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

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

 

Seasonal Rhythms

Fall

September 22, 2022 — Today is the autumnal equinox, the day Mother Nature begins disrobing.  Ultimately she’ll bare it all.  To my delight, she showed a little ankle on my neighborhood walk today, a bright splash teasing what she has on offer.

So it goes in the world of hiking trails and life in general.  Events happen more or less in order and on schedule – the circle of life’s rhythms and flow.

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If it’s the third weekend in September, it must be the Hoodlums’ annual trail maintenance instructional workshop in Shenandoah National Park.  Thirty folks ranging from raw beginners to the well-experience gather to live an learn.  Picks are swung, fires are made and beer, shall we say, is swallowed.

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This crew repaired part of the Appalachian Trail Caroline and I maintain on the south side of Compton Peak, about 11 miles south of the park’s northern boundary.

Heavy use and heavy weather was taking its toll on a steep traverse.  Eight waterbars (erosion control drainage structures) were torn out and reconstructed.  Rocks were dug out of the tread to smooth it out and make it a bit safer.  It’s good for at least 15 more years.

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Caretaker area at Annapolis Rock – Caroline, Sara and Sierra.

This also is the time when the ridgerunner program shrinks to Maryland only.  We lost Kasey to a family matter, so Sara Leibold shifted from Shenandoah to Maryland to help us out.  She and Sierra will complete the season – my last.  I will miss the interviewing, hiring and hiking with the amazing people – nearly 60 all told – who have graced us with their selfless service to the hiking community.

Caroline let me know that she was thinking of taking a Saturday hike on our section.  Knowing I would be there Monday, I suggested she hike up to Annapolis Rock with me.  Since she and Sara are friends, I thought a two fer would be fun – see Sara and a new place.

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While inspecting the area, eagle-eye Sara spied a spotted lantern fly.  It’s an invasive insect that is wrecking havoc on the region’s fruit orchards.  Did you know that if the jar says Smuckers or Mussleman’s, it probably came from this orchard-rich area?  We made the required report.

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Unfortunately, on the way to the car I noticed this graffiti and the axe blaze on the tree not far from the upper trail to the Pine Knob shelter.  We’ll use Elephant Snot to get ride of it, but why people think vandalizing nature is ok is beyond me.  The rock is sedimentary, the remnant of an ancient sea bed.

Tina, aka “Bulldog”, my friend of nearly 30 years, dating back to our days at the White House, has been my swamper on several trips.  She pitched in again this month.

The rhythmic drumbeat of blowdowns crashing to the forest floor is quickening.  The supply is nearly infinite.  Invasive insects have recently killed the red oaks, ash, and hemlocks.  The chestnuts and elms are long gone.  A native blight is currently attacking white oaks.  Have chainsaw.  Will travel.

I’ll close on a sad note.  We lost Mittens to brain seizures.  He was 15 1/2.  As the alpha cat, he could be a pain.  But, a Formula 1 Ferrari could not compete with the throb of his rhythmic purr. Frank Sinatra’s eyes could not have been bluer.  In fact, I wanted to name him “Frank,” but was overruled by my daughter.  RIP Big Guy!

Sisu

Please be seated.

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Who is she going to bury?

Shenandoah National Park, August 27, 2022 — When you live two hours away, the number of trail maintenance trips is limited.  When ever you do get there, there’s usually no time for the extra little touches that are fun to do.

We usually tent at Indian Run after a Hoodlums work trip and use the next day to maintain our section.  Since Caroline and her partner have a new puppy that needs a lot of potty training attention, we kicked the can ahead a week.  The improved weather was a bonus.

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First we replaced a rotten waterbar that, as the photo illustrates, was also completely silted up with sand that originated as part of an ancient lake bed that covered the region eons ago.  Then the fun began.

For years I’ve wanted to build a log bench adjacent to the water source that flows at about the half way mark on the south side of Compton Peak.  Its common to see hikers stop there to refresh their water supply, each lunch or take a break.  There is only one flat rock on which one can park their butt.  Otherwise, it’s sit in the dirt.  Adding a bench was priority two – after everything else that needed doing.

We had a handy materials candidate in the form of a nearby blowdown cleared about 18 months ago.

The plan was to saw two pieces for the base and use a six-footer to sit on.  We would then peg it together with wooden dowels.  What could go wrong?

Would you believe the battery overheated several times and stopped the drill dead, the last time for good.  We were unable to complete drilling the holes.  Time for plan B.

We had already made a cradle for the cross piece with an axe.   It would have been ok for a pegged bench, but not for one held by gravity so I used my chainsaw to notch a seat.  We’ll bring a more powerful drill next trip and complete the pegging then.

Meanwhile the bench got a reasonable test from a flip flopper and two southbounders who stopped to help.

But wait!  There’s more.

The last time I painted blazes was 2015 when I inherited responsibility for the section.  Some are fading and flaking paint.  Time to refresh.

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The first thing we did is invite one of the southbounders to paint a blaze.  She was thrilled.  Her husband documented the deed.  I think we made her day.

The first the old paint has to be scraped and the bark smoothed with a stripping tool.

Caroline’s dad is from Switzerland and she’s a dual national.  When I asked if there were any famous Swiss painters, she couldn’t think of any.  Well, they have one now – sort of.

Sisu

PS:  Hoodlums highlights from last week.  Our team cleared seven blowdowns from the north district trails including a branch that crashed at the hut.

We also cleaned out a silted up box spring.

The water cleared after a bit.

Saw, Dig, Pull

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My view of the Thornton Gap Entry Station

Shenandoah National Park, July 24 – 27 — The North District Crew Week was anything but usual.  For one, we tackled a variety of projects.  For another, I only worked three of the five days.  Now, it’s off to Manitoba to fish with my brother and nephews.

Usually crew week offers the opportunity to partner with the park service trail crews on big projects that are too big for either outfit alone.  This year everybody was everywhere all the time.

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We started with the great blowdown hunt.  While the remainder of the group took on some dirt work, Wayne Limberg and I searched for a tree tangle reported by a hiker on the Shenandoah Hikers Facebook page.  Shall we say it wasn’t where it was alleged to be…

On net we hiked about four miles on our search.  We found it about 200 yards from a trailhead parking lot.  It would have been a cinch if we had started three miles south of the initial reported position.

We managed to chew a lot of wood into sawdust, huge piles of it. 

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In the end, the old guys were bushed.

The next day we rehabbed the AT from trailhead parking south to the Byrd’s Nest 4 connector trail.

My last day was best.  A tree on the AT about 200 yards south of Compton Gap parking became a leaner last year and ended up in a near vertical posture.  This was too dangerous for volunteers to cut.  After consultation we and the park crew agreed that it should be pulled down.  This is how it happened.

Rigging the tree.

Dave Jenkins has a new toy.  It’s a motorized winch.  Beats a grip hoist any day.  But, sometimes things don’t exactly go according to plan.

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Ready to go.

Oh oh!  Nothing is happening.

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Ain’t technology great!  What else.  Check You Tube to find out what you did wrong.

Turns out the rope wasn’t wrapped quite the right way around the capstan.  A couple of twists made all the difference. 

But wait.  There’s more.

The tree had dug itself in.  Nothing a pick mattock could not tackle.

On the way.

One more time.

Boom!

All that for 50 seconds of sawing.

Job done.

Sisu

It’s all about the food

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Blackburn Trail Center, Round Hill, VA, July 21 – 22, 2022 — Ridgerunners travel on their stomachs just like armies do.  We gathered at Blackburn earlier this week for the second time this season to prove the point.

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The spacious kitchen with its tandem sinks and dishwashers naturally draws crowds, especially at dinner time.  Wendy Willis, one of our split season Michaux State Forest ridgerunners, is more famous in one of her other lives.  She owns a Mexican restaurant in Winchester, Va called Sexi-Mexi. Click here: https://burritobar.sexi-mexi.com/

This year she’s been feeding us at Blackburn to the point that her scrumptious cooking has become the raison d’etre for showing up.  Rest assured, no one is late.

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As we stood at rapt attention, Julia Child would have approved of how Wendy coached us through the tostada bar she conjured from a magic cooler full of delectable ingredients.  The mob gathered salivating, ready to pounce.  The secret red poblano sauce was worth holding hostage.  Trust me, we took no prisoners.

As ridgerunners are apt to do, we talked long into the night on Blackburn’s enticing wrap-around porch brightened by the moon and a string of low wattage bulbs.

It ain’t over yet.  It was bright-and-early o’clock, but my eyes were glued shut tightly as I snoozed away.  The sound of sizzling veggies in an iron skillet popped my eyes open.  It was fritatta’s under construction. I sprinted for the coffee pot. Count me in!  Afterwards I could hardly stand up from the breakfast table.  Yum!!!

So far it’s been an fantastic year.  The hiker class of 2022 is awesome, the ridgerunners outstanding and the calendar pages turning too rapidly on what will be my final season in this role.

While the fritattas were in the oven, John Cram repaired/modified my poorly designed Zpacks ultralight pack.  In another life, John is a sailor and sail maker.  His expertise and magic sewing machine did the trick.

Stay tuned.  It ain’t over yet.

Sisu

Trail of Two Ridgerunners

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The sleeping pad is tilted because several gallons of trash are wrapped inside.

Michaux State Forest, PA, June 15 – 19, 2022 — We have a split season in Pennsylvania this year.  Chrissy Funk is the bun wrapped around Wendy Willis’s burger in the middle.

Chrissy’s first ridgerunner tour ended last Sunday.  The next day her jeep aimed for North Carolina where she would reunite with her pampered pug, Zsa Zsa. 

The day after Chrissy left, Wendy’s car crunched to a stop on the gravel near the Mason-Dixon Line in the Penn-Mar Park overflow parking lot.  From there we were shuttled to the Pine Grove Furnace General Store to begin her 37-mile journey back to Penn-Mar.

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Obligatory first picture.  Note how Pennsylvania marks its AT road crossings.

Wendy is an ornithologist who partly grew up in Mexico and most recently worked with a bird sanctuary in Peru.  She is a PATC trail maintainer in Northern Virginia whose Spanish and English are interchangeable.  She’s spending a month of her sabbatical this summer with us.

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The first couple of days were humid as Hades with sweat dribbling down our noses like a leaky faucet.  It soaked our clothing which ultimately ripened into that mellow hiker essence we all know and love.

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Someone’s TP got wet in the rain so, rather than packing it out, they parked it in a fire pit, maybe as future kindling?  Nice try.  No cigar.

The most common Leave No Trace aphorisms are “pack it in, pack it out” and “take only photos, leave only footprints.”  If people would do that much it would help.  Obviously stacking rocks surpasses leaving only footprints.  In our region rock stacks don’t survive contact with the first responsible person who finds them.

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Wendy signs in and checks each shelter log book looking for any remarkable content.  The coffee cans behind her contained food left as trail magic for hikers.  Luckily it didn’t attract any animals before she had a chance to hike it out to a dumpster 20 miles to the south.

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Breakfast at Birch Run and a little map recon of the day’s journey.

Wendy sawed this five inch obstruction and flipped it out of the way.  Her first.

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What luck to run into Dr. Ken “Nimbus” Bunning, former ALDHA (Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association) Coordinator, who was out for a few days.  Ken truly is one of the greats.

You may remember the smashed roof at the Quarry Heights Shelter from the previous blog two weeks ago.  It’s fixed thanks to the PATC North Chapter. 

Quarry Heights may be the most intimate shelter space on the trail.  It’s enclosed by a grove of rhododendrons, features a porch swing, potted flowers, tent platforms and is always in mint condition.

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Preparing to truck some trash down the mountain to the dumpster in New Caledonia State Park.

Sawing another small blowdown.  Sometimes you apply too much energy and bend your saw which then binds in the kerf.

The Mountain Laurel were peaking while the caterpillars are about to feast upon the oaks.

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Meanwhile, a few miles north of us in Maryland, Kasey was wrangling copperheads to help them avoid unsuspecting hikers at a popular overlook.

Sisu

Michaux State Forest

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Stuffed bear at Michaux State Forest headquarters.

Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania, June 1 – 5 — Contrast is the name of the game.  This year the predicted rains never came.  Last year it never stopped raining.  This year the temperatures were in the low-80s.  Last year hypothermia lurked around every corner as the rain-soaked thermometer registered in the high 30s.   In both cases, the hikers were in good spirits, the rocks were happy, and so were we.

Ridgerunner recruiting this year has been a proverbial bear.  Qualified seasonal employees are in short supply.  Thanks to a stroke of luck, two ridgerunners will share the season in Michaux.  Chrissy has the first part.  Wendy has the second.  Chrissy will return to close out the season.

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After meeting the the state forest rangers, we encountered our first blowdown almost straight out of the door. We quickly hacked a path through the branches leaving the bigger stuff for the chainsaw folks.

Our first night was spent at Tom’s Run Shelter.  The crowd was convivial.  We saw several people using bear canisters.  Everyone took advantage of the bear poles to protect their food.  Given the increasing number of bear incidents, this is an excellent sign.

With early morning temperatures in the low 60s, hot coffee is still a welcome treat.  That season is about to end as the summer heat and humidity sets in.

Our section of trail in Pennsylvania is only 37 miles long.  It packs some respectable hills, so it’s not a snap. 

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A line of thunderstorms was expected to pass about lunch time at Birch Run.  Several hikers ducked in for lunch and some decided to stay.  Fortunately the storms never materialized.  We pressed on for a total of 18 miles to Quarry Gap, probably the most famous and aesthetically pleasing shelter on the trail.  It is famous for its flowers and kitschy decorations.

Sadly one of the twin shelters at Quarry Gap got bonked by a blowdown.  Most shelters are built like bunkers and can withstand a significant hit.  This was Wednesday.

By mid-day Saturday repairs were well underway.  The PATC north chapter mobilized to sneak repair materials in via the “secret squirrel” side trail.  By nightfall, almost like new.  Photos courtesy of the PATC north chapter.

Meanwhile, other members of the north chapter were organizing at nearby New Caledonia State Park to prepare a trail magic feast featuring hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta salads desserts, and soft drinks!  After the work day, the crews descended to polish off the fixin’s.

Ours wasn’t the only trail magic.  A well-intended generous soul left water near a road junction.  We left it overnight, but cleaned it up on our way back to New Caledonia.  Trail magic should not be left unattended, even if it is water which, unlike food and sugary drinks, does not attract animals.

A hiker’s favorite sign.  This is trail magic done the right way.  This guy comes out several times a year to cook hot dogs and serve snacks at the Old Forge picnic area.  He retrieves his signs when the day is done.  I loved his dogs last year and my dreams were fulfilled that he’d be there again this year.  Before we left, the pavilion was full of hikers.

Our chunk of Pennsylvania has its scenery.  Eponymously named Rocky Mountain is our signature site.  In other places pine needles carpet the straightaways.  

Houston, we have a malfunction.  I’m still adjusting to switching to ultralight equipment.  This Zpacks frame has had its issues.  One reason the gear is lighter in weight is that it simply is not as rugged as the heavier traditional equipment.  In this case, the design is flawed.  Now both sides have been repaired with zip ties.

Graffiti continues to be a problem, although not nearly as bad as it was last year.  “Sunshine” seems to be this year’s problem child.  The first instance is in PA.  The second is in NJ.  We’re looking for you girl. “Pyro” last year’s biggest jerk has been painted over everywhere except in this one spot where someone seems to have had a sense of humor and maybe is trying to message others.

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Literally rubbing out graffiti can be a sport.

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The patrol ended with the last piece of microtrash at Penn-Mar, aka the Mason-Dixon line.

Sisu

Stuff Happens

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The Appalachian Trail, May 2022 —  Stuff happens is a metaphor most people understand.  It’s been a month full of grab bag stuff starting with T storms destroying the caretaker tent at Annapolis Rock, emptying a composting privy, blowdown removal and some lovely flowers.  Enjoy.

Rock Spring is ready to “go.”

D2C201A7-FE61-45DA-987F-45245AB472CESomebody ruined a chain.  They have chains that can cut rocks, but this wasn’t one of them.

Time for a clean up.

REI is donating a new caretaker tent.

Dan Hippe’s electric Koolaid chainsaw show.

The summit of Pass Mountain is clear.

Flower power.

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We’ll be weeding next week.  So begins weed season.

Sisu