(11/13)

The documentary series exploring the work of lumberjacks in the remote forests of the Pacific Northwest continues. This week, the storm of the century pummels northwest Oregon; the Stump Branch crew is left stranded on the mountainside; a greenhorn goes missing; and Darrell Holthusen must fight to save his family.

A hundred miles off the Oregon coast, two dying typhoons have come together to form a new storm that is growing stronger by the minute and heading east on a collision course with logging country. They do not know it yet, but the axe men are about to face a disaster unlike anything they have ever seen.

At the top of Buck Mountain, Darrell Holthusen and the Gustafson crew are back at the Challenge site after a two-week layoff, but they quickly run into problems. The riggers have hooked a massive log weighing ten tons, and the yarder is struggling to cope. Operator Richie fears that one wrong move could snap the skyline. “If things aren’t perfect out there, something bad is going to happen,” he says. After 45 minutes of work, they finally manage to pull the mammoth tree to the landing, but it is a hollow victory as the wood is rotten and worthless. However, with the storm fast approaching, things are about to get worse.

Over at Round Top Mountain, Melvin Lardy and his Stump Branch boys are beginning to suffer at the hands of high winds and heavy snowfall. To make matters worse, greenhorn Michael has failed to turn up to work and is not answering his phone. “This separates the men from the boys,” says rigger Eric.

Eleven miles away at Pig Farm, the unruly members of the Pihl crew are scrambling to finish the job before moving onto their next site. They have so far pulled 15 loads and need just five more to meet their target, but the weather is making things tough. “It’s going to get nasty tonight,” predicts Kelly Baska. But this is just a hint of things to come.

Other crews are already halting work and heading for home – but not the Pihl team. Before packing up his saw, experienced cutter Dwayne has a dangerous task to tackle. In order to fell the one last tree standing in the middle of the slope, he must climb onto a pile of fallen logs that could fly in any direction. “With all that pressure below me, it’s a pretty unsafe practice,” he says.

In the end, Dwayne’s experience wins through and the Pihl men can complete the Pig Farm site and head home. It is while travelling to their new logging location the following day, however, that the full rage of the storm hits the coast. Heavy overnight rain has flooded the region’s many rivers, while winds of over 100mph are blowing down trees and buildings, turning Oregon into a disaster area. Still determined to get to the potentially profitable Beaver site, the Pihl men push ahead and make their way up the mountain. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a white-knuckle ride,” says Dick Scroggins. Sure enough, the men soon encounter roads under several feet of water, forcing them to give up and head for home.

By 7am, the storm is even worse and the Stump Branch boys are stuck in the middle of it. “It’s probably a good day to stay home and drink whisky,” says a hopeful Eric. But for this small outfit to stay afloat, Melvin needs his men to log, so he pushes his luck and heads for the hillside. The ride up proves very treacherous, with some stretches completely submerged and others blocked with fallen trees. But when they reach part of the road that has been completely washed away by flood waters, the boys know they are in real danger. “We’re screwed right here,” says Melvin. “This is what I did not want to happen.” Now the race is on to get off the mountain before it is too late.

In Astoria, winds of 135mph mean that the Gustafson crew will now definitely miss its deadline. More worrying for Darrell, however, is the instability of the trees surrounding his home. “I’m a little panicked about this,” he says. Fearing that the trees might come crashing down on his house at any moment, he makes the brave decision to start cutting them down. Despite the dangers of felling trees in such high winds, Darrell has no choice but to proceed in order to save his family from disaster.

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