Shenandoah National Park, April 17 – 26, 2021 — The park was full of delight and disappointment this past week, marked by old friends, a new beginning and a sad ending.
The week started with the first full Hoodlum work trip in 18 months. My first thought was family reunion.
Socially distant safety briefing.
First night at Indian Run in 20 months for me. Somebody is appropriating a bunk mattress for use in his tent. The “Princess and the Pea” was my first thought.
Work continues on the AT restoration project on the north side of Compton. What we thought would take a couple of years may be finished this year if we can have a crew week with the park trail crew to rebuild a large flight of stone steps.
The rip rap on the side encourages hikers to stay on the tread and helps prevent erosion.
Ringnecked snake. This is a big as they get. It was released unharmed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-necked_snake
Just a couple of days later, the new long-season ridgerunner stepped into the on-deck circle.
The ritual pose at the north entry kiosk on the AT. It’s his first official act.
The pandemic disturbed our normal routine. Chris spent his first two days on Zoom for Leave No Trace training. I’ve always wondered how you dig a cathole through your living room carpet. Apparently it’s virtual with a backyard practicum on your own.
So, we got a late start. A nasty weather forecast predicted high wind and frigid temperatures.
The first-day orientation occurred on the second day where we met with the head of the backcountry office who coordinates the ridgerunners’ day-to-day activities. The park rules, radio procedures, general expectations, equipment issue, living arrangements and a host of other topics are fire-hosed at them at full force.
As noted, the weather was brutal. Sabine, our 2019 ridgerunner, was hiking in the park while waiting for her partner. Her gear was at its cold weather limit, so she popped in for a warm up.
We started with unattended trail magic. NO! This parking lot is not the place to food-habituate bears or any other animal. Well-meaning but ignorant has hell.
A stroll up Compton.
The class we took three months ago taught us that the CCC scouted boulders like this and then routed the trail to connect them.
Examination of a collapsing crib wall to be repaired later this year. This damage is from falling trees knocking loose the upper layer of stones.
Breaking up a fire ring and later camouflaging a noncompliant campsite near the Compton summit.
A good ridgerunner has a good eye for trash. I’m standing on the AT.
North Marshall noncompliant fire ring.
One way I size up new ridgerunners is how far they are willing to carry rocks without prompting. This guy is an all star. I learned this from Lauralee Bliss.
The idea is to make it more difficult to reestablish the fire ring.
Fire ring removed. Ash pit camouflaged and a log place to cover the soot scar on the rock face. Nice work!
Take a break.
Original AT marker! Very rare.
Summit of North Marshall. Spring is definitely visible.
Hikers beat up the trail. The ridgerunners are the eyes and ears of the maintainers. This is a project the maintainer can fix with a little muscle and a pick-mattok.
This is a noncompliant campsite adjacent to an overlook. The rangers have piled logs all over it year after year and the users pull them off. Maybe time to iceberg it. That means burying rocks as a means of area denial.
Practicing the chopsticks method of TP tulip extraction. Ladies, use a pee rag or kula cloth, please.
Met up with Sabine at Gravel Spring. She’s wearing every item of clothing she brought. Did I say it was cold?
Loading the last of the trail trash into the car. Headed for the dumpster. End of patrol.
Sabine headed for my house to wait for her partner to arrive. Meanwhile my daughter is moving and bought some stools for her kitchen island. Ever the physicist, Sabine cut the stools down to size with scientific precision.
Flash forward a couple of days. A park visitor was missing. Rangers hiked into Gravel Spring a couple of days earlier with laminated posters; asking the ridgerunner to keep an eye out and post one at the next shelter.
No avail. Our phones lit up with notifications from the park service to volunteer to help search.
Joining dozens of professional SAR organizations, PATC volunteers mobilized and pitched in.
We bushwacked briar and blackberry thickets until the deceased was found outside our search area.
Good crew. Hard day. So sad. It felt good to be of service to a fellow human being and his family.
National Parks are special places. They have been set aside that way. Sometimes they serve us. Other times we serve them. This has been a peek between the covers of a book whose story continues day by day. It is not a simple story of delight and disappointment, old friends, and a sad ending. It is simply what happens behind the scenes.