Hut Repair and a Day Hike

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Shenandoah National Park, October 21 – 22, 2022 — The park is probably getting tired of me.  I’ve been there six of the last nine days. I won’t mention the gas bill.

First the hike.  We were back at it again last Friday when the Gang of Four -1 plus Sara hiked up North Marshall and down Big Devils Stairs on a leaf peeping sojourn.  We were not disappointed.

We ended with our usual pizza stop at the ever excellent Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen – a brick oven pizza emporium in Sperryville. https://www.rappahannockpizzakitchen.com/

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Now for the weekend highlight.  Gravel Spring Hut is a place for hikers to sleep.  As it’s name implies, it’s adjacent to a spring and comes with campsites and a composting privy we’ve chronicled before.

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The hut’s siding is original inch-thick oak carpentered by the CCC nearly 90 years ago.  After all that time, it’s beginning to rot in places due to insect and water damage.  In order to save as much history as possible, only the rotted parts of the boards are replaced with rough sawn lumber matching the same dimensions.

Boards are surgically removed rather than the chaotic demo seen on TV home renovation shows.

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The scrap was left as a treat for campers to burn.  The volume of activity near the huts ensures there isn’t much small firewood around to collect.  Since most campers don’t carry small saws, they get stuck trying to burn larger branches that don’t readily lend themselves to campfire fuel.

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Next, the boards are cut and sized.  Thank heaven for battery-powered tools.  Sara, aka Ridgerunner 2, stopped in to lend a hand. She’s given a lot to the park the past two years and PATC in 2016.  This year she also was a ridgerunner in Northern Virginia and Maryland.  We’re going to miss her.

The boards are carefully placed and screwed into place.  Screws eliminate the risk of further damage pounding nails might cause.

Special caulk is stuffed into the cracks followed by paint.  Russell Riggs, the hut maintainer, played Rembrandt.  The hut is back in service.  We’ll be back again when we have more lumber which is donated by a local saw mill.

Sisu

Mother Nature’s Party Dress

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Shenandoah National Park, October 15 – 16, 2022 — Mother Nature’s autumn soiree is in full swing.  She’s dressed in loud colors that evoke AC/DC cranked to the max.  She will keep the party rocking until the pumpkin lattes run dry.

The colors truly are spectacular.  These are from the Big Devil’s Stairs canyon and the south side of Compton Peak.

So what were we doing there?  It’s the third Saturday of the month – Hoodlums work trip day.  As always, we organized into several work groups.

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Our group was assigned to hike deep into the Big Devil’s Stairs (BDS) gorge to clear a cluster of massive live tulip poplars recently blown down by a possible microburst.

The lower half of BDS hasn’t been maintained in awhile because there is no access from the park boundary.  Most people hike to the second canyon overlook and then double back.  Few wonder down to the bottom where the views are nil and the trail is steep.

Before we get down to muscle business, let’s celebrate an encore appearance from a special Hoodlum.

Sam Keener became a Hoodlums regular just before the pandemic.   During lockdown we met twice weekly over Zoom for personal training sessions.  Later she joined the FBI, graduated from their academy at Quantico and is now a Special Agent.  Fortunately we’re fake hoodlums.  Besides, she’s one of us!  You can’t bust yourself.

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Sam gave me a FBI Pittsburgh Field Office challenge coin which is now front and center in my trophy case along with a chunk of the Berlin Wall and a piece of the foundation from Check Point Charlie – made famous by a Berlin Crisis standoff between Russian and American tanks.

Back to business.

The going on this one was rough.  The bind on each of them was such that these trees wanted to move like Superman, up and away.

We hacked at this cut for more than an hour without being able to muscle through.  Sam is a power lifter, so she makes the friction seem far less than it was.

Nearby, the other crew was slogging too.  The binds were unusual – side and bottom.

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Ultimately we walked down to the other crew.  The clock had run out.  We’ll be back with many more bodies to finish the job. This was much bigger than five people.

As we licked out wounds, Mother Nature flashed her jewelry in the form of this young timber rattlesnake.

Ole Jake No-shoulders was nonplussed by our presence.

On Friday I sneaked up early to pick up six chainsaw chains I’d left with the Stihl dealer for sharpening.

I spent the night in solitude at the Indian Run maintenance hut, aka Hoodlums clubhouse.  I had to hack my way in for the sixth time this year!  If only Mother Nature would stop throwing her party favors on the access road!  The hut does look like it would be fun to spend an evening there during the Christmas season.

Sisu

Tom Moran kindly contributed photos and videos to this post.

Loose Ends

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Here and there, October 10, 2022 — Just closing the loose ends. We burned a bunch of firewood and mowed down some pizza at Sara’s farewell this past Saturday.

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Recall from the previous blog that I dropped off Sara and Lane Early at the Mason-Dixon line in the rain so they could hike the 41 AT miles in Maryland.  They finished at their predicted time.  Lane and his wife Colleen have been the caretakers at Blackburn Trail Center all summer.

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Poured some Prosecco to toast Sara’s long service as one of our ridgerunners.  Though my daughter says it’s fake news, she did take cover behind the glass door.  Not sure she had much confidence in my ability to safely pop the cork.

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In the bad luck department, Sara’s dad hit a deer on his way up from Alabama.  He’s supporting her current adventure biking the C&O Canal – about a 250-mile bike trek through history. 

He says it drives ok, but only has one headlight.  Glad he was already thinking of buying a new one.  Meanwhile, he’s driving her van, not his, which is safely stored in my garage until they return.

Next up:  Hoodlums on Saturday with encore appearances.  Stay tuned.

Sisu

Seasons end but the work lives on.

 

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The Appalachian Trail, September 30 and October 2, 2022 — We’re a month early but my final chapter leading our ridgerunners has been written.  Dan Hippe will now keep the flame burning brightly with his capable leadership. 

It was a cold and drippy day as Sara and I climbed up to Annapolis Rock one last time to pack up the caretaker site and secure it for the winter.  The stuff good enough for next year was packed into the tool box while we carted the UV-rotted tarps to the dumpster at Washington Monument State Park. 

Since then, Sara has turned in her radio and keys.  She’s hiking all of Maryland’s 41 miles as this is written.  I picked her up at 5 a.m. in Harpers Ferry where she left her van, and shuttled her to the Mason-Dixon Line for a 6:15 a.m. pre-dawn start.  She expects to finish by 11 p.m. tonight.

My larger role may be changing, but the trail maintenance gig has a long runway in front of it. 

The spring on the AT section Caroline and I jointly maintain in Shenandoah National Park was, for all intents and purposes, dry.  The ground was saturated but the flow was virtually nonexistent.  Tina, my friend of 30 years, Gang of Four hiking group member, and occasional swamper, joined us help remedy the problem.

 

We dug a catchment basin, inserted a 5 ft. length of PVC pipe and anchored in with large rocks. 

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It worked!  Our next Hoodlums work trip is October 16.  We’ll check on it then.

The other reason we were working was to rake and shovel silt out of our waterbars (erosion control structures that direct water off the trail).  Our section is particularly sandy and the waterbars need annual cleaning.

This is hard pick and shovel work. 

We didn’t count the exact number, but we got three quarters of our waterbars cleaned out.  We’ll finish the rest next trip.

Exciting news!  After almost two consecutive years working with the Hoodlums Trail Crew and one year co-maintaining this section, Caroline has a trail name. 

It’s not something trite like “Sweet Caroline.”  Regular readers know that she’s an American/Swiss dual national, so she could have been “Swiss Miss.”  It’s far better than those.

Meet Caroline “Dozer” Egli” ’cause she can move dirt.

Sisu