Channeling my inner 3-year-old

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Shenandoah National Park, May 23 – 27, Spring Trail Crew Week — Three-year-olds love to splash in water and play in the mud.  That’s what we did all week.

The upper part of the trail to White Oak Canyon is full of springs. The trail is always muddy.  It follows that hikers don’t like to get mud on their shoes.  Therefore, when they encounter mud, they hike around it.  The trail grows wider and the environmental impact spreads.

Last year the park service trail crew tried to improve the drainage, but winter frost heaving did a job on their work.  This year, with our help, it was time to dig it all up and start over. So we ripped up 224 feet of rock wall and built it back using a different technique.

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 It was muddy – and we loved it!

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The structure we built is called a lateral drain.  In this case the water seeps in from multiple sources all along the length of the trail, so the ditch catches and directs it to a place where we can get it out of the way.

The ditch is dug and the rock gets lapped-stacked for stability.  The rock on this section came from a commercial source.  Call it an invasive rock species.  There wasn’t enough natural rock to do the job.

So much for the pick and shovel work.

We live at the newly renovated Pinnacles Research building which is an old CCC facility.  I was there earlier this month for the Leave No Trace master educator course.

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When we’re done working, we load up the government van the park service provides and head back to Pinnacles.

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The first one dives in the shower while everyone else grabs a beer.

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When we’re clean, we head to town for dinner when we don’t BBQ.  Millennials aren’t the only people with their heads up their phones.  Our excuse is that we’re off the grid in the park, so we read email and catch up on the news when we can.  At least that’s our story – an we’re sticking to it.  With no TV or WIFI, once we’re back, it’s early to bed.

Sometimes we work with logs.  They’re faster, but don’t last nearly as long as stone – maybe 15 years with luck.

Debarking logs improves their life in the ground by removing the medium by which bugs and other rotting agents grow.

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A young woman was hiking down the trail only to look up and be greeted by this guy (serial killer-looking maniac).  Imagine the look of panic on her face!  I was rolling in the mud laughing.  BTW, he’s a retired State Department Russian expert!

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Once debarked, into the ground they go.  These are long-lasting locust logs BTW.  (For all my friends, including Karma, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year – the water might be welcome about now.

We always love working with the park service trail crews.  In this case, some may remember Eric “the human crane” from last year.

Our partnership with the park service, working side-by-side, is close and mutually beneficial.

We finished up Thursday morning.  With time on our hands, we wondered over to the Elk Wallow trail (between Elk Wallow and Mathew’s Arm campground) to remove several blowdowns blocking the trail.  One took an entire hour to slice up.

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Calling home from Skyland where we ate dinner last night.

Contrast.

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Didn’t know I was doing an Oreo commercial – honestly!IMG_4264

The MacLoed. The Swiss Army knife of trail tools.

 

 

 

 

Cool Rocks. Bad Trail. Hoodlums’ Mission: Fix it.

Hiking trails are like smart phone aps. Sometimes they need to be up-graded. Unlike phone aps, you can’t just punch up the ap store and push a button.

Upgrading a hiking trail is hard work. Normal maintenance such as weeding, clearing blowdowns, and repairing check dams and water bars only maintains the status quo. Adding features takes it to a whole new level. This is the story behind a trail upgrade that changed everything.

The Appalachian range is chock full of remarkable rock formations. Many of these iconic nature works are on the Appalachian Trail (AT) itself which has been purposefully routed so hikers can appreciate them. Others are nearby on side trails marked by blue blazes.

One blue blaze you hardly notice passing by crosses the AT on Compton’s Peak in Shenandoah National Park (SNP). It leads to a delightful, and one of the more geologically interesting columnar basalt formations in the eastern U.S. It’s well worth a look.

Compton Peak columnar basalt formation.

Compton Peak columnar basalt formation.

Better yet, the trail intersection is about a mile south of the Compton Gap parking lot on Skyline Drive. It’s an easy approach hike to the top of Compton Peak. With the side trail, it’s a snappy 2.5 mile round trip. Wow! Let’s go.

Not so fast. – literally. The blue blaze was not only steep, but was treacherous featuring spring-saturated mud-covered boulders and unstable talus on the final half. Not fun to hike and an easy way to turn an ankle or worse.

That’s a problem. The solution: Send in the Hoodlums.

By way of full disclosure, the Hoodlums aren’t criminals. This grubby group of trail maintainers just looks that way. In real life they’re educated professionals who love the AT, Shenandoah National Park. They volunteer their time, sweat and energy to protect and maintain them for everyone to enjoy.

The moniker came by way of an unknown tourist in SNP. When she saw a gang of filthy, tired folks staggering out of the woods, she was overheard observing that they looked like a bunch of “hoodlums” to her, and a brand was born.

Over three hard days last week, a Hoodlum crew of seven led by three National Park Service pros proved that rolling rock isn’t always a brand of beer as we pried, pushed, rolled, dragged, levered, and pounded chunks of basalt, some weighing hundreds of pounds, into 64 stone steps and hundreds of feet of rip rap.

When we were done, the new trail was like a stone escalator down and back up. Thanks to National Park Service folks – Don, Eric and Lyndon, plus PATC Hoodlums – Wayne, Noel, Scott, Steve, Jim, Amy and Cindi – we got ‘er done in three days. We used the last day of our volunteer week to build stone erosion control structures further south on the AT.

At the end we were an exhausted and bruised, but happy lot. As a bonus, I was able to meet some of the thru-hikers I’ve been following this year. Hike on folks, and have fun ya’ll. Meanwhile, we’ll keep improving the AT for those yet to come.