Seasons end but the work lives on.

 

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The Appalachian Trail, September 30 and October 2, 2022 — We’re a month early but my final chapter leading our ridgerunners has been written.  Dan Hippe will now keep the flame burning brightly with his capable leadership. 

It was a cold and drippy day as Sara and I climbed up to Annapolis Rock one last time to pack up the caretaker site and secure it for the winter.  The stuff good enough for next year was packed into the tool box while we carted the UV-rotted tarps to the dumpster at Washington Monument State Park. 

Since then, Sara has turned in her radio and keys.  She’s hiking all of Maryland’s 41 miles as this is written.  I picked her up at 5 a.m. in Harpers Ferry where she left her van, and shuttled her to the Mason-Dixon Line for a 6:15 a.m. pre-dawn start.  She expects to finish by 11 p.m. tonight.

My larger role may be changing, but the trail maintenance gig has a long runway in front of it. 

The spring on the AT section Caroline and I jointly maintain in Shenandoah National Park was, for all intents and purposes, dry.  The ground was saturated but the flow was virtually nonexistent.  Tina, my friend of 30 years, Gang of Four hiking group member, and occasional swamper, joined us help remedy the problem.

 

We dug a catchment basin, inserted a 5 ft. length of PVC pipe and anchored in with large rocks. 

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It worked!  Our next Hoodlums work trip is October 16.  We’ll check on it then.

The other reason we were working was to rake and shovel silt out of our waterbars (erosion control structures that direct water off the trail).  Our section is particularly sandy and the waterbars need annual cleaning.

This is hard pick and shovel work. 

We didn’t count the exact number, but we got three quarters of our waterbars cleaned out.  We’ll finish the rest next trip.

Exciting news!  After almost two consecutive years working with the Hoodlums Trail Crew and one year co-maintaining this section, Caroline has a trail name. 

It’s not something trite like “Sweet Caroline.”  Regular readers know that she’s an American/Swiss dual national, so she could have been “Swiss Miss.”  It’s far better than those.

Meet Caroline “Dozer” Egli” ’cause she can move dirt.

Sisu

 

Seasonal Rhythms

Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sisu

A fish story.

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Rembrandt sunset.

Aswopiswanan Lake, Northern Manitoba, July 29 – August 6, 2020 — Imagine a land of sky blue water* framed by endless popcorn, all of it patrolled by bald eagles above and by submarine-size northern pike below; where the eagles outnumber the people and the fish can weigh more than small children.

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We were there.  Four guys alone with two motorboats and a zillion miles of nowhere; where eagle chatter dominates nature’s gossip; where waves slapping your boat is the drumbeat of time passing; where no sign of civilization can find you.  Walden Pond, eat your heart out.

We were an interesting deck to shuffle.  On the one hand, we are variously two sets of brothers, one uncle, two nephews, two sons, and three of us are dads.  On the other, we were simply four fishermen loaded for pike.

Four a.m. wake up.

Let’s start at the beginning.  It takes four flights to get there from here.  One from where you are to Minneapolis; Minneapolis to Winnipeg; overnight in Winnipeg.  Day two opens with a zero-dark-thirty take off in a Beechcraft King Air to a dirt strip at Point St. Theresa.  Next it’s a float plane flight about another hour north to the lake and a lunchtime arrival.

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What a treat.  Our floatplane was a 1953 vintage De Havilland Beaver (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Canada_DHC-2_Beaver), the aircraft bush pilots love.

Although retro as hell featuring well-worn rudder pedals as proof of its lucky legacy, it was updated with the latest avionics from Best Buy.

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Fortunately the Beaver can schlepp a load.  My brother’s boys are not small people.  Matt is 6’6 330lbs.  Nate is 220 lbs.  Somehow we fit.  Since this lake is a regular stop on their fishing circuit, they gave the rookie the front row seat with its E ticket ride.

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Number two for takeoff following 10-minutes to warm-up the oil pan.   The windows were so scratched that I wondered how the pilot could see much of anything.

Airborne in under a minute.  As long as the number of take-offs and landings are equal, all’s good.

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The glaciers pocked Northern Manitoba with more lakes than you can count.  Classic boreal forest carpets the exposed granite ridges.

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Esker debries lines the lake bottoms.

Definitely an old-school stick and rudder aircraft.  Happy landing. Hardly a bump when we hit the water.

The fish camp decorated in early particleboard reminded me of hiker accommodations powered by propane where the shower output dribbles like an old man standing at a urinal.  Unfortunately at some point prior to our arrival the building made a wrong turn on its foundation but remained true inside.  A crew flew in to shore it up on the plane that lifted us out.

After tossing our gear inside, it didn’t take long to launch the two 14-foot boats pushed by 20-horse Yamaha outboards.  Thus powered to stay out of trouble, we still could scoot up the lake at a pretty good clip.  It’s the venerable kit used in International Falls when I was a kid.

Twenty horses pack a punch even in rough water when the boat smacks your butt like the principal’s paddle back in the day.

Ok.  We’re there.  We’re on the water.  Let’s get down to business.

In this case we don’t have to talk about the ones that got away even though many did.  We were using barbless hooks from which smaller fish can easily unhook themselves by wiggling.  With the exception of a few walleyes we ate, this trip was strictly catch and release.

Proof they weren’t all lunkers.  Too many hammer handles to count.  (A hammer handle is a northern pike about the same size as a hammer handle.)

We’ll save the lunkers for last so stay tuned. Now for what happened in the middle.

Northern pike are notoriously aggressive.  They’re also cannibalistic. 

It works like this.  Grandpa hangs out outside the nursery school door waiting for his grandkid’s class to get out, then boom.  They eat about anything that moves. 

The lunkers are large enough to eat almost any fish or bird in or on the lake.  This medium size northern followed a smaller one my brother hooked and attempted to devour it while still on on the hook. The aggressor fish was oblivious of everything else except eating.

An overnight storm proved challenging in several ways.

The wicked wind of the west kicked up waves around three feet tall.  The boat moored perpendicular to the wind was swamped. 

Bailing it out proved challenging.  Then we discovered a leak and water in the gas. 

Fortunately there were five boats to choose from so we made a change.

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Later, I was wearing an automatic flotation device when a wave flipped me out of the boat as I stood to cast.  The auto feature worked.  The water was warm!  Fortunately I saved the tackle and the ride back to change clothes was short.  I was embarrassed but delighted with the outcome.  Don’t screw around without PPE.

The abundant wild life have been noted.  Here’s some proof.  Unfortunately we didn’t photograph the beaver swimming from its lodge.

Now for the best video clip of the trip.  Bald eagles owned the sky.

I quickly fished my iPhone from my pocket when I spied this one.  It delivered for my effort.  I captured several eagle clips.  This was by far the best.

Ready for the sunsets and sunrises?

The best was taken by my nephew.  I was too whipped and jaded to get out of bed to view the northern lights the first night. 

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He caught the big dipper dead center.

Oddities?

What’s with the ancient rifle or the weird chairs?  The prop looks like it diced some rocks instead of onions.

The hook and bullet trade is not known for its attention to Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.

Even motorboat fishing has its zen.

Let’s get ready.

Ok, here come the trophy fish.  They are in the 38 inches+ class.  When they hit, you know it.  Your rod bends like a troll with a bad back.  The drag groans as the fish overpower the brake.  You hang on and reel like crazy.  You’re hoping Jaws is on the line.

I won the contest for most fish over 40 inches and for the biggest fish. 

 

This is the 42 1/2 inch lake snake that won me $15.  My brother Jack did the honors.  The fish are seriously stressed by handling.  The less, the better.  They also secrete a huge amount of slime as a defense mechanism. 

These are serious predators.  Here’s what it did to my lure. 

The fish was strong enough to break off on of the hooks and bend the rings.  My nephew Nate restored the lure to mint condition. 

There are a lot of ways to end this story. 

It could be the wings back to reality.

It could be another eagle video.

It could be landing a fish.

Instead its the real reason for going in the first place – family, fish and fresh coffee at dawn.

Sisu

*Appropriated on purpose from a Hamm’s Beer ad from yesteryear. 

Thanks to Bolton Lake Lodge, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I took 330 photos and video clips during the week.  Here are some out takes:

 

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

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

Continue reading

Michaux State Forest

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Stuffed bear at Michaux State Forest headquarters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Literally rubbing out graffiti can be a sport.

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

Sisu

Stuff Happens

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

Rock Spring is ready to “go.”

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

Time for a clean up.

REI is donating a new caretaker tent.

Dan Hippe’s electric Koolaid chainsaw show.

The summit of Pass Mountain is clear.

Flower power.

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

Sisu

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

Treemegedon!

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Prince William Forest National Park, VA, January 2022 — The mid-Atlantic experiences a wide range of weather.  The the spring flowers are spectacular, summers are hot and humid, the autumns colorful, and the winters – well let me tell you.

The National Capitol Region winters are really mild until they aren’t.  Remember those icy presidential inaugurations?

About every fifth year or so the snow gods like to play around with us.  They want to find out how much heavy, wet snow we can take.  As I remind them, nobody is actually from around here.  We come from cold hard places named Buffalo, Missoula, Bangor, Fairbanks, Leadville, Minneapolis and the grand daddy of them all, International Falls.  We know how to sharpen our snow shovels and win the fight.

Sadly the trees are from around here.  They’re not so tough.  Wind, ice and heavy wet snow play hell with the soft and brittle ones.  The rocky soil and shallow roots don’t help the cause.

Recently we experienced a classic nor’ easter, a storm fed by tropical waters that rolls up the Blue Ridge  carpet bombing havoc all along the trace of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  In this case, it slid a little to the east missing the AT for the most part.  It did clobber a neat little gem of a park just outside the Marine base at Quantico, VA.

Info on Prince William Forest Park

Thousands of trees are down or broken.  Large limbs have been ripped from trunks.  The hiking trails, which for trail runners are the best in the region, are impassable.

Cue Task Force Snowmegedon, an ad hoc collection of PATC chain sawyers who gathered from near and far to turn blowdowns into sawdust.  We’ve been at it for the better part of two weeks with at least another week to go.

The ratio of tree crowns, sometimes called “rats nests” blocking the path, to the number of large tree trunks is rather large.  Regardless, there are plenty of large trees blocking the trail.

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These are live trees.  They bind in ways unlike the dried out dead ones do.  We’ve learned that pole saws are much safer to use as we wade into these rats nests.  The stand off distance from branches that sometimes whip when their energy is released is a godsend.

This was the Mother of all Blowdowns for last week.  It was complex and full of stored energy as the branches flexed in different directions when they fell.

Bind, or the way a tree is compressed, is sometimes difficult to read, even for the most experienced sawyers.  The large branch that pinched and trapped this saw moved horizontally away from the sawyer.  We unbolted the powerhead and made a vertical cut on the opposite side which released the pressure and the bar.

This video is worth watching to the end.  It’s approximately three minutes long.  The sawyer is National Park Service Ranger Mike Custodio, who is responsible for roads and trails in the park. He’s tackling this one because his saw is the only one long enough to take on the mammoth trunk.  His objective is to get the trunk on the ground where it will be easier and safer to clear.

Mike knows how this tree is going to behave based on the size of the root ball and its angle.  This is his plan of attack:

First Mike clears two saplings on the far side of the trunk to ensure the nose of his saw doesn’t hit them and dangerously kick back.

Second he makes a large pie cut on top of the trunk to allow room for the tree’s eventual behavior.

Third Mike makes an undercut to prevent a “barber chair” split when the trunk is cut through.

Fourth, Mike is very cautious as he makes his reverse keystone cut to allow the tree to behave without binding.  This tree is going to release a lot of energy and he wants to live to tell the tale.

Fifth, watch all of the video.  There is a surprise ending.  No spoiler alerts.

Lunchtime planning session.

Lunch on various days.

Another one bites the dust.

Our newest sawyer scores a KO!

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Part of the park visitors don’t see.

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Instructor/evaluator sawyer, Robert Fina’s master class.

We’ll be back again next week.

Sisu