Treemegedon!

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Prince William Forest National Park, VA, January 2022 — The mid-Atlantic experiences a wide range of weather.  The the spring flowers are spectacular, summers are hot and humid, the autumns colorful, and the winters – well let me tell you.

The National Capitol Region winters are really mild until they aren’t.  Remember those icy presidential inaugurations?

About every fifth year or so the snow gods like to play around with us.  They want to find out how much heavy, wet snow we can take.  As I remind them, nobody is actually from around here.  We come from cold hard places named Buffalo, Missoula, Bangor, Fairbanks, Leadville, Minneapolis and the grand daddy of them all, International Falls.  We know how to sharpen our snow shovels and win the fight.

Sadly the trees are from around here.  They’re not so tough.  Wind, ice and heavy wet snow play hell with the soft and brittle ones.  The rocky soil and shallow roots don’t help the cause.

Recently we experienced a classic nor’ easter, a storm fed by tropical waters that rolls up the Blue Ridge  carpet bombing havoc all along the trace of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  In this case, it slid a little to the east missing the AT for the most part.  It did clobber a neat little gem of a park just outside the Marine base at Quantico, VA.

Info on Prince William Forest Park

Thousands of trees are down or broken.  Large limbs have been ripped from trunks.  The hiking trails, which for trail runners are the best in the region, are impassable.

Cue Task Force Snowmegedon, an ad hoc collection of PATC chain sawyers who gathered from near and far to turn blowdowns into sawdust.  We’ve been at it for the better part of two weeks with at least another week to go.

The ratio of tree crowns, sometimes called “rats nests” blocking the path, to the number of large tree trunks is rather large.  Regardless, there are plenty of large trees blocking the trail.

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These are live trees.  They bind in ways unlike the dried out dead ones do.  We’ve learned that pole saws are much safer to use as we wade into these rats nests.  The stand off distance from branches that sometimes whip when their energy is released is a godsend.

This was the Mother of all Blowdowns for last week.  It was complex and full of stored energy as the branches flexed in different directions when they fell.

Bind, or the way a tree is compressed, is sometimes difficult to read, even for the most experienced sawyers.  The large branch that pinched and trapped this saw moved horizontally away from the sawyer.  We unbolted the powerhead and made a vertical cut on the opposite side which released the pressure and the bar.

This video is worth watching to the end.  It’s approximately three minutes long.  The sawyer is National Park Service Ranger Mike Custodio, who is responsible for roads and trails in the park. He’s tackling this one because his saw is the only one long enough to take on the mammoth trunk.  His objective is to get the trunk on the ground where it will be easier and safer to clear.

Mike knows how this tree is going to behave based on the size of the root ball and its angle.  This is his plan of attack:

First Mike clears two saplings on the far side of the trunk to ensure the nose of his saw doesn’t hit them and dangerously kick back.

Second he makes a large pie cut on top of the trunk to allow room for the tree’s eventual behavior.

Third Mike makes an undercut to prevent a “barber chair” split when the trunk is cut through.

Fourth, Mike is very cautious as he makes his reverse keystone cut to allow the tree to behave without binding.  This tree is going to release a lot of energy and he wants to live to tell the tale.

Fifth, watch all of the video.  There is a surprise ending.  No spoiler alerts.

Lunchtime planning session.

Lunch on various days.

Another one bites the dust.

Our newest sawyer scores a KO!

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Part of the park visitors don’t see.

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Instructor/evaluator sawyer, Robert Fina’s master class.

We’ll be back again next week.

Sisu

Rocky is in the House

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American Discovery Trail, Maryland, January 2022 — I met Briana DeSanctis in a most interesting way.  I was near the end of my Appalachian Trail thru hike in 2014.  I had nearly finished Maine’s 100-mile Wilderness.  I paused for lunch at a shelter near a babbling brook in a sylvan copse of birch.  It was so peaceful that I decided to stay and reflect on the previous 2,100-miles.

Thru hiking is an intense experience.  You take it day to day and seldom have the time to put it in context.  That was my goal that day until a large, particularly unruly scout troop stumbled in.

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The scouts took over the joint, pitching their tents everywhere.  Needless to say, they destroyed the mood, not to mention the water source as they tromped through the formerly pristine brook, chocking its babble with churned up sediment.  It was too late and too far to move on to the next shelter.  I was stuck, not to mention pissed.

There I was feeling sorry for myself when a young woman appeared out of the chaos.  She wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay.  Thankfully she did.  Her trail name was Rocky Mountain High and she was preparing for a thru hike the following year.

Flash forward to the next year when I was caretaking on Springer Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus of the AT.   Who taps me on the shoulder but Rocky.  She was on her way from Georgia to Maine.  From there, thanks to Facebook, we’ve followed each other’s adventures.

Now Rocky is hiking the American Discovery Trail  which runs from Delaware to California.  This bad-ass woman expects to spend a year inspiring others as the first woman to complete a thru hike on this trail. Go Rocky!

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I recently picked up Rocky from the trail to dodge some weather and spend a couple of days at my house. As with all hungry hikers, we started with lunch.

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We made a stop at REI where Rocky took an advanced look at the ultra light pack she plans to buy for use this summer when her load is much smaller.

We also found time for a Zoom with Carey “Beer Man” Kish, a mutual friend from Rocky’s home state of Maine.

Ultimately it was time for Rocky to continue her journey.  Mixed emotions always define these farewells.  I’ve been on both ends.  The hiker must look ahead while the host laments the ending of the visit.

My hope it to catch up and hike a spell with Rocky in the near future.

You can follow Briana on FB:  Rocky Mountain High on the American Discovery Trail.  Instagram:  @brianadesanctis.

For safety reasons we never post exactly where hikers are physically located.

Sisu

Last of the old year. First of the new.

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Shenandoah National Park, December 28,  2021 and January 1, 2022 — PATC’s newest certified sawyer had a brand new Stihl electric chainsaw that was burning a hole in the bed of his pick’em up truck.  The park had blowdowns to give.  What a coincidence. 

The rain stopped right on time for a First Day Hike a couple of days later.  Shenandoah is truly the magical “The daughter of the stars.”

Dan Hippe is a recently retired geologist who spent the summer banging around with the Hoodlums and taking on trail maintenance projects.  His energy and enthusiasm  earned him a seat in the park’s newest chainsaw certification course we just finished.

Last Wednesday we met at the Thornton Gap entrance to pick up a park radio and chase a few blowdowns that had been languishing on the AT and side trails.  His electric Stihl was up to snuff.  I scratched together a short video using an iMovie template rather than post 50 photos of our escapade.

This year’s First Day Hike was the Gang of 4 minus three plus Jessica Say, one of our newest maintainers.  We originally planned to start at 10 a.m., but the rain gods forced a two-hour delay.  We quickly scrambled up North Marshall for what turned out to be a much better view than the expected fog.

IMG_8248Along the way we camouflaged some non-compliant campsites and broke up an illegal fire ring.  Campsites must be 60 ft. from the trail.  Most are within 10 ft.

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Eventually the sun poked its head through the cotton candy clouds.

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We had a relaxing walk before the long drive back to reality.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sisu