Oh, Shenandoah. So many stories.

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

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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

 

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

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

Spring cleaning delayed.

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Home, April 14, 2020 — As the debate about when America can go back to work stutters along, I’ve been wondering when trail maintainers can start digging dirt again.  We want to work too. Time’s a wasting.

I am under no illusion that someone is going to flip a magic switch and the world will shift from black and white to living color regardless of the political pyrotechnics.  The virus doesn’t care.

Until there is an effective vaccine, COVID-19 can be a potentially mortal threat to anyone who catches it. Respect alone for this potential will certainly cause some people to avoid crowds and certain public places.

Nevertheless, at some point the parks and trails will reopen to the public. People think they’re far from others when they are in the woods as if civilization can’t follow them there.  It’s an attractive illusion, so they’ll be back.

For one, I’d like to have the trails safe and ready when they come.

Fall

The problem is that the trail you tidy up in the fall …

Spring

… looks very different in the spring.

Between now and when the people come back, nature will be hard at work.  Spring has sprung and the weeds are growing.  It won’t be long before they take over the joint unless they are cut back.

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Why worry about weeds?  They are the way ticks carrying Lyme disease get to hikers.  Lyme disease or COVID-19?  Each is ugly in its own way.

Weeds are only one of the jobs that need to be done in the spring.

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The tread itself needs maintenance.  Water control structures silt up or rot over the winter.  A bear destroyed this one.  This waterbar has to be cleaned and rebuilt.  It’s clear from the detritus that it’s no longer effective.

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Blowdowns also have to be cleared.

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We’ve has several howling windstorms recently which increase the probability of finding blown down branches as well as tree trunks.

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Everyone I know is itching to get a jump on spring maintenance before hikers return.  Trail maintainers like nothing better than packing up for an honest day’s work, although I despise the two-hour drive each way.

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The tool caches are ready.  With the people gone, we could get a lot done when it’s easy to maintain safe social distance.  Maintainers in our area are spread about one to two miles apart.

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But, like they say, the trail will be there when the time comes. True dat.  Meanwhile, I’m on the bench yelling, “Put me in coach!”  Where’s coach?  He’s sheltering at home just like the rest of us.

Sisu

 

Myron Avery Award

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Vienna, VA. November 20, 2019 — The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s annual awards banquet offered yours truly a wonderful surprise in the form of the club’s highest honor, the Myron Avery Volunteer of the Year Award.

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PATC Myron Avery Award.

“Named in honor of the founder of the PATC, the Myron Avery Award recognizes a substantial achievement by a PATC member who most exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism through his or her contribution to PATC during the past year. This is the highest honor bestowed upon members of the club and is awarded to the PATC volunteer who most exemplifies Mr. Avery’s dedication and devotion to PATC’s mission. The contribution can be to any type or combination of club service activities, e.g., devoting many hours above and beyond the norm to service activities, including travel time, or making an exceptional contribution to a particular project.”*  Avery also founded the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Two people are principally responsible for creating the Appalachian Trail.  Benton MacKaye supplied the vision.  Myron Avery got it done.  Myron Avery

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Volunteers are the heart and soul of the AT and our national parks.  About 250,000 volunteer hours annually are needed to keep the AT properly maintained and open.

Thousands of volunteers across 14 states, hundreds from the PATC alone, give what they can in time, money and sweat for a labor of love.  I’m proud to be counted among them.

Sisu

*www.patc.net

Hoodlums Crew Week

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Butterfly on short final for thistle pollen.  They have been abundant this year.

Shenandoah National Park, August 18 – 23, 2019 — Every year the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) Shenandoah trail crews organize crew weeks.  That’s when members can work closely with the park’s professional trail crews. It’s good for morale and camaraderie.  It’s also fun to play in the dirt like a five-year-old.

The five-day experience couples the satisfaction of teamwork and hard work with the joys of barracks-style living – nine people sharing a single bathroom and rush-hour-like  kitchen congestion.

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On the way to our work base in the park’s Pinnacles area, I stopped at my AT section at Jenkins Gap to refresh a flaky blaze.

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First you need exterior grade white paint, a brush and a scraper.

Next you remove the old paint and just enough bark to help the paint stick.

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Andy Warhol would be proud (I hope).

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Raiding the tool cache for tools needed for the the week.

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Loaded van, ready to rock and roll.

Monday we split up for a range of jobs.  Mine was on a “weeding” crew for an overseer who has been ill.

For arm chair trail maintainers, weeding translates to a roaring string trimmer frapping poison ivy into an evil green pesto that coats exposed skin like white on rice.  Need I say more?

It’s hot, sweaty and buggy work, all necessary to remove habitat for the ticks that cause Lyme disease.

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Day two dawned with the full brutality of mid-Atlantic summer heat and humidity.  It was so hot that the burning crosscut kerf spit fire and brimstone.

We teamed up to rip our way through this 18-inch blowdown.  It’s in a federally designated wilderness near the park’s western boundary.  By definition, power tools cannot be used for trail work in wilderness areas, hence the muscle power.

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Anna, 65, and Mary, 68, proved age is no limit.

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The guys had several bites at the apple too.

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Half done, but the heat index was oppressive.  We were working at least 1,500 feet lower than the ridge above us where the temp would have been 10 – 15 degrees cooler.

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Shortly after we snapped this victory photograph, one of our members showed symptoms of heat exhaustion.

In this case the symptoms were: dizziness, dark urine, fatigue, transient nausea, vision issues and lack of coordination. Skin was cool and normal color, but she wasn’t sweating much.  Heart rate and breathing remained within a normal range under the conditions.  Her awareness and alertness (A/O) score remained at 3 for the entire time.

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Treatment included moving the patient into the shade, soaking her with water, placing chemical cold packs against her carotid arteries, taking her vital signs, and ultimately getting her to sip a liter of Pedialyte.  In total she drank 2.5 liters of Pedialyte and water.

We radioed Shenandoah dispatch about 15 minutes after the onset of symptoms for a backcountry EMT.  Her symptoms were worsening.

We knew it would be awhile.  The plan was to continue treatment until the EMTs could arrive or, if she improved sufficiently, to walk her out over the mile-and-a-half down hill to the trailhead.

Unfortunately emergencies in the backcountry are never trivial.  Help can’t arrive easily or quickly.  We coach our ridgerunners to prepare to be on scene without help for up to three hours in a worse case scenario.  Depending on the nature of the injury, that’s a lot of time for bad things to happen.

After an hour, our patient improved and felt strong enough to attempt to walk out.

The EMTs were still on the way, so we radioed dispatch that we were walking out.  We met the EMTs and park rangers at the trail head where they were preparing to hike in with the guide we had sent ahead.

Our patient was assessed and monitored for almost an hour before being discharged to our care.

A law enforcement ranger who responded paid our team the ultimate compliment.  “It was,” he observed, “nice to see people in the backcountry who were properly prepared.”

Amen to that.

The next day’s weather forecast was for molten metal falling from the sky, so we decided to take a zero day which would allow us to slip behind the public access curtain to see what we could learn. Our thanks to Rebecca Unruh, the ranger who coordinates our volunteer activities.

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The park archives are an amazing collection of records and artifacts dating back before the park’s creation in the 1930s.

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What’s in this box?

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Original maps.

Next stop, Rapidan Camp. The camp was President Hoover’s country (very rustic) retreat.  It was the model for Camp David, the current presidential retreat, located about 150 miles north in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park.

fullsizeoutput_2064Our zero day ended on a Sundae.

fullsizeoutput_2056  Throughout the year we partner with the National Park Service rangers.  Dave Jenkins is responsible for trail maintenance in the northern half of the park.

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Building a drainage dip for a wet spot.  We are shifting from hard-structure waterbars (drains made of wood and stone) to dirt mounds variously called swales, rolling grade dips, or as the trail maintenance manual (p. 65) calls them, “drainage dips.”  They are more natural and have less environmental impact.

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The dirt is raked down hill and hard tamped into a mound set at a 45 degree angle to the trail forming a ditch-like structure.

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We also cleaned and repaired serviceable log and stone waterbars.

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Some people pose with trophy animals.  We, on the other hand …

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Last project.

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Closeout discussion with Ranger Rebecca Unruh at our barracks.

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Final portrait.  One more crew week in the books.

Sisu

 

 

The 2019 Ridgerunner Season Begins

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Sabine and Mary at Annapolis Rock, Maryland with Greenbriar Lake in background.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, April 1 – 14, 2019 — Dawn cracked to reveal a chilly drizzle like the warmth a Sunday school teacher might project showing a little leg through clouds of petticoats.  Right place.  Wrong idea.  Can’t see that much, so up the mountain we marched. 

Mary is a veteran ridgerunner some readers will recall from last year’s blog entries about her service in Shenandoah.  This season her Maryland tour is seven-months long.  She will be reinforced by another ridgerunner from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  She started on the auspicious First of April. No joke.

Sabine will be in Shenandoah National Park through early September.  She arrived a tad early to observe and get to know Mary before launching her own long march toward autumn on her 102 miles of the AT she’ll be patrolling some 55 miles southward.

20190401_1845221Earlier Mary had kicked down winter’s door, Hoovering up the off-season detritus like a caretaker opening a musty summer house long dormant.  That’s bags of trash to the uninitiated. 

On her first morning sweep of the Pine Knob shelter she found two backpacks apparently  abandoned on the floor.  No note.  That’s more common than one may imagine.  People get tired, wet, quit, and abandon their gear all the time.  Regardless, they were available for animals to rummage.  She decided to wait and see. 

On her evening swing they were still there, so she packed them out tandem style to the Greenbriar State Park visitor center. 

The knuckleheads called the park looking for them late in the evening.  They’d been day hiking from the Pennsylvania border.  Unfortunately the packs weren’t available til morning.  Sorry guys.

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Off we marched to begin patrolling the area between Annapolis Rock and the Pogo campsite.  Trash picking was easy.

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Pogo, where a tree fell atop one of the iconic fire pits.

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Ridgerunning is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to find – tent poles, plastic container and a rubber band slingshot.

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Painted rocks have become a trend in the hiking world.  We found one at Black Rock that seems to advertise a lake front development in Maryland.  There will be follow up with the developer.

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Drying out.  Caretaker tent graciously donated by REI.

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Senseless vandalism.

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Photo:  Mary Thurman.

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Please pad your anchors and save the trees.

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Somebody actually tried a bear hang instead of hooking their food bag on one of the tines.  This method actually makes it much easier for the bear to get the food. 😦

Sabine’s OJT at Annapolis Rock was complete.  On to Shenandoah.

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Shenandoah day one starts in the backcountry office for orientation, paperwork and equipment issue.  Then it’s a hike to check the north boundary kiosk.

We made a side trip to hike the cult-like Piney Memorial Trail and paid our respects to the fallen.  While there, the ridgerunner janitorial instinct kicked in.

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The first overnight is at the luxurious Indian Run Maintenance Hut which is available to the ridgerunners when in the area.

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First showdown with a hanging tangle.  She drew her clippers faster than Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and cut that sucker down.  Note the full trash bag.

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Foundation of what was once intended to be a restroom for a “colored” picnic area that never was built.

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Taking a break on a handy rock.

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Second night at Gravel Spring.  Not sure if the tree is apple, cherry or otherwise.

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Sabine’s trail name is “Foureyes.”  Not what you’d think for a hiker who’s done the Appalachian Trail, the Long Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail while in between earning a PhD in physics.

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Some people come to the trail ignorant, thoughtless and unprepared.  Yes, it’s what it appears to be.  Digging cat holes to bury other people’s feces is one of the more unappealing aspects of the job.  You have to want to protect the trail with all of your heart to do this work.

Third night at Pass Mountain.  The tree blew down on a campsite before the camper was there.  It was a dark and stormy night.  Really!

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Watching the hawks atop Mary’s Rock on a brilliant day.

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Final night.  Rock Spring.

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Final day.  Welcome to Jurassic Park. Come right in.  Ummm, I mean Shenandoah National Park …  May your hike toward autumn be a pleasant one.

Susu

 

New Ridgerunning Season Coming Soon.

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Kensington, MD, March 12, 2019 — The snow drops are up!  As sure as daylight savings time, snow drops are a natural alarm clock announcing it’s time to get ready for a new season on the Appalachian Trail.

Here’s the starting line up.  Our first Shenandoah National Park Hoodlums trail crew work trip is this weekend.  As reported here, there’s still plenty of storm damage to clear.

No fooling, our first ridgerunner starts in Maryland April first.  The second ridgerunner begins patrolling in Shenandoah on April 8.  The remaining four are scheduled for mid-May.  Project ahead two weeks and we’re there. So, let’s get ready to rock and roll!

We’ve been getting ready for awhile.  The budget was submitted last year.  The application deadline was January 31.  Hiring occurred in February.  The last of the supplies and equipment arrived last week.

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First to arrive was six Bear Vault BV 450 bear canisters.  These are the half-size canisters with a four-day capacity.  They are very difficult for a bear to open or break.  I’m certain Yogi and Boo Boo hate them, but I can all but guarantee that Mr. Ranger loves them.

Why bear canisters?  The number of human-bear encounters is increasing each year.  The 2018 reported incidents are at this link:  ATC 2018 Bear Incident List

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Some of these incidents included stolen food bags and damaged tents.  Fortunately there were no injuries though there have been nasty injuries and even a death in previous years.

Bears become food conditioned because careless backpackers, day hikers and others leave food or food trash at or near shelter areas and campsites.  Ultimately bears learn to identify shelters, tents and backpacks with food.

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Camera studies by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service show the first place bears go in camp is the fire pit because people toss food trash thinking it will burn.  It does not burn completely so the residue continues to attract bears long after the fire is out.

Once bears associate humans or places where human’s congregate with food, the potential for trouble compounds when bears lose their natural fear of people.

Bear canisters make it difficult for a bear to get a food reward.  Ridgerunners uniformed presence on the trail affords them visibility.  The weight of the example they set by carrying bear canisters complements the educational component of their mission.

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We experimented last season by having some of our ridgerunners carry BV 500 canisters loaned to us by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  They voted unanimously for the smaller version.  Comparison of a BV 450 and the larger BV 500 on the right.  The stickers help tell them apart.  The reflective tape helps find them of an animal decides to bat one around.

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Additional equipment includes 12-inch folding saws, clippers, SAM splints, and work gloves.  The rope and tarps help cover the caretaker area at Annapolis Rock.

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Meanwhile I have recovered from off-season Dupuytren’s release surgery.  I have two more impacted fingers on my other hand and hope they can wait until September.

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Next stop.  Setting up the caretaker area at Annapolis Rock.  Can’t wait.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

It’s a Wrap – Literally

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Crew and cast of a video for Nature Valley.

Appalachian Trail October 25 and 31, 2018 — “It’s a wrap!” called the director.  With that exclamation, the formal volunteer season ended with the sunset melting behind the horizon west of Shenandoah’s Black Rock summit.  Fade to black.  Hike to the trailhead.

That was the symbolic climax.  The actual ending occurred a couple of days later on Morgans Mill Rd. when the last of the season’s Road Scholars finished their strenuous ride on the Roller coaster section of the Appalachian Trail in northern Virginia.

First, let’s go behind the scenes at Black Rock.  (Anna Porter’s FB post).  A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook asking about locations to shoot a commercial in Shenandoah. It seems Nature Valley, the granola bar company,  is making a serious gift to the National Park Foundation to fund and maintain hiking trails in several parks including Shenandoah.

As people on Facebook suggested their favorite spots in the park, I realized no one had ever been involved in making a commercial and had no idea how ill-suited some places might be.

Having executive produced two regional EMMY-winning commercials, I jumped right in using industry vocabulary.  Soon the producers and I were talking.

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Ultimately we agreed on Black Rock Summit, probably the most dramatic location in the entire park.  Moreover three different trails intersect nearby allowing for a variety of b-roll locations and different looks.

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My “co-star” and partner in crime was Anna Porter and her dog Traveller, an inveterate hiker who completed the park’s 500 miles of trails in the 1990s This was long before hiking the Shendoah 500 was popular.

As Anna noted in her Facebook post, she learned a lot about making videos – notably just how boring it is.  Like the Army, you stand around and wait for the technicians to set up, not to mention the countless shots and occasional repetition needed to get them good enough to stitch the story together.

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We were each interviewed and asked to pose for dramatic effect.  Yes Mr. DeMille, we’re ready for our closeups!  We joked about signing autographs on the red carpet.  Bet she styles high-heeled hiking boots!

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The golden hour produces the most dramatic light as Anna and Traveller admire the sunset.

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There were shots from every angle possible.

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Photo by Anna Porter

I felt like a bronze statue wanna be.

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The final chore, capturing the sunset.

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Nice shot.  Of note, the temperature was racing the sun to the bottom.

Final product:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BrOUysghBnK/?fbclid=IwAR0H8ersNcy3XvYtHJ-cmht8Qic24xSj9y_siXorHReejtE2tWTe9kpb_5U

 

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Flash forward a couple of days and the roller coaster ride left the station.  This was another great Road Scholar group.  Now, with the benefit of several years experience leading these hikes, I realize that most of them seriously underestimate the physical challenge of this hike.  It is defined by rough, rocky terrain, three steep climbs, and some challenging down hill that’s punishing for some older knees.

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Consequently we take lots of breaks to enjoy the tranquility and serenity of our surroundings.    Some remind me of their age only to learn that I’m usually older than they are.  I remind them that if one is lucky enough to avoid devastating maladies, and if you put in the effort to stay in shape, you can crush the average 40-year-old for a long time to come.  You just have to make it a priority – that’s the hard part.

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I ask every group what they think of this experience.  They find it challenging, but gratifying at the same time.  At the end, they realize how much they’ve overcome and what they’ve accomplished.

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As goes the leaf litter, so goes the season.  Can’t wait to do it again next spring. Meanwhile stand by for winter adventures.

Sisu