Witt’s Chainsaw Rides Again!

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That white glaze isn’t frosting.  It’s ice which atomizes when the teeth bite in.

Appalachian Trail, Northern Virginia, January 21, 2020 — The thermometer was slinking past 19 degrees this morning when we crunched gravel in the Keys Gap trailhead parking lot.  We were on a search and destroy mission to clear six blowdowns on the AT.

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The frosty air pinched our noses as we rucked up the chainsaw and all its trimmings.  The first blowdown was quick on the march.  The white stuff is ice.

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The chainsaw makes quick work of these guys.

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All clear.  The next five were attacked in quick succession.

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One side down.

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Side two.  The round, or the middle chunk of log we removed, had to be cut in half.  It was too heavy to manhandle out of the way.

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The formula is simple.  Convert gasoline to noise.  Noise is a catalyst that converts wood to sawdust.  Done.

Sisu

The AT’s Newest Sawyer

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Appalachian Trail, The Rollercoaster, Virginia, December 28, 2019 —  Some folks who spend time preserving and protecting hiking trails are possessed by the demons of perfectionism.

Knowing something isn’t right is like an itch they can’t scratch.  They obsess about it until whatever ‘it’ is, is fixed.  In this case ‘it’ was blowdowns.

Pair uncleared blowdowns with a newly certified sawyer itching to practice, and a chainsaw gets to go for a hike along with a couple of enthusiastic swampers !

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By way of introduction, our sawyer is Witt Wisebram who was last season’s ridgerunner in Northern Virginia and ultra distance runner.  The Atlanta native is now the winter caretaker at the Blackburn Trail Center.

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A “pie cut,” sometimes called a wedge cut, is used because the bind is on top and the log isn’t thick enough to use wedges.  It’s too close to the ground to attack from underneath.

The first few blowdowns were little more than a nuisance to hikers.  They are step-overs that can be ignored, at least the small ones can.  They are removed because they can cause erosion.  The greater challenge for the sawyer on this type of blowdown is to avoid sawing rocks and dirt.

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This tree trunk blocks the trail.  There’s no way around it.  It’s equally difficult to crawl over or under.  Because it’s a “leaner,” care is taken to read it in terms of bind, how the log will behave once the tension is released, including whether it might roll.

You also want to keep your feet out from under the top section of the trunk which will hit the ground with a heavy thud.

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The pie cut missed but the angle cut worked anyway.  Experience gained.  Witt’s friend Jason congratulates!

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Clean up.

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Finishing the job.

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Funny how they seem to fall perpendicular to the treadway.

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Blowdowns come in all sizes.  Witt captured the white blaze for display at Blackburn.

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People have been painting rocks and leaving them along the trail as decorations.  Now it’s golf balls.

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This is how we found it.  Needless to say we packed it out.

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This large branch buried itself more than a foot into the ground.  It was too big to move without being reduced to bite-size chunks.

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Mother nature saved the tenth and best blowdown for last.  The bigger ones are more fun to cut.

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A log this large – in this case about three inches thicker than the length of the chainsaw bar – sometimes the round will bind and not drop to the ground.  An inverse keystone cut is used to ensure the cut out section falls to the ground.

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Note the end of the bar is not sticking out. That means the sawyer has to cut from both sides.

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We used wedges to keep the kerf open. It worked as planned.

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The trail is clear.

Stay tuned for the Gang of Four’s First Day Hike.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

Govmint is shutdown. Now what?

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My chainsaw weighs 11 lbs. including the hard plastic sheath on the bar.  If you carry one far enough on your shoulder, it can rub you raw.

Home, January 8, 2019 — Part of the federal government is shutdown over a political dispute.  I have strong views, but won’t share them here.  This blog is about protecting and preserving hiking trails and related matters.

The 31 maintaining clubs that perform trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail (AT) operate under agreement with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), the nonprofit tasked by the NPS to manage the trail.

My club, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), is responsible for maintaining most of the hiking trails in the Washington, D.C. region including 240 miles of the AT, 102 of which are in Shenandoah National Park.

The club’s activities in Shenandoah are sanctioned under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for maintenance activities and for managing rental cabins.  We have a separate Cooperative Agreement to manage the ridgerunner program.  These are legal documents that spell out the rules of the road for us and for the park.

One benefit of volunteering in the park is that we are covered under the Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program.  There is a similar VIF program for national forests.  Essentially we have workman’s comp coverage when engaged in officially sanctioned activities.

With the government shutdown, our VIP coverage is suspended.  Accordingly, we aren’t allowed to volunteer.  The last thing I would want is to get kicked out of the park and probably out of the club for doing something I’ve been officially asked not to do.

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Hiking with my Kevlar safety chaps on backward.

Back to humping chainsaws.  When you have to hike in a long way, some of us stuff our saws in old frame packs for easier carrying.  The also make it easier to carry the safety gear, first aid kit, lunch, plus extra fuel and bar oil.

But, there are times when throwing the saw on your shoulder happens.

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With little to do today, I decided to make a chainsaw pad out of leftover carpet pad from the recently installed carpet in the basement.

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First I cut a hunk of spare pad to size.

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Checking the fit.

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Preparing to tape it together.  The plastic vapor barrier side goes on the inside.

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So far, so good.

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After taping the seam, duct tape makes the outer layer.

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Done.

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It fits.

 

Storm Clean up

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South District, Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail, November 30, 2018 — The east coast got smacked with an early season snow storm a little more than a week ago.  The Washington area escaped major impact, but it hammered the south district of Shenandoah between Stanardsville and Waynesboro, VA. and cities to our north.

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Photo courtesy Shenandoah National Park

Heavy snow and high winds crushed the softer trees leaving hundreds of them blocking  Skyline Dr., the road that runs 105 miles from one end of the park to the other.  The park trail crews report that the downed trees resembled a military abitis that runs for miles along the road.  Abitis definition at this link.

Leave it to the park crews to painstakingly clear the road quarter mile at a time.  Each tree must be bucked and chipped.  That’s a slow process.

Meanwhile, enough of Skyline, from Swift Run Gap south, had been cleared to permit the PATC to begin clearing the AT.  The supervisor of trails in coordination with the south district manager called for sawyers and swampers.

Sawyers are club members certified by the National Park Service to safely operate a chainsaw.  Swampers help the sawyers by removing slash and trunk rounds from the trail.  The plan was to attack the afflicted area from both ends.

As the supervisor of trails reported yesterday:  “We met at Swift Run Gap at 8:30am today and had 22 PATC members ready to work. Ten were certified chain saw operators including six District Managers.

We were limited as to parking shuttle cars because of the clearing of Skyline Drive and this constrained the amount of trail we could cover. The AT is clear from Swift Run Gap to Simmons Gap a distance of nine miles.

There is another group working from Rockfish Gap north and I don’t have any information on their progress right now. The main problem appears to be further south toward Rockfish Gap where the blow downs are quite severe.

Skyline Drive is not open for other than emergency travel and the clearing is very slow. The park maintenance crews and back country trail staff are responsible for that clearing. We will schedule another work trip later this week.”

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Sawyers are distinguished by their red Kevlar chaps.

We divided into crews.  My crew consisted of three sawyers and three swampers.  We worked northward from Powell Gap to Smith-Roach Gap – about a mile and one-third. Other crews worked elsewhere.

The swampers were all experienced trail overseers and knew how to get after the work at hand.  They brought their pruning saws, loppers and other trail tools which allowed them cleared several blowdowns by themselves.

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With one exception, our blowdowns were smaller trees snapped or bent over across the trail.  These are tedious to clear, our three two-person sawyer/swamper teams worked quickly and efficiently.

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This is one blowdown we tackled with two sawyers, one on each side.  Hidden within these tangles are branches loaded with weight called spring poles.  They can whip around hard enough to cause serious injury when their energy is released.  Sawyers are trained to find them, but they are hard to read in tangles like this.  Each sawyer reported being surprised by more than one, including me.

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All told, our crew removed 27 blowdowns in just over one mile.

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Sawyer PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) consists of leather boots, Kevlar chaps, leather gloves, helmet, face shield, and ear muffs.

Stay tuned for follow on trips.  We’ll be at this for awhile.

Sisu

 

Windstorm Cleanup

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Shenandoah National Park, Sunday March 11, 2018 — About ten days ago a nor’easter ripped through the mid-Atlantic on its way to hammer New England.  Large trees were snapped and uprooted like toothpicks, dragging down power lines as they crashed to earth.  Widespread power outrages bloomed in the winter storm’s aftermath.

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Our own electricity in the big city burbs was out for four days thanks to a big old tree that landed in the wrong place.

Soon word spread of massive blowdowns all along the Appalachian Trail, especially in Shenandoah National Park.  What’s a dedicated trail maintainer gonna do except saddle up and ride toward the sound of cracking tree trunks?

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This tree snapped near its base, and in the process, blocked a four-way trail junction.  Bucking this 20-inch tree was an interesting puzzle requiring careful attention to safety and a step-by-step approach.

fullsizeoutput_154bStep one was trimming away the smaller branches and reducing the blowdown to its bare structure.

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Step two is getting the main trunk on the ground where it’s safer to chop it up.

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Step three is reduce the main trunk.  Here, with a top bind, after an initial cut about eight inches deep, wedges are driven to keep the cerf from closing and trapping the saw in the cut.

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Wedges in, the job can be finished.

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Step four is get the slash off the trail and out of the way.  Best of all, we converted a lot of chainsaw gas into sawdust.

Job. Done.

All told, we cut six blowdowns on the section I maintain.  The subject tree was on the southern end.

After that, we moved to the Indian Run fire road which is the access to the Hoodlum’s maintenance hut.

We quickly picked off three minor blockages on the fire road.

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Of course there’s always “that one.”  This 12-incher was draped in vines and it was hollow making it a bit more sketchy to cut.

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The approach was to trim away the vines and branches before dicing up the trunk from the top down.

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Like dicing vegetables for roasting.

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Sliced into small enough chunks to drag off the trail.

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Ten obstructive trees were gone.  Then we found this.  This tree is a good 20 inches alone.  It has a twin right behind it. That’s a twofer.  It’s also a “leaner.”  The angle isn’t bad, but this multi-ton tree’s top is hung up requiring care to safely bring it to justice.

The day was getting late.  Fatigue proved the better part of valor and a safety rule red light, so we left the remaining trees for the Hoodlums to tackle on Saturday.

Sisu

 

The Pancake that Ate Luray…

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Shenandoah National Park, VA, March 23 – 24, 2016 — Pancakes!  I woke up hungry for pancakes.  What’s wrong with that?  I mean what do the real lumbersexuals of Washington eat – not the fake hipster ones, but the gals and guys who actually get out there and get after it?

What could pancakes possibly suggest?  How about a work trip to the park.  The hikers are coming and there are blowdowns to obliterate.

I called my district trail manager to find out what needed to be done. Then I emailed David Sylvester, my ever ready chainsaw companion, and we set the time and place.  There’s more than enough fun to go around.

Sorry.  I ate the pancake before it could eat Luray.  No.  There were no heroics – and apologies to Norman Greenbaum’s eggplant.

So, after carb loading, I test fired my saw, packed the car and stuffed my hammock in the side pocket of my pack and jumped on I-66 headed west.

First stop, Rileyville, Va. to pick up David.  Believe me.  It’s one of those towns that if you blink, you miss it.  Not even a stop light.  Next stop, the Luray Seven-Eleven to snag a sandwich for lunch; then on to the park’s Thornton Gap entrance where we were told work awaited.

We understood that there was a big blowdown about a mile up Pass Mountain.  Pass Mountain is a pleasant jaunt, maybe the easiest mountain in the park’s entire repertoire.  Well, as luck would have it, we marched and marched and marched.  No down tree.

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After searching for an hour we stopped at Pass Mountain Hut for lunch. Lugging 40 lbs. of chainsaw, safety gear, tools plus fuel and oil up and over mountains with a guy less than half your age is WORK!

I’m always fascinated by the trash we find along hiking trails.  Who would leave a pair of serviceable army-style boots in the middle of nowhere?  As always we found TP, aka Charmin flowers, everywhere.  Women who don’t know better pee, then dry themselves and drop the paper.  We get to police it up.  Use a pee rag ladies, please – or pack out your paper.

Both days were gorgeous with temps into the mid-70s.  Still, snow persisted in some northern shadows.  Nevertheless, the bugs were abundant.  That’s a bit unusual for this time of year.  Obviously, the woodpeckers have been after them. They defaced a brilliant blaze I painted last year.

Next stop was Gravel Spring where a “giant” complex blowdown awaited bucking.  Damn!  Someone got there first.  Probably a park crew.  But, we did find another just a bit to the north.  It took David longer to get his safety gear on than it did to demolish the obstruction.

Last we inspected a large obstruction the ranger at the Thorton Gap gate told us about.  We decided to clear it in the morning.  The day ended at Indian Run as many trips do.

A healthy daffodil crop surrounds the hut.  We built a small fire and sipped a brew as a brilliant pearl of a moon peaked its nose over the horizon and tracked  across the night sky.  Excellent medicine.  Doctors should prescribe it more often.

Our last project was mopping up this sucker at the junction of the Dickey Ridge and Snead Farm trails.  These are popular trails that lead to an old apple farm where the foundation of an impressive house remains and the apple barn has been preserved for history.

First job is to attack the small stuff, then amputate the big guy on the end.  Remove debris and the trail is ready for prime time once again.

Observation.  Real lumbersexuals always wear red Kevlar pants!

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Two days well spent. It’s spring break.  Met a bunch of nice families out hiking.

The Secret Word

Standing near the old apple orchard.  The saw is for cutting logs used to construct waterbars and check dams.  The red pants are Kevlar chainsaw chaps.

Standing near the old apple orchard. The saw is for cutting logs used to construct waterbars and check dams. The red pants are Kevlar chainsaw chaps.

Shenandoah National Park, October 17 – 18, 2015 — Remember the secret word on Graucho Marx quiz show “You Bet Your Life?”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Bet_Your_Life I have a new one for ya.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “lumbersexual” is a Metro-sexual who has the need to hold on to some outdoor based rugged-ness, thus opting to keep a finely trimmed beard. Sometimes their wardrobe includes plaid flannel shirts and leather work boots.  Well, this weekend was my best imitation – or maybe was I just testing my latest Halloween costume idea…

2015-10-17 09.25.26This was the final regularly scheduled Hoodlums work weekend of the year. I took a crew of four including myself on my AT section to finish the rehab started earlier this year.

My arrival was timed for dawn plus a few minutes to beat the traffic.  It's peak leaf season the the peepers cars clog Skyline Drive bumper to bumper for all 105 mikes if the park.

My arrival was timed for dawn plus a few minutes to beat the traffic. It’s peak leaf season the the peepers cars clog Skyline Drive bumper to bumper for all 105 mikes if the park.

This morning it was 28F when those of us who camped at Indian Run popped out of our mummy bags. I slept toasty and warm. Hated to get up but for the warm coffee.

This morning it was 28F when those of us who camped at Indian Run popped out of our mummy bags. I slept toasty and warm. Hated to get up except that the thought of hot coffee twisted my arm.

I spent this morning inventorying all the erosion control structures on my trail. Along its 1.3 mile length, it has 58 waterbars, 45 check dams, 3 swailes, 14 stone steps, 20 feet of stone retaining wall and one stone culvert.

I spent this morning inventorying all the erosion control structures on my trail section. Along its 1.3 mile length, it has 58 waterbars, 45 check dams, 3 swailes, 14 stone steps, 20 feet of stone retaining wall and one stone culvert.

The Appalachian Trail is administered by the National Park Service.  it’s budget is based in part on the amount of infrastructure that must be maintained.  All 2,189.2 miles of trail are being inventoried by its various overseers like me.  I think they are going to count a lot of “stuff.”

2015-10-18 11.08.34Milam apples were the most common type grown in the area.  Not sure these are those.

My trail skirts an old apple orchard that was part of a farm when the land was condemned to create the park.  You can see were the bears have trampled the vegetation enroute to their Oktober apfel gorge fest.

My trail skirts an old apple orchard that was part of a farm when the land was condemned to create the park. You can see were the bears have trampled the vegetation enroute to their Oktober Apfel Fest.

Autumn is slowly asserting itself. The colors are shifting from the the energy of spring toward the reds and greens of the Christmas season. Snow and a quiet winter sleep are just over the horizon.

Autumn is slowly asserting itself. The colors are shifting from the the energy of spring toward the reds and greens of the Christmas season. Snow and a quiet winter sleep are just over the horizon.

For more on lumbersexuality see:  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article4277725.ece