Left: National patch. Right: Local maintaining club patch.
Scott Farm, PA, May 16 – 23, 2017 — Baseball players go to spring training and so do Appalachian Trail ridgerunners. It’s a time to refresh and sharpen needed skills for the upcoming season; and to bond and mesh as a team. It’s also fun.
The eleven ridgerunners hired to patrol the mid-Atlantic region gathered for five days of intensive training at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy training center at Scott Farm just outside Carlisle, PA. I was there as the ridgerunner coordinator for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) which employs six of the 11; and to attend the wilderness first aid training to renew my sawyer certification. Following first aid, I helped teach the Leave No Trace instructor course.
The first day opened with a hearty breakfast followed by administrative announcements and an orientation to the trail from a systems perspective. The AT is a lot more complicated than the average hike can appreciate. The bunkhouse quickly filled up, so the spillover camped on the lawn.
Uniform and equipment issue soon followed. Ridgerunners carry pruning saws to clear minor blowdowns, clippers, first aid kits and wear distinguishing uniforms. The patrol their respective sections for five on and two off; always being present on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the days of heaviest use.
Household chores – cooking, cleaning, dishes, etc. are divided among and rotated between everybody taking part in training. Readers may remember PJ from the Million Woman March.
Following the administivia, it was time to get down to serious business. Each ridgerunner is certified in wilderness first aid and as a Leave No Trace outdoor ethics instructor.
First aid training comes first. Some seasons the worst thing a ridgerunner sees is a skinned elbow or knee. But, and it’s a big BUT, they have to be prepared to manage serious emergencies that arise in the backcountry, hours away from first responders and easy evacuation.
The SOLO Wilderness First Aid course is 16 hours long (two days), and focuses on the basic skills of: Response and Assessment, Musculoskeletal Injuries, Environmental Emergencies, Survival Skills, Soft Tissue Injuries, and Medical Emergencies. The idea is to perform a proper patient assessment, treat common injuries up to and including setting and splinting a compound fracture.
The ridgerunners are trained to determine whether the patient can be safely “walked out” of the back country, or whether an evacuation is necessary. At that point their training allows them to professionally interact with the medical system for the patient’s benefit.
Needless to say, the training is realistic.
Lower leg fracture splint using a common sleeping pad as a splint. Students are taught how to employ commonly available gear.
Field expedient traction splint to set a fracture of the femur.
Splinting an open book fracture of the pelvis. The legs are tied together. This is NOT something you want to deal with deep in the woods. These fractures are often accompanied by severe internal bleeding and the need to get the patient to a room with bright lights and stainless steel tables is critical. Unfortunately, this can take hours in most places and days in others.
Putting a dislocated shoulder back in its socket. If you didn’t treat dislocations and fractures, the pain might send a patient into severe shock long before s/he could reach care.
Treating hypothermia (on a hot day). Glad I wasn’t the patient.
Eurica! Our friend Denise hiked in right in the middle of training. She’s on a LASH – long-ass section hike. What a pleasant suprise.
With first aid out of the way, we turned to Leave No Trace. With an estimated 3 million people using the AT each year, minimizing human impact on the environment is of paramount concern.
The ridgerunners primary duty is not to hike. Rather, it is interacting with the public for the purpose of helping them do as little environmental damage as possible. Leave No Trace
Most Leave No Trace training takes place in the woods. The seven principles Seven Principles
Nobody is going to be perfect, but ignorance is our worst enemy. If we can show a hiker how to improve, that’s a victory.
Peeing and pooping in the woods is a subject of endless discussion and immense importance. Not everybody knows how. Ask any ridgerunner. They’ll be glad to teach you.
We divided the students into three teams and then determined who dug the best cat hole – width, depth, 200 ft. off trail. Here, Ryan rolled up a Cliff Bar which looks just like shxt. Then he reached in and pinched off a piece and ate it. He actually hooked a couple of folks!
Exercise in choosing durable surfaces.
Learning about shelters.
Unfortunately graffiti begets graffiti.
Most Leave No Trace training takes place on hikes.
Your 2017 mid-Atlantic ridgerunners.
Julie is our newest ridgerunner and the only one with whom I have not hiked. An orientation hike is always beneficial. So, we started by meeting with the rangers of Michaux State Forest and New Caladonia State Park, PA. Her patrol section runs the 62 miles south from Pine Grove Furnace State Park, to the Mason Dixon Line at PennMar Park.
Clipping vegetation encroaching on the trail.
Documenting a blowdown that will require a sawyer to remove. It’s waist high.
We stopped to clear a small blowdown and who should show up but my friend Rocky who this year is on his second thru hike.
Checking the trail register at the official half way point.
Hung our food and smellables at the Toms Run shelter.
At the very time Julie and I were at Toms Run, Lauralee Bliss was at the Gravel Spring Hut (shelter) in Shenandoah National Park where a bear destroyed two tents.
The tents have had food in them. Rule number one in bear country. Never put food in your tent and properly store your food and anything that smells such as deodorant, toothpaste, soap, etc.!
Found a hiker just starting his hike from Harpers Ferry. He plans to flip from Maine back to HF and then hike to Georgia. Note the bear bell, large knife and stuffed animal. Bet those are gone soon as he gains confidence.
It was a good week.