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

Ridgerunner One

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Shenandoah National Park, April 29 – 30, 2022 — The first ridgeunner who comes aboard each season  inherits the park radio call sign, “Ridgerunner One.”  The second follows as “Ridgerunner Two.”  This year “Ridgerunner One” is John Cram from Seattle.

Each season, the first stroll we take is from Compton Gap to the north boundary kiosk where we check to see if the permit box is full.  Along the way we stop at the Indian Run Maintenance Hut for which the ridgerunners have a key.  They check it each time they pass for signs of damage or other issues.  They also do the same for the AT-adjacent rental cabins and maintenance huts in the park.

In John’s case this year, some glitches led to a late start and a short first patrol from the north boundary to Panorama at Thornton Gap.  At least we covered the whole north district.

Along the way we cover all  the items that are part of the ridgerunner’s weekly report which includes a hiker count, blowdowns, the amount of trash picked up and other things.  They learn quickly that TP tulips are as prolific as other invasive plants.  They apply their folding saws and clippers to remove minor trail obstructions.

They also report campsites less than 60 ft. from the trail and remove illegal fire rings.  No fires are allowed in the backcountry other than in fire pits established by the park itself.  Note the trash that didn’t burn.

No ridgerunner has ever been more zealous about demolishing fire rings than Lauralee “Blissful” Bliss.  I want her to know that, like a momma bear teaching its cubs, I’ve taught her enthusiasm to every ridgerunner I’ve trained since.  Your legacy lives on!

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There’s never a shortage of blowdowns.  Last year they were mostly red oak and ash.  This year, the ash are dominating so far.  Ridgerunners photograph each one, record the GPS coordinates, and enter the data into an smart phone app that compiles their weekly reports.  The poles and hat are for scale since ridgerunners and hikers are notorious for improperly estimating the size of downed trees.

On the way over North Marshall, we noticed the no camping sign had been vandalized.  The reason why was on top where a large new campsite had been established.  “Honest officer, I didn’t see any ‘no camping’ sign.”

The wild flame azalea and mountain laurel are budding on the south side of Compton Peak.  The full bloom photo is from May 21st last year, so we’re about three weeks away from some spectacular flowers.

The view from North Marshall clearly shows “green up” as spring slowly creeps up the mountainsides.

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We spent Saturday evening at Gravel Spring Hut.  About half the crowd was thru hiking.  Almost everyone was sporting a bear canister.  That’s a huge victory and a credit to the amount of bear education the AT Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service have been doing.

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Serendipity is one of my favorite words.  John walks in and to his total surprise meets his old friend  Cheryl.  They originally met in North Woodstock, NH at the Notch Hostel when he was hiking southbound on the AT.  Without doubt he was surprised to see her on his first overnight as a Ridgerunner.  AT trail magic doesn’t get better than that.

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Our fortunes changed on Sunday.  We made it almost all the way to the Elk Wallow wayside before the cold rain began pelting our Goretex.  The store is open, but the grill is closed until Memorial Day.  So, we settled for ham sandwiches and a dry spot under the breezeway.

The bright side is for insiders.  Chugging up the extra long Neighbor Mountain traverse out of Elk Wallow is much easier without a greasy burger and fries combo riding high in your gut. Serendipity?  Maybe.

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

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The day ended around six o’clock with a gimme blowdown at Thornton Gap.  I know the backstory behind the cut that didn’t count, but I’ll never tell.

Up next.  Gravel Spring privy on Friday and an encore appearance by a very special guest star.  Stay tuned.

Until then…

Sisu