Sunday, May 29, 2011

[Geology2] Big Sur's Big Dig at Alder Creek Landslide

The massive slide at Alder creek is among the worst Caltrans has seen on the scenic stretch of Hwy. 1, and clearing it is a slow and delicate job

As John Duffy prepares for work, the Caltrans engineering geologist dons his lime-green vest and white hard hat, then slips into his black rock-climbing harness.

His workplace these days is the massive landslide that for six weeks has blocked Highway 1 at a lonely spot where Alder Creek flows into the Pacific Ocean 65 miles north of San Luis Obispo.

Caltrans officials are aiming to reopen the highway by mid-June. But that deadline seems daunting when one confronts all the material that must be removed.

The only way for Duffy and other workers to get up the landslide to their equipment, precariously perched hundreds of feet above the highway, is by using anchored climbing ropes. They navigate steep trails carved into the uneasy hill of loose rock and dirt.

The slope is 40 percent and greater.

"All the work on the mountain is by rope and climbing gear," Duffy said one day last week. To initially access the slide, "we had to build 600 feet of goat trails," he recalled with a laugh. "I won't long forget the access trails on this one. They were a leg burner."

An initial, small landslide happened at Alder Creek on March 27. Caltrans was able to remove it and reopen the road April 6. But on April 14, a much bigger part of the mountain gave way in a new landslide.


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