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Happy, in the woods.
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Our club has a project at a local park that involves fixing a nasty steep section with a longer reroute that sticks to a more sustainable grade. The problem is the shear steepness of the hills we're working in. The entire park is nothing but steep. Most slopes are at least 60% or above, a couple areas hit a full 100% or steeper.

The old trail averages 28% grade, hits 40% in a couple spots, and is about .25 miles in length with a couple unrideable scissor switchbacks. My proposed reroute averages 10% but is a little under a mile in length to get this grade and avoid switchbacks. Due to a few constraints this proposed route is about our only option.

I've used mini-excavators to build trail before, but this has been on mostly shallower sideslope- maybe 30-40% max. Our reroute crosses quite a few areas of really steep slope (~75%) and my worries are that I or the operator the city sends would end up being strapped into the machine as it tumbles down the hill. I rolled a walk behind once, but that was more a mater of property damage and not personal injury. Step back and cuss as you watch the machine roll as opposed to riding it to your death.

For those of you who have built across really steep side slope what methods have you used to ensure operator safety?

I was thinking about some sort of teather system. I've got lots of wire rope and rigging goodies, and the trail is through mature forest with lots of huge trees. Another idea is to hand build this section. Which we just may do if I'm not convinced we can do it safely with the machine.

Any other ideas or suggestions?
 

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Be a GREAT operator

In my opinion, if you don't think you can build it, don't! Hire a pro. Seriously, machines can kill you if you get it wrong.

I have never liked the idea of teatherting a machine either, seems like a false sense of security and it limits maneuverability. What I do while working on that steep of a sideslope is to build a much wider and insloped bench for the first pass, this allows plenty of compaction to occur, as well, while the machine passes over the fill material. Honestly the trickiest part is the backslope you will have to contend with. Also, depending on the area, the rock and or roots can be a beast when you are digging five feet below the top layers. But, again I stress if you don't feel safe, don't do it. Perhaps you have a local trail contractor you could contact or even an experienced grading company operator that would feel inclined to help. Good luck, but no trail is worth risking your life to build.

Ben
 

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Machine Trail Builder
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Our company specializes in building on steep side slopes. Its our bread and butter and I would argue that we do it better than anybody else around. Like the guy said, leave it to the professionals if your having any doubts. When the terrain gets extremely steep we pull out the Trail Cat, which is a low center of gravity machine with narrow tracks and a winch on the back end. Its basically a small backhoe and it does really well on steep side hills. I would say that instead of digging the trail wider, which only undercuts your back slope and makes it steeper, I would focus on building solid bench cut trail wide enough for your machine to be able to safely turn around on. If the terrain is too steep and you can't get the back slope knocked back enough to be able to turn the machine around on..... don't. Dig straight ahead through the worst of it and damn well make sure you don't swing the cab, or you can bump the machine right off the side of the hill. You can always go back and fix the trail by hand. Personally I don't like tethering the machine to anything for the same reasons redriderbb doesn't. If you do have to tether the machine make sure you have a tender who is in the know and use something that is easily adjustable. Whether or not you wear a seat belt is up to you. I find that I feel more comfortable not being strapped to the machine, but that doesn't make it right. I wanted to add a picture, but I don't have any of the really steep stuff..... My guess is we were too busy trying not to egg beater an excavator down a mt side to take pictures. Here is a pic from B.C, its not too steep, but a whole lot steeper than the pic does justice.
 

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Can you access the beginning of the slope from flat ground? That way you could just hand do the first 30ft or so and then just drive it onto the section you already have leveled out....
 

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Fletcher-Love said:
why would you hand do the first 30 feet when you have an excavator?
To create a platform for the machine to sit on, he was worried about it rolling, in theory if you get it started enough, you could just drive it onto the part that you already flattened out.
 

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Heed the warnings above, this is a contract I did a few years ago. building on steep side slope is slow going with lots of dangers. What I found worked best is digging almost a trench on the uphill side so that my uphillside track would have a bank to hook on too. This kind of trail build is where the mini x works best.
 

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The technique described by redriderbb (Ben) is actually very efficient if you have a good operator. When you get into your benchcut, INSLOPE the machine inside to be more stable. When you're ready to finish, instead of just shaping the backslope directly, you can pick up a part of the material from the bottom and "fill" the inslope, then outslope the thread of the trail. We found that it's faster to open trails in 25-60% slopes then on flatter grades.

I really love zero-swing machine for that kind of situation. Zero tail swing allow you to rotate the cab without hitting anything. The machine tends to be a little more unstable. I had a 400lbs counterweight added to my John Deere 27D to stabilize the machine a bit more.
 

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All our machines are zero clearance... as in the cab does not extend out over the tracks, but what I think your referring to are more the landscaping machines where the cab is a lot smaller than the tracks, is that correct? I am not surprised at all that you had to add ballast to the back of the machine. I built some trail with a zero swing Yanmar and i felt like I was on a teeter totter. The tracks extended well beyond the cab and the break out power was greatly reduced because there was no real ballast in the back end. The machine was incredibly stable on uneven ground though.... once you got used to the rocking motion. Personally I like having all the breakout power I can get and the tracks directly beneath the cab.
 

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Fletcher-Love said:
All our machines are zero clearance... as in the cab does not extend out over the tracks, but what I think your referring to are more the landscaping machines where the cab is a lot smaller than the tracks, is that correct? I am not surprised at all that you had to add ballast to the back of the machine. I built some trail with a zero swing Yanmar and i felt like I was on a teeter totter. The tracks extended well beyond the cab and the break out power was greatly reduced because there was no real ballast in the back end. The machine was incredibly stable on uneven ground though.... once you got used to the rocking motion. Personally I like having all the breakout power I can get and the tracks directly beneath the cab.
I stand corrected... Our machines are not considered zero clearance. They are reduced clearance machines. I stand by my opinion of zero clearance machines though. For trail work you want that break out power.. it translates directly to productivity. A zero clearance machine is roughly 30% weaker than an equivalent reduced clearance machine. I had a conversation with a local authority on these machines and he said that the zero clearance machines while a lot safer for the workers around them are probably less safe for the operator. The reason being that when you pick up an object that is nearing the weight capacity for the machine and swing to the side the lack of ballast in the back will cause the machine to tip. If you operate these machines you know what I'm talking about. Its not the end of the world when you know its going to happen because you plan for it, but a machine with the proper ballast in the back won't even lift a track. So for steep slopes I would be inclined to stay away from the zero clearance machines for two reasons. You want as much breakout power as you can get and you need that stability. Just dig the bench wide enough for the tracks and knock the backslope back enough so you have enough room to safely operate the machine to its full capacity.
 

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I was chatting with a mate who works for the department of conservation here in NZ, and he was saying for one f the big walking tracks they were building in the south island, they used to take the cages off the machines and tie the operators to the trees. So that when the machine took off down the hill unexpectedly, the operator was left hanging up by the track still. Kiwi hills are steep
 

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That's a pretty good idea, might hurt your ribs a bit but it beats death.
 

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I don't advocate tying one's self to any machine. Your best safe guards are the roll cage, the seat belt, and being a skilled operator aware of how your actions affect the machine and its balance.

Sure, accidents happen. Don't take unnecessary risks. Don't run the machine when you're tired or distracted. Know your limitations as well as the machine's. Don't be scared to step out of the machine for a break. Running an excavator can be mentally demanding; don't forget this. Repetitious activity can lead to your mind wandering, so be aware of this and know how to combat it.

D
 
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