Shenandoah National Park, April 29 – 30, 2022 — The first ridgeunner who comes aboard each season inherits the park radio call sign, “Ridgerunner One.” The second follows as “Ridgerunner Two.” This year “Ridgerunner One” is John Cram from Seattle.
Each season, the first stroll we take is from Compton Gap to the north boundary kiosk where we check to see if the permit box is full. Along the way we stop at the Indian Run Maintenance Hut for which the ridgerunners have a key. They check it each time they pass for signs of damage or other issues. They also do the same for the AT-adjacent rental cabins and maintenance huts in the park.
In John’s case this year, some glitches led to a late start and a short first patrol from the north boundary to Panorama at Thornton Gap. At least we covered the whole north district.
Along the way we cover all the items that are part of the ridgerunner’s weekly report which includes a hiker count, blowdowns, the amount of trash picked up and other things. They learn quickly that TP tulips are as prolific as other invasive plants. They apply their folding saws and clippers to remove minor trail obstructions.
They also report campsites less than 60 ft. from the trail and remove illegal fire rings. No fires are allowed in the backcountry other than in fire pits established by the park itself. Note the trash that didn’t burn.
No ridgerunner has ever been more zealous about demolishing fire rings than Lauralee “Blissful” Bliss. I want her to know that, like a momma bear teaching its cubs, I’ve taught her enthusiasm to every ridgerunner I’ve trained since. Your legacy lives on!
There’s never a shortage of blowdowns. Last year they were mostly red oak and ash. This year, the ash are dominating so far. Ridgerunners photograph each one, record the GPS coordinates, and enter the data into an smart phone app that compiles their weekly reports. The poles and hat are for scale since ridgerunners and hikers are notorious for improperly estimating the size of downed trees.
On the way over North Marshall, we noticed the no camping sign had been vandalized. The reason why was on top where a large new campsite had been established. “Honest officer, I didn’t see any ‘no camping’ sign.”
The wild flame azalea and mountain laurel are budding on the south side of Compton Peak. The full bloom photo is from May 21st last year, so we’re about three weeks away from some spectacular flowers.
The view from North Marshall clearly shows “green up” as spring slowly creeps up the mountainsides.
We spent Saturday evening at Gravel Spring Hut. About half the crowd was thru hiking. Almost everyone was sporting a bear canister. That’s a huge victory and a credit to the amount of bear education the AT Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service have been doing.
Serendipity is one of my favorite words. John walks in and to his total surprise meets his old friend Cheryl. They originally met in North Woodstock, NH at the Notch Hostel when he was hiking southbound on the AT. Without doubt he was surprised to see her on his first overnight as a Ridgerunner. AT trail magic doesn’t get better than that.
Our fortunes changed on Sunday. We made it almost all the way to the Elk Wallow wayside before the cold rain began pelting our Goretex. The store is open, but the grill is closed until Memorial Day. So, we settled for ham sandwiches and a dry spot under the breezeway.
The bright side is for insiders. Chugging up the extra long Neighbor Mountain traverse out of Elk Wallow is much easier without a greasy burger and fries combo riding high in your gut. Serendipity? Maybe.
The rain soon morphed into fog and the afternoon into lazy foggy climbs.
The day ended around six o’clock with a gimme blowdown at Thornton Gap. I know the backstory behind the cut that didn’t count, but I’ll never tell.
Up next. Gravel Spring privy on Friday and an encore appearance by a very special guest star. Stay tuned.