Ice-downed pine on a Pass Mountain tent pad.
Shenandoah National Park, January and February 2023 — Ice storm pick up sticks continues. We’re now on the trails. The AT in the North District is clear and mostly clear elsewhere. We’re teaming with the Park Service crews and the Appalachian Conservation Corps (an AmeriCorps group) to get after the approximately 400 miles of blue blaze (side) trails in the park. Many of them are steep in tight canyons that funnel and speed up the wind. The Venturi effect dramatically increases wind speed and consequently the number of downed trees and branches.
Don’t hold your breath for this job to get done. It’s going to be awhile as the video, photos and narrative will illustrate.
My new duties as club president also eat time like an addict finding their next fix. The PATC is a complex organization and perhaps the largest volunteer service organization in the region. We have nearly 9,000 members, maintain most of the hiking trails in the National Capitol Region, operate soon to be 48 rental cabins, 45 camping shelters, several trail centers and the Bears Den Hostel.
So far, it’s a job for a one-armed paper hanger. You’re going to be busy with planning, reports, relationships, Zoom calls, and the politics associated with the large number of people needed to manage this much complexity. That doesn’t leave nearly as much time to put your boots in the mud or to write blogs.
Since the December ice storm, the weather has been generally good. We’ve had individual maintainers and small crews out almost continually, weather dependent. My batting average is down, but I’m still in the game.
Clearing tree crowns and large branches is like cutting hair and can be tedious work. Pole saws help, but we don’t have that many of them. Loppers are the tool of choice. All you need is time and patience.
Sometimes you find a real honker. Naturally, it blocked the AT near Thornton Gap. This one was partially hollow, a condition that presented its own challenges for the sawyer, Wayne Limberg, the AT district manager of the North District.
Sometimes the pick up sticks land in odd ways. Some of these were driven into the ground like stakes. All of them had unusual binds, making it easy to trap the saw.
My friend Josh Fuchs is a blue blaze district manager in the Central District. He also owns a moon bounce business. Ever clever, he invented way of attaching a chainsaw to any pack using spare moon bounce materials. This makes it much easier to schlepp awkward Old Betsy up the mountain.
It’s not just Old Betsy. That pack also has a liter of fuel, extra bar oil, Kevlar chainsaw chaps, trauma kit, Silky folding saw. wedges, hatchet. radio, spare clothing, lunch and so much more. Not sure what it weighs, but it’s a respectable number.
On one trip, the pin that holds the starter pawls broke and and I might as well been hiking a dumbbell back to the car. I’ll be honest. I didn’t even know what a pawl was, but thanks to professor YouTube and Amazon Prime, I made the repair the next day.
Had to leave one tree that Dan Hippe clipped with his Mattel-like battery saw.
Yesterday we organized a crew to work on Compton Peak and Piney Branch.
We taught Caroline to use the pole saw. No certification or chaps needed.
The bench we built this fall got some use.
She put her new found knowledge to work on a large tree we found blocking Keyser Run Fire Road on our way to demolish a nasty tangle on Piney Branch.
Keyser Run fire road was an absolute mud hole. Type II fun. It was an all-battery power event!
This beauty was yesterday’s final objective. Several complex binds. One large branch with side bind moved 15 inches. In some cases, knowing how the tree will behave when cut can save life or limb.
The pole saw reach and stand off made many of the cuts much safer. I’m a believer.
Lots of debris to clear.
One of the trees was a hard maple and the sap was running.
After all that, we stopped at “lunch rock” before heading home.