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

 

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

Just in time for the Fourth

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This is the definition of a blowdown.  For perspective, Sara is six feet tall.

Shenandoah and the Washington Nationals Parks, July 1 – 4, 2022 — The month of Hades arrived right on schedule and so did Sara Leibold to pick up her AT ridgerunner duties right where she left off last year.

This tough angel does not fear the month of July in Virginia when it’s hot, hot, hot – and muggy.

We started out with the usual equipment issue and check into White Oak Cabin where Sara checked the log book to see who’d been there since her time last season.  We then adjourned for the first night at Indian Run Maintenance Hut, but not before picking up some pizza in Luray.

Muscleman Dan split some firewood.

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I’ve had to saw my way down the fire road the last three visits.

Before any of this happened, Sara stopped at my house for a special pizza and to pick up the keys she needs at PATC Hq. where she found a shelter log book from 2016 that documents her first night as a ridgerunner.

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Sara loves Apple House doughnuts, a treat from a local eatery.  Dan brought some for breakfast at our first shelter stop and Sara ate even crumbs down to the last grain of sugar.

By now, readers know the drill – break up illegal fire rings, clear brush and disguise campsites that are noncompliant with backcountry regulations.

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Tree crown across the trail.

Clearing the brush.  The reference to Silky is a professional brand of pruning saw.

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Sara notes results.

More necessary drudge.  At least she can claim the views.

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Ridgerunner perk – blackberry milkshakes at Elk Wallow.

While Sara continued her patrol, I enjoyed the Fourth with dear friends and our hapless Nats.

Sisu

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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

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

Ridgerunner One

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The rain soon morphed into fog and the afternoon into lazy foggy climbs.

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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.

Until then…

Sisu