I love this job!

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Shenandoah National Park, Hoodlums Work Trip, Saturday, July 17, 2021 — If variety is the spice of life, any break from the drudgery of policing up trash, cleaning privies, camouflage noncomplient campsites, breaking up fire rings, and taking notes adds to the flavor of the ridgerunner experience.

We always invite our ridgerunners to join trail maintenance activity. It breaks up their routine and helps them learn more about what it takes to keep our hiking trails open and serviceable.

It was early on Saturday morning when I waved to Sara at the Gravel Spring parking lot where we were to rendezvous and join some Hoodlums to work on the two-and-a-half-mile Pass Mountain Trail. The trail spans the distance between the Pass Mountain Hut and the park boundary at Hwy. 211. We would be joined by ridgerunner Chris Bowley and fellow Hoodlum Greg Foster.

Our job was to clear 16 reported blowdowns while another group of four would chop weeds overgrowing the trail. Since the trail is located in a designated wilderness area, only muscle powered tools are allowed.

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On the way to meet the others at the Panorama parking lot, we chainsawed this blowdown which we had left in this condition two weeks earlier.

From Panorama we spotted a car at the bottom of the trail at Hwy. 211; then shuttled up the Pass Mountain Hut access road so we could work down hill thereby saving energy with a gravity assist.

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From time to time, team ridgerunner took on team Hoodlum in the crosscut classic.  Let me tell you a secret, the old guys have much better technique.  This wasn’t our first rodeo.  The ridgerunners got to do something that you don’t see or do every day and they got pretty good at it.

Crosscut saws are incredibly efficient. That efficiency helped build this country. This particular saw was purchased by my grandfather in 1945. It works as well as the day it left the Simonds factory in Fitchburg, Mass. Simonds has been in the cutting tool business since 1832.

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This 14-inch ash was the last large blowdown we found. After this one, there were a couple of smaller ones.  By the time we got this far, lightning was cracking all around us as we hurried to get off the mountain. 

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Most sawyers really don’t like clearing the smaller logs.  They live for the big honkers that present a challenge and bragging rights.  When I saw this tree, my morale shot sky high.  This would make us sweat, but it would be fun.  Instead it was more than a match.  The yellow arrow is the reason why. 

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This was a huge tree.  The main trunk was more than 36 inches in diameter before it split into four large trunks.  At some point before the tree fell, a combination of ice and wind probably bent over the trunk designated by the arrow.  As nature would have it, the bent over trunk was now vertical.   At 12 inches, it was big and heavy enough to behave in unpredictable ways once we started bucking the blowdown.

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It took a lot of force to bend this live tree.

We pondered what to do before deciding to lop away the poison ivy and leave the tree for the park service professionals.  The upright trunk put this blowdown well beyond my experience and expertise.  Better safe than sorry was top of mind.

Yesterday the park service professional trail crew managed to cut the higher trunk blocking the trail.  The other, featuring the upright, was left in place as too dangerous under the circumstances.  At least now it will be easier to climb over.

By the way, the count for the day was a little off.  We cleared 19 blowdowns and left the one.  That may be a record.

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We finished around 2:30 p.m.  With deep hunger and time to spare we drove to the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen in Sperryville. Their wood fired pizza oven makes tasty pizza.

For Sara and me, the day’s total was 20 blowdowns, but wait!  There was one more waiting for us at the Indian Run Maintenance Hut where we spent the night.

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We ate snacks, sipped beer and listened to the rain patter on our tents.  The reflector fire kept the bugs away while we reminisced about the days events.

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The three of us went to Sara’s favorite restaurant for breakfast.  Shall I say the apple doughnuts are yummy?  They are.

After dropping Sara off at Beahms Gap to contiunue her patrol, Chris and I schlepped a chainsaw and a string trimmer up to AT section I maintain on Compton Peak.  I weeded and cut logs.  Chris camouflaged a new noncompliant campsite that is, ironically, 200 yards from a legal one.

With that, the weekend work was done.  Blowdown total:  Twenty one.  The sense of accomplishment:  Priceless.  That why I Iove this job.

Sisu

 

Clearing the Blowdown Backlog

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Shenandoah National Park, August 5, 2020 — The purpose of this blog is to offer a peek behind the curtain so you can see what it takes to keep the hiking trails open and well-maintained.

There are hundreds of volunteers who do this work.  We are organized by park district, south, central and north.  Swift Run and Thornton Gap mark the boundaries.

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A young friend who volunteered with the Hoodlums for a year before being transferred to California said that she’d been hiking and backpacking all of her life and had no idea how much effort went into maintaining backcountry trails.  She loved volunteering.

And now a word from our sponsor:

PATC always needs volunteers.  No experience or tools necessary.  We maintain nearly 500 miles of trail within the park and another 1,000 outside of it, including 240 miles of the Appalachian Trail, trails within the national battlefield parks, C&O Canal, Prince William Park, and many more. Join us at http://www.patc.net

The pandemic protocols – mask, avoid as many people as possible, groups of  no more than four, sanitize – don’t impose much hardship.  After encountering hoards of people on the weekends, we decided to do group work only during the week. That pretty much limits crew members to retired folks with sore muscles.

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Yesterday we cleared 11 blowdowns on Pass Mountain.  Several hikers reported this one on Facebook.  This is a “leaner” in sawyer speak.  Leaners can be dangerous to clear and we only clear them if it can be done safely and they are blocking the trail.  Otherwise park and PATC policy is to let Mother Nature take care of business.

In this case, the giant tree is not blocking the trail.  Moreover, it’s larger than all but one of our saws.  If it were on the ground, it would be a hellova project. As it is, it’s beyond our capability in a wilderness area where only muscle powered tools can be used.

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Judging from this angle, it’s going to be up there for a long time.  Anna Larsen Porter’s granddaughter may be a maintainer by the time it comes crashing down.

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You could tell it was going to be a special day for August when we spotted a car at the Pass Mountain hwy 211 trailhead.  The sun was gentle with a cool breeze.  A perfect day to be roaming the park.

The plan was to drive up the Pass Mountain fire road and park at the hut/shelter and then work our way downhill to hwy 211.

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First we would use a chainsaw to clear the AT near the hut trail.  That area is not wilderness.  Note that this leaner is much different from the previous one. The bind is on top, so you saw it from the bottom to keep the bar from being pinched.

We then locked the saw in the car so we would not be tempted to use it in the wilderness area we were about to enter.

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This one had also been reported on Facebook.

It was cloaked in grapevines and brush which had to be cleared before we could get after the trunk.

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The trunk required two cuts.

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Sometimes it’s easier on the back just to sit.

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Two down and as far as we knew, one to go.  Instead we found nine more.

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Easy one.  Bottom bind.

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Quick work.

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Hwy 211 parking.  That was a clean mask when we started.  Dave looks like Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider.”

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Decided to make a Subaru commercial on the way down the fire road.

The Pass Mountain trail was very weedy.  Being in a wilderness, it must be weeded with swing blades vs. the string trimmers we can use elsewhere.  We understand an AmeriCorps crew will give that trail a haircut this Friday.

Speaking of haircuts, I could not stand it and gave in.  Pandemic beard and hair excuse expired.

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.