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

Flip Flop Festival

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Photo by Laurie Potteiger.

Flip Flop Festival, Harpers Ferry, WV, April 23, 2022 – Had a blast yesterday.  For the first time in two years hikers gathered in the neighborhood of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to celebrate and send off AT hikers at the onset of their flip flop hikes.  In this case, flip floppers are hikers, not politicians!

With as many as 150 hikers starting per day, crowding in Georgia can be a problem during the traditional northbound hiker season. Flip flop hikes have been promoted to reduce this crowding by helping to spread out hikers along the trail.

Flip floppers start at a place of their choosing and hike either north or south to the northern terminus at Mt. Katahdin in Maine or the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia.  Then they flip to the start point and reverse their direction or flip to the opposite terminus and hike back toward the middle.

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This was a modified festival in comparison to previous years when vendors and exhibitors filled the surrounding green space.

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Photo by Laurie Potteiger.

Approximately 150 hikers and supporters gathered for how-to and pep talks before setting off. I presented on how to prepare for 2,000 mile hike and on Leave No Trace and how to keep the bears from eating your food.

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Photo by Laurie Potteiger.

The two PATC ridgerunners currently on duty offered pack shakedowns.  That’s when an expert helps you sort through your gear pile with suggestions as to what is needed and what might be superfluous weight.

The festival took place on the grounds of the Stephen Mather Training Center, a national site where National Park Service employees receive training.  We used the covered pavilion of the Interpretive Design Center where the signage comes from describing what visitors are looking at while visiting parks.  The cat is extra.

Sisu

I love PEOPLE!

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You think we were tired!

The AT and My House, April 12 – 17, 2022 — It’s been people time recently – lots of interesting people and even more fun.

The week opened with a visit from a German public radio producer, her lovely children, and her colleague.

It ended with a day spent with Caroline and her dad.

In between the Hoodlums April work trip brought out 31 people, a record for this time of year.

The time of year is important.  The weather went from sunshine Sunday to snow on Monday.  Weather this time of year is a crap shoot.  We got lucky.  It’s going to be in the high 60s again later this week.  Go figure…

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Susi Weichselbaumer and her children were lovely.  We haven’t had little kids in the house since we bought it.  Fortunately we found some of our daughter Liisa’s old Duplo Lego toys.  Susi works for Bayerisher Rundfunk, Bavarian Public Radio in Munich. She and her kids travel the world having adventures for the radio.  The name of their program (radioReisen) translates to Radio Travels.  What a gig!  Mom, you’re amazing!!!

Susi contacted the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club in search of an AT adventure.  As we corresponded, I thought it might be fun to host them, get to know them and fit the hike to the family.

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I invited them over and pitched a tent in the yard.  The girls packed one of my packs with two schlaufsacks and had a short camp out after which we made SMORES around the fire pit.  If stickiness is any measure, they were happy.

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Susi’s colleague Arthur gave the crosscut a go.  The girls sawed off a couple of pieces as souvenirs.

A couple of days later we trekked up to Annapolis Rock for a picnic.  Adventure complete.

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Meanwhile, my wife and a bunch of Lashley Lounge/Gang of Four friends popped in to see the newly renovated Mormon Temple which towers over our neighborhood.  It will be open to the public for a short time before its rededication.  Secrets inside?  We won’t tell.

That was the week.  Now for the weekend.

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Dawn cracked on the Hoodlums meet-up with a breeze that chomped at us with a seasonal reminder.  We were delighted to see some pre-COVID stalwarts return to the fold.

This group broke into work parties that cleared blowdowns on several north district hiking trails. Another group continued tread work on North Marshall.

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Sporting my new prescription Z 87+ prescription but dorky safety glasses, I led a group of seven down a side trail called Jeremy’s Run.  That’s creek to most folks.  It’s in a designated wilderness so only muscle powered tools are allowed.

It was like a war story.

There we were.  Armed with my grandfather’s crosscut, a bow saw and a couple of Silky Big Boy 2000 folding saws.  Yes that’s a Japanese brand of professional pruning saw, not a Harry Potter Quiddich broom.  We launched what the military calls a movement to contact.

Movement to contact:  Cross the line of departure into the backcountry.  Search for the enemy.  Find the enemy.  Maneuver and destroy the enemy.

What’s the enemy?  The enemy is blowdowns.  Here’s our after action report:

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We made contact almost immediately after entering the backcountry.  This little one must have been an enemy scout.  We needed to demonstrate practice and teamwork.  Rachael dispatched it without fanfare.

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Must be getting closer to the main body.  We unlimbered the big saw.  With the team taking turns, Jim Grant’s crosscut dispatched this enemy outpost posthaste.

I wish my grandfather could see and hear this.  This saw was the best you could buy at the time.  I hope he would be proud that it’s still productive.

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The secret to success it taking turns.  That way nobody gets tired.  This crew had a seven limber arms in the bullpen.  We used all of them.

Missed you Sam Keener.  Sam is the only Hoodlum with a good excuse.  She was running the Boston Marathon.  BTW, she smoked it.

We didn’t always use the heavy artillery.  The lighter silky saws did their share.  Slo mo on the replay.

Ana clears an obstacle!

The outer defenses are defeated.

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Lunch prior to the main objective.  These are grad students from the Johns Hopkins school of public health taking a needed break from thesis season.

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Happiness is…

All told, we made four stream crossings and hiked down to the fifth.  The water is about 12 inches deep.  Don’t fall in.

The wedges keep the kerf open so that it doesn’t close and pinch the saw.

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The objective.  In total, we defeated nine blowdowns.

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Clearing the battlefield.

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Victory party at the Elk Wallow picnic area.  First in two years.  You go Hoodlums!

R&R at the Hoodlum’s home base, the Indian Run Maintenance Hut.

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This is better than the sunrise at Campobello.  Eat your heart out Teddy.  That’s my morning coffee on the reflector fire wall.

A little drama in the morning breeze as Steve’s tent decided to take itself for a walk.

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Turn the page to Sunday.  Marching in, we found a benchmark for the original AT which was moved away from Skyline Drive a long time ago.  It’s amazing what you can find without the summer vegetation choking the view.

Let’s switch gears from trail crew to the AT section that Caroline Egli and I maintain.

If you recall, last month we cut logs to replace rotting drainage structures.

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We were joined by Caroline’s father.  The first thing we did was camouflage an illegal campsite by spreading dead fall and leaves over the bare spot.

We replaced rotted logs.

Sometimes twenty-somethings vent a little.  It’s about a couple of good guys who downplayed how tough busting rocks was for the North Marshall crew with whom Caroline worked the day before.  You tell ’em lady!

She said she was strong!  She drove the pick clean through the log.

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Good time had by all!  That’s why I love this life and these people.

Sisu

Breaking News.

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Appalachian Trail and Annapolis Rock, Maryland, April 1 – 7, 2022 — This just in:  The end is near if seven months away counts.  This will be my final season as the PATC ridgerunner lead.  After that, Dan Hippe will take responsibility.  We want to get it right, so Dan will shadow me until November 1.  Then it’s his show.

Dan is a recently retired geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.  He has extensive backpacking and outdoor leadership experience.  As I told one of my friends, “He will take good care of the troops.”  Of that I am certain.

I originally promised five years.  We’re now in year eight and new blood is due.  It’s also best to get off the horse before you fall off.  Not sure that would be anytime soon, but to be fair, it’s time.

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Meanwhile Dan has been out there helping as we prepare Kasey Kohlmeier for her season.  Here we broke up an illegal fire ring at Black Rock.

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If the last is the saddest day of the ridgerunner calendar, then the first is the most promising.  The new season is fresh and the possibilities are endless.

We gathered at the recently renovated “barn” to haul the caretaker tent and other gear up to Annapolis Rock.  There we spent a couple of days learning the ins and outs of the caretaker’s responsibilities.

The site is up.  The sunset spectacular.  My new tent is sturdy.  The REI-donated tent and the rain tarp survived the strong winds over the next several days.  Count success where you find it.

The usual mess at Black Rock.  It is a popular spot, mostly with locals.

Hiking back from Black Rock we found an unfortunate man who face-planted, suffering a bloody nose and some ugly wrist abrasions.  He passed concussion protocol, so we encouraged him to stop by AR where we patched him up.  We also found a heart rock someone had propped against a tree and fresh bear sign.  Of course the view of Green Briar Lake never disappoints.

On the way out we destroyed an illegal fire ring at group site 3, locked the tool box, noted damage caused by the ATVs belonging to the first responders and held up our trash collection as a trophy.

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After a couple of days off, we were at it again.   This time from Penn-Mar/ Mason-Dixon line to the Raven Rock Shelter. The forecast was ominous – two inches in less than 24 hours.  But, we got a dry start up the rocky approach to the shelter.

Along  the way we cleared six blowdowns, some small like this one.  Others in the six-inch class.  We stopped at the hot mess known as High rock.  It’s county property, not the AT.  Someone said it’s a rock with Tammy Faye Bakker make up, a generational reference to a TV preacher couple only a Boomer would appreciate.  Of course privy maintenance was front and center.

Stopped at the Raven Rock overlook.  Yes, there was a fire ring.  Found another spirit tree.  Someday I’ll do a blog on those.  I have dozens of photos in a folder.  Paid homage to a fallen soldier.

The rain pounded the area overnight and as we hiked.  In total two inches worth made a river out of the tread.

The stream crossing at Raven Rock Rd. was a bit iffy.

When we stopped at the Pogo camping area we discovered the South Mountaineer trail crew had delivered the prize of prizes.  The old pit latrine is GONE!  Earlier this week I sent these photos to the 13 people who have previously been ridgerunners in Maryland during my tenure.  Nobody cried over this stinking portal to hell.  It’s been replaced by a composting privy up hill.  Privy photos by Dave House.

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Have to own up.  I slipped on a wet rock and smacked my hand.  It’s all good now, but it hurt like hell at the time.

Sisu

Hoodlums spring cleaning!

Caroline is a beast!

Shenandoah National Park, March 19, 2022 — The daffodils are up and so is the Hoodlums trail crew.  Yesterday 26 Hoodlums gathered in three different places to begin spring cleaning on the north district’s hiking trails.

The three groups gathered at the North Marshall trail head, Piney Ridge and the Pass Mountain blue blaze trail.  My assignment was to report to North Marshall where Caroline and I won the bonus prize of breaking big rocks into little ones with sledgehammers!

Ultimately fate spared us and our mission changed.  We were dispatched on a blowdown search and destroy mission.  So, that’s the story we can tell.

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Photo by Mike Gergely

The Pass Mountain crew, led by Head Hoodlum and north district blue blaze district manager, Noel Freeman, removes a large locust blocking the trail.  The trail is in a federally designated wilderness, so muscle-powered tools  are required.

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While everyone else was “working,” Caroline and I were eating blowdowns for lunch with my Stihl MS 261 with a 20″ bar.  That’s the military equivalent of an 8 inch howitzer.

Our itinerary included a big honker on the Gravel Spring hut blue blaze access trail, a smaller one on the AT near the Keyser Run parking access trail and several near Beahms Gap and Neighbor Mountain.  We left for our first objective at 0920.

A hiker told us the blowdown at Gravel was near the bottom so we used the fire road to get closer.  Oops.  Not so fast.  The tree broke apart after we sawed it.  Made it easier to move for sure.

The tree we were after was a hundred yards up hill from the hut.  The double trunk and the slope made bucking this one a little more challenging than normal.  The base was about 20″, making the salami slices large and heavy.  Caution required.

We’re not fake news.  Not every chunk we moved went as smoothly as the one at the top of this page.

In this case, Caroline is the “swamper” or sawyer’s helper.  Her job is to caddy the saw, and help remove the debris.

Ultimately the path was cleared.  The two blowdowns near Gravel Spring consumed nearly an entire tank of gas.  In comparison, I can usually saw for an entire day on a single tank.  We finished at 1140 and drove to Keyser Run parking for lunch.

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Our next objective seemed fairly simple, but it wasn’t.  The fall created several spring poles,  live trees bent over and held down.  Spring poles can be very dangerous.  The amount of energy stored in any one of them can be shocking.  Don’t let the size of these saplings fool you.

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Caroline checks out one of the spring poles.  She was surprised at how much energy was released when I demonstrated an improper cut on one of the tiny ones.

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The first blowdown at Beahms Gap.  It was a single cut.  The rest were similar.  Nothing found on the hike over Neighbor Mountain.  Time out:  1530.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Mother Nature never seems to run out of blowdowns.  That said, Caroline was disappointed that she didn’t get to bust rocks.  Maybe next time…

Sisu

Chainsaw School

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Shenandoah National Park, November 29 – December 2, 2021 — Once upon a time the kid thought he knew a fair amount about chainsawing – not everything, but enough.  After all, he’d owned one for 30 years and first used one about age 16.  Then I took my first sawyer certification course from the National Park Service in 2015.  It was a major wake up that hit me up side the head like a beaned baseball batter.

I realized that I knew nothing compared to what I needed to know; sawing small bore firewood is nothing compared to bucking huge oaks and tulip poplars; professional chainsaws are bigger and badder than the backyard models I’d been using.  So began a steep learning curve seasoned with a lot of caution.

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Previously chainsaw training for volunteers took place over a weekend with some homework done prior to class.  After some lecture and passing the written test, a practical exam followed in the field where students demonstrated the required competency to be certified.

For decades there has been a tug of war on chainsaw certification between the U.S. Forest Service (Department of Agriculture) and the National Park Service (Department of the Interior).  It’s my guess that the NPS moved toward the USFS judging that chainsaw training is now 40 hours and far more comprehensive.  Now we receive the exact same comprehensive training park service employees get.

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Ya gotta love COVID, grrrr.  The masks weren’t really that much of an inconvenience. 

The course did cover some things we, especially the volunteers, didn’t need to know.  When learning to sharpen chains, I noted that if my chain got dull, I’d simply change it and take it to the shop when I got home.  I have six, in part because I don’t have the patience to sharpen them.

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Demonstrating cuts.  The bucket is the fake log.

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Chainsaw accidents happen in a flash and they’re ugly.  We’ve always been drilled on safety, but this course went into a lot more depth.  For someone with several years experience, I learned more about safety and accidents than I knew before the course. 

Safety is a big damn deal as it should be.  Rule one:  If you are uncomfortable with your assignment, decline.  No one will fault you for doing so. 

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I passed on one this summer and the park service crew did too.  Too hairy.  It’s in a wilderness area where it’s well within policy to leave it.

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The course reminded me a lot of military training where everyone starts at square one and demonstrates competency at each step of the way.  Here is square one:  Safely starting your saw.  There are wrong ways that are very unsafe.

Steph has an electric chainsaw and used a standing start. Dan is using my saw which was already warm.  He used a ground start.

Steph was in my last recertification class and allowed me to borrow her saw for my competency demonstration.  They are very cool featuring less pollution, noise, and maintenance.  Their power is good and battery life ok.  I’d eventually like to get one, but would probably buy three batteries.  Of course, electric chainsaws are like printers.  The saw costs far less than the batteries.

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Note how John applies the chain brake immediately after cutting.  That’s a safety rule.

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We practiced making sawdust and demonstrating the cuts we’d have to make.  Everyone passed.

We stayed in PATC’s Huntley cabin, just outside the park.  It’s a fully modern and well designed building with a NYC apartment-size kitchen.  The three of us there took turns making dinner.  Let’s say everybody got a go on that assignment.  I made prosciutto, green apple and Gorgonzola pizza.

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We woke up to a light dusting one morning.

The capper was a display of some vintage and very ginormous chainsaws.  No chainsaw envy here.

The next day Gang of Four member Catherine “Badass” Berger and I pounded out the final 12 miles she need to complete the AT in Maryland and earn her Maryland end to end patch.   We found some work for the Maryland sawyers along the way.

Sisu

Trail Repair Update

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So much silt that we had to spread it downhill.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, October 30 – 31 — Mother Nature is splashing fall color all over the mid-Atlantic.  The leaf peepers are out in droves.  It’s just a tease.  Soon hard winter will muscle its way in and own the joint until the spring wake up.

Until then, we’ve got work to do before the ground freezes so hard-ass that that our picks and fire hoes just bounce off.

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Saturday:  Jessica Say has volunteered to be the next maintainer of the Pogo** Campground in Maryland,  It was a delight to take her on her orientation visit.  She walked the ground, toured the new tent pads, learned how to clean out a fire pit, and most importantly, how to take care of a composting privy.

She also will be maintaining an AT section further north in Maryland.  That’s a bunch!  Thank you Jessica for stepping up.

**Pogo Rheinheimer was a young man who loved the AT.  Sadly he was killed in a boating accident.

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Jessica at the Hoodlums trail maintenance workshop in September.

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Caroline loosens silt which is raked away.

Sunday:  Readers may recall that a couple of months ago a severe, localized storm was forecast to dump up to six inches per hour on parts of the park.  We don’t know what actually happened.  We do know the results.  Nearly all of our erosion control structures filled with silt.  Some were buried deep enough that they were difficult to find.

This compares to 2018 when the Park experienced nearly double its annual rainfall.  Then, these same waterbars and check dams were able to handle all that huge rain volume without problem.  If climate change features more intense storms, this could be an example.

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Readers will recall that a Virginia Conservation Corps Crew (AmeriCorps) rebuilt the upper two thirds of the mountain.

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The crew was unique in its all-woman composition, a circumstance they appreciated.

With two-thirds rebuilt, that left the bottom third for Caroline and me.

Our dilemma was to find a mutually agreeable time when we could finish the bottom third before the first freeze.  Fortunately, the bottom third is fairly flat requiring far fewer waterbars and check dams in comparison to the rest of the section.

We took turns on the tools – a pick-mattock and a McCloed fire rake.

McCloed:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McLeod_(tool)  The McCloed is the Swiss Army Knife of trail tools.  It is a hoe, a rake, a light pick and a tamper.  Best of all, it stands up by itself.

Per Park policy, we’re using as few wooden and stone structures as possible.  Instead we’re installing swails known in the trail world as rolling grade dips.  These earthen mounds, when properly compacted last for years.  They are quicker to build.  The jury is still out on whether they are easier to maintain.

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All told, we put in six hours of solid work.

Next up is the last Hoodlums trip of the year, weather permitting on Nov. 20, and our annual Black Friday soirée to rake the leaves out of the waterbars to facilitate drainage.  The irony is that new leaves will wash in over the winter and we’ll have to rake them out again in the spring.

Stay tuned.

Sisu

The End is Near

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Shennandoah National Park and Annapolis Rock Maryland, October 22 – 23, 2021 —  It’s that time again. In the park the end of the trail crew season is in sight.  We have one more trip next month.  In Maryland time expires for the last ridgerunner standing.

In the mean time, the AT section on the south side of Compton Peak, for which I have been responsible and now shared by Caroline, needs a lot of work before the ground freezes.  A recent high intensity storm literally wiped out some of the erosion control structures.

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A Virginia Conservation Corps crew rebuilt the upper two thirds, but the lower third, which is sandy like Saudi Arabia, was completely silted up.  If we don’t get it done before the ground freezes, mother nature herself will rebuild it over the winter.  We may not appreciate her work come spring.

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Meanwhile, the Hoodlums divided into two parties.  One was dispatched to Jeremy’s Run, a serpentine blowdown factory featuring a number of wet-feet stream crossings.

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Jeremy’s Run is located in a federally designated wilderness area meaning only traditional tools may be used.  Photo by Ruth Stornetta via Facebook.

The other group continued to work on the rebuild of the AT on the north side of Compton Peak.  I’m told we have surpassed 700 hours of volunteer labor on this project so far this year.  Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll git ‘er finished in November.

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The Hoodlums at Compton split their labor.  One group continued to repair and replace waterbars and check dams at the bottom of the mountain.  This trail is one of the most popular in the park featuring a nice viewpoint and a unique columnar basalt formation at the summit.  It’s also the first time hikers can be on the AT from the north (Front Royal) entry station.

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The work party I joined was assigned to finish the stone staircase near the top of the mountain, so that’s the bulk of the story we’re telling today.

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The first thing you do is find a large rock, one that will stay put and heavy enough to resist bears checking for lunch underneath.

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Step two is to dig a hole to put it in.  We use pick handles to measure the size of both rock and hole.

Then you have to get the rock to where you want it to be.  The rocks are hard to move because they are too big for people to pick them up, the terrain is lumpy with other rocks, and they are awkward.

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Watch the fingers and toes!

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Then you have to set it and test for wobble.  We broke off the piece that stuck out.

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In the interim, the hikers keep coming.  It was a picture perfect day and the park was jammed.

The number of hikers passing through can hinder progress.  We give them priority except when we’re doing something that could be a safety problem for them.

Rinse and repeat to create more steps.

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We finished early enough that Caroline and I could clear three blowdowns on the AT between Compton parking and the north park boundary.   This was the most magnificent of them all.

This large ash likely fell during a wind storm Thursday before last.  There are many reasons you don’t want to near one of these trees when they come down.  This is not the first time a branch has been driven so deeply into the trail tread that we couldn’t get it out.  Had to cut it off.

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Done.

A day earlier I helped the ridgerunner decommission the Annapolis Rock caretaker site for the winter. Thanks to REI for donating the tent.

When leaves begin to fall so does the caretaker tent at Annapolis Rock. The autumn continues, but the ridgerunner season ends. It’s the saddest day of the year for me. 

To date we’ve had more than 30 ridgerunners since I became responsible for the program.  They are special people who join a long line of others who have selflessly helped protect and preserve the AT which, in and of itself, is a national treasure. But there’s a lot more.  In our area alone, it runs through three national parks, one state forest, five state parks and a couple of wildlife conservation areas.

Sisu

Hoodlums Trail Maintenance Workshop

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Shenandoah National Park, September 16 – 19, 2021 — Trail maintainers don’t grow on trees.  We make ’em.  The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has a good track record of teaching the variety of skills volunteers must know to do the needed work; in the right way, and safely – everything from the use of traditional tools and chainsaws to rigging.

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For more than 30 years, the North District Hoodlums trail crew has organized a skill development workshop in September.  The workshop is designed to train people, from fresh first-timers to those with advanced skills, for the challenges they can expect to encounter doing trail work.  We can accept up to 30 participants.

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For sure, trail work isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t an amateur sport either.  The necessary tasks, techniques and procedures are spelled out in manuals and policies.  Knowing what to do and where and how to do it are important if your goal is to protect and preserve the physical trail itself.

Above all is safety.  We use heavy tools, sharp axes and pruning saws, rock hammers, and chainsaws.  We lift heavy logs and rocks.  We skew older.  While we are covered by workman’s comp; it’s best not to test its limits.

Workshop preparation starts a year in advance when the workshop coordinator reserves the space in the Mathews Arm campground.  S/he reviews the lessons from the previous year and discusses them with the various leaders within the Hoodlums crew.  During the summer with September on the horizon people apply, projects are identified, and project leaders appointed.

Several of us came up early to help split firewood, collect and organize the needed tools, and generally help our fearless leader.

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Photo by Mike Gergely

For the past 15 years Mark Nebut, who is a professional chef, and his brother and sometimes other family members have cooked scrumptious meals to which we look forward with great anticipation. Note the Coleman propane coffee pot.  This is big time glamping for us.

Other brother Dave Nebut recently took charge of the workshop as our organizer in chief.

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Photo by Mike Gergely

We divided into three work groups.  The advanced and novice groups continued our summer project on Compton Peak.  I led the basic (first timers) group on Pass Mountain.  Ironically, we were working on the first and last mountains in the north district.

The basic group totaled six including me.  We gathered at the Beahms Gap parking lot where we introduced the group to the tools we’d be using and the work we’d be doing.  First the work was demonstrated, then the group members each attempted to replicate the results themselves.

We cleaned or replaced 30 check dams and 24 waterbars.

We also built a rolling grade dip.  That’s a waterbar (drain) that is made of a dirt swale instead of logs or stones.

All told we racked up six hours worth of high energy work which was emblematic of this crew’s enthusiasm.  It was a fun day.

What do you do after a day of hard work?  What else?  Gather around a campfire and share stories.  We made a decent dent in the wood pile.

Sunday featured a half day of classes on how to build a rolling grade dip, the use of string trimmers and swing blades, and on crosscut saws.  The lunch that followed capped the day.

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The Thursday before the workshop was my lucky day.  An Appalachian Conservation Corps (ACC) crew needed a project and I had one ready to go.

The section I maintain sustained some serious damage from a microburst storm right after Hurricane Ida.  The sandy soil had silted up the water control structures.  Immediate repairs were needed to prevent severe erosion.  My Hoodlum colleague Cindy Ardecki helped lead the project.

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The ACC crew is an all-woman AmeriCorps group composed of recent college graduates in subjects such as forest ecology, bio science, environmental science and the like.  Listening to their conversations was fascinating.  Most of them joined the ACC for the experience and help deciding on the direction they wanted to pursue for their careers.

The crew cleaned and repaired waterbars, built rolling grade dips and cleaned and replaced check dams.  Their work will make a huge difference.

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Beauty and the Beast

Breaking news:  The section I’ve been maintaining since 2015 now has a co-maintainer.  Caroline Egli joined the Hoodlums this summer.  She’s eager to learn more about trail maintenance and I can use the help.

After the workshop we hiked what is now our section and discussed the recent work and the work that needs to be done before winter.  For example, once the leaves are down, the waterbars have to be raked out to keep them open.  I normally do this on Black Friday.  Beats shopping.

Otherwise, most times you’ll find us working either the Friday before or the Sunday in conjunction with Hoodlums work trips.

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Once in awhile the views from Skyline Drive are simply spectacular.

Next up:  A hike of the PATC AT 240 from Rockfish Gap to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA.  It starts Friday.  The purpose:  Put a dent in the COVID 15 muffin top.

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The page turns.

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2021 PATC Ridgeerunners absent Sara at the Blackburn Trail Center on Aug. 26.  L to R:  Witt Wisebram, me, Chris Bowley, Darrel Decker, Kaela Wilber, and Branden Laverdiere.

Shenandoah National Park (mostly) August 26 – September 14, 2021 —  Come Labor Day the summer chapter in our trail story ends and the page turns toward autumn.  The cast of characters is down to one.

When the five o’clock whistle announces the Labor Day weekend wind down, the clock runs out for five of our six ridgerunners.  For them it’s time for next steps.  Two have taken seasonal work with the mid-Atlantic AT boundary monitoring team.  They check surveyor’s monuments to ensure that the bench marks and the witness trees are still there and search for encroachment on federal land.  One headed for Vermont’s Long Trail and there bumped into the ridgerunner who had her job in 2016!  Small world.  Witt returns to endurance running.

Branden is the last man standing, at least until Halloween.  Until then, he’ll patrol Maryland’s 42 miles during the week and spend weekends caretaking at Annapolis Rock.

This year’s team was particularly noteworthy for their dedication, teamwork, innovation, and extra effort.  Everyone associated with them will miss their enthusiasm and presence.

Meanwhile a lot happened before the story ended.

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Chris reported this rat’s nest on the AT in the middle of the north district.

I had time to kill while waiting for Chris to catch up and swamp for me.  Sawyers are not allowed to saw without an assistant – to call 911 when we screw up.  That gave me  time to recon the blowdown and develop a plan of attack.  Along the way I was saddened to discover that my favorite tree in the park had passed.

I first discovered it on a foggy walk in April 2013.  Hikers spend more time looking down than up in order to keep from tripping on the ever present rocks and roots.  In the fog that day, the old oak startled me looking very ominous, reminding me of the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter series.  I’ve loved it ever since.  Soon we’ll be sawing up its bits and parts and nature and gravity slowly reclaim it.

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Chris’s did a great job using his folding saw to clear as much as possible to make it easier for hikers to pass.

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Chris acted as the swamper and moved most of the pieces out of the way.

The rest was a simple matter of converting gas to noise by chopping the thing up from left to right.  Now it’s history.  Elapsed time:  10 minutes thanks to the recon.

Is that it?  No!  There’s more.

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You stood tall next to the AT at Beahms Gap until you succumbed to the emerald ash borer.  Now you’ve got to go.  Since you can’t do it on your own, Mr. Stihl will help.

There’s a teaching point here.  Note how the tree is lying across the trail.  What you cannot see and neither could I is the tree’s crown.  There was too much vegetation in the way.  Here’s what happened:

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The part of the trunk on the left side of the photo should not be expected to rise.  The tree was once very tall and the majority of its weight was across another blowdown parallel to the trail.  That blowdown acted as a fulcrum allowing the trunk to rise when cut.  Once in the air I could see clearly what happened.

This is not particularly dangerous.  We are trained to watch for possibilities like this.  Nevertheless, the day you think you’ve mastered the art of bucking blowdowns, you should think again.

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Another blowdown in the history books.

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The next stop was dropping my friend Crissy at a central Virginia trailhead.  She’s walking 500 miles before moving to Colorado to be with her father who is ill.  I’ll join her in a couple of weeks to hike the last half.

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You’d think there would be enough nature on the trails, but noooooo. Backyard buck is chowing down on the landscaping to build strength for the mating season.  Note the cat in the chair.

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While the deer was destroying the flowers, the guard cat could not care less.

Next steps:  Tomorrow brings trail work with an all-woman Virginia Conservation Corps crew followed by the Hoodlums annual instructional workshop on trail maintenance.

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