No rest for the wicked

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Everywhere, May 2019 —  No time for a deep breath.  May is just like that.  The list is long.

In all, I flew to my brother’s in Loveland, CO and belatedly celebrated a milestone birthday (50 + shipping and handling), led a Road Scholar hike, attended ridgerunner training, and worked with the Hoodlums trail crew in Shenandoah National Park.

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Walking around the lake at my brother Jack’s.  Rocky Mountain National Park (Long’s Peak) is on the horizon.

Next comes two orientation hikes (OJT), our neighborhood homeowners’ association meeting (with several contentious issues), an appointment with the Social Security Administration (it’s that time: 50 + shipping and handling), and a pre-op physical because I’m having two more Dupeytren’s fingers surgically straightened on the last day of the month.

Oh, my friend Karma, who hiked he AT in 2013 and the Pacific Crest Trail last year, is hiking the AT again.  I’m hoping to meet her on the trail in Shenandoah when I weedwhack my trail just before surgery, but for sure we’re having lunch in Harpers Ferry just like we did in 2013.

Karma was was not only an inspiration for my hike the following year, but in practical terms, she was the person whose wisdom and practicality was worth its weight in gold when I was preparing for my AT thru hike.  Her blog for that hike is the the best AT blog ever, IMHO.  Click here: Karma’s 2013 AT blog

May has been and is going to be a blur.

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Robert, the 2018 northern Virginia ridgerunner, briefs Witt, the incoming.  Witt is a tripple crowner having hiked the At, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.  He also holds the FKT (Fastest Known Time) for the Arizona Trail.  That’s a bunch of hiking.

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Joanne, will be patrolling in Shenandoah again this year for 30 days beginning June 15.

Wilderness First Aid – It also was my year to re-certify.  It’s an excellent course.  Sixteen hours drinking from a fire hose and splinting the hell out of them and so much more.  If you’re ever injured on a trail, you want a WFA to find you.  Click here:  Wilderness Medicine

Caffeine addict alert.

Hoodlums work trip.

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Does it get better than this.  I don’t think so!

Sisu

A Remarkable Blowdown

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Shenandoah National Park, October 20 – 21, 2017 — Imagine finding a 50-year-old locust tree prostrate on your favorite picnic table like a drunk passed out in a dark alley.  Most of us didn’t know this stately friend had a problem.  Regardless, there it was.

The Hoodlum’s crew weekend was off to an exciting start.

We suspect the last gasp of one of the recent hurricanes was responsible for doing a number on this poor tree that used to live at the Hoodlums trail crew hangout at Indian Run.  The tree’s lush leaves fooled us.  Termites had found its heart.  It was weakened and didn’t need much to do it in.

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The dead picnic table wasn’t the locust’s only victim.  Our recently repaired reflector fire took a glancing blow significant enough to pop a few rocks loose.

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On its way down or on a bounce, the dearly departed tree crunched our backup picnic table too. To add to the misfortune, we replaced the wood in each of the picnic tables only a year ago.  Damn!

The good news is that the Indian Run maintenance hut suffered no damage. Amen!

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Hasty clean up cleared usable space.

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The fire was built on schedule.

The Hoodlums worked Saturday as scheduled on various trail repair projects with a small work party assigned to clean up this tree.  Bottom line:  We’ll have enough firewood for a next year.

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I was in the park earlier on Friday to work on the AT section I maintain and to get ready for a large work party assigned to help me finish rehabbing its erosion control structures and remove two blowdowns.  After all of the leaves are down, I’ll make a trip to rake them out of the waterbar drains and put this puppy to bed for the winter.

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A dirt waterbar called a grade dip.  We’re getting away from using logs and stone whenever possible.

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A downed apple tree in an old orchard through which the AT passes.

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My guess is that a bear was climbing the tree an broke off a large limb.

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There were dozens of apples on the ground.  This is unusual because the bears and deer love them and normally by this time, they are no longer on the market.  The mast (food) has been excellent this year.  The immediate area is full of oak and hickory trees and the nuts, apples and berries have been overstocked in contrast to two years ago when there was virtually nothing because of drought.

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The potluck theme was Oktober Fest.  IMG_1726

The kraut and brats were yummy.

 

 

Want to dance?

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Julie Johnson, who commutes from Manhattan, drags a log she named “Betty,” up Pass Mtn. for use in a waterbar.

PATC North District Hoodlums Trail Crew, Pass Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, August 20, 2016 — Hanging out with the Hoodlums this weekend prompted a thought.

What is it about the Appalachian Trail that would cause people to commute hundreds of miles to maintain it; to hike it?  Why do so many report deeply personal relationship with this trail?

There are as many answers as there are hikers.  Here’s a possibility.

Some say the trail has the personality of a curvaceous vixen whose shapely turns first catch your eye on centerfolds in coffee table books.  She holds your gaze.

At the same time you imagine the possibilities, her earthy voice whispers on the wind, “Come with me. We’ll be amazing together.”  Smitten, you follow her irresistible come-hither with stars in your eyes and dreams of conquest.

Not so fast. Be careful of those sexy charms.  This babe may have legs that run from here to there, but a walk in the woods with this little number can suck you dry and empty your will to keep on.  Know that she turns from sultry to frigid ice virtually overnight.   See her tears fall in torrents that become rivers in your path. Be aware that she may not leave you laughing when she goes.

IMG_4914Date this honey and you’re in a high maintenance love affair. It’s more than the constant stroking, the sweet nothings or minding the flowers.  You’re in it with all of her friends including the bear who dug up my waterbar in search of a meal.  The hurt is high with this one.

She likes her suitors looking good.  Before you know it, you’ll own mix and match backpacks, tents and sleeping bags.   Guess how many base layers, flash dry shirts and pairs of Smart Wool socks I have.  I am ashamed to admit that my hiking boot closet would make Imelda Marcos jealous.

Heaven help you when you start owning your own personal trail tools – Pulaskis, MacLoeds – and Stihl brand anything is on your Christmas wish list.  I hear that she’s impressed by bigger saws.

Words like Jet Boil and Pocket Rocket soon replace GE and Tappan in the kitchen.  I mean who needs stainless steel when titanium is lighter.  Hell, Mother Nature even throws in the granite for free.

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She’s not a cheap date though.  Betty needed a lot of polishing before she became but one more piece of jewelry decorating the trail. This expensive jewelry habit is essential.  Keep it coming or Ms. AT’s beauty and charms quickly erode.  Costume pieces may be okay from time to time, but this girl likes to receive big rocks, especially on special occasions. Forget one and she can get ugly.

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In spite of all this, like a 1940s taxi dancer on a steamy Saturday night, the trail has no shortage of suitors.  Even the guy with the halo had to stand in line for his turn to dance.

Oh yes.  You probably guessed it.  The Hoodlums had another great outing.

Workin’ for the Trail Boss.

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The Hoodlum trail crew gets briefed by the Trailboss, patron of the infamous Roller Coaster. Photo by Mike Gergely

Somewhere on Loudon Heights, WV, July 16, 2016 — There’s a somewhat secret two-year-long project to relocate the Appalachian Trail on Loudon Heights as it descends to Harpers Ferry.  By the end of the year, the job will be done.

The pitch of the existing trail reminds people of a church steeple.  Such a challenging slope does not facilitate erosion control. Worse, it passes through preserved civil war battlefield entrenchments, which as par for the course, unthinking/uncaring hikers damage by removing rocks to make fire rings.  Neither practice, rock displacement nor fires, is appropriate on such hallowed ground.

The AT is constantly being relocated.  Someone once told me that less than 5 percent of the trail is original.  Not sure that’s accurate, but in this case, a “relo” makes common sense.

So, you need hard work done fast, “Who ya gonna call?”  The Hoodlums, of course.  In reality, we were building on the good work of crews that came before us and set the stage for those to follow.  Nevertheless, the Hoodlums were delighted to answer the call and do our small part on a brutally hot and humid summer day.

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The new treadway gently hugs the mountain’s contour lines.  If it had a label, it would scream in bold print, “New gentle lower calorie formulation!”

I overheard someone say that his dad said the same thing mine did, “If you don’t go to college, you’ll end up digging ditches.”  So much for education.  If I was paid for this, I join a union; but as a hobby, it’s fun and the camaraderie is fantastic.

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Trail work is like pulling teeth  Big old rock molars.  Emily knows the physics of leverage.

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Then there’s the detailed work of removing roots and smaller stones.  Later another crew will smooth out and level this rough cut.  Our job this outing was to break ground.

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It takes a village to make a trail.  Our northern Virginia ridgerunner, Sara Leibold,(foreground) joined us for the day.  The trail building added a new dimension to her experience.

Head Hoodlum Janice and Hoodlum Julie got dirty and had fun.

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Some rocks are bigger than others, but eventually they all succumb to brute force and a little bit of know-how.

Like distressed jeans, some new trail comes complete with pre-blowdowns. We just worked around and under them.   Trailboss attacked them with gusto!

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At the end of the day, we retired to Blackburn Trail Center where Mrs. Trailboss, who just happens to be the chair of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy board, rewarded us with a scrumptious dinner!  It doesn’t get better than that.  Sisu  GA/Me ’14

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Da Bears (Den)

Bears Den Hostel and Hiking Center, Bluemont, VA – Saturday, November 21, 2015 — Sometimes pop up projects just happen.  The PATC supervisor of trails was jawing with Glenn, the Bears Den caretaker.  “Ya got any work?”  “Yup.”  And so another adventure begins for the North District Hoodlums Trail Crew.

So there I was, minding my own business when in comes a “flash” email looking for volunteers for Saturday.  Bears Den needs firewood and urgent repairs to one of its hiking trails.  Who can come?  Sawyers bring your chain saws.  “Let’s rally!”

Now what can you say at a time like this?  A chance to fire up my chainsaw…  This is better than playing baseball in late October.  Woah dude!  Don’t ask twice I’m there. I love extra innings.

Fortunately we’ve had a prolonged indian summer here in the mid-Atlantic.  Unfortunately we became way too comfortable with unseasonably warm weather.

Of course the weather pattern was going to hold.  What was the chance it would be subfreezing Saturday morning … No need to guess.  It was 26F according to my car when I pulled into the parking lot.

Everyone was shivering as we organized our work parties.

We had three sawyers and split into two parties while a larger crew marched off to repair a badly eroded trail.

The swampers got some help from one of two Scout troops camping on the Bears Den grounds. We were bucking the hazard trees a professional crew of arborists dropped earlier this summer as mentioned in this post:  https://jfetig.com/2015/07/29/on-the-road/

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Lunch is always better when enjoyed outside, especially since the temp jumped the shark back to early autumn.

 Now to split the damn stuff.  Fortunately, Glenn has a hydraulic splitter.

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At the end of the day, we tramped down to Bears Den rocks for a zen moment  Thus ended another Hoodlums excellent adventure.

 

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

BFRs. What are they good for?

BFRs. Yup, Big Effing Rocks! What are they good for? In Appalachian Trail maintenance, most everything.

The Hoodlum work crew had another great weekend, our final regular outing until March.

The work group to which I was assigned built two check dams and a water bar on the Pass Mountain trail – a blue blaze trail in Shenandoah National Park.

This video offers a little bit of insight into the work we do and the fun we have doing the work and afterwards.

The water bar we are constructing in the video was much needed to help keep the trail in good hiking condition.

Hikers sometimes wish the trail was in better condition with fewer rocks and less erosion. Rest assured there are a ton of volunteers up and down the full length of the AT working had to keep it in the best condition possible.

If you think the rocks are bad now, imagine the AT without erosion control and other maintenance.

All erosion control structures require building material. Stone is best, but simple swales only require mounds of dirt. Logs, particularly extra hard woods such as Ash are long lasting substitutes when stone isn’t available.

If stone is preferred. Than BFRs are the best you can get.

Rock potentially lasts a lifetime. Moreover, if the stones used are ginormous enough and set deep into the trail tread, the bears have a hard time digging them up to get at the grubs that take up residence underneath. Yup, the bears love to play three card Monte with big rocks. Sometimes they even score a treat.

Chunking BFRs around is hard work with dependent mostly on brute force and ignorance. You really only need one smart person who knows where the rocks should go for best effect. That means I’m pretty much qualified be a rock technician, but not for the engineering jobs.

Erosion control structures on the AT come in a simple variety. Check dams are perpendicular to the trail with the purpose of slowing down the water flow. They should stick up a few inches and require frequently cleaning to ensure sediment doesn’t render them useless.

Water bars are set at a 45 degree angle to the trail direction. Their purpose is to direct water off the trail. Check dams and water bars frequently work in coordination with one another

Parallel drains are canals/ditches that run parallel to the trail tread for some distance until they reach a point where water can be sent away. Sometimes the trail tread is raised and the canals are made of carefully fitted stone.

Steps help prevent erosion or may simply improve the hiking experience by adding safety or by making the trail easier. Stone is preferable and more durable, but logs and compacted dirt or gravel work.

You’ve all seen the ladders and rebar in New England. Those are special cases.

Sometimes dirt swales are dug and the spoil is mounded and compacted to form a check dam or water bar that works fine as long as it lasts.

If you live close to Shenandoah National Park, consider joining the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and channel your inner 12-year-old. Become a Hoodlum Trail Crew member. It’s fun!

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.

Giving back before I start

It’s never too soon to give back, so I joined the “Hoodlums” trail maintenance crew.  The Hoodlums are part of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and maintain the trail  in what is essentially northern half of the Shenandoah National Park and beyond into Maryland.  My first expedition is Saturday, April 20.  I’ll post pix and a description of our work.

The hiker journals clearly demonstrate how critical tail maintenance is, so we’re going to find out how it’s done and who does it.  I’m sincerely looking forward to new friends and some hard physical work.  Stay tuned and to all hikers this year, hike on with heads high.