I love PEOPLE!

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You think we were tired!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the week.  Now for the weekend.

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

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

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

It was like a war story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ana clears an obstacle!

The outer defenses are defeated.

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

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Happiness is…

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

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

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The objective.  In total, we defeated nine blowdowns.

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Clearing the battlefield.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We replaced rotted logs.

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

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

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

Sisu

Breaking News.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sisu

The AT is a place to serve

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The Appalachian Trail, October 27, 2021 — This month’s “AT Journeys” magazine reflects on the AT’s history and features essays on the experience of some of it those highly connected to it.  The essays prompted me to ask myself, “Why?”  This is my answer.

For me the AT is not some romantic ideal.  I don’t go there to find myself or heal from hurt.  Instead, it represents a kindred community and an open-ended opportunity to rake, pound, shovel, and make sawdust.

Selfless service has been the central ethos of my life.  It began as a family value, was reinforced by my military service and yet again at the culmination of my career by the very purpose of the Corporation for National and Community service, the parent of AmeriCorps.

Community service as a post retirement mission was a given.  My lifelong love affair with nature, backpacking and endurance athletics led naturally to the Appalachian Trail which runs less than an hour from my house.

I thought the best way to prepare for my, then pending, 2,200 mile AT thru hike should include involvement in service to the trail, a deposit in the karma account.

Two months after retiring I was cleaning waterbars, clipping vegetation and the other tasks novice maintainers do.  By the end of that summer, building log structures and stonework had been added to my rookie resume.  I was hooked.

Later, that thru hike proved to me the priceless value of those who lend their muscle, money and intellect to preserving and protecting trails.  Mother Nature can easily reclaim her ground if we don’t take care of it.

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Since scaling Katahdin I’ve been privileged to clear blowdowns, empty privy compost bins, be a ridgerunner, and serve in leadership roles.

The selfless example of the countless volunteers with whom I’ve been privileged to work is the beating heart of this experience.  Some have been showing up for decades.  Many drive hours just to get to where they’re volunteering.  These givers stand in sharp contrast to the takers in our society.

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No one volunteers for the pay.  Everyone does it for the camaraderie and satisfaction of knowing their effort matters.  Their example keeps me coming back.

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A successful thru hike and years of hiking with our ridgerunners have allowed me to witness the evolution of trail culture. Change is inevitable, driven by the advent of lighter equipment, new technology, social media, and the march of new generations.  It morphs a little each year, but the underlying spirit of the community remains constant.  All told, the AT offers an amazing place to serve and do.

Sisu

Hoodlums Crew Week

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Two rock hammers and a rock bar.  Guess what we did?

Shenandoah National Park, August 1 – 7, 2021 — The park is tinder dry, but the moderate temperatures and low humidity made up for the dust exploding in our faces as our picks loosened the dirt and the rocks we needed to move.

We were there for our annual Hoodlums Crew Week, an opportunity for us to tackle big projects requiring time and muscle.

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This time we continued our restoration of the CCC’s work on the AT on the north side of Compton Peak.  The primary objective was to replace a ragged set of steps with something more elegant and practical.  This staircase had to be torn out and rebuilt.

The crew totaled six permanent members and four more who augmented us on various days depending on their availability.  We had to dig up and move almost everyone of those rocks.  That’s what they call a heavy lift.

We lived at the Pinnacles Research Station, our normal crew week hangout, but occupancy was limited to four inside. We had a bug proof enclosure outside where we could socialize and the deer came to visit.

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On Sunday I came early so Chris Bowley, our ridgerunner, could join me to do so some overdue weeding, after which we joined the others for dinner and beer.

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Monday and Thursday featured an assist from a Virginia Conservation Corps group made up mostly young folks who are between high school and college.  They helped carry logs we planned to use for our project, built a couple of check dams, and also weeded some overgrown AT sections for us.

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They also helped take out of commission an illegal campsite near the Compton Gap parking lot.  It was a combination campsite and outdoor latrine.

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After cleaning up the TP tulips and burying the feces, we moved a ton of logs and sticks to make the area unusable.

Campsites that are noncompliant with backcountry regulations are proliferating at an alarming rate  throughout the park.  The culprit is social media, particularly an app called “Guthook.”  Hikers can leave notes and GPS locations visible to all users.  Once a site is established, with the aid of the app, it attracts evermore users until the vegetation is dead and the dirt is bare.  That’s when the erosion starts.

Previously the rangers would try and camouflage the sites, but now hikers can find them with laser precision and easily remove the camouflage.  The next step is denial with dead timber too large for one person to move alone.

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We also found that a popular boulder was being used as a bathroom where children sometimes explore.

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Not anymore.

Everything starts with the foundation.  Dig ’em in deep and they’ll still be there in 50 years.  Also building with larger rocks, aka BFRs, helps prevent bears from flipping them in search of bugs to eat.

This is a behind the scenes look at the reality of setting a step.  Ultimately the entire staircase has to fit together.

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It’s tiring work and the team has to continuously think and talk it over.  Sometimes it looks like chaos.  Sometimes it is.

Ultimately it’s like a giant puzzle.

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Steps 1.0 begins to form.  This configuration would ultimately be scrapped.  Too many voids, the tread wasn’t wide enough.  Most of all, they were ugly.  If it looks bad, it is bad.

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Final version.  If it looks good, it must be good!  We ultimately removed about a third of the steps making the trail much easier to use.

Meanwhile, further up the trail other work was happening.  This is how old men and women get stuff done!

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At this point, we’re returning the tread to its original location.  The rocks we’re digging up were the original CCC rip rap.  Here the trail had become two lanes with the old rip rap in the middle.  The trail from Panorama to Mary’s Rock has done the same.

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We also cut logs to supplement the rock rip rap.  Rip rap is waste rock and other materials used to help keep the tread from expanding; thus preventing erosion.

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We got a lot done.  In fact, we’re about two-thirds of the way through the project.  With luck, we’ll be finished with this trail by year’s end.

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Sometimes unusual things happen.  A woman leading a horse wondered off a nearby horse trail that briefly coincides with the AT.  We helped her get turned around and heading in the right direction.  The AT is foot traffic only with a very few marked exceptions.

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The last day, we split with one group weeding the Pass Mountain blue blaze trail.  I took on an AT section south of Rattlesnake Point.  This was taken after the head was refilled with string.  Crew week over.

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The weekend wasn’t over yet for me.  Sunday the Bears Den hostel was having a hiker festival.  I grabbed my grandpa’s crosscut and set up a station where people could slice off a chunk of log for themselves.  The results were entertaining.  I would carefully explain how the saw works and how important it is that the sawyers each pull, not push.  Let’s see what happened.

Testosterone is not your friend guys.

We had no idea a wedding had just happened.  The happy couple got a unique souvenir and an unusual photo for their wedding album.  The did a good job too, an omen?

The little guys did ok too.

Sisu

Oh, Shenandoah. So many stories.

Oh, Shenandoah,
I long to see you,
Away you rolling river.

https://lyricstranslate.com

Shenandoah National Park, April 17 – 26, 2021 — The park was full of delight and disappointment this past week, marked by old friends, a new beginning and a sad ending.

The week started with the first full Hoodlum work trip in 18 months. My first thought was family reunion.

Socially distant safety briefing.

First night at Indian Run in 20 months for me.  Somebody is appropriating a bunk mattress for use in his tent.  The “Princess and the Pea” was my first thought.

Work continues on the AT restoration project on the north side of Compton.  What we thought would take a couple of years may be finished this year if we can have a crew week with the park trail crew to rebuild a large flight of stone steps.

The rip rap on the side encourages hikers to stay on the tread and helps prevent erosion.

Ringnecked snake. This is a big as they get.  It was released unharmed.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-necked_snake

Just a couple of days later, the new long-season ridgerunner stepped into the on-deck circle.

The ritual pose at the north entry kiosk on the AT.  It’s his first official act.

The pandemic disturbed our normal routine.  Chris spent his first two days on Zoom for Leave No Trace training.  I’ve always wondered how you dig a cathole through your living room carpet.  Apparently it’s virtual with a backyard practicum on your own. 

So, we got a late start.  A nasty weather forecast predicted high wind and frigid temperatures.

The first-day orientation occurred on the second day where we met with the head of the backcountry office who coordinates the ridgerunners’ day-to-day activities.  The park rules, radio procedures, general expectations, equipment issue, living arrangements and a host of other topics are fire-hosed at them at full force.

As noted, the weather was brutal.  Sabine, our 2019 ridgerunner, was hiking in the park while waiting for her partner.   Her gear was at its cold weather limit, so she popped in for a warm up. 

FIRST PATROL

We started with unattended trail magic.  NO!  This parking lot is not the place to food-habituate bears or any other animal.  Well-meaning but ignorant has hell.

A stroll up Compton. 

The class we took three months ago taught us that the CCC scouted boulders like this and then routed the trail to connect them. 

Examination of a collapsing crib wall to be repaired later this year.  This damage is from falling trees knocking loose the upper layer of stones.

Breaking up a fire ring and later camouflaging a noncompliant campsite near the Compton summit.

A good ridgerunner has a good eye for trash.  I’m standing on the AT.

North Marshall noncompliant fire ring. 

One way I size up new ridgerunners is how far they are willing to carry rocks without prompting.  This guy is an all star.  I learned this from Lauralee Bliss.

The idea is to make it more difficult to reestablish the fire ring.

Fire ring removed.  Ash pit camouflaged and a log place to cover the soot scar on the rock face.  Nice work!

Take a break. 

 

Original AT marker!  Very rare.

Summit of North Marshall.  Spring is definitely visible.

Hikers beat up the trail.  The ridgerunners are the eyes and ears of the maintainers.  This is a project the maintainer can fix with a little muscle and a pick-mattok. 

This is a noncompliant campsite adjacent to an overlook.  The rangers have piled logs all over it year after year and the users pull them off.  Maybe time to iceberg it.  That means burying rocks as a means of area denial.

Practicing the chopsticks method of TP tulip extraction.  Ladies, use a pee rag or kula cloth, please.

Met up with Sabine at Gravel Spring.  She’s wearing every item of clothing she brought.  Did I say it was cold?

Loading the last of the trail trash into the car.  Headed for the dumpster.  End of patrol.

Sabine headed for my house to wait for her partner to arrive.  Meanwhile my daughter is moving and bought some stools for her kitchen island. Ever the physicist, Sabine cut the stools down to size with scientific precision.  

Flash forward a couple of days.  A park visitor was missing.  Rangers hiked into Gravel Spring a couple of days earlier with laminated posters; asking the ridgerunner to keep an eye out and post one at the next shelter.

No avail.  Our phones lit up with notifications from the park service to volunteer to help search. 

Joining dozens of professional SAR organizations, PATC volunteers mobilized and pitched in.

We bushwacked briar and blackberry thickets until the deceased was found outside our search area.

Good crew.  Hard day.  So sad.  It felt good to be of service to a fellow human being and his family.

National Parks are special places.  They have been set aside that way.  Sometimes they serve us.  Other times we serve them.  This has been a peek between the covers of a book whose story continues day by day. It is not a simple story of delight and disappointment, old friends, and a sad ending.  It is simply what happens behind the scenes.

Sisu

 

Have Backpack. Will Travel.

The Appalachian Trail, March and April to date, 2021 —  We’re back in the saddle.  It’s been nearly 20 months since the eponymous sound of my Jet Boil stove signaled that morning coffee was close at hand.  From now until when, subject to the inconvenience of pandemic protocols, we’re in the backcountry in full force patrolling, building, digging, and sawing.  The ridgerunners, the North District Hoodlums and the trail maintainers are riding again.

Now it’s been a minute since the last blog post.  There’s a lot of catching up to do.  The excuse is simple, WordPress decided to reject the original file format in which the newest Apple phones store their images.  It’s taken awhile to figure out a relatively convenient way to make it work.  Meanwhile the other social media automatically convert the files and everyone is none the wiser.  If Word Press can’t figure this out and become a little more customer friendly, I’m moving to a new platform.

April 1, aka April Fools Day, kicks off the year.  Job one is establishing the caretaker site at Annapolis Rock, a beautacious overlook and campground just off the AT.  First we pitch the tent, graciously donated by REI.  Then we string the tarps.  They help protect the tent from UV and the picnic table from sun and rain.

Once the caretaker site is established, we walk the area for orientation and OJT.  In the beginning of the season, there’s always noncompliance issues to fix including dismantling fire rings, picking up a load of trash and cleaning the privies.

This humongous fire ring is the largest I’ve ever seen.  It’s at group site 1.  The sign on the tree says “No  fires.” No irony intended.

Branden has muscles!

Gone.   Ash has been shoveled and scattered in the woods.

I’ve been volunteering to do this job since 2015.  That experience has taught me to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  This act vandalism was truly upsetting.  This was a beautiful grassy picnic spot just south of the main overlook.  Some people built a large fire and smashed their alcohol bottles on the rocks carpeting the space with small shards of broken glass.  It was a perfect area denial attack.  The amount and size of the shards are impossible to clean up.  It is no longer a place to spread your picnic blanket.  Of course the sign says no fires and no camping.

Here’s what really frosted my sense of humor.  The process of destruction cooked this environmentally valuable nonvenomous snake. I hope there is a special place in hell for people like the ones who did this.

The amount of trash was not bad for this time of year.  Fortunately the maintainer had been there within the previous month.

The next step in OJT is patrolling.  This hike covered the nine miles from Washington Monument State Park to Gathland State Park.  Of course there’s the ubiquitous trash haul.

Ridgerunner duties include sweeping out the shelters and tending the composting privies.  This time Branden is dispersing the “cone of deposition” which had risen nearly to seat level.  Glamorous job it ain’t.  Critical job it is.

Ridgerunners perform light trail maintenance.  In practice that means clipping vegetation which generally means chopping back thorny briars and berry vines. They also have a 12-inch folding saw which allows them to clear obstructions too small for chainsaws.

Large  blowdowns are photographed and geolocated in the FastField app.

In this case we cleared a path for hikers by removing small branches.  In concept we are trying to prevent errosive social trails from forming before a saw crew can address the big stuff.

We spent the night at the Crampton Gap Shelter.  Branden had not set up his new tent before.  It was not intuitive.  Let’s just say it took awhile.

Let’s call it dinner on a rock.  The best practice is to transfer freeze dry meals from their heavy and bulky packaging to freezer bags.  Freezer bags don’t melt or transfer a plastic taste to food.  The name of the meal is written on the outside along with the amount of water needed to rehydrate. No dishes to clean, zero risk of food poisoning, and very little trash to pack out.

Morning giddy up juice.

Humans tend to have common instincts and ridgerunners develop a sense where people hide trash.   They type of trash suggests an overnighter or a short stay by a homeless person.

Patrol complete.  That’s nine miles worth of trash.  The red object is a sleeping bag intended for a sleep over or possible summer car camping.  Clearly its owner didn’t think it was valuable enough to hike out.

The Shenandoah ridgerunner starts tomorrow.  Stay tuned for the next adventure.

Sisu

Endless Blowdowns

Shenandoah National Park, January 12, 2021 — It was 23 degrees at the Compton Gap parking lot. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So we were masked and armored to the best of our ability against the cruelty of winter.

The reason we were there is as mundane as the presence of Nature. The never ending parade of trees blown down across hiking trails had marched on. In its wake were a list of barriers to breach. There we were. Armed with fuel, oil and a Stihl chainsaw, ready to assault and clear what might be described as potholes on the hiker superhighway.

Think about it. We’re the Hoodlums Trail Crew. Masks are totally apropos.

We managed to clear 5 blowdowns from the AT. As the day warmed up, we were as overdressed as any group of rookies that ever were.

We’d never encountered a blowdown like this until today. Then there was another one just like it. Blowdowns are like puzzles. The first time wasn’t perfect. The second was a charm.

We salami sliced this beautiful red oak because it was covered in poison ivy. Didn’t want to manhandle a large log.

After clearing five blowdowns on the AT, Wayne and Dave headed for the Elk Wallow Trail to test this ancient two-person crosscut. I drove to Jenkins Gap to checkout the AT section for which I am responsible.

Woops. Found a five-incher across the trail a few feet north of the stone steps for those who know this area. Everything else was clear so took the time to clip green briar and blackberry which are easy to see in winter. These brambles are vicious, ripping hikers skin and clothing. Some can grow a foot per week in summer. Hope I made a dent in their progress.

Same blowdown looking south.

Day’s end. Relaxed. Off the grid. At one with Nature. It was like riding into the sunset.

Sisu

Trail Design Workshop

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Determining the slope angle.

Shenandoah National Park, December 2 – 3, 2020 —  We gathered for our sustainable trails design, construction and rehabilitation field training in the Compton Gap parking lot where we engaged in initial introductions, orientation and safety talk. 

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We were leaders from the park staff and PATC who are involved with backcountry trails and the park’s historic legacy.

As each of us spoke in turn, the sharp wind assaulted our clothing like a rusty razor shaving a drunken sailor’s belly.  It attacked the tiny gaps, exploited thin layers, nipped exposed skin, and stung our nerve endings with the efficiency of a serial killer wielding an ice pick. 

Still, we focused on the subject at hand, sustainable design, restoration and maintenance of Shenandoah’s hiking trails. 

Did I mention that the wind chill was cold?

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After the preliminaries we crossed Skyline Dr. and began marching on the AT up the north side of Compton Peak.  The trek leads to a nice viewpoint to the west and to the east the best example of basalt columnar jointing in the park.  Needless to say this section of the trail is popular and receives a lot of traffic.

The route was originally built by the CCC and some of their stonework still stands although, after 80 years, is breaking down.  Our mission was to learn how to identify it and sustainably restore it for another generation to use.

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Brinnon Carter, Cultural Resource Program Manager, discussed CCC trail design.  Those who have hiked on the north side of Compton know the trail passes two very large boulders.  That, it turns out, didn’t happen by accident.

Along the way we discussed water/erosion management, design criteria including selecting ascending and descending grades and other design criteria such as the amount of traffic and two-way traffic considerations.  Most of this is not new, but the review fit the context of the primary purpose of the workshop which was to identify and preserve the CCC’s work.

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In the afternoon we walked to the north boundary kiosk discussing the merits of keeping the trail on the old roadbed and ways of aligning it for a more esthetic hiker experience.  Some Myron Avery’s old maps were informative. 

While Benton MacKaye envisioned the Appalachian Trail, it was Myron Avery who scouted the route and got it built.  He also was the founder of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  For more, click here.

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The stillness of the second day’s dawn at Thornton Gap was remarkable in contrast to day one.  While the ambient air temperatures were similar, the wind was elsewhere afflicting other people, and thankfully not us. 

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Stephanie passed out excellent homemade cookies to help fuel our climb to 3,300 foot high Mary’s Rock.  Info on Mary’s Rock here.

Our purpose on the climb was to examine the CCC’s crib walls and learn how people and nature have caused changes over the previous 80 years.  The question was how to catalogue, grade and monitor them for maintenance and restoration.  Climbing while masked didn’t prove to be a hardship.

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We stopped several places to look at examples of the CCC’s work and learned how to identify it and assess the condition.  Along the way we found two of these painted sticks abandoned at different places along the trail.  I brought one home to burn in my backyard fire pit.  Please, Leave No Trace!

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Lunch was pleasant absent the wind.  The program featured a well-known local comic.

After lunch we moved southward to the White Oak Canyon parking lot.  From there we examined the Skyland horse, Limber Lost and a bit of the White Oak Canyon trails.  The last is one of the busiest in the park.

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You can discuss the placement, effectiveness, merits and demerits of a waterbar ad infinitum. 

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Limberlost Trail is the only ADA handicapped accessible trail in the park.  We divided into groups and walked along entertaining discussion questions, the answers to which were debriefed to other groups.

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Once back in the parking lot we filled out a matrix informed by our group discussions.

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The workshop finished with each of us briefing back to the group what we had learned and its future application. Meanwhile there is a ton of CCC work to find, identify and catalogue.

Sisu

Gilligan’s Island Hike. What could go wrong?

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Appalachian Trail south of Harpers Ferry, WV, Friday, October 2, 2020 — We rendezvoused at the church parking lot next to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry.  Hot Starbucks and blueberry muffins fortified the blue sky, dry air and perfectly cool autumn morning.

Bellies comfortably full, the Gang of Four plus one piled into my Subaru, masks on and windows down for the shuttle to our starting point at the Keys Gap trailhead.  From there we planned a three hour tour to Harpers Ferry with a detour to the Loudon Heights scenic overlook.

Our plus one was Nancy who was dubbed the Iron Ranger for her roots in Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.

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The start was uneventful.  We marched six to eight feet apart. 

The AT is infamous for its rocky tread.  It wasn’t long before the Iron Ranger got bucked off her horse in a classic face plant that dealt her a bruised cheek and a small skinned area on the palm of her hand.  She’s made of Viking stock, so patched up, she soldiered on.  Little did we know that by day’s end we would each do some serious soldiering.

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Taking a break.

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Badass removes a branch blocking the trail, her first experience as a trail sawyer.

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Along the way we photographed natures interesting handiwork.

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Not far from the orange trail that goes to the overlook on Loudon Heights.  This where the “What could go wrong” part comes in.

I’ve hiked through here dozens of times but had never diverted to see the overlook after seeing photos taken there.  It’s excellent, but Maryland Heights was much better, so I never bothered.  Besides I was always in some kind of hurry.

We rallied at the turn off behind the trail sign.  My assumption for a number of reasons was that the viewpoint was less than a mile out of the way.  When we returned, the sign said it was two miles. 

Round trip that’s at least two extra hours.  So instead of finishing at 3 p.m. we finished at 5:30 when the walk all the way back to the church parking log was factored in.  Probably would not have done that if I’d looked at the sign.

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This view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers was the holy grail. 

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Trophy pic.

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By the time everyone reached the overlook many of us were spent.  We took plenty of rest breaks on the way to Harpers Ferry.

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Full circle.  Lunch turned into dinner at Keys Gap. Our weary bodies smacked the log benches with the sound of a waitress wet-ragging a plastic table cloth.

There we were with quads made of jelly, sore feet and empty fuel tanks.

Seemingly to pick us up, AWOL bragged her gluts were in fine form.  That was a rare opening.  She has wanted a new trail name, so we started riffing – Hardass, and Buns of Steel emerged as candidates.  Being who we are, Iron Butt won the day.  Iron Butt it is.

At some point I think I was charged attempted murder if not formally that’s what everyone was thinking.  I thank them for the acquittal.

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Saturday night was Badass’s birthday.

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Happy Birthday!

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Celebrating six feet apart at Bulldog’s house. 

Guess what? We had as much fun as they did on Gilligan’s Island and we’re already planning our next outing.

Sisu

Emptying the Gravel Spring Privy

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The corrugated bin cover (extreme right) is off.  Steve and John plot the attack.

Shenandoah National Park, Gravel Spring Hut, August 17, 2020 — One would not consider August an ideal month to be emptying the compost bin of a backcountry privy but PATC’s faithful Crapper Crew reported for duty anyway armed with buckets, shovels and digging bars.

Most privies in our region are a simple design consisting of two bins and an outhouse that can be moved from one bin to another. One side is active while the other is composting which normally takes about two years. Users are asked to cover their business with wood shavings from a bucket to allow air to enhance the process. Urine adds needed moisture.

Extra wood shavings and cleaning supplies are stored in the long silver box in the upper right of the lead photo. It’s not a coffin for any dead bodies we might find.

Normally the heat and humidity of a mid-Hotlantic summer is unbearable. Add close proximity to the active side of the privy and the word ripe could be an understatement. Let’s just say that we got lucky. Starting temps were in the mid 60s tickled by a gentle breeze. We took it.

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The ramp had to be removed before we could start.

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You need a team to do this.  First up is the digger who scoops out the compost and puts it in one of several five gallon buckets.  Second is the picker who hand picks and trash-bags the stuff that’s not supposed to be in the privy.  Last is the bucket brigade whose members spread the compost on the forest floor.  All told, we totaled five.

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You find a lot of detritus in the compost.  There is usually at least one pair of underwear.  Wipes, which don’t decompose, in spite of what the packaging says,  are the most common item followed by the likes of food packaging, bottles, feminine hygiene products, and clothing.  Once we found a potty trowel used by hikers to dig cat holes.

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This trip hikers gifted us two bags of trash.  That’s about normal.

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The digger gets in the bin so they can reach the gold at the bottom.

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Once the composting bin is empty, the crew slides the outhouse over the empty bin and bolts it back on. 

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The bin cover is placed over the newly inactive side and the ramp is reattached.

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Long deck screws finish the job.

Ok.  I know.  I didn’t answer the question you’ve been thinking about the whole time.  No, the compost does not smell. 

Sisu