lake to Chippewa Falls to Winter to our trailhead transporting the Pioneer.
Once at the trailhead, we were relieved our new Pioneer fit the vertical opening into the storage shed with about 3 inches to spare! WooHoo!!!
The next major step was to fabricate a special extended rear hitch for towing our grooming implements and trail mower. Bob Wieckowicz (our member with special welding expertise) evaluated the Pioneer, and decided to weld the extended hitch at his shop. The welding and painting was accomplished in a couple days, and the Pioneer returned to the trailhead just before rainy weather moved in. Considering the tight spaces that are present when the cargo bed is tilted, the fabricated hitch and welding support is really quite brilliant! Thanks Bob!
Many thanks to the following members that helped research the new machine and tracks: Sam Behrends, Ron Beebe, Ron Jasperson, Tom Paulsen, and John Waldron. And thanks to Bob Langer for help with trailering as part of the rear hitch fabrication.
And many thanks to our members and donors. The Pioneer + Mattracks is a big investment, we genuinely appreciate your financial support.
In 2014 we purchased and began using a John Deere Gator with Camoplast tracks to handle the bulk of our ski trail grooming. It also pulls our trail mower through 22 miles of rough trails during the summer.
As a result of a couple major breakdowns involving the Camoplast tracks, we’ve learned to carefully monitor the tightness of the bolt/washer combination that secures the hub bearings and holds the entire track on the Gator axle. Every 50 hours we perform a safety check on the tightness of the 12 mm diameter hub bearing bolts that hold everything together. If we discover a bolt is starting to loosen up, we replace it. However, on two occasions the bolt itself snapped off - requiring a delicate welding operation to mount a nut on the bolt shaft so the bolt could be removed. This happened most recently just one week ago.
The Camoplast tracks that we use are realistically designed for recreational use. However, we demand a lot more of the tracks when pulling heavy grooming implements up hills, down hills, across hills, over bumps and ridges. Even though we’re using new bolts and washers when they need replacement, they still have difficulty withstanding the abuse.
After one of these bolts broke off a week ago, we called Camoplast in Canada and spoke with a very helpful engineering technician. He knew that ski trail groomers in Europe had greatly diminished their problems with bolt breakage through one specific modification of the setup: they substitute a much thicker washer. This makes a lot of sense. We’ve noticed all along that the original washers tend to deform (cup) within the first 100 hours of use - probably allowing the bolt to loosen, perhaps allowing too much play at a point where the mechanical forces are extreme.
So this past week, we tried finding a thicker heavy duty washer by calling Fastenal, and by scouring the internet, and by speaking with representatives from several big online companies that specialize in selling fasteners. Nobody could provide what we were looking for!
Then an AHA! moment. How about trying the machine shop located 3 miles from our trailhead?
CPH Enterprises Inc said “Of course! - WE CAN DO.” They took the original washer, recommended an improved fitment for the bolt, and later that day provided a bid for fabricating the washers we needed. We gave the go ahead, and actually had the opportunity to watch the machining in action.
They used a Waterjet Machine to cut the new thick heavy duty washers. After programming the specs, it cut the washers using water pressure of 50,000 PSI. I’ve never seen anything like it, truly amazing!
Think Global, shop Local.
The following pictures and video tell the story.
First things first: packed powder conditions, skiing is great, especially in the classic track set this past weekend; and on the skate deck where touch up grooming was performed Tuesday evening (January 28th). Don't let the East Side logging operation scare you away. We are currently grooming 17 km of trails on the East Side, 9.6 km on the West Side. As an example, if you ski all the trails on the West Side, it'll add up to 14 km by the time you're done.
Snow Rollers, a pretty amazing natural phenomenon. We noticed one while skiing the Hemlock Canyon trail on Wednesday the 29th.
Here's our latest 'Gator Tale'. A true example of rolling with the punches...
- A few days ago we performed scheduled maintenance on our Gator. Oil change, check fluids, lube the Camoplast tracks, and check tightness of the hub bolts that secure the bearings and hold the tracks in place.
- Three of the four hub bearing bolts were a bit loose (that's why we check them). We removed and replaced two bolts.
- Shockingly, when removing the third bolt it snapped off. Now what??? (photos below show a partially removed bolt and washer on the left; snapped off bolt is shown on the right).
- We had access to the tools needed to extract the broken bolt. But we decided to enlist the help of a professional machinist from CPH Enterprises on County Hwy O, located just 3 miles away. With a bit of begging, one of their pros came out to the trailhead to help us out.
- These bolts are held in place using red Loctite. Removal of the broken bolt required drilling a hole in the center of the bolt, inserting an extractor (a special tool), and repeatedly heating the bolt with a torch while trying to extract it. The heat helps loosen the Loctite.
- After many attempts, the broken bolt seemed to move slightly - but at that point the extractor snapped off. Another 'Now What???' moment. Those might not have been the exact words we used.
- Next step? We were stuck. Late afternoon on Tuesday. Next step would require the use of a generator to weld a nut on the end of the broken bolt and use that nut to back out the bolt. This was set up for Wednesday morning.
- When cautiously trying to move the Gator from the shed to the parking lot on Wednesday morning, the bearing mechanism on the right rear track started shifting - which meant the entire hub assembly and track could fall off - with possible serious mechanical damage to various components.
- The crew of two that was working on the Gator on Wednesday was able to use several ratchet straps to secure the Camoplast track enough that it was moved to the parking lot.
- A nut was welded onto the end of the broken bolt; then with difficulty, the bolt was removed and replaced with new parts.
- The last challenge? Prior to the welding operation, the Gator battery needed to be disconnected by removing the positive lead. When doing that, the battery terminal broke off (a bit rusted). This meant a trip to Ladysmith to buy a new battery terminal (connector), then returning to the trailhead to repair the positive battery lead and tuck the Gator in the shed.
All set for some Friday evening grooming of the skate lane if all goes as planned. Should be a great weekend in the Hills!
When you're out enjoying a groomed ski trail, give special thanks to the groomers and volunteers that are so integral to cross country skiing on groomed trails.
Some equipment information we think will interest you... On a warm day while grooming this past March, the Hyfax slides on our new snowmobile overheated and needed replacement. (The slides are a hard plastic material attached to the metal rail - positioned between the moving rubber track and the metal rail, they shield the metal rail from abrasion - however the slides can overheat if operating in 'dry' conditions).
We've never needed snow scratchers before, but realized this is a must adaptation to help kick up snow/ice and cool the slides when grooming on hardpack snow - i.e. 'dry' conditions. We purchased cable (reversible) snow scratchers locally and earlier this week - after a bit of trial and error - installed them on our Bearcat snowmobile (the scratcher tips are carbide & replaceable). Everything lined up nicely. It's easy to hook the scratchers on the rail when you need them out of the way. Preventing equipment problems keeps our ski trail groomers happy and on the go.
With that task completed, we decided to check the state of the snowmobile battery, drive belt, and driven belt sheaves. First we used our lever lift stand to elevate the Bearcat's rear end. After napping for 6 months, the 'Cat fired up on the 2nd turn of the key, purred like a kitten, then roared as the track turned a few revolutions quite nicely. We again disconnected the battery and put her back to sleep -- waiting for snow!
Lastly, a modification that was installed a couple weeks ago... During the grooming season, the Bearcat sleeps in a shipping container where ice tends to build up under its track. To make entry and exit less harrowing for the operator, we placed an eyebolt in the threshold; then created an easily removable setup where we can secure a piece of salvaged snowmobile track to the threshold so the 'Cat can get a good toe hold. The trails are in great shape, go take a hike!
Blue Hills Trail
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