Clearing the Blowdown Backlog

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Shenandoah National Park, August 5, 2020 — The purpose of this blog is to offer a peek behind the curtain so you can see what it takes to keep the hiking trails open and well-maintained.

There are hundreds of volunteers who do this work.  We are organized by park district, south, central and north.  Swift Run and Thornton Gap mark the boundaries.

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A young friend who volunteered with the Hoodlums for a year before being transferred to California said that she’d been hiking and backpacking all of her life and had no idea how much effort went into maintaining backcountry trails.  She loved volunteering.

And now a word from our sponsor:

PATC always needs volunteers.  No experience or tools necessary.  We maintain nearly 500 miles of trail within the park and another 1,000 outside of it, including 240 miles of the Appalachian Trail, trails within the national battlefield parks, C&O Canal, Prince William Park, and many more. Join us at http://www.patc.net

The pandemic protocols – mask, avoid as many people as possible, groups of  no more than four, sanitize – don’t impose much hardship.  After encountering hoards of people on the weekends, we decided to do group work only during the week. That pretty much limits crew members to retired folks with sore muscles.

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Yesterday we cleared 11 blowdowns on Pass Mountain.  Several hikers reported this one on Facebook.  This is a “leaner” in sawyer speak.  Leaners can be dangerous to clear and we only clear them if it can be done safely and they are blocking the trail.  Otherwise park and PATC policy is to let Mother Nature take care of business.

In this case, the giant tree is not blocking the trail.  Moreover, it’s larger than all but one of our saws.  If it were on the ground, it would be a hellova project. As it is, it’s beyond our capability in a wilderness area where only muscle powered tools can be used.

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Judging from this angle, it’s going to be up there for a long time.  Anna Larsen Porter’s granddaughter may be a maintainer by the time it comes crashing down.

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You could tell it was going to be a special day for August when we spotted a car at the Pass Mountain hwy 211 trailhead.  The sun was gentle with a cool breeze.  A perfect day to be roaming the park.

The plan was to drive up the Pass Mountain fire road and park at the hut/shelter and then work our way downhill to hwy 211.

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First we would use a chainsaw to clear the AT near the hut trail.  That area is not wilderness.  Note that this leaner is much different from the previous one. The bind is on top, so you saw it from the bottom to keep the bar from being pinched.

We then locked the saw in the car so we would not be tempted to use it in the wilderness area we were about to enter.

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This one had also been reported on Facebook.

It was cloaked in grapevines and brush which had to be cleared before we could get after the trunk.

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The trunk required two cuts.

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Sometimes it’s easier on the back just to sit.

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Two down and as far as we knew, one to go.  Instead we found nine more.

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Easy one.  Bottom bind.

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Quick work.

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Hwy 211 parking.  That was a clean mask when we started.  Dave looks like Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider.”

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Decided to make a Subaru commercial on the way down the fire road.

The Pass Mountain trail was very weedy.  Being in a wilderness, it must be weeded with swing blades vs. the string trimmers we can use elsewhere.  We understand an AmeriCorps crew will give that trail a haircut this Friday.

Speaking of haircuts, I could not stand it and gave in.  Pandemic beard and hair excuse expired.

Sisu

 

 

 

A special crosscut returns to service.

EE5115FA-5804-4E6E-A8B1-75809FB250D8_1_201_aShenandoah National Park, Sunday, May 31 – Jim Grant was my grandfather.  He’s been gone for 42 years, but he lived again today.  No, Mr. Grant wasn’t reincarnated in the flesh.  His memory reawakened in the form of a newly restored four-foot crosscut saw he once owned.

It was there to tackle a huge blowdown on the Little Devils Stairs trail.  The objective was a long dead, 26-inch, double trunk tulip poplar.  Venus Foshay, my fellow Hoodlum trail crew member is responsible for that trail and she requested reinforcements.  Sam Keener and I answered her call.

Following our safety discussion, my grandpa’s precious saw bounced lightly on my shoulder as we headed down the Keyser Run fire road to the intersection with Little Devels Stairs.  Along the way, I thought deeply about what my grandfather meant to me.

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Me with my grandpa.

I imagined my grandfather hoisting that very same blade to his slender right shoulder.

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It would have rested on his black-and-red-checked Filson Mackinaw coat, steadied by is work-gnarled hands swaddled in his trademark deerskin mittens with the green woolen liners that I still have.

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The blowdown was a monster.

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The smaller trunk was broken off and offered an easy bottom bind cut.

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Sam won the trophy photo.

The larger trunk presented tricky top bind for a crosscut saw.  It would require two cuts.  Normally you can make reverse keystone cuts and roll the billet out of the middle.  In this case the proximity and angle of the root ball would force the billet to bind.  We knew we were in for an “Oh joy!” day.

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After amputating the smaller trunk, we applied muscle to the larger one.  To maintain safe social distance we used the saw in single sawyer mode and rotated as our arms tired.

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I have at least 10 wedges in my car.  I only brought three because the tree was site unseen.  We had to be creative to keep the kerf open.

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We sawed from both sides to keep the cut level.

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The “easy” part was over.  This is where the real battle began.  We thought we could lever out the billet with a log.  WRONG!

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While Venus hiked and drove back to the Piney River tool cache to get a couple of rock bars, Sam and I hiked to the bottom of the trail to clear a second blowdown.

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Social distancing was a problem all day.

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Little Devils Stairs is one of Shenandoah’s picture book hikes featuring several waterfalls, many creek crossing and lots of rugged scrambling.  She’s on the trail, by the way.  With this many rocks, I’m befuddled why the AT wasn’t routed through this canyon.

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Rock bars are all about brute force and ignorance.  It’s all muscle.

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Almost there.

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Success!

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Sam’s look says it all.  Thank heaven she’s a power lifter.

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Victory.  All that for this.

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Here’s the backstory.

I thought all of my grandfather’s tools and gear were lost to history.  Family legend was that my mother sold everything when she moved her elderly parents from International Falls, Minn. to her home in Greeley, Colo.

Last October.  Location:  My brother’s garage in Loveland, Colo.

Me.  “Wow!  A crosscut saw.  Where’d you get that?”

Brother.  “That was grandpa’s saw.”

Me.  “I thought mom sold all of his stuff when she moved grandma and grandpa out here.”

Brother.  “Not this.”

Me.  “What do you plan to do with it?”

Brother.  “I was going to hang it on the wall.”

Me.  “No way.  I could use it.  I have a friend who restores old crosscut saws.  I’ll ask him to fix this up and I’ll put it to work clearing trails.  Grandpa would like that.”

Brother.  “Ok.”

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Me.  “I’ll make a box and ship it today.  Where’s the nearest UPS store?”  The truth is that I wanted to get it out of there before he could change his mind.

The story added a new chapter today.  But, where did it begin?

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James Grand circa 1920

International Falls, MN circa 1920.

Who was Jim Grant?

James Earl Grant was my namesake.  Growing up, he was “Big Jim” and I was “Little Jim.”

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Favorite fishing rock.  My brothers and I have caught a lot of walleye there.

Jim Grant was a lumberjack, teamster and avid fisherman who immigrated from Alberta, Canada to International Falls, Minn. to cut trees for the Minnesota and Ontario paper company, now Boise-Cascade.  We’re not sure when.

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Born in 1900, Jim Grant was a good and kind man who had lived his life well. A third-grade education limited his opportunities, but he worked hard and made the most of those that came his way. He lived to be 78 before succumbing to prostate cancer.

In reality Grant was my mother’s stepfather.  He had once asked my grandmother to marry him, but she declined and later said yes to another man, also a Canadian.  Her husband, John Wesley Jordan, died at age 30 of kidney failure in 1930 as the Great Depression sunk its jaws into the Northern Minnesota economy.  In those days there was no safety net.  She was 30 with three children and they struggled.

After arriving in International Falls with his two brothers, Walker and Clarence, Jim Grant cut and skidded pulp wood in Minnesota’s north woods until he was drafted in WWII.  In the war, his age and lack of education led to work as a hospital orderly making beds and emptying bedpans at Camp Carson, Colo.

He loved Colorado and regaled me in childhood with stories of his Rocky Mountain adventures and tall tales of ghost towns like Cripple Creek.  Later on when I was stationed at that very same Army post, the first place I went was Cripple Creek where I imagined his stories playing out among the mining relics.

Fortunately Jim Grant was a patient soul who truly loved my Grandmother.  When he returned from his WWII service, he proposed a second time to my widowed grandmother and she accepted.  He never could have become my hero without that unfortunate chain of events.

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After the war, he purchased the saw I now have.  It is a Simonds Crescent-Ground, One-Man Crosscut Saw model 223.  The aux handle can be moved to the far end allowing for two-person use.

I found the saw in excellent condition, still sharp with very little surface rust.  It wasn’t used enough to completely erase its factory markings which is how we know the model and approximately when it was made in Fitchburg, Mass.

Link to Simonds Saw Catalog

The catalog says that this saw “will stay sharp longer than any one-man saw made.”  It also notes “Large hand hole in handle permits sawing with mittens or gloves in cold weather.”  That would have been practical because most of the timbering was done in winter when the lakes and dirt logging roads were frozen solid.

The light usage suggests he didn’t do much lumberjacking after the war.  We know that he found less strenuous employment on the papermill loading dock where he worked until retirement in 1965.  Thanks to a strong union, he had earned health insurance and a modest pension that he and my grandmother could live on in their own home for the rest of their lives.

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Today Jim Grant’s Simonds model 223 was reborn as a working tool in Shenandoah National Park.  When my time ends it will pass to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club where it will enjoy a long and noble life thanks to, and in memory of James Earl Grant, lumberjack.

Sisu

 

 

 

Earth Day Hike

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The Maryland ridgerunner’s Earth Day view of Greenbriar Lake.

Appalachian Trail Maryland, April 22, 2020 — “Love your Mother!” captained one of the earlier Earth Day Posters I can remember.  The admonition still applies, though one could easily argue we haven’t been doing such a good job of it.  If nothing else, the recent smog-free views taken of and in cities around the world offer evidence that we can do a better job of taking care of planet earth.

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On the first Earth Day in 1970 I was an Army lieutenant stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.  I was way too busy to take much notice.

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I figured that the Hippies of that era existed to protest.  At the time, anti-Vietnam war protests were beginning to wain.  I reasoned that they needed a new subject and the environment was it.

I obviously wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking sophisticated thoughts then.  I was simply trying to do my best at the hardest job I’d ever had.

Earth Day was on my mind when I picked today for my weekly sojourn with Wes.  The pandemic we are experiencing has been tied to climate change and to other things Earth Day exists to bring to our attention.

I like to walk with Wes about once per week.  We’re not camping this year, so I haven’t had as much OJT time as usual.  Given the mandate to shelter at home, Earth Day seemed appropriate.

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We wore cloth masks while hiking.

We met a little before 10 a.m. at our destination, donned our N-95 masks, and shuttled to the start point at the Thurston Griggs trailhead.  This easy side trail connects to the AT at the Pogo campsite.

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Black birch blocking the trail.  “This is why we give you a saw.”

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Oh oh!  This one’s a little bigger.

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I have a sixteen inch folding saw, so we decided to take off the upper branch.  That would make this blowdown easier to step over.  The trunk obviously requires a chainsaw.

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We took turns.  Physical labor with a mask on isn’t fun.  Can’t wait for July – not!

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Now to dispose of the log.

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Finished job.

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A group of sorority sisters not practicing safe social distance at Black Rock.  Sometimes people think the rules of reality are suspended when they are out in nature.

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In the woods violets are flowers.  In your yard, they are weeds.  I like them as flowers.

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We counted 62 day hikers including three climbers.

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Common!

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This is under a no fire sign.  People do thoughtless things.  Fires sterilize the soil so it’s years before vegetation returns.  The fire scar is ugly.  One of the ridgerunners removed the soot from the rock with Elephant Snot a couple of years ago.  It appears no fires since.  That’s good news.

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Checked the caretaker site and hoovered some micro trash from under the picnic table.

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We were happy to clean up our mother’s backyard.  Couldn’t think of a better thing to do on this auspicious 50th Earth Day.

Sisu

 

If you can’t hike…

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Ash on the left.  Silver Maple on the right.

Kensington, Maryland, Winter, 2020 — The theme of these essays is hiking, backpacking, camping adventures, and a behind the scenes peek at the volunteers and activities that make it all possible.

What to write?  Planning is underway for the time when hikers might return to the trail. It’s dry, dull, iterative, and not very visual unless you relish Zoom call screen shots.  Moreover, it’s pointless to reveal what’s on order until we have a menu.  Why?  Because the truth is going to change six times between now and then.

Sometimes what happens in the wild forests also occurs in the so called urban forest.  Let’s talk about that and see what happens.

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The backyard was landscaped in 1978.  The ash (in front) was planted then.  The silver maple (background) is a sucker that grew from an earlier silver maple, probably planted in the 1950s.

Virtues?  Ash trees are frequently planted as shade trees.  Their wood is prized for baseball bats.  Trail maintainers like them for their rot resistance when used for waterbars and other structures on the trail.

Silver maples are not valued as much.  They are fast-growing junk trees with brittle wood and shallow roots.  They will give you quick shade, but they are subject to snow, ice and wind damage.

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Unfortunately, the ash is about to join the chestnut, elm, and hemlock on the endangered list.

The culprit is the emerald ash borer, an Asian import that is destroying ash trees throughout north America.  Our county has removed all ash trees on public property in hopes of slowing the borer’s progress.

The ash on the right was treated with systemic insecticide for the past two years.  It succumbed in September when its leaves all turned brown and curled up on the branches without falling.

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There was some blonding higher up on the trunk which was another hint.

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The choice was to wait for the ash to eventually fall down and risk crushing the deck, or launch a preemptive strike to speed up nature’s process.

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A tree service did the work if for no other reason than they could haul the slash away and grind the stumps.

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What to do with the space?  The 40+ year-old timbers are rotting.  The space is too ugly to leave be.

Here’s where the hiking and camping experience come in.  Everybody likes a campfire.  Me too.  Let the work begin.

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I was stunned by the number of roots they had to dig out.  Glad I didn’t try to do this as a DYI project.  I will admit that I thought about it.

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Taking shape.  Note the logs stacked in the background.  They are the best parts of the ash and maple.  In a year they will be seasoned firewood, ready for splitting.

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The stone veneer is not “lick and stick.”

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Finished product.  The dry creeks fix a long standing water runoff problem.  With all the trees around, there’s plenty of dead fall to be burned including larger limbs.

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Can’t wait until people can come over.  Gang of Four, you’re first.

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I’m staying in practice.  One of the dogwoods in front also died.  Yesterday I felled it and built a sawbuck that will be needed to buck the ash and maple next year.

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Since I had my PPE on, I could not resist the chance to convert some gasoline into noise.  Insider tip:  The big chips composing the saw dust indicate the chain is sharp.

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Plants go in after the last frost date.  Can’t wait for the first fire.  The yard seems a lot larger too.

Have chainsaw.  Will travel.

Sisu

 

The Maryland ridgerunner starts.

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Washington Monument State Park, Maryland, April 1, 2020, — It’s that time of the year when mid-Atlantic ridgerunners begin their seasons, but how times have changed.  This year we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.  That changes everything we do.

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The new reality is grim.  Safe social distance is the only way we can reduce the rate of infection so that our hospitals are not overrun with patients requiring critical care.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland.  Greenbriar lake in the distance.

The popular trails are overcrowded to the degree that hikers are at risk; especially so at the signature locations.  Most of them are relatively small sites and visitors are incapable of maintaining appropriate social distance from one another.

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Wes’s orientation at social distance.

The club, after much deliberation, honored the Maryland Park Service’s request to hire one ridgerunner for the April – October season.  Normally we have two in Maryland, a second one for a shorter season from Memorial Day – Labor Day.  This year the Conservancy withdrew its share of funding, so the club and the state of Maryland could only afford to pay one.

Collectively we are concerned that if we withdraw from the trail we will not know what’s going on.  Even if hikers are banned, people will still be out there.

Our first principle is to keep the ridgerunner safe.  Among other factors considered, we learned that, with the enormous noro virus outbreaks over the previous several years, not one ridgerunner has ever been infected.

Since the virility and vectors of transmission are similar, we reasoned the ridgerunners could keep themselves safe by observing the proper protocols.  The ridgerunner also lives alone.  No one is to enter his apartment until the state gives the all clear.  He has a N-95 mask and gloves.  Moreover, he will not sleep in the field until the governor lifts his ban.

Even the uniform has changed.  No AT ridgerunner patches or hats.  Only PATC livery.

To sum it up, normally we hire six ridgerunners.  This year we plan three.  One in Maryland, one in Northern Virginia and one in Shenandoah, if and when the park brings on its seasonal employees.  Already the season’s start has shifted from April 8 to May 10 at the earliest.  Should the park close, it might not reopen in time to have a season.

The good news is that there are fewer hikers on the trails.  On March 23 Tina and I hiked this section and the lot was full.  On April one, it was empty.  On our first hike to Annapolis Rock we counted less than half the number on March 23.

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Wes discovered the true synonym for ridgeruner is janitor.  The day started as expected.  Plenty of trash to collect along the way.  This is near Pine Knob shelter.  The tin can spells rookie.  If you pack it in, please pack it out!

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Naturally there were illegal fire rings to break up and what’s a ridgerunner without a frying pan found on the trail?

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Leave No Trace principles say take only pictures and leave only footprints.  Rock stacks are not on any list of allowable behavior that I know if.  Sometimes it’s fun to see how far you can throw them.

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We have ridgerunners to help protect the environment and property.  Not sure the sentiment here was to resist park service rules or the current federal administration.  Either way, graffiti is unwelcome.  A little  Elephant Snot  will make short work of this.

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After picking up four gallons of trash in and around Annapolis Rock, we drove to Gathland State Park to point out the back trail to the Crampton Gap shelter; then on to Weverton Cliff to end the day.

One ridgerunner on duty.

Sisu

COVID-19 knows no boundaries.

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Home sequestration, March 27, 2020 — This past week has seemed like a year.

It feels like Mother Nature has put the entire country in time out.  We got sent home from school for bad behavior. We’re stuck in our rooms.  Justification: Failure to be good stewards of our lonely blue marble.  Maybe Mamma’s gettin’ even?

But like Biblical pestilence, famine, the sword, beasts, plague, and their friends, sometimes it feels like the four horsemen are thundering just over the horizon.  Other times we simply long for companionship.  The urge to invite family to dinner or gather with like-minded friends is overwhelming.

Then, there’s always wine.  And Zoom.  Because Amazon has run out of lamb’s blood.

Gather together.  Isn’t that what humans do in stressful times?  We are herd animals, like it or not. But, the herd is too big and the big dogs are making a cull.

For example:

AT Closed

The overcrowding up and down the AT and in the National Parks that I reported last week exploded over the weekend.  Rocky Mountain, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and The Great Smoky Mountains national parks are closed to the public for public health reasons.

Forest Order

On the east coast, the Chattahoochee, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are completely closed to visitors.  Too many people, people.

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This illustrates the overcrowding out west.

More parks are considering closing.

A Maryland State Park Service ranger told me that they were “Slammed!”  over the weekend.  Twenty-one million people live within two hours of most Maryland parks.  Seems like a big bunch of them showed up.

It’s boring sitting at home.  Or is it, if you can’t maintain a safe distance between yourself and the next person?  And oh, by the way, please take your trash with you when you leave.

Dear Darwin Award candidates.  It won’t be boring in the ICU, that is if you can get a ticket.

There is an inverse ratio equation that may apply here:  FOMO is inversely proportional the closer you get to the ICU.

(Thanks for the concept Tom Toles, Washington Post editorial cartoonist.)

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With the closures, the trails resemble a reverse scene out of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Absent were the humans.  The sound of their chatter.  The crunch of their boots.  The crinkle of their candy wrappers. The scraping of their potty trowels. The soft poof of their TP tulips making trash landings faded away. Only the chirping of chickadees and the buzz of the bees, harmonized with the rustling leaves and the beavers’ baseline to entertain the squirrels, the deer and the bears.

Please stay home.  This article explains why.  This is why.

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We had another conference call this week to reassess ridgerunners.

 

AT Closure

Each year our trail club hires six ridgerunners to patrol the 240 AT miles we maintain. The trail is, in effect, closed.  Accordingly, the club is supporting the land manager partners who still want ridgerunners.

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We’re now down to three ridgerunners – Shenandoah National Park, Northern Virginia and Maryland.  Shenandoah is delaying the start of all their seasonal employees until circumstances sort themselves out, April 30 at the earliest.

The nature of the COVID-19 virus will dictate profound changes to the normal ways ridgerunners function, not the least of which is maintaining social distance.

Until further notice, the ridgerunners will not enter shelters, tend privies or sleep in the back country.  Each has a discrete residence that they don’t share with anyone else.  Health insurance is provided this year as an extra precaution.

With the ridgerunner question settled, home sequestration isn’t the end of the world in my neighborhood.  If you can’t hike far away, you can hike near by.

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The 40-mile long Rock Creek Trail is a leafy block-and-a-half away.

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The walks are agreeable in spite of the urban location.

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My neighborhood has plenty of pleasant walking.

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We are very situationally aware as a neighborhood.  This family always has a sense of humor – and Halloween decorations that can be amortized over additional use.

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Campfire anyone?  Who’s afraid of a ferocious house cat?

Our house is a comfortable redoubt for a reason.  It was built for a man with ALS who loved the outdoors.  You wouldn’t know his name, but you do know his work.  He invented those bumpy tiles at crosswalks and along train platforms in his workshop in the basement of this house.

Thanks to Robert Kramer, this is a more than pleasant place if you have to hole up.

Oh! One more thing. The radio and TV are off.  Podcasts beat the hell out of newscasts. Old Time Radio podcasts are my favorites along with “Ben Franklin’s World,” “What you Missed in History Class” “Sawbones,” and “In Our Time” from the BBC.

Be safe.

Sisu

Hiking with Contagion

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Everywhere, March 23, 2020 — On a cool spring morning, on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, we were on a 12-mile hike that would put this state’s 42 miles in the books.  It would mean one state down and 13 to go for Bulldog on the AT.

In some ways nothing has changed.  Hikers still have to lift their feet one step at a time.  In other ways everything has changed.  In addition to an over abundance of pollen, the invisible threat of the COVID-19 virus ominously hangs in the air.

As governments closed restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other gathering places, the media observed that at least the hiking trails were open.

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Shenandoah National Park Photo

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Shenandoah National Park Photo

It didn’t take long for people to figure that out. They have been swarming the trails, especially the beauty spots such as trails with popular waterfalls and overlooks. The overcrowding defeats nature’s benefits.

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Bulldog needed the most popular section in Maryland to fill in her dance card.  This is the footbridge across I-70 near Boonsboro, MD.

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Social distancing from above.

In the course of the first eight miles, from Washington Monument State Park to the Pogo campground, we counted 50 hikers, 17 of which were backpackers.  From talking with them, noting more trash than usual and the type of trash, and from observing the size of backpacks and bear spray, we deduced the crowd was mostly novice.

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The miles after eight are less popular and we saw no one.

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Bulldog’s step count.

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Stay tuned for the next state.  It’ll probably be West Virginia’s less than five miles.  After that, they’re pretty much out of day-hiking practicality.  Virginia’s 500+ miles are a prime example.  Remember this sucker is 2,200 miles long.

We did not wear masks while hiking.  We could easily stay six feet apart and well away from other hikers.  We did mask up to shuttle our cars to the start and end points.  I am in a vulnerable group relative to gray hair and having allergy-related asthma.

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“Zooming” with Sandi Marra, president of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Our hike was only the kickoff event for a relentless week.  As the CDC and state governors refined their guidance, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy needed to make decisions relative to hiker safety, the ridgerunner season, trail conditions, meetings and a lot more.

As of this writing, noon Monday, March 23, the following closures and restrictions have been announced: Rocky Mountain National Park is completely closed.  Shelters/campgrounds closed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Numerous hostels and trail centers have also closed.  Trail crew work trips are canceled including my beloved Hoodlums.

This just in:  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will officially ask Americans to stay off the AT until further notice!  The overcrowding is unsafe.  Darwin Award candidates everywhere.

I’ve asked the park if I should do this or not.  Thursday I’m driving up to Shenandoah to prepare my AT section for spring, raking leaves out of the waterbars (drains), paint some blazes, and a couple of other small projects.  Will count cars in the parking lots on the way out.

Stay tuned and stay safe everyone.

Sisu

Witt’s Chainsaw Rides Again!

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That white glaze isn’t frosting.  It’s ice which atomizes when the teeth bite in.

Appalachian Trail, Northern Virginia, January 21, 2020 — The thermometer was slinking past 19 degrees this morning when we crunched gravel in the Keys Gap trailhead parking lot.  We were on a search and destroy mission to clear six blowdowns on the AT.

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The frosty air pinched our noses as we rucked up the chainsaw and all its trimmings.  The first blowdown was quick on the march.  The white stuff is ice.

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The chainsaw makes quick work of these guys.

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All clear.  The next five were attacked in quick succession.

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One side down.

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Side two.  The round, or the middle chunk of log we removed, had to be cut in half.  It was too heavy to manhandle out of the way.

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The formula is simple.  Convert gasoline to noise.  Noise is a catalyst that converts wood to sawdust.  Done.

Sisu

First Day Hike 2020

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Tina’s inevitable selfie marking our start at Gathland State Park, MD.

Appalachian Trail, MD, Gathland to Weverton, January 1, 2020 — Do this math.  It was the Gang of Four, minus one who had to work, plus three.  If Mary was one of them, how many oranges did Mary have left if she ate two?  Answer:  6.5 miles.  Makes as much sense as most word problems.

The confusion doesn’t matter because these intrepid hikers braved the morning frost to mark the New Year in search of burgers and beer at the end of the rainbow.

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Rest stop at the Ed Garvey Shelter

The trail between Gathland and Weverton Cliff is gentle and not very rocky by AT standards.  Tina, who was on the nine-mile Black Friday march, was delighted both by the relative absence of rocks and by the gentle terrain.

The hike follows a wooded ridgeline that is semi exposed to the predominate northwesterly winds.  At times the gusty breath of Mother Nature nibbled at exposed skin, but in return, the sun represented her comforting motherly hug.  Layers and hats were on, and off, and on again for most of the day.

We were a merry band on our march.  We wished “Happy New Year!” to everyone we met along the way.  While the trail wasn’t crowded, the number of families enjoying a First Day hike was impressive.

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Our second rest top was Weverton Cliff.

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Weverton Cliff offers sweeping vistas of the Potomac River all the way to Harpers Ferry.

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“Bulldog” is noted for finding and photographing natural art.

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Weverton has LTE.  Can you tell?

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Glam shot of “Bad Ass.”  She was once a television correspondent for a network you would recognize.  She still looks the part.

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It’s almost a military formation!  The front two are military veterans leading the way.  Note Sam’s “Air Force gloves.”

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Railroad bridge closure notice at the trailhead.  We’ll soon know soon how much longer repairs are expected to take.

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We took the long way to burgers and beer, stopping to admire the view at Jefferson Rock.

Total trash collected and packed out:  One gallon by volume.

All in all, the First Day was a good day.

Sisu

The AT’s Newest Sawyer

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Appalachian Trail, The Rollercoaster, Virginia, December 28, 2019 —  Some folks who spend time preserving and protecting hiking trails are possessed by the demons of perfectionism.

Knowing something isn’t right is like an itch they can’t scratch.  They obsess about it until whatever ‘it’ is, is fixed.  In this case ‘it’ was blowdowns.

Pair uncleared blowdowns with a newly certified sawyer itching to practice, and a chainsaw gets to go for a hike along with a couple of enthusiastic swampers !

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By way of introduction, our sawyer is Witt Wisebram who was last season’s ridgerunner in Northern Virginia and ultra distance runner.  The Atlanta native is now the winter caretaker at the Blackburn Trail Center.

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A “pie cut,” sometimes called a wedge cut, is used because the bind is on top and the log isn’t thick enough to use wedges.  It’s too close to the ground to attack from underneath.

The first few blowdowns were little more than a nuisance to hikers.  They are step-overs that can be ignored, at least the small ones can.  They are removed because they can cause erosion.  The greater challenge for the sawyer on this type of blowdown is to avoid sawing rocks and dirt.

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This tree trunk blocks the trail.  There’s no way around it.  It’s equally difficult to crawl over or under.  Because it’s a “leaner,” care is taken to read it in terms of bind, how the log will behave once the tension is released, including whether it might roll.

You also want to keep your feet out from under the top section of the trunk which will hit the ground with a heavy thud.

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The pie cut missed but the angle cut worked anyway.  Experience gained.  Witt’s friend Jason congratulates!

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Clean up.

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Finishing the job.

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Funny how they seem to fall perpendicular to the treadway.

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Blowdowns come in all sizes.  Witt captured the white blaze for display at Blackburn.

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People have been painting rocks and leaving them along the trail as decorations.  Now it’s golf balls.

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This is how we found it.  Needless to say we packed it out.

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This large branch buried itself more than a foot into the ground.  It was too big to move without being reduced to bite-size chunks.

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Mother nature saved the tenth and best blowdown for last.  The bigger ones are more fun to cut.

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A log this large – in this case about three inches thicker than the length of the chainsaw bar – sometimes the round will bind and not drop to the ground.  An inverse keystone cut is used to ensure the cut out section falls to the ground.

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Note the end of the bar is not sticking out. That means the sawyer has to cut from both sides.

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We used wedges to keep the kerf open. It worked as planned.

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The trail is clear.

Stay tuned for the Gang of Four’s First Day Hike.

Sisu