Storm Clean up

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South District, Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail, November 30, 2018 — The east coast got smacked with an early season snow storm a little more than a week ago.  The Washington area escaped major impact, but it hammered the south district of Shenandoah between Stanardsville and Waynesboro, VA. and cities to our north.

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Photo courtesy Shenandoah National Park

Heavy snow and high winds crushed the softer trees leaving hundreds of them blocking  Skyline Dr., the road that runs 105 miles from one end of the park to the other.  The park trail crews report that the downed trees resembled a military abitis that runs for miles along the road.  Abitis definition at this link.

Leave it to the park crews to painstakingly clear the road quarter mile at a time.  Each tree must be bucked and chipped.  That’s a slow process.

Meanwhile, enough of Skyline, from Swift Run Gap south, had been cleared to permit the PATC to begin clearing the AT.  The supervisor of trails in coordination with the south district manager called for sawyers and swampers.

Sawyers are club members certified by the National Park Service to safely operate a chainsaw.  Swampers help the sawyers by removing slash and trunk rounds from the trail.  The plan was to attack the afflicted area from both ends.

As the supervisor of trails reported yesterday:  “We met at Swift Run Gap at 8:30am today and had 22 PATC members ready to work. Ten were certified chain saw operators including six District Managers.

We were limited as to parking shuttle cars because of the clearing of Skyline Drive and this constrained the amount of trail we could cover. The AT is clear from Swift Run Gap to Simmons Gap a distance of nine miles.

There is another group working from Rockfish Gap north and I don’t have any information on their progress right now. The main problem appears to be further south toward Rockfish Gap where the blow downs are quite severe.

Skyline Drive is not open for other than emergency travel and the clearing is very slow. The park maintenance crews and back country trail staff are responsible for that clearing. We will schedule another work trip later this week.”

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Sawyers are distinguished by their red Kevlar chaps.

We divided into crews.  My crew consisted of three sawyers and three swampers.  We worked northward from Powell Gap to Smith-Roach Gap – about a mile and one-third. Other crews worked elsewhere.

The swampers were all experienced trail overseers and knew how to get after the work at hand.  They brought their pruning saws, loppers and other trail tools which allowed them cleared several blowdowns by themselves.

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With one exception, our blowdowns were smaller trees snapped or bent over across the trail.  These are tedious to clear, our three two-person sawyer/swamper teams worked quickly and efficiently.

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This is one blowdown we tackled with two sawyers, one on each side.  Hidden within these tangles are branches loaded with weight called spring poles.  They can whip around hard enough to cause serious injury when their energy is released.  Sawyers are trained to find them, but they are hard to read in tangles like this.  Each sawyer reported being surprised by more than one, including me.

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All told, our crew removed 27 blowdowns in just over one mile.

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Sawyer PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) consists of leather boots, Kevlar chaps, leather gloves, helmet, face shield, and ear muffs.

Stay tuned for follow on trips.  We’ll be at this for awhile.

Sisu

 

Black Friday = Green Friday

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Shenandoah National Park, Black Friday, November 23, 2018 — Everybody needs a ginormous boob tube to watch foooball and swill cheap beer, right?  When’s the best time to score one?  Black Friday, of course.

Everybody who needs more stuff, raise your hand. Warriors betting they won’t lose yardage tackling a foreign-made discount TV at the local mall’s running of the fools, please do the same.

Guess what?  There are alternatives.  Turn off your phone.  Go outside.  Volunteer.  Make a change. Be productive.  That’s what two of my friends and I did and what a day we had.

The curtain rose on a leaden sky, accompanied by a biting wind.  We linked up at the Jenkins Gap trailhead parking at a leisurely 9:30 to avoid suffering Washington’s mad dog, crack-of-dawn, Black Friday shopping traffic.

Bright sunbeams were piercing the cloud deck like metaphorical knitting needles as we pulled our gear out of our SUVs. The day ended in warming sunshine.

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There were three of us.  Kelly, me and her husband Phil.  We were armed with a shovel, a McLoed fire hoe, and a pick-mattox respectively.

The plan, march 2.3 miles to the top of Compton Peak and work our way back to the cars.  In between we’d clear waterbars (drains) of debris, improve those needing work, replace at least one, and clear blown-down trees and branches blocking the trail.

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The first order of business was to test the frozen ground to see if we could actually dig.  If we not, plan B was to take a long hike.

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Ice formed a crust about an inch thick.  It was easily cracked by our tools.

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Some waterbars needed only to have the leaves raked out.  Others, like this one, had silted up and needed extensive rebuilding.

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My resident bear sow ripped this waterbar apart discarding the rotting log off to the right.  The park’s policy is be more environmentally gentle and avoid, where possible, using wood and rock in building trail structures.  This swale, sometimes called a “grade dip” replaced the log.  Grade dips actually require less long-term maintenance, so what’s not to like?

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Keeping track.

We also cleared the path of several large branches knocked down by a recent storm.  After three hours, we were done with time remaining to take a little stroll.

We drove one car south to the Hogback overlook trailhead, leaving one at Jenkins to which we could return.

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What we’d hoped would be a pleasant walk turned into another three-hour maintenance trip.  In all, we found 10 trees blocking the trail.  We removed three with the small folding saw we had, trimmed a couple like this one making it easier for hikers to pass.  The rest we reported.

We finished up having turned Black Friday into a green one; also knowing the overseer for this section would soon be in need of elbow grease aplenty.

Happy Green Friday!

Sisu

C&O Canal Walkabout

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C&O Canal National Historic Park, Maryland, November 16, 2018 — Sometimes these days it’s hard to find peace and quiet, free from Washington’s noise. That was our quest when we planned a Friday morning hike in this particular park.  Good choice.  We were rewarded with fabulous weather, nature’s serenity and the warmth of good friendship.

Unfortunately high water closed the trail we’d planned to hike.

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The water level in July.  Note the rocks above the sign.

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The water level has risen because the Potomac River watershed precipitation levels are far above normal.

The part of the C&O Canal park located in urban Washington has three hiking trails.  The Billy Goat A trail was flooded and closed for safety reasons.  Link to blog about Billy Goat A  The adjacent Billy Goat B has been closed for maintenance and redesign for awhile, and only the more distant Billy Goat C was open.

Rather than drive to Billy Goat C, we decided to wander the canal towpath out and back for a few miles.  That proved to be serendipitous.

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Earlier in the week, the weather report predicted snow.  With steely resolve we vowed to persevere regardless.  Knowing how inaccurate longer term weather reports are, we rightly kept our fingers crossed.

Over time the report shifted to rain, then finally to a reasonably warm 30 to 40-something morning dusted with sparkling sunbeams and kissed by a light breeze. It was perfect for dancing down the pathway.

In all it was a day any little kid would love.  Besides, who are we at heart but big little kids who are allowed adult beverages.

Along the way, we told stories, laughed, snapped a ton of photos, and complained about politically induced headaches.

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In total, we discovered three blue herons patiently earning their living trolling the abundant canal waters.  This is one.

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Another heron working the far bank.  These birds are quite large, about three times the body size of the mallard ducks which also were in the area.

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A busy flock of mallards.  We saw dozens of these paddlers throughout the day.

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The crunching gravel sounds like music.

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In places the canal is wide and deep blue.  In others it’s shallow, snagged with tangled trees, dabbed with floating green algae.

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The designer of Central Park in NYC and Piedmont Park in Atlanta has a monument.

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Who are we?  Friends who worked at the White House more than 20 years ago.

After our hike, we adjourned to a nice Tex-Mex place where, over a tasty lunch and margaritas,  the conviviality continued.  We’d earned it.

The next sunny day adventure:  Annapolis Rock.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sisu

 

 

 

Widowmakers

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Would you camp under this tree?

The Appalachian Trail, November 9, 2018 — It’s been a hellova year.  Shenandoah National Park normally receives 55 inches of annual rainfall.  To date the park has measured 85 inches with seven weeks remaining in the year.  That’s 30 inches above normal so far.

That’s not the only weather pattern that’s off.  We usually enjoy magnificent indian summers here in the mid-Atlantic region.  This year it stayed hot and muggy right up to the bitter end.  In less than a week, the temperatures turned raw with cold winds and a freeze warning in the immediate forecast. Oh, not to mention that it’s still raining.

If traffic on Facebook is any judge, the AT thru-hiker class of 2019 is hard at work getting ready to go. These intrepid hikers are buying gear, planning hard, and doing as many training hikes as possible.

For those who will be planning trips from now until their start day, there are a lot of things to think about. Here’s one more.

Campsite selection is pretty much straight forward. The first thing to know is the rules of the jurisdiction you’re in. You should know that some places have strict rules on camping while others do not.

I manage the ridgerunner program for 240 miles of the AT in the mid-Atlantic region. That’s four states and five different sets of rules for camping.

For example, Shenandoah National Park allows dispersed camping with a few reasonable limitations. In contrast Maryland requires everyone to camp at official campsites with no dispersed camping allowed whatsoever. Maryland rules do not allow fires except in designated fire pits. The rules for the area you’re in will usually be posted on the trailhead kiosks or your guidebook, map or app; if in doubt check the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s web site at http://www.appalachiantrail.org/camping.

Using already existing campsites helps reduce environmental impact. Look for tent sites with good drainage and that are sheltered from wind and heavy weather if that applies.

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Standing dead trees.

Here’s the ‘one more thing.’ Check overhead for widowmakers. They are sometimes called fool killers and are anything that has the potential to injure or kill someone below. In a more specific sense, they are dead or weakened branches caught precariously high in trees, ready to fall on unsuspecting individuals underneath.

These hazards are not trivial.

In August 2018 a hiker was hit by a falling branch while hiking on the AT just north of US route 50. A 15 – 18 inch waterlogged tree limb snapped and fell to the ground without warning. It struck and killed the hiker instantly.

Not that far away, a tree near Maryland’s Ed Garvey Shelter fell, fatally striking a hiker as he was heading for the Trail one fateful morning in March 2015.

It’s not always easy to spot hazard branches, but it’s always worth the look. Most importantly, it’s not worth the risk camping or hanging out under or too close to such a risk.

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The brown substances at the base of the black opening is rotted tree material.

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Healthy-looking crown of the same tree.  This is a tree of concern.

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Stump of a rotting tree preemptively felled at the Annapolis Rock caretaker site.

Trees that might fall are another potential risk. They may be dead or diseased. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. If the ground is highly saturated; high winds can push trees over because the roots can’t hold in waterlogged soils. This year’s heavy rains saturated soil and fallen trees increased the number of down trees maintainers had to remove from the trail.  After a March storm, 700 blowdowns were removed from the 102 miles of AT in Shenandoah National Park alone.

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Healthy trees rooted in rain-saturated soil, blown down by light winds.

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Removing a hazard tree near Bears Den hostel.

Tree bent by ice storm

Storm damage.

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Storm damage.

Don’t assume that, because you’re in a preexisting campsite or in the area of a shelter, there is no danger. Maintainers, rangers and forest biologists watch for trees of concern, but they can’t find them all.

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Nuff said.

Trees of concern aren’t a huge risk, but it always pays to be prudent and add them to your checklist when you’re in the backcountry.

A version of this blog was originally published by the author on the Appalachian Trail Expert Advice Facebook page.

Sisu

It’s a Wrap – Literally

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Crew and cast of a video for Nature Valley.

Appalachian Trail October 25 and 31, 2018 — “It’s a wrap!” called the director.  With that exclamation, the formal volunteer season ended with the sunset melting behind the horizon west of Shenandoah’s Black Rock summit.  Fade to black.  Hike to the trailhead.

That was the symbolic climax.  The actual ending occurred a couple of days later on Morgans Mill Rd. when the last of the season’s Road Scholars finished their strenuous ride on the Roller coaster section of the Appalachian Trail in northern Virginia.

First, let’s go behind the scenes at Black Rock.  (Anna Porter’s FB post).  A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook asking about locations to shoot a commercial in Shenandoah. It seems Nature Valley, the granola bar company,  is making a serious gift to the National Park Foundation to fund and maintain hiking trails in several parks including Shenandoah.

As people on Facebook suggested their favorite spots in the park, I realized no one had ever been involved in making a commercial and had no idea how ill-suited some places might be.

Having executive produced two regional EMMY-winning commercials, I jumped right in using industry vocabulary.  Soon the producers and I were talking.

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Ultimately we agreed on Black Rock Summit, probably the most dramatic location in the entire park.  Moreover three different trails intersect nearby allowing for a variety of b-roll locations and different looks.

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My “co-star” and partner in crime was Anna Porter and her dog Traveller, an inveterate hiker who completed the park’s 500 miles of trails in the 1990s This was long before hiking the Shendoah 500 was popular.

As Anna noted in her Facebook post, she learned a lot about making videos – notably just how boring it is.  Like the Army, you stand around and wait for the technicians to set up, not to mention the countless shots and occasional repetition needed to get them good enough to stitch the story together.

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We were each interviewed and asked to pose for dramatic effect.  Yes Mr. DeMille, we’re ready for our closeups!  We joked about signing autographs on the red carpet.  Bet she styles high-heeled hiking boots!

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The golden hour produces the most dramatic light as Anna and Traveller admire the sunset.

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There were shots from every angle possible.

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Photo by Anna Porter

I felt like a bronze statue wanna be.

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The final chore, capturing the sunset.

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Nice shot.  Of note, the temperature was racing the sun to the bottom.

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Flash forward a couple of days and the roller coaster ride left the station.  This was another great Road Scholar group.  Now, with the benefit of several years experience leading these hikes, I realize that most of them seriously underestimate the physical challenge of this hike.  It is defined by rough, rocky terrain, three steep climbs, and some challenging down hill that’s punishing for some older knees.

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Consequently we take lots of breaks to enjoy the tranquility and serenity of our surroundings.    Some remind me of their age only to learn that I’m usually older than they are.  I remind them that if one is lucky enough to avoid devastating maladies, and if you put in the effort to stay in shape, you can crush the average 40-year-old for a long time to come.  You just have to make it a priority – that’s the hard part.

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I ask every group what they think of this experience.  They find it challenging, but gratifying at the same time.  At the end, they realize how much they’ve overcome and what they’ve accomplished.

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As goes the leaf litter, so goes the season.  Can’t wait to do it again next spring. Meanwhile stand by for winter adventures.

Sisu

Sisu and Salmiakki

New York Times Sunday Magazine, October 28, 2018 — Sisu is the perfect trail name.  Here’s why.

“In January 1940, in the pages of this very magazine, a writer by the excellent name of Hudson Strode published an article with the headline “Sisu: A Word That Explains Finland.” A Finnish concept that’s tricky to translate into English with any real precision, sisu represents something like a deep well of inner fortitude. The Wikipedia entry includes links to “stiff upper lip,” “cojones” and “chutzpah,” but none of those phrases or words quite capture it. A “special kind of strong will” is the definition Strode goes with, something drawn upon by the stoic in order to persevere in the face of extreme adversity — say, winter, if you live in Lapland.

At one point in the article, Strode visits a Finnish town near the Russian border and meets the local sheriff. For sentimental reasons, this sheriff carries around a dagger, which he hands to Strode. Apparently a previous owner used the blade to fend off six attackers. “They fought for an hour,” the sheriff says. “He cut the six to pieces. I saw the finish of the fight — it was a glorious display of sisu.” Strode doesn’t record his own response, but he seems impressed. The sheriff slips the knife back into its leather holster and gazes to the east. “We shall have need of sisu,” he observes gravely, “to face what may come shortly.”

Reading about Strode’s journey — which took him to Finland at the start of World War II, only months before the Soviet invasion — I thought about my own rapidly approaching trip to the same country, for the same magazine, 79 years later. I smiled at the pleasing symmetry. Granted, my surname does not double as an active verb, not even in Italian. Also, I was going to Finland to report an article on salty licorice. But otherwise, our tasks were not dissimilar. Strode had introduced his readers to a word that explained a distant country and its underlying values. I would try to do the same, only with a really weird flavor of candy.  (It probably pairs with herring.)

There would be need of sisu to face what might come shortly.”

Sisu

Ten Glorious Days

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Hiking and Working on the Appalachian Trail and Shenandoah National Park, October 4 – 10, 2018 — Being busy beats boredom more often than not. It’s the same when work is pleasure and pleasure is work.

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Hike across Maryland hikers resting at the Ed Garvey shelter.

Road Scholars offers several hikes in our region.  The one in which we are normally involved is hiking legs of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in four states – Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia – in that order.  We have one more of these on schedule for this season.

The other offering is four days hiking the AT across Maryland’s 42 miles.  This is a gentle hike compared to rest of the AT with most of the miles spent running a ridgeline on an old logging road converted to trail.

We were asked to fill in for leaders who could not make it.  Good weather graced our participation and the hikers marched into Harpers Ferry in good spirits.

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The next day, my friend and colleague Mary Thurman, currently Blackburn Trail Center caretaker, offered to help with some trail maintenance on the AT in Shenandoah National Park.

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On a grossly muggy day, we weeded a couple of miles worth of trail on two sections in the North District and removed seven blowdowns, two by handsaw; the rest with a chainsaw.

The long sleeves, gloves, face shield, and buff are to protect from poison ivy which is atomized by the string trimmer.  You can feel the spray as you go.

Soon Mary will be headed for her next gig at the Grand Canyon.  I’m going to miss her. This spring my wife and I are going to celebrate my 70th birthday in Colorado with my siblings and cousins.  Mary and I plan to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim on the way.

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Twelve hours later.  Here we go again.  Time for the White House Hiking Group’s planned hike up Old Rag, Shenandoah’s most popular hike – so popular that it was on Thomas Jefferson’s bucket list back in his day.

We rendezvoused literally at Zero-dark-thirty in order to get a jump on the crowds.  On a rare dry day in a rain soaked summer, you just knew people were gonna come, and they did.

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Dawn cracked with an unexpected overcast.  Since you hike Old Rag for the views we prepared for disappointment.  Imagine our delight, popping out of the gloomy clouds  into happy sunshine.

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Obligatory horsing around photos.

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We made it!

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Brick oven pizza and a brew in nearby Sperryville capped the day.

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No rest for the wicked.  Tuesday and Wednesday brought the Road Scholars again, this time hiking the AT in four states.

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This bunch was unique – a running group from Grand Rapids, MI.  They’ve been together for decades and were a hoot!

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Meanwhile Sophie endured surgery to remove a cancerous cyst. The bounce is returning to her step and the prognosis is good.

Not until the heavy exercise was over, did the weather turn toward autumn.  The humidity and temps are mercifully down just in time for the Hoodlums trail crew next weekend.  See you there.

Sisu

Hilton Hotels Community Service Project

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Harpers Ferry, WV.  September 28, 2018 — Many corporations have programs which allow employees to perform community service on company time.  Younger employees especially like this idea.  For them it’s a habit.  They’ve been performing community service since they were young students.

Allowing employees to do good in the company name offers excellent brand recognition while employees get to enhance morale, build camaraderie, and recharge their batteries.

Yesterday, as a representative of the PATC Trail Patrol, I led a group from the Hilton Hotel corporate headquarters on the portion of the Appalachian Trail that is co-located on the historic C&O Canal tow path. Though they didn’t know it before starting, the volunteers would visit three national parks that day – C&O Canal, the Appalachian Trail and Harpers Ferry National Park.

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In ninety short minutes, these volunteers collected approximately 40 gallons of refuse from either side of the tow path and from the canal itself.

Another group covered the six miles on the AT between Gathland State Park and Weverton Cliff parking.

Thank you@hiltonhotels.

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Thanks also to my friend Mary Thurman, caretaker at the Blackburn Trail Center. Mary acted as the sweep, ensuring that the entire group arrived together.

Sisu

Last Ridgerunner Hike of the Season

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Appalachian Trail in Maryland, August 24 – 26, 2018 — In spite of the horrible heat, smothering humidity and the drenching rains we’ve enjoyed all summer, autumn is skulking on the next calendar page and that signals the time when the clock expires for all but one of our ridgerunners.

The last man standing remains on duty in Maryland until Halloween hoarfrost beards the pumpkin patch.

Still, the season’s not over until it’s over.  We made time to celebrate the season’s finale with a final jaunt across Maryland’s 42 AT miles.

Kiki and I cinched up our hip belts and headed southward from the Mason-Dixon line, to Harpers Ferry.  I always forget this route is a little more challenging than hiking the other way around.  People say the trail in Maryland isn’t rocky.  Not so, as my blistered boots will gladly attest.  Best of all, hiking southbound front loads the best of the abrasive boulder fields.

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Kiki carried a hoe to clear clogged waterbars (drains) on what proved to be a waterlogged trail.

Initially we didn’t set a goal for the day because we got a late start which was the result of stashing my car in Harpers Ferry. We decided to see how the day would unfold.

Of note, Maryland is one of the most hiked portions of the AT with millions of people from the greater metro areas between Philadelphia and Washington living within a two-hour drive.  Consequently,  no dispersed camping is allowed to help protect the environment.  To compensate, there are shelters and campgrounds conveniently spaced along the way. We suffered no worries about finding a place to camp.

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We made excellent time in spite of finding several gallons of trash.  We measure trash by estimated volume rather rather than estimated weight for closer accuracy.  Occasionally, we stopped to enjoy the views after breaking up an illegal fire ring or two.

Penultimately we thought we’d drop anchor at Pogo campground.  (Yes, it’s that “the enemy is us” Pogo.)  But, long before we reached Pogo, we remembered Annapolis Rock is just a couple of miles further, and there our colleague Harry would be in residence as caretaker.

At our pace, we’d arrive slightly at the end of evening nautical twilight, but having the company and hanging out at the caretaker’s picnic table was worth the energy expenditure.

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Caretaker’s tent.

As it happened, we literally stumbled in, tripping over stones because we weren’t using our headlamps with the intent of pranking Harry.  In the gloom, Harry didn’t recognize us as we pretended to be thoughtless hikers intent on breaking all the Annapolis Rock rules like building a fire and camping on the overlook.  Ya had to have been there to appreciate the dialog before we ended the charade.

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Two years ago, in a one in a million tragedy, a dead tree fell and killed a camper at Maryland’s Ed Garvey shelter.  Since then trees of concern are quickly removed.  Recently, we traded safety for aesthetics in the caretaker’s area.

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Insects had invaded the wounded area and hollowing was present in the trunk.

From Annapolis Rock, a reasonably strong hiker can comfortably reach Harper’s Ferry the next day.  However there was a risk of arriving too late to catch the shuttle to the National Park Service’s remote lot and my car.

So, expecting unusually good weather for this sopping wet year, and therefore a busy Saturday, we decided to hike to the Crampton Gap shelter.  That would leave an easy 10 miles for Sunday morning.  It proved to be a solid decision when we coached a large group of young men on how to party without ruining the evening for everyone else.

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On the way to Crampton, we stopped to inspect and clean up the shelter at Rocky
Run.  We found a supermarket bag with a week’s worth of hiker food hanging on the bear pole.

Why would someone leave that much food where it was?  We checked with some campers.  It wasn’t theirs.  It was there when they came.

The food could have been leftover from an individual hiker or one of the many college freshman orientation groups currently on the trail.  It also might have been a misguided attempt by a trail angel.  Regardless, it’s irresponsible behavior to leave food anywhere in the woods.  The good news:  Kiki didn’t have to buy supplies for his final week on trail.

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Speaking of college freshman orientation groups, we met students from Loyola University of Maryland (Baltimore) on the trail and stopped briefly to chat.  They seemed like an agreeable group.  Only at Ed Garvey, where they’d camped the previous evening, did we discover the present they’d left for us in the privy’s wood chip barrel.

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Thanks Loyola for more trash then we could pack out.  Then we wonder why the number of problem bears is increasing.  I’ll be sending a letter to the university with an offer of free Leave No Trace education this spring when they train rising seniors to be student leaders.

But, there’s more …

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Survivalists and preppers are among the many subcultures on the trail.  They are sometimes called camosexuals, a label that is a twist on the Hipster lumbersexual subculture. Unfortunately, if everyone strip mined live vegetation like this, the shelter and camping areas would look like moonscapes.  This was within sight of the shelter.

This makeshift shelter would have been worthless in wet weather.  Moreover, nowhere on the Appalachian trail is this appropriate.  If you really want to do this, the national forests and some state forests are happy to oblige.

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We found this fire ring and grill half way between Ed Garvey and Harpers Ferry.  Not a bad field expedient attempt at making a grill from green wood and wire. Again, fires and dispersed camping are verboten in Maryland. But if you are willing to risk an expensive ticket, why not clean up your mess?  Please!  Leave No Trace.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner Recalled to Service

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Shenandoah National Park, August 9 – 18, 2018 — Ridgerunning on the Appalachian Trail can be demanding, and like athletes, Ridgerunners are sometimes injured.  When injury happens who’s in the bullpen?

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Mary found a red tail hawk feather.  As a member of the Cherokee Tribe it’s not cultural appropriation.

Like Ghost Busters, who ya gonna call?  Guess what?  My 2015 ridgerunner colleague in Georgia just happened to be the caretaker of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Blackburn Trail Center.  What, a trained, experienced and ready ridgerunner already on the payroll?  No paperwork? Can someone say trading places?  Boom!  Jobs switched.

As a means of on the job training (OJT) I try to hike with each of our ridgerunners to help them learn the various rules and protocol of their patrol areas.

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PATC Ridgerunners patrol five on and two off.  Mary started on a short week, so after her park orientation and equipment issue, which includes a radio and bear spray, we headed 45 miles southward from Shenandoah’s north boundary to Rock Spring Hut.

The weather was relatively mild early in the week only to turn ugly at the end of the first week and on into the second.

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The first night was at the Indian Run Maintenance Hut, home of the Hoodlums trail crew.  There’s plenty of room for tenting.

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Indian Run is the one place we build a fire.  It’s not open to the public and there’s plenty of precut and spit firewood under lock and key thanks to the overseers and members of the Hoodlums.  Note the poker.

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The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor. Hikers can be ignorant and thoughtless at times.  Other times they are pigs to put it mildly.  The look on Mary’s face says it all.

Ridgerunners are paid seasonal trail ambassadors.  Their duties include Leave No Trace education, assistance to hikers to include first aid and trail information, minor trail maintenance, removal of litter and abandoned property, privy maintenance and quite frankly burying human waste at times.  They are also eyes and ears for land managers, park authorities and for trail maintainers.  For most, it’s a dream job most of the time, except when it isn’t.

The most common question asked by a ridgerunner?  “What were they thinking?  Answer:  “They weren’t.”

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Don’t burn anything in the fire pit.  Most things don’t completely burn.  More importantly, camera studies show that the first place bears go when they enter camp is the fire pit looking for incompletely incinerated food.

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Potato chip bag behind the shelter. What the … Common man!

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Clearing a minor blowdown with a 12-inch folding saw. The damn thing was made of iron. We took turns, wailing away for 20 minutes before we eventually won the contest.

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Water sources are checked for obvious contamination.  The flow rate is reportable.  With monsoon rains this summer, flow and dry springs are not a problem.

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Painted rocks are a new phenomenon.  Leave No Trace outdoor ethics principles are clear.  Leave nature as you found it.  We remove the rocks.

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At the beginning of the second patrol, starting at the southern end of the park working northward, we discovered about two gallons, by volume, of abandoned gear including a large machete.  Much of this stuff was marked with international orange tape seen here on the machete handle.  In all, it reminded us of the type of trash we found ridgerunning in Georgia where hikers dump their usless junk, such as machetes, with reckless abandon.

Continuing the march, we found a similar cache 13 miles northward at the next shelter.  Same orange tape.  Fifteen pounds, four gallons of trash in total.

Flash forward two days to Saturday when I departed to join the Hoodlums for their normal work weekend.  As I pulled out of the Skyland resort after coffee and breakfast, here comes a hiker whose pack is uniquely marked with orange tape.  Connect the dots.

Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to collar the perp.  Meanwhile the Hoodlums work trip was cancelled due to weather.  Since cell service is so poor in the park, I didn’t get the email until later.  When I did, I texted Mary and we headed back to Skyland in hopes we’d rendezvous with our culprit.

Eurika!  She whips hard right.  I go left to cover the loop.  Within five seconds, she spies orange.  Busted!  As I drive up from the back side, she’s shamed the culprit, aptly trail-named “Walmart,” into a pool of quaking Jello.

I unhorse and approach the quivering perp with the swagger and command presence of a backup cop.  Mary intones, “Here’s my boss.”

I open sardonically.  “We’ve been finding a lot of orange lately.  Can you imagine where that might be coming from?” At that moment this young man realizes that he is seriously outnumbered.  He caves and earns a 10 for his groveling. Turns out he’s doing a walking self-pack-shakedown thinking other hikers would want the cheap junk he’s dumped.

After some uplifting Leave No Trace education, Walmart tells us he’s planning to hike 40 more miles that day.  We laugh to ourselves and wish him well.  We’d embarrassed him enough.

Meanwhile Walmart has been informed that the ridgerunners for the next two hundred miles will be on the lookout to extend him a warm welcome, or not – depending on his behavior; and we planned to check the park shelters in his path in the event of a relapse.  (No photos for privacy reasons.)

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Just in case you think ridgerunning is all work and no joy, think again.  Here we are scouting a “dispersed” campsite for, you guessed it, TP tulips.  What deer?  I didn’t see any deer…

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Meals can be a joy.  Mary shared her avocado.  Thank you!  Glad my meal plan wasn’t spaghetti.

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Then there’s the breathtaking view from the eponymous Mary’s Rock. The hike to the top isn’t easy, as you can imagine.

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Resting Mary’s tennis shoes atop Mt. Marshall.

Scenery everywhere.

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Black Rock.  My favorite place in Shenandoah. Believe it or not, it’s an ancient seabed that preexisted the Appalachian basalt. Now it’s a flowing talus slope that will eventually become soil over the millennia. 

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Not an IV.  Purifying water using a gravity filter two liters at a time.

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Sadly, weeds are tick vector and I wish my fellow maintainers were more diligent about weed whacking.

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Regardless, every day on the AT in Shenandoah National Park is a good day.

Sisu