Bear-Resistant Food Storage

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BV 500

Appalachian Trail, November 9, 2019 — About this time every year, next year’s thru hikers start the food storage debate.  Some are going to hang it.  Some are going to carry bear canisters.  Others argue for Ursacks.  A few brave Darwin Award candidates claim they’re going to use their food bags as pillows.

The fact is that most shelters on the AT don’t have bear cables, bear poles or bear boxes.  Of those without, many are surrounded by trees the limbs of which are so high that a NFL quarterback might have difficulty tossing a line.

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Fifty feet of rope.

The discussions tend to proceed along emotional rather than practical lines.  The contrarians definitely assert themselves.

The list of practical reasons to seriously consider how to protect your food is getting longer.  On the AT, only bear canister requirement is for a short distance on Blood Mountain. It can easily be avoided by camping at the Lance Creek campground.  It’s an easy hike on into Neels Gap the next day.

The bear canister requirement on Blood Mountain was created when bears learned to shake food bags off the bear cables at Woods Hole shelter.

The AT Conservancy is highly recommending bear canisters along the entire AT HERE  because the number of food-related human/bear encounters is growing.  Here’s what the AT Conservancy had to say about bear incidents 2018.

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Bears do what human’s teach them.

Sometimes what happened before you came along matters most.  This tent had no food.  The bear learned that some tents have food, so it opens them up to check.  Other bears routinely enter shelters to forage and take what they find.

Before we discuss canisters and Ursacks, the PCT bear hanging method is worth a mention.  Done properly, it is effective.  The problem is that too many people improperly hang their food and then blame the bear that took it.  PCT Bear Hanging Method is at this link.  You Tube:  Here.

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PCT Method.

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BV 500 and Ursack.

Now lets try and not to start a WWE match over canisters vs. the Ursack.  Each has practical considerations plus strengths and weaknesses such as size and weight.  Both should* be tied to trees so that bears can’t carry them off.

*Clarification:  One manufacturer does not recommend tying bear cans to trees.  The NPS is ambiguous.  The concern is that nothing should be done that would permit bears to get leverage that would improve their chances of opening the canister.  I’ve had a bear cart one away that I was unable to find.  Thus, you’ll find me with my bear can tied to a tree well away from camp.

Ursacks must definitely be tied to a tree to be most effective.*

THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE COMPARISON OF ALL BRANDS OR MODELS.  IT’S PURPOSE IS TO HELP YOU THINK YOUR WAY THROUGH YOUR CHOICE OF BEAR PROTECTION FOR YOUR FOOD. Google is your friend.

Canisters:  Canisters are the most foolproof but can be difficult to fit into your pack.  I had to upsize to a 65 liter pack to practically fit a Bear Vault 500 and the way I like to pack my other gear – in waterproof stuff sacks rather than packing it loosely around the canister. My normal pack is 50 liters.

The BV 450 is smaller and an easier fit.  Since it will hold four days worth of food, we issue it to our ridgerunners who are normally on the trail for four nights and five days.  For many, it’s a best value.

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BV 500 and BV 450.

BV 500. 2 lbs. 9 oz.  7 days.  $79.95.                             BV 450. 2 lbs. 1 oz.  4 days.  $69.95.

Other canisters such as the Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe are longer, thinner, and a bit more practical, but also heavier.

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Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe.

Frontiersman. 3 lbs. 7 days.  $78.95

Bearikade carbon fiber canisters are several hundred dollars but cool as hell. Check them out.

Any of the canisters can be rented.  Lightly used canisters can also be found on gear for sale sites at discounted prices.

Ursacks:  Ursacks are a made of ultra strong Laminated UHMWP and Kevlar. UHMWP is Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene.

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When combined with an aluminum sleeve, Ursacks are highly bear resistant.

 

Ursack AllMitey.  13 oz. 5 days. $134.95.

Ursack Major.  7.6 oz.  5 days. $84.95.

Ursack aluminum liner.  $39.95.

Ursack also recommends odor reducing bag liners.

Now for the dark side.  None of these methods is perfect.  I know, you’re shocked.  Bad hang and the bear gets your food.  They also have been known to break into containers or destroy food inside Ursacks.

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Bad news for a Bear Vault.

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The bear got a taste of Sriracha.

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Ursack contents, post chew.

What ever you do, check out the containers approved by the U.S. government’s  Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.  They are the only containers allowed where food protection is required out west, the John Muir Trail for example.  There are many more brands and models than those discussed here.    Certified Bear-resistant Products.

The Forest Service, Park Service, BLM and others really do care about your safety.  Their certification helps you sort through the marketing hype and the trolls’ bullshit.

In may sound like a cliche, but a fed bear is a dead bear.  Let’s do what we can to keep our bears safe, ok?

Sisu.

 

 

 

Road Scholar Closeout

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Last “Hike the Appalachian Trail in Four States” Road Scholar group for 2019.

Maryland and Virginia, October 26 – 27, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail year has a rhythm.  It’s base line begins to pulse the first week in April.  It’s then that our ridgerunners in Maryland and Shenandoah National Park take the field.

Then comes third week in April when the Hoodlums trail crew, like brass and strings, liberates its tools from cold storage to repair the minor chords of winter.

By Memorial Day, we’re in full swing with all the elements – ridgerunners, trail work, and leading hikes – in motion.

Halloween week is the coda that signals the off ramp from our three season journey.  The last ridgerunner on the entire trail completes their season then, and the Road Scholars close out their final hike with us.

After that, it’s not necessarily silent.  The Hoodlums might have a November encore, or not.  We might do some winter hikes, the Gang of Four continues to march, but it’s improvisational.  Everything else after that is meetings and budget-related stuff designed to make it all possible again next spring.

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Washington Monument State Park, MD, the starting line in Maryland.

The start of Road Scholar hike on Tuesday was crisp with a little knife edge to the wind.  Mary Thurman was all smiles.  At 5 p.m. her season would conclude.

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Fox Gap battlefield site where a docent explains civil war ammunition.

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Picking and eating wild grapes along the edge of the battlefield.

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Trick or treat?  The Maryland trail crew was working just ahead.  They left plastic Halloween bones to fool Mary.  Didn’t work, but everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

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Lunch at Rocky Run Shelter.

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We always inspect the shelter for trash and discarded gear.  Size 38 waist trousers anyone?  We deduced that the guy got soaked in the rain and didn’t want to carry heavy wet pants out, so we did it for him.  They’ll be washed and tossed into the hiker box at the Conservancy HQ in Harpers Ferry.  The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor.

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White Rock viewpoint.

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Season over.  Mary hightailed it to a mutual friend’s house in Virginia Beach.  Safe travels my friend.

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Lunch the following day at Sam Moore Shelter in Virginia.

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Mother Nature is signaling that it is time to turn the page.

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The AT in Washington Monument State Park, MD

Adios.

Sisu

 

From George’s House to the Daughter of the Stars

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Mount Vernon, VA; Harpers Ferry, WV; Shenandoah National Park, VA, October 24 – 26, 2019. — This was a good week.  It opened with a quick trip to Annapolis Rock in a drippy drizzle and closed with similarly soggy weather in Shenandoah.

In between the sunshine was brilliant when we came knocking at George’s house.  Mt. Vernon hasn’t seen my shadow since 1985.  What a difference 34 years make.

Last visit, there were a small number of tourists, much of the house was undergoing restoration and few outbuildings that had been reconstructed.  Other than a mention, there was next to nothing about slavery or the other people and infrastructure that made the plantation economically successful.

This visit, we found a huge visitor center, plenty of docents, museum and hoards of tourists and herds of school kids on field trips.  The house is looking good too.

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Mary Thurman occasionally visits and we explore the region.  She’s a member of the Cherokee nation, so last summer we visited the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian.  This visit we had a choice of Mt. Vernon or the Spy Museum.  Our choice was a good one.

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The spits, hooks and other kitchen paraphernalia reminded me of torture tools that might be found in a medieval dungeon.  The audio tour was excellent and downloadable for future use.

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Fall Colors in Harpers Ferry.  The church is antebellum as is every building in the photo.

The next day Mary returned to her ridgerunning duties while myself and two other PATC volunteers led 20 Northern Virginia Community College students on a hike to the Maryland Heights viewpoint.

Great idea:  The college parks a bus in front of its student center on Fridays.  Nobody knows where it’s going until they board.  This day the destination was a rendezvous with us at John Brown’s fort.  The fort is in its third reconstruction and location.

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This photo was taken from the fort’s original location which was elevated for a railroad bed (no longer used) after the civil war.  The foundations of two buildings that were once part of the pre-civil war federal armory are visible.

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Not sure why people feel free to vandalize national parks, in this case the fort which was originally a fire house.

Perfect time to visit Harpers Ferry.

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Maryland Heights was crowded in addition to our students.

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The view is worth the effort.

Maryland Heights.

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Stephanie is using a professional model electric chainsaw.  It’s power and longevity was impressive as was its light weight.  Dear Santa …

In the predawn murk I slammed down a coffee and hightailed it to Shenandoah for chainsaw sawyer recertification – required every third year.  Chairsaws are no joke and the park service pays attention to safety.

The information on which certified sawyers are tested is at this link:  Sawyer Handbook

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After passing the test, my intent was to refresh the white blazes on my trail section.  Several of them are peeling.  Unfortunately Mother Nature and her liquid sunshine suggested other ideas.  So I simply took a stroll looking for work that will need doing in November after the leaves are down.

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The spring is barely flowing.

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The tread is in good shape.

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Nature’s art.

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Northern Red Oak.

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Another view of the overlook.  Shenandoah to the left.  Potomac in the town foreground.

Next week:  Final Road Scholar hikes of the year and the end of Mary’s ridgerunning season.  Stay tuned for the blog.

Sisu

 

 

Sunset at Annapolis Rock

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, October 23, 2019 — Slogged up to the rock in a drippy rain yesterday to examine tree damage – rope scarring caused by unpadded climbing ropes.  Maryland park rangers agree that we should armor the trees.

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The cloud cover broke just as we arrived.  To say the sunset was spectacular is an understatement.

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Love his spot.

Sisu.

Hoodlums October Work Trip

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Nine a.m. safety briefing at the Piney Ridge ranger station.

Shenandoah National Park, October 19, 2019 — Beautiful autumn weather welcomed around two dozen Hoodlums to our October work trip.  The turnout was as brilliant as the weather.

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After roll call and introductions we divided into four work parties – two on the AT, one for general maintenance, and one to construct a lateral drain.  Two crosscut crews attacked blowdowns in wilderness areas on the blue blaze side trails.  One of the crews cleared 29 down trees.

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Constructing a drainage dip.

My work party did general tread work on the AT section from Jenkins Gap to the Hogwallow overlook.

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In total we cleaned all the waterbars and check dams, replaced four log waterbars with drainage dips, and removed four blowdowns.

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We took advantage of the perfect weather to break for lunch.

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As we completed our work at Jenkins Gap, we met two thru hikers finishing their hike.  His partner was camera shy.  They were constructing a 2,192.0 marker out of leaves to memorialize their finish.  We were delighted to congratulate them.

The pot luck theme was Oktober Fest.  Everyone supplied their favorite German delights.

November encore?  Stay tuned.

Sisu

 

It’s a wrap for the last ridgerunner standing.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, October 18, 2019 — It’s that time again.  Our longest ridgerunner season is running out of altitude and airspeed.  The sprint to the finish line is underway.

Friday, Mary Thurman and I struck the caretaker tent, packed it up and hiked it down the mountain to the ridgerunners rustic apartment at Washington Monument State Park. There it is interred in a closet for a long winter’s rest.

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At first we thought something had gone terribly wrong. The tarp protecting the tent from UV rays was in shreds.

Had a bear attacked it?  Vandals?  Actually high winds the previous night destroyed the sun-weakened tarp which had valiantly done its duty.  Now dead, its dumpster-destined remains are nothing more than worthless weight on the hike out.

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Mary was relieved to find the tent intact.

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Packing up.

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Tool box locked.  Site secure.

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It was a brilliant day on the rock.

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Farewell visit to the viewpoint.

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Reflecting on how the season opened last April with Sabine Pelton who patrolled Shenandoah National Park.

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Out-a-here!  The final two weeks will be spent on patrol or tenting in one of the Annapolis Rock tents sites.

Until next year.

Sisu

Annual Trail Maintainers Workshop

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Some tools of the trade.

Shenandoah National Park, October 18 – 20, 2019 — If you want to learn how to dig holes in the dirt, who ya gonna call?  The Hoodlums, that’s who.

Each September the North District Hoodlums trail crew hosts a workshop for trail maintainers, beginners through experts.  Last weekend we did it again. For me it was number seven.

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The canopy is for the kitchen where Dave Nebut’s brothers prepare our scrumptious meals.

The format is simple.  The content gets adjusted periodically.  It goes like this.  The official start time is 0900 Saturday morning.  The safety talk is followed by work party assignments commensurate with each person’s experience level.

On Saturday we generally work until around four o’clock when we return to clean up.  Dinner is a six followed by a campfire.

Sunday is a repeat with coffee and breakfast at 7 a.m.  We close at noon for lunch and cleanup.

A few of us usually arrive early on Friday to help with set up, gathering of tools, hauling firewood, and the like.  The early birds also get the most level tent sites!

A full campground on a clear Friday night doesn’t always go the way you plan.  Some group partied until 3:30 a.m.  I was shocked the campground host didn’t intervene.  Moreover, the city slicker dogs just had to announce each bear that wondered through in hopes some ignorant knucklehead left out food.  Between bears and loud drunken laughter, nobody got much sleep.

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Saturday dawned like the shiny jewel of a day it was.  The park trail crew arrived to work with the advanced group.

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Phone addicts everywhere.  Mine gets NO Service in this spot, a blessing.

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Dave and I led some fine folks on an encore trip near the junction of the Thompson Hollow and Tuscarora Trails to finish the work we abandoned last month when one of our work party members suffered from heat exhaustion.  The day was warm, but not that warm.  It’s officially designated wilderness, so traditional tools only may be used.

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In total we removed seven blowdowns.

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Some of the blowdowns were high while others were low.

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Using a hatchet to chop away the rot.  On a log spanning a gap, gravity draws the wood downward causing compression (bind) at the top.  Once the cut gets deep enough, the resulting bind will slowly make it harder to saw.

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We use wedges to hold open the “kerf” so the sawing can continue.

We also built some drainage dips where waterbars were needed to prevent erosion.

The dirt was proof of a hard day’s work, so let’s get the party started.

Good news.  Just as darkness blanketed the park, our odds changed.  We learned that 30 percent chance of rain sometimes means you get wet.  Why good news?  The rain doused the campfires and the partying.  Silence reigned even as dark rain poured from the inky sky.  Everyone got a good night’s sleep.  Amen!

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Sunday was another beauty contest winner made extra special by the hot coffee.

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We split into three groups.  Rebecca Unruh, backcountry ranger and dear friend of the Hoodlums, gave a talk on environmental hazards from poison ivy to heat stroke.

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We also offered sessions on string trimmer use and maintenance, and on grade dip construction.

We called it at noon for a delicious lunch.

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A sign of happiness.

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Boots usually last 500 miles or about a year for me.  These are two-year-old miracle boots.  The rain last year was easy on the soles.  The rocks finally got the uppers.

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Straining for a selfie.

Until next year.

Sisu

 

 

Educating Hikers

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This was my final trash run. The load included a discarded tent, new boots, wet cotton clothing and uneaten food. Total pack weight was close to 70 lbs.

September 12, 2019 — There’s a popular website/blog/resource for hikers called the Trek.  It was originated by my friend Zach Davis who wrote an excellent book about psychologically preparing for an AT thru hike called “Appalachian Trials.”

Recently a writer for the Trek interviewed me and others about educating hikers.  Here’s the result.

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Link to Trek Article

Sisu

Ridgerunners Fade to Black

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Bucky, Witt, me and Sabine at the Blackburn Trail Center.

Mostly Maryland, Labor Day weekend, 2019 — This is the saddest time of year for me.  Just as the sultry misery of summer begins to moderate, the ridgerunners strike their tents in search of their next adventure.

By now, two of our six ridgeunners have finished their work.  Joanne served a month-long season in Shenandoah centered two weeks either side of the July 4 weekend.  David in Pennsylvania left a bit early for his next gig in the southern region.  Bucky and Witt finish on Labor Day.  Sabine is done a couple of days later.  By Friday, Mary will be the last one standing.

Mary’s season is auspiciously book-ended by April Fools Day and Halloween.  Along the way she’ll see the dull dormancy of winter brown transform into the verdant green tunnel of summer hiking which is naturally followed by the bright fall hues of Alabama crimson, traffic cone orange, caution light yellow, and camouflage tan.  Along the way the bears will have awakened, munched their way through a full season and planned for winter slumber.

Ridgerunning is a calling.  On the downside it’s janitorial.  But the upside difference can be transformational for the ridgerunner, the hikers they meet, and for the trail itself.  It’s a labor of love that people love to do.

This year, for the first time, everyone said they want to return for an encore season.  Usually we have one or two.  Reality suggests that all six won’t make it back to us.  Real life and better economic opportunities intervene.  Regardless, we may get lucky.  The more the merrier.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland

How do you value a job protecting a view like this?

I like to be with the ridgerunners on high-traffic weekends.  This year it was Maryland.

Hiker traffic was light for a three-day weekend with a fantastic weather forecast.  We expected around 500 day hikers at Annapolis Rock.  Three ten showed up.  We met only a couple of dozen along the way on the trail. Where’d they go?

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Camp at Raven Rock.  My tent in the foreground.  Mary’s blue tarp in the distance.

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Waiting for the campers.  Only four showed up.  We expected 30.

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Sunset at Raven Rock.  Check out the fire after dark.  Listen to the insect symphony.  Link to Mary’s video:  Mary’s Camp Fire VideoMary’s Camp Fire Video.

Hiked with Mary to Annapolis Rock where I could spend some time with Bucky.  We discussed the environmental damage caused by non-padded ropes anchoring to trees.  I also noted the unseen damage that can happen to ropes when they are not padded at tension spots on rock faces.

Mary hiked a mile ahead to spend the night at Pine Knob shelter which was maxed out.  It’s too close to the trail head.  People can easily haul in coolers and the like.

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Final breakfast with Bucky at Bonnie’s Red Byrd restaurant.  The stuffed blueberry french toast was yummy.

Sisu.

 

Hoodlums Crew Week

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Butterfly on short final for thistle pollen.  They have been abundant this year.

Shenandoah National Park, August 18 – 23, 2019 — Every year the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) Shenandoah trail crews organize crew weeks.  That’s when members can work closely with the park’s professional trail crews. It’s good for morale and camaraderie.  It’s also fun to play in the dirt like a five-year-old.

The five-day experience couples the satisfaction of teamwork and hard work with the joys of barracks-style living – nine people sharing a single bathroom and rush-hour-like  kitchen congestion.

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On the way to our work base in the park’s Pinnacles area, I stopped at my AT section at Jenkins Gap to refresh a flaky blaze.

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First you need exterior grade white paint, a brush and a scraper.

Next you remove the old paint and just enough bark to help the paint stick.

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Andy Warhol would be proud (I hope).

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Raiding the tool cache for tools needed for the the week.

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Loaded van, ready to rock and roll.

Monday we split up for a range of jobs.  Mine was on a “weeding” crew for an overseer who has been ill.

For arm chair trail maintainers, weeding translates to a roaring string trimmer frapping poison ivy into an evil green pesto that coats exposed skin like white on rice.  Need I say more?

It’s hot, sweaty and buggy work, all necessary to remove habitat for the ticks that cause Lyme disease.

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Day two dawned with the full brutality of mid-Atlantic summer heat and humidity.  It was so hot that the burning crosscut kerf spit fire and brimstone.

We teamed up to rip our way through this 18-inch blowdown.  It’s in a federally designated wilderness near the park’s western boundary.  By definition, power tools cannot be used for trail work in wilderness areas, hence the muscle power.

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Anna, 65, and Mary, 68, proved age is no limit.

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The guys had several bites at the apple too.

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Half done, but the heat index was oppressive.  We were working at least 1,500 feet lower than the ridge above us where the temp would have been 10 – 15 degrees cooler.

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Shortly after we snapped this victory photograph, one of our members showed symptoms of heat exhaustion.

In this case the symptoms were: dizziness, dark urine, fatigue, transient nausea, vision issues and lack of coordination. Skin was cool and normal color, but she wasn’t sweating much.  Heart rate and breathing remained within a normal range under the conditions.  Her awareness and alertness (A/O) score remained at 3 for the entire time.

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Treatment included moving the patient into the shade, soaking her with water, placing chemical cold packs against her carotid arteries, taking her vital signs, and ultimately getting her to sip a liter of Pedialyte.  In total she drank 2.5 liters of Pedialyte and water.

We radioed Shenandoah dispatch about 15 minutes after the onset of symptoms for a backcountry EMT.  Her symptoms were worsening.

We knew it would be awhile.  The plan was to continue treatment until the EMTs could arrive or, if she improved sufficiently, to walk her out over the mile-and-a-half down hill to the trailhead.

Unfortunately emergencies in the backcountry are never trivial.  Help can’t arrive easily or quickly.  We coach our ridgerunners to prepare to be on scene without help for up to three hours in a worse case scenario.  Depending on the nature of the injury, that’s a lot of time for bad things to happen.

After an hour, our patient improved and felt strong enough to attempt to walk out.

The EMTs were still on the way, so we radioed dispatch that we were walking out.  We met the EMTs and park rangers at the trail head where they were preparing to hike in with the guide we had sent ahead.

Our patient was assessed and monitored for almost an hour before being discharged to our care.

A law enforcement ranger who responded paid our team the ultimate compliment.  “It was,” he observed, “nice to see people in the backcountry who were properly prepared.”

Amen to that.

The next day’s weather forecast was for molten metal falling from the sky, so we decided to take a zero day which would allow us to slip behind the public access curtain to see what we could learn. Our thanks to Rebecca Unruh, the ranger who coordinates our volunteer activities.

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The park archives are an amazing collection of records and artifacts dating back before the park’s creation in the 1930s.

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What’s in this box?

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Original maps.

Next stop, Rapidan Camp. The camp was President Hoover’s country (very rustic) retreat.  It was the model for Camp David, the current presidential retreat, located about 150 miles north in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park.

fullsizeoutput_2064Our zero day ended on a Sundae.

fullsizeoutput_2056  Throughout the year we partner with the National Park Service rangers.  Dave Jenkins is responsible for trail maintenance in the northern half of the park.

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Building a drainage dip for a wet spot.  We are shifting from hard-structure waterbars (drains made of wood and stone) to dirt mounds variously called swales, rolling grade dips, or as the trail maintenance manual (p. 65) calls them, “drainage dips.”  They are more natural and have less environmental impact.

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The dirt is raked down hill and hard tamped into a mound set at a 45 degree angle to the trail forming a ditch-like structure.

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We also cleaned and repaired serviceable log and stone waterbars.

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Some people pose with trophy animals.  We, on the other hand …

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Last project.

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Closeout discussion with Ranger Rebecca Unruh at our barracks.

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Final portrait.  One more crew week in the books.

Sisu