Spring Cleaning.

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Appalachian Trail Maryland, April 2017 — It’s April on the AT and spring is when it all starts to happen around here.  First up is ridgerunner kick-off. Our long-season ridgerunner/Annapolis Rock caretaker in Maryland starts on April 1.  I often wonder whether or not any of them figure out how auspicious that day is by the October 31 end of their very long term.  I’ve just never seen one sign up for a second long-season tour, so I suspect they pick up on the hidden meaning.

Last year you may recall Kyle MacKay was our lucky pick to spend seven months in the woods.  I mean, that’s longer than the average 2,200-mile thru hike. Blog post about Kyle’s first day.

This year the duty falls on Gene Anderson.  Gene is a genial former thru hiker from Carolina who spent his career in the insurance adjusting industry.  Now that’s seems like excellent preparation for educating hikers who need to repair their behavior.  Everyone of us has scratches and dents that need attention.

I met Gene early on April 1 at the U.S. 40 AT trail head, just up the hill from Green Briar State Park.  We went to meet the Maryland Park Service rangers he’d be working with and to collect his radio and other equipment.  After that, we moved his gear into the small apartment he’ll share with Kyle who’ll be on the clock for the short season from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

It took two trips to schlep all the gear up to the caretaker’s site.  Since I paid attention to how the tent was pitched last year, the dome was up and secure in short order.

Since the week-long formal ridgerunner training doesn’t start until May, the early bird gets OJT.  This year I spent four days with Gene rather than the two I spent with Kyle last season.  As luck would have it, we saw just about one of everything there is to see minus a major medical event.

I set my tent up behind the caretakers tent in close proximity to very recent bear activity.  Bears shred logs in very specific patterns.

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The claw marks leave no doubt.

I walked Gene around Annapolis Rock checking each campsite.  I showed him how to  “knock down” the privy “cone.” and where to find the wood chips users need to add as bulking material to aid the composting process.

IMG_0208The state felled 80 hazard trees over the winter making the area appear to be a no man’s land.  Two years ago a rotten tree fell and killed a hiker at another shelter in Maryland.  The response was to drop every possible tree than might come down in a high wind or in icy conditions.  The result:  Ugly, but safe.  As the trees decompose, the bears and birds are gonna love it.

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No fires are permitted at Annapolis Rock.  Alcohol isn’t allowed either.  Period.  Signs are everywhere.  Yet … people think the rules are for others.  We destroyed three fire rings like this one that had been created over the winter.  Later, we hit the mother lode when we caught five college students on spring break from Ohio with a fire.  Yes!!!  “Out damn fire!  Out!!!”  We let them keep their beer if they didn’t drink it.  Wink, wink.  Believe it or not, they were up and out by dawn.  My guess was that they would have been in a stupor at that hour.

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Part of the orientation is a tour of the rock.  I showed Gene how to get to the bottom of the cliff and a quick and safe way back up.

The second night, two scout troop leaders stopped by the caretaker tent to ask if their troop could build a fire.  We explained the rules and why they exist.  Fires can be built at Pogo campground, 30 minutes north or at Pine Knob shelter, 30 minutes south, just not at the rock due to environmental sensitivity.  “Well,” they said.  “There’s a roaring fire just off the AT 150 yards north of the AT-Annapolis Rock trail junction.”  Since neither fires nor camping is permitted in Maryland except in designated areas, we decided to check it out.

IMG_0218  I grabbed my headlamp.  It was black dark.  Sure enough we easily found a roaring fire about 25 yards off the trail.  There they were, three 50 somethings from Baltimore standing around an out of control fire in a high wind.  We asked them to put it out and explained where they could go if they wanted a fire.

The surprise was their age.  Usually the perps are between 20 and 40, young and immature men.  These were 50 + immature men….

The next morning we went back to check the area.  We found a set of tent poles and no sign of camping, so it appeared to us that they abandoned the site in the night and hiked to a place to where they could build a fire.  Unfortunately the fire was still hot.  Moreover, it had  been  built on duff (the dead leaf layer) rather than bare ground.  Luckily the area was saturated by recent rain.  Otherwise … how do you spell forest fire?

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We hiked five gallons of water from the Annapolis Rock spring to douse the fire – and put it out, cold.  Then we covered and camouflaged it to help prevent a permanent “stealth” campsite from forming.

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We found a small blowdown which Gene cleared.

Gene also is a ridgerunner who patrols the trail in Maryland in addition to his duties as Annapolis Rock caretaker.  So off we went to inspect other sites.

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I love the stone chairs around one of the fire pits at the Pogo campsite.

At Pine Knob I showed Gene how to inspect the area and where to find the trash.  Women could not walk 50 feet to the privy.  Not sure why this happens, but it happens everywhere.

Enough of the dark side.

One of the best part of being a PATC ridgerunner is leading hikes for the Road Scholar program. Road Scholar We play a role in their hike on the AT in four states offering.

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People do the weird things.

Sisu

Busy

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Digging a bear pole hole.

Northern Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail, July 21-24, 2016 — It was time for the monthly PATC ridgerunner meeting, this time at the Blackburn Trail Center where “Trailboss” is the caretaker and gracious host.  Since he has an endless list of projects, Robin Hobbs and I showed up early to help do some work at the Sam Moore shelter (AT NOBO mile 999.6).

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Bear poles have hooks to hang food bags using a forked pole, here tied down on the far side of the pole.

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The pole is set 18 inches in the ground with four 60-lb. bags of concrete.

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Working bear pole at Jim & Molly Denton shelter.

While the Sam Moore overseer and I installed the bear pole, Robin and Trailboss hiked north to clear two blowdowns across the AT.

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We finished up by replacing a fire ring with a new fire grate.

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The social and dinner prompted a lot of discussion.  This is where the real business is done.

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Sara Leibold, our Northern Virginia ridgerunner and I started patrolling immediately following the meeting.

We spent the first night at the Tom Floyd Wayside shelter with three others.

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We took a break after picking up micro trash at the John Singleton Mosby campsite.  It is deep in the area Mosby’s raiders patrolled during the civil war.

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Along the way we clipped plenty of vegetation which grows prolifically this time of year.

Our last evening was spent at the Denton shelter with a large grouping of campers. Sunday morning we hiked to a road where Sara’s dad was waiting to take her home to Alabama for a whirlwind visit.  She works 10 on and four off which gives her sufficient time.

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It wasn’t until much later that I realized Sara might be a serial killer! 😉

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Tried to photograph an interesting spider web with a phone camera.  No luck.  A good camera is on my Christmas list.

I was testing a new Osprey pack for use in the 100-mile wilderness next week.  It carries nicely, but I like the cargo features of my old one.  On a long hike the ride is more important, so the new pack made the Maine manifest.

Next stop Kennebunkport to see my friend Ed, the guy who taught me to split granite.  Then to Manchester, NH to pick up Wendy “Pepsi Hiker” Horn at the airport and head for Millinocket where we’ll drop my car and get shuttled to Monson to begin our 100-mile journey.  Boots on trail Aug. 1.

Sisu

 

What the funk?

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I was out on my annual walk with some of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club ridgerunners last week.

On this particular walk I started asking about thru hikers about their previous hiking experience.  Better than 90 percent said that they had little to no previous backpacking experience before toeing off on Springer Mtn.  Admittedly it’s a small sample.  Nevertheless, the answer to this question and other observations got me noodling about hiker hygiene …

In central Virginia I called someone to shuttle me into town for a resupply. I tossed my pack into the back of the van; then jumped in. The driver reflexively rolled down her window even before I could get my door shut.

I knew what she was thinking. “This guy’s a thru hiker and I bet he smells to high heaven.” She knew I’d been on the trail for five days and her expectations were reasonable. Hell, when I’m out maintaining my AT section, if the wind is blowing just so, I can smell the thru hikers long before they come into view.

Anyway, as she pulled away, I implored my benefactor.

“You don’t have to do that. I don’t smell.” She looked me in the eye, wrinkled her nose and said, “You’re right.” “How do you do that?” she asked as she returned her window to the upright and locked position.

The answer is simple.   Personal hygiene is priority for me and a point of pride. I also don’t want to “smell like a Boy Scout” as my mother used to say to my brother and I when we returned from our camping trips. More importantly, I don’t want to get sick. It’s another level of Leave No Trace if you want to see it that way.

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My personal hygiene kit. It clips to and hangs with my bear bag at night.  It’s the equivalent of snivel gear for me.

Hikers don’t have to stink if they don’t want to.  I may may take it further than most, but staying clean isn’t all that hard and it has many benefits.  Experienced hikers tend to be the cleaner ones.

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The contents include tooth brush and paste, Dr. Bronner’s soap, waterless shampoo and waterless body wash, large microfiber wash cloths which double as towels, deodorant and Q-tips.  Fingernail clippers usually reside in my pocket for quick fingernail cleaning.

Here are eight hiker hygiene considerations.

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  1.  You don’t have to stink.  Using waterless shampoo and body wash each night is the trick. It’s a nice complement to the tick check, the weight is negligible, and it has the added benefit of helping to keep your sleeping bag from smelling like a dead gym sock.  Rub it in and wipe it off with a microfiber cloth.  You can buy the stuff and any drug store or REI.  Hand sanitizer works as deodorant if you rub it in, but I carry the real stuff.
  2. Bury your shit! Not only is it an unsightly and smelly disease vector, but the Bible itself, Deuteronomy 23:13, says do it!  Deuteronomy 23:13
  3. Wash your hands. I allocate two wet wipes per day for use when I relieve myself.  I work from the top down, face first, pits followed by the business at hand.  When done, they’re returned to the foil container they came in; then on to the trash bag. No monkey butt!  I also use a dab of Dr. Bronner’s eco-friendly soap to wash my hands whenever I get water.  I wash away from the source in a zip lock I carry for that purpose. I clean my fingernails each time I wash my hands.
  4. Treat or filter your water.  I prefer iodine and the neutralizer pills to save weight and space, but I also have a Sawyer.  The method is not important.  The key is to make it a habit.  Better safe than sorry.
  5. Dental care.  Brush after breakfast and again after dinner.  The key is the brushing action.  You don’t need but a dab of toothpaste which you can either swallow or spit into the woods away from camp.
  6. Clean your dishes!  This thru hiker was as filthy as her dishes.  I cook only foods I can rehydrate in Zip Lock freezer bags or their original containers.  If you cook in your pot, clean thoroughly with Dr. Bronner’s and scatter the gray water far away from camp.  You can dig a sump and strain out any chunks with grass or vegetation.  The chunks need to be packed out.
  7. Lyme disease.  This is bad stuff.  The most dangerous animal on the AT is the tick. Permethrin kills them on contact. You can have your clothes professionally treated here: Insect Shield or purchase permethrin spray at any Walmart, outdoor store or REI.  They even have it at the AT Conservancy Visitor Center.  I go overboard.  I spray my pack, the inside of my sleeping bag and tent and wear permethrin-treated long pants.  For those who don’t like chemicals, weigh the risk.
  8. Noro Virus.  The aforementioned practices can do a lot to reduce your chances of catching this ugly bug.  If you have a good relationship with your physician, you can get prescriptions that will stop vomiting dead in the water and doxycycline you can take on a prophylactic basis if a tick chomps you.  Imodium stops diarrhea.  I carry them in my first aid kit.  So far, so good, but it’s a comfort to know that they are there.  I had to promise that I’d immediately see a doctor if I took any of the prescribed meds.

Stay well.  Smell good.  Enjoy your hike!

Oh! The things we see.

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Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA to Harpers Ferry, WV, June 30 – July 6,, 2016 — My annual hikes with our ridgerunners have begun.  This year my muffin top needs shrinking so I decided to walk all 240 miles of the PATC section in hopes of burning some of it off.  I’d like to do it nonstop, but schedules, theirs and mine, dictate otherwise.

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After dropping my car at the Harpers Ferry National Park long term parking, Robin Hobbs schlepped me up to meet Mitch Mitchell at the store where hikers traditionally eat a half gallon of ice cream to celebrate reaching the halfway point which is just down the trail.  From here the math for them changes from counting up the miles to counting them down.

Prospective ridgerunners think the job is about hiking.  Readers of this blog know from last year in Georgia and other missives that the opposite is true.  It mostly about picking up trash, coaching hikers in Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, counting and interacting with hikers.  The miles per day are generally slow and short.

This trip was no different, but here’s fair warning.  I’m going to let you in on some ridgerunner reality show secrets and it’s gonna get gross…

We were also out over the July 4th holiday weekend, meaning more people in general, more nubes, and the laggard thru hiker party crowd which is not known for its trail decorum.  In fact, they openly admit to yellow blazing (hitch hiking) and to using booze and drugs in excess.

The rule of thumb is that if a hiker isn’t at Harpers Ferry by the Fourth of July, they need to “flip” to Maine and hike south or risk winter weather shutting them out of Mt. Katahdin in October.  These folks are walking on the bleeding edge of that axiom.

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Selfie at the official half way marker.

Our start was leisurely enough.  We got about a half gallon (by volume) worth of trash out of the fire pit at Toms Run shelter and pressed on.  Before the day’s end Mitch’s pack reminded me of a colonial tinker plying his trade along the rutted byways that traced the very region we were trekking.

As we moved along, trash of all kinds accumulated.

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I don’t know what it is with me and finding pots and pans.  Since hiking with Hal and Lauralee last year, I’ve found enough to open my own store.

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Any more trash and he won’t have a place to put it.  It’s the second pair of new (cheap) boots I’ve found this year alone.

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Taking inventory before feeding the friendly dumpster at New Caledonia State Park, PA.  We’re not showing you the snack bar just out of the photo.  I packed out some of their tasty treats for  dinner for that night.

Homeless camp on state park property.  It was a family that appeared to have left in a hurry.  Some toys and a pink blanket were in one of the tents along with clothing.  The food in the cooler was rotten.  The park rangers cleaned it up.  Too big for us to haul out on our backs.

After spending the night at Birch Run shelter with a noisy crowd of hikers, we press on.

Ridgerunners see a lot of gross stuff on the trail including unburied human waste, used feminine hygiene products,  wipes and toilet paper (Charmin blossoms) and the like.  We fish it out of privies, pick it up and pack it out or bury it as appropriate.  What comes next  is a first for me.  Why I was surprised, I don’t know.

You’d think after more than 1,000 miles on the trail, hikers would learn a thing or three, especially about hygiene.  Maybe not.  We found the young woman who owns this food dish improperly camped too close to a stream and illegally camped in the vicinity of a PATC rental cabin.  I’d met her previously while hiking with Denise the week prior in Virginia.  The embedded dirt on her skin reminded me of a character made up to be in a movie about peasants in the middle ages.  My stinky gym socks smell better.  Small wonder hikers get sick on the trail.

There were fewer flies on this pile of human scat I buried than on our hiker’s food plate.  These videos will go into every presentation I will ever give from now forward on backpacking.

Approaching Deer Lick shelter, we bumped into a PATC trail crew hiking out their tools.  They were nice enough to invite us to dinner with the North Chapter group, so we grabbed some of their tools and Chris Ferme’s chainsaw and tagged along for some chicken pot pie, green salad and fresh backed blueberry and lemon pie for dessert.  Yum!  Chris hauled us back to the trail in time to reach Deer Lick before dark.  The next day we hiked over their handiwork.  Nice job guys!

The following morning Mitch dropped off to participate in a PATC North Chapter hiker feed back at Pine Grove Furnace.  I pushed on to Raven Rock shelter in Maryland to rendezvous with Robin.

People love to steal this sign.  I was lucky it was there this trip.

Removed a small blowdown obstructing the trail using a folding saw.

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Evidence of the party crowd.  Scattered the sticks.

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The last of the rhododendron blooms.

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Bear activity has been unusually high this season.  The good news is that most hikers have found religion when it comes to bears and are hanging their food and toiletries rather than sleeping with them.  Yogi and Boo Boo have been working overtime.  Bears have entered shelters and stolen packs in search of food and destroyed tents.  Shenandoah has closed a section to camping and bear sightings in the PATC’s 240 mile section have been frequent.

While at Raven Rock shelter, MD, Robin and I hiked down to the old Devil’s Race Course shelter location (now torn down) and dismantled the fire ring.  That will help make it less inviting for high school drinking parties that caused the new shelter to be built up a steep hill from there.

Now, it didn’t happen by accident that I timed my hike to be at Annapolis Rock for July Fourth ’cause guess what?  You can see fireworks from that lofty perch.  Unfortunately the rain was falling in buckets with heavy fog.  We saw zip, but the campground was nearly full in spite of the forecast.

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The clouds were clearing the next morning when I set off for Crampton Gap after a quick photo op with Robin.  It was Kyle’s day off (the other Maryland ridgerunner), but I’ve been out with him before and we intercepted him along the way.  He’ll be there through Oct. 31, so we’ve got plenty of time.

The AT foot bridge over I-70.

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The original Washington Monument outside Boonsboro, MD.  My camera lens was foggy with sweat!

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C&O Canal lock # 33 just outside Harpers Ferry.  I’m standing on the tow path.

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Back to Virginia and Shenandoah soon.  Sisu

Busy Week

ameShenandoah National Park and Antietam National Battlefield, first week of April, 2016 — It’s about time I complained about the weather.  It’s been totally schizoid for the past several days – hot then cold with a dash of sun, rain and wind, frosted on occasion with powdered snow.   There’s snow dusting in this weekend’s forecast.

Why weather?  Last Saturday Shenandoah was ripped by strong winds.  A sleeping hiker was pinned under a tree that blew over about two days hike south of the park at a place called Spy Rock.  Trees and branches were down everywhere in our region.

I was supposed to spend Sat. night at Indian Run with a friend I was going to help Sunday clear blown down trees on one of Shenandoah’s 400 miles of side trail called Jeremy’s Run.

After spending a cold night at Annapolis Rock, I chickened out.  The wind and cold were distinctly unwelcoming.  Instead I showed up bright and early Sunday morning to a greeting by an icy windchill with teeth and a dusting of snow still on the ground.

Jeremy’s Run is located in a designated wilderness area.  That means all work must be done with hand tools.  No motors allowed.

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So off we marched with a junior sized version of the famous crosscut saw you see in antique logging photos.  It sports a traditional carpenter saw handle on one end and a moveable vertical handle on the other.  If the vertical handle is on the far end, it’s a two person saw.  If it’s just forward of the fixed handle, it’s a one person saw.  Very versatile.

Blowdowns are a pain in the butt for hikers.  Step-overs like this one are not so bad.

It’s the chest high or ones with a ton of protruding branches that are a real pain.  You can’t go up or down.

We whacked six and 1/4 blowdowns.  One quarter?

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This big fella came at the end of the day.  It requires two cuts to get it on the ground and two more to cut out the section obstructing the trail.  Its height and the adjacent slope make cutting out the center section too difficult and dangerous.  Better to lay it down.

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Lots of work here, especially coming as it did at the end of the day.  At least we were out of the wind.   The wedges keep the cut open as the tree’s weight and gravity wants to close the top of the cut and bind the saw.

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This guy was too large for our little saw to be fully efficient. It took 45 minutes for two tired sawyers to make this slice.  Hence one quarter. A crew with a longer crosscut will finish the job next weekend during the Hoodlums regularly scheduled monthly work trip.  At least hikers have a relatively passable step over until then.

Wednesday I joined a group of nine PATC members at the Antietam National Battlefield to disassemble a section of worm row fencing. We got ‘er done in three hours!  In the process we dubbed ourselves the Hole-in-the-Ground crew because of the dozens of ground hog dens we occasionally stepped in.

We celebrated a local ice cream parlor in Sharpsburg – no work without play is our motto.

The National Park Service is working on a multi-year project to restore civil war battlefields to the sight lines and condition they were in when the battles actually happened.  This fence was not present on Sept. 17, 1862 when 23,000 soldiers became casualties on this ground.  It was and remains the bloodiest day in U.S. military history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antietam_National_Battlefield

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The week ended with a short trip to Shenandoah so our ridgerunners could meet with the back country office before Lauralee’s first patrol starting today.  Both Lauralee and Hal are returning from last year and need no introduction.  Chris Zigler is the new back country manager and we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

Of note, the park’s trail crews will be beefed up.  Better yet, up to six back country rangers will be on the trail and at the huts this year – helping people do the right thing and coaching Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.

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On the way home this little guy on my AT section got chopped up with a pruning saw. Did I ever mention that I love retirement.  The work is not work.  It’s fun!