Serendipity!

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Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, June 5, 2019 — My friend Karma is hiking the AT again this year and I have been following her blog.  In the past some of her blogs from previous hikes have been cross posted here to share her adventures.

Her blazing speed this time around is impressive.  You can do that when it’s your second rodeo.  On a repeat performance the B.S. is reduced to noise and the anxieties are taken in stride.  You can actually enjoy the experience.  That she’s having a good time was obvious at lunch.

The truth is that she’s a week ahead of schedule, not because she’s faster but because she’s hiking smarter by spending less time in town.  It just so happens I was in Harpers Ferry upstairs at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy when a friend there told me Karma was downstairs, fresh off the trail, wringing wet with sweat.  Serendipity!

I bounded down the stairs into the hiker lounge and gave my friend a soppy hug.  After finding out that it was too early to check into the motel where she could have showered, we decided to go to lunch anyway.  After all, it is a hiker town and we’re hikers.

Our plan always had been to meet for lunch in Harpers Ferry where Karma planned to take a day off known as a zero for zero miles hiked.  Now as it is, I always buy lunch when a friend hikes in from Georgia.  It doesn’t happen that often, so it’s a bet that won’t break the piggy bank. When it does happen, it’s special.

My first question was “Why are you doing this a second time”?  The answer was simple and complicated.  In the end, her reason is universal. She likes being out there.

Karma first hiked the AT in 2013.  Her blog “Karma on the Trail” is the most entertaining AT blog I’ve ever read.  You can find it here:  https://thumperwalk.wordpress.com/

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Karma’s half way photos from this 2013 and 2019.

You go girl!

Sisu

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An Ugly Start to the Summer

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Bucky

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Northern Virginia, May 20-24, 2019 — Usually the trail is an undramatic place.  Hikers come and go.  Some even dig cat holes to go in.

This week opened uneventfully and hopeful of good times to come.  I met the short-season Maryland ridgerunner at the Greenbriar State Park visitor center where the rangers with whom we work have their offices.  Bucky was issued his radio, parking permit, apartment key and other such stuff.

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Bucky’s room.  Packs explode when you open them.

We met Mary, his ridgerunner partner, at the apartment.  We drove around pointing out landmarks and key areas.  Then we adjourned to Dan’s Tap House for juicy gourmet burgers before bounding up the mountain to Annapolis Rock where Bucky will spend his first shift as caretaker.  Mary will be patrolling in Maryland.

The sundown faded toward black as Bucky and I arrived at Annapolis Rock.  As the last of the sunset peepers were sliding down the hill towards home, we stowed our gear and made the rounds.  We found only one camper, a thru hiker.  He actually properly hung his food bag on the bear pole.  Score!  After securing the sagging tarp over the picnic table, we called it a day and dove head first into our respective dream worlds.

We woke to the thunderous snoring of Jake brakes and the throbbing pulse of commerce rushing along I-70.  The interstate is invisible from the view point, tucked in behind a low ridge.  When the wind is quiet, its presence is as undeniable as is the drag strip across the valley.

With the crack of dawn piercing the tent walls, we raked the sand out of our eyes and adjourned to the ridgerunner office/picnic table for breakfast.  Two packs of instant oatmeal and a Jet Boil coffee later, it was time to inspect the rock.

Following orientation, we hiked to the Pogo campsite about two miles up the trail.  First we stopped at the Black Rock overlook and scoured the area for trash.

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The desecration of Black Rock and other places is a pastime for local high school kids.  I’m certain Shawna wasn’t present when the perp misogynistically memorialized his conquest.

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The good news is that it didn’t last long.  Mary followed up the next day with a bottle of Elephant Snot and a scrub brush.  Bingo.  Like it never happened.

We also checked out Fox Gap where a Civil War skirmish was fought.  New graffiti topped the old.

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Once again, Mary and her trusty Elephant Snot to the rescue.  (Learn more about Elephant Snot here.)  All in a day’s work for a ridgerunner, right?

Now it’s time to interrupt this friendly story for a  brief trip to the dark side.

This hiking season has already been marred by a tragic event.  One hiker was murdered and another maimed and nearly killed when someone who was deranged stabbed them.  Click here for details: (How safe is the Appalachian Trail).

The AT attracts 3 million visitors annually.  They represent a cross section of society with all that entails.  Normally hikers are pretty mellow, but this tragedy elevated concern within the hiking community, especially for unbalanced and misogynistic behavior which was reportedly exhibited by the accused killer.

Earlier in the day, a hiker complained to us about another hiker variously called “Yogi Beer,” “Renegade,” or “Air Quotes.”  Bad actors often change their trail names to avoid authorities.  Judging from reports of his behavior, Yogi Beer appears to be a raging alcoholic and possibly bipolar.  He had been aggressively harassing women.

With this in mind, Bucky and I were enjoying the brilliant weather while hiking to the trailhead — Bucky to pick up a bale of wood chips for the Annapolis Rock composting privies and me to my car so I could meet the Northern Virginia ridgerunner for his orientation hike the next day.

Three hikers stopped us to complain about a guy called, you guessed it:  Yogi Beer.  They had first-hand knowledge.  One of them had been concerned enough to snap Yogi Beer’s photo.  We immediately filed an incident report and shared the photo with law enforcement rangers, trail officials and the other ridgerunners.  (Details not shared here to protect the innocent because some of it may be hearsay.) With that, we thought we were done with the dark side.

In the interest of chronology, let’s put the dark side on hold for a minute because we’re not done.  It will be right back after a bit more of our friendly story.

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Witt

Each of our ridgerunners is an expert backpacker.  Occasionally a resume stands out.  Witt has thru-hiked the triple crown – Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.  He also as held the FKT (fastest known time) for the Arizona Trail and is the FKT holder in Maine’s 100-mile Wilderness.  ( Info on the National Scenic Trails System)

Unfortunately for Witt, ridgerunners are more commonly evaluated by the number of contacts they make and the amount of trash they pick up.  That’s slow going for a guy who’s used to moving in the fast lane.

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Along the way we noticed an unusual arrow made of sticks pointing to a path in the woods.

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Somebody wants us to follow the yellow brick road, right?  Naturally we did.

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About 100 yards in we discovered a sign for a hiker hostel.  Unfortunately it’s on National Park Service land, about 20 feet inside the boundary according to the marked trees.  We informed the folks who deal with these issues.  The owner only has to move it off park service property and it’s good.  Commercial ads/promotion isn’t allowed on federal land.

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Stacking rocks has been a thing for awhile.  Cairns and rock art are inconsistent with Leave No Trace principles.  In short:  Leave only foot prints (not rock stacks, painted rocks or graffiti) and take only photos (not flowers, feathers and antlers). Leave those for others to see.

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Boom.  The rocks were widely scattered.

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We hiked 12 miles.  The trash collected was moderate.  Best highlight:  We opened the tool cache at David Lessor shelter.  We immediately noticed a field mouse.  A second later a juvenile Black Snake became obvious.  We left mother nature to her business.  If they could get in, they could get out.

Now we’ll return to the dark side. When we left we were dealing with Yogi Beer.

Turns out Witt and I may have passed a hiker who turned up in an incident report for threats and sexual harassment.  His photo was familiar.  Not long after learning that, a report came in about an abusive hiker at a nearby hostel.

Believe me.  This volume is highly unusual.  Unfortunately, there’s more!

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So, there I was at home in my favorite chair, quietly sipping coffee while reading the New York Times early Saturday morning. The phone rings.  It’s Mary at the Ed Garvey shelter in Maryland.

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She’s found a mess.  The guy in the tent won’t get up.  He doesn’t appear to be under the influence.  She wants to educate him to pack out his trash, not to mention properly hanging his food and not to make the mess in the first place.

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Raw chicken is in the mix.  This could attract animals including bears.  Then we’re dealing with a different problem.

Since the camper rolled over and would not get up, she moved a distance away to observe, radioed the Maryland Park Service and waited for the ranger.  Before the ranger could arrive, the guy packed up and left.  She cleaned up the area.

Enough already?  Damn right!

Of note.  Sexual harassment on the trail isn’t a universal experience, but its frequency is way too high.  Sometimes it’s subtle as when one of our women ridgerunners quipped that all she needed was another septuagenarian man-splaining how she should hike.  Other times males go out of their way to tell women they don’t belong on the trail alone or they aren’t strong enough to hike long distances.  Sometimes it’s much more sexually suggestive or worse as when someone attempted to rape a hiker I know.

This is shameful.  Men need to step up and stop this behavior.  We need to own it and step in when we see or hear it.

Incident Reporting:   http://appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail/report-an-incident?fbclid=IwAR2dlPHezWWPQy17qyRHUBqR21UWz-GyyrA7xtHD9FgXgZmrtxGLhZ7l73U

Sisu

 

 

A Flip Flopping Festival

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Harpers Ferry, WV, April 26 – 28, 2019 — The fifth annual Flip Flop Festival this weekend was fun and helped send off a new class of hopeful thru hikers on their 2,200 mile odyssey.

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Some hikers jumped on the trail on a drizzly Sunday morning. Others departed earlier, while others chose to wait until Monday for better weather.

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The festival features a kick off party at the Barn in Harpers Ferry Friday evening with educational seminars and vendors punctuating the activities Saturday and Sunday.  That was a bottomless box of nachos on the lower right weighed as much as a black hole and took a lot of digging to empty it out.

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The well-attended seminars included tips for beginners, trail health, hiker hacks, navigation and survival, trail craft, forest bathing and food dehydration.  For one, I would rather hikers actually bathe than rely on the breeze through the trees carry away their scent.  The ridgerunners were on hand to do pack shakedowns with the idea of helping hikers rid themselves of superfluous kit and the unnecessary weight.  Folks this year came well-prepared.

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The Methodist church hosts a pancake breakfast.  By the time this was taken, the vast majority of the hikers had filled their tanks and moved on.

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Posing with James Smyle who is the esteemed organizer of this mighty event.

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Mugging with my friends in 16-year-old mode.

Friends

Friends photos by Laurie Potteiger

Posing again in adult mode.  See you next year.

Sisu

The 2019 Ridgerunner Season Begins

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Sabine and Mary at Annapolis Rock, Maryland with Greenbriar Lake in background.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, April 1 – 14, 2019 — Dawn cracked to reveal a chilly drizzle like the warmth a Sunday school teacher might project showing a little leg through clouds of petticoats.  Right place.  Wrong idea.  Can’t see that much, so up the mountain we marched. 

Mary is a veteran ridgerunner some readers will recall from last year’s blog entries about her service in Shenandoah.  This season her Maryland tour is seven-months long.  She will be reinforced by another ridgerunner from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  She started on the auspicious First of April. No joke.

Sabine will be in Shenandoah National Park through early September.  She arrived a tad early to observe and get to know Mary before launching her own long march toward autumn on her 102 miles of the AT she’ll be patrolling some 55 miles southward.

20190401_1845221Earlier Mary had kicked down winter’s door, Hoovering up the off-season detritus like a caretaker opening a musty summer house long dormant.  That’s bags of trash to the uninitiated. 

On her first morning sweep of the Pine Knob shelter she found two backpacks apparently  abandoned on the floor.  No note.  That’s more common than one may imagine.  People get tired, wet, quit, and abandon their gear all the time.  Regardless, they were available for animals to rummage.  She decided to wait and see. 

On her evening swing they were still there, so she packed them out tandem style to the Greenbriar State Park visitor center. 

The knuckleheads called the park looking for them late in the evening.  They’d been day hiking from the Pennsylvania border.  Unfortunately the packs weren’t available til morning.  Sorry guys.

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Off we marched to begin patrolling the area between Annapolis Rock and the Pogo campsite.  Trash picking was easy.

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Pogo, where a tree fell atop one of the iconic fire pits.

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Ridgerunning is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to find – tent poles, plastic container and a rubber band slingshot.

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Painted rocks have become a trend in the hiking world.  We found one at Black Rock that seems to advertise a lake front development in Maryland.  There will be follow up with the developer.

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Drying out.  Caretaker tent graciously donated by REI.

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Senseless vandalism.

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Photo:  Mary Thurman.

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Please pad your anchors and save the trees.

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Somebody actually tried a bear hang instead of hooking their food bag on one of the tines.  This method actually makes it much easier for the bear to get the food. 😦

Sabine’s OJT at Annapolis Rock was complete.  On to Shenandoah.

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Shenandoah day one starts in the backcountry office for orientation, paperwork and equipment issue.  Then it’s a hike to check the north boundary kiosk.

We made a side trip to hike the cult-like Piney Memorial Trail and paid our respects to the fallen.  While there, the ridgerunner janitorial instinct kicked in.

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The first overnight is at the luxurious Indian Run Maintenance Hut which is available to the ridgerunners when in the area.

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First showdown with a hanging tangle.  She drew her clippers faster than Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and cut that sucker down.  Note the full trash bag.

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Foundation of what was once intended to be a restroom for a “colored” picnic area that never was built.

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Taking a break on a handy rock.

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Second night at Gravel Spring.  Not sure if the tree is apple, cherry or otherwise.

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Sabine’s trail name is “Foureyes.”  Not what you’d think for a hiker who’s done the Appalachian Trail, the Long Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail while in between earning a PhD in physics.

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Some people come to the trail ignorant, thoughtless and unprepared.  Yes, it’s what it appears to be.  Digging cat holes to bury other people’s feces is one of the more unappealing aspects of the job.  You have to want to protect the trail with all of your heart to do this work.

Third night at Pass Mountain.  The tree blew down on a campsite before the camper was there.  It was a dark and stormy night.  Really!

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Watching the hawks atop Mary’s Rock on a brilliant day.

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Final night.  Rock Spring.

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Final day.  Welcome to Jurassic Park. Come right in.  Ummm, I mean Shenandoah National Park …  May your hike toward autumn be a pleasant one.

Susu

 

New Ridgerunning Season Coming Soon.

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Kensington, MD, March 12, 2019 — The snow drops are up!  As sure as daylight savings time, snow drops are a natural alarm clock announcing it’s time to get ready for a new season on the Appalachian Trail.

Here’s the starting line up.  Our first Shenandoah National Park Hoodlums trail crew work trip is this weekend.  As reported here, there’s still plenty of storm damage to clear.

No fooling, our first ridgerunner starts in Maryland April first.  The second ridgerunner begins patrolling in Shenandoah on April 8.  The remaining four are scheduled for mid-May.  Project ahead two weeks and we’re there. So, let’s get ready to rock and roll!

We’ve been getting ready for awhile.  The budget was submitted last year.  The application deadline was January 31.  Hiring occurred in February.  The last of the supplies and equipment arrived last week.

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First to arrive was six Bear Vault BV 450 bear canisters.  These are the half-size canisters with a four-day capacity.  They are very difficult for a bear to open or break.  I’m certain Yogi and Boo Boo hate them, but I can all but guarantee that Mr. Ranger loves them.

Why bear canisters?  The number of human-bear encounters is increasing each year.  The 2018 reported incidents are at this link:  ATC 2018 Bear Incident List

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Some of these incidents included stolen food bags and damaged tents.  Fortunately there were no injuries though there have been nasty injuries and even a death in previous years.

Bears become food conditioned because careless backpackers, day hikers and others leave food or food trash at or near shelter areas and campsites.  Ultimately bears learn to identify shelters, tents and backpacks with food.

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Camera studies by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service show the first place bears go in camp is the fire pit because people toss food trash thinking it will burn.  It does not burn completely so the residue continues to attract bears long after the fire is out.

Once bears associate humans or places where human’s congregate with food, the potential for trouble compounds when bears lose their natural fear of people.

Bear canisters make it difficult for a bear to get a food reward.  Ridgerunners uniformed presence on the trail affords them visibility.  The weight of the example they set by carrying bear canisters complements the educational component of their mission.

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We experimented last season by having some of our ridgerunners carry BV 500 canisters loaned to us by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  They voted unanimously for the smaller version.  Comparison of a BV 450 and the larger BV 500 on the right.  The stickers help tell them apart.  The reflective tape helps find them of an animal decides to bat one around.

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Additional equipment includes 12-inch folding saws, clippers, SAM splints, and work gloves.  The rope and tarps help cover the caretaker area at Annapolis Rock.

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Meanwhile I have recovered from off-season Dupuytren’s release surgery.  I have two more impacted fingers on my other hand and hope they can wait until September.

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Next stop.  Setting up the caretaker area at Annapolis Rock.  Can’t wait.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

 

Govmint is shutdown. Now what?

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My chainsaw weighs 11 lbs. including the hard plastic sheath on the bar.  If you carry one far enough on your shoulder, it can rub you raw.

Home, January 8, 2019 — Part of the federal government is shutdown over a political dispute.  I have strong views, but won’t share them here.  This blog is about protecting and preserving hiking trails and related matters.

The 31 maintaining clubs that perform trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail (AT) operate under agreement with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the nonprofit tasked by the NPS to manage the trail.

My club, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), is responsible for maintaining most of the hiking trails in the Washington, D.C. region including 240 miles of the AT, 102 of which are in Shenandoah National Park.

The club’s activities in Shenandoah are sanctioned under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for maintenance activities and for managing rental cabins.  We have a separate Cooperative Agreement to manage the ridgerunner program.  These are legal documents that spell out the rules of the road for us and for the park.

One benefit of volunteering in the park is that we are covered under the Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program.  There is a similar VIF program for national forests.  Essentially we have workman’s comp coverage when engaged in officially sanctioned activities.

With the government shutdown, our VIP coverage is suspended.  Accordingly, we aren’t allowed to volunteer.  The last thing I would want is to get kicked out of the park and probably out of the club for doing something I’ve been officially asked not to do.

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Hiking with my Kevlar safety chaps on backward.

Back to humping chainsaws.  When you have to hike in a long way, some of us stuff our saws in old frame packs for easier carrying.  The also make it easier to carry the safety gear, first aid kit, lunch, plus extra fuel and bar oil.

But, there are times when throwing the saw on your shoulder happens.

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With little to do today, I decided to make a chainsaw pad out of leftover carpet pad from the recently installed carpet in the basement.

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First I cut a hunk of spare pad to size.

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Checking the fit.

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Preparing to tape it together.  The plastic vapor barrier side goes on the inside.

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So far, so good.

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After taping the seam, duct tape makes the outer layer.

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Done.

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It fits.

 

Storm Clean up

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South District, Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail, November 30, 2018 — The east coast got smacked with an early season snow storm a little more than a week ago.  The Washington area escaped major impact, but it hammered the south district of Shenandoah between Stanardsville and Waynesboro, VA. and cities to our north.

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Photo courtesy Shenandoah National Park

Heavy snow and high winds crushed the softer trees leaving hundreds of them blocking  Skyline Dr., the road that runs 105 miles from one end of the park to the other.  The park trail crews report that the downed trees resembled a military abitis that runs for miles along the road.  Abitis definition at this link.

Leave it to the park crews to painstakingly clear the road quarter mile at a time.  Each tree must be bucked and chipped.  That’s a slow process.

Meanwhile, enough of Skyline, from Swift Run Gap south, had been cleared to permit the PATC to begin clearing the AT.  The supervisor of trails in coordination with the south district manager called for sawyers and swampers.

Sawyers are club members certified by the National Park Service to safely operate a chainsaw.  Swampers help the sawyers by removing slash and trunk rounds from the trail.  The plan was to attack the afflicted area from both ends.

As the supervisor of trails reported yesterday:  “We met at Swift Run Gap at 8:30am today and had 22 PATC members ready to work. Ten were certified chain saw operators including six District Managers.

We were limited as to parking shuttle cars because of the clearing of Skyline Drive and this constrained the amount of trail we could cover. The AT is clear from Swift Run Gap to Simmons Gap a distance of nine miles.

There is another group working from Rockfish Gap north and I don’t have any information on their progress right now. The main problem appears to be further south toward Rockfish Gap where the blow downs are quite severe.

Skyline Drive is not open for other than emergency travel and the clearing is very slow. The park maintenance crews and back country trail staff are responsible for that clearing. We will schedule another work trip later this week.”

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Sawyers are distinguished by their red Kevlar chaps.

We divided into crews.  My crew consisted of three sawyers and three swampers.  We worked northward from Powell Gap to Smith-Roach Gap – about a mile and one-third. Other crews worked elsewhere.

The swampers were all experienced trail overseers and knew how to get after the work at hand.  They brought their pruning saws, loppers and other trail tools which allowed them cleared several blowdowns by themselves.

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With one exception, our blowdowns were smaller trees snapped or bent over across the trail.  These are tedious to clear, our three two-person sawyer/swamper teams worked quickly and efficiently.

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This is one blowdown we tackled with two sawyers, one on each side.  Hidden within these tangles are branches loaded with weight called spring poles.  They can whip around hard enough to cause serious injury when their energy is released.  Sawyers are trained to find them, but they are hard to read in tangles like this.  Each sawyer reported being surprised by more than one, including me.

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All told, our crew removed 27 blowdowns in just over one mile.

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Sawyer PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) consists of leather boots, Kevlar chaps, leather gloves, helmet, face shield, and ear muffs.

Stay tuned for follow on trips.  We’ll be at this for awhile.

Sisu

 

Black Friday = Green Friday

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Shenandoah National Park, Black Friday, November 23, 2018 — Everybody needs a ginormous boob tube to watch foooball and swill cheap beer, right?  When’s the best time to score one?  Black Friday, of course.

Everybody who needs more stuff, raise your hand. Mall warriors betting they won’t lose yardage tackling a foreign-made discount TV at the local running of the fools, please do the same.

Guess what?  There are alternatives.  Turn off your phone.  Go outside.  Volunteer.  Make a change. Be productive.  That’s what two of my friends and I did and what a day we had.

The curtain rose on a leaden sky, accompanied by a biting wind.  We linked up at the Jenkins Gap trailhead parking at a leisurely 9:30 to avoid suffering Washington’s mad dog, crack-of-dawn, Black Friday shopping traffic.

Bright sunbeams were piercing the cloud deck like metaphorical knitting needles as we pulled our gear out of our SUVs. The day ended in warming sunshine.

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There were three of us.  Kelly, me and her husband Phil.  We were armed with a shovel, a McLoed fire hoe, and a pick-mattox respectively.

The plan, march 2.3 miles to the top of Compton Peak and work our way back to the cars.  In between we’d clear waterbars (drains) of debris, improve those needing work, replace at least one, and clear blown-down trees and branches blocking the trail.

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The first order of business was to test the frozen ground to see if we could actually dig.  If we not, plan B was to take a long hike.

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Ice formed a crust about an inch thick.  It was easily cracked by our tools.

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Some waterbars needed only to have the leaves raked out.  Others, like this one, had silted up and needed extensive rebuilding.

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My resident bear sow ripped this waterbar apart discarding the rotting log off to the right.  The park’s policy is be more environmentally gentle and avoid, where possible, using wood and rock in building trail structures.  This swale, sometimes called a “grade dip” replaced the log.  Grade dips actually require less long-term maintenance, so what’s not to like?

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Keeping track.

We also cleared the path of several large branches knocked down by a recent storm.  After three hours, we were done, with enough time remaining to take a little stroll.

We drove one car south to the Hogback overlook trailhead, leaving one at Jenkins to which we could return.

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What we’d hoped would be a pleasant walk turned into another three-hour maintenance trip.  In all, we found 10 trees blocking the trail.  We removed three with the small folding saw we had, trimmed a couple like this one making it easier for hikers to pass.  The rest we reported.

We finished up having turned Black Friday into a green one; also knowing the overseer for this section would soon be in need of elbow grease aplenty.

Happy Green Friday!

Sisu

Widowmakers

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Would you camp under this tree?

The Appalachian Trail, November 9, 2018 — It’s been a hellova year.  Shenandoah National Park normally receives 55 inches of annual rainfall.  To date the park has measured 85 inches with seven weeks remaining in the year.  That’s 30 inches above normal so far.

That’s not the only weather pattern that’s off.  We usually enjoy magnificent indian summers here in the mid-Atlantic region.  This year it stayed hot and muggy right up to the bitter end.  In less than a week, the temperatures turned raw with cold winds and a freeze warning in the immediate forecast. Oh, not to mention that it’s still raining.

If traffic on Facebook is any judge, the AT thru-hiker class of 2019 is hard at work getting ready to go. These intrepid hikers are buying gear, planning hard, and doing as many training hikes as possible.

For those who will be planning trips from now until their start day, there are a lot of things to think about. Here’s one more.

Campsite selection is pretty much straight forward. The first thing to know is the rules of the jurisdiction you’re in. You should know that some places have strict rules on camping while others do not.

I manage the ridgerunner program for 240 miles of the AT in the mid-Atlantic region. That’s four states and five different sets of rules for camping.

For example, Shenandoah National Park allows dispersed camping with a few reasonable limitations. In contrast Maryland requires everyone to camp at official campsites with no dispersed camping allowed whatsoever. Maryland rules do not allow fires except in designated fire pits. The rules for the area you’re in will usually be posted on the trailhead kiosks or your guidebook, map or app; if in doubt check the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s web site at http://www.appalachiantrail.org/camping.

Using already existing campsites helps reduce environmental impact. Look for tent sites with good drainage and that are sheltered from wind and heavy weather if that applies.

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Standing dead trees.

Here’s the ‘one more thing.’ Check overhead for widowmakers. They are sometimes called fool killers and are anything that has the potential to injure or kill someone below. In a more specific sense, they are dead or weakened branches caught precariously high in trees, ready to fall on unsuspecting individuals underneath.

These hazards are not trivial.

In August 2018 a hiker was hit by a falling branch while hiking on the AT just north of US route 50. A 15 – 18 inch waterlogged tree limb snapped and fell to the ground without warning. It struck and killed the hiker instantly.

Not that far away, a tree near Maryland’s Ed Garvey Shelter fell, fatally striking a hiker as he was heading for the Trail one fateful morning in March 2015.

It’s not always easy to spot hazard branches, but it’s always worth the look. Most importantly, it’s not worth the risk camping or hanging out under or too close to such a risk.

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The brown substances at the base of the black opening is rotted tree material.

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Healthy-looking crown of the same tree.  This is a tree of concern.

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Stump of a rotting tree preemptively felled at the Annapolis Rock caretaker site.

Trees that might fall are another potential risk. They may be dead or diseased. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. If the ground is highly saturated; high winds can push trees over because the roots can’t hold in waterlogged soils. This year’s heavy rains saturated soil and fallen trees increased the number of down trees maintainers had to remove from the trail.  After a March storm, 700 blowdowns were removed from the 102 miles of AT in Shenandoah National Park alone.

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Healthy trees rooted in rain-saturated soil, blown down by light winds.

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Removing a hazard tree near Bears Den hostel.

Tree bent by ice storm

Storm damage.

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Storm damage.

Don’t assume that, because you’re in a preexisting campsite or in the area of a shelter, there is no danger. Maintainers, rangers and forest biologists watch for trees of concern, but they can’t find them all.

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Nuff said.

Trees of concern aren’t a huge risk, but it always pays to be prudent and add them to your checklist when you’re in the backcountry.

A version of this blog was originally published by the author on the Appalachian Trail Expert Advice Facebook page.

Sisu

It’s a Wrap – Literally

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Crew and cast of a video for Nature Valley.

Appalachian Trail October 25 and 31, 2018 — “It’s a wrap!” called the director.  With that exclamation, the formal volunteer season ended with the sunset melting behind the horizon west of Shenandoah’s Black Rock summit.  Fade to black.  Hike to the trailhead.

That was the symbolic climax.  The actual ending occurred a couple of days later on Morgans Mill Rd. when the last of the season’s Road Scholars finished their strenuous ride on the Roller coaster section of the Appalachian Trail in northern Virginia.

First, let’s go behind the scenes at Black Rock.  (Anna Porter’s FB post).  A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook asking about locations to shoot a commercial in Shenandoah. It seems Nature Valley, the granola bar company,  is making a serious gift to the National Park Foundation to fund and maintain hiking trails in several parks including Shenandoah.

As people on Facebook suggested their favorite spots in the park, I realized no one had ever been involved in making a commercial and had no idea how ill-suited some places might be.

Having executive produced two regional EMMY-winning commercials, I jumped right in using industry vocabulary.  Soon the producers and I were talking.

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Ultimately we agreed on Black Rock Summit, probably the most dramatic location in the entire park.  Moreover three different trails intersect nearby allowing for a variety of b-roll locations and different looks.

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My “co-star” and partner in crime was Anna Porter and her dog Traveller, an inveterate hiker who completed the park’s 500 miles of trails in the 1990s This was long before hiking the Shendoah 500 was popular.

As Anna noted in her Facebook post, she learned a lot about making videos – notably just how boring it is.  Like the Army, you stand around and wait for the technicians to set up, not to mention the countless shots and occasional repetition needed to get them good enough to stitch the story together.

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We were each interviewed and asked to pose for dramatic effect.  Yes Mr. DeMille, we’re ready for our closeups!  We joked about signing autographs on the red carpet.  Bet she styles high-heeled hiking boots!

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The golden hour produces the most dramatic light as Anna and Traveller admire the sunset.

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There were shots from every angle possible.

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Photo by Anna Porter

I felt like a bronze statue wanna be.

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The final chore, capturing the sunset.

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Nice shot.  Of note, the temperature was racing the sun to the bottom.

Final product:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BrOUysghBnK/?fbclid=IwAR0H8ersNcy3XvYtHJ-cmht8Qic24xSj9y_siXorHReejtE2tWTe9kpb_5U

 

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Flash forward a couple of days and the roller coaster ride left the station.  This was another great Road Scholar group.  Now, with the benefit of several years experience leading these hikes, I realize that most of them seriously underestimate the physical challenge of this hike.  It is defined by rough, rocky terrain, three steep climbs, and some challenging down hill that’s punishing for some older knees.

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Consequently we take lots of breaks to enjoy the tranquility and serenity of our surroundings.    Some remind me of their age only to learn that I’m usually older than they are.  I remind them that if one is lucky enough to avoid devastating maladies, and if you put in the effort to stay in shape, you can crush the average 40-year-old for a long time to come.  You just have to make it a priority – that’s the hard part.

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I ask every group what they think of this experience.  They find it challenging, but gratifying at the same time.  At the end, they realize how much they’ve overcome and what they’ve accomplished.

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As goes the leaf litter, so goes the season.  Can’t wait to do it again next spring. Meanwhile stand by for winter adventures.

Sisu